The Early Days Of Canterbury: 1. The Selection of Canterbury by Captain Thomas





The Selection of Canterbury by Captain Thomas



I am sure there are very few people in the Dominion who do not associate the genesis of the Province of Canterbury with John Robert Godley, and most of my readers will be somewhat astonished to learn that the selection of the site for the future Canterbury Settlement was never in the hands of Godley, who did not see it until some two years after its geographical location in New Zealand had been decided upon.


Although the Canterbury Settlement dates officially from the arrival of the Charlotte Jane on December 16, 1850, Captain Joseph Thomas, who had originally landed in the Colony in 1840, and had been engaged during the forties in surveying the site which had been selected for the Otago Settlement, was chosen by the Canterbury Association in London in 1848 to act as its colonising agent, and undoubtedly played the most important part of all the representatives of the Association in New Zealand.


The Association was granted its charter of incorporation by the British Legislature, and Captain Thomas, who was a highly qualified surveyor with already several years experience of the Colony of New Zealand, left London for the purpose of acting in the capacity of chief agent to the Association, and landed in New Zealand in 1848, 


with instructions to act in conjunction with Sir George Grey, the then. Governor of the Colony with vice-regal residence in Auckland, and Bishop Selwyn, the Anglican Prelate for the Colony, in the task of deciding upon, the site of what was to be the Canterbury Settlement. Sir George Grey and Bishop Selwyn favoured the Wairarapa district in the Wellington area as an ideal site for the location of the new settlement of Canterbury.


Captain Thomas, however, on information received from the Deans brothers, who had already forsaken the Wellington district in favour of the plains upon which their Riccarton farm was located, expressed his strong preference, after full acquaintance with the two sites, for the South Island neighbourhood as unquestionably the more suitable for the development of the projected Canterbury Settlement. And so strong was his advocacy that both the Bishop and the Governor bowed to the wisdom of his choice, and in 1849 William Fox (afterwards Sir William Fox) publicly notified on behalf of the New Zealand Company that Captain Thomas's choice of Port Cooper and the plain lying between the Peninsula Hills and the Southern. Alps had been finally adopted as the site for the Canterbury Settlement.


Thomas was authorised to expend £20,000 on behalf of his principals in surveying and for the construction of roads and bridges, and to defray the cost of two churches and the necessary accommodation, temporarily, of the first settlers 


who would ultimately land under the aegis of the London Association. Thomas's first impulse was to establish the landing port in the bay where the Maori Pa of Rapaki stands, and Christchurch was to be a town upon the site of the flat land in, the vicinity of Governor's Bay, the present site of Christchurch to be occupied by a sub­sidiary town to be named Stratford - the two towns of Christchurch and Stratford to be connected by what is today known as Dyer's Pass Road.


Captain Thomas, however, after mature consideration, modified his ideas, because to him the river Avon appeared to be a prospectively valuable asset, providing a means of direct com­munication between the fertile Canterbury Plains and the sea, and therefore the most natural neighbourhood in which the future settlers would congregate and develop a town of substantial proportions and importance.


The Deans brothers at that early period were making full use of the Avon River for the carrying on of their trade with the Peninsula Bays.


May I mention in passing that the coincidence of the names Avon and Christchurch being associated has no connection whatever with their namesakes in Hampshire, because Captain Thomas, as I mentioned a moment ago, originally intended Christchurch to be at the back of Governor's Bay? The association of the names is a pure coincidence, for the name given to the town that was to be, was given by Godley when planning the new settlement, in


London, as a tribute to his old college of Christ Church at Oxford. The Avon was named by the Deans brothers long before the Canterbury Settlement was evolved - a fact substantiated in a letter written by John, Deans to his father in Lanarkshire, in which he says, "Captain Thomas has finally decided upon this spot as the site of the Canterbury Settlement, and the river up which we now bring our supplies is to be called the Avon at our request, and our place Riccarton." Assuming that Port Lyttelton would be the chief town of the new settlement, Captain Thomas engaged Edward Jollie, with whom he had previously been associated in the surveying of Otago in 1846, to join his staff, and in August, 1849, the survey of Lyttelton was commenced.

The naming of Lyttelton's streets was made entirely at the discretion of Captain Thomas, and, as far as possible, he appropriated the names of English Episcopates. And so we have London Street, Canterbury Street, Winchester Street, Oxford Street, Exeter Street, Ripon Street and Norwich Quay. This was somewhat unfortunate, in view of the fact that Christchurch almost from its inception assumed greater importance from a settlement standpoint.


