1951- Godley, C. Letters from Early New Zealand, 1850-1853 - [Front matter]

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  1951- Godley, C. Letters from Early New Zealand, 1850-1853 - [Front matter]
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Letters from
Early New Zealand


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Sans Dieu Rien

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Chapter I--THE LADY NUGENT. January-May 1850.........1

II--SIX MONTHS IN WELLINGTON. May-November 1850.........39

III--THE FIRST FOUR SHIPS. November 1850-January 1851.........135

IV--THE FIRST YEAR. January-December 1850.........167

V--ON THE PLAINS: RICCARTON. January-May 1852.........280

VI--LAST MONTHS IN LYTTELTON. May-August 1852.........321

VII-FROM LYTTELTON TO SYDNEY. December 1852-January 1853.........339

VIII--SIX WEEKS AT SYDNEY. January-February 1853.........346

APPENDICES: THE JOURNEY HOME. March-June 1853.........376

MARY POWLES.........380

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CHARLOTTE GODLEY, 1877.........Frontispiece


Water-colour by W. Leigh. Original in possession of A. H. Johnstone Esq., Christchurch.

Water-colour by Miss M. Townsend.

Water-colour by W. Fox. Hocken Library.

Water-colour by F. Weld. Canterbury Museum.

Water-colour by J. E. FitzGerald. Canterbury Museum.

Water-colour by W. Fox. Hocken Library.

Water-colour by J. E. FitzGerald. Canterbury Museum.

Water-colour by J. E. FitzGerald. Canterbury Museum.

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Water-colour by J. E. FitzGerald, Canterbury Museum.

Green and Hahn, photo.


The water-colours by J. E. FitzGerald are from an album of sketches presented by FitzGerald to J. R. Godley on his departure from Canterbury at the end of 1852. This album was presented in 1950 to the Canterbury Museum by Miss F. E. Godley.


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CHARLOTTE GODLEY sailed from Plymouth for New Zealand in December 1849, being then in her twenty-ninth year. She accompanied her husband, John Robert Godley, who in England had been a guiding force in the Canterbury Association, and who was now on his way to New Zealand to prepare for the arrival of the Association's first settlers and to supervise their establishment. These Letters, from Charlotte Godley to her mother, form a record of personal experience in those early pioneering days. They were privately printed in 1936, and now make their first public appearance in Canterbury's centenary year. The letters themselves cover the period until August 1852, and are preceded by an Impression of Charlotte Godley, written by her grand-daughter. The picture is completed by extracts from the journals of Mrs. Godley and her husband, and the return voyage in 1853 is described by John Godley in a letter to his father.

At the time of her marriage in 1846, three years before her departure for New Zealand, Charlotte Godley can have had no foreknowledge whatever that she would so shortly exchange the conventional life in Portman Square of a well-to-do young lady for the hardship and unpredictable adventures of an emigrant to an unborn colony. Her husband, then thirty-two, was the son of an Irish landowner. In 1833, he had entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he had been intimately associated with the leaders of the Oxford Movement. Though of strict religious principles, he had been less interested in the ritual and doctrinal aspects of the Movement than in its aims of social and political reform. After leaving Oxford he had travelled widely in Europe and America (his book, Letters from America, was published in

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1844) and he had then returned to Ireland, where his duties as a magistrate and Poor Law Guardian had brought him closely into contact with the economic distress of the people, evident in England as well as Ireland. His experience thus gained, and his travels in America, had led him to believe that emigration might be a solution; but he had as yet no intention of himself leaving England to assist in putting his ideas into practice. In 1845 he had placed before the Government, but without success, a plan for the assisted emigration of a million Irish; but he was thinking mainly at this stage of the North American Continent as their possible destination.

But in the year after his marriage Godley met Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose earlier plans for organised emigration to New Zealand had already to some extent been realised at Wellington, New Plymouth and Nelson. In 1843 he had put forward the proposal of a new settlement in New Zealand which would be founded upon his basic ideas of a sufficient price and adequate preparation of the site; but he planned that it should be essentially a Church of England venture, with adequate endowment for the establishment of churches and schools. By 1845 preliminary approaches had been made by the New Zealand Company to the Colonial Office for lands to be set aside in New Zealand for the purposes of this settlement. But there was no further development of the project until Wakefield's meeting with Godley, who was eminently suited, as a churchman well-known for his advocacy of emigration, and as the possessor of many influential friends in Church and State, to enlist public support for a settlement of this kind. From their discussions arose the formation, in March 1848, of the Canterbury Association.

Godley now took a principal part in elaborating Wakefield's theory into a practical and acceptable plan. He hoped to see 'a complete segment of English society' established in 'New Canterbury', and insisted that provision for Church and schools could not merely be regarded as accessories to the scheme. He maintained that such provision was essential

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to the formation of a civilised community. The Canterbury Association was soon well established and, of those who joined it, a large proportion were Godley's personal friends, or gave their support through his direct influence; and ultimately many of them, or members of their families, themselves emigrated to Canterbury. The expressed religious principles attracted many to the Association who were, or had been, adherents of the Oxford Movement. Others were persuaded by the emphasis on those principles to choose Canterbury rather than other parts of New Zealand, North America or Australia.

