With the back of the car filled with fishing gear, history books piled on my lap and my eyes constantly scanning the landscape flashing past – the Bulovics were heading towards Lake Ellesmere for a spot of fishing. As we turned into Cowans Road, Leeston, Chris heard a familiar cry from the passenger seat. It usually sounds a lot like me going, “Ah, Honey…” and he knows that I have spotted something possibility historic and a compulsory stop was called for.
I had spotted a tiny cemetery at the intersection of Cowans, Feredays, Willis and Waby Roads and cemeteries aren’t to be ignored. I found no graves of mention but the name of the cemetery needed further investigation. Bishops Corner Cemetery.
When the first burial took place in 1872, Bishops Corner Cemetery was known as Leeston Cemetery and had an accompanying little church on site. Of Wesleyan denomination (Methodist) it soon appeared that maybe because of its location, the demand on its services was weak. On the 21st November 1875, the chapel was relocated to Southbridge and in 1880, when the Ellesmere Cemetery opened a Methodist section, the little cemetery ceased to be useful too. Now considered ‘closed’; only those whom have family graves in a pre-purchased plot can be buried there today.
The term of Bishops Corner has proved to be a disappointing dead end. I can’t say where the name comes from – it may have nothing to do with an actual Bishop but perhaps it is a surname of one close by farming family now lost to history. The question remains.
I did find some interesting history around two of the roads that encase the graves. John Cowan arrived in New Zealand in 1862 and opened a coach service between Leeston and Christchurch. During a crossing of the Selwyn River, his coach capsized and he was nearly drowned. It was the quick action of either a passenger or witness of the incident that saved John’s life. But, sadly, John’s battle for survival had only just started. Due to exposure, an infection settled in his lungs and after months of illness, John passed away in 1871. He left behind a large young family.
Charles Hugh Willis was 9 years old when his family arrived in Canterbury in 1870. He grew up in Southbridge and became a merchant. When his father died around 1880, he took over the family farm. He was a member of the A & P Association (both Canterbury and Ellesmere) and the Southbridge Town Council. He was a Justice of the Peace and acting coroner of Ellesmere.
The relocated church was later sold in 1949, Its fate unknown.