As Scottish born Jeanie Collier carefully made her way from her South Canterbury Raupo-roofed cottage, she was practically blind, if not completely. Tight in her hand was her walking stick which helped her on the way. But Jeanie wasn’t alone – both her sister, Margaret, and nephew George, her caretakers, accompanied her and stopped with her as she felt the ground start to slope down. Knowing that a creek lay nearby, she dug her walking stick into the ground and stated that this was the spot she wanted to be buried.
And she was when she passed away on 16th September 1861 at the age of 70 years old.
When Jeanie’s sister Leslie Thomson died in 1854, leaving three sons without parents, Jeanie took the teenagers under her wing. Already in her 60’s and unmarried, she made a brave and bold decision – probably having no idea that she was about to make history!
She packed up her life and that of her brother, James, whom she cared for due to his mental disability, and along with her nephews (Leslie, Andrew & James), they all immigrated to South Canterbury, New Zealand.
It was here that Jeanie became the first woman in New Zealand to own land: 23,068 acres in all. She named the property the “Otaio Run” and in true “Aunty Style”, transferred it to her nephews to secure their future. She, of course, continued to live with them.
Before going blind, Jeanie had a tour of Otaio in the buggy of George Rhodes (who established the first sheep station, the Levels, in South Canterbury in 1853 – now home to South Canterbury’s oldest building). In an interesting twist, the second manger of Otaio, C.N. Orbell, would end up purchasing the Levels after the early death of George Rhodes in 1864. Orbell had been working with Rhodes during this time and his descendants still live there today.
Another interesting connection I found was that Henry Le Cren owned Otaio in 1868. Le Cren arrived at Lyttelton on 15th December 1850 – the day before the arrival of the first Canterbury Association ships – the ‘Charlotte Jane’ and the ‘Randolph’. Alongside his cousin, George Longden, the two of them established a merchant store in Lyttelton on behalf of the Canterbury Association.
In 1852, what is now the front section of the Pegasus Arms (Oxford Terrace) was constructed so George could also have a Christchurch store. It wasn’t a long time before they were asked by George Rhodes – from the Levels as mentioned before – to move their business down south.
The store down south ended up becoming one of the founding companies behind today’s PGG Wrightsons.
Now, back to Jeanie’s story; after her death, her nephews sold all of the land and failed to be financially secure again. Leslie died of yellow fever while in Panama and Andrew returned to England to live. James remained in New Zealand and died in Timaru soon after WWI.
Jeanie’s grave was marked in 1955 and supposedly there is a Reserve around her grave as an acknowledgement. Chris and I found the sign stating it was the reserve but her grave proved harder to find as it was surrounded by corn! Chris went in as carefully as he could and found her grave by the tree pictured here. I was not amused!!