I have always been very fortunate with my diggings (excuse the pun) around cemeteries when I find a tombstone that seems to offer up a good story. I enjoy nothing more than putting together the puzzle made from a few clues but this Captain McLean is keeping his secrets buried with him. I have more questions now than answers…
The Old Settler’s Cemetery in Ashburton by the 1950’s was in quite a state. Instead of setting out to do repairs, the cemetery was cleared of its gravestones and one memorial was placed with all names of those buried there. Now known as Pioneer Park, I’m not sure how people let their children play there as 6 feet under are our settlers, some names we know through history, some names we don’t…
Jimmy Robinson Clough is buried there. Jimmy was one of the first Europeans to settle permanently on Banks Peninsula in the late 1830’s and is believed to have been the first European to have travelled down the Avon River. He also was the one who showed William Deans the future site of Riccarton – his actual grave location now lost for all time.
Another settler buried there who is worth a mention is Edward Jerningham Wakefield, the son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the owner of The New Zealand Company and co-founder of the Canterbury Association. He was man who truly earned his title as ‘The Father of New Zealand’ – but poor Jerningham drank his way to an early grave; a lost, broken man who never stopped grieving for what he lost – even in the last moments of his life.
So what happened to these original grave stones? They were taken to the old Ashburton Borough Yards in which the complete, undamaged tombstone of Captain McLean was later found. Not sure if done in secret or if permission was obtained but the old stone was returned to the old cemetery and propped up under a tree and here it has remained – begging passerby’s to take an interest. Of course, I couldn’t resist.
Obviously the strong, silent type, I don’t know much more about the Captain than I did when I started. I feel like I have a handful of cut string and I can’t tie any of them together.
It’s appears there were quite a few Captain McLean’s over the years and with the lack of initials, I can’t make one out from the other. Ashburton’s Captain McLean died at the young age of 45 and around the Canterbury Ports including Lyttelton, during the 1860’s, there are a few reports of a Captain McLean. There was even a Captain McLean who was the Harbour Master at Otago…
He is buried with his eldest son John who drowned at sea in 1887, aged just 24 years and his second daughter, Margaret who passed away at the age of 6.
I did find out that that Captain did own a piece of land, close to Ashburton (28km east of) that he named ‘Dorie’ after his hometown back in Scotland. There was also a Hamish McLean who farmed in Ashburton and seemed to be critically ill in 1898. To add to the mix, a Captain Hamish McLean that same year went to trial over the sinking of his boat ‘Mapourika’ – even though he was found innocent of any wrong doing, as custom, he was stood down by his employers. Is this the same Hamish and was he the son of the old Captain?
The plot twisted further when I discovered Dorie School – its land gifted by a John McLean in 1888…FINALLY, something to work with. Yeaaa, no, more questions. This John McLean was not the family of Captain McLean.
John and his brothers, Allan and Robertson arrived in Canterbury in 1852. There’s isn’t much about their lives in Christchurch oddly enough even though their surname is now a suburb – McLeans Island. The two runs they owned in Christchurch were named ‘Ashfield’ and ‘Acheron Bank’ – no address is given except for “being close” to Christchurch. One was situated at Burwood and the other was out at McLeans Island. In those days, there was an island out that way named ‘Kaiapoi Island’, only becoming land locked when modern land-works were done. They sold out of their Christchurch properties in 1854, moving to Ashburton and a run they named ‘Lagmhor’.
Was “Dorie” neighbour to “Lagmhor”? Were these McLean’s neighbours but not related? Whatever the deal was, by the late 1880’s, it seemed John McLean owned the land once belonging to Captain McLean.
Maybe the term of Captain was actually his first name and not a title…clear as mud isn’t it?
*photo taken by Annette Bulovic*