Rob Thomson – a family history of 168 years at College

30 Jan 2024

In 1855 – the year of the Deed of Foundation of Christ’s College – John James Thomson (43) first walked onto the school site opposite St Michael’s Church in Oxford Street, Christchurch. On 18 October 2023, John’s great-nephew, Rob (Robin) Paul Acland Thomson (5806), wandered into the Dining Hall to celebrate his 75 Years On Reunion at Christ’s College.

For Rob, now aged 89, his family history is interwoven with the nearly 175-year history of College, with multiple generations of farmers – and various family tree branches – retaining that unbroken connection, from Oxford Street to Rolleston Avenue.

“My great-uncle, John, was No 43 on the School List, and among the earliest pupils, attending Christ’s College from 1855–1860,” Rob says. “John came to New Zealand in 1853 with his father, William, on board the Hampshire. At College, he was followed by his brothers, William (178), David (392), and my grandfather, Oliver Scott Kerr Thomson (393), from 1870–1873.”

Oliver Thomson went on to manage Mount Peel Station for John Acland in the 1890s, marrying one of the station owner’s daughters, Lucy.

“My grandmother, Lucy, lived her entire life at Mount Peel, dying during childbirth when my father, Paul Acland Thomson (2884), was only aged three,” Rob says. “Following Lucy’s death, my grandfather shifted to his own farm in Kakahu near Geraldine and then moved into Geraldine, where he died in 1928. My father was also sent to College, starting school during World War I in 1915 as a member of School House. My father remained at Christ’s College until 1919, and, as I recall, enjoyed his time.

“Interestingly, my father also farmed, and managed the Peel Forest estate,” Rob says. “I spent my war years living at Peel Forest and attending Waihi School. I then was educated at College from 1949–1951, following my father into School House.

“I enjoyed College very much. Most of the Waihi boys came to Christ’s College, so the transition was very easy. I also loved sport, with perhaps too many distractions from schoolwork. I was a member of the 1st XV, rowed for the House, and also did a bit of boxing. College set me up well for life, and it was a diverse environment, with pupils from all over New Zealand and overseas.”

Rob’s brother, John James Thomson (7110), continued the family tradition at College as a member of Corfe House from 1960–1964.

“John taught History at College for about 20 years from 1971,” Rob says. “He was Housemaster of Flower’s House from 1976–1982 and School House from 1987–1994. Ten of those teaching years were spent in a wheelchair after he broke his neck when diving into a swimming pool. Christ’s College was very good to John. He loved the school and being a Housemaster.”

Among Rob’s personal school highlights was meeting his wife, Jantje – a student at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School. The pair were introduced by Janet Tothill, sister of fellow College rugby player Tom Tothill (5712).

“We married in 1957 and bought a farm in Fairlie,” he says “We stayed on the farm for 43 years until 1999, before moving to a smaller farm in Geraldine. We then shifted into a retirement village in the town four years ago, and I discovered that my new neighbour, fellow farmer Rupert Harrison (5759), was also an Old Boy, having been in Flower’s House at the same time but we did not know each other at school.”

Rob’s wider family members, the Acland, Goodwin, and Overton families, have also made their mark on the school.

“I am fortunate to still catch up with Old Boys like John Clayton (5652) and John Laidlaw (5687) – we have stayed in touch all the way. I love coming back to Christ’s College for our reunions. The buildings are still magnificent and have not changed. The interior of School House is still austere. Every time I go into the House, it is like stepping back in time. However, there are not many of us left now. That’s the sad part – every time we come back to Christ’s College, a few more are no longer here.”