As late as September 1849, when work in England was nearing its climax, Godley was attacked by ill-health, and ordered by his doctors to seek a warmer climate. Madeira or the Mediterranean were suggested. Appalled at the prospect of such enforced idleness, Godley decided instead to go himself to New Zealand, and to this end placed his services at the disposal of the Association. He was at once offered, and at once accepted, an appointment as their Chief Agent; but he made it a condition that he should remain in New Zealand for no longer than three years.

It was thus that Charlotte Godley unexpectedly found herself on the verge of departure to a little-known country, largely uninhabited, on the other side of the globe, which offered practically none of the amenities of life, which she had come to take for granted. It is clear from her letters that she regarded the prospect with anything but pleasure; yet it would never have occurred to her that her husband should go without her. The Godleys accordingly sailed from Plymouth in the Lady Nugent on December 13th, 1849, with their son, Arthur, 1 then aged two; and Mrs Godley at once began the series of letters home, to her mother, Mrs. Charles Wynne, of Voelas, in Denbighshire, which together form the substance of this book.

The Lady Nugent reached Port Cooper, as Lyttelton was then called, in April 1850, eight months before the arrival

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of the First Four Ships, which were to bring the first wave of the Association's emigrants to Canterbury. Surveying and road-making had been in progress since July of the previous year under Captain Joseph Thomas, the Association's agent and chief surveyor. Godley, on arrival, found that the funds available in New Zealand were already overspent and, knowing that when he left England there was still some uncertainty about the whole future of the project, he was compelled to give orders that all but essential work should cease. He then sailed to Wellington to await further news of the Association's affairs.

In England the Association found it possible to proceed. On December 16th, 1850, its first settlers landed at Lyttelton, and from that moment the duties of the Chief Agent involved the practical direction of the establishment of the new settlement. Though unswerving in his adherence to the Association's basic principles, he was essentially practical in his handling of the many problems that arose; problems very different from those which had been foreseen before his departure from London. In some matters his experience of conditions on the spot forced him to oppose the propositions of the Association's committee in England. In particular he urged immediate alteration of the existing regulations for leasing pastoral lands; for he found that pastoral farming, and not the small-scale agriculture contemplated by the Association, must for many years be the mainstay of the new settlement. This issue, and others in which he wished to transform the ideal into the practical, led to disputes with Wakefield and eventual estrangement. At the same time, Godley was in increasing disagreement with Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, regarding the establishment of responsible government in the young colony.

Sir John Pakington's Act of 1852 gave New Zealand a form of constitution more in line with Godley's ideals; it included provision for the establishment of regional administration under Provincial Councils. Godley's three years had

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almost expired with its passage, and he therefore determined that his work was completed. He was asked to remain in New Zealand to stand for office in Canterbury, as first Superintendent of the new Provincial Council; but he preferred to return to England. He accordingly sailed with his family in December 1852, and after a brief visit to Australia reached England in June of the following year. He died in London in 1861, being then Assistant Under Secretary at the War Office. His wife survived him until 1907.

It was through the interest of the late Professor A. P. Newton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History in the University of London, that this volume was first compiled for private circulation, and my family wishes to acknowledge a sincere debt of gratitude to him for his help and enthusiasm. The letters are now published with the willing consent of Charlotte Godley's daughter, Miss Frances Eleanor Godley, 2 whose active assistance has been invaluable to me in the pleasant work of editing.

Except for paragraphing to assist the reader (for Charlotte Godley wrote with no paragraphs at all) and normalizing the spelling of names of persons whose identity can positively be established, the letters are here printed as written. This has resulted in the retention of occasional awkwardnesses of style and even of spelling. To have removed them, however, would have detracted from the personal and documentary character of letters in which a rather lonely young woman jotted down--with the casualness which makes letters readable, and with no thought of any readers except the members of her own family--her impressions of the life and the people of a new colony.

JOHN R. GODLEY, London, April 1950

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Charlotte Godley

An Impression

CHARLOTTE WYNNE was born in 1821, the daughter of Charles Griffith Wynne, of Voelas and Cefnamwlch, in North Wales. His father was Charles Finch, a younger son of the third Lord Aylesford; but he had assumed the name and nationality of his mother, Jane Wynne, heiress of the Wynnes of Voelas, and the Griffiths of Cefnamwlch. Charlotte was one of a large family, of whom eight--four sons and four daughters--lived to grow up. In 1846 she married John Robert Godley, eldest son of John Godley, of Killegar, Co. Leitrim. Their eldest child, John Arthur (known always by his second name), was born in June of the following year. Their daughter Rose was born in New Zealand, and three younger daughters, Eleanor, Mary, and Margaret, after the return to England.

