Johnson's Fish Ponds

Johnson's Fishponds in Opawa was a fish hatchery and public garden established in 1884. 

Following his arrival in New Zealand in 1862, Andrew Mensal Johnson became the curator of the Acclimatisation Society. A disagreement with the society, regarding his theories on raising salmon, led him to resign in 1875. Johnson then advertised his desire to purchase five to one hundred acres of land with a stream, preferably in either Opawa or Southbrook.

By 1876 he had established Troutdale Farm on five acres of swampy and sandy land that he had purchased from a Mr Pavitt in Opawa. Situated on the banks of the Heathcote River, the ground sloped upwards in a series of terraces.

In February 1883 Johnson advertised for tenders for the erection of a fish hatching house, an aquarium, an engine house and a workshop at Troutdale Farm. The new aquarium was built by 1884.

Upon entering the gate at Troutdale Farm, a visitor would see, to the right, a pond. A terrace rose above this pond, on which there were pine trees and poplars. The path led to the owner’s house and then onto more trout ponds at the bottom of a slope. Beyond, was the aquarium house, a red brick, two storey building. Inside, the house contained glass aquariums.

Initially the gardens were open to the public for free and became a popular location for picnics. However, as a result of fish being stolen, an entrance fee was imposed and the opening hours were restricted to Wednesday, Saturday and public holidays. Despite this precaution, night time theft of trout remained a common occurrence for Johnson.  

The water supply to the aquarium was increased by the addition of a windmill and waterwheel in 1888.

Along with fish Johnson also had bees, chickens, and a ‘Tasmanian bear’ (wombat). At some point Johnson acquired a tuatara lizard named Percy (despite being female) who died in 1937. Johnson also provided the 1906 International Exhibition with specimens of fish.

Johnson died in March 1916 and the property was left to C. Morris and his wife. The fish ponds and aquarium were closed in the early 1920s.

In 1926 the property was acquired by Robert Brims and his wife Catherine Isobel. Brims relaid the lawns and flower beds and reopened in March 1931 as ‘Johnson’s Fish Ponds and Amusement Park’. In March 1933 a skating rink was laid by British Pavements. Visitors were also able to attend dances at the fish ponds on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

In May 1937 the contents of the property were sold at auction including Percy the tuatara, white rats, angora rabbits, 400 goldfish, and children’s playground equipment. The property itself was auctioned in May 1938. The property was later subdivided for housing. Part of the land was later formed into Radley Playground.