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Roughing it in the Mackenzie by Jas. Strachan

Timaru Herald, 14 January 1909, Page 3
The Strathallan had made a previous trip to New Zealand —in 1858. Among the crew was an adventurous youngster, now less lively on his feet than in those days—Mr Jas. Strachan, of Timaru. He tells us:— "I joined the Strathallan as a boy, when she was on the stocks, was on board when she was launched, worked on her when she was being fitted out, and came out in her to Port Chalmers in 1858 on her maiden trip, with 310 passengers. She took the first load of wool (700 bales) Home from Port Chalmers, and Mr Gillies went Home in her as a passenger to study for the Ministry. I wanted my discharge, the skipper would not give it, so I ran away from her, and went up country, north, to Benmore Station, on the Waitaki. I came on towards Timaru and got a job as cook at Innes's Station." After this Mr Strachan wandered far north, was engaged in conveying troops and supplies for troops in the Maori War; returned south to the diggings; and came back to Timaru just before the Strathallan arrived.

He was only sixteen years old when, in 1858, he cooked for twenty men on Harris and Innes's station (afterwards Mr Elworthy's). He had to kill sheep and bake all the bread with green firewood from Gordon's Bush. There were eight shearers on the run, several shepherds and rouseabouts, three or four carpenters, and two bullock drivers who brought timber from the Waimate Bush. Meals consisted at first of tea, bread and mutton, tea, mutton and bread, but some potatoes were grown as soon as possible. When the Otago gold rush broke out Mr Strachan roughed it considerably in that province. In July, 1864, having no luck on the Molyneux, and hearing a report that rich deposits had been discovered on the Greenstone, a branch of the Teremakau River, he and a mate determined to make their way over there to that district, by way of the Lindis River and the Mackenzie Country.

The Cardrona Hotel (Est. 1863) is one of New Zealand's oldest hotels.

From Timaru Herald   1864 -1920 

Timaru Herald, 9 July 1917, Page 3 MR JAMES STRACHAN (1842-1917)

The death occurred yesterday after a prolonged illness or Mr James Strachan, a very old and well respected resident of. Timaru, who was the first to develop the bathing potentialities of Caroline Bay, and claimed to have put the first standard and wire fence on the Levels Station. Mr Strachan was born at Cupar, Fyfe, Scotland, on July 31, 1842, and went to sea before he was fourteen. After two years he left the ship Strathallan at Port Chalmers, travelled to Mackenzie Country where he took what employment he could get. and gradually worked his way as far north as Auckland. There he joined the Colonial sloop Victoria, during the Taranaki war of 1860-61, but left after fourteen months, and worked his way to Otago. He was for a time on the goldfields at Gabriel's Gully, Nokomai, Arrow, Shotover and Cromwell, and also visited the West Coast. Mr Strachan abandoned the goldfields, however, and found employment in wire fencing at the Levels-Station. In 1868 he paid a return visit to Scotland [as a steward], and on his return kept a store at Pleasant Point for eight years, Later, he had a drapery business in Timaru. After giving up that business he took a contract for the erection of forty miles of rabbit fencing, in the Mackenzie Country. In 1892 he started the bathing machines at Caroline Bay, and he afterwards established bathing machines at Sumner and New Brighton, returning to, develop this enterprise at Timaru, where the bathing, under his control, became a rapidly increasing business, which was taken over by the Council some four years ago. He was for a short time a member of the Timaru Borough Council. Mr Strachan married in 1868 Miss  McLennan, of Ross-shire, Scotland, and had five daughters and four sons, all of whom except one son survive.

The Lindis

Timaru Herald, 22 September 1917, Page 9
Timaru Herald, 11 June 1914, Page 9
EARLY DAYS. THE LATE MR. STRACHAN'S EXPERIENCES, The following is continuation of the diary of the late Mr James Strachan of Timaru.

