If anyone could have related to the Split Enz’s song ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’, it would have been Cantab pioneer John Grubb. Leaving behind his wife Mary and his three daughters in Scotland, he was on his way to Australia to make them a new life when he found himself on New Zealand shores, staring – maybe – bewildered at the bushy hills of Wellington. The vessel – ‘General Palmer’ – he was traveling on was forced to limp into Wellington harbour damaged. The ship proved to be in such bad shape that it was condemned.
Whether he liked what he saw or that no other ship had been available to take him on to Australia, John stayed on and eventually traveled south to Lyttelton. The year was 1849. Maybe he had heard of the carpentry jobs that were on the go as the Canterbury Association was preparing Port Cooper (Lyttelton) and the Port Cooper Plains (Canterbury Plains) for a Church of England settlement. He was after all a shipwright by trade – it wasn’t much of a jump to carpentry. There in Port Cooper, John found his life and destiny.
Word was sent home to his wife to make plans to join him in Canterbury. She was also to bring with her an arrangement of tools; instruments that he would build his own business on. But while he waited for his family to join him, he was kept busy building around Lyttelton. He was part of the team that built the port’s first jetty – the jetty where all our first settlers walked along to step ashore. He also built the punt for the Heathcote, where many crossed the Estuary to make the long walk down the future Ferry Road into Christchurch. But as the sun set on his working days, he tinkered away on constructing a simple V-Hut, in preparation for the arrival of his ladies. The BNZ bank was later built on this site.
Mary and the girls arrived in Lyttelton aboard the ‘Charlotte Jane’, the Canterbury Association’s first ship. You can imagine the excitement in Lyttelton that morning, 16th December 1850. But there was no one to meet the Grubb girls as John was away in Wellington working on a whaling ship. But he brought back goodies such as flour, butter and other supplies to build up a fine household for Mary.
On 17th February 1851, John would have been among many others gathered the Land Office in Christchurch for the first ballot of land orders. As it ended up, John was the first ballot pulled out and he chose his bit of land, 62 London Street, section 45. He must have felt like his life was coming together now – he owned his own land, he had his family back under one roof and he was looking at going into business with the Allen Brothers, two fellow carpenters. This is why he left Scotland, a chance at a better life.
What we now know as the Grubb Cottage, started in 1851. John opened his own ship building/repair business with the Allen Brothers and he was the very proud owner of Lyttelton’s first privately owned boat. The business also won the mail contract between Christchurch and Wellington, the boat named ‘Canterbury’ having the honours.
Like other Scottish Presbyterians of Canterbury (the Deans, Gebbies, Mansons, Hays and the Sinclairs), setting up a church of their own amongst a strong Anglican community became quite important. The first Presbyterian service in Canterbury was held on the last Sunday of October 1853, in a small carpentry shop in Cashel Street, owned by James Johnston, a man John would have known very well. I would be very surprised if the Grubbs weren’t at that service. It was here that the dream of St Andrews Presbyterian Church began and John played his own role in the set up. After a struggle to find suitable land to build a church and manse, St Andrews opened on 1 February in 1857. Three services were held that day, 691 people heading in to sit on the pews. John went on to help establish St John’s Presbyterian Church in Lyttelton and was a popular member of the congregation.
In 1864, as the Grubb family had grown larger, the Grubb Cottage went through an upgrade and extension. It seems in true tradition that John took the time to place a coin on the inside timber work for “good luck”. He would have done the same on the ships he built, placing a coin under the mast. This wonderful superstition came to light during the restoration in 2010. The coin is on show inside the Grubb Cottage today.
John died in 1898 (with the title of the oldest man in Port) and was buried with his beloved Mary in the Lyttelton Anglican Cemetery. Mary had passed away in 1886 – but this was not the end of the Grubbs of Lyttelton.
James Grubb was born in 1852 – one of 7 further offspring. Upon finishing school, James returned to the homeland of Scotland and became a shipwright – like his Dad. He returned to Lyttelton in 1880 and joined John on the work site. In 1892, he took over the business and I’m sure one of his proudest moments in his working life was doing repair work on the Antarctic bound ships, ‘Discovery’ and the ‘Terra Nova’.
James, like John, took an interest in local politics and became a member of the Lyttelton Borough Council in 1895. He became the Mayor of Lyttelton Borough in 1902!
Today, their memories live on in the Grubb Cottage, one of the remaining heritage gems of Lyttelton. Restored and protected by the Grubb Cottage Heritage Trust and the Christchurch City Council, this cottage now displays a wonderful history of simpler times and an era passed but not forgotten.
*Image of John and Mary Grubb courtesy of the Canterbury Heritage Blogspot – http://canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz
*All other images taken by Chris and Annette Bulovic*