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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April 1, 1938.)

“John Robert Godley Founder Of Canterbury.”

John Robert Godley Founder Of Canterbury.”

John Robert Godley, son of a large Irish landowner, was born at Killegar, Country Letrim, Ireland, in the year 1814. Although delicate from birth, he showed great intellectual promise and took full advantage of the educational privileges the social elevation of his parents were able to bestow upon him. The early years of his education were spent at home; then he went on to Harrow and later to Christ Church College, Oxford. He read for the Irish Bar, and was called in 1839.

During boyhood and youth, Godley had ample opportunity to witness for himself what havoc could be wrought by absentee landlordism when the dire poverty of an overpopulated country-side reduces its dwellers to a potato subsistence. From the degradation of such conditions, an acute observer like Godley could clearly perceive the grim forebodings of dangerous reactions. These reactions were ominously thrust home to him when he and his father were forced to enlist the shelter of an armed guard as security against assassination.

As the early ‘forties ticked themselves towards the end of their black decade, even that last refuge of famished Ireland, the potato crop, failed. Whole communities became penniless; rents could not be collected and many died for want of nourishment. To the sensitive mind of Godley, such conditions were the occasion of acute distress, as revealed by the letters written by him at the time. But Godley was no negative type of personality content to merely sit back and bemoan the conditions around him without attempting to do something about it. He sought some constructive solution to the problem. Long investigation and careful analysis convinced him that there was but one way out of the impending catastrophe of a nation depressed to the desperation of a starvation level. Writing to a friend, he said: “A gigantic immigration scheme for the Irish people is the only solution.”