CANTERBURY’S FIRST LAWYERS

If one wished to split hairs, you could say that Canterbury’s first lawyers were William and John Deans.  It seems that in the Deans household in the parish of Riccarton back in good old Scotland, it was straight out of school and into Dad’s law firm to establish in oneself a good work ethic.  But Dad was under no illusion.  As his firm was a small one, he knew it would not financially support himself and his three sons; once a good foundation was established, he told his sons that only one would continue the family practice and the other two were free to pursue their own dreams.  I’m sure John Deans (Senior) took great comfort as William and John left for New Zealand with dreams of landownership and farming – which they were trained in – having the law to fall back on if things didn’t pan out as hoped.  Neither brother practiced law again but their legal training sure did come in handy when dealing with the New Zealand Company and the Canterbury Association over the ownership of Riccarton and other land disputes concerning where Christchurch is built today.

So, who were Canterbury’s first practicing lawyers?  The New Zealand Law Society named six people – without committing to who was the first – and even though I have done my own digging, I am uncomfortable to name one too…but I have picked my top three contestants:

Christopher Edward Dampier (1801 – 1871) was the solicitor of the Canterbury Association and arrived in Lyttelton on 9th November 1850 with all the important papers in hand.  He was housed in the accommodation set up for the Association’s Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas, who had since returned to England; soon this area of Lyttelton was known as Dampier’s Bay.  Today it is home to all those huge oil and petrol tanks.   His office was in London Street (Lyttelton) and during the mid 1850’s, he offered his services for land and stock sales and took an interest in local politics.

But by 1859, it appears that Dampier had settled down on land of his own in North Canterbury and passed it down to his sons before his death – 21 years to the day of his arrival in Lyttelton.  He is also remembered in the naming of Dampier Street in Woolston as he had once owned land there.

Joshua Porter (1823 – 1884), a solicitor to the future Lyttelton Magistrates, arrived in Lyttelton on the same day as Christopher Edward Dampier.  According to the Porter family, he was one of two lawyers in Canterbury at that time with 10 years of experience already under his belt.  As the first magistrate was John Robert Godley – Canterbury’s founder – Porter would have worked very closely with the Canterbury Association without really being a part of it.  Like Dampier, Porter soon moved into land and stock sales but set up his life in Christchurch, his office being in Cathedral Square, closer to where Warners was built.  He took a great interest in all aspects of city life, taking an active interest in cricket, racing, politics, horticulture, education and the establishment of the fire brigade.

By 1855, with his two brothers also in Canterbury, he took an interest in farming and became a cadet in the Rakaia.  In 1857, he and Alfred (one of his brothers) bought 20,000 acres of land which included the iconic Castle Hill Run.  Much to Alfred’s distress, Joshua was unable to leave city life behind completely and his address was still in Armagh Street during these first years.  Leaving Alfred to run Castle Hill by himself, by 1861 Joshua was back to practicing law.  Living in North Canterbury by the mid 1860’s, Joshua was a founding lawyer of today’s Corcoran French and was Kaiapoi’s 2nd Mayor.  Joshua died of illness in 1884 while living in Australia.

The Porters time in mid Canterbury are remembered today in the naming of Porters Pass, Porters Flat, Porter Heights Ski Field, Porter River and Porter Place in the Castle Hill Village.

Richard Wormald (1806 – 1861) arrived in Lyttelton aboard the Isabella Hercus, the Canterbury Association’s 6th ship.   Just over a month later, he had placed his first business advert in the Lyttelton Times (pictured) and his office was situated on London Street (Lyttelton).  Like the two lawyers before him, he mainly dealt with land and stock sales.  The papers were full of his advertisements.

By 1857, he partnered with William Sefton Moorhouse (who is remembered today mainly for his political life within Canterbury, being our second Provincial Superintendent).  Wormald was the Secretary of the Lyttelton Book Society and the lawyer for the Building and Investment Society.  And then sadly, on 20th October 1861, Wormald died and there are very few details as to how.  A few weeks before this, none of his advertisements appeared as they once did – suggesting he was ill.  He was 55 years old and is buried at Lyttelton Anglican Cemetery.

It doesn’t feel right not to give an honorable mention to Thomas Smith Duncan who in 1857 founded the law firm that is today’s Duncan Cotterill.  Duncan, a Scottish lawyer by trade, started his Canterbury life as a bit of a rascal, having fled his homeland with a young charge of his employer. They ran away together to the village of Gretna Green and had a quickie marriage ceremony.

The newlyweds arrived on the ‘Randolph’, the Canterbury Association’s second ship. Although the law was all Duncan knew, he had no plans to practice while in his new life. The pair purchased twenty hectares in Decanter Bay on Banks Peninsula and ran a dairy farm. They only lasted five years before moving to Lyttelton. Soon after his arrival, he opened his own law firm.

Around this time, Duncan’s future law partner, Henry Cotterill, was just a toddler. He was later educated at Christ’s College and became a lawyer in 1878. A year later he became a partner of Duncan and remained so until his death in 1943.

Today, with five offices nationwide, with over eighty lawyers employed, history proud 159 year old Duncan Cotterill has survived the Canterbury earthquakes, moving into a brand new building on Victoria Street in 2014.  The firm has proved to be very much a part of the Scottish culture of Canterbury today, still being the solicitors of the Deans Family (concerning Riccarton and Homebush at least), and supporters of St Andrew’s College (the ‘Strowan’ homestead once being the home of Duncan) and the Hororata Highlands Games.

*Image courtesy of Papers Past – https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz*

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