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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]


A veritable romance of colonisation gathers round the name of Riccarton, primarily, that of a private property, secondarily, that of a district, near Christchurch.

In the year 1840, William Deans, of Kirkstyle, Riccarton, Ayrshire, Scotland, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, by the ship “Aurora,” one of the first four ships which landed there under the auspices of the New Zealand Company, from which, before leaving London, Mr Deans had bought orders entitling him to certain areas of land in the colony. Owing to the uncertain temper of the natives in the North Island, the conflicting claims of various tribes, and the heavily timbered state of the country, Mr Deans, like many other early colonists, could not get the land he had bargained for in the Wellington district. With a view, therefore, to better fortune in the southern parts of the colony, he and others sailed with Captain Daniells along the east coast of the Middle Island as far as the Bluff. From what he was and heard during that trip, Mr Deans decided to make his home on what were then known as the Port Cooper Plains, provided his brother John, then on his way from Scotland to New Zealand, joined him in the venture. That was between 1840 and 1842. On the 25th of October, 1842, Mr John Deans arrived at Nelson by the ship “Thomas Harrison.” He, too, had bought a land order in London, and was disappointed with the section awaiting him at Nelson. Accordingly he resolved to join his brother, in the hope that both would be able later on to apply their orders to land which suited them. It was under these circumstances that the brothers decided to form a settlement on the plains of Canterbury, which has been twice seen by Mr William Deans. On the 11th of February, 1843, the schooner “Richmond,” owned by Messrs Sinclair and Hay, left Wellington with William Deans and his party, live stock, and provisions on board. The party included John Gebbie, with his wife and three children, and Samuel Manson, his wife and three children; the stock was poultry, and the provisions included timber to erect a house. Port Levy was reached in about ten days, and there the women and children, with John Gebbie as their protector, were left for a few weeks near a settlement formed by whalers and Maoris. Mr Robinson, the Magistrate at Akaroa, had been instructed by the Government at Wellington to give that assistance he could to Mr Deans, whose plans were known to and officially promoted by that officer. Mr Deans, with Manson and a few other persons, then sailed up the river Avon in a whaleboat as far as a point which they named The Bricks, because they there landed some bricks intended for chimney-building; thence in a canoe to the pool at the bend where Woods's mill was afterwards built; and from that point they travelled through tall fern along the banks of the river to Potoringamotu (the place of an echo), or Putaringamotu (the severed ear), afterwards named Riccarton, in memory of Mr. Deans' native parish in Ayrshire, Scotland. There the party pitched their tents, and began to build the first house ever erected on the Canterbury Plains. The house was built of wood, and put together with wooden pegs instead of nails, which had been accidentally left behind at Wellington. It had three apartments—one for the Gebbie family, one for the Mansons, and a sitting-room, which served also as a sleeping-room for the Messrs Deans. When it was finished, in the month of May, Manson went to Port Levy for John Gebbie and the women and children, who were brought by the route followed in the first instance.

Shortly after William Deans left Wellington with his party in the “Richmond,” John Deans sailed for New South Wales by the first opportunity, to buy sheep, horses, and cattle, seed wheat, seed oats, barley, lucerne seed, and potatoes. On the 17th of June he arrived from Sydney at Port Cooper by the “Princess Royal,” after a passage of twenty-one days, and brought with him—besides the seeds enumerated—sixty-one head of cattle, three mares, and forty-three sheep. After much trouble all these valuable animals and the goods were landed at Riccarton, where they were used with rare intelligence in the work of forming and building up one of the most noteworthy settlements in the annals of colonisation.

It should be mentioned that in the autumn of 1842 the Canterbury Plains had been, for the second time abandoned by Sydney firms or their agents as a place unfit for colonisation. One of these firms was that of Messrs Cooper and Levy—after whom, respectively, Port Cooper and Port Levy were named—and the other that of Abererombie and Co. In 1840 or 1841 Mr James Heriot, the agent of the last-named firm, with two teams of bullocks, two men servants and the wife of one of these camped at Potoringamotu, and ploughed and cropped about thirty acres of land; but for various reasons more or less incidental to a new settlement, the party remained there only about eight months, and left nothing but a stack of straw and the ploughed land to commemorate their residence. When, however, the Messers Deans settled on the same site in 1843 they remained there, with results known to history and memorable in the romance of colonisation. The name which they gave to their property was afterwards extended to the district, which now (1903) has a population of 6000 persons, 1000 dwellinghouses, 1100 ratepayers, and 1300 ratable properties, with a capital value of £847,784, valued for rating purposes at £825,510.

