Our Heritage



1854 Dunstable House Founded

Ballantynes was established in 1854 and was originally named Dunstable House by its founders David Clarkson, his wife Esther, and sister Elizabeth Clarkson. They lived in a cottage in Cashel Street. Esther came from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, England and had been trained as a milliner. She imported 2 cases of straw hats which she sold, with sundry and other items of clothing, from the front room. Seeing how well she was doing, David built a small gabled shop for her, which extended out to the street frontage.

In 1854, a partnership with David's cousin, Thomas Atkinson, was established and the "New Drapery Establishment" in Cashel Street was first advertised in the Lyttelton Times on 23 September 1854.

Thomas Atkinson left the partnership around the end of 1856. At the same time a large two-storey extension to the shop opened, and the business was named Dunstable House.

The business prospered and was bought in 1864 by William Pratt, under whom the business further flourished. He led the way in improving the conditions of staff, and made additions to the buildings in brick before selling the business in 1872 to John Ballantyne.


1872 Dunstable House Purchased by John Ballantyne

John Ballantyne was born in 1825 in Selkirk Scotland, and emigrated to Sydney in 1852 where he joined the firm of Messrs McArthur Kingsbury & Co. He was sent to Adelaide in 1853 to establish a branch there and became a partner. He later established his own business in Adelaide but sold this to Robin and Birks in order to emigrate to New Zealand. After 7 years in Dunstable House he retired to go farming in the Rangitata District of South Canterbury, and the business was carried on by a series of partnerships which at times included his three sons, eventually becoming a Company in 1920.


1883 Timaru Branch Opened

Ballantynes branch in Timaru was established in 1883 and moved to its present site in 1913. New premises were opened in 1986, and the shop extended into the first floor of this building in 2006. It is interesting to note that the architects for the Stafford Street building were Messrs Clarkson & Ballantyne: Mr Clarkson being a son of the founders of Dunstable House, while Mr Ballantyne was a nephew of John Ballantyne.


1947 The Ballantynes Fire, 18 November

The Ballantynes fire was a tragic event in the history of New Zealand and for Christchurch and Ballantynes in particular. 41 people lost their lives, 39 staff and 2 of the company's auditors from the partnership of Stewart Beckett.

A civil funeral was held in Christchurch Cathedral on Sunday 23 November and thousands of local Cantabrians lined the streets in tribute. The funeral cortage stretched all the way from the Cathedral Square to the Ruru cemetery in Linwood where there is a special grave for the unfortunate victims.

As a result of a royal commission many changes were subsequently made to the funding and management of the national fire service, building codes for commercial and public buildings and health and safety conduct for commercial premises throughout New Zealand.


2011 Christchurch Earthquake, 22 February

As with the majority of Christchurch city centre, Ballantynes was badly damaged by the 22 February earthquake, however thankfully there was no loss of life. The business was closed for 8 months but finally reopened at 100% of the building code on 29 October 2011 in time for Cup and Show Week celebrations.

During the closure the business continued to trade online increasing its product range available on the website, through catalogues and one-off "retail events". The number of products available at its Timaru store increased and bus trips were organised to transport customers from Christchurch.


2019 Ballantynes Today

On the 18th of November 2014 the refurbished Ballantynes fire memorial was unveiled after it was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes. Relatives of those who had passed 67 years ago to the day gathered at Ruru Lawn Cemetery to remember those who lost their lives.

Today, J Ballantyne and Co Ltd. maintains a substantial business with shops in Christchurch and Timaru. Ballantynes employs over 300 people, including some members of the Ballantyne family, and maintains its traditions of service and quality, while keeping ahead of the fashions and times.

Ballantynes is committed to remaining in the city centre and adding vibrancy to the heart of Christchurch. With the large scale rebuild of the city centre, Ballantynes is looking forward to a first class retail precinct and maintains a real sense of obligation to be part of the new city and continue to serve its customers with quality merchandise and excellent service.