Changing South

From Scottish immigrants to Christchurch dynasty

Frank Film joins singer Julia Deans on a mission to find out more about her remarkable ancestor, Jane - a stranger in a strange land

Julia Deans knows some of her great-great-great grandmother’s story. Information she’s gleaned from family folklore and from the book Jane Deans herself wrote - Letters to my Grandchildren - to educate her descendants on her life as a pioneering woman in early Canterbury.

Jane’s story began in Scotland in 1823 and ended with her death in Christchurch, 87 years later. It was, as Julia Deans describes, a “good innings”.

A life of patience, tragedy, resolve and determination. Ultimately, Jane Deans is remembered as a much-loved and admired matriarch of family, and community.

While she was widowed young, with only one son, Jane Deans’ descendants now number around 340, and growing. Well-known among them are All Blacks’ Bob, Robbie and Bruce Deans.

Julia’s grandfather was renowned water colourist Austen Deans and her father, Paul, is an acclaimed sculptor.

Julia chose a musical career and in the 1990s was lead singer of rock band Fur Patrol, best known for the single Lydia which hit number one in the New Zealand music charts.

Now a successful solo artist and residing in Auckland, Deans was born and raised in Christchurch and recalls visiting the historic Deans Cottage, the oldest remaining building on the Canterbury Plains.

Riccarton House.

“I remember coming here on school trips, thinking it was freezing and it’s still freezing.”

It was in the small, wooden cottage that Jane Deans, newly immigrated from Scotland, cared for both a young child and a dying husband - John Deans died of tuberculosis less than two years after their wedding.

His widow’s loneliness is noted in her own words to her grandchildren: “May you never know what it is to be left alone, a stranger in a strange land, among strangers. Let them be ever so kind.”

As women couldn’t own property at the time, it was up to Jane Deans to ensure the estate was managed successfully until their son, John II, could inherit when he came of age.

She also honoured her husband’s wishes to protect the stand of native bush at the Riccarton property. Today, it is Canterbury’s only remnant of kahikatea floodplain forest.

The home Jane built after her husband’s death now belongs to the people of Christchurch.

Riccarton House, in use as a cafe and venue, has been lovingly restored.

Upstairs, in Jane’s simple, single bedroom are the gloves presented to her by John Deans before he left for New Zealand in 1842. Theirs was a long and distant courtship. It would be ten years before John would return to Scotland to finally make Jane his bride.

Julia ponders that she may not have waited that long, but her mission to find out more about her remarkable ancestor has given her “a lot of respect for this woman who gave up everything in Edinburgh for love, and came to this crazy, new country and effectively started a dynasty”.

*Made with the support of NZ on Air*

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