Life of Canterbury cricket's founding fathers

19 August 2015

The lives of the Brittan brothers and their contribution during the settlement of Canterbury are explored in a new book published by Canterbury University Press (CUP).

Life of Canterbury cricket's founding fathers

The lives of the Brittan brothers and their contribution during the settlement of Canterbury are explored in a new book published by Canterbury University Press (CUP).

Cricketing Colonists: The Brittan brothers in early Canterbury, written by historian Dr Geoffrey Rice with assistance from former teacher Frances Ryman, investigates the substantial contribution that the Brittan brothers — Joseph and William — made to the Canterbury province as politicians and as pioneer farmers.

This fascinating account explains why the Brittan brothers are all but forgotten and provides a rich, detailed panorama of life and politics in early Christchurch.

“Both brothers died in debt. I had access to bank archives in Wellington which helped to explain why the Brittan brothers died in debt after such promising beginnings as landowners,” says Rice.

“The book is a contribution to New Zealand historiography as a case study in colonial failure. We have plenty of studies of those who succeeded, but many colonists failed and have been forgotten. This book explains why two highly-placed Canterbury colonists ultimately failed.”

The book also reveals tragedy in their personal lives, the illness of William's wife and the death by drowning of Joseph's favourite son.

Rice says William’s most important contribution to early Canterbury was getting settlers onto land with virtually no complaints.

“He should also be remembered as the ‘father of Canterbury cricket’. He introduced the game and fostered it with his own money for more than a decade,” says Rice.

Rice says readers will be taken into the world of politics in early Christchurch as well as the lives of these two almost forgotten brothers.

“Readers will be better informed about early Canterbury farming, politics and social life, and a bit wiser about human foibles and the human condition,” says Rice. 

“Biographies make us think about our own lives and decisions. We can learn from other people’s mistakes and also learn to endure adversities when you realise what these early settlers had to put up with.”

Inspiration for the book came about when Ryman wanted to find out more about William Guise Brittan, the man who built her house, which dates to 1856. She gathered information over many years and decided to get in touch with Rice, who then expanded the project to look at the history of both brothers.

“It was Frances’ enthusiasm that kept the project alive,” says Rice.

About the authors:
Geoffrey Rice is adjunct professor of history at the University of Canterbury, where he lectured in European history for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 2012. His recent books, all about Christchurch and all published by Canterbury University Press, include Victoria Square (2014), Christchurch Crimes and Scandals (2013), All Fall Down (2011) and Christchurch Changing (2nd edition 2008).

Frances Ryman taught classical studies at Burnside High School for more than 20 years and won awards for restoring William Guise Brittan’s sole surviving Christchurch residence, Englefield, in Fitzgerald Avenue, only to see it wrecked by the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Frances gathered much of the material for the early part of the book. 

Cricketing Colonists: The Brittan brothers in early Canterbury by Geoffrey Rice and Frances Ryman, published by Canterbury University Press, August 2015, RRP $39.99, ISBN 978-1-927145-68-5

For further information please contact:
communications@canterbury.ac.nz

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