Edward Elworthy was born in Wellington, Somersetshire, England, according to family information in 1836. He was the son of Jane Chorley and her husband, Thomas Elworthy, a woollen mill owner. Edward was educated at Wellington School, and as a third son was destined for the church. But the prospect was not to his liking, and about 1860 he set out for Australia, where, no doubt with family assistance, he bought land at Toowoomba in Queensland.
In addition to his own land Elworthy managed a sheep property on behalf of the Taylor family in Toowoomba. But before long he began to hear stories of good sheep country being opened up in South Canterbury, New Zealand. He arrived in Christchurch early in 1864, then rode south to Timaru. In October he bought from David Innes, with whom he went into partnership, a half-share in Pareora, a sheep run of 42,000 acres of leasehold land 15 miles south-west of Timaru. The following year he bought out Innes for a total of £33,000, having sold his property at Toowoomba at considerable profit.
In 1866 Elworthy returned to England for a lengthy stay; on 16 January 1867 he married Sarah Maria Shorrock at Over Darwen, Lancashire. They returned to South Canterbury in 1867, but continued to make regular visits to England throughout their lives. They had 11 children, four of whom died in infancy.
From his earliest days at Pareora, which came to be generally known as Holme station, Edward Elworthy proved himself to be a canny farmer and a shrewd businessman. Over the next 20 years he exploited to the full the potential of the rolling limestone country, while at the same time freeholding land on a regular basis to prevent incursions by other interested purchasers.
By the end of 1867 Elworthy had greatly expanded the successful merino stud established by David Innes. He had also turned his attention to cropping, with the result that Holme station became one of the major grain-producing properties in the colony; but the merino and the half-bred continued to be the property's main source of income. By 1872 he was running 46,000 sheep on 82,000 acres. Following the expiry in 1890 of Canterbury leases, Elworthy increased his freehold dramatically, acquiring many titles in the names of his wife and children to avoid tax. By 1892 he and his family owned 46,833 acres of freehold land – more than any other individual in South Canterbury.
Elworthy took a leading part in social, public and business matters in South Canterbury, serving at one time or another as chairman of the Waimate County Council and the Timaru Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and as founding director of the South Canterbury Refrigerating Company. He was also a member of the South Canterbury Acclimatisation Society and the South Canterbury Athletic Club. Horse-racing, steeplechasing and hunting were other interests.
The Elworthy home developed a reputation as one of the most hospitable houses in Canterbury. Guests stayed for weeks or even months at a time, and the Elworthy sons and daughters formed the nucleus of 'the Flying Squadron', a group of young people who rode direct across country to social functions put on by runholders all over the district.
Despite the lack of formal cultural diversions and the frustrations of transport on rough, dusty, or muddy roads, the way of life of the Elworthys and other major landowning families was privileged, enjoyable and expansive. A town house was maintained in Timaru, and on weekends the family would ride or travel by gig or trap into town in order to attend social functions and, of course, church on Sunday.
In many ways Elworthy was a typical Victorian paterfamilias: a hard but fair disciplinarian as far as his children were concerned, and a committed Anglican, with strong adherence to the mores of his class. But along with many of his fellow Englishmen who came to New Zealand to seek their fortune, the freedoms and challenges of the colonial way of life stimulated initiatives and entrepreneurial talents in him which might have surprised relatives at home. More often than not solutions to problems had to be found on the spot, and new ideas were embraced with enthusiasm. Holme station was one of the first to establish its own electricity generating plant; new labour-saving farming inventions were welcomed, and Elworthy even drafted a bold plan for a village, to be named Taunton, to be established on the property. This idea, however, came to nothing.
Following his death at Pareora on 22 January 1899 Elworthy's property was divided among his three sons, Arthur, Herbert and Percy, and by 1914 a substantial proportion of the original freehold land had been sold. Sarah Elworthy died in 1933 at Timaru. A number of Edward Elworthy's great-grandsons still run farms which were a part of the original property.