Messrs William And John Deans, of Riccarton, Canterbury, were the sons of Mr. John Deans, of Kirkstyle, Riccarton, Ayrshire, Scotland, and were born at Kirkstyle; John on the 4th of May, 1820, and William page 648 about three years earlier. They were educated at Kilmarnock Academy and at Mr. Jamieson's boarding school, Colmonell, in Ayrshire. They had chosen to make law their
The Late Mr. J. Deans.

The Late Mr. J. Deans.

profession, and entered their father's office for that purpose, but the colonising schemes of Gibbon Wakefield proved so attractive that they resolved to become colonists in New Zealand instead. With that end in view they went as cadets to well-known, high-class farmers in Scotland to gain a knowledge of farming. They purchased land from the New Zealand Company in London, and William sailed in September, 1839, in the “Aurora,” which was the first passenger ship to reach Wellington, which she did on the 22nd of January, 1840. In 1841 the settlers became despondent over the delay in being put in possession of their land, and Mr. William Deans joined a party of gentlemen, deputed by the Commissioner of Lands, to search for country tolerably free from bush. They travelled overland from Wellington to Taranaki, through hostile tribes of natives, suffered great privations, and required to be constantly on the alert. But they were unsuccessful in their mission, and their failure induced Mr. William Deans and some others to try the South Island. Owing to trouble with the Maoris; there was no immediate prospect of getting possession of land in the Wellington district, and, having made two trips down the east coast of the Middle Island, Mr. Deans decided to make his future home on Port Cooper Plains; but awaited the arrival of his brother John and his consent to join him. Mr. John Deans arrived at Nelson in the “Thomas Harrison” on the 25th of October, 1812, and being dissatisfied with his section of land there, he gladly joined in his brother William's venture. Accordingly, with the Government's permission, William left Wellington for Port Cooper, now Lyttelton, on the 11th of February, 1843, taking with him the two married couples that they had brought from Home, together with poultry, timber of a house, and a few months' supplies. Immediately after he left, Mr. John Deans went to New South Wales for horses, sheep, and cattle, farming implements, farm and garden seeds, fruit trees and supplies. He arrived at Port Cooper on the 17th of June, 1843, with his shipload. In the meantime, Mr. William Deans had built, and was occupying the “first house on the Plains.” Within the year they had erected two other houses, which still stand, and in which they resided for over seven years, and were, with their servants, the first and only British or European subjects residing on the Plains during that time. In those two houses (there were no other on the Plains) they had the pleasure and honour of receiving and welcoming the surveyors and Canterbury settlers to their new country and homes. For months they literally kept open house to all comers. The “new arrivals” flocked to Riccarton for advice as to their future, and, but for doing so, many of them would have been discouraged and have returned home. When they saw what had been accomplished by the Messrs Deans in such a short time, they were inspired with fresh hope and courage to remain and do likewise. The brothers had bridged the river on the banks of which they had built their houses, fenced and cultivated several fields, planted their gardens with fruit trees and a small strip of forest plantation. When the surveyors arrived in 1849 they asked the Messrs Deans for a letter to intending colonists advising what were the most necessary requisites to bring, and the letter so written was published in the Canterbury Papers, London, for the use of colonists. In 1846 they entered, with the permission of the Government, into a lease with the natives for a run for their stock, round what is now Riccarton. After the New Zealand Company had purchased all the land along the east coast, Messrs Deans effected, in 1848, a transfer of their London “Land Orders” in Wellington and Nelson (200 acres each) for the block of 400 acres on Port Cooper Plans, which they named Riccarton after their native parish. The stream on the banks of which they built their houses they named Avon, after the Lanarkshire river that partly bounded their grandfather's property. Mr. John Deans made two subsequent trips to New South Wales for stock, in 1847, and again in 1850, prior to the arrival of the Canterbury settlers. Besides live stock, he brought another consignment of fruit and forest trees and seeds for farm and garden. The forest trees were the first planted on the Plains. When the surveyors had fixed on the site for Christchurch, the Messrs Deans (by request) agreed with the Chief Surveyor or Agent of the Canterbury Association, to give up the run round their freehold, on condition of receiving another in exchange, within a reasonable distance. After some delay they succeeded in getting what has since been known as Homebush. Mr. William Deans was proceeding to Sydney for another cargo of stock, and being a Justice of the Peace for the colony, intended to call at Wellington to attend a Court, but the “Maria,” the vessel in which he sailed, was lost off Terawiti, on the 23rd of July, 1851, and of all the twenty-nine persons on board, only a Lascar reached the shore. Mr. John Deans then hastened his preparations to visit his father in Scotland. He left Lyttelton on the 1st of January, 1852, and arrived at Liverpool on the 19th of April. Thus the trip occupied three months and nineteen days; the route was via Wellington, Valparaiso, Callao, Panama and New York, and the baggage of passengers was taken over the Isthmus of Panama on the backs of mules. While in Scotland, Mr. Deans married, in September, Jane, eldest daughter of Mr. James McIlraith, of Auchenflower, Ayrshire. They left for New Zealand immediately after by the “Minerva,” and reached Lyttelton on the 2nd of February, 1853. On his return to the colony Mr. Deans brought the first dogcart that had been imported; also a threshing mill and water wheel—the latter is still (1903) in use at Riccarton—with various farming implements, etc. He was asked to stand for the first Parliament in Auckland, but failing health prevented him from acceding to the request. Mr. Deans died on the 23rd of June, 1854, after a long illness, aged thirty-four, years, the age at which his brother had met his death. He left a widow and one son, who became well known as Mr. John Deans, of Riccarton.
Mr. John Deans was the son of Mr. John Deans, the founder of Riccarton, and was born at Riccarton, Canterbury, New Zealand, on the 6th of August, 1853. He was educated at the old High School, on Lincoln Road, now the West Christchurch School, and was afterwards articled to the late Messrs Duncan and Jameson, solicitors, Christchurch. In 1874 he became a life member of the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and was elected president two years in succession, 1887–1889, when the new ground in Lincoln Road was opened and first occupied by the Association. Mr. Deans was chairman
The late Mr. J. Deans, Junr.

