Charlotte Godley Writes Home

Charlotte Godley, the wife of Canterbury founder John Robert Godley wrote the most delightful letters home to her mother back in England and no one and I mean NO ONE escaped the fury of her pen – good or bad!  I have selected the following extracts from her letters cause she shares about places we all know and historic figures that we only know through our history books.  Enjoy!

The attached photo shows one of Charlotte’s dresses that is now in the care of the Canterbury Museum.

8th April 1850

“I was quite determined to see the plains if possible and we found a very good, though steep path to the top. The view was very fine, on one side the harbour, as smooth as a lake and quite encircled with high hills and down below, on the other side, the vast plains, as level as the water and nearly as innocent of anything like cultivation or habitation and reaching away to a very fine range of snowy mountains. A river [the Avon] runs through them, close to which is the site of Christchurch and near it are 150 acres of woods [possibly Papanui or Rangiora Bush]”.

13th December 1850

“I have not told you how much we liked John Deans himself; he is a remarkably intelligent and good natured Scotch farmer, even rather nice-looking; well dressed, with a natural good mannered that is quite gentleman-like and no one can be more hospitable to all comers…”

“Mr Deans’ house [Deans Cottage] is of weather-board and lined throughout; there is good sized kitchen, and out of it two little bedrooms, meant for himself and his brother Mr. William Deans, who was not at home when we were there but he has now so many visitors that one may be called a spare room.

“We got to Mr. Deans between 5 and 6, in time for a heavy tea; and a walk afterwards to see this station, which is a good picture of colonial life…Mr. Deans has built his house on the banks of a beautiful stream [the Avon], as clear as those about Llanberis and ornamented with green bushes growing at the side and stretching over like long branches; making a perfect paradise for the geese, two ducks, and one wild one with a young one which was diving about there…then there are buildings round for cattle and sheep; some across the stream, over which there is a very picturesque bridge on piles…”

“After we left the fence of The Deans’ paddock, we saw nothing but unvaried plain with surveyors poles for landmarks, all covered with grass of different kinds, looking something like grass…”

16th December 1850

“I don’t know how to write large enough letters for the event, in the morning a ship [The Charlotte Jane] was announced early, in sight, and then at anchor! But there is a point of rock which hides them, where they usually anchor, from our view.

Some people thought it might be an English ship…and then the matter was quickly settled by my husband’s [John Robert Godley] encountering Mr. [James Edward] Fitzgerald [first Canterbury superintendent, founder of The Press], who was the first to step on shore, in the road down to the jetty; so altered by a sailor’s dress, an immense straw hat, very hallow cheeks, a ferocious mustache, and I am sorry to say a lame leg, that at first he scarcely knew him, and when he did, was so overcome as hardly to know whether to laugh or cry, and I believe ended by by doing both…you can imagine the questions etc, and the excitement of the morning.

Mr. Fitzgerald dined with us, and we talked as fast as we could, and that was not fast enough, and kept our eyes steadily fixed on his face, in the delight of seeing a real face, and hearing a voice, that we had seen and heard in England, a year and five days since we left it…in the evening of the same day the Randolph anchored by the side of the Charlotte Jane. just as many hours after her here, as she had left Plymouth…next morning, Tuesday 17th, in came the Sir George Seymour…one passenger, too, who had taken his place by the Randolph, was a little late at Plymouth, and had to follow in the Sir George; the ships spoke during the calms in line, and the Randolph passenger was transferred to his own ship, and still they all got here in the order in which they started…”

20th August 1851

“Poor Mr. [William] Deans is a great loss to us [drowned in a shipwreck in Wellington]. Not only from his unfailing kindness and good nature but from the assistance that his advice and examples in all agricultural matters, gave to all the newcomers. His brother will feel his loss sadly; they were so united and so happy together, indeed I cannot tell what Mr. John Deans will do now; he was only waiting his brother’s return from this voyage to Sydney to get some fresh stock, cattle and sheep, to go home and be married in Scotland”.

18th November 1851

“The [Akaroa] harbour is made up of infinity of small bays, in the largest of which the town stands, and it is in every sense the most beautiful one; very safe and easy to get too. It was a great whaling station, a few years ago; that is, several large whale ships used often to come in together to refit, and they helped to make the place as large as it is; but it has got on very slowly, as far as actual progress goes. The place seemed to me very foreign from the people about being most French”.

23rd March 1852

“I have no words to describe the beauty of our fine days just now. I do not know how I am to make my up my mind to live in the Port again [Lyttelton] and yet, if we moved bodily over here, we could not stay where we are; and if we leave the bush [Riccarton Bush] half the charm of our lives would be gone, for the bush comes birds singing, shelter from the cold wind and also the sort of pleasant home-farm-like look of this place, with cornstacks and so on, and the mere look of the trees and the rivers, after our long stay in Lyttelton, can be fully appreciated.”

*text from “Letters from Early New Zealand” by Charlotte Godley*
*photo courtesy of the Canterbury Museum – – the Shaw-Brown Collection


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