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Rev. James Preston (1834-1898)

Circuit Preacher - Primitive Landscape Artist 
South Canterbury, New Zealand

Peel Forest.  Painted by Rev. James Preston.
Jollie's House and Mount Peel (1875)
surrounded by native bush with Mount Peel (5,633 feet) towering above the homestead.  

The various owners of Peel Forest "have all been men of taste and great tree planters, and the glorious views, native bush and trim gardens, make it one of the most beautiful homesteads in Canterbury. The old fourteen-roomed homestead, built about 1859, is little changed.  Built of pit-sawn timber off the property � mainly white pine. Originally a 27,300 acre run, between the Rangitata River on the north and Orari River to the south, Peel Forest was taken up by Francis Jollie in 1853, license paid Oct. 1854 and stocked Jan. 1855 with 1,382 sheep. At Jollie's death in 1870 it was sold to a partnership of four, one member of which, George James Dennistoun, managed it. In 1903 he became owner of 8,000 acres of the property, which was reduced to 2,300 acres in 1913.

Rev. James H. Preston (1834 - 1898)

James was the youngest son of Margaret Moyes and Rev. William Michael Stevenson Preston, Vicar of Warcop, lord of the manor of Warcop Hall, Westmorland, England.  Educated in Edinburgh.  At the age of 18 he emigrated to Australia (1853) and onto Canterbury, New Zealand in 1854. He was working in the Hurunui district for Charles Reed in 1854 on the run 'Warlise' where J.H. Bryant, Reed's manager until 1856, assisted Preston with the farm work. Later James was at Rangiora.  James tried his luck in the Nelson district as a gold prospector at the diggings at Doctor's Creek and the Slate River and then in 1856 as a farmer at Charteris Bay, Lyttelton Harbour.  He went back to England in 1859 on the "Salem." During this trip he married Miss Ann (Hannah) Bradley 7 June 1860 in Onchan, Isle of Man. The couple departed for New Zealand on the "Harwood" arriving in Lyttelton 14 December 1860.  They bought a five-hundred acre farm on the south bank of the Waimakariri River in Canterbury and called it 'Warcop'.  James was a popular man and became prominent in local affairs.  In 1870 James decided to go into the Church so sold the farm and was ordained a deacon at St. Michaels Anglican Church in Christchurch and in 1872 was ordained a priest by Bishop Harper and was appointed the curate in charge of the Geraldine parish. 

Lyttelton Times, 15 December 1860, Page 4
Dec. 14th. Ship Harwood, 402 tons, Forsayth, from London, with cargo. Passengers - 
Cabin: Mr. and Mrs James Preston, Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Brown, 5 children, and servant, Mrs. Ivens; Misses Newman, Faber and Sparshott; Messrs. Keene, Carter, Davis, Pollock, Abbott, Richardson, Blay, Forbes, Ingham, Harwood, and Orton;
Steerage, T. Howson, R. Bowbyes, wife and daughter, G. Carter, J. Paul, J. Eskett, wife and two children.

Circuit Rider

The first Church of England clergyman appointed for South Canterbury was the Rev. George Foster. In 1870 the area was broken up into smaller pastoral districts and the Rev. James Preston was appointed Mission Deacon of Temuka and the curate of Burke Pass. The parish, then extended from Mt. Peel Station on the Rangitata River to Mount Cook, a distance of 120 miles. Temuka and Pleasant Point became a separate parish in 1878. Once a month on a Saturday the Rev. James Preston would leave Geraldine by horseback or in his buggy, visiting parishioners on the way, would eventually arrive at Peel Forest, where he spent the night. Next morning he would take the service at St. Stephens and then go on to Mount Peel and take the evening service returning to Geraldine on Monday. He would call on any parishioner he had missed seeing on the way out holding services in whatever building that were available, visiting the settlers who were then establishing sheep runs and administering to shepherds. He held regular services at "Three Springs", just north of Fairlie, where a lay reader Dr. Frederick Kimbell lived and at Gillingham's at "Lambrook" just south Cricklewood, about six miles south of Fairlie. He travelled by horse over his large parish for twenty- eight years and made time for his hobbies - sketching and fishing. Fredrick Kimbell was a doctor but did not practice in the district but was called upon in emergencies. 

Preston's diaries, covering the years 1855-1898, are held by the Canterbury Museum Archives. They are a varied collection of sketches and news cuttings mixed in with writings rather than a straight diary. The 1855 and 1860 volumes are written on board ship.  In 1891 Fairlie became part of the Te Ngawai curate and James on departing the meeting discussing the future of the parish said "I leave you with regret... you people have showered me with kindness. However all things are ordered by the Almighty and it is beyond my power to minister to this district more effectively." Extracts from diaries have been made by Nancy R. C. McLaughlin in 1984.

