The grounds of Mona Vale were once the most beautiful and well kept paddocks on the farm at Riccarton. In a move that would later grieve the Deans family, this land with its ‘…splendid river frontage…’ was sold in 1899 for £100 per acre. Riccarton House had grown too small for all thirteen occupants and the new homestead out at Homebush (Darfield) had yet to be paid for. The difficult decision was made to sell off some land.
The four acres that became the first part of what we now know as Mona Vale was first purchased by Frederick Waymouth who named his new property ‘Karewa’. He had the beautiful homestead built. Just a short five years later, he sold the land onto Mrs. Annie Quayle Townsend, a widow believed to have been New Zealand’s richest person at that time. She bought ‘Karewa’ for £6000 and increased the estate by another nine acres. She renamed the property ‘Mona Vale’ after the Tasmanian property where her mother grew up. In 1906, she had the most recognisable icon of Mona Vale built: the characteristic Gatehouse (pictured) which was the beginning of the carriage way that accompanied the Wairarapa Stream into the property from Fendalton Avenue. Known for her ‘…thoughtfulness and generosity…’, she seemed to have a strong spirit that no one could break – not even her own family. George Henry Moore, Annie’s father, was a man everyone loved to hate. He was successful, wealthy, a great land owner, ruled the world around him from his ‘Glenmark’ estate (Amuri District) and had the skills to play Canterbury politics like a chess game and won in spite of being a “…mean, hard-hearted, barbarous, blasphemous man”. He broke all the rules and still prospered.
In 1888, a huge mansion was built on Glenmark’s 150,000 acres. The fact that the mansion had no back door stands in testament of his distrust of those around him. He was considered a “…hard employer and bad neighbour…” by all. Constantly fined for his sheep having ‘scab’, he earned the nickname of ‘Scabby Moore’.
And all through this, Annie was kept at ‘Glenmark’ as a prisoner. Forced to be his house keeper and care giver as he went blind. Once he lost his sight, she was able to flee the Mansion and that was what she did. She was married in secret but sadly her new husband died a few years later.
It seems George and Annie held no hard feelings toward each other despite their history. When George died in 1905, he left Annie a million pounds in which assisted her with her purchase of Mona Vale. Annie had a church built – St Paul’s – on the grounds of ‘Glenmark’ in memory of her father in 1911. She didn’t stop there either – she had Mona Vale’s Gatehouse designed in the same style of her former prison, the Glenmark mansion.
When Annie died in 1915, Mona Vale was worth £800,000 and was sold to William Nichollas.
It was 1959 when Mona Vale had the last days of being a private residence. It was sold to the Mormon Church who eventually had plans to demolish the homestead and all other historic buildings. The public outcry was so fierce that the Christchurch City Council and the Riccarton Borough Council (now a part of the C.C.C. since 1989) led a successful fundraising project that finished in 1967. Mayor Ron Guthrey will always be remembered for being the main driving force behind the purchase. In 1970, Mona Vale was opened up to the public.
Since then, the grounds have drawn thousands to walk it with the gardens and homestead serving Christchurch as a much sorted after venue. Badly damaged by the quakes of 2011/2012, Mona Vale had held its own against the odds – a $2.8 million restoration of the homestead is due to finish sometime this year (2016) with the gate house has just receiving a budget of $500,000 for its restoration.
*Image of Mona Vale’s Gatehouse courtesy of the Christchurch City Council – https://www.ccc.govt.nz*