THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS
DAVIE LOVELL-SMITH AND PARTNERS 1880-1980
There has been a Davie surveying in Canterbury since December 16th 1850 when the second of the First Four Ships -The ' Randolph -dropped anchor at Lyttelton, and an eager young man, Cyrus Davie, sprang ashore and, according to legend, set up a theodolite on the beach and traversed his way to the site of Christchurch! In fact however, and according to his Diary, he was employed by Capt. Thomas from the 20th of December working on maps at $300 per year. On Thomas' resignation and the appointment of Thos. Cass as Chief Surveyor Cyrus David was confirmed in his job as a surveyor but at the reduced rate of $20 per month. His first complete survey job appears to have been Christ's College property work both survey and plan. It is interesting to note that his great grandson is still trying to finish the job. In 1867 he became Chief Surveyor for Canterbury thus playing a major part in the early settlement surveys of the Province. He died in office in 1871.
Cyrus' eldest son, Frank Harman Davie, born 1857, decided to become a surveyor like his father and was articled to George Whitcombe as a survey cadet. In June 1880 having completed his indentinship and qualified, he set up practice as a private surveyor. Thus founding the present firm over 100 years ago.
For the first two months he operated from a Post Office box -No.12 and then No.l04. In August 1880 he advertised his place of business as being in Harman & Stevens buildings in Hereford Street. After two years of solo practice he took his newly qualified cadet, George Hanmer, into partnership with him. The enlarged firm now known as Davie & Hanmer moved to 207 Hereford Street more or less opposite Harman & Stevens building. F.H. Davie continued to practice from these new premises for the next thirty years despite some changes of address caused by two renumberings of Hereford Street during that period.
George Hanmer left the partnership in 1891 and set up practice with C.H.Bridge in the same building and the next room. F.H. Davie carried on his practice under his own name and judging from Lands and Survey records business flourished. The main bulk of the work appears to have been the subdivision of the large pastoral runs in Canterbury -the chief one in Davie's case being the complete subdivision of the Glenmark Run (G.H. Moore) of over 100,000 acres in the Waipara District. Moore had a deserved reputation for driving a hard bargain and Davie undertook the first part of the work at 3d per acre which was later increased after some haggling to 6d per acre. This work extended over many years and one must assume that other work was done at a more lucrative rate. Eventually F.H.Davie bought one of the farms in the Glenmark subdivision -known as Roto-iti and sited in the beautiful'Omihi Valley -and farmed it contemporaneously with his survey business which was by then being run by his son Lewis.
Frank Lewis Davie, born 1890, was articled to his father as a survey cadet in 1907 and qualified in 1911 joining his father as a partner in F.H.Davie & Son. In 1912 the business shifted to new premises in the Dominion Buildings between Gloucester Street and Cathedral Square (it is interesting to note that George Hanmer, who had remained in the same building as F.H. Davie in various partnerships shifted at the same time to the same buildings -Dominion Buildings). Lewis carried on a successful &growing business until the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. His father was in poor health and lived on his farm at Omihi. Lewis joined up and went overseas to France with the Rifle Brigade ("The Dinks") in 1915. Before doing this he arranged with the ubiquitous George Hanmer to look after his business until. his return. Gaining a commission in May 1917 Lewis was severely wounded loosing a leg at the beginning of the Battle of Passchendalle in October 1917. After hospitalization in England he returned to New Zealand and was discharged in June 1919. He took over his business again from the faithful George Hanmer but with a feeling that his loss of a leg might prove insuperable. However he carried on until Harold Wilson Harris ex serviceman awaiting his final surveyor's exam -approached him and suggested that they could successfully undertake the subdivision of Hawkswood in North Canterbury -a Macfarlane run of some 120,000 acres. The arrangement was to be that Harold Harris would do the field work and Lewis Davie would do the computations, plans etc in an office established at the Hawkswood homestead.
However after a week or so the blood of Cyrus asserted itself and Lewis Davie did his share of field work in the rugged country with the aid of a horse and plenty of determination.
The advent, as a partner, of the now qualified surveyor and engineer Harold Harris who had served with the Royal Navy as a Lieutenant on mine sweepers during the Great War changed the firm's name from F.H.Davie .& Son to Davie & Harris Registered Surveyors and Civil Engineers and the place of business from the Dominion Buildings to the Builders Chambers at 97 Gloucester Street (The Public Library now covers the~te). The two war veterans built up a thriving business in Town and Country surveying and civil engineering.
