A slice of India on the Port Hills

ImageIt is embarrassing to admit, but I may well be the only person in Christchurch who never realised that the suburb of Cashmere was named after the Indian region.

The only justification I can come up with for this is that nowadays Cashmere in India is usually spelt Kashmir, and that I pronounce it with the stress on the second syllable rather than the first.  So the connection between the two is really not *that* obvious.  Plus I live on the other side of town… Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

So I was surprised to discover, while reading the Sydenham Cemetery Tour Guide written by Richard Greenway, our resident genealogy and cemetery guru, that, not only was Cashmere named after the Indian state, but that it was home to one of the first community of Indians in New Zealand.

Most came in 1859 as servants for John Cracroft Wilson, who, prior to transferring to New Zealand, had been a magistrate in India. In 1870 Wilson had what was later known as the Old Stone house built for the Indian workers to live in.

Wilson was an interesting character:  “he was a benevolent squire to the people who lived on or near his estate” and “allowed his labourers land and stock, provided houses for those who retired in his service and granted freedom to men whose time [of indenture] was up”; however he also took to court any workers who absconded, so that he might get them back to Cashmere.

The Indian workers became part of the wider community, with some, notably Ramchun Soman and his sister Rose, marrying European New Zealanders.

Their memory is preserved in the many Indian street names  in the area:

  • Shalamar Drive,
  • Bengal Drive,
  • Darjeeling Place,
  • Delhi Place,
  • Indira Lane,
  • Lucknow Place,
  • Nabob Lane,
  • Nehru Place,
  • Sasaram Lane.

Were you aware of Cashmere’s Indian connection? CoverIf, like me, you are fascinated by this discovery, you might enjoy the following links:

6 thoughts on “A slice of India on the Port Hills

  1. Andrew Paul Wood 25 October 2011 / 1:52 pm

    It would be lovely if we could make this into a recognition of positive multiculturalism in Christchurch, not just another legacy of British imperial history.

  2. pukekochick 29 October 2011 / 12:24 pm

    Another interesting book about the Indian Diaspora is

    Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents by
    Minal Hajratwala. It tells the story of Minal’s family who left Gujarat, India to become indentured labourers in Fiji and then spread out across the Pacific to New Zealand and the USA.

    I think we will see growth in research about the Indian Diaspora as people realise the contribution Indians are making to society around the World.

    Does anyone know of any books about South Asians in Uganda who were expelled during the Ida Amin period?

  3. pukekochick 29 October 2011 / 12:46 pm

    Just noticed there’s a history of the old stone house, naturally called

    Old Stone House, 1870-1990 and the Cracroft Community Centre of Christchurch, 1972-1990 / compiled by Betty and Norman Roberts. (728.8 ROB )

    Must reserve a copy from CCL to see what it says about the Indian servants.

  4. C Giddens 12 October 2014 / 4:08 pm

    I came across this blog recently when doing research on the Soman/Sohman family. Since the launch of ‘paperspast’ new information has enabled people to get a better idea of the early indian families (who were made up of hindu, muslim, sikh, and brahman’s) and thus debunk a lot of myths surrounding their lives. Not widely known is that the first family to arrive came on the first voyage in 1853, with some of the indians returning to india in 1855, only to come out to nz again in 1858.

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