When Waimate born George Edgar Sevicke Jones returned to Canterbury to live in 1905, he had his eyes set firmly on his future career as an Optician in Christchurch. He opened his first office on Hereford Street.
From proud settler stock, Jones’ parents had arrived aboard the ‘Strathallan’, Timaru’s first immigrant ship in 1859. As a young man during the 1890’s, after he struggled to find work, he followed his older brother to Sydney, Australia where a job awaited him. Finding himself unhappy, tailoring for a large department store, he applied for a training course as an Optician. Soon, he was going door to door with a suitcase full of prescription spectacles.
On his return to New Zealand and after the opening of his own business in Hereford Street, he came to realise that Cathedral Square offered a better commercial space than where he was. In 1913, he purchased a plot of land (first built on in 1877) near the North West corner of Cathedral Square, which neighboured Chancery Lane and that meant greater foot traffic and the opportunity for new clients. He had a three-story brick structure designed and it was known as the ‘Sevicke Jones Building’. He served his first client on that site in 1914. Another floor was added in 1922.
As a very well respected businessman, he led the way in his profession. Lenses were made in his own laboratory and he was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to own a machine (which fused two kinds of glass together) that made bifocals. His fine selection of artificial eyes had people traveling to Christchurch from all over the country.
After Jones’ death in 1961, the family trade was taken over by his nephew, Hori Collett. Today, this pioneering Optician business is Christchurch’s oldest. Following the move out of the ‘Sevicke Jones Building’ in 1999, the business was renamed to ‘Veale & Hulme’. After the earthquakes and upon learning that their old building was due to be demolished, a quick sweep of the old rooms was done. Delightfully, a 106 old (as of 2013) prescription book was discovered- belonging to none other than George Edgar Sevicke Jones. This business now operates as ‘Merivale Optical’.
*Image of Sevicke Jones Building before demolition courtesy of Paul Willyams*