Flax, Coffee, Tea and Chicory – the Trent Brothers’ Christchurch Empire

Edwin Trent's Homestead, Templeton. Source: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0036
Edwin Trent’s Homestead, ‘Clifton Grange’ at Templeton. [25]
Rising from the Ashes

Edwin was determined to rebuild the chicory works. He sent an invitation to the journalist who had reported on the fire, to come back in twelve months time and view the new buildings. To keep production at the manufactory going whilst Edwin rebuilt at Templeton, Trent Brothers advertised for farmers to grow chicory root at not more than £4 per ton. By May 1874, the Star reported Trent had fully recovered from the effects of the fire of a year ago.

The destroyed buildings had been replaced and were more complete than they were formerly – being of a ‘more substantial character and better arranged’. The chicory growing operation had also doubled in size. New machinery replaced workers which significantly reduced the cost of cutting and digging from £4 per acre to 10 shillings.

A carved stone, featuring a Phoenix with the motto Resurgam, had also been installed and adopted as a maxim for the future.

Christchurch architect, Johann Jacobsen had designed a handsome 48ft square, ten roomed residence, which Edwin named ‘Clifton Grange’. It had an enormous cellar which occupied the entire lower floor of the house. Divided into seven compartments, it had 200 tons storage capacity.

Clifton Grange as it was in the days long after Edwin Trent, when it was used by the Canterbury Jockey club. Image supplied by John and Sue Shanks, Trent's Vineyard.
Clifton Grange as it was in the days long after Edwin Trent, when it was used by the Canterbury Jockey club. “The photograph represents the Christchurch hounds at the residence of the master at Templeton.” Clifton Grange was built of kahikatea and survived until severe rot caused its demolition in the 1960s. A new homestead was built by the Shanks family on the same foundations, on top of the original cellars built by Edwin Trent. [22]

Visiting guests were ushered into Clifton Grange through a very grand, nine foot wide, high ceiling entrance hall, before entering the large drawing room. The house had six bedrooms with reading, smoking and bath rooms. No expense had been spared on interior decoration, which had been carried out by one of Christchurch’s leading tradesmen.

The dining and breakfast rooms were serviced by a large, lofty and well lit kitchen which had at its heart, a state to the art Leamington Range. The brick scullery was fitted with a 30 gallon copper, sink and every other convenience needed to run such a large house.

The building sat on six acres of shingled terrace and was designed to make the most of its elevated position. A forty foot viewing tower rose from the centre of the house, providing panoramic views across Canterbury. From this vantage point, Edwin could watch the workers in his fields through a telescope.

The grounds were laid out by a landscape gardener and contained a kitchen garden, an orchard stocked with fruits and vegetables, lawns, and pleasure gardens. The kitchen was supplied with eggs from the poultry house. There was stabling for four horses, a large hay loft, coach and harness room, and a man’s room and buggy house.

Although Clifton Grange was primarily designed as a family home, after his marriage to Mary Duckmanton in 1868, Edwin appears to have spent most of his time living in Christchurch.

By 1875, the home had been leased to Charles Howard, the new rector of the Christchurch Normal School, for three years. Unfortunately for Howard, his £500 annual government salary was not enough to pay for his lifestyle and keep the debtors at bay. Along with the sale of many of his furnishings and possessions, came an early end to his occupancy. James and Annie Trent and their young family then took up occupancy. [26]

Flax Makes Way for Wool
Kaiapoi Woollen Mills, 1880. Part of the building was originally constructed for flax manufacturing. Source: Kaiapoi Museum.
Kaiapoi Woollen Mills, 1880. Part of the building was originally constructed for flax manufacturing. The flax business folded before it got off the ground, and the building was sold to James Peacock who established the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills. [27]

Edwin junior had maintained his interest in flax processing, and in April 1873 he was appointed director of the newly created Flax Spinning and Weaving Company. The company was formed to ‘assist and develop the fibre industry, at a time when the only market for the tow was the local consumption in the different provinces, for upholstering purposes, in most districts the tow was burnt, not being of sufficient value to pay the cost of carriage to market.

