Mary Donald

England / Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1821, d.1869

John Robert Godley

  • 1852
  • Oil on canvas
  • Transferred from Banks Peninsula District Council, 2006
  • 800 x 640mm
  • 2009/045

Mary Donald (née Townsend) was a professional portrait painter in London before arriving in Canterbury with her family in December 1850. In 1852 she was commissioned to paint John Robert Godley, founder of the Canterbury settlement, whose wife Charlotte observed that Mary “did not expect to be asked for such things here”.

(Out of Time, 23 September 2023 – 28 April 2024)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Brought to light, November 2009- 22 February 2011

    Irish-born, Oxford-educated John Robert Godley (1814–1961) launched the Canterbury Association in England in 1848, aided by New Zealand Company director Edward Gibbon Wakefield, with visions of a new society built along gentlemanly Church of England lines. Naming the planned settlement’s principal town in advance – after Christ Church, his old college at Oxford – Godley arrived in Lyttelton with his wife Charlotte and young son in 1850. He played a significant leadership role before returning to England three years later. Following his death in London in 1861, he was honoured by a statue in Cathedral Square, unveiled in 1867. London trained Mary Donald was the first professional woman artist in Canterbury.

  • [He Waka Eke Noa, 18 February 2017 – 18 February 2018]

    Mary Townsend arrived in Port Lyttelton aboard the Cressy on 27 December 1850 with her parents James and Alicia Townsend, five sisters, four brothers and a cousin. Mary had painted portraits professionally in London, but in Lyttelton – as Charlotte Godley noted – “did not expect to be asked for such things here”. Completing a portrait of four-year-old Arthur Godley in August 1851, she then started under Charlotte’s direction on this portrait of her husband John Robert Godley, founder of the Canterbury Province. Mary married Dr William Donald, the appointed ‘Colonial Surgeon at Lyttelton’, in November 1851. Ten months later the portrait was presented to the recently launched Lyttelton Colonists’ Society as a likeness of their chairperson. The presentation was followed by Godley’s “promised lecture on the early colonization of New Zealand”, as the Lyttelton Times reported, commenting also that “there are but few Colonists, we apprehend, who possess other than a very limited knowledge of their adopted country”.