[South] Canterbury Old and New, 1850-1900


By ed E Stevenson, New Zealand Natives' Association  1900 - 215 pages

SOUTH CANTERBURY. (Its early history, with a record of progress to date.)
By E. Holdgate.
SOUTH Canterbury, the southern portion of the provincial district of Canterbury, is situated between the rivers Rangitata, its northern boundary, and the Waitaki, its southern boundary. It may be described roughly as a square block, with about sixty miles frontage on the sea, and running about the same distance inland to the Southern Alps on the west. It is very diversified in character: a large portion near the sea, from a little above Timaru northward, is comparatively flat : south of Timaru and beyond the northern flats it is chiefly a succession of low downs, which gradually rise up to medium hills, interspersed with river flats, until the higher ranges are reached. The nature of the country as regards soil is also varied, some portions being light stony ground, evidently old river beds, with patches of good land at intervals ; but a large portion, such as the Orari, Seadown and Waiho districts, is perhaps equal to the very best land in the colony, and capable of carrying seven or eight crops of wheat in succession In most places almost to the tops of the lower hills, grain can be grown profitably. A considerable portion of the lower hills is of limestone formation, and the wheat from these parts is highly valued for milling purposes. From a scenic point of view South Canterbury is highly favoured, the conformation of the country lending itself in a decided manner to produce the most charming effects. The Mount Peel, Kakahu, Pareora, Waimate, and Waihao districts may be specially mentioned, and away back the Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, Alexandria and others, which backed up by the Southern Alpine ranges, make altogether not the meanest portion of the wonderland of New Zealand.

The climate of the district is a happy mean between the extreme heat of the north and the extreme cold of the south. It has, however, its little peculiarities—sometimes samples of all sorts in a day, and sometimes strong nor'-westers, though the latter are much milder than further north. These peculiarities, which are the exception, make the otherwise genial climate better appreciated.

South Canterbury is, generally speaking, well watered. The chief rivers are the Rangitata, Orari, Temuka, Arowhenua, Pareora, Otaro, Makikihi, Waihao, and Waitaki, and these; with their various tributaries, creeks, etc., sufficiently water the greater part of the country. From them artificial irrigation, in the form of water-races, supplies other parts less favoured.

Up to the present no true coal has been found in the district, but in many places good useful brown coal is found, and as the hills have been as yet but little explored there is no knowing what may be found. There was formerly a considerable quantity of good timber chiefly at Arowhenua and Waimate, but this has nearly all been cut. A fairly large quantity still exists at Peel Forest, but this also is rapidly disappearing. There is abundance of good building stone, chiefly bluestone (dolorite), and white stone something like the famous Oamaru stone, with plenty of first- class limestone fit for burning, the drawback at present being the want of cheap carriage.

Naturally the settlers in South Canterbury appreciate and are perhaps just a little proud of their surroundings. About forty to forty-five years ago the district may be said to have been uninhabited by Europeans. The country was in its native state, the bush untouched; tussock grass everywhere, mixed up with matagowrie, wild Spaniard, and cabbage-tree; the swamps blocked with niggerheads, flax, and raupo. There were no fish in the rivers and creeks except the cockabully, and 1n the season whitebait, although mud eels and silver eels were very plentiful. Native game was, however, abundant Paradise and grey ducks, teal, snipe and bittern could be shot almost anywhere, especially on the coastal lagoons and the inland creeks. Before the time mentioned occasional visits, chiefly by whalers, had been made, and perhaps to some extent this was what led the earlier settlers, the brothers Rhodes, to take up land in the district.

Up to this time the land and rivers and creeks had been a happy (sometimes unhappy) hunting-ground and fishery for the Maoris. Their chief places of residence were Temuka, Arowhenua, Pareora, Waimate, and Waitaki. From these places they appear to have moved about over the district, living temporarily just where they could catch eels, wekas, and any and everything they could eat—they were not in any way particular in this respect.