Sumner, being also surveyed before Christ­church, many other names were used, such as Ely, York, Carlisle, Rochester, Bristol, Wells and Newcastle Streets, and when in due course Christchurch streets called for nomenclature it was found that the most appropriate names had already been monopolised, and, apart from Oxford



and Cambridge Terraces, facing the Avon, and the three Squares, Latimer, Ridley (now Cathedral Square) and Cranmer, Thomas had to look in other directions for Episcopal names, and we have the original town of Christchurch bounded on the north by Salisbury Street, on the South by St. Asaph Street, on the east by Barbadoes Street, and on the west by Antigua Street the area between these boundaries and the present avenues being public reserves, which, under the foolishly short sighted policy of later Provincial Councillors were sold at about £60 per acre and thus lost for all time to the province. A few of the old names such as Tuam, Gloucester, Lichfield, Peterborough, Hereford and Worcester, were commandeered, though it is somewhat remarkable that the two chief thoroughfares of our city should be named Cashel and Colombo Streets. The bisecting diagonal streets, namely High Street and Whately Road (now Victoria Street) were not included in Thomas's original plan but were found necessary as providing the nearest route from Heathcote to Papanui - the main roads of the early settlement.


Jollie was very anxious to relieve the mathe­matical precision of the town's lay-out, by forming a few crescents, but his chief did not view this departure from his plan with favour, and refused agreement with the proposal. He was, however, ultimately prevailed upon to make the belts two chains wide, with planted avenues down the centre of each.


It is quite patent, therefore, that the man to  whom Canterbury owes a tribute of recognition is undoubtedly Captain Joseph Thomas, for to him alone are we indebted for the actual genesis and geographical situation of Lyttelton and Christ­church and Sumner, none of which had Godley seen or had any share in developing until he landed in Lyttelton in the Lady Nugent in April, 1850, when, to quote his own recorded words to Mr Adderley a fortnight later, he beheld "a sight which perfectly astonished him." He proceeds, "one might have supposed the country had been colonised for years, so settled and busy was its port. There was a jetty on the water­front, and a wide road leading up the hill and turning eastward through a deep cutting. There were about twenty-five houses, including two hotels and a customs house, besides four excellent houses for the temporary accommodation of the large body of immigrants, with a communal cook-house. Also Thomas's own residence and a stately edifice in a garden plot for my own home."


Thomas and his staff, with native assistance, had in eighteen months done all this spade work, surveying no less than 700,000 acres of Canter­bury land at a cost of 1¼d per acre. Captain Stokes, of H.M.S. Acheron - a most competent judge - pronounced Thomas's maps as "superior to anything south of the line." Captain Thomas's name and memory deserve perpetuation before that of anyone else connected with Canterbury history, and it is a curious commentary upon the genesis of Canterbury's existence that Godley


 should have received the kudos, while Captain Thomas's name has been practically forgotten.


Godley's first act, upon landing at Lyttelton, after finding that Thomas had exceeded his credit limit by some four thousand pounds, was to give him a metaphorical rap over the knuckles and create an estrangement between Thomas and himself by peremptorily ordering all work to cease until he had placed the position before the Association in London. After a stay of only some two days, Godley left Lyttelton and went to live in Wellington until definite advice should reach him regarding the departure of the pioneer emigrants, and it was not until November of this same year that he returned to Canterbury to await the arrival of the first ships.


Godley's zeal for the securing of the new settlement to members of the Anglican Church to the exclusion of all non-conformists, caused serious friction between himself and Mr Ebenezer Hay, of Pigeon Bay, and Messrs Deans brothers, of Riccarton, all staunch Presbyterians. He endeavoured to deprive both of them of their Canterbury holdings, and had it not been for the success of their appeals to Sir George Grey regarding the validity of their tenure, they would have lost their respective properties where they had settled. Indeed, so serious did the position become that Deans brothers were compelled to part with their Dalethorpe run, and all the sheep thereon to provide the necessary funds with which to defend their claim at law, and it was when journeying to Sydney a little


 later in order to replace the sheep thus sold, that William Deans lost his life by drowning. The dispute was eventually settled by Sir George Grey insisting that his verbal promises made to Messrs Deans and Hay should be honoured, and the action at law was avoided.


Our pilgrim settlers knew little or nothing of Captain Thomas, because on arrival they were fathered by Godley, and Thomas almost dis­appeared from association with the settlement he had himself prepared for their reception and their new home, but some day, I venture to hope, the succeeding generations will recognise the honour due to Captain Thomas, and place on tangible record their obligation to this great man to whose ingenuity and rare judgment we owe our occupancy of this garden of New Zealand - Canterbury.