ELMWOOD & MARSHLANDS – Robert Heaton Rhodes (1815 – 1884)

Robert Heaton Rhodes (1815 – 1884) arrived in Lyttelton just before the first four ships in 1850. Two of his brothers had already settled in New Zealand and were doing very well – William was in Wellington and George was in Purau on Banks Peninsula.

Robert settles down at Purau with George and the two of them were sheep dipping when the ‘Charlotte Jane’ and the ‘Randolph’ sailed past the entrance of Purau – WHAT A SIGHT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!!! The arrival of the settlers made the Rhodes business boom as meat, vegetables and milk were in very high demand!!!

Following the advice of a unnamed source, the brothers took a look further south and purchased 75,000 acres between Opihi and the Pareora Rivers. They named this new run ‘The Levels’, after one of their father’s properties back in England. The first 126 acres of ‘The Levels’ is now known as the Central Business Centre of Timaru!

Newly married George and his brother Robert, drive 5000 sheep out of Purau and down to ‘The Levels’ – the crossing of the Rakaia River was not for the faint hearted!

Robert returns to Purau and George settles himself down at ‘The Levels’ with William still giving demands from Wellington!

He builds the Purau Homestead which in spite of great earthquake damage, still graces Purau today.

Around this time, Robert brought land in Christchurch that soon became known as Rhodes Swamp. Reports from the day state that the area was ‘treacherous & quaking’; a horse had completely disappeared into the bog right in front of its horrified owner.

During the 1860’s, the Canterbury Provincial Council drained the swamp into Horseshoe Lake. Marshlands Road was then built on one of these old canal reserves which is why it is so straight. The canal ran from Rhodes Swamp right through to Sumner in its day!

After Robert sold Rhodes Swamp during the 1880’s, the area took on the name of Marshlands. The area could boast of its own post office, school and two churches. It also seemed to be the area where the German and Polish settlers made their start of things.

By the 1880’s, after the untimely death of George and Purau and The Levels having been sold, Robert was fully settled in Christchurch.

He built a fine home on the edge of Papanui that he called ‘Elmwood’ – now the suburb. Destroyed by fire in 1882, the 2nd home was built in 1884.
1884 was the same year that Robert died. It was demolished in 1954 to make way for Heaton Normal Intermediate School.  The School now sits on Heaton Street, Heaton being Robert’s middle name.

I believe that Marshlands and Elmwood were once the same Estate. The two areas are joined by Marshlands and Innes Roads (the latter being once named Rhodes Road), only a few minutes by car from each other – an easy route for those on horseback – or so it came to me while driving this way a few weekends ago.

To add to this theory of mine, the suburb between Marshlands and Elmwood is Mairehau, named after Rose Mairehau Hutton who was the daughter of Robert’s nephew, Arthur Gravenor Rhodes. I think these three suburbs were once a huge estate owned by the Rhodes.

Robert was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council (1853 – 1874), Executive Council (1869 – 1870), Akaroa House of Representatives (1871 – 1874) and co-founder of the New Zealand Shipping Company and the Kaiapoi Woollen Company. He was also one of the judges at the very first A & P Show in 1853.

He buried at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Papanui, Christchurch.

*image courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/*

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