Sir John Cracroft Wilson (1808 – 1881)

The story of Sir John Cracroft Wilson and his Kashmir, whoops, Cashmere is very romantic to me as an historian.

Cashmere is already such a pretty suburb that this story has just added so many new levels to a lovely part of Christchurch.

To think of the original Cashmere Farm snug up against the Port Hills with its back boarder reaching as far as Governors Bay is beyond imagination.

Pictured here during the 1870’s is Sir John Cracroft Wilson with his family outside Cracroft House although it was called Cashmere House back in those days.

Sir John Cracroft Wilson was born in India in 1808. John was educated in England and when he returned to India, he brought with him his new wife, Elizabeth Wall. He joined the Begal Civil Services, eventually being appointed Magistrate of Moradabad.

In 1844 he was re-married to an Jane Greig as his first wife had died in child-birth. Due to stress and his workload, his health took a nose-dive. Desiring to find a cooler climate, he set sail to the new colony of Canterbury, first stopping in Australia to purchase live-stock for his future livelihood. With him, he brought his wife Jane, eldest son Fredrick (born 1832) and 17 Indians and Eurasians as workers.

Here’s Sir John Cracroft Wilson pictured in 1872 with his service medals including his Star of India.

Along with 2 other properties (one in Rolleston), John brought 108 hectares at the foot of the Port Hills which he named Cashmere, after Kashmir – his favourite place in India. John poured his heart and soul into the farm, wanting his son Fredrick to have the best start in the place when he returned to India. John only had leave from his position at that time.

By the time he had left, he had built an 11 bedroom homestead (Cracroft House), a gardener’s cottage, a blacksmith shop, stables, coach house, storage shed, a dairy, a fowl house and whare’s for the shepherds and ploughmen.

It wasn’t until 1870 that the servant whare would be replaced with what we know today as The Old Stone House, pictured here.

So, John returned to India and his work in 1854. I’m sure his mind was never far from his beloved Cashmere. He faced tough battles during those years that would later serve him well in his life in the political circles of Christchurch. He would also be knighted for his services, also receiving the Indian Star medal.

He was back in Lyttelton in 1859, taking up his life at Cashmere. He was hoping to retire but that was not to be. He became a member of many committees and services including representing Heathcote in the local government. Meanwhile, Cashmere was growing, finally reaching the size of 2000 hectares! The Old Stone House was built to house his Indian servants.Check out the photo of the Old Stone House amongst Cashmere Farm, taken in 1963.
Due to the cooler climate and low wages, not all of the Indian servants were happy. Illnesses were constant, some were so fearful of the stone house that they actually deserted their posts. Others lived their entire lives there and so did their children. Some owned their own land and kept their own hoof stock. Here are some of the roads in Cashmere that show off the Indian history in the place – Nabob Lane, Shalamar Road, Nehru Place, Indira Lane, Chittagong Lane, Delhi Place, Bengal Drive and Jahan Lane.
Bengal Drive was once the driveway to the second Cashmere House that was built by the family high on the hills. Huge, distinctive gates used to grace the entry of what is now a public road.
Just below the crest on The Old Stone House is John’s name carved into the stone. It beautifully shows what kind of man he was. Called “Nabob” (A person of great wealth and prominence) by the Indians, he was stubborn, bad-tempered and contentious but also was kind-hearted, hospitable and always helped where the need was.

John died in 1881 at Cashmere. Buried beside him is his second wife (Jane), Fredrick (his son) and his wife, their son John and his wife. There are also other Cracroft Wilsons buried elsewhere at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Halswell.

After World War I, the New Zealand Student Christian Movement was allowed to use The Old Stone House. The movement had ties with the University of Canterbury. When the Cracroft Wilsons sold the whole of Cashmere Farm in the 1960’s, the University purchased the old place.
In the 1970’s, while restoration was being underway, sadly, a fire gutted The Old Stone House. It was fully restored and before the earthquakes, served as a community centre. It is currently closed due to earthquake damage.Of course, there were reports of ghosts around the time of the restoration. The ghost was of an old man with a white beard who seemed curious at the going’s on, even smiling at those who caught sight of him. He also looked out of windows at the grounds below, startling those who knew there was no floor presently at that window. He also liked to open and close doors!!!
As for Cracroft House, after 100 years at Cashmere, the Cracrofts Wilsons gave the it to the Girls Guides Association in 1959. It is still in their possession today.  Tragically, the homestead was demolished in 2012 due to earthquake damage.
When World II broke out, the 2nd Cashmere House was taken over for Combined Headquarters Southern Command.The Cracroft Wilsons who were still living at Cashmere had to find another place to live. Underneath the Cashmere House, extensive tunnels were secretly dug into the hillside from beneath the house. These caverns were to be used if Christchurch was ever invaded or under heavy attack. These caverns were never finished or never used. A week before the Army was to move out of the Cashmere House, it was destroyed by fire. The rumor seems to be that it was lit on purpose but no one really knows.Here, behind the Princess Margaret Hospital is now the only entrance to what is known now as the Cracroft Caverns or the Cashmere Caves. It is used by the University of Canterbury and tours are done by request only.
Cracroft Reserve has the best view of Christchurch hands down!!! Once a part of Cashmere Farm, it was referred to as Cracroft Hill. During the 1920’s, the Cracroft Wilson’s sold 110 hectares to Harry Ell who was in the middle of his “full on” Summit Road project. This 110 hectares not only meant Cracroft Hill but also Sugar Loaf Hill was out of the family’s hands.Today, we find Cracroft Reserve tucked in behind the Sign of the Takahe, one of the resting spots built by Harry Ell for weary travellers using his Summit Road to Akaroa. I am glad the Reserve still bears the name it should :)In Cashmere today, the area still acknowledges the family with the following : – Cracroft Terrace, Cracroft Reserve, Hackthorne Road (the family’s property in Lincolnshire, England), Westerna Terrace (the maiden name of Fredrick Cracroft Wilson’s wife), Cashmere Road and the Cashmere Hills.*photos of Sir John Cracroft Wilsons’ Grave, the Old Stone House, Cracroft House and Entry to the Cracroft Caverns taken by Annette Bulovic*

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