The house built for John Robert Godley, his wife Charlotte and their son, ‘little Arthur’, in Lyttelton, in 1850. Godley was Agent General for the Canterbury Association and a sort of ‘Governor’ for the first two years of the Canterbury settlement.
This watercolour has a fascinating story to it. It was rediscovered in the secret drawer of Charlotte’s personal writing case, in 2005, in England. It is still in pristine condition, no foxing, and has almost certainly lain in that drawer since 1851 or more probably 1852. But who painted it?
I suggest it was Charlotte, herself. Charlotte drew and painted, but not very well, unlike her good friend, FitzGerald, who drew and painted superbly. The perspective in this watercolour is not very good, and ‘perspective’ was one of Charlotte’s shortcomings in drawing.
FitzGerald must have known that Charlotte had personally painted a watercolour of the Godley’s house, since it is the only plausible explanation as to why FitzGerald did not, himself, paint a watercolour of the house for his valedictory gift to Godley: ie he knew Charlotte had painted a watercolour, already, and therefore he did not wish to show up her limitations by painting the same subject, so much better.
It is clear that Charlotte treasured the watercolour till her dying day, keeping it so close and so private, all those years (she died in 1907!). Irrespective of its limited technique, the watercolour has immense interest because it is the only known close up of the house, and in colour.
(The house stood at the very beginning of Sumner Road, on the first bend. It is not to be confused with ‘Godley House’ in Diamond Harbour, which has no connection with the Godley family, but rather is so named because it faced towards Godley Head, at the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour).
Article and photo courtesy of Haydn Rawstron - John Robert Godley Memorial Trust