The late Mr. J. Deans, Junr.

of the Canterbury Forzen Meat and Dairy Produce Company, and a director of the Addington Saleyards Company. He took a prominent part in starting the Canterbury page 649 Central Co-operative Dairy Company, at Addington, and was its first chairman of directors. For several years he was chairman of the Christchurch Drainage Board, and was for a time chairman of the Riccarton Road Board. Mr. Deans took great interest in all classes of stock, and repeatedly improved his flocks, and herds by fresh importations of horses, cattle, sheep and pigs from England and Australia. He visited England and Scotland in 1881 and 1900, and personally selected the stock he imported to New Zealand. His draught horses and some of the cattle on Riccarton and Homebush were descended from his father's last importations in 1850. Besides the usual farm operations on his Homebush property, Mr. Deans carried on the coalpit and brick and drain-pipe works at Glentunnel. In June, 1879, he married Catherine Edith, daughter of the late Mr. Robert Park, civil engineer of Wellington, and Winchmore, Canterbury (who arrived at Wellington in the “Cuba” surveys ship, in 1840) and eight sons and three daughters were born of the union. Mr. Deans died at Riccarton on the 19th of June, 1902.

Mr. George Witty, Member of the House of Representatives for Riccanton, was elected on the 25th of November, 1902, when he defeated his opponent, Mr. G. W. Russell, the previous member, by about 300 votes. Mr. Witty is chairman of the Templeton Road Board and since 1899 has been a member of the Selwyn County Council. He has also served on the North Canterbury Charitable Aid Board, the Riccarton Licensing Committee, the Templeton school committee, and the Templeton Domain Board. Mr. Witty has never taken the initiative in standing for these bodies, but has always been requested to do so, and he has never lost an election. Mr. Witty was born in 1856, at North Ferriby, Yorkshire, England. He preferred work to school life, and at eight years of age he went to scare birds on a farm at two shillings a week. At twelve of age he entered on regular service, receiving £2 10s 6d for the first year. Possessing confidence in himself, and having faith in the resources of New Zealand, he arrived in this colony in 1875, with only two shillings in his pocket. He worked on farms at Riccarton and Papanui, and also in South Canterbury, and in 1879 revisited England. Shortly afterwards he returned to New Zealand, and was shearing for several years. Eventually he took up a farm at Tempeleton, where industry and perseverance have enabled him to add considerably to his property. In working for an employer, or on public bodies, Mr. Witty has always maintained an earnest and straightforward character. In politics, before he entered the arena himself, he was a staunch supporter of Mr. Alfred Saunders and the late Hon. William Rolleston. As a Freemason, Mr. Witty is attached to Lodge Conyers, No. 1916, E.C. He married Miss Drayton, and has a family of five sons and four daughters.

Standish and Prece, photoMr. G. Witty.

Standish and Prece, photo
Mr. G. Witty.

