VIDEO: Heritage New Zealand Visits Chinese Settlement, Considers Archaeological Site Declaration


​On Thursday 27 September, Ashburton District Council Elected Members had the opportunity to visit the uniquely historical Chinese Settlement site. The visit allowed them to familiarise themselves with the site, it's buildings and get a feel for its character.

During their visit, they were also able to hear from Senior Archaeologist with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Frank Van der Heijden, about the historical significance of the site.

"The importance of the history of this site, is that it was established in 1921 by the Ng family which came from Gore; they quickly established what was the largest market garden in the District, and possibly even Canterbury."

He added that the site has high historical value, especially because the buildings are still present. He suggests that there used be hundreds, if not thousands, of these kind of settlements all through New Zealand, but to their knowledge, only this one remains.​

​Quick Facts

  • Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga proposes to declare the Allens Road Chinese Settlement an archaeological site. This would give the above and below ground features at this site the same protection as pre-1900 archaeological sites under Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.
  • Declaration complements the scheduling of this place on the Ashburton District Plan (Heritage Item 25) by providing protection to below ground features and recognising the national importance of this site.
  • Declaration is not the same as entering the place on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Korero.
  • Heritage New Zealand hopes to collaborate on the interpretation of the Chinese Settlement and has allocated funds to support this.

History of the settlement
The Ng family came to Ashburton in 1921 from Gore, where they had set up a Market Garden in 1905. The family found suitable land on Allens Road and established a company under the trading name of King Bros. The business went from strength to strength, growing quickly to become the largest Chinese market garden in the South Island. The early Chinese settlers in Ashburton were all male, with the first women and children arriving in 1939 when three of the men were able to bring their families out to New Zealand under the war refugee scheme. After 1946 Chinese were permitted to buy land and the King Bros purchased the Allen Street site. A further seven families arrived in 1950 and the community was said to be at its peak during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. At this time there were about 12 houses in the settlement and as many as 80+ people living in the community, including the children. The market garden and on-site shop at Allens Road were closed in 1964 and the site has remained unused since then.

Historical, cultural and archaeological values
The complex has high historical and cultural values, as a set of extant Chinese settlement buildings associated with a commercial twentieth century urban Chinese market garden. Although architecturally unremarkable, the extant buildings are able to provide information on the layout and functions of such a settlement, and the materials and construction methods used. The complex is also able to provide information on whether, and if so how and to what extent, the twentieth century Chinese immigrants adapted their traditional ways to New Zealand's ways of building and living.

The rarity value of the site appears to be high. In fact, this appears to be the only site of its type in New Zealand that remains extant, meaning it would be unique. While market gardening was and still is an important and not unusual activity in New Zealand, and while Chinese immigrants have frequently been engaged in such activity, research carried out to date suggests that nowhere else in New Zealand does such extensive physical fabric remain in situ.

The potential below ground remains include the remains of buildings that have been demolished, rubbish dumps and pits, long drops, and the remains of agricultural practices, such as evidence of working, draining and/or irrigating the land, all of which can be recognised and investigated using archaeological methods.

The information potential of the site is high, partly due to its condition, internal contextual values and rarity, but also because there has been little research about the material culture of the Chinese in twentieth century New Zealand.

The amenity values are high. The Ashburton Chinese settlement remains relatively intact and legible, and is very suitable for public interpretation.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 - Declaration of archaeological site 
Under 543 of the HNZPTA, Heritage New Zealand may declare any post-1900 place to be an archaeological site on the condition that the site is able to provide significant evidence relation to the historical and cultural heritage of New Zealand. This declaration provides legal protection to the site (in this case the buildings and grounds) under the archaeological provisions of the HNZPTA, since 542 of the HNZPTA stipulates that no person may modify or destroy, or cause to be modified or destroyed, the whole or any part of an archaeological site without authority from Heritage New Zealand. It fits in with Heritage New Zealand's policy to promote the identification, protection and conservation of nationally significant post-1900 sites of cultural, historic and archaeological significance in New Zealand.

Declaration is an internal process, with final approval b\l the HNZPT Board. It takes up to three months to complete. It requires an archaeological assessment, detailing the history of the site and describing its archaeological, historical, cultural and other relevant heritage values. It also requires a Board paper, justifying why it is proposed to declare the site an archaeological site 9nd asking for a resolution to that effect. Support from the landowners is generally a requirement, as well as consultation with any other party that has an interest in the site, including tangata whenua.

To date, Heritage New Zealand has declared only seven post 1900 sites as archaeological sites. These include Featherston Military Training Camp, 20th century gold mining sites in Central Otago, the Norwegian Whalers' Base, on Rakiura/Stewart Island and the wreck of the SS Ventnor shipwreck, Hokianga Harbour Mouth.

While providing legal protection to the site, declaration also signals and confirms its historical significance to the history of Chinese settlement in Ashburton in particular and New Zealand in general. This may support funding applications to assist with the restoration and interpretation of the buildings and associated infrastructure. Heritage New Zealand would support any future funding applications that contribute to the restoration, conservation and interpretation of this complex.

The report prepared by Heritage New Zealand report could inform future site management. It would also serve as the basis for future archaeological authority applications for any works on site, such as landscaping.

Heritage New Zealand supports plans to install interpretation at the site, and has set aside funds in its 2018/19 FY to contribute to interpretation panels or other storytelling methods.

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the abolition of the poll tax on Chinese migrants, a Ministry for Culture and Heritage Tier 2 commemorative event. The declaration of the Ashburton Chinese settlement in 2019 as an archaeological site is a great opportunity to commemorate this event and recognise the national significance of this heritage site.

For Ashburton District Council or the families there are no costs associated with this process. All costs will be borne by Heritage New Zealand.

What can we learn from archaeological investigations?
Carlaw Park, Auckland, Ah Chee, Kong Foong Yuen (The Garden of Prosperity) was investigated archaeologically in 2008. Similar to the Ashburton Chinese settlement, this was a precinct comprising of private dwellings and associated buildings, with areas of industrial production of food. Unlike the Ashburton Chinese settlement, none of the buildings were extant, and subsurface archaeological remains were all that were able to be investigated. The context of a market garden complex with associated buildings allowed an insight into this specific commercial activity and the daily life of its inhabitants.

Archaeological analysis is able to be used to understand how the different parts of the site functioned, the spatial relationships between different parts of the site (including whether or not the principles of feng shui were adhered to), how labour was organised, the technology and techniques used in gardening, what vegetables were grown, interaction with the surrounding community, and relationships within the Chinese community, particularly with regard to gender and status. Archaeological analysis could also shed light on how the culture of the Chinese settlers changed through the process of migration and settlement, by examining what material culture was used and how. Similar techniques could be used to examine the status of the Chinese community within Ashburton, along with the processes of community formation and maintenance.

Brief provided by:
Frank van der Heijden
Senior Archaeologist, Heritage New Zealand​

Page reviewed: 28 Sep 2018 2:04pm