His account of his day October 19th 1879:

"Took Bony and rode over to Raincliff Station on my way to Burkes Pass.  Held evening service for the benefit of McKay's family. Got up at 5.00 am and after some trouble caught my horse, saddled it, and rode 20 miles to Ashwick Station (got there at 8.30. am). Found Mr Gray at home.  Had breakfast at 9.00 am. and as my horse was lame borrowed another from Gray to ride to the Pass township to celebrate marriage between John Thomas Burgess and Sarah Smith Nixon.  The horse bucked when I got on but I stuck on all right.  Brown said it would be quiet after the first start. Got up to the Pass at 10.45.  Found Mr Barclay there ready to perform the ceremony if I did not appear.  Got everything arranged and performed the ceremony.  The church was full of people, about 60 partook of the breakfast.  It was a grand affair for the Pass.  I mounted my horse again and was disagreeably surprised to come in for a regular bucking match.  Men shouted "Stick to it", dogs barked and surrounded me and the horse. I stuck to him but was awfully knocked about.  After the battle was over and I recovered myself and my hat which had fallen off, I felt I had damaged my arm a little (it was painful for some days after) it was no doubt good fun for the Burkes Pass people to see a parson sitting a buck jumper and getting knocked about but it was all on one side I thought to myself." The day ends with him staying the night with Mr. Cooper at what is now Rivermead.


His landscape paintings, are a record of his experiences, and are considered quaintly naive, an untutored style, but form an interesting historical record and remain a source of delight.  The doll-like people and structures in his paintings and the simplicity of topographical features create the primitive illusion. His conceptual style did not change through his lifetime.  It was a style that describes rather than depicts and finds wit and beauty in the commonplace and record moments of Preston's life which had significance for him, places which he saw during his activities as a minister and earlier.  The majority of his known work are in watercolours copied from pencil sketches. One of his sketch books contains a number of pencil sketches of Maori rock drawings at Opihi.  James died suddenly on 4 October 1898 while fishing on the banks of the Rangitata with friends. The titles listed below are watercolours can be found at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch which has the largest collection of Preston's drawings and paintings. The dimensions in inches unless otherwise stated.

Watercolour on card 227 x 300 mm
Preston, James, 1834-1898. [Preston, James] 1834-1898 :[Cricklewood, South Canterbury. 1883 or later]. Ref: A-123-004. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.

Shows Cricklewood homestead and farm buildings with three horses in the foreground, fences, farm carts, two men attending to another horse, a carcass-hanger and a train in the background. The homestead is surrounded by a hedge of young conifers. The Cricklewood homestead was reputedly burnt down, possibly in the 1880s. The watercolour was given its title by comparison with an almost identical painting reproduced in: Oakley, John. Paintings of Canterbury 1840-1890 (Wellington, 1969) p. 59. There was a large sheep station called Kingsbury alongside Cricklewood Railway Station by 1911, and this view may show Kingsbury Station. Dating: trains did not run through the Cricklewood area until 1883, giving an earliest date at which this watercolour could have been done. Albury Station Homestead, c1885, was situated on the nameless road that runs north off Rockwood Rd, Cricklewood. Odd place for it, considering its on the north east boundary of the station. It was built c1860 and was burned down in the early 1890s, replaced and re-sited on the intersection of Cricklewood, Richardson's and Limestone Valley Roads. Note the railway engine heading to Fairlie and the Tramway Creek Gorge in the background.

1 Camp near the Hurunui Gorge
 1854 watercolour 9 x 11�
Bryant and myself at dinner.  James stayed in the bush for three days by myself cutting posts. Bryant came occasionally with bullock for a load.
2 Camp at Collingwood, 1856   7 x 10 Diggers Campground Burnt Hill
3 Plumbers' Hut, Charteris Bay, 1856 9 x 12
4 Yards at Charteris Bay 9 x 12
5 House with Circular Path  7 x 11
6 Rangitata Hut 5� x 7�
7 Rangitata Mouth  6� x 11�
8. Fishing Rangitata  9 � x 13�
9 Rocks at Martins Gap. Trinidad, seen from the ship Salem 1859 Pencil and Wash 8 7/8 x 73/8
10 Crossing the Line in the ship Harwood 1860. Four watercolour drawings 4
x 7�
11 Lake Rotoura
12 House with its back to the lake
13 Thermal Landscape with band rotunda
14 Rotorua
15 Otahu homestead 1861