The native population about Waimate and Waitaki numbered about 200, and a resident, who was well acquainted with them, describes them as a strong and healthy people, much given to riding about on horseback. In the early days of settlement it was quite a sight to see the cavalcades of Maoris, as they went visiting from pah to pah, scores of them mounted on all sorts of horses. One might see men, women, and children with bag and baggage starting out for a trip, visiting each other to and from Kaiapoi, Temuka, Waimate, Waikouaiti, and Port Chalmers. With jolly happy faces they were entirely devoid of care, dressed in picturesque style, Maori mat, or blue or red blanket, blue shirts or jerseys, a medley of colour and pattern that would have outdone any fancy dress ball. The chief at Waimate was Horomona Pobie, a fine specimen of a man, six feet high, weight about fourteen stone. He was born at Waimate in 1815, he died there and was buried in the cemetery, where a fine tombstone marks the place of his interment. Other prominent natives were Rawrie Te Maire, Tike, Rapata Bokaraka, Blueskin, Kikora, Kenata-Koia. These with their families formed the principal part of the population. They were a fine race of men, quiet and law-abiding. They very soon fell to some extent into the ways of the white settlers, many of them becoming expert in shearing, timber felling and other European occupations. Communism to the full extent regulated the Maori in his social life. The coming of the pakeha to a great extent changed his mode of life; unfortunately, however, the result is that they are constantly becoming fewer and fewer.

There can be no two opinions as to the valuable work done by the pioneers in the work of opening up the country in the earlier days of settlement. There was at this time nothing but the wool to depend upon. A brief description of the situation was presented to the writer as late as 1863. A wool dray was passing, and alluding to it the owner said, " There goes our breakfast, our lunch and dinner, washing, lodging and everything we need." What memories, too, of those early pioneers crowd on one as one thinks of the past; their kindly hospitality exercised with most generous welcome to all who came, friends and strangers alike. " Generous to a fault " might be said of most of them ; for it is to be feared that in many cases the expenditure in this direction was beyond the means at command. We must remember, too, that this hospitality was extended to all, the humble swagger, even though well known to be a regular sundowner, was very rarely refused a night's shelter with supper and breakfast free. During the time of the rush to the Picton and West Coast diggings I have seen for weeks together from ten to fifteen, and more than once up lo thirty men, stopping for the night at a station on the Waitaki, and all these had free meals ; though doubtless many of them could have well afforded to pay. From five to ten sheep (worth then 30s. each) were killed weekly to supply food, and there were daily bakings of bread from flour worth 40s. per 2oolb. The real seeker after work or the travelling hawker walked in and sat down to meals as if they belonged to the place.

But where now are these dispensers of hospitality ? But few of the older ones remain. Most have joined the great majority ; a few have left the country ; and still a few, or their representative families, occupy such portions of the country as have not yet been sold, or that they themselves have bought. These are still doing good work as pastoralists or agriculturists. Not many years, however, will pass before the larger areas still held will be broken up to provide homes for a more numerous population. In speaking of these old times and the pioneers in the work of settlement, it would be a grave omission to pass over the managers of the large estates., second only in importance to the actual owners or lessees, most of them sturdy Scotchmen ; but altogether men of whom any country might be proud, well versed in both theory and practice of the work they had to do, with an amount of energy and resource, so much needed in the settling of a new country far away from the markets of the world. Nor must we overlook the cadets, the young men who were to take the place of the older ones as they passed away. Fine young fellows they were, most of them fit and ready for any work. They could take their place in the parlour at night, but there was nothing of the dude about them; for the morning would find them in the sheep or stock yard, or out on the run, or wherever the day's work was to be done. Happily this sort of training has not fallen into disuse ; the fine young fellows who went to South Africa have shown by their endurance and resource what results can be attained.

