William Turton first saw Ashburton in 1858 when he was just passing through. Nothing much more than a vast plain with the odd cabbage tree, he let his eyes scan over the bland scenery to the horizon. What he saw is anyone guess but something in him stirred and Ashburton’s real European history began.
Ashburton – like the Selwyn District especially – had first been walked by the Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, Bishop George Augustus Selwyn who – during his career – walked the length of New Zealand in those first European years, knocking on the doors of lonely farm houses that he came across and even visited Maori settlements where most of the time, he soon became a hot favourite amongst the iwi.
The area was named Ashburton by Canterbury Association’s Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas in 1849. Francis Baring, the 3rd Baron of Ashburton was a member of the Canterbury Association and the area was named in his honour.
When back in Christchurch, William leased 3000 acres of Ashburton’s land from the Canterbury Provincial Council, packed up two bullock pulled drays and moved his family (his wife Frances and two children) down south. William and Frances had met in Canterbury a few years earlier and married on the 18th July 1855. William chose to set up camp on the north side of the Ashburton River and it was here that Ashburton’s first building was erected – an Accommodation House named The Ashburton Arms.
Frances in particular found life in Ashburton hard but was delighted beyond measure when business of a feminine nature wanted to rent one of their rooms. As William also took on the roles as Ashburton’s first policeman, parson, postmaster, pound keeper and magistrate, I can safety guess it was he who ploughed the road – as it was reported as being as such – past The Ashburton Arms in hope of bringing in more business. He also planted the first introduced trees in the area in 1863.
The arrival of surveyor Robert Park (future father-in-law of John Deans II of Riccarton) in 1863, the future township of Ashburton was pegged out and land went on sale. Also with the arrival of the Cobb & Co, Ashburton really came alive and by 1869, the Turton’s were struggling to compete with other accommodation houses and The Ashburton Arms closed for good. Ashburton’s first building became a police station and telegraph office. It was demolished in 1886.
William’s name comes up again in 1872 as he was buying quite a bit of land but it was noted that his land was never developed while in his ownership. William died in 1906 and Frances died in 1915. Both are buried in Ashburton.
Ashburton has never forgotten the Turtons. When the Ashburton Coat of Arms was designed in the 1960’s, Francis Baring was not the only person represented in its design, the Turtons were too. Today, a marker sits on the road side, just before the bridge over the Ashburton River as you head south, acknowledging where the town’s first building sat and how William and Frances Turton were the Father and Mother of Ashburton.
* photos taken by Annette Bulovic*