First Child Born In The City Of Christchurch – 15th March 1851

As little Sarah Elizabeth Barker was being born during the darkness of night, her mother Emma held an umbrella over them both in a vain attempt to keep away the driving rain.  A terrible storm raged overhead and Emma’s husband Dr. A.C. Barker tended to her, delivering his first and only daughter into the world as mud flowed and squished underfoot.  Surrounded by packing crates, luggage and a roof made of the top sail of the ‘Charlotte Jane’ (the Canterbury Association first ship and campsite drawn here by Barker), Elizabeth (as she preferred to be called) was the first child born in Christchurch; in Cathedral Square of all places.  It was 15th March 1851.

Destined to become a great writer, Elizabeth showed from an early age that she had a great eye for detail.  Growing up side by side with our infant city, her recollections of her childhood in early Christchurch makes for an endearing read.  Taken from life around the family home on the North West corner of Cathedral Square (the site of Rydges Hotel before the quakes) she records simple details of daily life such as watching her father walk to Riccarton to tend to the Deans’ – able to see him quite a distance as not much stood in the way of her view.  She never looked away until the good doctor had slipped from sight.

She shares about the excitement of receiving mail from England as the flag being hoisted on Mt Pleasant let the city know that a new ship was in port.  Next was the telltale sound of the jingle of the postman’s wagon bell as it rattled along Ferry Road, then Sumner Road (now High Street) and into Market Place (Victoria Square) where an excited crowd would be already waiting.
Shopping at George Gould’s general store – the first building in Christchurch and also located at Market Place – was a grand affair where the Elizabeth and her older Barker brothers would explore the numerous goods crates and would marvell at the ‘ropes of tobacco’ that were for sale.  This simple general store is still part of Canterbury today, as the Pyne Gould Corporation & PGG Wrightsons.

Elizabeth got married sometime in the late 1860’s to the Australian born, Arthur Joseph Hawdon, who whisked his new bride away to Cass where their newly inherited farm – Grasmere – awaited.  It had become theirs due to the fact that Arthur’s father had passed away in 1871. They weren’t to stay there long, selling up in 1876 to David McLeod.  From this point, the Hawdon’s history becomes unclear.

But as for Joseph Hawdon (Arthur’s father) his history is well remembered.  He emigrated from England to Australia in 1834. There, he made a name for himself as a farmer, map maker – including charting previously unexplored territories – and for setting up the first over-land mail delivery service.  He moved his family to Canterbury in 1858 which included 14 year old Arthur.  Joseph is remembered today by the naming of the Hawdon River and Lake Hawdon.

It seemed that Elizabeth kept herself busy writing to newspapers, keeping her sex a secret by using pseudonyms such as ‘Tent-born’.  Chances were high that if the paper knew she was a woman, her scribbles wouldn’t have been published.
Early in the 1900’s she also wrote two books about New Zealand soldiers serving in the Boar War.

Elizabeth died on 11th September 1921 at Timaru.  Arthur had died only 7 months earlier.  Both are buried side by side at the Church of the Innocents at Mt Peel, surrounded by many other Barkers who settled in the area.  

3 Responses

  1. Hi Charles, yes, I am aware of Jeannie Manson and her proud historic title of being the first European birth on the Canterbury Plains. Elizabeth Sarah Barker was the first European birth in the newly formed city of Christchurch – so it really comes down to location and terms. It’s also an amazing thought that Riccarton remained its own borough and was not part of Chch until 1989. My article about Jeannie gets shared every Jan 7th so her story is told too. I also write for Riccarton House & Bush/Homebush, and I am always very careful to mention both the Mansons and Gebbies and their important roles in Canterbury’s history as I know these families have felt forgotten in the past – I am in very close contact with some Manson desendants. I hope this puts your concerns to rest.

    • Keli Manson says:

      I was also about to pop up and say the same, Charles. I did wonder, Annette, if the article heading was because Christchurch hadn’t been named at the time of Jeannie Manson’s birth. All the same, I do think the claim in this story is rather misleading.

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