The old form of life, with its open-handed freedom, its motto of " live to-day and let to-morrow take care of itself," is past and gone. In some senses it was a grand time, very rough, but withal a jolly life, and one cannot but regret its passing away. Yet it could not last, for it was only a pioneer stage, and must in the nature of things come to an end. One shriek of a railway whistle, and, presto ! it is gone. But a better epoch, because a fuller, takes its place. This change we will endeavour to trace as briefly as possible. The change is the conversion of the settlement from a purely pastoral community to an agricultural and commercial one, the pastoral interest, however, still being prominent.

The arrival of the "Strathallan " in 1859 may be said to have been the turning point in the history of South Canterbury. The coming of fresh people, many of whom knew nothing about sheep and cared less, except to eat them, caused a diversion in the sameness of life. And new wants began to bring new occupations. Several of these vessels shortly arrived in Timaru, bringing immigrants—the " Lancashire Witch," the " Victory," the " Tiptree," and others, each with a large number of passengers. Some of these were free immigrants, some were assisted, and some paid their own passages. Some had money, some had none; but all had strong arms and willing hearts, and had come out to New Zealand to make homes for themselves. They were soon scattered throughout the district, and though the prospect did not seem a bright one, most succeeded in their determination to settle down. As showing how meagre was the prospect, one of the " Strathallan " people met a party of the new comers on the "Victory," and after a brief greeting he asked what they were going to do, because there was no work, or scarcely any, and there were more than enough people to do what there was. Indeed, at that time the only prospect of employment was some work the Government was about to start on the roads.

These works, which consisted of widening and otherwise improving the main road from Saltwater Creek to the Pareora River, were started immediately after. Most of the immigrants, especially those who came by the "Victory," were from different parts of Lancashire, while those by the " Tiptree" were mostly Cornishmen or from the south of England. A considerable amount of prejudice existed against the Lancashire people as being unsuited for colonists.

Perhaps, after all, time is the best test of merit. These same despised ones are now found to have been among the most successful of the colonists. As farmers, mechanics, and business men they have made their mark and shown that their early training gave variety of resource and adaptability to circumstances.

Some of the newcomers took up land at once, the Government price being £2 per acre. Some bought sections in the township and commenced to build houses. The trade in timber and building material became active; other branches of business followed suit, and work for all naturally followed. Besides those who had come out from home and taken up land, a number of settlers came into the district from both north and south, as well as several from the Australian Colonies. Up to the time of the arrival of these immigrants there was practically no settled agriculture ; flour was imported from Adelaide and Chili. The land bought had, however, to he put to use, and a start was made to produce grain. This work proceeded so rapidly that within five or six years wheat, oats and barley were exported to the other provinces, especially to Auckland and the West Coast (afterwards Westland). The transition from the purely pastoral to a mixed agricultural and pastoral settlement was also very rapid for another reason. To protect themselves and secure the best portions of their runs the lessees of the runs began to buy very largely, thus securing the freeholds. But big blocks of land even at so low a price as £2 an acre needed big capital, to get which meant borrowing from the various companies or banks at a rate of interest too high to pay by sheep alone, which were rapidly dropping in value. The result in many cases was that the runs fell into the hands of the lenders, who to recoup themselves had to sell at the best advantage. Only by closer farming could the higher prices for land be paid, and so, really by no fault of their own, many of the large holders became reduced in circumstances. At the present time land can only be bought at a very high figure. It is now only available to purchase either from the large holders who bought early or from the companies into whose hands it has fallen. Some of these portions have been rebought by the Government and leased to settlers in variously sized farms, and doubtless other portions will be so treated. Within a few years the large holdings of agricultural lands will be a thing of the past.

There are some factors in the progress of the district that should not be overlooked. The first is that at a comparatively early time fairly passable roads were made through the district, a large portion of the money received for land sales being so used. Of course these roads could never by any stretch of imagination be called first-class, still, for so new a place, they were fairly good. Another reason is that almost from the first there were facilities for purchasing everything needful, all circumstances considered, at fair rates. It is said that Captain Cain brought down a quantity of useful stores before there was a building to stow them in. They were exposed for sale in the daytime and covered with a tarpaulin at night, arid from that time there has never been any real want of useful articles. Another factor in the progress of the district was the shipping facilities that have always existed. It is true that they were at the first very crude, and the work was expensive; but even then they were well up to the times and equal to the run of most places away from the main ports.