Pencil, watercolour, Chinese white 245 x 348 mm 
Shows a slab two roomed hut with a shingle roof and a chimney by trees to the left, a woman with a horse, a larger storage shed in the centre, a fence in the background, with a carcass-hoist and a flax-bush on the right. Otahu Run is in Southland, and by 1861 was owned by brothers John R. Cuthbertson and Robert F. Cuthbertson. 
16 Cottage, back of Ashwick Station  7�  x 11
17 Looking down Burkes Pass 9
x 13 1/8 
18  The Pass Hotel. 188-? Oil on board 230 x 308 mm  5 7/8 x 7 7/8 
A naive work attributed to James Preston on stylistic grounds showing a wooden building with a sign "Pass Hotel", (probably 'Three Creeks Hotel'), a woman feeding hens, a man with a dog, a person at the door of the hotel, a telegraph pole and line, and four horses pulling a coach along the road. Pigs, ducks, geese, cow, sheep. The topography is exaggerated. This pub was established in 1861 and was situated on the west bank of the Rollesby Stream. It was replaced c1868 because of either flood or fire or inadequate. The replacement was built behind the stables facing the road on the right (heading up the pass to Burkes Pass). 
19 Road beside River 7 x 10 
20 The Pig Hunt  7 x 10
21 Waterfall and rocky Gorge  7 x 10
22 Foot of the Glacier 7 x 10
23 Three figures on a Glacier 7 x 10
24 River from an Ice-Cavern 7 x 10 
25 The Snow Slide 7x 10 
26 Mt. Cook  8� x 11 
27 Opawa Station Albury Rutherford's. 9 3/8 x 12 1/8  same angle
28 Limestone  9 x 11� 
29 Farm buildings and locomotive near Cricklewood. Watercolour on card 227 x 300 mm  8 7/8 x 11 Shows the 'Cricklewood' homestead and farm buildings with three horses in the foreground, fences, farm carts, two men attending to another horse, a carcass-hanger and a train in the background. The homestead is surrounded by a hedge of young conifers. Burnt down, possibly in the 1880s.  ATL
30 High Country Landscape  8 7/8 x 11
31 Sherwood Downs 9 x 11

32 Sherwood  9 x 11 inches
33 Clayton Station 
8 x 11 c. 1875 

Clayton Station and the low 'Claytons'

Depicts tussock in the foreground with a line of young conifers as a wind break for three cottages all with smoke coming out of each chimney.  The woolshed on the flat in the centre of the painting has a  gallows for hanging carcasses. Farmers for the next one hundred years always killed their own old wethers for meat for the household and dog feed.  The woolshed has long been pulled down and its modern replacement is over the other side of the Clayton Road.  Perhaps the woolshed resembles something of reality of the time, but the hills are far from actuality.  Rev. James Preston does not do justice to this particular subject!  He has made the background so dramatic one almost has to use one's own imagination to recognised the scene!! It is meant to depict Fox Peak [7,604 feet] and the "Lilydale" country and in the foreground, what is known as the "Low Claytons". 
34 Road through Peel Forest Pencil 7� x 10 5/8
35 Going to Mt Peel Pencil 7�x 10 5/8
36 Underwood Peel Forest 9� x 13 3/8
37 Underwood Peel Forest 9� x 11�
38 Dennistoun's House Peel Forest   9 1/8 x 11� 
39 Crossing the River Bed Pencil 9 1/8 x 11� (Geraldine?).
40 A Picnic 10 x 13� 
41 A Picnic 9 x 11 7/8
42 Camp in the Bush at Orari Gorge 1880  9 x 11�
43 Fishermen Resting 6 x 10
Ink, watercolour & Chinese white on wove paper 142 x 193 mm  
Fishermen at dawn on the South Canterbury coast, on William Rolleston's property at the mouth of the Rangitata River. Between 1881 and 1898. A seaside view at sunrise, with a horse grazing in a paddock, a man seated on a hillock in the foreground, a tent and caravan and four men with fishing gear standing outside a weatherboard shed. Two further men are fishing on the right. Compare Preston's watercolour "Rangitata Hut."  This shows the same hut, caravan, tent and horse, somewhat differently disposed. 
44 Fishing Orari Gorge 1893 7� x 11 1/8
45 Entrance to Orari Gorge 1893 9� x 11� 
46 Mr Hughes, Myself, and Arthur Fishing in Orari Gorge, 1893 8� x 13 1/8

47 Camp at the edge of a Forest 7 x 10
48 Old Walter's Hut 1897 7� x 12


References and sources: 

Auckland City Art Gallery James Preston: a colonial primitive: August 1959 Pelorus Press 16 p, 4 p of plates. 18 cm. Introduction written by Hamish Keith. Pamphlet.

