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South Canterbury, N.Z. before the arrival of the Strathallan  

Timaru Herald
, 11 June 1914, Page 6
PIONEERS WITH THE FIRST CATTLE. An adventurous journey.
Some sixty-two years have elapsed since first I became acquainted with South Canterbury, and though everyone will recognise that so long a period must witness great changes, there are, perhaps, few to-day who are able to imagine what this portion of New Zealand was like in 1852, and what were the conditions of life at that, time. In compliance with a request from the Editor of the "Timaru Herald" I will endeavour to give some idea of what things were like in August, 1852, when, as one of a party of eleven, I came to what was a new land to me and arrived in South Canterbury. Prior to the time I mention Messrs R. and G. Rhodes had acquired large areas of land at Purau, on the southern side of Lyttelton Harbour; at Kaituna, between Little River and Lake Ellesmere; at Aorere, to the north-east of the Lake; and at the Levels, in South Canterbury, and the party I joined was to drive the first mob of cattle, twenty-eight in number, to the Levels, on which estate sheep had been put there year before. Mr George Rhodes, and Mr. Elwin, his overseer, each had a horse to carry his swag, but the remaining nine had each, to bear his own.
    We started on foot from Purau and climbed the Peninsula hills, the summits of which were covered with snow to a depth of about six inches. Owing to the, snow our guide, Mr Jack Dean, found it very difficult to pilot us, but in the afternoon we reached Kaituna, and there we completed arrangements for the journey. On the following day some were busy getting stores and equipment ready, while the cook was engaged making damper, and others were attending the cattle and breaking in a bullock to pack the stores. The latter undertaking occupied two days, and on the third day we started off, one man leading the loaded bullock by a rope attached to a ring in its nose, and a man on either side holding a rope attached to one of its horns. By this means the animal was kept on the road which he should go.
    Travelling by way of Aorere our course lay round the shore of Lake Ellesmere to the Taumutu Maori Pa, near the Lake outlet. It was at this pa that some of us had our first experience of the Maori. We found a number of natives sitting round a fire on the beach, and on the fire was a large iron pot in which ducks were stewing, the birds having feathers and all on. The head of the family dug a long pointed stick into a duck and thus took it out of the pot. Having pulled the duck apart he handed a portion to each member of the family, and he continued the operation till all present were served. The wing feathers of the ducks were used in place of spoons to convey the soup to the mouth. The Maoris placed at our disposal a newly erected whare, which we occupied for the night, and as, it rained heavily the following day we remained there a second night.

After resuming our journey once more the first obstacle to those of us who were new chums was met with at the Wakapapakura creek. The cattle were driven down the bank and through the creek and we had to follow, the water being more than waist-deep. Continuing on we also forded the Rakaia river, which appeared more formidable, and then we camped on its south. bank, where we made a good fire and dried our clothes while the cook prepared us a hot meal. I may mention that the method of our crossing the rivers was as follows: —A long flax stick was held at one end by Tom Coffin, and at the other by "Cranky Bill," the two worthies being old hands, and we others held on to the lower - side of the pole, each by one hand, so I that if one was washed off his feet he was floated over by the progress of the others, provided he held on, and if he did not he had to swim for it. Where the rivers were not too rapid some of us would hold on each to the tail of one of. the animals. After leaving the Rakaia—and I may observe that we followed as closely as we could the Ninety Mile Beach —we came to the Wakanui Creek, where we camped, but during the night, which was very dark, the cattle broke away. Messrs Rhodes and Elwin, however, rode back and overtook the animals, which they brought along, and by night we reached the mouth, of the Ashburton river.
    Having crossed this river, and when about half-way across the plain, we came upon three wild dogs. Messrs Rhodes and Elwin gave chase to them with our dogs, and after a long run one of the wild dogs headed back and the kill took place near where the remainder of the party were. The wild dog was a pretty creature, white, with black or brown patches, of stiff build, with, long hair and a bushy tail. We made the Rangitata river that same night and camped on the southern side. The river was rapid, but by this time we were accustomed to fording, and we crossed safely in our usual manner.

