Douglas Graham (1818 – 1872)

The news of finding coal at Homebush had been pretty exciting for the Deans and all concerned. James McIlraith – Jane Deans’ half brother and manager of Homebush – and Julius van Haast – the founder of the Canterbury Museum – had made the discovery in the late 1870’s.
Just two years later, a coal mine was about to open, accompanied by brickworks at Surveyor’s Gully (Glentunnel)- as one does not usually find coal without finding fire clay close by.

Two members of the family that were sharing the excitement were Douglas Graham and his wife Helen. They had made the trip out to Homebush from Riccarton especially to view the find. Douglas (Jane Deans and James McIlraith’s cousin) was in his 18th year as manager of Riccarton after taking the reins from John Deans I on his death bed back in 1854.
It would have brought sadness to family and friends to think of what John Deans I never saw – but surely the find of coal and clay would prosper the Deans more than John had ever dreamed.

Douglas and Helen left Homebush and their family on that March day in a joyous mood – planning to head to Southbridge to see Douglas’ brother William on their way home to Riccarton, but an unforeseen tragedy laid in wait for them.

Douglas Graham was born in South Ayrshire, Scotland in 1818. There is not much about his childhood or his life in Scotland – his first appearance in history being when he accompanied the newly married John and Jane Deans to Lyttelton from Scotland in 1853 with the promise of work. Like his newly married cousins before him, he had left behind his future wife, wanting to make something of himself in this new colony before she would journey over to join him.
Her name was Helen Eaglesome and like Jane (who waited 11 years to marry John) faced an unknown number of years of waiting before she would see Douglas again.

On arriving in Christchurch on the 2nd February 1853, Douglas soon settled into his working life at Riccarton.

While on his journey home to Scotland, John had caught a bad cold/fever and he had never fully recovered.
As time went on, John Deans I grew more and more ill – the cough that had been an irritation while back in Scotland had worsened.

As his boss grew weaker and weaker, Douglas found that he took on more duties and even at times, sat at John’s bedside so Jane could rest.

I’m sure it was alarming when John began to share with Douglas his vision for the future of Riccarton, talking like he wasn’t going to be there himself.
He told Douglas in which direction he wanted the farm to go, where to build Riccarton House and made him promise to look after Jane and John Deans II who had been born just that past August. What was left of Riccarton Bush was to be preserved and most importantly, John told Douglas to send for his future wife, not to wait one more minute – time should not be wasted.

John Deans I died on the 22nd June 1854. Douglas was now the manager of Riccarton.

As the young Canterbury region mourned, life continued on for both Riccarton and Homebush. It wasn’t until 1856 that Riccarton House (the first stage) was completed. Jane and little ‘Johnnie’ moved in and Douglas took over the Deans Cottage.

Helen Eaglesome arrived in Lyttelton on the 19th January 1857 with the wedding plans, I’m sure, already in full swing.
As it was in the middle of the busy harvest time, the wedding was put on hold. As the harvest began to wind down, Helen became ill with a mixture of travelling fatigue/home sickness and culture shock.

Douglas seized the opportunity – while Helen was resting – to see more of the country side by accompanying James McIlraith to ‘The Levels’ station owned by George Rhodes. The Levels is now known as the township of Timaru.

Homebush purchased just over 1000 sheep from The Levels; the cousins, along with George Rhodes himself, drove the sheep back up north to Homebush.
It had not been an easy cross-country journey with the men forced to camp for days by swollen rivers deemed too dangerous to cross.
When they finally returned home to Riccarton, Helen was horrified by the tales Douglas told.
She insisted they get married immediately so she could prevent Douglas taking part in anymore life-threatening adventures.

They were married in the parlour of Riccarton House on 27th February 1857.
The pair fade away for the next 14 years, so we are left to guess that their lives revolved around Riccarton Farm and family.
Then in 1871, they brought 141 acres of their own. They named it ‘Springbank’ and it sat between Grahams and Greers Roads, Memorial Ave and Wairakei Road in Burnside.
Douglas built a fine home which was located at the Memorial Ave end of the property – now the site of Flay Park (named after Professor Flay of the Lincoln University); only some old Oaks trees survive to remind us of the Grahams…that, and of course, Grahams Road!

We are now back to the beginning of my story…March 1872, they visited Homebush to view the coal and decided to travel on to Southbridge to visit William Graham.
Douglas, with Helen by his side, held the reins of his horse that was trotting behind the dogcart driven by William McMillian.
Something spooked Douglas’ horse and he reared back – the reins tearing the flesh from Douglas’ little finger. The party decided to return to Christchurch to seek proper medical care.
The decision to amputate is made and with Douglas’ consent, he is put to sleep with chloroform. Before any surgery is performed, Douglas passes away.

Attempts to revive him failed.

Jane Deans later writes:

“The Rev. Mr. Fraser brought Mrs. Graham home to me at midnight, after all was over, and such a night as that Saturday 9th March, 1872, I shall never forget, nor hope to see another similar. Poor Mrs. Graham, in her weak health, I thought she would surely lose her reason; her pitiful cries and moans calling on him to come to her were heartrending”.

Douglas Graham is buried at Addington Cemetery, next to a grave that contains a few members of the McIlraith family.

The farm of Springbank was leased out by William Boag – the owner of Burnside Farm – and Helen lived there until her death in 1891.
After her death, the property was subdivided and sold off.

Grahams Road was named after Douglas Graham of course. Off Grahams Road is Seven Oaks Drive and off that is Springbank Road.
A different history is listed for this road, strangely enough, but I have to believe it is named in memory of the farm that once stood there.

*photos of Grahams Road and Springbank Street taken by Annette Bulovic*
*photo of Douglas Graham’s Grave taken by Annette Bulovic*
*Text taken from Letters to my Grandchildren by Jane Deans*

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