Charles Torlesse

Charles Obins Torlesse (2 May 1825 – 14 November 1866) was a prominent surveyor for the Canterbury Association in Canterbury, New Zealand.

Charles Torlesse
Charles Torlesse.jpg
Charles Torlesse (year unknown)
Born2 May 1825
Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, England
Died14 November 1866(1866-11-14) (aged 41)
Resting placeStoke-by-Nayland
OccupationSurveyor, farmer
Known forSurveyor for the New Zealand Company and Canterbury Association
Spouse(s)Alicia Torlesse (née Townsend)
Parent(s)Rev Charles Martin Torlesse
Catherine Torlesse (née Wakefield)
RelativesEdward Gibbon Wakefield (uncle)
Arthur Wakefield (uncle)
Felix Wakefield (uncle)
William Wakefield (uncle)
Jerningham Wakefield (cousin)
Elizabeth Torlesse (sister-in-law)


Night-time camping scene at Rangiora bush with John Robert Godley, Charlotte Godley, Arthur Godley, Charles Torlesse, Charles Hunter Brown, and Jerningham Wakefield. Painted on 6 December 1850 by Frederick Weld.
Headstone of Charles Torlesse
The Torlesse Building (right) in Cathedral Square in 1866

Torlesse was born in Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, England, in 1825. He was the eldest son of the Rev Charles Martin Torlesse, who was on the management committee of the Canterbury Association.[1] His mother Catherine Torlesse was the sister of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.[2]

Aged 16, Torlesse started a survey cadetship under his uncle Arthur Wakefield for the New Zealand Company in Nelson. He stayed in Nelson from 1841 and returned to England in 1843, after his uncle was killed in the Wairau Affray.[2]

Torlesse together with fellow surveyor Thomas Cass returned to New Zealand by the Bernica, and arrived in December 1848, to work under chief surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas. Torlesse took up land in Rangiora[2] where he built the area's first house.[3]

On 27 December 1851, Torlesse married Alicia Townsend in Christchurch. She was the third daughter of James Townsend, who brought his family out to the colony on the Cressy.[4][5] His brother Henry Torlesse came to New Zealand in early 1853 on the Minerva and married Elizabeth Revell, a fellow passenger on that journey. The Torlesse brothers farmed together in Rangiora.[6]

Torlesse held town section (TS) 732 in trust for Felix Wakefield, a brother of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The section fronted onto both Cathedral Square and Hereford Street. From 1863, Torlesse was in partnership with Henry Matson, and operated as land agents under the banner of Torlesse & Matson.[7] On the evening of 4 June 1864, a fire started in their building and a large number of wooden buildings were destroyed.[8] Torlesse then bought the section of Wakefield for £1145, and commissioned builders Balke and Brouard to build a new two-storey stone building fronting onto Cathedral Square for £1124. This building was the first building made of permanent material in the Square and became known as the Torlesse Building. It was demolished in 1916, and the Strand picture theatre was built in its place. Today, part of the land is occupied by the ANZ Bank (itself due to be demolished due to earthquake damage), Strand Lane and a building housing a public toilet.[7]

Torlesse made a first ascent of a mountain in the Southern Alps, and this peak, the 1,961 metres (6,434 ft) Mount Torlesse, was named for him.[9]

Torlesse returned to England due to ill health and died in 1866. He is buried in Stoke-by-Nayland.[2]


  1. ^ Blain, Rev. Michael (2007). The Canterbury Association (1848–1852): A Study of Its Members' Connections (PDF). Christchurch: Project Canterbury. pp. 81–82. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Charles Torlesse – 1825–1866". Waimakariri District Libraries. Archived from the original on 14 March 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  3. ^ "The first house in Rangiora". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  4. ^ "Untitled". Lyttelton Times. Vol. I, no. 52. 3 January 1852. p. 4. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  5. ^ "News of the Day". The Press. Vol. LI, no. 8953. 17 November 1894. p. 7. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  6. ^ Smith, Jo-Anne. "Elizabeth Henrietta Torlesse". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  7. ^ a b NZ Federation of University Women (1995). Round the Square : A History of Christchurch's Cathedral Square. Christchurch: Clerestory Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-473-03399-2.
  8. ^ "Extensive Fire in Christchurch". The Press. Vol. IV, no. 500. 6 June 1864. p. 2. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Mt Torlesse". New Zealand Tramper. Retrieved 13 October 2012.