As I had had enough bad luck in Otago, I thought I would change the district. Hearing that gold had been discovered on the Greenstone, a branch of the Teremakau, one of my mates and I determined to make our way over to that district by way of the Lindis river and Mackenzie country, a distance of about 590 miles. The Ohau river was crossed with little trouble, hut the Pukaki was discoloured and rapid, and seemed too swift, so we decided to make use of a whaleboat [five oared whaleboat] which a squatter in that region (Mr Hugh Fraser of the Ben Ohau Station) had laid up for repairs. Before doing so we went back to the station and offered to work for a week for him if he would launch the boat and put us across, but he would not hear of it and said he would not launch the boat for another two months. He told us that if we went back at once we could get across the Ohau in a boat, and then go away up to Ross's ferry. He sent us to get some food but we did not go back. At least we went a little way back, and then stopped. At night (it was moonlight as it happened) we went over to the Pukaki and started to launch the boat, which was a heavy one, and no doubt Mr Fraser never dreamed that two men could put her in the water, as was turned bottom up. We had both been to sea and had learnt that, there was no such word as "can't,'' so we fossicked out the oars from amongst the rocks and put bits of wood where the keel would be likely to strike when we turned her over. The river was shining and smooth, and there was a sharp frost. We got the oars to work and levered her up, but when we got her on her side we could not hold her, so we had to let her rip. She then required a few more repairs! [They could see daylight through the boat seams] We managed to launch her eventually, but we had to hurry in getting across as she was filling up fast. However, we got to the other side, hauled her into a still place, and moored her to a rock. We camped under an overhanging rock but we could not sleep for the intense cold, and a very piercing wind was blowing from the direction of Mount Cook. Mr Clewes [Clews], at Simon's Pass station, which we reached the next day, cooked us a meal, but would give us no advice about crossing the Tekapo and we were very thankful that he did not ask us how we had got across the Pukaki. At all events we crossed the Tekapo safely, boiled our billy and had a drink of tea. We had nothing to eat. Our  stock of food had run out. After leaving the Tekapo the travelling became very heavy as there was a lot of old snow on the ground, and it became deeper as we got, nearer to Burke's Pass. Then it became a little easier by our striking the track leading from the Grampians as there had been some drays over it breaking up the snow. It was cruelly cold, and we would have piled up a snow bank and camped alongside of it but for the fear that if we went to sleep we would never wake again. At last, after passing the track leading to Sawdon we reached a roadman's hut which had been used by a contractor named W. Stevenson. There was no one there, but we soon made a fire which kept us warm for a few hours of what seemed to us a very long night. That day we had walked 32 miles 10 miles of it being in snow, besides fording the Tekapo, and we had to do it without a meal. Early the following morning we arrived at the Burke's Pass hotel where we had our breakfast. Going down the pass we had to cross the Opihi seven times, which performance kept our feet continually wet. We stayed that night at Ashwick, Messrs Brown and Maude's place, and then continued our journey to Raincliffe [Raincliff] the next day, and soon after, in coming down the Opihi flat, we fell in with a bullock dray, and learned from the driver that a bullock driver was wanted at the Levels, which resulted in my taking on that job.  

I was driving for about four months when the station was sold. A chap nicknamed "Long Bill" and I took on the job of putting up a five-wire and standard fence on the Levels station. It was put up from the Cave out-station to the Pareora river as a division fence. During the delivery of the sheep on the station they were all driven on one side, and as they were delivered they were put on the other side. There was no other division fence on the run except round the 800 acre block at the homestead. Previous to putting up the fence I was either driving bullocks or helping to press wool. Then the delivery of the station came on. Mr Caverhill of Motunau acted for Mr. Geo. Rhodes, and Mr Edward Hassell acted for the buying Company; and oh, what a crowd! About 150 altogether. Of course there was not enough room in the house for a quarter of them, but those who could not be put up inside, were housed in tents or anywhere where they could get shelter. The cook used to hand out the food through a window in the kitchen, and although he was a nigger he was a splendid fellow for a crowd. He always had plenty of good solid food ready for us, and we were a very jolly crowd. It being the end of the shearing season, a great many men about the district were only too glad to take on the six weeks of work that was offered to them. About 80,000 sheep had to be put through, and as the country had not been cleaned up for some time there were lots of lambs as big as 6-tooth sheep that had never been in the yards. At last delivery was finished on March 14 1865. Another man and I then elected to try the West Const, so I bought a little rag of a horse from a Maori and we started north. We got to the Rangitata creek, which contained the larger body of water, and had a close time in crossing, with the water over the seats of our saddles, and we got every bit of our swags wet. We got as far as Hinds that night, during which time it rained heavily. The horses spent a miserable night as there was very little shelter and they had to be tethered, while we had to sleep by the fire all night, half wet. The next morning we got to Ashburton just as the coach going south was crossing the river, and they seemed have enough to do to keen from capsizing. We crossed all right and had breakfast at Turton's. the only hotel between Orari and Rakaia. We passed through the place now known Dromore, and then on to Rakaia and Weedons, and two days later we reached Christchurch where we stayed for a day and a half. After that we start on the grand march across to the West Coast.

