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

Mt. Somers — (Runs 44, 182, 391 and 415)

page 325

Mt. Somers
(Runs 44, 182, 391 and 415)

Roughly speaking, Mt. Somers took in the mountain after which it is named, and the downs at the foot of it. It joined Buccleugh on the plain and ran up the Ashburton as far as the Stour, where it joined Clent Hills. It joined Winterslow at the back of the Alford Forest.

Run 44 was taken up by Tripp and Acland in July, 1856, Run 182 in April, 1857, Run 391 in December, 1860, and Run 415, I think, early in 1861. Tripp chose the site for the homestead in April, 1857, and in May Parlby, who afterwards kept the accommodation house at the Selwyn, arrived with the first sheep, which came from one of Charles Torlesse's stations in North Canterbury. A man named Hawkins took charge of the sheep on the station.

When Tripp and Acland dissolved partnership in 1861, Mt. Somers fell to Tripp's share, and he went to live there when he left Mt. Peel that November, but he sold it after a year to his brother-in-law, Charles Percy Cox.

Soon after he bought the station Cox abandoned Run 415 as it was then a wretched piece of country at the back of Mt. Somers, nearly all bush and scrub. This was taken up again on August 1st, 1867, by Edward Reece, who sent Robert Staveley there to manage it. Staveley named it 'The Tip Top Station,' but Reece abandoned it again after a year, so it is notable both as being the shortest-lived of all Canterbury stations, and for having the silliest name. While Staveley was there he destroyed a good part of Alford Forest by a summer fire he was suspected to have lighted on purpose, and he probably had, as he disappeared mysteriously soon afterwards. Staveley village is named after him. He had a farm there at one time. In 1865 he was Captain McLean's bullock-driver at Buccleugh. He was 'reported to be a good scholar and was of massive build and merry disposition,' and I have heard page 326him called Captain Staveley, so he had probably been at sea. There was a Robert Staveley, third mate of the Mary Ann, an emigrant ship which came to Canterbury in 1859.

As a matter of fact Staveley's fire improved the country and it was taken up again in the 'seventies. T. E. McRae worked it for many years, and I believe he called it Staveley, though when the runs were advertised for lease in 1889 I remember that the Government called it McRae's Station.

It was re-numbered 103. In 1909 McRae sold it to William Sparks, of Halswell, who sold it in 1912 to one McLennan, from South Canterbury. McLennan's brother was grazing a mob of sheep there when the Bowyer came down in flood and drowned most of them. In 1913 Thomas Rutherford took it and worked it for a few years, then sold it to the present owner, J. M. Burgess.

Cox had a partner called Fielden for the first year or two at Mt. Somers but bought him out. He sold the station to Alfred Edward Peache in June, 1876.

Peache died in 1906 and since then the station has been carried on by his executors. Frank Pawson managed it from 1906 until 1912, when he was succeeded by the present manager, John Morgan, formerly manager of Mesopotamia and Lake Coleridge. Peache always managed Mt. Somers and Clent Hills, his other station, himself.

I have given accounts of Tripp, Acland, and Cox when writing of other stations. Peache was born at Downend in England in 1853. He was educated at Haileybury and at Lausanne in Switzerland, and afterwards studied farming at Cirencester and elsewhere in England. He arrived in New Zealand by way of Australia in November, 1875. He was businesslike and progressive and one of the first men to run halfbred sheep on high country. He did a good deal for the Mt. Somers township, and in 1888 opened the Mt. Somers' lime kilns, which did well under his management.

page 327

It may be noticed that the number 44 is an early number for a run so far away from Christchurch as Mt. Somers, but the original Run 44 was a part of Easedale Nook, and was either abandoned or united to another run in 1856, when the Land Office used the number again for Mt. Somers.

When I wrote about Holme Station, I said that the old house there was the only one in Canterbury that was supposed to be haunted. I should have excepted the house at Mt. Somers.

The ghost at Holme Station, I understand, was absolutely silent and very seldom seen. The few who saw it described it as a shapeless, clinging form—more like a cloud or a curtain than a man or a woman. It simply made its presence felt. When you were in the room by yourself you suddenly became quite sure that someone else was close behind you, watching you. You might look under the bed and into the cupboards, and find nothing, but could not shake off that feeling that someone was with you.

There was no humbug about the Mt. Somers ghost. You could hear its footsteps as it walked up and down passages. You could hear its solemn raps when it knocked at doors; though when you opened them it had vanished. It was never seen by human eyes. But dogs put up their bristles and growled at it, and nervous people were afraid to stay in the house. Once in the dead of night everyone was awakened in terror, frozen to their beds with horror. The pattering footsteps were more hurried than usual and accompanied by a ghastly clanking of chains. When they lit candles and braced themselves up to open their doors they found that one of the dogs had broken loose and was running up and down stairs dragging his chain after him. Except that time, however, the noises could never be accounted for. Some years ago they suddenly ceased altogether.