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Suva of old

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, November 05, 2017

THE following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Fiji Times on Wednesday, November 5, 1958 giving a rare insight of what Suva looked like through the eyes of well-known Fiji historian RA Derrick. The newspaper had interviewed the historian on sites around Suva as well interesting history concerning one of the country's old church buildings — the St Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

"WHEN St Andrew's Church was built in 1883, Gordon St was a track surrounded by grass and shrubs," said Mr RA Derrick, speaking in Suva of those days at the luncheon following the seventy-fifth celebration service at St Andrew's Church on Sunday, November 2, 1958.

"Suva was first settled by Europeans in September, 1870 when people, mostly from Melbourne, arrived and started to grow cotton. The price of cotton fell when America came back on the market after the Civil War, and they turned to sugarcane. A sugar mill was built at Naiqaqi, on the present site of the Whan Construction Co. The mill was there when St Andrew's was built.

"Later that venture also failed and the mill was pulled down but for many years part of it chimney and a large cog-wheel remained. Eventually they were buried as an easy way of disposing of them. Water for the mill was obtained from a dam in Gordon St and it was carried to the mill in a large channel which now lies under residential gardens in Thurston St. During the last war, there was some talk of uncovering it and using it as an air raid shelter, but it was considered that it would not give sufficient shelter.

Fiji Village

"In those days there was a Methodist minister at Rewa and he occasionally visited Suva, but he was mainly interested in the Suva Fijian village which occupied the land where the entrance to Government House now stands, and part of the Botanical Gardens. Eventually the village was transferred to Suvavou, near Lami. At the time of Cession there was only one European house at Suva and a derelict hotel on the banks of Nubukalou Creek. In 1880 a plan was made of a proposed Suva Township, and land sales were held. The sales were not actually held where the monument is at the (Vodafone) Triangle, but a little further along.

"It was then the site of the Suva Hotel, quite a large building owned by Mr Stuart, who afterwards built the Club Hotel. The bidders sat on the upstairs balcony and the auctioneer stood under an ivi tree on the beach now Thomson St. The ivi tree was cut down when Thomson St was built.

"When St Andrew's was built, there were only two wooden shacks between the church and Government House and the rest of the landscape was covered in grass, shrubs and reeds. The original site for the Anglican Church was not considered suitable and eventually it was built on the corner of Butt St and Macarthur St at a cost of six hundred pounds. Derrick said that in those days there were only a few shops on Thomson St and Renwick Rd.

"A photograph in the Fiji Museum taken some time after the erection of St Andrew's Church shows a view of the young Suva town taken from Government House. It shows the original two houses between the church and Government House, and down towards the beach the later buildings spaced at wide intervals. The Government House was a wooden building and in a fierce electrical storm on March 21, 1921 it was struck by lightning and burned down before it was replaced with a solid building. But when St Andrew's Church was completed in 1883 a year after the Governor and his staff had moved to Suva, Suva was still a very small primitive South Sea port whose European population numbered only a few hundred."

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