The Weeping Willows Of Christchurch

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The Weeping Willows of Christchurch has such a lovely sound to it 😉

By the Avon in Victoria Square, the story of Canterbury’s Weeping Willows are told on this plaque, a nearby Willow it seems standing guard 🙂

François Lelievre was born in Les Parlierre, France around the year of 1811. He grew up on a farm where he developed a love for all things mechanical. He became a locksmith and moved his life to Paris.

He soon grew restless with that trade so he became the driver of the mail coach from Versailles to Paris.

In 1830 he went to sea, joining the whaling ship ‘Les Nil’ (The Nile) where he worked as a harpooner. In 1837, ‘Les Nil’ sailed into Akaroa harbour and François fell in love! He resigned his position and took work as a blacksmith. At the time, he was one of only two permanent Europeans living at Akaroa. The other was Jimmy Robinson Clough who was an ex-whaler himself. I will touch again on Jimmy a bit later on.

In 1838, the French whaling ship ‘Cachelot’ dropped anchor at Akaroa. Captain Langlois – with François beside him – purchased Akaroa off the Maori, for the French, for £500 – which included two whalers boats (that weren’t even sea worthy), old muskets and military uniforms.

Thinking that the purchase was secure, the ‘Cachleot’ returned to France, with François on board. It would be two years before the Captain and François returned to the Peninsula. With them were 82 French settlers. As they sailed towards Akaroa, their dreams were crushed as they saw the British flag flying at Green’s Point.

Accepting that there had been a misunderstanding or mistake made, the French settlers gratefully accepted 5 acres each from the British Government. François also received land on Rue Balgueri where he built himself a whare.

It was around this time that François took 2 tree cuttings from an unnamed French ship. The cuttings were from the Weeping Willow that graced Napoleon’s grave at St. Helena. Françiois planted one at German Bay (now dead) and the other in his garden. It is from these two trees that we now have this species of tree in Christchurch.

François ventured into farming during the 1850’s, becoming a partner with George Rhodes at some stage. He married fellow French settler, Rose de Malmanche in 1851 and the pair would go to have 4 sons and 5 daughters.

Later in life, François opened an accommodation house where the Duvauchelle Hotel now stands. François was still living in his whare when he took a nasty fall in 1902. He cracked a rib and at the age of 94 years, the shock proved to much. He died a few days later. He was a much loved settler and he now has over 100 descendants.

François’ fellow European settler, Jimmy Robinson Clough is credited with making the flagpole that the British used to hoist their flag at Greens Point in 1840. With him having a Maori wife, he acted as translator when the Crown purchased the land of Akaroa.

In 1843, Jimmy was the man who took William Deans by whaler’s boat up the Avon River to view Riccarton. Jimmy helped set up the Deans by building some of the first fences and buildings on the Canterbury Plains.

In 1851, Jimmy took the job as manager of Homebush while John Deans I returned to Scotland to marry Jane. With Jimmy came another gift from the French – a black Poplar – that still grows strong at Homebush today! It holds the title of one of the oldest introduced tree in mid Canterbury.

Homebush’s Black Poplar:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=251147508278048&set=a.218912374834895.54418.161589833900483&type=3&theater

*Photo taken by Chris Bulovic*

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  1. This article concludes with the black poplar “holds the title of the oldest introduced tree in Canterbury”. If it was planted in 1851 what about the pear tree and the three oaks from Governor grey – all at Homebush? Can you please give me any more information about the poplars date as I am carrying out research on some of the early plantings of trees around NZ.

    • Hi Anne, you make a very very good point. The Black Poplar at Homebush should be listed as the oldest introduced tree in Mid Canterbury (Selwyn) more than Canterbury overall. That’s me getting ahead of myself a little and being over romantic. It certainly still should be listed as one of the oldest introduced trees, alive a doing well.

      The old pear tree and the oaks from Gov. George Grey are at Riccarton and are also doing fine.

      I will correct the article concerned.