The Early Canterbury Runs: Containing the First, Second and Third (new) Series
The history of Stronechrubie, a small station at the head of the Rangitata, is rather difficult to follow. It originally consisted of Run 396, of five thousand acres, between the Clyde and Lawrence rivers, and Run 397, of five thousand acres, on the west side of the Clyde. These two runs were originally taken up by R. M. Morten and Stace in February, 1861. Their manager was James Phillips, a son of the owner of Rockwood. In 1864 Stace sold his half share to Charles James Bell. Bell named the place Forest Hill, after the beautiful bush which grew there. In those days the run was worked as a cattle station. The cattle-brand—' a bell' —was lying about the old homestead, in the fork of page 299the Clyde and Lawrence, in the early 'nineties, and, for all I know, may be there still.
About 1872 Morton and Bell decided to abandon the station, and Bell drove the cattle over to the West Coast to sell. He had one or two bad trips and was nearly drowned in both the Rakaia and the Taramakau.
I do not know who Stace was, and I have given some account of Morten elsewhere. Bell was the elder son of Dr Charles Bell, of Clifton, Bristol. He was educated at Bishop's (now Clifton) College, and, refusing to take Holy Orders, came to New Zealand at the age of 21 in the ship Indian Empire in 1863 or 1864. After leaving Forest Hill he joined C. E. Fooks, the first engineer in Ashburton, and they carried out much of the early surveying of the country.
Bell held many public appointments. He was the first Clerk of the Anama Road Board and held the appointment until his death. He was also secretary of the Ashburton Racing Club. He was a great hand with horses, and a very good amateur vet. Though he had a motor-car, he preferred to drive a thoroughbred mare until the last year of his life. He died at Lismore in 1925.
It was while staying with Bell at Forest Hill that the curator of the Public Gardens in Christchurch collected the plants which formed the nucleus of the present native collection. Bell always said that the Clyde River was originally named the Clive, to correspond with the Lawrence and Havelock. (But surely Lord Clyde was nearer being contemporary with them than Clive was?)
About 1878, George McRae, who had been head shepherd and overseer for the Campbells at Mesopotamia, took up Bell's country again. It took a great deal of mustering for the few hundred sheep it carried, and McRae found there was nothing in it, and had to eke out his living by mustering for his neighbours. He told Norman Macfarlane, who was at that time managing Mesopotamia, that he couldn't make a page 300living and pay his rent. Macfarlane advised him not to pay his rent, but to be at the Land Office in Christchurch, every rent day, so that if anyone else applied for the country, he could forestall him. One rent day McRae learnt that Potts's agents had been foolish enough to abandon the country which lay next to his across the Lawrence, so McRae applied for it and got it. This was Run 384, of ten thousand acres, above the Jumped-up Downs, some of the best of Hakatere, and was the making of Stronechrubie. It had been taken up by the notorious John Henry Caton, in July, 1860, and sold by Caton, much to his neighbours' relief, to Isaac Taylor, who had recently sold Winterslow. Caton's earmark was a crop off both ears and from his yards no straggler returned. Taylor afterwards sold this run to Potts of Hakatere. Caton's homestead had been long abandoned. It was nearly opposite McRae's, and the flat it stood on has now been washed away by the Lawrence. At the end of his lease in 1890, the Government took Run 397, McRae's country west of the Clyde, and added it to Mesopotamia, and compensated McRae by giving him Run 374, which had been part of Hakatere. This brought his boundary down to the lower end of the Jumped-up Downs, and he moved his homestead to the present site there in 1891. In the old days it was called Mt. Sunday.
Run 374 was one of the many runs taken up by Tripp and Acland between 1855 and 1860. It included the very best of the Jumped-up Downs. Tripp and Acland took it up in May, 1860, and, I think, sold it unstocked to Taylor, though the lease was for a time, in Bell's name. Taylor's homestead was on the bank of a small lagoon, where the old foundation may still be seen. Murdoch McDonald tells me that one of his first jobs in New Zealand was to level Taylor's old sod fences and plough the flat for McRae. Taylor eventually sold his run either to Bell or to Potts, of Hakatere.