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

Orari Gorge — N.Z.R. 52, afterwards Run 546)

Orari Gorge
N.Z.R. 52, afterwards Run 546)

Before the sale of what is known as the Tripp Settlement to the Government, Orari Gorge took in the whole country between the Orari and Hae Hae te Moana Rivers, from Woodbury road up to Mickleburn, and it included the Blue Mountain and Mt. Fourpeaks. At that time, it consisted of twenty thousand acres of freehold and fifty thousand acres of leasehold, and carried over 40,000 sheep.

A run in the neighbourhood was first applied for by page 150Charles George Tripp, who at that time had never been on the country, and described it in very vague terms in his application. He was granted a run there in July, 1855, but in August, 1856, after their exploration of the country, a new lease of Orari Gorge was granted to Tripp and Acland, in Acland's name.

Orari Gorge was not stocked until some time after Mt. Peel, the sheep on Mt. Peel being sufficient to hold the leases of all the firm's runs in the neighbourhood. In 1856, when the first sheep for these runs were bought, ewes cost £1 a head, wethers 15/-and lambs 10/-. In February, 1860, 2160 sheep were brought to Orari Gorge from Mt. Peel, the country only then having been made ready for them by burning. Tripp and Acland bought their first freehold in South Canterbury—240 acres at 10/-an acre—at the present Orari Gorge homestead site, on the 7th December, 1855.

Orari Gorge, as originally constituted, was much smaller than it afterwards became. Cox, of Raukapuka, held the low hills next the plain, but he sold the goodwill of nine thousand acres of country to Tripp and Acland for £1500, to give them frontage. In later years Tripp bought the lease of several thousand more acres on the plain in front of his station, from Tancred, who then owned Raukapuka. In those days, next to sheep-stealing or introducing scab, the most unneighbourly thing a squatter could do was to buy freehold on his neighbour's run, so Tripp bought the lease first, then freeholded it. Again in 1881, he bought the high Fourpeaks country from Walker and Clogstoun for £600.

It will be remembered that in the later 'fifties Tripp and Acland owned five or six stations, none of which was either a quarter stocked or properly ' started' (i.e. organised). For that reason, I suppose, they let Orari Gorge on terms to Robert Smith, who had been their head man at Mt. Peel since 1856. Smith held the run from 28th July, 1859, until 1862. He built the house which still stands as part of the present men's hut.

Tripp lived at Mt. Peel until 1861, shortly before he page 151and Acland dissolved partnership (which they did in October, 1862), and then he moved to his other station. Mt. Somers. At the end of 1862 he sold Mt. Somers and went Home for several years. On his arrival in England, his father would not believe Tripp had succeeded in the colony, so, to convince him, Tripp wrote to his agents in New Zealand, instructing them to sell Orari Gorge, too, and send the money home to England. The purchaser was his cousin, John Enys, for many years the owner of Castle Hill.

On Tripp's return to New Zealand, he bought back Orari Gorge, and, judging that Enys had not improved the reputation of the flock, he changed the wool-brand ' Tripp ' to the present one ' Howard.'

He did not go to live at Orari Gorge until September, 1866, but he was there in time for the terrible snowstorm of the following August, and the great flood of February, 1868, which nearly washed the homestead away. By the way, it was not until Tripp went to live there in '66 that the station was named.

Among his early managers were a man named Hudson, and then Andrew Grant, with his brother William as shepherd under him. The Grants afterwards became the greatest of all South Canterbury sheep dealers and William also a large squatter.

After Grant, Tripp managed the place himself for a time, having Thomson McKay, and then Hugh McQuinn as his overseers. McKay afterwards became a large farmer at Willoughby, near Ashburton.

A. J. Blakiston, who was manager until 1935, went to Orari Gorge in 1883, but he left in 1893 and did not return until 1908. During the interval the place was managed by the owner's son, B. E. H. Tripp. J. M. Polhill, the present manager, has been there since 1935.

