I love nothing more than coming across a description during my studies that brings alive an historical figure like never before. So, I thought I would share this one concerning our Founder, the man that did the long hours and pushed the pen to get Christchurch up and started, John Robert Godley.
But first, the story behind this photo I took of his signature. It is from the land deed he signed for brothers, Arthur and Richard Knight in 1851. They had just purchased 9700 acres west of the Deans’ Homebush station in Whitecliffs. The brothers, who were Jane Austen’s (the novelist) nephews, named their new station ‘Seventon’ after their grandfather’s Hampshire vicarage. I am happy to report that ‘Seventon’ and the home the Knights built is still with us today. The retired couple who live there are extremely proud of its history and love nothing more than chatting about their property; they were a delight to spend time with.
Just like the Deans and other farming families in the Malvern Hills area, coal was discovered – but the Knights were the first to commercialize their find. They named their mine ‘Knight’s Flat’.
They sold ‘Seventon’ in 1866 to H.P Hill and Fredrick Broome and so began ‘the Lady Barker’ era of ‘Seventon’ – that is well known to Canterbury historians thanks to her keeping a well detailed diary. Now a book, ‘Station Life in New Zealand’, I am ashamed to say I have yet to read it but have been keeping an eye out to purchase it when I can find a copy.
The Knights moved on to Racecourse Hill (also still with us located between Sheffield and Annat) and were still living there as the world entered World War I. In fact, Norah Knight had married Alister Deans a few years earlier and was residing at Morven – Alister’s inherited slice of Homebush. She was pregnant with their second son when Alister lost his life while in active service.
Their eldest, Alister Austin Deans Jr. grew up to be New Zealand famous painter Austen Deans – who went by his middle name which of course acknowledged the family ties to Jane Austen – and he only died in 2011 aged 95 years old.
Austen’s eldest granddaughter is Julia Deans who has made a name for herself in the world of music as the lead singer of the band ‘Fur Patrol’ and is now pursuing a career as a solo artist.
The first time Austen headed out to see Julia perform – after removing his ear plugs – he informed Julia that the last time he had heard a commotion like that, it was during World War II. His pride in his granddaughter though was never in question!
But back to John Robert Godley, I came across this description of him written by C.E. Carrington in 1950.
“In November 1847, [he] was thirty-three years old, tall and sparely-built, with a broad, high domed forehead, scanty brown hair, pale blue eyes set very wide apart, a straight firm mouth, and a serious expression. He read and wrote much but spoke little, sparing his throat which he had strained by twelve months of politics. In manner he was courteous but reserved, often abstracted, absorbed in his own thoughts. Those who knew him well agreed already that he was no ordinary man. As a philosopher he was guide and tutor to several of his political friends, as a man of action he proved himself in the Irish troubles, but most remarkable was the restless energy with which he brought men of mark together, organised committees, drafted reports, and got things done”.
*photos taken by Annette Bulovic*
*text taken from ‘John Robert Godley of Canterbury’ by C.A. Carrington*