Percy Ashton Elworthy
Percy was adventurous and fun loving, never one to feel self-conscious about having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he lived a happy and full life. He is remembered by his daughter Di as a gentle and loving father, with a great sense of humour. He was educated at Cathedral School “and hated it” Christ’s College, Christchurch, where in his own words “I did as little work is [as] possible, broke every school rule and was beaten without ceasing in consequence” and Trinity Hall Cambridge, England, where he was a popular figure. He rowed for Trinity Hall, but did not stay the required three years, so went down without a degree. A fine sportsman Percy was a climber, horseman, polo player, he co’founded the Timaru Squash Club, and hunter. From 1902 he farmed Gordons Valley, his share of the old Pareora block, split up in 1920. He was not a hands on farmer, and Gordons Valley was run by managers. He and Bertha retired to Ringstead Havelock Nth N.Z. about 1951.
The old homestead at Gordons Valley was set in a magnificent parkland of exotic trees planted by Percy, and contained numerous trophies from his safari to East Africa in 1906. He served in France during WW1 with the first Life Guards, with the rank of Captain, his fine horsemanship stood him in good stead. However from the time he was demobbed he rejected the honorofic, deriding those that clung to wartime rank. Percy was a Knight of the Order of St John.
Very interested in motoring, he bought his first car, a Sims Welbeck in Christchurch in 1902, taking 20 hours to travel back to Timaru in it. In his splendid memoir in Edwards Legacy, Percy noted “Bertha and I have owned a great variety of cars in our lives, from model T. Ford’s to Hispano Sulzas, Stutz, Rolls Royce, Jaguars, Riley’s etc., and now we are back to Fords. Always at the vanguard, Percy, in the first decade of the 20th century drove all over New Zealand, much of it on unformed roads, his was the first car to enter Queenstown, to the consternation of the locals, and the first to cross the Crown Range, a restricted road even in 2012. He and Bertha first flew in 1915 from Henson London with Graham White, they hoped to fly to Scotland, but ran into a dense fog over Norfolk, landing at Kings Lynn they had lunch, taking off again the engine failed and they crash landed, unhurt, on the Fens. Soon after, back in New Zealand, he and Bertha hired a plane to fly to Dunedin for a meeting, there being no airport they had to land on the beach, which they did, bursting both tires. The wind had got up by the time they wished to return and the takeoff was most unsuccessful. Percy was a generous man, the researcher Edward Fenn enjoyed fascinating visits to Gordons Valley as a youth, and was given a Westley Richards .303 hunting rifle by Percy, which he still treasures (1999). Percy was aged 80 at his death.
OBITUARY: PERCY ASHTON ELWORTHY.
Percy Elworthy – prominent in farming and sporting circles in South Canterbury for many years – died at his home, “Ringstead”, Havelock North, early yesterday morning. He celebrated his eightieth birthday last March. The sixth son of Mr Edward Elworthy, of Holme Station, he was educated at Christ’s College (Christchurch) and Trinity hall (Cambridge). Returning to New Zealand in 1902, he took up Gordons Valley Station, which he continued to develop until about 10 years ago when he moved to “Ringstead”.
At Cambridge, Mr Elworthy rowed for his college, “and he had the distinction of gaining selection in crews of the famous Leander Club. While at university he spent much time climbing in Switzerland and France and made ascents of many of the major peaks in the Alps, including some first traverses. Mr and Mrs Elworthy and their family lived for many years in England, and all their children were educated there. A keen horseman, Mr Elworthy won many steeplechases and point-to-pint events and, with his brothers, Arthur and Herbert, he held the hunting contract for the South Canterbury Hunt for some years during a difficult period in the early 1900’s.
Mr Elworthy excelled in polo, too, and with his brothers, and the Orbells competed throughout the country with success. Big game hunting had its fascination and trophies at Gordon’s Valley Station today still attest the success of a trip which he made to Portuguese East Africa in 1906 with Mr Carlisle Studholme, of Waimate. When there was a movement in 1933 to form a squash rackets [racquets] club in Timaru, Mr Elworthy was one of four men who among them provided the [1000 required for the purchase of land in Brunswick Street and the erection of a court.
The automobile always held a fascination for Mr Elworthy and he became the first man to drive over the Crown Range by car. Mr O.A. Gillespie records another motoring feat in his book, “South Canterbury, a Record of Settlement.” “Today, when people drive gaily from Timaru to Christchurch in a few hours, the record of P.A. Elworthy’s first drive in 1902 is a comment on half a century of change. He left Christchurch at 6 o’clock one morning in a single-seater Sims Welbeck car he had just bought and, in order not to wake his family, climbed through the scullery window at Holme Station at 2 o’clock the following morning, after a 20-hour journey.”
In the first World War, Mr Elworthy served with the First Life Guards in France, rising to the rank of captain. The work of the St John Ambulance occupied many hours of Mr Elworthy’s attention and he became a Knight of the Order of St. John. After the Second World War he presented the chassis of an ambulance to the Timaru Association.
In 1908 Mr Elworthy married Miss Bertha Julius, youngest daughter of Archbishop Julius. He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. His elder son, Air Marshall Sir Charles Elworthy, is Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in the Middle East and is at present organising the British military operations in Kuwait. The second son, Mr Anthony C. Elworthy, is New Zealand manager for a United Kingdom engineering firm. The older daughter, Anne (Mrs Shaun Jaffres), lives in Madras, and the younger daughter, Diana (Mrs J.C. Wilson lives at Bulls.)