The directors believed their new industry would create an immediate market for tow, increasing its value throughout the colony, stimulating demand and supply. They ordered machinery from England, but this proved excessively expensive and the directors would not sanction the purchase. They advertised throughout the colony for stocks of raw material, and offered a prize of £50 for a machine capable of converting the green flax into tow suitable for weaving.

Unfortunately, the flax industry went into decline; the price of labour increased whilst the value of the fibre in England was declining, so most of the mills had stopped working. The supply of local tow had also all but dried up, and the cost of freight hampered the ability for the company to bring in supplies of ‘tow’ from other provinces. The directors and shareholders had a choice: 1. wind up the company or 2. turn their attention to another fibre, wool.

After much discussion, disagreement and concern on the part of the shareholders, the company became the Canterbury Spinning and Weaving Company in 1875. They took over the Cam Mills which manufactured woollen blankets at Kaiapoi. Difficulties continued with the quality of the product, labour and the directorship – which resulted in financial loss. By 1877, with all capital exhausted, the company was wound up.

The buildings and plant were sold at auction for £7000 to Mr. James Thomas Peacock – of Peacock’s Wharf and fountain fame. [28]

Before the Marriage Altar

Now in 1877, with nearly half of their lives gone, Edwin is a married man of almost ten years, and brothers Frederick and James Trent stand before the marriage altar – in a new city, on the other side of the world from their homeland.

Edwin’s wife, Mary Duckmanton, had come out to Canterbury courtesy of the Provincial Government. She had listed her occupation as a domestic servant – of which the burgeoning province was in short supply. Travelling with her was one of her younger brothers, Samuel, a farm labourer. They arrived in Lyttelton on board The Roman Emperor on January 27th, 1860. Samuel did not stay long in Canterbury. He sailed to Victoria, Australia – probably to try his luck on the gold fields. Unfortunately, he died in 1866 at the age of just 27, leaving behind a wife and baby son.

Mary and Samuel’s father, John Duckmanton, had farmed over 600 acres in Warsop, Nottingham, England- near the market town on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. Their mother, Mary Cutt, had been employed as his servant. Mary produced five children, but it wasn’t until 1846 – two years after the birth of her youngest child – that John made an honest woman of her. [29]

In Canterbury’s early days, the fortunes of a lowly domestic servant could be changed through marriage. Six years after arriving in Lyttelton, Mary Duckmanton was married to a properous settler. Whilst the fortunes of this domestic servant changed for the better, the union didn’t result in any children.

>> READ PART 6: Newly Weds in a New Land


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathrine Holyoak says:

    AMAZING!!! I am a direct descendent of Edwin Ward Trent Sr. I come from his daughter, Mary Ann Trent (who died in England). He also had other daughters who never immigrated to New Zealand (and thus were not noted in your local history). You have done an OUTSTANDING job of researching and documenting this family. Are you part of the blood line too? I learned facts I hadn’t yet found from this article. I can share some details that I have uncovered if you would be interested. My contact info is noted above. I live in Rexburg, Idaho, USA but have fallen in love with the Trent family and am currently researching them. Their New Zealand branch is a productive and fascinating part of the line. I look forward to hearing from you- Kathrine Holyoak


    1. Geoffrey says:

      I’ve got a old photo of the Trent’s coffee and Chicory Works at Templeton it back dates to the 1870


  2. Darian Zam says:

    Trent’s “Good Cook” brand seems to have lived on into the 1960s-1970s. At some point they also acquired the “Musto” brand from S. Kirkpatrick and Co which had been around since the 1920s. Trent’s Tins from the 1950s and 1960s come up regularly at auction but I’ve never seen older than that. I only this week found two references to Trent’s white pepper in the 1930s, making me realise they had a much older back story than I thought from items and adverts I’ve seen over time. That didn’t bring me to this story though – just a coincidence.


  3. dean cameron says:

    A very interesting read on the Trent family I can add some more details. James Trent lived at 119 Salisbury street 1886 – 1891 . Frederick Trent lived at 151 Salisbury street 1887 – 1899 . in about 1912 they changed the street numbering in Salisbury street 151 Salisbury street became 90 Salisbury Street which is my house. James house which was on the Salisbury & Colombo corner has been a car park for a few decades if anyone has any photos of 90 Salisbury street I would be grateful.


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