Mayor's heirs' surprise at government land grab for 'ownerless' plot of land

A tiny piece of land in Lichfield St, Christchurch has been claimed by the government after it sat ownerless for over ...
STACY SQUIRES / STUFF

A tiny piece of land in Lichfield St, Christchurch has been claimed by the government after it sat ownerless for over 100 years.

Descendants of Christchurch's first mayor are surprised they were not discovered in a government search for heirs to a piece of central city land he once owned.

The Government has claimed a piece of Christchurch land off Lichfield St that belonged to William Barbour Wilson after failing to find his heirs. Wilson died 120 years ago and the land has sat ownerless since.

Wilson, who was elected as the city's first mayor in 1867, owned 183 square metres of land in a now-abandoned former Lichfield St laneway. It has a rateable valuation of $150,000.

A photograph of a painting of Christchurch's first mayor William Barbour "Cabbage" Wilson. Artist unknown.
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A photograph of a painting of Christchurch's first mayor William Barbour "Cabbage" Wilson. Artist unknown.

But brothers Richard and Hamish Anderson claim Wilson was their great great grandfather.

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They claim they are heirs because one of Wilson's beneficiaries was his daughter Elinor Wilson, their great grandmother.

In February, Land Information New Zealand (Linz) asked the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister – then Gerry Brownlee – to recommend the land be taken by proclamation.

In a report to the minister, Linz said it took "all reasonable steps" to locate any living beneficiaries of Wilson's estate, including placing ads in The Press and using a specialist genealogy company.

But Richard Anderson said the government can't have looked very hard for descendants.

"LINZ said they couldn't find any family. That is just crap," he said.

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"If they got hold of a genealogy company and they drew a blank, someone has done something wrong somewhere because we are very much living."

"Someone hasn't done their job."

"I don't feel ripped off, I just think there needs to be some accountability somewhere."

Hamish Anderson also cast doubt on the vigour of the government's search for heirs.

"I would say that nothing was done whatsoever. I could easily make a list of 200 people that I am related to that come from Wilson."

A spokeswoman for Linz said that in some cases, depending on the will, not all descendants are beneficiaries.

"If people believe they are descendants they should contact the clearances team at Linz," she said.

Wilson had a chequered history.  He was born in Scotland in 1819 and arrived in New Zealand in 1850. He married in Christchurch and had 13 children.

At one point he owned 18 acres in the central city. He was involved with several businesses including the Halswell quarries.

He was the first president of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club, which recently came to fame as the subject of the film Pecking Order.

Wilson was an alleged wife beater and was convicted of fraud in 1876.

After his conviction, Wilson was elected to council one more time in 1878. Five councillors resigned in protest.

 - Stuff

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