The Early Canterbury Runs: Containing the First, Second and Third (new) Series
Stronechrubie — (Originally Forest Hill and now called Erewhon ) — (Runs 374, 384, 395-6-7)
(Originally Forest Hill and now called Erewhon )
(Runs 374, 384, 395-6-7)
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.
Stronechrubie is the Gaelic for 'crooked nose' or 'crooked spur,' and McRae named the station partly after his birthplace in Scotland, and partly after a crooked spur which runs down to the Clyde near the original homestead. Some later owner has changed the name of the station to Erewhon, which does not seem so suitable. Butler's Erewhon, after which, I suppose, it is named, was supposed to be across the Main Range.
In 1892,-McRae sold Stronechrubie to Donald Knight, a son of A. C. Knight, one of the earliest Canterbury runholders. Knight sold it to George McMillan, of Mesopotamia, at the time of the South African War, and McMillan worked the two stations together until his death in 1903, after which his executors sold both stations to George Gerard.
When the leases of the Upper Rangitata country ran out in 1911, the forks of the Clyde and Havelock were taken from Mesopotamia and given to Stronechrubie, which was then put up to ballot and drawn by William Anderson, so that Erewhon as now constituted contains the forks taken from Mesopotamia, the original Stronechrubie, Caton's run on the Lawrence, and Taylor's run on the Jumped-up Downs. These make a very nice station, but expensive to muster. Since Anderson's time it has passed through the hands of F. Pawson and D. G. Wright, and T. S. Johnstone bought it for one of his family in 1929. His son Thomas is the present owner.
I have already given accounts of Caton and the other early owners. George McRae was born at Stronechrubie, a sheep farm near Lochbroom in northwest Ross-shire, in 1836. After selling Stronechrubie he owned Barford and several other properties in Canterbury. He died in Ashburton in 1911.
William Anderson came out from Scotland about 1881 under engagement to Low of St. Helens. When his engagement at St. Helens ended he became head shepherd to Robinson at Cheviot Hills. Later on he page 302twice managed Teviotdale while Greenwood was in England. Later still he was head shepherd at the Fairfield Freezing Works near which he bought a farm. He left this to go to Stronechrubie. When he sold Stronechrubie he retired but could not settle down to do nothing, so he bought Eskdale, a small place near Waiau. He was a successful breeder of Border-Leicesters and Corriedales, and a great show judge. He was also a lover of Border collies and at one time almost unbeatable at the dog-trials. He died at Eskdale in July, 1944, aged 84.
An Interesting Letter
The following interesting extracts are from a letter about the old days at Stronechrubie and Mesopotamia which Murdoch McDonald, who was McRae's nephew and cadet, has sent me:
'I sometimes see in the papers that Dr Sinclair's grave is lost, then that it has been discovered again by some intrepid explorer or another. As you are aware, this grave was never lost, but is well known to everyone who has worked on Mesopotamia, and has a good tombstone on top suitably inscribed. What is not generally known, however, is that alongside it is another grave which has no tombstone—that of a man named McKay, who met his death at Ross's Cutting in a tragic manner. McKay worked on Anama Station, and one Sunday—I do not know the date—rode up to Ross's Hut to see his sweetheart, who was a daughter of the boundary-keeper there. He tethered his horse at some distance from the house and on leaving for home, while saying good-bye to the girl, he pulled the tether up and the horse, taking fright at something, wheeled round and got the rope round McKay's body. McKay was dragged down the cutting and his brains dashed out at the roadside.
'A man called Searle who was building the iron stable at Mesopotamia for the Campbells, chopped his foot half off with the adze and bled to death.
'Jason's Creek is called after Jason Davis, who got page 303frost-bitten in the feet when cutting firewood there, and when they got him down country his legs had to be amputated at the knees. He walked on the stumps for many years, however, and on one occasion he was taken for the Devil by a nervous woman who met him in the dark on a lonely road near Darfield.
'Another shepherd called Gilman, whom I knew well, was killed at Growling Camp (on Mesopotamia) by a rock falling on his head from a precipice under which he was walking. Hugh Urquhart was killed on the Forks by going over a precipice, shortly afterwards.
'Although Stronechrubie is probably the roughest country in Canterbury, no one has ever met his death there.
'The Lands Department apparently never worried about McRae not paying his rent at the start of his career, as he was rather handy for the surveyors who used to go up there. They were always sure of a camp at his place, and plenty of mutton.
