The sod hut was built by Captain James Penfold in 1862. James Penfold was born in England in 1832. When he was only twelve he got some training as a sailor on the ship ‘Victory’ when it was used as a training ship in Portsmouth Harbour, England. At the age of 15 he went to sea, journeying to Australia where he bought a ship he called 'The Excelsior'. This he used to trade across the Tasman to New Zealand ports.
In 1861 he accepted a contract to deliver hardwood sleepers from Melbourne to the Ferrymead port on the Heathcote River in the new Christchurch settlement. He decided to settle in New Zealand and, in 1862, built himself a sod hut to accommodate his family. Penfold had eight children all born in New Zealand. His hut was originally located near the old steam wharf (as it is in the old photo). The hut had four rooms. The ground floor was split into two rooms, a living room and a kitchen, and there was an attic.
'The Excelsior' was wrecked on Sumner bar. Penfold used material from the wrecked ship and sods cut from the river when building his sod cottage. It was occupied in 1908 after which it became a ruin. It was restored in 1944 by Ernest Parish in conjunction with the Mount Pleasant Burgesses' Association and boys from the Mt Pleasant Yacht Club, and was rebuilt near the Ferrymead Bridge (see new photo) as a memorial to the early settlers of Canterbury.
Cob rather than sod was used in the reconstruction. Another construction had to be carried out after a fire. Up to the time of Mr Parish’s death the hut was opened on Sunday to visitors. The Christchurch City Council took over the hut in 1944 because of vandalism. The whole roof was burnt off as well as other damage in 1948 and the roof is still waiting to be reattached as it originally was.
What is sod: Sod is a type of turf. Some of the soil beneath is held together by roots or some type of material. As a building material: Sod has sometimes been cut into blocks to use for building especially in grasslands where grass is plentiful and more materials are available. The sod is cut out in brick shapes and is laid out like brickwork to make the sod stronger. The sod blocks are usually much longer and wider than average sized bricks. To cut sod they used to use an axe, spade, or plough.
© & posted by George Source: http://library.christchurch.org.nz/heritage/photos/disc7/img0044.asp