Whatever the season, no matter the conditions, watching John Jenkins Peacock wading into the waters at Lyttelton Harbour was a very common sight to those who first made the Port home. Working as a Merchant and Trader, he would go into the frigid waters with heavy sacks of produce stretched out across his huge shoulders. Without any sign of struggling, he would wade out to his nearby rowboat and would toss his heavy cargo inside. When this little boat was full, he would then take to the oars and row out to his brig that sat further out in the harbour.
And so began a normal day for Messrs Peacock & Co!
Peacock was born in Sydney, Australia in 1798. He began his adult life as a farmer before taking an interest in coastal trading with his brother-in-law. He really took to life on the sea and by 1821, he was also known as a boat builder. In 1837, with the fruits of his successful trading business, it gave him the means to become a merchant – allowing him to purchase of his own land, wharf and multiple brigs. He traded with New Zealand based whalers/sealers as well as some coastal Maori settlements.
Following the embarrassment of a very public bankruptcy in 1843 – with two of his brigs having been wrecked in a matter of a few weeks – Peacock decided to permanently move his family to New Zealand. He chose Port Cooper (Lyttelton Harbour) to settle in; initially it was just his 15 year old son, John Thomas Peacock, and him in order to make a start for the rest of the family. Again, just like in Australia, he established a good foundation in business – with his brig ‘Guide’ – and was a well-recognised [Pre-Adamite] settler by the time the Canterbury Association were around, looking for a place to build their Anglican city Christchurch.
In 1857, he was given permission by the Canterbury Provincial Council to construct a wharf with which to conduct his business. This was to be built with his own money and it is now considered as Lyttelton’s first, commercial landing place. It became known as ‘Peacock’s Wharf’- today, its more modern descendant is Lyttelton’s No. 7 Wharf (pictured in the far background). It was sold out of the Peacock family in 1863 with Messrs Peacock & Co. going out of business just 3 years later.
By this time though, Peacock had retired to Christchurch and he later died in his Fendall Town (Fendalton) home on 29th July 1868. Although not much of a fuss was made in the papers, he was fondly remembered amongst his friends and neighbours for many years especially concerning the story behind the naming of ‘Peacock’s Gallop’ – the stretch of road between Sumner and Shag Pile (Shag Rock). Being so afraid of being hit by a falling rock, whenever he rode from his Sumner home into Christchurch and vice versa, he would take to this piece of road at full gallop, not letting his poor horse slow its pace until he felt he was safely away from danger. Personally, I was delighted to see this old term being used by The Press during their recent reports concerning the earthquakes.
As for Peacock’s brave 15 year old son – he grew up to be a great Christchurch businessman who left his own mark on the city he loved. He was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council, the New Zealand Legislative Council and directed many historic Christchurch based businesses including The Press and the Christchurch Tramway Company.
Upon his death in 1905, he left some money to the Christchurch Beautifying Association to spend however they saw fit. The Peacock Fountain was unveiled in June 1911 outside the McDougall Art Gallery, stirring many complaints. It was dismantled in 1949; some parts even ended up on display at Ferrymead Heritage Park.
A complete restoration was undertaken in 1996 and the fountain was returned to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.
*Image courtesy of Mick Stephenson via http://www.wikiwand.com*