William Deans, Samuel Manson and Jimmy Robinson Clough had quite a journey to complete from the Sumner bar, down the Otakaro (the Avon River) and then on on to Putaringamotu (Riccarton) in 1841. When the party reached what is now the Barbadoes Street Bridge, by Oxford Terrace, they continued in a canoe as the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains were very boggy and the Otakaro became very shallow. At times, they were reduced to pulling themselves along by grabbing hold of Toi Toi and Flax. Some accounts claim that William climbed up on the shoulders of his companions to take his first view of what would become Riccarton.
In the vast plains stood a forest, 50 acres in size and the Maori would rest in its shelter during their treks across the plains. They called it Putaringamotu meaning ‘Place of the Echo”. It has its been thought that sounds would reflect differently by such a huge group of trees as they would sound on the open plains of early Canterbury.
In 1843, William, along with Samuel Manson, erected the first home built on the Canterbury Plains. For the best part of seven years, the Deans brothers farmed alone, assisting the surveyors and other officials when the Anglican Church planned a settlement to be built there. In 1850, the first four ships arrived and the city of Christchurch began. It was during this time that the brothers took on the name of Riccarton for their farm and requested that the Otakaro be renamed Avon, both names coming from their childhood home back in Scotland.
Sadly, both brothers never lived long enough to see their hard work bear fruit. William drowned in 1851 off the coast of Wellington and John died of T.B. in 1854 at Riccarton; both just aged 34 at the time of death. John’s widow, Jane, and their infant son bravely went on and the estate flourished and was a great success.
Today, Riccarton Bush is 13 acres and was gifted to the people of Christchurch in 1917. The house is now in the care of the Christchurch City Council and is a great historic site to visit and cherish.