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Historic Place Category 1
This statue commemorates the founder of the Pakeha settlement of Canterbury, John Robert Godley (1814-1861). Godley, having met Edward Gibbon Wakefield in Britain, had become heavily involved in the establishment of the Canterbury Association, which eventually led to the settlement of Christchurch. Wakefield promoted his ideas of systematic colonisation that would lead to replicas of rural England being established in the colonies while avoiding some of the problems previously associated with colonisation. In practice Wakefield's ideas only worked to a variable degree; the settlement of Canterbury could be regarded as the most successful.
Godley arrived in Canterbury in 1850 and with the arrival of the first four ships in December of that year he became, in effect, governor of the colony. Godley changed the Association's terms for pastoral leases and in doing so opened up the way for the establishment of the large sheep runs of Canterbury. While this was financially shrewd and successful it was a departure from Wakefield's ideals. Godley left New Zealand in 1852 and went on to become assistant under-secretary at the War Office. There he argued strongly for the removal of British troops from the self-governing colonies, a policy that had important ramifications for New Zealand during the 1860s.
The statue of Godley was commissioned by the Memorial Committee of the Provincial Government soon after his death in 1863. The well-known English sculptor Thomas Woolner (1825-1892) cast the statue in England and it arrived in New Zealand in 1867 after first being exhibited at the South Kensington Museum. Woolner had also designed reliefs for the statue's pedestal with a pattern of New Zealand flax bush and English oak branches signifying the Pakeha settlement of New Zealand, which was to be carved in Christchurch. In the event the pedestal made in Christchurch proved too small for the statue and the unveiling had to be delayed until a new (and much plainer) pedestal had been constructed. The statue of Godley was finally unveiled on 6 August 1867; a day that was declared a public holiday.
The statue has since been moved twice. In 1918 it was moved next to the Cathedral as the tram shelter and underground public toilets were encroaching upon it. In 1933 it was moved back to its original site facing the Cathedral, where it remains today.
Godley's Statue is significant as a link to the Pakeha settlement of Canterbury by the Canterbury Association. It is the only known example of Woolner's work in New Zealand and is seen as a particularly fine example of his sculpture. At the time the statue was much praised for its realism and for Woolner's ability to capture the character of his subject. It was the first, and for almost twenty years the only, portrait statue in New Zealand. The creation of this statue (and its exhibition at South Kensington) boosted Woolner's career and he subsequently became ranked as one of the foremost sculptors of his era.
- Other: 1863 (circa)
- Original Construction: 1864 (circa) - 1865 (circa)
- Other: 1867 (circa)
- Relocation: 1918 (circa)
- Relocation: 1933 (circa)
- Dictionary of New Zealand Biography,Gerald Hensley, 'Godley, John Robert 1814-1861', vol I, 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990, pp.151-152
- New Zealand Federation of University Women, Canterbury Branch, Round the Square. A History of Christchurch's Cathedral Square, Christchurch, 1995
- Bulletin of New Zealand Art History,Mark Stocker, ' 'The pleasantest object in Christchurch' : Thomas Woolner's statue of John Robert Godley from commissioning to unveiling', 1998, 19, pp.17-32
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