Francis Grollier Stedman, 1839-1891

When the Christchurch Literary Institute (formerly the Christchurch Mechanics' Institute) was handed over to Canterbury University College by the Provincial Council in 1875, the role of librarian became part of the job description of the registrar of the university. Francis Stedman took up this role in March 1876, and remained in the position until his untimely death in 1891.

As registrar, Stedman was fully occupied with other tasks, so most of the work of the library was undertaken by the sub-librarian, Howard Strong, who was appointed in 1879 and lived in the librarian's house on the library's premises in Cambridge Terrace. Nevertheless, Stedman was officially Christchurch's public librarian for 15 years. His policy seems to have been one of “business as usual” rather than development, and few changes seem to have occurred during his stewardship. The book collection grew to about 15,000 volumes, divided between the lending and reference collections, and the reading room, containing newspapers and periodicals, remained popular. Apart from Stedman himself, Strong was the only staff member.

Early Life

Very little is known of Stedman's early life. He was baptised on 14 December 1839, the son of Charles Henry Stedman of Watford, Hertfordshire, and his wife, Sarah Ann. He may have been related to Dr Silas Stilwell Stedman, an ophthalmologist who became the first superintendent of Christchurch Hospital in 1862; Francis appears to have arrived as a cabin passenger in Wellington, either with Dr Stedman's wife, Harriett, or with one of his children (Harriet or Henry), on the Oliver Lang in 1858.

By the mid-1860s, Stedman was working as a clerk with the Templeton Road Board, which was established in 1864. Dr Stedman had died of typhoid that year, and Mrs Stedman followed in 1866, so if he was a relative, Stedman would have needed to begin earning an independent living. In November 1865, he was elected secretary and treasurer of the Templeton section of the Canterbury Rifle Volunteers, and later he became involved in the process of establishing Templeton as a school district. He was a deeply religious man, actively involved in the Anglican church, which he served as a church warden, a lay reader and as a representative of Templeton at the General Synod. His contribution to the work of the church was marked by the presentation of a Bible and a prayer book at a farewell dinner in Rolleston when he left the district in 1874.

Appointment as Registrar

Stedman was appointed registrar at the Canterbury University College in March 1876, with a salary of £400. He was one of only two full-time, administrative staff at the College, and as such, probably wielded a good deal of power. He may well have been called on to make important decisions in the absence of the Board's chairman or in consultation with him. At the time of his death, the chairman acknowledged that he had enjoyed close and confidential relations with the registrar, who was a ‘zealous and conscientious officer, a loyal friend and a high-minded gentleman’. He had earned the full confidence and esteem of board members and all who knew him1. Louis Cohen called him ‘the dear friend of every student’ at the university2. A marble tablet in his memory is located in the entrance hall of the original university college buildings, now the Arts Centre of Christchurch.

In 1890, Stedman became ill with a malignant facial tumour. He travelled to London to seek treatment, but this was unsuccessful, and he died there on 18 January 1891. He is buried at Woking Cemetery. He had never married, so his considerable estate was divided between his sister, who lived in Sydney, his doctor and nurses, a number of godchildren, and the church; sums were left to the Dean of Christchurch and churches in Springfield, Halkett, Sheffield and Templeton, with the residue of the estate being left to the Clergy Pension Fund of the Diocese of Christchurch. The Bishop of Christchurch was named as his executor. Stedman's work for the church is memorialised in Christchurch Cathedral by the wooden cover of the font, which was designed by Andrew Swanston.


  1. 1. McDonald Index and Press, 23 January 1891, p. 5a.
  2. 2. Lyttelton Times, 12 May 1923.


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