STROWAN – Thomas Smith Duncan (1821 – 1884)

Thomas Smith Duncan was a bit of a rascal who fled his homeland with a young charge of the family.

Together they fled Perth, Scotland and headed south to the village of Gretna Green and got married. In what could be regarded as Scotland’s “Las Vegas”, the township is still known for its runaway/quickie weddings!

The Duncan’s arrived on the ‘Randolph’, one of the first four ships in 1850. Although Thomas had been a lawyer back in Scotland, he had no plans to do the same in Canterbury. The pair purchased 20 hectares in Decanter Bay on Banks Peninsula and ran a dairy farm. Once the site of the Te Kakahu Pa and only being accessible by the sea, they only lasted 5 years before moving to Lyttelton.

Thomas opened his own law firm there and was joined by Henry Cotterill in 1858. They became well established lawyers not only in Lyttelton but also in Christchurch and founded today’s Duncan Cotterill law firm.

During the 1870’s, Duncan Cotterill was situated in The Lordship’s Hotel on Lichfield Street. It was there that the firm hired John Deans II as a legal clerk when he finished school. As John was facing the huge inheritance of Riccarton as well as Homebush within the next 5 years, a sure footing in the law was going to be helpful. Unfortunately for The Lordship’s Hotel that served as a pub in recent times – in one of Christchurch’s busiest social settings – it did not survive the 2010/2011 earthquakes.

As Thomas worked as a Crown Prosecutor in Christchurch, the family moved into Strowan, a property on Papanui Road, built by Sir Thomas Tancred. After the Duncan’s, the property was owned by George Stead who turned it into one of the most beautiful places in Christchurch. When George died enjoying the races at Riccarton Raceway, his wife Lucie eventually sold the property in 1918 and the house became and remains the central hub of what is now St Andrew’s College.

Thomas is buried at St Paul’s Anglican Church Cemetery in Papanui.

*photo of Thomas Smith Duncan’s grave was taken by Annette Bulovic*
*Image of Strowan House & Papanui Road courtesy of*

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3 Responses

  1. J E Duncan says:

    To Annette Bulovic – are you a descendent of Thomas Smith Duncan as I am, granddaughter of Thomas Harvey Duncan died Sydney Australia and daughter of his son (a twin) Gordon Maxwell Duncan died Melbourne. If you are not a descendent, are you aware of any living descendents in NZ, as Thomas Hugh Duncan died 1943, may have had offspring.

    • Hello, I’m afraid that I am not a descendent, just a Canterbury historian who so enjoyed learning and sharing about Thomas. With your permission, I would like to share your e-mail on a Facebook page that connects historic Christchurch families that may not be in contact just due to time and situation. Or if you are on Facebook yourself, you may like to do this yourself.

      Either way, let me know. Best of luck to you 🙂

      Annette Bulovic

    • Phil Jones says:

      Hello – Just discovered this posting and the ‘peelng back history’ website. Although you say you are looking for Thomas Smith Duncan decendants in NZ, and I reside in the UK, I thought you might be interested to know that my researches show, that I am directly related to T S Duncan. Last year I paid a visit to Perth in Scotland to find out as much as I could about his family.
      Did your posting enable you to make contact with any other decendants of T S Duncan? Also do you already know any by your other researches?

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