New Zealand’s Oldest Illustrated Children’s Is Begun In Lyttelton – 1851

In 2000, as part of Canterbury’s 150th anniversary, New Zealand’s oldest illustrated childrens book was returned to Christchurch (from England) where it had been penned from 1851 to 1858.

James Edward Fitzgerald – Canterbury’s first Superintendent and founder of ‘The Press’ – began to make the book for the three-year-old son of Canterbury Founder and good friend, John Robert Godley.
It was about a boat named ‘Seadrift’ who faced the same trials and adventures as the first settlers who chose to make Canterbury their new home. It took seven years to complete (and boasts of 32 illustrations); the 11-year-old Arthur Godley received the book for Christmas 1858 – in London – as both families lived there. The book remained a favourite for many generations of Godleys.

This treasure is now in the safe keeping of the New Zealand-based John Robert Godley Memorial Trust.

The following was written by Charlotte Godley in a letter to England in 1851:

“…and Arthur, the very excitement of seeing Mr. [James Edward] Fitzgerald draw a ship, which, in consideration of the birthday, he had promised to do so, if Arthur could be allowed to sit up. He draws ships just as Heneage does horses, and every part accurately, talking to the child, something, too, like him; so that I like to sit by, and look on and listen; and Arthur is quite beside himself with delight…Mr. Fitzgerald has only drawn for him twice, but the mere idea of his coming again is hailed with intense happiness; the paper, etc, all laid ready long before, and then every knock, out he rushed, silent from suspense, to see who it was…” – Charlotte Godley 17 June 1851

* Photo taken by Chris Bulovic*

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