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

Blue Cliffs — (Run 31)

page 179

Blue Cliffs
(Run 31)

Blue Cliffs, originally supposed to be of thirty-five thousand acres, ran up the south side of the Otaio River from a point just below Hendry's Road, and was bounded on the east by a line from there to a point on the Black Line Road near the present site of the Teschemaker School. The Findlay Downs Settlement is a part of the freehold. At first Blue Cliffs only went to the summit of the Hunters Hills, but in the 'sixties the country "behind (running into the Hakataramea Valley, which had been part of Otaio, was added to the run.

It was taken up, under the Canterbury Regulations, on 1st July, 1856, by H. Poigndestre and George Buchanan, in Poigndestre's name. Buchanan was the manager and they had 1191 sheep there in 1857. Poigndestre bought Buchanan out about 1860 and appointed a friend of his named Richard Groome as his manager.

Poigndestre was something of a ' character,' and almost as many stories are told of him as of Tripp, of Orari Gorge. He was short and very stout, and had an immense bushy beard and bushy eyebrows, and very bright twinkling eyes. Children found him fascinating, and if they lent him a stick or a stock-whip handle, he would return it half an hour afterwards covered with beautiful or grotesque carvings. He had a home-made gig—a packing case on wheels—in which he drove tandem an old white mare and a mule. He drove them to the first race meeting held in Timaru, on 7th March, 1860, and ran the mule in a half-mile Scurry. He was beaten in the first heat (£10 a-side) by McPherson's pony and foal.

Everyone knows that in the old days hospitality was a point of honour. A number of friends once arrived at dark to stay a day or two at Blue Cliffs, when Poigndestre had very little to drink on the station. He ordered his bullock driver to yoke up immediately and go post haste to Timaru and back for more. The bullocky got back with a case of gin by dinner-time the page 180next day, before they had finished what they had, and honour was saved.

Poigndestre sold Blue Cliffs to John Hayhurst (an early tenant of the Ashburton Station) in May, 1866. He then rented an island in the Waihao to breed rabbits for the Timaru and Oamaru markets, but a flood came and washed away the island, rabbits and all.

I do not tell these old yarns in derision, but because I think every word about the early pioneers is worth preserving. As Joseph Conrad puts it: some of us had better wipe the milk off our lips before we laugh at the stragglers of a generation which ' has done and suffered not a little in its time.'

Poigndestre was a man of judgment and standing, and gave Francis Jollie a close run in the first South Canterbury election for a member of the General Assembly.

Hayhurst moved the homestead from its old position, opposite the actual blue cliffs of the Otaio (where W. J. Beattie lives now), to the present site, but he did not keep the place long. He sold it to Charles Meyer in 1871.

Meyer built and endowed the beautiful little Upper Otaio church in memory of his wife, who died in 1878. It is so placed as to be always visible from the homestead at Blue Cliffs. He then went on a visit to England where he died.

Four months later his executors sold the station at the end of 1879 to Robert Heaton Rhodes, the ' eldest son of George Rhodes of the Levels. The station then consisted of eight thousand acres of freehold and twenty-eight thousand acres of leasehold, and carried 23,000 sheep. The price was £64,500, which was considered a good one at the time as there had been a fall in the value of stations.

The best known of the managers under Rhodes were Alfred Cox (a son of Alfred Cox, of Raukapuka), Charles Hendry, who was there from 1890 till 1906, and L. Calder, who was at Blue Cliffs from 1908 until 1923.

In February, 1891, the front part of the hill lease-page 181hold was cut up into grazing runs, but Rhodes was allowed to buy the freehold of five thousand acres of it; the title for it, however, was not issued until 1895.

In 1904 the lease of the back part of the run was put up for auction, but Rhodes did not bid for it (having lost 4000 sheep there in the 1903 winter), so that his lease terminated in 1905 and since then Blue Cliffs has been all freehold.

Robert Heaton Rhodes died in 1918, since when Blue Cliffs has been carried on by his daughter, Mrs Woodhouse and her husband Dr P. R. Woodhouse who now manages the station. In 1930 Woodhouse took over the five thousand acres of hill country and parts of the land have been sold at various times since 1908. Blue Cliffs proper now consists of three thousand eight hundred acres of freehold.

It may seem strange that a run taken up so late as 1856 should have so early a number as 31. The original No. 31 was on the north bank of the Waimakariri, and was amalgamated with the run next it, No. 32, just before Blue Cliffs was taken up, and the number used again.

The Blue Cliffs' brand, the Prince of Wales's Feathers, is a very old one. It was registered in 1858.