Canterbury College

Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973. An illustrated history based on the Armson Collins Architectural Drawings Collection

Chemical Laboratory


The College's second Chemical Laboratory formed the boundary of the site on Hereford Street and enclosed the south quadrangle.

For forty years the science departments at Canterbury College had made do with the ‘Old Tin Shed’. Finally its days were drawing to an end. Head of Chemistry Dr W.P. Evans, who was in fact a graduate of the College, had to publicly campaign for a new building, but was eventually successful in securing funding in the early 1900s. Constructed between 1908 and 1910, the Chemistry Laboratory cost £8,168 and was designed by Collins and Harman. The striking building is a showcase of local materials, as it incorporates Halswell Basalt, Oamaru Limestone, Hoon Hay Basalt and Timaru Basalt. Carved inside the main entrance is the inscription “Usque laborentem rerum infinita vocabit natura” which translates as “the infinite nature of the universe will call a man who is willing to work.”

In the same year that Scott’s expedition on the Terra Nova left Lyttelton, the new Chemistry Laboratory opened to great fanfare, with the innovation of radiators being used to heat each room. Some may later have lamented the lack of fire places however, when the radiators failed to work in the 1940s. Gas was still used for lighting most rooms, though electricity was employed to light the chemical stores. The ground floor included a first years' laboratory with single sided rows of benches that could hold 28 students at a time. The senior laboratory catering for 20 students, and the cloak room were on the same floor. The chemical store was in the basement, which made the placement of the glass store in the attic somewhat unusual. Also in the basement were the dangerous goods store, gas analysis room, special research room, strong room, combustion room, workshop, and the technical laboratory with a model gas producer. The first floor held a lecture room for 100 people, a preparation room (which became the staff tea room in the 1930s), physical chemical laboratory, the professor’s office, a reading room and a balance room.

As with all the College buildings, space became a defining issue over the years. As well as having to adapt the cloak room as the glass blowing workshop, the Department eventually converted the attic glass store into extra laboratories in the 1940s. By the 1960s space constrictions were so tight that the Department was given an ex-Government transportable hut. The pre-fab was placed in the south quad next to one already being used by the Library, and was home to the physical chemistry lab. The Department nonetheless still remained fond of their building, as was demonstrated in 1948 when Professor John Packer celebrated 25 years at the College, and his staff commemorated the event by immortalizing the building in cake form.

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