Christchurch Landmark Carpenter Arrived – January 1850

Scottish born carpenter, James Johnstone, was offered a job that he just couldn’t refuse. He had been happily living in Tasmania, Australia after immigrating with his wife Janet and their children in 1843. Now, as the new Foreman Carpenter for the Canterbury Association – earning 63 shillings a week – he made his plans to move his family to New Zealand.

Along with Johnstone aboard the ‘Rebecca’ were a small crew of carpenters and cadets including a cargo hold full of Australian timber. The Canterbury Plains were infamous for being almost tree free, apart from Riccarton, Papanui and the Rangiora Bushes. By this time, the Johnstone family were twelve in number, including James and Janet – with their 11th child due any day. Upon arriving in Lyttelton in January 1850 – after a brief stopover at Wellington – Johnstone’s first project was the construction of Lyttelton’s four Immigration Barracks. This build was to include a cookhouse, a laundry and toilets.

Johnstone continued to work around Lyttelton, also rebuilding the Canterbury Association Store at Sumner. This structure was later used as the stables for the Day’s Hotel (1850’s – 1892). A year later, the move to Christchurch was made. Johnstone took a plot of land on Cashel Street, near the north east corner with Oxford Terrace. Here he opened his own carpentry shop and was within walking distance of his next project – building the Christchurch’s Land Office. We now know this site as the home of the (earthquake damaged) Municipal Chambers, the first home of the Christchurch City Council. Nearby, he also constructed a footbridge over the Avon, now known as the Worcester Street Bridge.

Janet Johnstone later confessed that she was always worried that James would struggle to find work as Canterbury was now well equipped with these kinds of tradesmen. But the jobs kept rolling in. Johnstone erected the first timber buildings at Christ’s College and St Michael’s Church School. These two educational institutes – Canterbury’s oldest – were using the same Oxford Street site at that time. In 1855, fellow Ayrshire born settler, Jane Deans, hired Johnstone for the construction of Riccarton House (Stage 1) and other Riccarton Farm buildings.

On the last Sunday of October in 1853, Canterbury’s first Presbyterian service took place at Johnstone’s carpentry shop. It was at this service that many of the children of Christchurch’s Scottish families were baptised, including John Deans II. It was after this service and with the purchase of land and a new minister from Scotland also appointed, Johnston built St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.  This church still serves the community at its location at Rangi Ruru Girls’ High School.

James died on 11th April 1870 in Christchurch from Typhoid. He was 61 years old.

*Image of James Johnstone courtesy of the Johnstone family*


Comments are closed.

2 Responses

  1. Lynette Jowett says:

    James Johnstone was my Great great great grandfather. His son Archibald (38th pupil to attend Christ’s College) is my Great Great Grandfather. Archibald’s son Christopher married Laura Bailey. Christopher went to Taranaki and took up farming in Auroa. He had a family of two sons. Andrew died 1910 aged 15 years (buried Otakeho Cemetery) Reginald died on active service 8.2.1918 Aged 21 years and three daughters. Gladys (my grandmother) Netta, and Irene. Christopher, Laura, Andrew, Gladys, Netta and Irene and some of their descendants are also buried in the Otakeho cemetery. Glady’s eldest daughter Flora 99 years was buried there in 2016.

  2. Susan Young says:

    James Johnston was my great etc grandfather. His daughter Elizabeth married Henry Young and the Young family remained in Christchurch until my Grandparents, Isobel Young (nee Dennis), married to Francis William Young moved to Wellington during WW2. My father, William Dudley Dennis Young returned to Wellington after the war and then moved to the Wairarapa. His brother, Gerald Francis stayed in Wellington, and his sister Valerie Young married ( to one of the Polish immigrant children) and eventually moved to Auckland.

%d bloggers like this: