CASHMERE – Sir John Cracroft-Wilson (1808 – 1881)

To look at him, you would never guess that he was born in India! It was only his health that caused him to look for a cooler climate and Christchurch looked good!

Sent to England for his schooling, John returned to India to work as a civil servant. He married Elizabeth Wall while in England and took his new bride back with him. She tragically died while giving birth to their 8th child in 1843. John remarries a year later.

In 1853 with his health failing, the Cracroft-Wilson clan sail for Christchurch – stopping at Sydney to purchase sheep and cattle. He took land at the foot of the Port Hills and called it Cashmere. Kashmir in India was his favourite place.

In 1855, John returns to India and his work there gets him knighted and gives him great experience for his future back in Christchurch. He returned in 1859 and launched into his political career. He was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council, the Acclimatisation Society and commander of the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry. He died in his Cashmere home on the 2nd December 1881.

In World War II, the military commandeered the homestead. What is mainly unknown was how in 1942, secret chambers were built under the house. The fear of Japanese invasion was so fierce, these secret underground bunkers were to be used by the war officials if Christchurch was ever occupied by the nation’s enemies. They were never finished and were boarded up in 1944. A week before the army moved out, the homestead was destroyed by fire. The chambers are not open to the public and are used by the University of Canterbury. Still called the Cracroft Chambers, there is a reserve where the chambers are, acknowledging the history there.

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