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

Blackford — (Runs 201, 264, and later 329)

(Runs 201, 264, and later 329)

Blackford took in the country between the Rakaia and the north branch of the Ashburton. It ran from the foot of the hills back to Terrible Gully and the Swift Creek. It included the actual hill called Mt. Hutt.

Thomas Williamson Hall took it up. He obtained the license for Run 201 on July 20th, 1857, and Run 264 in June, 1858. He had 4000 sheep on the south page 318bank of the Rakaia as early as 1856, so he must have occupied the country before he got the license. He sold the station to Henry and Albert Gray about 1859.

Hall was an elder brother of Sir John Hall. He had commanded a merchant ship before he came to New Zealand. He and another brother came to New Zealand in a ship, with Marmaduke Dixon, which I believe took fire on the voyage and they had to take to the boats for a time. The Hall brothers had several runs on the south side of the Rakaia in the early 'fifties. After T. W. Hall sold Blackford he farmed in various places until his death, not many years before the 1914-18 war, at Invercargill.

The Grays called the station Mt. Hutt, because Mt. Hutt was on the run, but that name was afterwards applied to Colonel Lean's station on the plain in front of it. They had a lot of trouble with tutu when they first went there, but the run was beautifully grassed with wild anise and other herbage, so that the mutton there was supposed to be particularly well-flavoured. Albert Gray, who was still living in England in 1931, was good enough to send me some notes on his early life in New Zealand. He writes: 'On the Mt. Hutt run five of us ate 1001b of meat a week, or about 87 sixtypound wethers per annum. At that time we had no potatoes or other vegetables. When these came our meat consumption went down to about 601b per week. One never saw at that time either milk, butter, or cheese at any up-country station. It was not that we had no cows, but no enclosure to keep them…

'On one of my journeys from the Rakaia Gorge I met near Hororata John Studholme, recently married. He asked me to lunch. Roast lamb was offered me. I had never before seen lamb eaten in New Zealand. I suppose my astonishment was written on my face. Studholme was apologetic and explained that his wife liked to have roast lamb occasionally. I could see that his conscience was uneasy about it, and well it might be. To eat a lamb which at that time without further expense would grow into a sheep and moreover give page 319one or two fleeces of valuable wool, was to flout all correct ideas of economy. This came of matrimony. I cannot positively assert that lamb had never before been eaten in Canterbury (there was one other recently married squatter), but I can say that I had never seen it eaten, nor ever heard of such a thing.'

In the Grays' time, in 1862, Robert Park, surveyed the Upper Rakaia. Whilst in camp somewhere on Double Hill, Park sent a cadet he had with him to take letters back to Winchmore, his station on the plains near Ashburton. It was not a long journey, but after a week the boy had not returned and Park got anxious and sent a man down the river to see what had happened to him. The man found that he had never even reached Blackford, where he had been told to stay the first night, and so Gray sent men to look for him in every direction, but they could find no trace of him. About a week afterwards a shepherd of Gray's went down the almost perpendicular bank of the Rakaia after some sheep and found the boy's body. Near it was lying his pocket book in which he kept a diary almost up to the time he died. He had slipped and rolled down the bank and broken a leg. He was in a place where no one was likely to go once in six months, and the roar of the river prevented anyone hearing his calls. He had lived five days and tried to drag himself to the water, but died of thirst and exhaustion within a few yards of it. The last lines of the diary were very faint and illegible, but he had written something about 'thirsty' and ' water.' The boy's name was Charles Edward Stewart. It may be worth noting that Booth, who gave a graphic account of the accident in Five Years in New Zealand, wrongly gives his name as Parker.

Henry and Albert Gray were sons of a parson who lived near Castle Carey (Wheathill was his parish). They left England in 1855, at the ages of 17 and 16, in the barque Oriental, of 600 tons, Captain Macey, three mates, and about six men. They came to their brother, the Hon. Ernest Gray, who had arrived in page 3201851 or 1852, and had been a cadet with Michael John Burke at Halswell. Albert Gray writes: 'On the way down the Thames the second mate became violently drunk, was overpowered and put ashore. This left us with only the captain and one mate, as the third mate was not a sailor, but taken on board to comply with shipping regulations. His duty was to serve out stores to the emigrant passengers.'

