The grounds of Mona Vale were once the most beautiful and well kept paddocks on the farm at Riccarton. In April 1869, when Jane Deans learnt that Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, was planning on visiting Riccarton during his Christchurch visit for an afternoon of pigeon shooting, there was only one place for the Prince to enjoy his sport. The Duke was so taken with the estate that in a ‘thank you’ message that was delivered to Jane afterward (she had been so shy to meet him in person) he conveyed that he had desired to stay on a few days longer to enjoy the quiet and privacy he found there.
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. At the time, John Deans II was feeling financially pinched with much needed projects on the go – both at Riccarton and Homebush (the latter situated at Darfield). Riccarton House had grown too small for all 13 occupants and the new homestead out at Homebush had yet to be paid for. The nearby Glentunnel based brick and coal works also never failed to drain the Deans of money and 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 5 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 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 mansion (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.
George had learnt the art of farming after he immigrated to Tasmania in 1830. He worked at “Mona Vale’ and in 1839 and married his boss’s daughter, Anne Kermode. Despite being in a ‘loveless’ marriage, four children were born before George and Anne parted ways. George sailed for Lyttelton with Annie as his companion. He purchased 40,000 acres in North Canterbury and named it ‘Glenmark’. In 1888, a huge mansion was built on what was now 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. Large landowners all shared the same fear around this era of farming. George, like many others, leased his land from the Crown and every year increased what he could turn into freehold. This meant that if another party took interest in the land that was leased and not yet freehold, they could buy the land from right under the lease holder’s feet. George knew how to keep prospective purchasers away…he never washed his sheep so his whole estate – freehold and leased – were infected with scab. Continually fined for this, George didn’t care and 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.
Some could say George finally got what was coming to him when the mansion burnt down around him in 1890 (pictured). The burnt out remnants still prevail over the Glenmark estate today. 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. Annie had a church built – St Paul’s – on the grounds of ‘Glenmark’ in memory of her father in 1911 (pictured). 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 just receiving a budget of $500,000 for its repairs.
*Photos taken by Annette Bulovic*