The story of the Simeon Family and that of Canterbury, New Zealand begins very much like the story of Canterbury itself.
Sir John Simeon (pictured), like other lads from wealthy families, saw his teenage years in at Christ Church College in Oxford, as did his younger brothers, Charles and Cornwell. It was there that he met and became friends with John Robert Godley. As Godley pursued law, John took an interest in politics. As these two lads made their way into their adult lives, John must have watched, concerned, when ill health kept his friend Godley from grasping his career with both hands.
So it seemed like fate when through Godley’s interest in colonisation that he should meet Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the owner of The New Zealand Company. Together in early 1848, the two would form The Canterbury Association with the idea of establishing a Church of England settlement in New Zealand. As Godley’s health was in need of a warmer climate, he chose to be the Chief Representative of the Association on site which ended up being on the Port Cooper Plains, soon to be renamed Canterbury.
The first meeting of The Canterbury Association took place in London on the 27th March 1848. Amongst those at the first meeting were huge Canterbury names such as Lord George Lyttelton, Bishop John Bird Sumner, Edmund Storr Halswell, William Heathcote and also John Simeon. In fact, he gave the Association £15,000 towards the new settlement! But he would never see Canterbury with his own eyes however brother Charles would and assure that the name of Simeon would never be forgotten.
Before we leave the story of John and follow Charles to the Christchurch of 1851, the strange change of lifestyle that happened – also in 1851 – is worth a mention. John suddenly converted to Catholicism, gave up his seat in Parliament and walked away from the Canterbury Association. He did return to politics in 1865 serving as a Roman Catholic. Knighted for his public works, he died from complications from a burst blood vessel in his neck in 1870.
Captain Charles Simeon (who served in the British Army) and his family arrived in Lyttelton aboard the ‘Canterbury’, the Canterbury Association’s 16th ship. With him were 1500 books that were given to Christ College. It didn’t take Charles long to enter the circle of politics, acting as an Association’s agent and becoming the first speaker for the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1853. As the city’s first speaker, he was a forceful politician but gave entertaining points of view.
It may be easier to just list his next career moves:
* 1851 – ? Resident Magistrate for Lyttelton/Christchurch.
* 1853 – ? Canterbury Provincial Council’s First Speaker.
* 1853 – 1854 Member of the Canterbury Executive Council.
* 1853 – 1855 Provincial Councillor.
* 1854 – ? Canterbury Provincial Council’s first Treasurer.
* Chairman of the Colonist’s Society.
As Resident Magistrate, he sat in on the city’s first court cases, which covered anything from tobacco smuggling to assault. The first court case held in Christchurch was over a fist fight between two employees of Riccarton, the farm owned by the Deans Brothers. Also in this job position, Charles had to oversee the building of Christchurch’s first lockup. This was designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (who went on to design the Art Centre, Canterbury Museum etc.) and built in Market Place – which is now Victoria Square. It sat on the corner of Armagh Street and Cambridge Terrace, near our current law courts.
Charles owned land in Armagh, Gloucester, Manchester and Madras Streets, Riccarton Road as well as 100 acres down Lincoln Road. But where he is mainly acknowledged is in the land he owned in Spreydon. The ‘Wilderness Farm’ – which was once owned by Lord Lyttelton – had been in the ownership of John Parker Marshman (1823 – 1913), an emigration agent. Oddly enough, it would be 30 years after Charles left New Zealand that this area would be renamed Barrington, the maiden name of his mother, Louisa Edith Simeon. It would also be 11 years after Charles’ death that Wilderness Road was renamed to Simeon Street, at the request of his widow Sarah. Simeon Quay in Lyttelton had been around since 1851.
Charles and the family left Christchurch for good in 1855. There is not much about their lives back in England but Charles died in 1867 after a long illness. I get the idea that the Simeon’s were outsiders, not well liked, perhaps because of their wealth. Another reason why I think this, is because their only friends, it seems, were the Sewells, another family that wasn’t popular. Henry Sewell, was the Association’s accountant and was send over to sort out the debts of the Association in Christchurch so you can imagine he wasn’t there to make friends and it seemed that he didn’t.
But in any case, I will leave you with Charles at the 2nd Canterbury Anniversary celebrations at Hagley Park on the 16th December 1852. This particular anniversary celebration was considered a flop, the turnout was poor and only horticulture was represented. It’s hard to believe that this was the humble beginnings of our A & P Show, now celebrated in November! Charles proudly took home the first prize for his Broad Beans and second prize for his Peas, Lettuce, and Potatoes!