Jessie Cooper Rhodes (1865 – 1929)

Just had to share this photo of this beautiful lady, dressed in her best.
Her name is Jessie Rhodes “the Lady of Otahuna” – of the Rhodes’ estate in Tai Tapu.

From birth, Jessie Rhodes (nee Clark) had the world laid at her feet. Born into a wealthy family, she was destined to rub shoulders with not only British Royalty but what was considered royalty in Australia and New Zealand.

Here she is dressed in the grown she wore to the Coronation of King Edward VII in London in 1902.

Jessie’s husband, Heaton Rhodes, was New Zealand royalty. His father and his uncles had been huge land owners even before the arrival of the first four ships in 1850 – owning land in Christchurch, Purau, Timaru and Wellington.

The Clark family had visited the Rhodes’ at Elmwood, from Australia, for Christmas one yea – the young Heaton and Jessie first spying each other as teenagers. Jessie would go on to travel the world but Heaton was never far from her thoughts. She literally turned down numerous proposals due to her secret affections for him.

At the time of her engagement to Heaton, Jessie writes the following to her brother:
“I think I am the luckiest of girls, and can scarcely believe it to be true. Like you I have no doubt as to the wisdom of the step I am taking. I have not a shade of doubt this time…Fancy him really caring about me, and before I went to England too! Well, everything comes to those who wait – for I also cared for him for years and could find no one equal, in spite of my travels…”

Heaton and Jessie were married on the 20th May 1891. They honeymooned in Japan and are regarded today as two of the first European tourists to visit the country.

In a wonderful twist, Heaton was able to purchase back some land that was once owned by his father. He and Jessie settled into the simple caretaker’s house that was on site until their beautiful mansion – Otahuna was finished. At the time, the estate was named Gray Cliffe and was sited at Tai Tapu .

Sadly, in spite of trying, they were not blessed with children, Jessie enduring some painful surgery to attempt to change this fact. They remained childless.

Later, this caused Jessie to suffer a complete mental breakdown that lasted a few years. Heaton – heartbroken and at a loss – protected Jessie from the glare of the public. She attempted suicide a few times and needed 24 hour care.

However, she made a full recovery and returned to her public life.
She was in fact the main financial support to her good friend Sibylla Maude – or Sibbie as she called her – who became known as Nurse Maude.

In 1929, Heaton recalls with great sadness that the 12th October was a lovely spring day. Jessie had been bright and cheerful, enjoying the church service they had been to that afternoon. Heaton, who always loved to be at his wife’s side, even recalls her singing that day. She happily chatted with neighbours afterwards and then invited the Vicar and his wife back to Otahuna for a cup of tea.

On returning home, Jessie rushed forward to find seating for her guests when she suddenly collapsed. In a few short hours, it was all over.
Heaton was thankful that Jessie’s passing had been without suffering or pain. Jessie had died from a cerebral haemorrhage.

Heaton was to outlive his wife by another 30 years!

Heaton and Jessie are buried together at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Papanui.

For more info on the Rhodes, please check out:

Curious about Tai Tapu:

*image courtesy of Dr. Stewart Johnson*

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