Our next camping place was at the Ohapi creek, and on the eighth day we crossed the Opihi and entered the Maori pa at Arowhenua, where the Maoris, who had seen us comming, set up what then regarded as a horrible moaning, but which the old hands told us was a form of greeting. The Maoris were squatting in small groups, but after a time their chief  "Tommy" came forward to welcome us. He was a big man, of, seventeen or eighteen stone, wearing a shirt that had once, been white, a bell-topper hat, and a Wellington boot—that was his uniform. After his welcome the other members talked, unintelligibly to me, and ran hither and thither, but they, brought us cooked potatoes and mutton bird with Maori cabbage, and the vegetables were a treat. We then shaped our course for the Levels hut, which in shape was an inverted V. It was about twenty feet long, had no side wall, but under the roof low down were bunks, and it was kitchen, dwelling, and sleeping room in one. After leaving the pa, I should mention, the cattle were turned adrift and allowed to go into the swamp, their new home, and these were the first cattle to feed in South Canterbury.

Having arrived at the Levels the new chums were set to work shepherding. They had to walk out some five miles each day and see that the sheep scattered over a radius of two or three miles did not get out of bounds, and this they, had to do wet or dry. One man had to shepherd the Tycho Downs, across the Tycho creek at the back of the Levels, and after heavy rain the whole flat was knee deep in water and for weeks other men had to help the shepherd over the creek each morning and meet, him on his return and haul him back by means of a flax rope, he being supported by a raft-of flax sticks or raupo. At that time the creek was three or four chains across. In the year 1852 there was not a European habitation between Lake Ellesmere and the Levels, or, indeed, as far as the Waitaki, beyond which I knew nothing at that time. The Levels estate extended from the mountains at the source of the Opihi even unto the sea, and from the Arowhenua to the Pareora. The country was covered with tussock, plentifully mixed with "Wild Irishman." New Zealand flax grew in the swamps and in some of the watercourses, and the loftiest form of vegetation was the cabbage tree, which grew in patches here and there, while in some places a solitary cabbage tree was met with occasionally. The tussock country in those days had a beauty of its own, and in the early spring mornings the tussocks supported webs spun brilliantly coloured spiders which seem to have departed with the tussock, or before fire and the imported birds. From the slight eminence above each depression on the plain one had an uninterrupted view for many miles, and the great hills with their changing shadows and moods as winter snow or warm sunshine embraced them were always there to be admired from afar, although they were regarded with little admiration by those who had to scale their flanks to muster sheep. For the first three years I was in South Canterbury the main range was always capped with snow during the summer months, while during the winter the snow lay for two thirds of the way down , their slopes. The lower parts of the mountains were thickly covered with a coarse grass called snowgrass, and this was sometimes converted into hay.

The rivers in the early days were not so dangerous as they became after the land was broken up, for sixty years ago the tussock covered country held the rain when it fell and was not so speedily dried up after a shower as it became in later years. The rivers and creeks were never dry, but the smaller rivers were rarely impassable for more than a day or two after heavy rain, though some of the creeks were much worse to cross than the smaller rivers. With warm north-westers, even without rain, especially in early summer the snow rivers came down in heavy flood and sometimes were unfordable for weeks at a time. In the early days I forded the Temuka river when it was running bank to bank, but the water was only halfway, up the saddle flaps. It is quite different now.

For some time after 1852 an eight hour day was unheard of in South Canterbury and labour began with dawn and ended with the setting of the sun. Neither was there rest on wet days, for rainy weather necessitated greater activity among the sheep, for be it remembered there were no fences at the time I am referring to. Then, as to wages, these were £l8 a year, and found, for new and £25 a year for, old hands, though when the diggings broke out Messrs Rhodes increased the pay of their men to £52 a year, and they lost not a man. As to the term "and found," it consisted at first in the finding and supplying of a sufficient quantity of wild pork, without change, but with Maori cabbage and damper. The cooking utensils of, the period were the "go-a-shore" and the camp oven. In later days mutton was added to the menu, and other comforts came in time. Clocks and watches were entirely superfluous, for daylight governed the working hours, and hunger, or the cook, indicated those for eating. But notwithstanding the exposure-—and overcoats were not then deemed a necessity but an encumbrance—and the monotonous bill of fare, sickness was never heard of. The station hands in the early days were a remarkable combination. There were old whalers, runaway sailors, and farm labourers who were known as "old hands," some of whom came from "the other side" and were on ticket of leave, and these had to be reported upon by their employers at stated times. Then there, were men who had been brought up to professions, including lawyers, sons of merchants, of country gentlemen and of clergymen, an ex-secretary to a Governor and more than one man with a title. Some were remittance men who had to turn to work when their money was spent in town, and these men were to be found at all kinds of employment. When a man left a sheep station it was generally possible to fill his place from amongst the swaggers, who were mostly runaway sailors from Lyttelton or Dunedin. In those days the swaggers were given a day's rest and food to carry them on their journey, while if they were in need of clothing or boots these also were supplied. No one had money, or if he had it was useless till he got to Christchurch or Dunedin.