'In the big snow of 1889, McRae lost all his sheep. In the previous year he lost all his wool by his agents going bankrupt—one of the partners committing suicide and the other getting imprisonment.
'There were 60 head of cattle up near the glaciers, which McRae didn't bother to go and see about, but McClure, the surveyor, would come down each night with an account of the number of dead cattle he saw. McRae must have been keeping a mental note of the number, and one day McClure must have given him the full tally. McRae exclaimed with great satisfaction, 'Thank God, that is the last of them, I will now be able to make a fresh start.' The surveyor never forgot McRae's philosophy and used to amuse McMillan by telling him of it. Personally, I have never met a man of unmovable philosophy who was much of a manager—McRae certainly was not.
'McMillan always said that the person who really managed Stronechrubie for 20 years was Mrs McRae. Born and reared in the lonely glens of Ross-shire, she was probably more in her element than were most page 304women on the back stations here. She seldom went down country, while McRae spent half his time away from home—the Lord only knows on what business. He usually had a boy or two on the place whom he trained to work the station and who afterwards became capable high-country shepherds. Among these were W. Turton, Jack Turton, E. R. Turton, W. Carney, N. Carney, C. Carney, etc. Working boys and dogs were McRae's main specialities, and while he trained the boys in their earthly duties, Mrs McRae concerned herself with their spiritual welfare.
'Every night the Bible was brought out and family worship gone through just as you described the scene in George Patterson's hut on the Waimakariri. I may say that McRae's youthful cadets did not relish these religious devotions very much, but they had to stand up to it—Catholic or Protestant. Thirty years afterwards one of them spoke to me about it in a different spirit, however, and referred to his religious instructor in terms of the deepest respect.
'McRae left his old homestead in 1890 and went to live at the Jumped-up Downs, six miles further down. Before doing so Mrs McRae broke down mentally and was taken away, never to return.
'Thus McRae lost his wool one year, his sheep and cattle the next, and lastly his wife, but never lost his philosophy, geniality, or hospitality—the last-named a quality (notwithstanding the disparagement of a certain school) possessed by all the station-owners of those days, and which, I trust, shall spread its influence beyond those to whom it was given, when all of that generation have passed away. McRae finished up 20 years afterwards a fairly wealthy man, and with his wife is buried alongside his friend and schoolmate, George McMillan, in the Cracroft Cemetery.'
Tripp and Acland first explored the head waters of the Rangitata. In March, 1892, Acland wrote an account of their explorations in the first number of page 305the N.Z. Alpine Journal. Tripp and Acland went up as far as Forest Creek in September, 1855, and in March, 1856, explored the Ashburton and crossed over to the Rangitata, passing the lakes which are named after them. This time they got as far as the mouth of the Potts. After that the business of starting their stations, and visits to England, prevented any more exploration until 1860, except that Acland and his halfcaste henchman, Abner Clough, once went as far as Mesopotamia. While they were examining the bush there, a violent sou'-wester came and Abner built a V-hut to shelter them. Some years afterwards Edward Jollie came across it while surveying up there, and thought he had discovered Maori remains.
In 1860, Tripp heard from the Maoris that above Cloudy Peak the Rangitata opened out on to a large plain. They had probably confused the country there with the Mackenzie Country, but Tripp and Acland and Charles Harper went to see. They reached the mouth of the Lawrence and camped in some bush where McRae's homestead was afterwards built. Next day they went up the Lawrence as far as horses could go (seven or eight miles) and came in sight of some of the small glaciers. They realised they were on the wrong track for the 'open plain,' so turned back and went up the Clyde. They went up the Clyde until they found the river bed was nearly three thousand feet above sea level, in a narrow valley with high mountains on each side, and decided there could be no open plain. It was May 20th, the nights were getting very cold, they were running short of tucker, and had no chance of getting more of it nearer than Mt. Peel, fifty miles away, so they turned back.
In 1861, Samuel Butler settled at Mesopotamia. He was fond of climbing, but seems to have been keener on getting to the tops of the hills than to the sources of the rivers. Acland made several more expeditions during the early 'sixties, taking various people with him, but it was not until the autumn of 1865 that Chudleigh, Tom Acland, and Bell (who had by then page 306settled at Stronechrubie) got to the head of both branches of the Clyde and they were probably the first people actually to get on to the ice there.