Free’s Flag

Onboard the “Randolph”, the Canterbury Association’s 2nd ship, was the Free family.  The head of the family was John Free – a labourer – and with him was his wife Mary and their 7 children.  Believe it or not, the Free’s weren’t the largest family group to emigrate to Canterbury.

The family settled beside the Avon River between Madras and Barbadoes Streets.  Unfortunately, there is little detail and no dates (so far) as to when or how a flag post came into being there but it became a well-known landmark for many – at least while Christchurch’s introduced trees were not yet fully grown.

At noon, and again at 5pm, Mary would raise the Union Jack up the flag post.  At first, I thought that maybe John worked nearby and upon seeing the flag flying, he would know it was time for lunch and for heading home.  It appears by other reports that the flag was to allow everyone who could see it, know what the time was. 

The Frees eventually moved from Christchurch and settled on 700 acres in Cust (then known as Moeraki Downs).  Around 5pm on the 29th August 1866, John, who was now deaf, was working with 3 other men,‘…picking the face…’ of a gravel pit when an accident occurred.  John became trapped by a slip and had to be dug out.  Unable to get back to his feet, he was placed on a door and carried home; one of those carrying him was his son, John Free Jnr.  A doctor was called for and he soon ascertained that John’s right leg was broken in two places and it would have to be amputated.  The party set out for Christchurch Hospital at once.  Tragically, only miles away from Rangiora, they discovered that John’s injuries had been more serious than first thought.  He was now dead, having slipped away as he slept.

Another of John’s sons, William, was about 26 years old at the time of John’s death.  In 1860, William found work as a sawyer and was working around the Punt (New Brighton) area in a sawpit.  One particular day, William was working with Stephen Brooker when the pair noticed that William Guise Brittan, who was the Commissioner of Crown Waste Lands, walking towards them.  As Brooker was from Brighton in England, William – as a joke – quickly made a sign that read ‘New Brighton’ and placed it where it could seen.  Brittan noticed the sign, and well, the rest is history!

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