Octavius Mathias (1805 – 1864)

Rev. Octavius Mathias – 1805 – 1864

Reverend Octavius Mathias no doubt knew that it was him behind Bishop Harper’s comment that some of the early clergymen of Canterbury just lacked the commitment.

Educated at Cambridge, Octavius became a Chaplin in the Royal Navy. Taking a keen interest in New Zealand, he was one of the main players in establishing the Canterbury Association. Licensed by Bishop Selwyn in 1851, he was to oversee the needs of Christ’s Church (St Michael and All Angels) and the parish of Riccarton until a Bishop had been appointed for Christchurch.

The Mathias’ arrived in Lyttelton on the ‘Dominion’ in 1851. Tragically Octavius’ wife Marianne died in childbirth the same year, leaving the Reverend to look after their 6 children. Marianne’s tombstone (next to Octavius’ at Barbadoes Street Cemetery) speaks very little about her; instead it praises her husband, but oddly at the bottom, it reads, “Farewell Reader and Mind Eternity’. 17 year old Harriet Bowron was appointed as governess over the children, freeing Octavius to brace the following roles : Commissary to Bishop Selwyn, Archdeacon of Akaroa, Canon of Christchurch Cathedral and the first bursar of Christ’s College.

Octavius soon proved that he was more a worldly man than a religious one. He built the family’s first home with his bare hands – a cob cottage which was situated close to the Riccarton Railway crossing, Riccarton Road. Becoming involved in local politics and farming, he became a harsh critic of the Canterbury Association. He was soon unpopular with some of the other members: Henry Sewell commenting, “What a band of conspirators the poor Canterbury Association seems to have bred out of its bowel”.

In 1854, Octavius married his children’s governess, Harriett Bowron, the groom being 29 years her senior. The pair would go on to have 7 sons. The family took up 160 acres on what is now known as Yaldhurst Road. He called his property ‘Horsford’ and farmed oats. At the time the Mathias’ were settling down there, only surveyor’s pegs marked out the road. Out of that land, 20 acres was gifted for the building of St Peter’s Anglican Church and cemetery, still standing proud at Church Corner today, in Upper Riccarton.

His land now houses the Huntley Lodge (www.huntleylodge.co.nz) at 67 Yaldhurst Road, with Octavius Lane near by. John Holmes who built the Huntley Lodge that we know today, renamed the land after his hometown in Canada. He is remembered in Holmes Park that backs onto the grounds of Huntley Lodge.

Octavius died in 1864. Although not popular with those high up in the church, he had been a well liked and respected member of the Christchurch Community. Shops and offices closed on the day of his funeral; 30 carriages and many gentlemen on horseback, making up the procession behind his hearse. Fellow Reverends served as Pallbearers – coming from great pioneer families such as Torlesse, Cholomondely and Bowen. Much of what was said was praise about him at the service as well as personal comments – such as the one from business man, William Burke, “…took his beer and allowed others to do so…”

Buried beside Marianne, his headstone stands out grandly amongst the others at Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Christchurch.

*Octavius Mathias Profile Picture courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rev._Octavius_Mathias.jpg*
*Octavius Mathias Grave & Lane taken by Annette Bulovic*

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