Riccarton Public School, Upper Riccarton. The Riccarton school, which may claim to be one of the oldest in Canterbury, was opened in the early days of settlement, in connection with the Anglican Church. Mr. Wilson, the first master, conducted the school for many years. The present building was erected in 1873, under the auspices of the English Church, and, apart from the cross on the bell tower and the Scriptural texts on the inside of the walls, it presents an ecclesiastical appearance. Since the school has been under the control of the North Canterbury Board of Education, additions have been made to the building, which now comprises three large, lofty, and well lighted rooms. Mr. Wilson has been succeeded in the headmastership successively by Mr. Williamson, Mr. William Ward, and the present master. The staff of the school now consists of Mr Henry English, headmaster; Mrs. Wilkinson, infant mistress; Miss Sheared, assistant mistress, and two pupil-teachers. The number of scholars on the roll is about 200, with an average attendance of 170. The school grounds comprise nearly four acres. This area includes the gardens and residence of the headmaster; the balance is laid down in grass, and is used as a large playground. In 1898 the school bath was constructed at a cost of over £150, and is now entirely free from debt. It is concreted throughout, provided with dressing room, and measures 25 yards by 25 feet, with a depth ranging from 2 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 6 inches. During certain hours it is open to the public at a nominal charge.

Mr. Henry English, Headmaster of the Riccarton school, was born in Essex, England, in 1860. He was educated at the Tillingham village school, where he served as a pupil teacher, and was afterwards an assistant master for over five years at the Kirkdale school, under the London School Board. Mr. English arrived at Port Chalmers by the ship “Westland,” in 1886, came on the Canterbury, and was appointed master of the Pendarves school, near Ashburton, where he remained for two years and a half. He then joined the staff of the Normal School, in Christchurch, and was for two years master of the practising department of the Model School. Mr. English, who holds an E1 certificate was appointed to his present position in 1890. He was married in the Old Country, at Bradwell-on-Sea, to a daughter of the late Mr. John Parker, and has a family of two sons and three daughters.

Riccarton School Residence.

Riccarton School Residence.

The Harewood Road School, which is situated near the junction of Harewood and Boundary Roads, is a substantial wooden building, lofty, and well ventilated, and surrounded by a large playground. There are 140 names on the roll, and the average attendance is 120. The staff consists of the headmaser and two assistant teachers.

Mr. Richard James Twose, Headmaster of the Harwood Road school, is a page 650 native of Devonshire, England. He arrived in New Zealand by the ship “Eastern Monarch,” and served a pupil-teachership at the East Oxford school, and afterwards studied at the Normal School. Mr. Twose was stationed at the West Eyreton school, and in 1899 received his present appointment.

Racecorse Hotel (Murray Hobbs, proprietor), Upper Riccarton. This hotel, which faces the Riccarton racecourse, is a handsome two-storied brick building, faced entirely over with cement. It contains twenty rooms, exclusive of those used by the family, and is elaborately furnsihed throughout. The main hall entrance leads to the dining room, sitting rooms, private bar, and billiard room, where a full-size exhibition billiard table is fitted up. There is a separate front entrance to the public bar. A view of the racecourse is obtainable from the upstairs balcony. The hotel is connected by telephone with Christchurch, and is fitted up with every modern convenience. Its ornamental gardens, with tennis and croquet lawns, are adorned with flowers, shrubs, and playing fountains. The land comprises ten acres, part of which is divided into paddocks for the use of the dairy cows of the establishment. Away to the rear of the buildings, there are large double-walled brick stables, which are scrupulously clean throughout, and heavily floored with concrete. The hotel was built, and the grounds laid out, in 1883, by the late Mr. William Seabright, at a cost of £11,000. It was taken over by the present proprietor in 1896.

Mr. Murray Hobbs, Proprietor of the Racecourse Hotel, is a well-known sportsman and horse owner. He was born at Bristol, England, in 1862, and came out with his parents in the ship “Ivanhoe.” His father died on the voyage out, and the family settled in Christchurch, where, after receiving his education, Mr. Hobbs studied as an architect and surveyor. His fondness for horses developed at an early age, and during the past twenty years he has owned a large number of racing thoroughbreds, such as “Nilo,” “Swindler,” “Jack,” “Moody,” and others, but, above all, “Prime Warden,” and “Lady Zetland.” Both the latter won the Canterbury Cup and Autumn Handicap, and “Lady Zetland” also won the New Zealand Cup and Easter Handicap. At the present time Mr. Hobbs's best horse is “Dundas”’ who won the Dunedin Cup and Midsummer Handicap in 1902. “Cerisian Blue” is the only horse Mr. Hobbs has bred. Of late years he has taken less interest in horse racing, and has devoted more time to the business of the hotel. Mr. Hobbs is a director of the Midland Saleyards Company, and also of the Victoria Brewery Company. He is married to a daughter of the late Mr. Matthew Singleton, of Christchurch.

Standish and Preece, photo.Mr. M. Hobbs.

Standish and Preece, photo.
Mr. M. Hobbs.