The true tale of Annie Quayle Townend


Glenmark Estate Mansion

The True History of Annie Quayle Townend

Annie Quayle Townends’ life, and that of her father George Moore, could have been lifted from the heady pages of a Brontë novel. Annies tale, set in a wilder Victorian New Zealand as one century tipped over into the next, is one of love, grief, isolation and tragedy.

Annie was born in Tasmania around 1843 to George Moore and his wife Anne Kermode, whose parents owned the large sheep run where Moore was employed. George and Anne's marriage was a loveless one, however, and speculation remains that George possibly married Anne simply to gain control over the family farming assets. Either way, the marriage ended, and George immigrated to New Zealand in 1853 and purchased what would become Glenmark Estate in the Waipara Valley with funds from his wife's family. Annie, one of his four children, followed him when she turned 19, and began her life as her fathers' head of household in his absence of a wife. During his time in New Zealand, George had procured around 81,000 acres of freehold land, and was possibly the wealthiest man in the country at this point, although with his success came a reputation for being harsh and difficult. He was often in court for refusing to treat his sheep for scab, gaining him the nickname 'Scabby Moore', and once refused a beggar help on a cold night, which led to the mans’ suicide. George showed no remorse for any of this, and local newspapers declared him 'mean, hard-hearted and blasphemous'. Long-standing servants disputed that fact, however, pointing to acts of kindness and a generally fair disposition, and it may have been that his wealth, no-nonsense approach and private nature created an air of mystery, so that newspapers embellished the severity of his character.

To befit his status as a wealthy landowner, and possibly to show up his wife's family in Tasmania, George commissioned architect Samuel Farr to design a mansion that would surpass all others. Farr was responsible for designing many of Christchurch's landmarks, including the Christchurch Normal School and Hambledon House, and was passionate about bringing an English influence to Canterbury. The result was a lavish gothic-styled two-story manor, with decorative gables and a turret, overlooking a lake in a park-like 40-acre garden. It was to be the masterpiece of Farrs career. The house had conservatories on either side, with Annie keeping a variety of exotic birds, trees and plants. A marble staircase imported from Italy connected to two stories, and many of the fittings were imported from Europe. The house was built with no back doors, since Georges mistrust for his neighbours was such that he wished to keep a firm eye on who entered and left his property. Annie lived in comfort, and was her father's confident on all things business, but was forbidden to entertain any suitors, as her father feared they would have their gaze set firmly on her inheritance. He did not like her to leave the estate unless absolutely necessary. She was essentially trapped in paradise.

Three years after the mansion was completed, on a Friday in January 1881 close to mid-day, the whole manor was destroyed by fire. Annie was burned, thankfully only mildly, trying to rescue her precious birds, but there were no fatalities. Had the blaze occurred at night time things may have been very different, especially given the lack of back doors would have complicated any escape. It is thought the Cheviot Earthquake of the previous September may have dislodged a chimney, allowing the flames to escape through into the roof space. However, the architect Samuel Farr disputed this. The property was completely uninsured, and George never re-built on the property. Annie and George moved into the managers' house, also designed by Farr, before re-locating to Christchurch, never to return.

By this time, Georges health was failing, and he had become blind. He gradually began to funnel off his assets to Annie to avoid death duties, and gave her power of attorney. With a slight slackening of her fathers’ control, Annie fell in love with a Dr Townend, possibly Georges own physician. The two married in secret in 1900, with Annies’ father going to his grave unaware of their union. After her fathers’ death, Annie inherited his assets and a large sum of money, all of which would remain hers and would not transfer to any spouse, as was stipulated in Georges will. Sadly Dr Townend died a short few years after their marriage, and Annies’ happiness was short lived.

Annie bought the Karewa property in Fendalton rd., and renamed it ‘Mona Vale’ after her childhood home in Tasmania, and built the now-iconic gatehouse in the gothic style of the Glenmark Mansion. It still stands todays as one of Christchurch’s most loved heritage buildings. In Waipara, she donated land from the estate, and built St Pauls Church and a beautiful twelve room vicarage, gifting it to the Church, as well as space for a cemetery. She dedicated the Church to the memory of her late father, and to a lesser extent, her husband. The vicarage was elaborately fitted out, and each if its rooms had an external door in case of fire, at Annie's insistence.

Annie built an elegant house in Sumner, where she lived for a time before moving the entire house to the Cashmere Hills, and renaming it 'Glenhome'. During this time she was known to be a generous women, donating to many Christchurch institutions. She remained an animal lover with many pets, and a strong financial supporter of the SPCA, often preferring the company of animals to people.

Annie died aged 69 at Glenhome after her morning coffee, and although there were rumours that she might have been poisoned, this was never proven. Her death was attributed to a stroke. She was buried in Riccarton beside her father. The reading of her will was much anticipated, and proved to be a testament to her generosity, with her estate benefiting servants, family members and charities including the Salvation Army, Barbados and the Nursing Fund. Her obituary read that 'Annie was known for her constant and quiet charity- she was secret in the way in which she aided others. There has been no deserving cause she has not helped and few organisations for the relief of suffering of which she has not assisted'.

To experience a little of what life was like in the time of Annie Townend, it is possible to stay at the Glenmark Vicarage, now operating as a B&B. You can even sleep in the Vicars room, in a four poster bed. Find out more at: www.glenmarkvicarage.co.nz

For a taste of what the Glenmark estate mansion may have been like, although in much less ostentatious but still opulent proportions, stay at Merivale Manor in Christchurch, one of the few buildings remaining of Farrs designs not taken by the earthquake. Find out more at : https://www.merivalemanor.co.nz

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© 2016 Claire Inkson. All photographs copyright Claire Inkson

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