Joseph Palmer – Our First Permanent Banker – 1855

‘Cautious and sensible’ Joseph Palmer had been in the banking business since he was twenty-four years old. Born on 6th April 1826, there is very little about his childhood; he first appears in historic documents when he began as a clerk for the Union Bank in London.

In March 1851 he arrived in Australia on a work transfer and young Palmer soon worked his way up the ranks to being an accountant. Almost five years to the day and just a year into his marriage, he and Emily Anne stepped off a ship at Lyttelton, with the proud title of Manager for Lyttelton’s Union Bank of Australia (now the ANZ bank). He had much work to do! The bank had been first set up on 18th January 1850 and had gone from disaster to disaster.

Twenty-nine year old Quinton Gale had been appointed as the first manager a week before his departure on the ‘Cressy’, the Canterbury Association’s 4th ship. Suddenly lumped with so many responsibilities, including a quick and stressful wedding, it only took five weeks into the voyage for Gale to completely lose his senses. Brought on by the severe hot weather and ‘inflammation of the eyes and brain’, Gale was put into confinement and a straitjacket. He had tried to kill his wife!!!

Upon their arrival in Lyttelton, the Gales were housed in a small ‘…well out of the way…’ hut. In letters and journals – written by friends and supporters – during that time, it was recorded that although Gale never fully recovered, he delighted in having visitors and was always cheerful. He never worked again and in February 1851, the ‘Torrington’ arrived from Australia with his replacements – a bank inspector and clerk. The little bank wasn’t finished with its bad luck, as after the Gales, came two staff members’ untimely deaths: one by drowning and other by fever, with numerous resignations as well. There was quite a mess to mop up.

After taking a loan of £30,000, Palmer built a permanent bank and opened a branch in Christchurch (on Hereford Street) in November 1856. Twice a week he rode over the Bridle Path between the two until he moved over the Port Hills in 1859.

In 1863, Palmer purchased a farm on his own, named ‘Double Hill’ which sat on the Upper Rakaia River. It was 120,000 acres in size and the naming of the ‘Palmer Range’ acknowledges this history. He was very popular amongst his neighbouring land owners who felt he understood their farming financial struggles. Also well liked by the common man for his ‘…standing up against the Canterbury Provincial Council…’ attitude – constantly questioning them about their spending and actions. William Sefton Moorhouse in particular felt the sting of his investigations. It’s not hard to understand the reasons why the Canterbury Provincial Council changed to the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) after they arrived in Christchurch in September 1866.

Joseph Palmer died during his retirement at his ‘Woodford’ property at Papanui on 16th August 1910. He had been the Director of the ‘Christchurch Gas, Coal and Coke Canterbury Ltd’, founding Director of the ‘Union Assurance Company’, member of the ‘Philosophical Institute of Canterbury’, the ‘Canterbury Jockey Club’ and the ‘Canterbury Agriculture and Pastoral Association’.

The Union Bank of London began it ties with New Zealand when it agreed to be the supporting bank of the New Zealand Company, owned by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. This was on 1st September 1837. The first New Zealand Branch opened in Petone, Wellington around 1840.

In 1951, the Union Bank of Australia merged with the Bank of Australasia (which had opened in Christchurch on 15th March 1864 under W.L. Hawkins) and became known as the Australia and New Zealand Bank. A further merge in 1970 with the ‘English, Scottish and Australia Bank’ formed what we now know as the ANZ bank. In 1989, ANZ brought the banking side of the New Zealand Postal Service (the Post Office Savings Bank) and the National Bank in 2003.

*Image of Union Bank of Australia – Christchurch is courtesy of the Christchurch City Libraries – CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0094*
*Image of Joseph Palmer courtesy of Victoria – the University of Wellington –*

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