Richard Turnbull (1826–1890) arrived in Timaru in 1864, where he was a partner with David Clarkson in ‘Clarkson & Turnbull’ - a well-known general store on the south-west corner of George and Stafford Streets. Disaster struck in the form of the great fire of 1868 which destroyed the business and ended the partnership. It also enveloped the family home off George Street behind the business, leaving his family temporarily homeless. But he soon re-established himself, becoming a grain merchant and auctioneer. He remained publicly prominent, serving as a member of the first Timaru Town Board and later on the Canterbury Provincial Council.
Richard’s impact on Timaru is still with us today. In 1876 six hundred people attended a meeting which appointed a committee of twelve to investigate the building of a harbour breakwater. Richard later served on the Timaru Harbour Board during some of its formative years. The meeting was held in a large stone store Turnbull built in Stafford Street. Soon after the store was rebuilt into a theatre. The theatre has been rebuilt and modified several times being used as a sports arena, movie theatre, and home of numerous stage shows. Now known as the Theatre Royal the building was purchased by the Timaru City council in 1963 and remains the pre-eminent home of theatre in the district.
Richard also served as a Member of Parliament for Seadown. Still in office, he passed away in Wellington while Parliament was in session in 1890. He is buried with several members of his family including his wife Mary and some of his children.
Two of Richard’s son’s also established a significant presence in the town. James Turnbull became a local architect. David Clarkson Turnbull founded the long-running grain and shipping agency, D C Turnbull & Company that still operates in Timaru today.