Pioneering Naturalist Puts Canterbury On The World Map – 1866

It didn’t take John Davis Enys long after finishing his education to follow in the footsteps of his maternal Grandfather, Davis Gilbert, who was the President of the Royal Society of London and a member of the Geological Society of Cornwell.  
John would take off for long walks and return with a collection of ferns, wild flowers and shells, delighting in the further education of their pattern and development of life.  He also found studies of the animal kingdom (especially cats and humans) just as interesting!

Seizing the opportunity to accompany his cousin’s business partner on his trip back to Canterbury, New Zealand, Enys arrived at Lyttelton on 27th July 1861.  He was 24 years old.  He became a farming cadet, learning about high country farming in mid Canterbury.  When his brother Charles joined him just 4 years later, the brothers purchased the ‘Castle Hill Run’ from the Porter family whose history there is remembered today in the naming of Porters Pass, Porters Flat, Porter River , Porter Heights Ski field and Porter Place at the Castle Hill Village.

Known for their [the Enys] great hospitality and love of cats (they owned many), they proved to be very unsuccessful farmers.  They were largely absent from their land, spending much of their time travelling back and forth to England – surviving solely on family money.  They did, however, introduce the concept of the ‘snow gate’ to the area, a farming gate that would lift open instead of swing, a burdensome activity when dealing with Canterbury’s winter snow obviously.

When John was at Castle Hill, he spent his time around the area’s iconic, grand limestone giants – studying flora and fauna, especially ferns and mosses.  In 1866, he made a name for himself when he discovered several new species of New Zealand ferns.  Today he is regarded as one of New Zealand’s earliest authorities on butterflies and moths – the Chrysophanus Enysii being named after him.  He even discovered marine fossils amongst the limestone of Castle Hill.

Being such good friends with Julius von Haast (the Canterbury Museum’s first curator and great explorer) and as an original board member of the Canterbury Museum, some of Enys collection and discoveries were gifted to people of Canterbury.  Specimens also accompanied Enys during his trips home to England – which included skins, bones, seeds etc. After his permanent move home in 1894 after the death of Charles, he would proudly show off his New Zealand garden.  John died in 1912.

Castle Hill was sold out of the family in 1901.  The brothers, especially John are remembered today in the naming of Mt. Enys in the Craigieburn Range where John made many of his amazing discoveries.

*This post is courtesy of Discover The Delights Of Peeling Back History – and*
*Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library –*


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