These three factors—fair roads, full supplies of necessary good, and shipping facilities—materially helped in the progress of the district by making available its various resources.

Timaru, from its central position and the fact that it is the natural inlet to and outlet from the district, claims to be the chief town of South Canterbury, and the principal local market for the produce of tl1e surrounding settlements. In the early days the Provincial Government of Canterbury had charge of all roads, harbours and other public works. Afterwards it became a road district. On account of real or fancied grievances South Canterbury was separated from the North, and public affairs were vested in the Board of Works. On the separation, South Canterbury received as its portion of the assets of the province the sum of ^100,000. This money was devoted to harbour work and was spent on the breakwater, the remaining sum necessary for the work being borrowed on the security of the work done. In 1896 Timaru was proclaimed a borough; the area was, however, a very limited one. Mr. S. Hewlings was the first Mayor, and Mr. E. H. Lough was appointed Town Clerk, which position he still holds.

The main business part of the town is Stafford Street (formerly called the Main South Road). In the early days the principal business places were in Strathallan Street and George Street. In the former, Messrs. Cain and LeCren had their general store in connection with the landing service. Mr. Joseph Beswick had also a general store in George Street. From these two stores most of the supplies for the district were obtained. The first hotel, kept by Sam Williams was in George Street, near the site of the present Club Hotel. Williams's Hotel was burned down, and on about the same site the first newspaper, the Timaru Herald, was first published by the late Mr. Shrimpton.

Business changes soon began to take place, and by 1865 the town had made rapid advances. Like most other towns, the first business premises in Timaru were chiefly of the makeshift kind, but most of these were swept away by the big fire which destroyed nearly the whole town, and a better class of buildings was afterwards erected.

It will be only fair to specially mention a few of the private firms that rendered signal service in the early days. It is easy to understand that numbers of people who took land spent all their capital in the purchase. Indeed, in many cases the land was bought wholly or in part with borrowed money, and help was needed to enable the buyers to get horses, implements and seed, as well as the stores necessary for life from harvest to harvest. Some of the larger stores and companies helped in this matter, but there were private firms that also did much in this way— Messrs. Clarkson and Turnbull, in Timaru and Temuka ; Messrs. J. Mendelson, and J. Brown, in Temuka; Mr. J. Morris, Pleasant Point; and Messrs. Manchester Bros., and Goldsmith, at Waimate. Mr. R. Turnhull is often spoken of in this respect as the father of the district, as he advanced goods and money, and bought the produce, often to his own loss. The writer remembers one of many incidents in this direction : Having the management of the grain department he had often to take in samples that would now pass only for fowl feed. One day a lot came in, so very bad that, on his own responsibility, he could not take it, and so referred it with a fair sample, to Mr. Turnbull. He looked at it for some time with a frown on his face, remarking that it was simply rubbish. At last he said, " Well, poor devils, it is all they have to live on ; we must do the best we can with it." So it was taken in and screened to get all the good out of it.

