John Robert Godley was a man who everyone seemed to have an opinion about. One man would say “he was a King amongst men’ where another called him ‘a whale in a duck pond’. Both descriptions paint an image of the man who founded Christchurch.
Born in Dublin in 1814, he grew up in the distress of disease and starvation that was abundant in the country at the time. Like James Edward Fitzgerald, he believed immigration to new colonies was the answer for over-crowding. Educated at Christ Church in Oxford, his first passion was Law but his health kept him from taking it up as a career. He pursued the other concerns of his heart which lead to him being asked by The New Zealand Company owner, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to found a Church of England based settlement in New Zealand. As Godley milled over this offer, surveyors were already at Port Cooper Plains, (Canterbury Plains) confident that they had found a great piece of land. William and John Deans drew maps and helped any way they could; excited by the idea of a city forming there and others to trade with – after all, they’d had the plains to themselves for 7 years.
Godley accepted the job and arrived in Lyttelton with his wife Charlotte and their young son in April 1850. He was annoyed with the fact that there were a few Scottish Presbyterian families settled already in the middle of his grand plans. He was torn between the desire to push these Pre-Adamites off their land and great admiration for them who had broken in the land on their own: after all, because of them, The New Zealand Company knew their future city would flourish!
The Deans, the Hays in Pigeon Bay and many others refused to move on with the matter being discussed in a flurry of memos and legal letters. The matter was finally settled in Wellington and in spite of the hassles of business, both Godley and his family lived with the Deans and the Hay’s for months at a time, after the arrival of the first four ships in 1850.
The Godley’s only lived in New Zealand for two years – some of that time in Wellington. The Godley’s returned to London in 1852 where John took up work as a columnist/essayist for a few newspapers – his topic being mostly about colonial reform. He also worked for the War Office. He died in London, surrounded by his family on the 17th November 1861, just a short 11 years after after he greeted the first four ships at Lyttelton.