HEATHCOTE VALLEY & RIVER – Sir William Heathcote (1801 – 1881)

If Ferrymead is the gateway to Christchurch, then Heathcote is the step down to that gate.

As the world famous writer – and great lover of Canterbury – Samuel Butler came puffing down the Bridle Path, he not only cast his eyes over the vastness of the plains but also took in what lay at his feet.

He later writes,

“…a few pretty little box-like houses in trim pretty little gardens, stacks of corn and fields, a little river with a craft or two lying near a wharf.”

Heathcote indeed was one of the first areas to be tamed and populated. As early as 1853, all land had been sold. Even though all land sales went through the land office in the city, it is not hard to imagine some of the settlers just refusing to go any further after their trek over the Bridle Path! You can just see them dumping their belongings to the dusty ground and mentally putting their foot down to walking any further! It was not unheard of that some families actually settled where they stopped walking – maybe that happened in Heathcote too!

Heathcote was originally known as ‘Hammerton’, the name of the 40 Hectare property owned by a well liked and respected pioneer- Isaac Cookson. When he moved away a decade later, the area was renamed Heathcote, after Sir William Heathcote of the Canterbury Association.

Another man that was well known was ‘Honest John’ Cordy who had set himself up a hoof stock run right beside the Bridal Path. He made a living care-taking what stock had been herded over the Bridle Path – for the owners who had yet to sort out their land orders. ‘Honest John’ had bigger dreams though, accepting a job as Manager of Homebush for John Deans I in 1854. Using timber felled from Riccarton Bush, ‘Honest John’ built what is considered to be the second Homebush Homestead. He would later own Hororata Station, where his ranch hands would share a laugh over the story of when he encountered his first Maori while on the Bridle Path. The two stared at each for a long awkward moment before ‘Honest John’ relieved his tension by shouting, “I’m Honest John Cordy, is this peace or war, it is peace or war!?!?!”

Another well known pioneer who also made his start in Heathcote was Henry Dent Gardiner. Henry was Heathcote’s first postmaster in 1863. Henry would go on to farm in Harewood where Gardiners Road is named after him; and in his retirement, purchased Purau on Banks Peninsula, off the Rhodes Brothers. One of Henry’s descendants (Chris Gardiner) couldn’t have been nicer and still lives in the old Rhodes stone house today. They are like many others, attempting to pick their lives and their historic homes from around their feet since the earthquakes.

St Mary’s Anglican Church, which is located on Truscots Road, was originally supposed to be erected halfway up the Heathcote Valley, beside the Bridle Path. Its windows and communion vessels came from the first four ships. I have yet to find out if this still remains true.

Heathcote – like Woolston – was forced to change for its survival when feet stopped pounding the Bridle Path and the Railway chuffed its way through Heathcote’s volcanic rock in the form of a tunnel!
Focus was now off the river and on the rails.

Malt works seem to dominate the rest of Heathcote’s history. Opened in 1871, the malt works was first owned by Alfred Smith. He sold out just four years later to the firm of Royce, Stead and Co.
George Gatonby Stead (1841 – 1908) – by the time he took up the malt business – had been very successful in the grain business.
He would buy and save ‘The Press’ in 1890 and also lived in Strowan House, now known as the old homestead of St Andrew’s College, Papanui Road.

The Wigrams Brothers were next to take over, they were known for their passion of politics and aviation.

The Malt Works closed in 1999 but its towers remained a well known Heathcote icon. They were demolished this year (2012) because of earthquake damage and to also make way for more housing.

Sir William Heathcote was secretary of the Canterbury Association. He had been one of the members at the very first meeting on the 27th March 1848. He was firstly married to Caroline Frances Perceval in 1825 and they had 3 sons and 1 daughter. When Caroline died in 1835, William remarried in 1841 to Selina Shirley and they had 8 children.
In a nice twist of fate, 3 men from the Perceval family made the move to Canterbury and one went on to get married in Heathcote Valley – named after his brother-in-law!

*image courtesy of Hamspire Museum – Accession Number FA1993.21*

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