Ready for the hills.

The chief drawback of country life was the rivers, and roads hardly existed a few miles from Timaru. They were 'good days' on the whole, to the men who lived in them, because the men were young and strong and did not mind privations.

Timaru Herald, 16 August 1888, Page 4
Mr James Strachan, who is well known in Timaru, returned to town on Tuesday from the Tasman river, where he has a contract for erecting rabbit-proof fencing. On the first fall of snow Mr Strachan paid off his men and came to Timaru, which he left to return to the camp on the 14th July, and remained on the scene of his contract some time, and then left as he was unable to do a stroke of work, owing to the country being covered with hard frozen snow. His camp is about half a mile above Pukaki lake, on the south side of the Tasman river, which is very low owing to the absence of thaw among the higher hills. The frosts were so severe that arms of the lake are frozen over, and on an ordinary frosty night a bucket of water would be converted into a solid mass before morning. The following are some extracts from Mr Strachan's diary in camp, and on the way to town
July 23rd still raining and sleeting, snow melting a little.
24th Snow again, 6 inches.
25th snowing hard all the afternoon.
26th Snow now 18 inches.
27th Another 6 or 8 inches fell during the night, but sleet and rain beat it down again.
28th Fair but dull, snow 18 inches, set hard.
29th Fair, but no prospect of snow giving way.
August 1st Hardest frost of all so far.
2nd Slight signs of thaw.
3rd A little thaw.
4th Freezing night and day.
5th Freezing some snow fell. One inch fell during the night.
7th Beautiful day thawing all day.
8th Frosty, but clear. Snow at camp 12 inches. Left camp and went to Irishman Creek Station. Snow 15 inches.
9th Went on to Balmoral s snow 2 feet deep on top of hill foggy, thawing a little.
10th Foggy all night. At 7 a.m. snow came on again, fall 8 inches.
11th Squally from S.E., with sleet and rain, very cold, a regular blizzard faced it and went to Tekapo afternoon wind chopped round to west, blowing hard and making driving snow storm 12 inches fell before morning.
12th Started with F. Rossiter for Burkes Pass at 9 a.m. through continual snow, sleet, and rain snow quite three feet deep from Tekapo to Edwards' Creek, then lighter to Sawdon. Mr Strachan adds Sawdon Creek had overflowed and was a fearful mess. It appeared as if a slip had taken place somewhere, and a torrent of mud, snow and water had rushed down. After floundering about in this over an hour, sometimes up to the horses' necks, we gave it up and went back to Sawdon Station, arriving at 2 30. The snow there had been as deep as from four feet, and when frozen they had been able to walk over all the fences. Mrs Ross herself had walked over the garden fence.
    13th Started again, with Mr Ross, manager Sawdon, who took us round the upper end of the Tarawara mud stream, half a mile above the house, and followed the hill through 2½ feet of snow to the Dog Kennel, wet and slushy at the bottom and very bad travelling for the horses. Reached Burkes Pass at 11.15 and came on to Fairlie Creek in the afternoon.
    Mr Strachan say there was very little snow at the cemetery at Burkes Pass; in the big cutting much, sludgy below, which will be very bad travelling when the frosts return. There is more snow between Edwards' Creek and Tekapo than on the 25th July, Rossiter says 9 inches more. Riding in places the horsemen's feet brushed the snow. Generally speaking the whole Mackenzie Country is covered with a sheet of snow. There is some "black ground" on Black Forest and Haldon Runs; less on Simon's Pass, a little on Gray's Hills, Rhoborough Downs, Benmore and Mary's Range, but the whole of the black ground is a mere trifle in proportion to the whole. Managers and shepherds are moving sheep over the frozen snow as opportunity offers to the black ground if they are lucky enough to have any.
    The snow thaws very slowly on bright days, and the only thing that can prevent enormous looses of sheep is a warm and early norwester. The rabbit fence has suffered no injury from the heavy fall of snow as far as seen.

Star 1 September 1888, Page 3
Mr James Strachan, the contractor for the erection of the rabbit fence, went up on Wednesday, having received information that he would be able to get on with his contract. The snow is reported to be clear along the fence. Mr Stuart Brown, owner of the "Glentanna," is also down; so I presume the roads must be fairly passable now.

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