Around 6th December 1850, Charlotte Godley (pictured later in life), the wife of Canterbury Founder John Robert Godley, became the first European woman to venture west of the Deans’ farm of Riccarton. She was in a party of nine people heading to Harewood (Oxford) Forest for a exploratory camping trip – roughly ten days before the arrival of the Canterbury Association ships, the first being the historic ‘Charlotte Jane’.
“After we left the fence of Deans’ paddock, we saw nothing but unvaried plain, with surveyors’ poles for landmarks, all covered with grass of different kinds, looking something like hay, and very tiring to walk through, for about twelve miles, when we came to the banks of the Courtenay [Waimakariri River – attempted naming after Canterbury Association member, Hon. Lord William Reginald Courtenay] on which we camped for the night”, Charlotte later wrote in a letter to her mother back in England.
Before the visit to Riccarton by Charlotte Godley in 1850, only three women had called the Deans’ farm home. Mrs. Jean Manson and Mrs. Mary Gebbie had arrived with their husbands and children as employees of the Deans’ brothers from Scotland, taking their place in Canterbury’s history in May 1843. Jean went on to give birth to the first European child on the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains the following year.
When the Manson and Gebbie families moved on to their own land at Maori Valley (Teddington, Banks Peninsula) after their two year contract ended in 1845, the Deans’ brothers contacted their friends – the Tods – in Wellington offering them work. They accepted and arrived just before the Mansons and the Gebbies left. From then onwards, it is recorded that Mary Tod was the only European woman on the plains and like the women before her, did not venture from Riccarton at all.
Mary not only witnessed the renaming of Putaringamotu to Riccarton and the Ōtākaro to the Avon River over Christmas lunch (I have been lucky enough to have touched the very table where this took place) with the Canterbury Association surveyors in 1848 but was also present when Mrs. Jane Deans arrived early 1853 to take her place as the Lady of Riccarton. Not long after that, Mary and her husband moved to their own land in Fendall Town (Fendalton) before making their permanent life in Lincoln.
* Letter extract from Letters From Early New Zealand by Charlotte Godley*