Addington Cemetery Tour Guide - Christchurch City Libraries

Addington Cemetery Tour Guide - Christchurch City Libraries

In 1915 Mary Ann, a widow with a ‘fairly large grown-up family’ was living with a

son, Joseph, in a recently-built, two storey, seven-room villa on the eastern side of

Idris Road, Fendalton. Joseph left early in the evening of 21 September.

Constable Porteous and his friend, who were cycling along Idris Road, saw flames

proceeding from the back and upper part of the house. They burst in but were beaten

back by the flames. A crowd gathered and

… in the absence of any organised system of protection against fire in the

district … did their best to conquer the flames with buckets and other

receptacles, filled with water at the nearest artesian well. Such efforts were

quite inadequate to cope with such a roaring fire, and the building was soon a

mass of flames, while falling beams and roof timbers made the position of the

volunteer fire-fighters untenable. All that could be done was to watch patiently

while the fire burned itself out.

With the flames at their height, prominent surveyor Fred Freeman arrived He told the

police that it ‘had been arranged that [his daughter, Patricia Frances] … should spend

the night with her grandmother [Mrs. Cookson] as she had … done on previous


Joseph Cookson returned, stating that his mother had intended to stay home for the

evening. It was now realised that Mrs. Cookson and her granddaughter had died in

the fire. Sergeant Bird of the St. Albans police discovered that the two year old child

had suffocated in her cot. Mrs. Cookson had been overcome by smoke while either

ascending or descending the stairs.

The gravestone has the words:

Mary Ann Cookson, aged 61, and her granddaughter, Patricia Frances

Freeman, aged 2. Both died 21 September 1915.

A Lyttelton times editorial pointed out that the fire had taken place outside the

boundaries of the Christchurch Fire Board. It was thus

… remarkable that communities otherwise progressive should remain under

the constant menace of loss of life and destruction of property, contenting

themselves with, perhaps, an insurance policy and taking no steps to provide

themselves with modern protection …. It does seem evidence of a primitive

faith in luck or else a lack of ordinary citizenship which is beyond

understanding, that, beyond the limits of the city brigade’s duties, the residents

are apparently content to live at the mercy of chance. There have been

occasions without number on which valuable homes within a stone’s throw of

the Christchurch fire area have been destroyed when they could have been

saved if the local authority had made provision which a backblocks township

would not neglect …. The fire last evening was nor in a remote, isolated

quarter but in a well-settled residential district perfectly able to provide

necessary fire fighting equipment.

Addington Cemetery



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