For some years the firm were consultants to the Southbridge Town Council. However a major work loomed up when the partners became the successful tenderers for a large comprehensive engineering survey over the Lower Waimakariri River from the Gorge to the mouth. There was much anxiety about the Waimakariri River floods which threatened Christchurch and much controversy ensued as to methods of dealing with the problem. Harold Harris held strong opinions as to the correct methods to use and he entered into the controversy with vigour. The validity of his views won the day with the result that he left the partnership in 1926 to become the assistant engineer, and in 1930 the Chief Engineer to the Waimaikariri River Trust (1924) which later became the North Canterbury Catchment Board. Harris remained as Chief Engineer to this Board until his retirement in 1952.
Lewis Davie carried on the practice with a large staff. However times were becoming difficult with land subdivision and development slowing down as the effects of an economic depression -The Depression -took hold. A check through the old job book shows that new work decreased alarmingly until the rock bottom of 1932 was reached when a total of 17 new jobs was recorded compared with the average 6f 180 jobs per year for the preceding years. One remembers in 1930, H.G. Ell, still fighting his way along the Summit Road, storming his way into the firm's office one morning insisting that a party be sent immediately to take levels on the road near Kennedy's Bush. Exhorting, bullying, cajoling and shouting he got his way for the sake of peace but of course no payment of fees would be forthcoming or was even envisaged. To be allowed to partake in the Summit Road work was in Ell's eyes sufficient payment. Lewis Davie left his mark on the Summit Road for posterity like many other anonymous good citizens.
Slowly the depression years passed with the office staff limited to one girl and with casual chainmen for field staff. There were no cadets and all too often the casual chainmen were qualified surveyors picking up a crust. However with the advent of the Savage Government and the policy of providing State Houses some work was handed out to private surveyors both engineering and survey. Lewis Davie handled the first large block in Christchurch -Shand's Block -between Riccarton Road and Blenheim Road, in the first instance designing and drawing the engineering plans at 5/-per sheet and then eventually setting out and supervising the contracts. This work gave him a good knowledge of the contractors of Christchurch -Farriers, Walter Butler, Bill Ryan Snr., and Southern Cross which undoubtedly stood him in good stead when other roading developments started to appear. In 1938 a big block owned by the Church Property Trustees west of Rutland Street being the continuation of Knowles Street and Weston Road was started. This job saw the firm's first experience with earthmoving machinery imported by Gough, Gough and Harner and operated by the Southern Cross Engineering Company. However Walter Butler and Bill Ryan still used the horse drawn scoop and drays, and although Bob Semple had run over innumerable wheel barrows, the pick and shovel was still much in evidence among most private contractors. The Second World War caused a hiatus in such development work and the subdivisions that were carried on were generally small developments interspersed with urgent military work from time to time. During this period some country work in the steep Marlborough country was undertaken and executed by Lewis Davie in the field who completely disregarded a disability that would have stopped most men from attempting what he undertook and carried out.
At the end of 1944 Brian Lovell-Smith re-joined the firm after service in the survey side of the Artillery in the Middle East. This was his third period with the firm. He first started from school with Davie and Harris in 1928 and left in the height of the depression in 1930. He re-joined in 1937 and left at the end of 1939 for Army Service. Back in harness again he wasted no time in qualifying as a surveyor and in 1947 was taken into partnership with Lewis Davie 'under the firm name of Davie and Lovell-Smith. Up to about 1950 small urban subdivisions were the rule although a large number of rural surveys were undertaken mainly due to the settlement of returned servicemen on the land. With the lifting of the Land Sale Price restrictions urban development boomed and just as Lewis Davie's memories must be of miles and miles of roading so Brian Lovell-Smith's memory is of sheets and sheets of scheme plans -always 3 months behind. Local body requirements for urban subdivisions were simple, sewage disposal was ignored if outside a sewered area and water reticulation and road frontage levies were unheard of. However the Land Subdivision in counties Act came into force and the local bodies gradually awoke to its potentialities and their responsibilities. More qualified staff was employed by them, more services had to be planned for and civil engineering became more directly involved in land development. It was becoming apparent to the tow parties that other professions would eventually need to be incorporated with the firm and expansion was inevitable. Michael Davie the younger son of Lewis Davie was articled as a cadet and on his qualification he and Andrew Todd a son-in-law of the senior partner who had been articled to the Dunedin firm of Garden and Associates joined as junior partners in 1958, the firm taking the name of Davie, Lovell-Smith and Todd. In 1959 Lewis Davie and his wife did the "Grand Tour" of Europe and it is interesting to note by the way, that while Mrs. Davie can tell of the details of all the cathedrals and historic buildings of Europe, Lewis Davie's memories seem to be of the different cafes where he spent his time toying with glasses of wine in the sun while the misguided sightseers disappeared into the nearest cathedral. It is probable that this tour was the only time in his life that he used his war wound as an excuse.
