Rev William Aylmer

Rev William Josiah Aylmer, an Anglican priest of the mid 19th century, became one of the founding fathers of Christchurch in New Zealand. He was the third son of Fenton, 7th Baronet of Donadea.

Maoris had lived in the Canterbury area for a thousand years until the first European landings in 1815, and settlement 25 years later. Whaling ships were sailing from Lyttelton by 1850, when the first organised groups of English settlers began to arrive, many in the ‘four ships’ of the Canterbury Association.

Christchurch cathedral, before the 2011 earthquake

Christchurch cathedral, before the 2011 earthquake

The Association planned to establish a Church of England settlement that would follow the model of Christ Church in Oxford, church and scholarship at the heart of a community. Now, a plaque in Christchurch Cathedral commemorates him as one of the Association’s founding members.

William left his Irish parish (in the care of a locum, in case of an early return) having already purchased land including that now known as Aylmer’s Valley at the south end of Akaroa.

He was “much horrified” on arrival at Lyttelton in September 1851, but his early doubts soon disappeared and the following year commenced building the Akaroa home which still bears the name Aylmer House.

The Burke manuscript, a key source for the early history of Christchurch, lists Aylmer as one the first twelve councillors of Christchurch in 1853 or 1854, describing him as ‘a member of a well known Home family’.

Despite a plan of 1860 to go sheep farming, he remained as vicar of St Peter’s from 1851 to 1871, staying on as locum for two more years, and living at his house until his death in August 1883.

His oldest son Julian Aylmer became Akaroa’s last resident magistrate, and two streets in the town, Percy and William, are named after other sons.

In October 2017 I was contacted by Felicity Aylmer Steel, the great-great-grand-daughter of Rev Aylmer. She lives in Wellington Nz and has a brother, Jeremy Broderick Bowes Steel, who lives in Auckland NZ.