George Gatonby Stead (1841 – 1908)

George Gatonby Stead was born in London, England. At the age of 9, his parents moved his life to South Africa where he lived until he was 24. During that time he became a excellent rider and good shot with a rifle.

On returning to England in 1865, he soon decided to emigrate to Canterbury, New Zealand. He arrived in Lyttelton the following year with a few letters of introduction, one being from Lord Lyttelton himself.

He got himself a job at the Christchurch branch of the Bank of Australia. By 1870, George was doing so well for himself that he became partner in a grain firm that changed its name to Royce, Stead and Co. Due to Christchurch’s wheat production boom years, the partners were able to extend their business to a malt works in Heathcote and open 3 large grain stores in Addington.

A great lover of horses, George joined the Canterbury Jockey Club and was the treasurer for 30 years. He was for a time the chairman too. Due to his great love for horse racing, George had began to import horses of his own and was a successful breeder/owner of many of the great racing horses of that time.

In 1876, George married Lucie Wilkinson in Dunedin. They would go to have 3 sons and 1 daughter. Over the next decade, George kept himself busy with his grain company as well as having a hand in the Canterbury College (now known as Canterbury University), Lincoln School of Agriculture, the Christchurch Tramway Board, and the Christchurch Theatre Royal. He co-founded the Union Fire and Marine Insurance Co. and the Canterbury Club. He got into properties by co-owning many farms in north Christchurch (one now the Coringa Golf Club at McLeans Island), Hawkes Bay and Southland. This helped him become known as a very good sheep trader.

The year 1881 saw a great failure in the grain companies. Bankruptcy was declared for poor George’s business. He fought back and in 1897, he was back in the grain business with a new partner, Joseph Palmer.

In 1890, the Stead’s brought the property Stowan, Stowan House is now know as the hub of St Andrew’s College on Papanui Road. With great development of the house and land, it became a Christchurch land mark known as Stowan Park.

Also that same year, George was talked into buying ‘The Press’ which was in dire need of help. Within 2 years, the paper was back on its feet and tripling its earnings.

George retired from the grain business in 1903 and devoted his time evenly between ‘The Press’ and being at the races at Riccarton. It was at the races that George collapsed from an attack of Brights Disease (Kidney failure) and he died 2 days later at Stowan.

Lucie stayed on until 1918 when she sold the place to the Presbytery of Canterbury who had plans to make Stowan into a school, of course St Andrew’s College. Lucie died in 1920.

The Stead Room is at the new Press Building. Facing out to Gloucester Street, this wonderful historic room has more than just a few stories going.The table and chairs date to the 1930’s and only survive today as they were away getting repaired when the 22nd February earthquake struck.Out of view of this photo are two sketches of the old Press building – that was exactly 102 years old (to the day) on the 22nd February 2011 – spooky!In the corner of the room, also out of view is a pile of huge old ledger books. On the table is a vase of smooth balls made from the Oamaru Stone that was in the destroyed Press Building.

George and Lucie are buried at Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch.

*Image of George Gatonby Stead courtesy of http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz*
*image of George Gatonby Stead’s grave courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/CanterburyRacing*
*Photo of The Stead Room taken by Annette Bulovic*

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