Geraldine was discovered in the 1840s, but it wasn't until 1854 that Samual Hewlings built the first bark hut in Talbot Street. He married a Maori woman Nga Hei, and the totara tree which he planted to mark the birth of his daughter still stands on the site today in Talbot Street, opposite the police station .
Sheep were quickly established in the area, together with the pit saw milling of the native bush. When the bush has been cleared, wheat crops were grown across the plains. Originally called Talbot Forest, Geraldine was renamed Fitzgerald in 1857 after the first superintendent of Canterbury, an Irishman, Edward Fitzgerald. The name was finally changed to Geraldine which was Fitzgerald's family name in Ireland.
Geraldine became a Town Board in 1884 and a Borough in 1905. It was incorporated in the Ashburton electorate in 1908, when its hotels were closed. It remained "dry" until 1950, when the Geraldine Licensing Trust Hotel opened.
Geraldine’s reputation as a home to gifted artists and artisans is well established and many of these talented people, for example John Badcock and daughter Susan, have their work on sale in the town itself or from nearby studios. Some of the creations come in edible form too – Geraldine’s cheese maker, chocolatier and the internationally recognised Barker's fruit products all have outlets in the town.
If you are interested in Geraldine's history, it is well worth a visit to:
The Geraldine Museum on Cox St where the Geraldine Historical Society have an impressive collection for public viewing
The Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery museum on Talbot St with a huge array of vintage vehicles on display
Entertainment in Geraldine has for the most part centred on the local Town Hall. Since its construction in 1924, there have been many changes in the way people are entertained, but there is still something about the nostalgia the old building contains within its wall. Echoes of the past are evident in the etchings of long gone entertainers who scratched their names on the woodwork under the stage. There will be many people who will be able to remember their own times in front of the footlights. Times when the people of the district did their own entertaining. Times before TV.
The Blacksmith Memorial - In Recognition of the Pioneers of the Orari District
Orari's strategic location was recognised in early colonial times because it was at the day two stop on the three day horse and carriage trip south from Christchurch to Timaru. Orari was authorised as a township in 1857 by Canterbury surveyor Thomas Cass on two conditions: that it had an accommodation house for travellers and horses, and an Orari River ferry crossing facility. Giles Accommodation house opened in 1858. Demand for other services followed.
Duncan Taylor opened the first blacksmith shop in Orari in 1862. Blacksmithing involved heating iron and other metals in a forge fire then shaping them on an anvil with a hammer. This skilled trade was fundamental to the development and maintenance of early Orari's farming, railway and roading, including bridging.
Richard Coles, a blacksmith by trade and Charlotte his wife emigrated from Somerset, England to Timaru in 1874. They relocated to Orari establishing a blacksmith business in 1877, shortly after the opening of the Orari railway station, which was the railhead for Geraldine's development. It was one of several blacksmith operations in the district during the era.
Descendants of Richard and Charlotte Coles' children; the Aitken, Coles, Palmer, Payne and Pearce families, proposed at a 2004 reunion that the pioneers of the Orari District be remembered with this blacksmith making a horsehose memorial sculptured in bronze by Trevor Askin of Timaru.
Family funding was supplemented by grants from : The Timaru District Council, The Creative Communities NZ Arts Scheme, Humes Concrete Systems Timaru, Firth Industries Geraldine and The Thomas Hobson Trust Geraldine.
"A reflection on the skills and endeavours of the pioneers in developing the community's base for future generations".
Unveiled by the Mayor of the Timaru District Council Janie Annear on 29th January 2006, outside the old post office now Cafe Mes Amis Orari South Canterbury, New Zealand.