They arrived in Auckland in February, 1856, and the crew promptly deserted and bolted to the Australian diggings. Trouble with wharf labourers and getting a new crew kept them six weeks in Auckland, and then the voyage from Auckland to Lyttelton took three weeks. At Smart's Hotel in Christchurch among other early Canterbury settlers, they met an inveterate punster who 'on the appointment of the first scab inspector …suggested that this unpleasant name should be changed to Acarite (accurate) Observer—not so bad if 'Acarite 'is the right name for the scab insect. We went on with bullock dray and stores to the Rangitata Run (Coldstream), where Edward Gray was already established, being delayed for a week by a big flood in the Rakaia.'

On the Rangitata they learnt the settler's various jobs, 'bullock driving, shepherding, stock riding, building stock and sheepyards, sod wall fencing, etc. Some of the sod walling of 74 years ago exists, I believe, to this day. The station cook on being paid his year's wages left without notice, and the lot fell to me to be cook for a few months. The cook was also baker, butcher, splitter, and chopper of wood for the fire, and generally handy-man in the sheepyards.'

After a year or two with their brother, Henry and Albert started a farm near Christchurch, but let this in small holdings not long afterwards, and bought Blackford. They sold Blackford in 1865 to John Lewis Coster and Edward Stafford Coster. The leases were held in J. L. Coster's name, but E. S. Coster was the brother who lived on the station and managed it. The other managed the Bank of New Zealand.

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The Grays returned to mixed farming. They bought a large block of land in the Kowai Forks, where Grays Road is named after them, and went in mostly for cattle and long wool sheep. They grew rape and purple-topped mammoth turnips for feed, but while here Albert Gray accidentally discovered the benefit of what is now known as 'intensive grazing.'

He writes: 'A railway cut off twenty-two acres from a very large field of grass. Whenever the grass in this small piece grew to a few inches high, I put on 2000 sheep to eat it down, and then removed the stock until about two inches had grown again. In a short time I noticed a great improvement in the grass. In a year or two it was carrying more than double the stock it had carried before…. I sold the farm shortly after, and that twenty-two acres fetched at auction just double the price per acre of the land around it. This differed only from the new system of " intensive grazing " in the fact that no top-dressing or any artificial manures were used.'

Henry Gray also owned, at various times, Judge Gresson's property at Woodend, Avonhead, and Otahuna (then called Greycliffe). In 1899, being doubtful of the Government's attitude towards the landowners, he went to South Africa, which did not appeal to him, and then to the Argentine, where he bought an estancia of about twenty thousand acres, and sent for Wyndham, his youngest son, to take charge of it. They cleared out the sheep, and improved the cattle, and the investment turned out a most fortunate one. His elder son was in the South Wales Borderers, and was killed while leading an attack on Gallipoli.

Albert Gray left New Zealand in 1882, and though he has travelled extensively, has never been out here since.*

To return to the Costers, about 1867 they bought Run 329 from Cridland, who then owned Spaxton, and joined it to Blackford, which they, by the way, named page 322after a village in the west of England, if I remember rightly.

Coster Brothers sold the Blackford freehold to John Holmes in 1889, but transferred the leasehold country to their manager, Alexander McLennan, who took Cameron into partnership. Cameron afterwards sold his share to Syme. McLennan and Syme worked the run from the Glen, a farm near Pudding Hill. After selling Blackford, E. S. Coster lived at the Gums at Ashburton. I think his brother had died before the station was sold.

Alexander McLennan, the managing partner, was badly frost-bitten when working in the snow, and lost both his feet, but he carried on the station and used to ride all over the high country until about 1902, when Hamish McLean, of Mt. Hutt, took over the leasehold which has since then remained part of Mt. Hutt Station. His brother Donald bought the Blackford freehold (of over four thousand acres) from Holmes. This he cut up in 1908, when James Poff, of Methven, bought the homestead block. This passed through one or two hands before Montgomery and Todhunter bought it and another block about 1914. Todhunter bought out Montgomery in 1921, and now has about three thousand acres there which he uses as a stud sheep farm and as a wintering place for his Lake Heron sheep.

Hamish McLean bought the Blackford leasehold from McLennan about the same time that Donald McLean bought the freehold from Holmes. While Donald McLean owned the property, his manager was Augustus Stronach, whom I mentioned when writing of Craigieburn and Castle Hill.

* He died since this article was written, aged over 90.