Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thomas Cass


Thomas Cass, 1817-1895. 
Canterbury has always been able to respect the memory of those who pioneered the way for the young colony, and has not been disposed to make any distinction against those who came in advance of the Pilgrims, although their choice may not have been directed towards Canterbury as their future home.
Thomas Cass is one of these. Born in Yorkshire in 1817, he received his education at Christ's Hospital (the old Bluecoat School), where he was for four years on the Royal Mathematical Foundation. On leaving school he went to sea by choice, and for the next three years (whether as apprentice or before the mast we do not know) he sailed the seas, chiefly in the East India trade. On finally returning home he followed a course of instruction in architecture and surveying and was employed as an assistant in the Tithe Commission Office at Somerset House. This involved a great deal of surveying and land valuing, and Cass received a through grounding in outside work as well as the office duties of the Commission. There he remained until early in 1841, when, on the recommendation of Captain Dawson, R.E., he was appointed a member of the new staff for New Zealand under the authority of the Colonial Office. His salary as assistant surveyor was £200 a year.

Charles W. Ligar, the Surveyor-General, embarked with his staff in April, 1841, in the Prince Rupert, a ship owned and commanded by Sir Henry Esch Atkinson. Amongst the passengers were William Spain, the chief Land Claims Commissioner for New Zealand; his septuagenarian mother-in-law, Lady White; Ligar's wife, and his brother-in-law (Mr Flood or Proud). Contrary winds spun out the passage, provisions ran short, sickness invaded the ship, and finally Atkinson decided to put into Bahia, in Brazil, for supplies. His own health being poor, he left the vessel there and returned to England. His son remained in her as second officer, and the first officer, Ramage, took command. On September 4, when about to enter Table Bay, the Prince Rupert struck a rock and became a total wreck. With some difficulty the passengers were all saved, but the following morning a boat approaching the wreck was swamped, and seven persons, including the chief officer of another ship, and Ligar's brother-in-law, were drowned. Cass and the other surveyors lost much of their outfit. They were brought on by the Antilla and reached Auckland in December, nine months after leaving England.

For some months after arriving in the colony Cass was employed on surveys under the authority of the Land Claims Commission, first on the North Shore of Waitemata harbour and then in the vicinity of Bay of Islands. He assisted in surveying the town of Kororarika, and then in exploring the country to the northward and cutting lines for the proposed roads to Hokianga, Whangaroa, and Mangonui. After this was completed he came back and was engaged in and about Bay of Islands until the end of 1844. Then a sudden reduction of the survey staff threw him out of employment. Falling back upon his early experience at sea, Cass signed on to the Government brig Victoria, first as second officer and then as chief. In this capacity he saw much rough work, and not a little fighting, first in connexion with the sack of Kororarika in 1845, and later in the operations about Cook Strait against Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata. While on the coast of the South Island in 1846 Cass was called upon to take custody of two bad characters who had stuck up the Greenwoods' station at Purau and threatened the Deans family at Riccarton. One of the gang had been killed and the others were captured and taken by Cass to Auckland for punishment.

Next year, 1847, Cass left the employ of the Government and returned to England. There he represented to the New Zealand Company the loss be had sustained by the termination of his employment on the staff, and as a result of these negotiations he was appointed assistant surveyor under Captain Thomas on the new staff about to be sent out to prepare for the Canterbury settlement. Taking his passage in the Bernicia, he reached Canterbury in December, 1848. The other members of the party were E. Jollie, C. O. Torlesse, Gollan, S. Hewlings, and John Boys. During the next year Cass took a large part in the survey of the harbour of Lyttelton and Banks Peninsula, and then pursued the triangulation of what afterwards became known as the Canterbury block. His name was given to various natural features - a river flowing out of the Alps, a peak in Banks Peninsula and one of the bays in Port Cooper. Shortly after the arrival of the Canterbury pilgrims at the end of 1850 Captain Thomas retired and Cass was appointed to succeed him as chief surveyor. In that capacity he was present at the first allotment of town and country lands to the land purchasers. He lived then at Riccarton Bush. Until failing health compelled him to retire on pension in 1867, Cass continued to administer with efficiency and vigour the position of chief surveyor. As soon as settlement promised to cross the Rakaia southward, he proceeded in advance of it and did what was necessary to prepare for the coming pioneers. In 1854 he went to the site of Timaru and in consultation with W. Guise Brittan reported on the steps that should be taken there.

Though holding an important official position Cass was not debarred from membership of the Provincial Council, and he was one of the first members elected for the City of Christchurch in September, 1853. Standing for cheap land and improved communications, he was at the head of the poll with 77 votes; S. Bealey 74, Packer 71, Fooks 51, Dobson 21. During the second session he occasionally acted as chairman of the Council in committee. He retired from the Council in 1855, but was again elected in 1857 by one vote from Hart, and continued a member until July, 1860. During this term he was repeatedly a member of the provincial executive - under Packer, Tancred, Ollivier, and Blakiston - while on two occasions he led an executive of his own. In 1858 he was on a commission appointed by Moorhouse (Bray and Harman being his colleagues) to report upon the best route for the railway to the port. In 1853, in consultation with Sewell and the Rev. R. B. Paul, he was instrumental in fixing the site for Christ's College.

For ten years Cass was a Commissioner of the Waste Land Board, and in 1858 he was appointed a Commissioner of native reserves in the province. Even after retiring from the Council he was called upon again and again to do duty in the executive, under the presidency of Wilkin (1868), Tancred, Stewart, and Jollie. Again for a few weeks in 1863 he led an executive of his own. In 1863 he was chairman of the Railway and Bridge Commission. Indeed, few men bore a heavier load than he did through all those early years of the province. Cox remarks that he was "the lightest-hearted and youngest man that ever went through thirty years of the toughest work." However, he did in 1867 feel that he had overtaxed his strength, and he retired on pension and paid a visit to Great Britain. There again his services were requisitioned. Owing to the death of Crosbie Ward he was asked to take up the duties of emigration officer, which he carried out until the work was abandoned in 1868. He then returned to Canterbury and served a further period of three years as a member of the Waste Lands Board. He was also for many years a church warden at St. Michael's.

Cass's health was never robust after his first breakdown, and for many years before his death he was practically an invalid. His wife, whom he married in 1856 was the widow of David Theodore Williams, manager of the Deans estate. She died in 1886, and Cass then went to live with his stepson, C. Hood Williams. He died on April 17th, 1895, leaving no family.

Lyttelton Times, Volume IV, Issue 198, 23 September 1854

London Photo Copying Company (London) fl 1870s:
Portrait of Thomas Cass 1817-1895. 
Ref: PA2-1019. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22913684

  Edmund Wheeler and Son (Firm). Edmund Wheeler & Son (Christchurch) fl 1872-1914 :Portrait of Thomas Cass 1882. Ref: PA2-1898. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23223130

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