The Cholmondeley Family

Among the other immigrants aboard the ‘Charlotte Jane’ were cousins, Thomas and Charles Cholmondeley. Unlike many of the other settlers on board, these cousins had no obvious reason to seek out a chance for a better life. They came from a very rich noble family…maybe this was the reason the pair broke away – that and their father and uncle was a member of the Canterbury Association.
The cousins were likable and are mentioned in a few of the journals written by others during this historic journey. There was no mistaking their social position though; they were two gentlemen at their best. Thomas became known as the great book lover and the word ‘wild’ was used to describe him once…he sounded like a very interesting young 19 year old.Upon landing in Lyttelton, like many others around them, they first settled in the port. It seemed many of the settlers made camp in Lyttelton as they looked around for suitable land. Like fellow passengers, the Ward brothers, the Cholmondeley’s didn’t look towards Christchurch. The Wards chose Quail Island to set up their farm and Thomas and Charles followed suit by choosing their sections in Port Levy.

It seemed that Thomas wasn’t destined to stay put in Canterbury for long as he received word that he had inherited some of the family land back in England. So he left Charles to it – farming in Port Levy from a simple sod house. Thomas would eventually fall in love and marry a young woman of his class in 1864. Tragically, Thomas became ill with Malaria while honeymooning in Florence and died – much to the horror of his new blushing bride.

By 1864, Charles had been joined in Port Levy by his mother and the rest of his siblings which included brothers, George and Hugh. As the sod hut was no longer suitable to house the increased Cholmondeley clan, Charles built a two story, 12 roomed house he called ‘Vale Royal’. This house still graces Port Levy today. The family were very popular with everyone, especially the Maori that called Port Levy home. Every Christmas, Charles would dress up as Santa and arrive in the Maori settlement with a sleigh full of presents.

Brother Hugh had managed to buy the land beside Vale Royal and opened his own farm named ‘Over Leigh’. George had settled himself in Christchurch and began his religious career by being ordained in St Michael and All Angels. His achievements are as follows: Vicar of North Waimakariri, Vicar of Heathcote 1862 – 1875, Vicar of Opawa 1875 – 1901, Canon of the Christchurch Cathedral 1882 and then the Archdeacon of Christchurch in 1890 – 1901. George was also a farmer and owned land in Akaroa and Ashley. The Cathedral Bells tolled over the city in grief when he died very suddenly in 1901. His wife Lena followed him in 1904.

Before all this, Charles had retired from Royal Vale and moved in with George and Lena who were set up in Opawa. In 1880, Charles became unwell and voyaged back to England to seek the best medical advice and hopefully find a cure. He returned to Christchurch having found nothing and eventually lost the use of his legs due to paralysis. He remained cheerful in spite and died in 1891.

Hugh remained in Port Levy until 1911. Hugh made his mark on history in 1925 when he founded the Cholmondeley Children’s Home in Governor’s Bay. Extremely fond of children, he and his wife Margaret (known as Mary) were childless. When she died of Appendicitis Peritonitis, Hugh made the decision to take over the land that had been owned by nuns and built a children’s home in her memory. This building was demolished due to the 2011 earthquakes.

The Cholmondeley’s have a huge burial plot in Woolston Cemetery. The first burial there happened to be a Cholmondeley in 1866 but back then it was called the Lower Heathcote Cemetery. Even when the family burial plot was full, the Cholmondley’s continued to be buried there so the family is now scattered through the old graveyard.

*photo taken by Annette Bulovic*

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