It is hardly necessary to state that there was not a white woman in South Canterbury when first I made its acquaintance, and the first lady to take up her residence in this part of New Zealand was Mrs Hornbrook, of Arowhenua, who only recently "crossed the bar." About a couple, of years after my arrival in South Canterbury Mr George Rhodes brought home his bride, and Mrs Rhodes was the second lady to, reach this part of the country.

The site of the fair town of Timaru was included in the Levels country. Soon after my arrival I was told that Timaru was known to a few in the 'forties as a whaling station, there being numbers of whales along the coast in those early days. There were in reality two whaling stations at Timaru. One was at what is still known as "Whales Creek," which the railway viaduct crosses, and the other was at the mouth of the creek north of Patiti Point. Both were established by the well-known Johnny Jones, and some said that ships belonging to the Messrs Rhodes used to call in during the whaling season and take away the oil. As the whales became scarce the stations were abandoned, but try pots were still there when I first visited the shore and remained there for some years.  Two of the old whalers— Tom Coffin and Sam Williams—were afterwards in the employ of the Messrs Rhodes, who obtained from these whalers the information as to the country which led to Mr. George Rhodes, who was accompanied by Williams, coming to South Canterbury from Lyttelton by way of the old Maori track, and subsequently. taking up some two or three hundred thousand acres of country. This was in 1850, and for three years this block, known as the Levels, was the only block taken up in South Canterbury. In 1851 the Messrs Rhodes put 2500 sheep on the Levels country, Mr Langhorn, Mr. Charles LeCren, Tom Coffin and "Cranky Bill" bringing the sheep from Purau. The first homestead was built on the beach under the cliff just in front of the stone store of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency. It was of wattle and dab, battens being tied to the posts with flax and clay dabbed on. The roof was thatched with tussock. Station supplies, I was told, were at first sent down from Lyttelton by Maoris in what were called five-ton boats. Those boats only made way during fine weather and they in were beached directly the sea was a little rough, while the crew always landed at night and slept ashore.

In December 1851 Mr Joseph Dean, now resident at Woodbury, and the first of the men still living to arrive in South Canterbury, made the trip from Lyttelton in a small schooner, but owing to fog the captain lost his bearings, and when he landed at what he thought to be Timaru he found himself at Stewart Island, so no wonder it took Mr Dean three weeks to reach Timaru. It was this schooner I was told that took the first shipment of wool from Timaru. In course of time Messrs Rhodes got their stores conveyed in small vessels to Timaru, and they obtained a couple of whaleboats which were manned by their employees, and by means of these stores were landed and wool was shipped away. These whaleboats carried four rowers, and when the boat neared the shore other men waded in to the water and helped haul the boat well out of reach of the waves. If threatening weather came up the vessel would set sail and stand out to sea at once, and on occasions the boatmen found their occupation dangerous- as well as arduous.
    In 1853 Dr. Draper, a brother of Mrs J. E. Fitzgerald, visited Timaru, and in company with Mr Robert Rhodes started on his return to Christchurch. In crossing the Rangitata their horses were soon swimming, and Dr Draper was washed off his horse, but he landed on the north bank of the river. Mr Rhodes's horse carried him back to the south bank, and finding it impossible to cross he returned to the Maori pa and sent some Maoris to the relief of Dr Draper. They got across the river, but were unable to find, trace of the doctor, but after some days his body was found on the beach some distance from the river, and evidently he had succumbed to cold and hunger.