Later head shepherds were: Murdoch McLeod, John Norton (afterwards manager of Dilworth Fox's station in North Canterbury), Simon Rae and James Boa. A curious thing happened while McLeod was head shepherd. After a long and wet day's mustering, all hands camped at a hut (I think McIntosh's), and McLeod hung his socks to dry before the fire. Presently one page 152was missing. After everyone had been accused of hiding it, they finished their tea with considerable enjoyment, when the sock was found to have dropped into the billy and sunk to the bottom.

Orari Gorge has always been a great place for cadets, and quite a number of them have since made names for themselves in pastoral and other affairs—as witness the names amongst others of Lewis Mathias, J. Randall, V. Musgrave, W. Somerville, Fred. Anson and Snow—his partner, A. Hope, C. Swaby, G. Pinckney, C. Eyre, A. Pinckney, Thurston, Miskin, C. A. Dunn, B. Empson, W. Acland Hood, A. Hutchison and his brother Willy, W. F. Heron, F. J. Savill, Selby Palmer, Lt.-Col. R. Williams, C. Kingsley, M. Ormsby, N. Hope, L. Bartrop, and C. Cazalet. Bartrop and Cazalet were killed during the fighting on Gallipoli.

Charles Tripp died in July, 1897—just too early to see the return of good times and reap the reward of his enterprise. Since then the property has been carried on in partnership by his sons, C. H., L. O. H., B. E. H., and J. M. H. Tripp.

In 1910 the Government bought a large part of the freehold and resumed the greater part of the leasehold for closer settlement, but according to the last sheep returns, the station still carries some 23,000 sheep.

Charles George Tripp

Charles Tripp deserves special notice as the first man to think of putting stock on the high country of Canterbury. Until he and his partner, John Barton Acland, tried it, anything higher than the downs was believed to be valueless for sheep. The idea that the higher hills were worth stocking entered Tripp's fertile brain while he was river-bound during a journey to Burke's run at Raincliff in 1855.

Tripp was a curious mixture of simplicity and shrewdness, and these qualities showed themselves very clearly in his face, as did his other chief characteristic— his benevolence. He was so full of energy that page 153he could hardly sit through his meals, and often said grace as he ran from the door to the dining table. He had a quick, excitable way of speaking. More stories were told of him in shearers' huts and mustering camps than of any other runholder in Canterbury. When Orari Gorge was an open shed it was worth riding twenty miles to see the shearers and shed hands being drafted, counted, re-sorted and counted again.

Once, while they were crossing the Rangitata, Mrs Tripp was washed down the river in a boat, and Tripp found himself unable to get to her assistance. He is said to have shouted from the bank: 'Goodbye, Ellen, goodbye, meet you in Heaven you know, meet you in Heaven.' He had not a good memory for faces, but once when a cowboy of his brought a disastrous career to an end by raiding the pantry, and applied again for work within a week or two, under the impression that Tripp would not recognise him, Tripp asked him what he could do. The boy replied, 'Oh, anything about the station.' 'Anything about the station?' said Tripp, 'anything about the station? Yes, you shot the mule, you killed a bullock, you broke the pole of the dray, and you ate all the tarts; anything? You just run off the place as fast, as ever you can! As fast as ever you can! '

He had no natural eye for stock. He could hardly tell his own buggy horses if he saw them in a strange stable, and would never take the drafting gate; but he was a very good judge of men, and had the invaluable gift of getting them to do their best for him. He had a fine eye for country, and bought the freehold of his run with very great judgment. He was the first runholder in South Canterbury to realise the danger of rabbits, and to take steps to destroy them. He had good sense and the most extraordinary energy. Almost to the end of his life he was out and about his station by seven in the morning.

He was extremely temperate in all his ways. He never smoked, seldom drank alcohol, and never sat in any but a straight-backed chair. He always rode his horse at one pace—a steady trot. He had a very liberal page 154mind, and was always full of faith in the future of the country in general and of his own station in particular. He was always progressive, and eager to adopt new ideas and try experiments. It is a bold statement to make, but I believe he was the most hospitable man that ever lived in Canterbury. No one could meet him without being struck by his kindliness, and children and dogs seemed to take to him instinctively. I do not think he had an enemy in the world.