The First House In Rangiora Is Built – April 1851

“[Thomas] Cass, [John Cowell] Boys and I have brought 43 heads of cattle and I am going out to Rangiora Wood to manage and take charge of them. I hope to have plenty of leisure to make a home and garden. I have rented 1,750 acres of pasturage for about £14 per year…as soon as there is the residence of a good family to grace it, it will be a sweet spot…” – C.O. Torlesse, 7th March 1851

The history of Charles Obins Torlesse’s family is a rare one. Nephew of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the owner of the New Zealand Company and co-founder of the Canterbury Association, Edward rightly earned the title of being ‘…the father of New Zealand…’. With every settlement set up by Wakefield (New Plymouth, Nelson, Wellington and Christchurch), he planted one of his brothers there, playing New Zealand politics like a huge chessboard.

So, the young sixteen year old Torlesse found himself on a huge adventure, accompanying his uncle Arthur Wakefield as a surveying cadet to the Wakefield Settlement of Nelson in 1841. He was forced to return to England in 1843 after Arthur was killed in the Wairau Massacre.

Returning to New Zealand in 1848, he headed to Canterbury with fellow surveyor Thomas Cass and New Zealand Company agent, Sir William Fox. While enjoying the company of the Deans brothers at Putaringamotu (renamed Riccarton on Christmas Day 1848), the first maps of Canterbury were drawn. On leaving the Deans, the surveyor party headed north, exploring along the Waimakariri River. On this adventure, Charles climbed one of the peaks of the Southern Alps which is now named after him – Mt Torlesse. Not only was the mountain named after him, but also the first brick building in Cathedral Square was called the ‘Torlesse Building’ (demolished in 1916)!

During 1849, Torlesse explored Rakihora (Rangiora) and Kaiapoi. After the arrival of the First Four Ships in 1850, Torlesse takes John Robert Godley on a tour of the area, where the use of the term ‘Rangiora’ becomes official.

In 1851, Torlesse’s father purchased him land in Rangiora. He also found the time for romance, marrying one of the daughters of James Townsend, Alicia Townsend – exactly a year after she arrived on the Canterbury Association’s 4th ship, the ‘Cressy’. They lived in the first home built in Rangiora. Torlesse named his property Ohipu.

When this history came under threat by subdivision in 1971, the Waimakariri Council set a up marker acknowledging this history at the corner of Johns Road and King Street. It was later moved to Torlesse Park, at 19 Johns Road.

* Photo of Torlesse Park taken by Chris Bulovic *

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