In the year 1854 I made a visit to Christchurch, riding to Purau and thence to the site of the present city, which at that time gave small promise of its present dimensions and importance. There were three hotels in Christchurch the White Hart, the Royal and the Golden Fleece, and there were bullock tracks around each. About the site of the Cathedral there were sand dunes. On that occasion there was still no house till after I had crossed the Rakaia going north, and there I stayed a night with a recent arrival, a runholder.

In 1854 Messrs Harris and Innes took up the Pareora, run, one of the partners retaining his management of a Marlborough run for a time. Others who entered upon pastoral pursuits and took up country for the purpose were Mr Hornbrook, of Arowhenua (1853), Mr Cox, of Raukapuka, Mr Demoulan, Mr Buchanan, Mr Paddy Burke, of Raincliff, the Messrs Macdonald of Geraldine and Rangitata, Messrs Tripp and Acland, of Orari Gorge and Mount Peel, Messrs Studholme Brothers, Mr Campion, Messrs Pyke Brothers, Mr Poyndestre, Messrs Thomson Brothers, Messrs Matson and Spencer. Messrs Moorhouse and Captain Sinclair, Mr Andrew Paterson, Mr Brougham. In 1857, I think it was, Mr Walker took up Four Peaks, and about the same time the Mackenzie Country was first invaded. Messrs Sinclair and Hutchison took up the Simons Pass run and Mrs Hutchinson was the first lady, to go into that country.

One morning in 1855 a man who gave the name of J. Mackenzie, and who had been at the Levels two years earlier, presented himself at the Levels before breakfast and said he had a mob of cattle on the road. Strange to say a mob of cattle was seen while those present were at breakfast, and thereupon Mackenzie in an excited manner said these were not his, and he left hurriedly. Some days later it was reported that Mackenzie had been at Timaru and requested Messrs Rhodes's shepherd there to let him have some flour and sugar, stating that Mr Rhodes had told him to get some. The shepherd declined to give the stores, but later on found that the store had been broken open. Mackenzie, it transpired later, had also helped himself to a thousand maiden ewes from the flocks of Messrs Rhodes. Some days elapsed before the discovery was made and the sheep were traced. They had been driven in a bee line across country, over Mount Misery, across the Pareora on to what we now know as the Cannington Downs, but at that time unoccupied. The sheep were followed and Mackenzie was overtaken on the flat by Rocky Creek on part of what is, now the Albury run. He was camped for the night when Mr Sidebotten, the Levels overseer, came upon him, and he showed some slight resistance and began to coo-ee. Thinking the man had a mate his pursuers secured him and his hands were tied behind him. On the way back he was allowed to wear boots, for the country was thickly covered with spear grass and "wild Irishman." A young Maori known as "Seventeen" was leading the man, and when they were crossing the Albury range he made a rush and got away down some cliffs and escaped. Word was sent to Lyttelton, where Mackenzie was afterwards arrested.

After this Mr R. Rhodes and Mr. Sidebotten followed up Mackenzie's tracks and entered what was then a generally unknown region—what is now known as the Mackenzie Country. They were greatly surprised at the vast extent of country bounded by separate ranges of mountains. They went to Tekapo Lake and followed down the river to the Waitaki. Their travelling was very slow on account of the spear grass and which grew to a great size. On their return they were stopped by tussock fires which had been started at the back of Timaru, and carried across the Pareora  run on to the Cannington country, all over the Hakataramea and down to the Waitaki. It took them four days to get out of the tight corner in which they found themselves, and they suffered considerably, and especially for want of food. Later on the Hakataramea Plain was taken up by Sir John Hall, Tekapo by Mr John Hay, Simon's Pass by Hutchinson and Sinclair, Pukaki by Mr H. J. Gladstone, and Ohau by Mr Hugh Fraser.

