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The Early Canterbury Runs: Containing the First, Second and Third (new) Series

The Desert Station — (Run 39)

page 27

The Desert Station
(Run 39)

The Desert Station was the next above Sandy Knolls on the Waimakariri. The eastern boundary ran in a line from the river past the present Aylesbury Railway Station, the western boundary ran through Kirwee. It was taken up in August, 1851, by Muter and Francis and contained about eighteen thousand acres. Muter and Francis did not stay very long in Canterbury, but they took up runs together in the early 'fifties. Captain (afterwards Colonel) Dunbar Douglas Muter was only in New Zealand for a short time in the early 'fifties. Besides taking up runs, he bought a good deal of land on the Pensinsula. He rejoined his regiment in India where he did well in the Mutiny and afterwards edited a paper. He came back to Canterbury for a short time in 1862 to settle his affairs. He was afterwards a military Knight of Windsor where he died in 1909, aged 85. While on his first visit he fought one of the only four duels ever fought in New Zealand. It was with Charles Barrington Robinson, the first magistrate at Akaroa, and came of a dispute about land. There is an account of it in Tales of Banks Peninsula, and Ebenezer Hay, whose grandfather was present, added some interesting details in the Press in July, 1924. No one was hurt.

In 1857 and '58 Francis had a run near Waimate which he sold to the Studholmes. I don't know what became of him then.

Muter and Francis sold the Desert, almost as soon as they got the lease, to Archdeacon Mathias, who bought it for his friend the Rev. J. Owen, who never came to New Zealand.

In July 1856 a swagger was found dead on the Desert Station. He had perished during a storm. He was supposed to be a bad character called 'Cranky Bill,' but there was 'some doubt about his identity.'

Owen's brand, one of the first registered in Canterbury, was a plain circle, or a round O. His first manager was an Australian called Matson whom Muter and page 28Francis had brought over. Owen afterwards sent his son out to manage the station, but the young man's talents were not for sheep farming. He was drowned in the Rakaia in 1857 and his was the first body buried in Riccarton Churchyard. When young Owen was deposed, Archdeacon Mathias, who looked after Owen's New Zealand affairs, sent his own son Herbert J. Mathias to manage the Desert. There were 6000 sheep there in 1867. Archdeacon Mathias died at Akaroa in 1864 aged 59.

Herbert Mathias bought the station in 1875. He sold it two or three years afterwards to Richard Northy Hopkins and Thomas H. Anson. (Anson and Hopkins, and Anson and Karslake, had had several other stations in this district in partnership.)

Anson bought Hopkins out and gradually sold off the land and so reduced the flock. In 1878 there were still 3000 sheep, and in 1880 they were down to 1500.

He sold the homestead and the land he had left to H. Feutz in 1887, and retired.

The land remaining is still known as the Desert Farm.