MRS. POPES

When Mrs. Maria Sophia Pope opened her shop on Colombo Street in 1862, the street that ran along the front of her door was nothing more than a muddy runty track that would fill with water every time it rained.  But I’m sure on those fine Christchurch days; Maria would take a breather on her front step and gaze across Market Place (Victoria Square) before her, even straining her eyes south towards Cathedral Square where our now precious cathedral was still a pipe dream for the Anglicans of Christchurch.

She was in a great position retail wise.  Her little newspaper/stationary shop proved to be so popular that by 1866, she had increased her wares to sell smoking caps, slippers, wool, beads and needlework, all imported from Europe.  Beside her were her adult children, her son Fusedale and her daughter Sarah.  When her husband Thomas died in 1850 in London, Maria eventually came to the decision to move her family to Christchurch.  The Popes arrived in 1858.

The following few years proved trying for the small family when they were caught up in a murder/arson situation caused by the neighbouring grocers.  One the night of the 8th February 1868, John Densley Swales killed his business partner John Rankin and then set a fire to hide the crime.  Unfortunately for the Popes, the fire spread to their shop but in the madness, some of their stock was managed to be saved.  If it wasn’t enough to be moving to a new store and attached living abode, Maria was called to be a witness at John Densley Swales’ trial.  Her testimony helped send Swales to the noose later that year at the Lyttelton Gaol.  The court dramas didn’t stop there as in 1869, she was called to the witness stand again when the neighbouring confectionery store proved to be a cover for a brothel.

Thankfully by 1872, things were settled back down and the business continued to thrive.  Household goods, wool, needlework and children clothes were the main selling items by this time.  In 1882, the family was finally able to move from living above their store to their own house in Papanui.  At this stage, Maria was in semi-retirement and things were mostly run by Sarah.  In 1898, the store moved to 197 Colombo Street, moving closer to Cathedral Square.

In 1907, the family made the move to Timaru but still ran their business under managers.  When Sarah died in the 1920’s, the family connection to the business was cut.  This business disappeared into history in 1993.

*image courtesy of http://www.victorianlondon.org*

Curious about the murder of John Rankin:  http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/murder-on-colombo-street/

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