In taking note of general improvements, the most prominent place must be given to the harbour. In the early days the work of loading and discharging vessels was done by Messrs. Cain and Le Cren, with an efficient staff of boatmen, and large surf boats. As there was only an open roadstead the vessels had to anchor a long way out. A line was paid out from the shore to the vessel, and the boat was hauled along by a hand-over-hand process. Afterwards an engine was erected to do the hauling, and a second service was started at the foot of George Street. In this method of working there was a considerable amount of danger, and the work was very laborious As early as 1864 an agitation was commenced in favour of forming a permanent harbour. In 1865 the first practical step was taken by having a report from Mr. Balfour, C.E., who recommended a sheltering groin to protect the landing sheds. A short one was built to try its effect, but it soon had to be removed, as it caused a rapid erodation of the shore northwards. A second report followed in 1871, by Mr. J. Carruthers, and in 1875 a fuller one was given by Sir John Coode. All the reports recognised the difficulty of dealing with the travelling shingle, by no means an imaginary difficulty, as the millions of tons deposited south of the present work testify. There was, however, so great a need for something to be done that in 1876 a harbour board was constituted, and immediate steps were taken towards forming a permanent harbour. Competitive designs being called for, that of Mr. J. Goodall was accepted for a breakwater in concrete. This, with certain alterations suggested as the work went on, has been the design of the present harbour. The work has been carried out in three separate contracts, and now extends seawards, including the approach, 2278 feet; the cost having been about .£220,000. An enclosing wall on the north gives an area of about 50 acres of harbour space. The depth of water at the main wharf is sufficient for the largest vessels that visit the colony, and an immense amount of shipping is done. As a port Timaru has a larger area of country surrounding it than any port in New Zealand, and last year ranked third in the work done at the various ports of the colony.

South from Timaru, and extending from the Pareora river to the Waitaki, is the important district of Waimate. The chief place in this district is the town of Waimate, situated about twenty-eight miles from Timaru. It is a pretty little town, and as seen from the southern railway seems to be sheltering underneath the range of hills. Seen nearer the hills form a beautiful background. In whatever aspect the town is viewed it has the same pleasing appearance. Looking from the town seaward the land is fairly flat, and dotted over with pretty farmsteads. Some of the land in this district is perhaps the best in New Zealand for agricultural purposes, capable of growing almost fabulous quantities of grain.

On the north, leaving Temuka, we pass on through beautiful country to Winchester, a pretty little township, surrounded by the loveliest scenery, with an appearance more like an English than a colonial landscape. It is the South Canterbury home of the trout-fishing sport, and in this respect, taking the pretty creek running through it and the near proximity of the Temuka, Opihi and Rangitata Rivers, has perhaps no equal in the world. Tourists irom Britain give this place an easy first.

Mr. W. Martin informs me that his was the first European family to settle in Geraldine. He says : " We left Temuka, following a bullock track along the bank of the river to avoid the swamps which lay all along from Temuka to Waihi Crossing (now Winchester). There was only one house, that of Mr. Neil, who worked a farm of about forty acres on the bank of the river. From this point to Geraldine the whole country was in its native state, ducks and wild fowl being abundant, while wild pigs were numerous. The site of Geraldine was marked by a bark house, occupied by Mr. S. Hewlings, surveyor, and his native wife. The land was very wet, and covered with huge flax bushes and manuka scrub."

Beyond Geraldine is the pretty little township of Woodbury, and some miles further on Peel Forest; both places at which any one with leisure, who wants to get out of the " hurly-burly " and enjoy some of Nature's prettiest scenery, could well spend a few pleasant days. Fairlie, the terminus of the Mount Pleasant railway is an important town, as being the centre of a large district it is the junction or discharging point of ail the roads leading to Mackenzie Country and Clayton. There is a great deal of good agricultural land, and a large quantity of grain is railed from here to Timaru. But, taken as a whole, it may be termed a pastoral country.

Some miles beyond, up a most interesting zig-zag road winding between the hills, we come to Burke's Pass. The people here ought to be high class; for their town is the highest one, so far as altitude is concerned, in South Canterbury. It would be hard to imagine a more picturesque little place. This township is noted for its healthy and salubrious climate, and several people with chest complaints have derived much benefit from residing there. The outlook from the top of the hill above Burke's Pass is very fine. Beyond the Pass are the various stations, and the scenery is not excelled in the world. The road is good as far as Tekapo, from Tekapo to Pukaki the roads are fair, just bumpy enough to prevent comfort. Leaving Pukaki, the roads to the Hermitage are just a sensation, the rocky roads to Dublin are not in it. But as we are writing history and not scenery, those who want to know what the scenery is like must just go to see for themselves.

South CanterburyGenWeb Home Page