The firm had carried on in his absence and on his return he decided to retire taking effect In 1960. Meanwhile pressures had been mounting, particularly in the North Island, that all roading plans should be prepared and supervised by registered engineers. Although this movement was short lived and did not spread to the South Island the three partners, Brian Lovell-Smith, Michael Davie and Andrew Todd decided to look at the possibility of bringing a Civil Engineer into the practice. Donald McLellan was the County Engineer at Waimairi and the firm had many dealings with him to their mutual respect. It was decided to approach him, and the most suitable time being picked as the day following an argumentative Council meeting. Agreement was reached and the firm became Davie, Lovell-Smith & Co. Registered Surveyors and Civil Engineers. Besides expanding the scope of the firm's practice by building bridges over the Upper Ashburton River for the Ashburton County, Don McLellan proved to be a tower of strength in dealing with local bodies and contractors. He and Michael Davie, building on the foundations so well established by Lewis Davie, kept the firm's name at the forefront in roading and similar civil engineering development. While with the firm Don McLellan completed a degree in law and. became member of the Drainage Board and a somewhat formidable person for local bodies to cross.
It was still obvious however that the addition of Civil Engineering was not sufficient and to give full scope to the possibilities of this type of firm a partner with qualifications in Town Planning was required. As the two younger partners were too modest, the Engineering partner engaged in studying for law, and the senior partner too old to undertake qualification it fell to the latter to make an approach right to the top of the Planning tree -Nancy Northcroft who was at that time Regional Planner. On a memorable afternoon Brian Lovell-Smith with considerable trepidation made certain proposals to Nancy Northcroft who much to his surprise did not reject them out of hand and indeed, after some days for consideration accepted them. The addition of a new discipline and partner to the firm necessitated a further name change and it was decided that the present name of Davie LovellSmith and Partners. Registered Surveyors, Consulting Engineers and Chartered Town Planners should be adopted which would cater in general for any further alterations. Nancy Northcroft celebrated her union with the firm by undertaking her first job -a private one -charging her first fees and registering her first debt! However, after some reserve on behalf of local bodies and others who did not quite know what to make of a woman principal in a private firm, her abilities and integrity carried the day and in a few years she built up the Town Planning Department to the formidable department of the firm that it is today.
Office accommodation of a growing frim is a problem and has been a problem for this firm since 1944. In that year a shift was made from the Builders Chambers in Gloucester Street, where Davie and Harris had been situated for over 20 years, to a small suite on the top floor of Dalgetys Buildings in the Square. Growth forced the firm to take up subsidiary accommodation when and where available in adjoining rooms. In about 1960 arrangements were made to take over what had been Dalgety's Manchester warehouse which was renovated into a very handsome suite with a separate entrance next to the old Tramway Board building. However five years later the landlords; Dalgetys, sold the premises to the Crown and the firm was on the move again eventually taking over the lease of the present building which was in the process of being vacated by the Christchurch Drainage Board.
In 1967 Don McLellan who had spread his wings mightily since leaving the Waimairi County Council finally left the partnership to try his hand in the much larger field of Australia. His capabilities were such that in the space of five years he became the General Manager of a development consortium of American and Australian firms with a capital of $12,000.000. Fortunately before he finally left Ian Wilson brough his Civil Engineering practice into the firm and scarcely a jolt was felt, particularly as Ian stood for and replaced Don McLellan on the Drainage Board where he served the same useful purpose of being a whipping boy for his partners to vent their wrath on when the Board uttered some particularly outrageous dictum.
The Town Planning work had been growing rapidly under Nancy Northcroft's efforts and in 1969 Bill Barker a chartered Town Planner from Wellington joined the staff becoming a partner 18 months later. At this period the firm had six partners and about 30 employees including two whose future was to tie with the firm as partners. In 1972 the senior partner Bill Lovell-Smith retired from the more active part of a senior partner's duties and Michael Davie became the Managing partner. In 1977 Brian Lovell-Smith retired as did Nancy Northcroft. David Bryce and Bruce Thompson, Town Planners, became partners at the same time mention qualifications & experience of both followed by Paul Stening on the survey side in 1982 Ian Wilson retired to take a position at Williamsons Construction on 1979.
This is the bare bones of the history of the first hundred years of the firm of Davie Lovell-Smith and Partners. It does not in this short account make any account of all those who have served with the firm on the staff, or of their personalities, or of their work which contributes so much to the history of any business. Nor does it take note of the clients over the years, some big, but mostly small, whose problems become the firm's problems sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for years. Clients are often dealt with once, gone and forgotten, but some stay and become friends and, let us face it, the odd one leaves when a mutual disenchantment sets in.
These stories will, the writer hopes, be written for another day.