In June 2012, the 162 year old timber pile remains of John Robert Godley’s house (co-founder of the Canterbury Association and Chief Agent) were discovered during the demolition of Lyttelton’s Plunket building (built during the 1940’s) due to earthquake damage. It appears that the Plunkett structure had been built over top.
John Robert Godley, his wife Charlotte, their son Arthur and two servants first viewed Lyttelton in April 1850 – their ship being met by Canterbury Association’s Chief Surveyor Captain Joseph Thomas whose team had been surveying the newly named Canterbury region since late 1848. Once the sites of Christchurch, Port Victoria (Lyttelton) and Sumner had been chosen, our earliest roads and first buildings (including Godley’s house) began to shape our future city.
“Close to the [Lyttelton Immigration] barracks stands our house, built in the same style as the barracks, only two storeys, and to our great surprise we found it nearly finished, and the best looking house we have seen yet in New Zealand; six rooms and a kind of pantry”. – Charlotte Godley, 8th April 1850
Godley, the face of the Canterbury Association, had arrived early in New Zealand to welcome the first of the Canterbury Association settlers, due to leave England later in September that year. And he did just that, his first settler being James Edward Fitzgerald who went on to found The Press, introduce New Zealand to the telegraph and served Canterbury as the first provincial superintendent. These two old friends, who had known each other back in England, were so overcome by this now historic moment, they cried through their laugher as they were finally reunited. Only a few metres away was Godley’s house – at the beginning of Sumner Road.
Its location soon proved to be very trying. With only a gate separating the barracks from the Godleys, one can imagine that there was hardly a moment without someone knocking on the door with one problem or another. Throughout the interruptions though, they did welcome some of New Zealand’s most historic people of that era – Bishop George Selwyn and New Zealand Governor George Grey being amongst them.
In 1852, in order to get away from living next to the immigration barracks, the Godley’s gratefully accepted a temporary offer of an empty workingman’s whare at the Deans’ farm of Riccarton. It broke Charlotte’s heart when the time arrived to return to port as they prepared for their permanent return to England. They left Christchurch on Christmas Day 1852 after having been waved off by the people of Christchurch after a special breakfast at Hagley Park.
The Chief Agent’s house had numerous different roles after the Godley’s left before it succumbed to old age and as a result, was demolished.
*Letter entry courtesy from ‘Letters from Early New Zealand’ by Charlotte Godley*