Blackley, Roger Two Centuries of NZ Landscape Art ACAG,1990

Collins, R.D.J. Through Fifty Years : the early decades of the South Canterbury Art Society Dunedin: Hocken Library, 1983

Docking, Gil  Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting Wellington: Reed,1971

Dream Collectors: One Hundred Years of Art in New Zealand Wellington: Te Papa Press, 1998

Gardner, W.J. A History of Canterbury vol.2:cultural aspects 1850-1950/ ed. Whitcombe & Tombs,1971

Goodwin, George St Stephen's Anglican Church Fairlie One hundred years 1896-1996

Oakley, John Paintings of Canterbury 1840 - 1890 published Wellington : A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1969. Black and white pictures - Clayton Station, Cricklewood, Peel Forest, Camp in Orari George area.

Simpson, Philip Dancing Leaves : the story of New Zealand's Cabbage Tree, ti kouka. Christchurch : Canterbury University Press, 2000 col. illus.

Wolfe, Richard All our own work: NZ Folk Art Viking, 1997 -biog. notes

The Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand
'Fishermen at dawn on the South Canterbury coast, on William Rolleston's property at the mouth of the Rangitata River. Between 1881 and 1898.'
Ink, watercolour & Chinese white on wove paper 142 x 193 mm A seaside view at sunrise, showing a horse grazing in a paddock, a man seated on a hillock in the foreground, a tent and caravan and four men with fishing  gear standing outside a weatherboard shed. Two further men are fishing on the right.
Other Notes : The artist met his death while he was fishing in Geraldine, suggesting a great love of the sport. William Rolleston took up land at the mouth of the Rangitata River where he lived for most of his public life, from the 1860s. James Preston was appointed Anglican Minister to the Geraldine district from 1872. Compare Preston's watercolour "Rangitata Huts" in Canterbury Museum's collection - black and white photo held in photo file. This shows the same hut, caravan, tent and horse, somewhat differently disposed. Provenance : Rolleston family papers, MS Papers-0446-147, transferred to Drawings & Prints, October 1994.

The Star Thursday October 6 1898 page 2 and Timaru Herald page 3

Geraldine Oct. 5. 1898
The Rev James Preston, Vicar of St Mary's English Church, Geraldine, died suddenly at the Rangitata mouth on Tuesday evening. He was fishing with several gentlemen, and while returning to the hut in the evening he said that he felt very ill, and shortly afterwards dropped dead. The deceased had been feeble for some time, but he practically died in harness. He leaves a widow and a grown-up family. The funeral will leave the Parsonage, Geraldine, tomorrow at half past two.

Timaru Herald Thursday Oct. 6 1889 page 2
Death. Preston - Suddenly, at Rangitara, on the 4th inst., the Rev. James Preston, Vicar of St Mary's, Geraldine; aged 64 years.

Timaru Herald Friday 7th Oct. 1898 page 4 Obituary 
The late reverend gentleman leaves a widow and a grown-up family of two sons and three daughters to mourn their loss. One daughter was recently married to Mr Nalder, of Woodside, Gapes' Valley.

The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Wednesday, December 07, 1898; pg. 7;
Sudden death of a native in New Zealand. Rev. James Preston, vicar of St Mary's Geraldine, NZ., son of the late Mrs Preston, of Lumbenny, Achtermuchty, and brother of the Rev. C.M. Preston, vicar of Warcop, near Penrith, who officiated in St. James' Episcopal Church, Cupar, in the absence of the rev. C.E. Cooke, and uncle of the Rev. C.W.A. Preston, now vicar of Offenham, Worcestershire, who conducted services in the summer of 1897 at Achtermuchty, Newburgh and Strathmiglo. Rev. E. Barklie [sic Blakely] , Bishop of the Diocese, who preached the funeral sermon of deceased spoke of his twenty eight years faithful service in the parish of Woodbury, in the diocese of Geraldine. he said his work was quiet, steady and faithful - the work of a man knowing the responsibility that was on him. At the grave the Bishop said 'Farwell, dear old brother. We shall never see thy kindly face again. dear man, faithful pastor, dear priest of God's Holy church, God give thee rest and peace. god give grace to fellow in thy steps. Amen. He hath left the world in which he moved than he found it."

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

Clayton Station
Part of: Series: Real estate
The Press, 2000 Jan. 15, p. 41
From: Christchurch City Libraries