The owners of The Golden Fleece Hotel – called the ‘Cold n’Flea’ by those who knew the place well – were Thomas Ellis, a former Akaroa storekeeper and German carpenter Gustave Gartner. As Gustave got to know more and more people, be began to introduce himself as Gustave von Gartner – the word ‘von’ meaning he was from a noble family. This was highly unlikely but he had big dreams.
Canterbury Association’s lawyer, Henry Sewell said of Gustave, “…that he was a German who came from Port Phillips [Victoria, Australia] with next to nothing in his pocket but was likely to become a wealthy man.”
Both men had found themselves in Canterbury before the first four ships – Thomas working as a storekeeper in Akaroa and Gustave had been promised work as a carpenter as the Canterbury Association ships were due later that year. The carpenter job didn’t stick but the Canterbury Association had another use for Gustave: They placed him in charge of the Association’s store in Lyttelton.
Before November 1850, these two future hotel and land owners had become acquainted and together purchased the land on the north eastern corner of Armagh and Colombo Streets with a dream of building a hotel.
It opened in 1851 and was instantly popular. The Fleece seemed the place to conduct business such as land sales in the shape of auctions. A disheartened Henry Sewell also chose the Fleece to make an impromptu speech of his concerns of having James Edward Fitzgerald in charge after he had dropped out of the running for Superintendency in 1853.
Fellow drinkers had the patience, it seemed, to let poor old Henry have his grumble.
Until the other sections were sold and tamed, the Fleece sat alone in a bog, surrounded with flax and Toi Toi. Because of its northern situation, it was a drinking haunt popular with farmers.
In 1852, the business partners also brought 10,000 acres in Pukaukau – now known as Ashley Gorge which also was the name of their cattle run.
In 1855, Thomas brought out Gustave’s shares and the run continued to grow.
In 1858, the partnership took another split when they parted ways over The Fleece. The Fleece was then sold to John Frederic Ballard, another settler who had been carving his way before the arrival of the pilgrims.
The Fleece was destroyed in a fire in 1866.
After leasing out the Ashley Gorge Run in 1881 to his manager, Alexander Henderson, Thomas Ellis returned to England for good. He died in his hometown in 1890. After his death, Ashley Gorge was sold by his legal advisers.
*image courtesy of http://canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz/*