1857: A Transportation Trailblazer is Born in London

January 18, 1857

Henry Wigram, who became a transportation pioneer in New Zealand, was born in London, England. Wigram immigrated to what was then the British colony of New Zealand in 1883. He settled in the city of Christchurch, located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island.

Wigram eventually became involved in Christchurch’s civic affairs. He was elected mayor of Christchurch in 1902 – a position he held for two years — and in this capacity helped modernize the city’s public transportation network. When Wigram assumed office, this network consisted of three independently operated systems that each relied for most part on horse-drawn trams (streetcars). He played a key role in replacing these antiquated and patchwork systems with a better coordinated network that used electric trams instead.

Wigram’s most far-reaching transportation accomplishments, however, involved aviation. While visiting England in 1908, he found himself impressed with the potential uses of planes for both commercial and defense purposes. When Wigram was unable to persuade New Zealand’s national government to support and finance aviation training activities, he established a private flying school formally known as the Canterbury Aviation Company in the Christchurch suburb of Sockburn.

The Canterbury Aviation Company was only the second flying school in all of New Zealand, and it did much to generate widespread enthusiasm for airborne transportation. (In 1907, New Zealand ceased to exist as a colony and instead gained semi-independent status as a dominion of the British Empire; New Zealand would achieve full autonomy in 1947.)

By 1919, the Canterbury Aviation Company had trained more than 180 pilots. Wigram, who remained strongly interested in the role of planes in New Zealand’s defense efforts, prevailed on the national government to take over the school as a military air base in 1923.

Wigram earned acclaim throughout New Zealand for his significant contributions to aviation. “None can compete with him for the title of father of this activity within our shores,” stated the New Zealand Herald when he died in 1934 at the age of 77.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Henry Wigram, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wigram

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