Few things can have been further from my grandmother's mind than to imagine, in print, these records of her life, written from day to day, during the years of separation from her own people; such separation as, in these days, can scarcely be realized. That they can be presented in this very complete form, without infringing the privacy which she valued above most things, is a fact in itself characteristic of her. To those who knew her, every word of affection, or of longing, for her childhood's home, and all that it meant to her, signified a feeling a thousand times stronger than any words could have expressed; but reticence in words, where their deepest feelings were concerned, was natural both to her and to her family. The understanding between them was such that there was no need for outward expression; to her, as to them, emotional outpourings

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would have been a waste of time and of nervous energy. They wanted to know, and she wanted to tell them, what she was doing, and what scenes met her eyes, in her daily life,; so that they might visualize her, as far as possible in the Antipodes, just as she visualized them in Portman Square, at Voelas, or at Cefnamwlch.

My grandmother was, by birth and upbringing, essentially an early-Victorian. She herself would have seen nothing to be ashamed of in the circumstance; and I hope it will be admitted that few, after reading her letters, could apply the term to her in a disparaging sense. She once told me that, among the objections urged by her sisters to the New Zealand voyage for her, was the danger of 'spoiling her hands'. It would have been a great pity, for they certainly were very good ones; and I doubt whether, in all her journeyings, she used them, except on a few specified occasions, for cooking, housework, or any other task that would have been considered unsuitable at home. With the invaluable Powles at hand, I am not sure that she even did her own hair. Yet there are many tributes which show, beyond all question, that the civilizing effect of her personality was of more service to the Colony than the manual work that she, or any one woman, could have achieved. She had all the grace, gentleness, and dignity of the Victorian ideal; together with a most charming gaiety, and powers of observation and sympathy all her own. Further, she was not only diffident by nature, but held such truly Victorian views on the subject of public life for women, that I cannot speak, without a feeling of apology towards her, of what was undoubtedly her public influence; an influence all the more marked for being so largely unconscious.

Looking back, I cannot recall that she ever spoke much of her New Zealand experiences. They were stored in her mind; but she disliked talking of herself, and seldom did so, except for very special reasons. The present interests that could be shared; the help that she gave, in countless ways, to her intimate circle, and to her many friends; all

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this was far more absorbing. The children of the family especially appealed to her; all her life she was a true, and I might say inspired, lover of children. She was adored, successively, by her nephews, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; indeed, her eldest nephew used to tell how, on her wedding-day, he, being then aged four and a half, made use of a pair of new boots to assault the bridegroom, for taking away his favourite aunt. Her insight in dealing with the very young amounted to genius, and might have put many professed child-psychologists to shame. Modern theories of 'self-expression', if put into words, would have horrified her; but in her careful consideration of each child's individuality, its likes and dislikes, she was far in advance of her age.

My grandmother died in January, 1907, at the age of eighty-five. Her later years were spent, for the most part, in London, and it is in her house in Gloucester Place that she will best be remembered. Her drawing-room was a centre where all branches of the family might meet. As she sat reading, or working, with her accustomed air of perfect finish and tranquillity, no figure could have been more admirably typical of the time and place. It seemed almost impossible to associate her with that primitive life--to use their friend Mr. FitzGerald's words--'on the shores of a scarcely inhabited island'. But she was not only a Londoner. I believe she was never happier than during the summers she spent at Cefnamwlch; the house that stands on a stretch of the Carnarvonshire coast, unknown, in those days, to tourists. This delightful place was often lent her by her nephew; and, throughout her stay, it was a bad day indeed--a really Welsh wet day--when she did not drive down to the sea, and spend the afternoon in a sheltered corner of the rocks. Those were pleasant expeditions; there was an outdoor fire, tea for everyone, and books or shrimping-nets, according to age. I have never since visited that beach--now invaded by the latest seaside developments--without recalling her, in her black rough cape and shady hat, absolutely at home in the surroundings of her

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childhood. She belonged to that country; it was there she had learnt the love of open-air life that enabled her to face, and often to enjoy, situations undreamt of by most young women, in the eighteen-thirties, who had viewed life from Portman Square.

I must not close this short impression without saying how little my grandmother would have wished that any claim to special self-sacrifice should be made for her, in leaving her home, her people, and a civilized world. She was, and I am sure considered herself, one of many thousands of women who did the same, either from duty or from necessity; to many of them, as to her, the two words had much the same meaning. Each alone knew what was her own sacrifice, and her own reward. One thing is certain; they were, collectively, no less indispensable to the new settlement than the men whose homes they made. Possibly, some who read these letters will see, in imagination, beside the statue of John Godley in Christchurch, the figures of his wife and child; for it is surely on the family, and not on the man alone, that the future of every colony must depend. And I will venture to say, of Charlotte Godley, that, young as she then was, no one knew better than she did how to build up, or to value, family life.


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This table shows the family at the time when the letters were written.

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Map of Canterbury, December 1849
1   Afterwards first Lord Kilbracken.
2   Miss Godley, who was born in 1854, is the last surviving child of the writer of these letters.

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