The year 1857 was marked by considerable progress. The Rev. J. C. Andrew (Luxmoore and Andrews) took up the Waitaki run in that year, and amongst others who became runholders were Mr Henry Knight and Mr George Brayshaw. About, the same time Captain Cain built the first store in what is now and Sam Williams established a grog shop near the site of Evans's Flour Mill. I have said that the plain was practically devoid of trees, but I should mention that there were about 200 acres of bush at Arowhenua, and about 1000 acres at Geraldine, besides areas in Pleasant Valley and at Woodbury, with small patches here and there in the same vicinity. I need not refer to Peel Forest or the bush on some of the foothills, but with the exceptions mentioned there was no bush till Waimate was reached, and there some three thousand acres of bush existed. The fact that in the early days we used, from as far as the northern side of the Rakaia, to look for the Limestone Hill range at Pareora as a beacon towards which to shape our course through the roadless and trackless plain, is an indication as to the openness of the country. In these days the tidal lagoons and swamps were the home of thousands of paradise and grey ducks, while pukaki [sic. pukako (photo above)] were plentiful in places, but those engaged on the land had little time then for shooting, and it was after the Acclimatisation Societies were formed that the birds were slaughtered wholesale, and men would secure bags of a couple of hundred or so. Wild pigs— Captain Cooks —were very numerous, as I indicated when I stated that wild pork formed the principal item of our daily bill of fare, and many an exciting encounter took place between men and dogs and big-tusked boars. Indeed, Mount Horrible gained its name from the fact that the pigs of that locality were unusually ferocious.

For a number of years after I came to South Canterbury no cropping to speak of was done. Messrs Rhodes had about five acres in oats for the use of their horses, but it was useless then to grow grain in any quantity, as it could not be exported. Neither was ploughing pursued for a long time. The tussock was gradually burnt off, and grass came in its place, but it was not for many years that seed time and harvest as we now know them were experienced in South Canterbury. Ditching and banking gave employment as subdivisions took, place, and from the fact that much of that work still endures it is evident how well it was done. Owing to the scarcity of timber and difficulty in working and hauling it, for all haulage in those early years was by bullock teams, many of the early houses were built of sod, and later of cob. Fifty years ago many a house was viewed with pride that would be regarded as mean by a later generation.
    One of the first, if not actually the first, to break up any considerable area by means of the plough was Mr Alfred Cox, of Raukapuka, Geraldine, a gentleman who was the means of putting many a man on his feet. Mr Hewlings, a surveyor, was the first man to build a house in Geraldine, and in 1854 he erected a residence opposite the present Post Office, on what is now Mr Logan's corner.' In 1862 Mr Mendelson started the first country store in Pleasant Valley, there being a considerable population of sawyers there at the time, and in 1864 the first English Church was built in Geraldine by Mr George Taylor, who is still a resident of that place. In 1866 Mr Robert Taylor had the first hotel erected in Geraldine, he finding the timber, which had to be carried from the position of the English Church to where the present Geraldine Hotel stands, and Mr George Taylor was the builder. Mr George Taylor also in 1867 erected the first house of any size in Geraldine. It contained six rooms, and was afterwards converted into a store by Mr William Grimmer, and the Post Office was established at this store. Before the year I868 the Post Office was at the Orari Hotel, then kept by J. Giles.

I may state that in I858 a mail service between Christchurch and Timaru was started, Mr Baines being the mailman for the first year. He carried the mails on horseback once a fortnight doing the journey in three days, and later, with the use of a trap and pair of horses, the time was reduced to two days each, way, the mails then-being carried once a week. It frequently happened, however, that the mails were delayed for days by flooded rivers, for there were still no bridges, and it was only at the Rangitata and Rakaia that punts were provided. On several occasions the mails were lost in the rivers, and once at the Washdyke creek the trap, was overturned, and the mails were carried out to-sea. Mail day, Saturday, was always looked for by the squatters, and there was a general gathering in Timaru on that day. The year 1859 brought the arrival of the first immigrant ship at Timaru, the Strathallan, and from that time the tide of prosperity has flowed on, overcoming such hindrances as have been experienced, and settlement has advanced beyond the loftiest flights that fancy could have taken sixty-two years' ago. 

1862 Electoral Roll

Timaru Herald,
9 November 1867, Page 1
Shearing, &c. SHEARERS WANTED in the Mackenzie Country by the Undersigned, price 17s 6d per Hundred Sheep, and Board : — Fisher and Williams
T. A. Clowes
F. W. & T. Teschemaker
J. & W. Parkerson
Hugh Fraser
Charles Ensor
Darke, Bros.
Kimball & M'Nair
Brown & Maude
James Fraser
W. Parkerson
To commence at the Messrs Teschemaker's on the l5th November. 

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