While the team at Ashburton Museum were working on Ashburton: Feels Like Home, our 2019 Spring exhibition, we became even more interested than usual in all the things that make this district feel special and familiar.
Home is a big theme, and it was especially interesting trying to tease out the myriad sights, ideas, experiences and influences that make a place feel like the centre of something with distinct personal meaning.
Ashburton is full of locations that are reminders of ‘home’. Many were named at a time when home most likely meant the British Isles.
Early colonial settlers named homesteads, rivers, roads and other places almost as if they were souvenirs. These new names helped make these new sites, districts and locations into reminders of now-distant places.
Some places were named in direct reference to a fondly remembered home town, perhaps as a reminder of ancestral lands, or because of a prominent family connected to a home location.
Others were named for far flung places that evoked a feeling, or because the physical environment looked or felt ‘just like home’.
Elgin, Arundel, Chertsey and Barrhill are all local examples of such naming. Another is Anama, an aboriginal word, used by WS Peter to name that location after a pastoral property in South Australia owned by his brother-in-law.
One local place name with less detailed connections is Valetta.
Valetta is the name of a well-known homestead and early run in Ashburton District.
Today the area includes many properties in a roughly triangular area bounded to the north by Ashburton River, and the Hinds River to the southwest.
According to the renowned historian AW Reed, who wrote Place Names of New Zealand, the early settlement of Valetta took its name from Valletta, the capital city of Malta. As often happened with colonial settlement a variant spelling is used and becomes standard, so our Valetta is spelt with just one L.
George Duncan Lockhart (1821-1890) was the first runholder of this area, which was initially known as Run No. 14 at the time of surveying. Lockhart named the parcel of land Kenilworth about 1854-1855. About 1857, he sold the run to Charles Hurst, who it is believed to have been the person that chose the name Valetta.
Valletta is a tiny fortified town, and the southernmost capital of Europe. At just 0.8 square kilometers, it is the European Union’s smallest capital city.
Malta has a long and varied history of occupation, and has been home to a great number of occupying nationalities, due to its strategic importance as a naval base. Just a few include the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, French, and British.
This mix of cultures has shaped the language and culture of Malta today.
By the time Hurst took up his run, Malta was a British colony; almost one hundred years later, in 1954 it became the modern Republic of Malta.
During and just prior to Hurst’s lifetime, Valletta had been an important base for British, French and Russian naval forces. It no doubt seemed an exotic, fascinating location, and remained a strategically important British colonial outpost.
In Hurst’s imagination, Valletta was likely also a fascinating and spiritual place, having been established as a fortified city and ruled by the Knights Hospitallers, the Order of Saint John, as part of Malta from 1530 to 1798. The order was established in 1023 to provide care for sick, poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land, and later became a military religious order.
Valetta took its name from one of the most significant members of the order and founder or the city, the respected Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Jean Parisot de la Valette.
Today, the Maltese cross used as the symbol of the Order of St John in New Zealand owes its origin to this history.
Hurst would go on to become well known for his work and property. Having started as a Yorkshire farmer, he then managed a large station in Victoria, Australia. He made a good investment when he paid Lockhart one thousand pounds for the licence and “50 good cows in calf”.
Whether Hurst ever saw Valletta, had read about the city, or was inspired by stories of the knights of Malta, something in that history or place shaped his feelings and inspiration for naming his new home.
By Tanya Zoe Robinson
This article has been modified for publication on this blog. Originally featured in the Ashburton Guardian, 15th October 2019.
- Valetta Homestead about 1900.
- A narrow street in Valetta, looking much as it would have done for centuries, with banners hanging across the road.
- Part of the fortified ramparts and buildings of Valetta towering above the harbour, looking much as they would have done for generations.
- The Maltese Cross, still the symbol of Malta today as seen on a one euro coin.