Charles John Monro
Born: April 5, 1851, Waimea West, Nelson. Died: April 9, 1933, Palmerston North, aged 82.
Monro attended Nelson College 1863-65 before being sent to London for further education at Christ’s College where he was introduced to rugby. The 19-year-old returned home early in 1870 and joined the Nelson Football club, the players agreeing to his suggestion of playing the rugby rules. He played for Nelson teams through to 1875. A keen horseman, Monro, in 1871, played in the first-recorded game of polo in New Zealand. He worked on the family properties at Waimea and Marlborough and spent a period as a bank clerk. From about 1876 he suffered bad back pain and made a trip to Rotorua to bathe in the pools and at the Pink and White Terraces. He rode alone on horseback from Wanganui to Rotorua then to Napier. In 1881 he was in Europe and spent nine months in Italy, learning the language and receiving singing lessons for he had a love for opera.
Charles father, politician Sir David Monro, died in 1877 and his mother Dinah in 1882. Charles had four brothers but only one, Aleck, survived into adulthood. He also had two sisters, Connie marrying into the prominent Dillon family of which a descendant is married to All Black Dan Carter. Georgie married James Hector who was a leading scientist, naturalist and geologist and founder of the museum in Wellington which later became Te Papa. In 1885 Charles married Helena ‘Lena’ Macdonald in Nelson and the couple travelled about Europe for two years during which their first child, David, was born.
Back in New Zealand in 1887 Charles settled in Palmerston North and bought land across the river where he had his house built, the family moving into ‘Craiglockhart’ in 1890. The family increased with Jack (father of Rugby Museum treasurer Neil Monro) in 1888, Mary 1890, Linda 1894 and Peter 1895. Charles earned his income from the sale of the Nelson properties and became a land speculator buying and selling land and town sections, investing in businesses, and the sale of fruit from his large orchard. He invested heavily in the flax industry and was a director of the large Miranui Mill near Shannon.
His sporting passion became golf and in 1895 was a founding member and first president of the Manawatu Golf Club at Hokowhitu. Charles spent many weeks developing the course and his family spent many enjoyable years playing golf. He was also a keen follower of polo. Croquet was played on the lawn and with the Russell family at Wharerata. Charles occasionally watched club and rep rugby. In 1904 he took the train to Wellington and watched the first rugby international when New Zealand played Great Britain and in 1930, when aged 79, he returned to Athletic Park, as a guest of the NZ Rugby Union, to watch the All Blacks play Great Britain.
He was a keen singer at operatic shows, especially popular with his ability to sing arias in Italian. The family were regulars at services at All Saints’ Church and Charles would have had many conversations with his former Nelson team-mate Alfred Drew, the church organist for 20 years.
On the occasion of the centenary of rugby in New Zealand a memorial was unveiled in 1970 on Bourke Road at Massey University. In 2011 a statue of Charles was unveiled outside the NZ Rugby Museum. New Zealand Rugby has honoured Charles with the Charles Monro Memorial Trophy which the union award annually to the Volunteer of the Year.
For further reading refer MONRO – The Life and Times of the Man who gave New Zealand Rugby