Archeological evidence found in a cave at Redcliffs in 1876 has indicated that the Christchurch area was first settled by moa-hunting tribes about 1250. These first inhabitants were thought to have been followed by the Waitaha tribe, who are said to have migrated from the East coast of the North Island in the 16th century. Following tribal warfare, the Waitaha (made of three peoples) were dispossessed by the Ngati Mamoe tribe. They were in turn subjugated by the Ngā,i Tahu tribe, who remained in control until the arrival of European settlers.
Following the purchase of land at Putaringamotu (modern Riccarton) by the Weller brothers whalers of Otago and Sydney a party of European settlers led by Herriott and McGillivray established themselves in what is now Christchurch, early in 1840. Their abandoned holdings were taken over by the Deans brothers in 1843 who stayed. The First Four Ships were chartered by the Canterbury Association and brought the first 792 of the Canterbury Pilgrims to Lyttelton Harbour. These sailing vessels were the Randolph, Charlotte-Jane, Sir George Seymour, and Cressy. The Charlotte-Jane was the first to arrive on 16 December 1850. The Canterbury Pilgrims had aspirations of building a city around a cathedral and college, on the model of Christ Church in Oxford. The name ",Christ Church", was decided prior to the ships', arrival, at the Association',s first meeting, on 27 March 1848.
Captain Joseph Thomas, the Canterbury Association',s Chief Surveyor, surveyed the surrounding area. By December 1849 he had commissioned the construction of a road from Port Cooper, later Lyttelton, to Christchurch via Sumner.However this proved more difficult than expected and road construction was stopped while a steep foot and pack horse track was constructed over the hill between the port and the Heathcote valley, where access to the site of the proposed settlement could be gained. This track became known as the Bridle Path, because the path was so steep that pack horses needed to be led by the bridle.
Goods that were too heavy or bulky to be transported by pack horse over the Bridle Path were shipped by small sailing vessels some eight miles (13 km) by water around the coast and up the estuary to Ferrymead. New Zealand',s first public railway line, the Ferrymead railway, opened from Ferrymead to Christchurch in 1863. Due to the difficulties in travelling over the Port Hills and the dangers associated with shipping navigating the Sumner bar, a railway tunnel was bored through the Port Hills to Lyttelton, opening in 1867.
Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on 31 July 1856, the first in New Zealand. Many of the city',s Gothic Revival buildings by architect Benjamin Mountfort date from this period.
Christchurch was the seat of provincial administration for the Province of Canterbury, which was abolished in 1876.
In 1947, New Zealand',s worst fire disaster occurred at Ballantyne',s Department Store in the inner city, with 41 people killed in a blaze which razed the rambling collection of buildings. The Lyttelton road tunnel between Lyttelton and Christchurch was opened in 1964. Christchurch was host to the 1974 British Commonwealth Games.