Woolston / Heathcote Cemetery Tour - Christchurch City Libraries

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Woolston / Heathcote Cemetery Tour - Christchurch City Libraries

Row M

No. 465-466

Penfold

Legend says that Captain James Penfold was a cabin boy on Lord Nelson’s flagship,

Victory. As the Victory was in action at Trafalgar in 1805 and the captain was born in

the 1830s, it is clear that legend was wrong.

A seaman and captain of a small schooner, Excelsior, Penfold traded in Australian

and New Zealand waters. On 13 June 1863, in the Wesleyan chapel, Christchurch,

Penfold, 31, married Fanny Shackel, 29.

Penfold was contracted to ship the first load of train sleepers when, in the 1860s, the

provincial government was establishing the Christchurch-Lyttelton railway tunnel.

The Excelsior ran aground on the Sumner bar, was towed up the estuary and the rails

offloaded onto the river bank. The schooner was broken up as it was considered too

damaged for repair to be worthwhile.

On the estuary bank, about 100 yards on the Sumner side of the Heathcote bridge,

Penfold and a man named Roberts built a sod house as the captain’s prospective

domicile. Timber he brought from Jenkins’ sawmill in Ferry Road. Although it may

have looked primitive, people dwelt in it for many years.

After the demise of the Excelsior, Penfold worked on the construction of the railway

tunnel. In family baptism and marriage records he is described as a labourer,

platelayer and railway employee. His children - at least nine in number - were born in

the cottage. The family lived at places other than the estuary abode. The 1882 Return

of the freeholders of New Zealand describes Penfold as a platelayer of Southbridge

with land in Selwyn County worth 250 pounds. The captain died on 4 January 1905

and his wife on 28 June 1905.

The Penfold cottage was occupied till 1908, after which it fell into disrepair. In 1940

it was but a heap of sods lying about an old fireplace. Cocksfoot grew wild in the

area. The Mount Pleasant Burgesses’ Association planned the rebuilding of the

structure. Men from the Mount Pleasant Boating Club who were too young for war

service were brought in to work on the project. The restored cottage was to be a

monument to the ‘gallant spirit, endurance and foresight of the pioneers of

Canterbury’. The man in charge, Ernest Parish of St. Andrew’s Hill. could not find

suitable ground from which to shape sods. Thus he had to do his work with cob, a

mixture of clay and tussock or rushes. The cob was mixed with water in a trench and

‘pugged’ or trodden by foot. This was hard work and meant that Parish had to

exercise great patience.

On 16 December 1944, the 94 th anniversary of the arrival of the First Four Ships,

Christchurch Mayor E. H. Andrews accepted management of the cottage on behalf of

the citizens of the metropolis. Among the official party was the Rev. Frederick Guise

Brittan, 96, the last survivor of those who had come on the First Four Ships.

Woolston / Heathcote Cemetery

2006

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