Charles Obins Torlesse (1825 – 1866)

Charles Torlesse’s mother was Catherine Wakefield, sister of Edward Gibbon Wakefield; the owner of the New Zealand Company and the man who is known as the founder of New Zealand.

In the company of his Uncle Arthur Wakefield, the sixteen year old Charles – a surveying cadet – was having the adventure of a life time heading to the Wakefield Settlement of Nelson in 1841. He returns to England in 1843 after Arthur was killed in the Wairau Massacre. Maybe it was just pure luck that Charles hadn’t accompanied his uncle that day!

Returning to New Zealand in 1848, he heads to Canterbury with fellow surveyors Thomas Cass and William Fox. While enjoying the company of the Deans brothers at Putaringamotu (which wasn’t named Riccarton until 1849), the first maps of Canterbury are drawn, including the first map of Riccarton drawn by Charles himself. On leaving the Deans, the surveyor party heads north, exploring along the Waimakariri River. On this adventure, Charles climbs one of the peaks of the Southern Alps which was named after him – Mt Torlesse. Not to be out done by a mountain, the first brick building in Cathedral Square was called the ‘Torlesse Building’ (demolished in 1916) after him too!

During 1849, Charles explores Rakihora (Rangiora) and Kaiapoi. After the arrival of the first four ships in 1850, Charles takes John Robert Godley on a tour of the area, where the use of the term ‘Rangiora’ becomes official. Charles’ next job was making a road from Christchurch to Oxford and on to Kaiapoi.

In 1851, Charles’ father purchases him 200 acres of land in Rangiora. With Thomas Cass, and another surveyor by the name of John Boys, he purchases cattle. He also finds time for romance, marrying one of the daughters of James Townsend, Alicia Townsend. They live in the first home built in Rangiora (now the site of Torlesse Park, Rangiora). Charles purchases a further 300 acres of land and names it Ohipu. It was later known as Rivermarsh.

In 1861, the Torlesse’s sell up and sail back to England to see family. Back in Canterbury in 1862, Charles become a stock agent and sheep inspector, taking a house in Rolleston Ave in Christchurch. He becomes ill in 1864 but recovers enough to move back to England where he dies in 1866.

He is buried in the town where he was born, Stoke By Nayland.

*Images of Charles Orbin Torlesse courtesy of *
*Image of Charles Orbin Torlesse grave is courtesy of Peter French
*Image courtesy bus of *
*Photos taken by Annette Bulovic*

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