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

Clayto — (Runs 331 and 370)

(Runs 331 and 370)

Clayton lay next behind (that is, west of) Mt. Fourpeaks. It took in the country from the Clayton Flat, up the north branch of the Opuha to Butler's Saddle, and from a point on the range near there the boundary ran down the Phantom and on down the Orari to join Orari Gorge. I think Meikleburn was originally part of the run.

Run 331 of thirty thousand acres was allotted to Kennaway, Lee and Acton on 1st June, 1861, but they had apparently applied for the country sometime in 1859.

Sometime in 1859 or 1860 Aikman and Le Cren applied for Run 370 of eight thousand five hundred acres. In the printed run lists their license is dated February, 1861, but the manuscript records shew that they paid rent for it in 1860, and on the 1st October, 1860, transferred the license to the Kennaways. The Aikman's were the first owners of Mt. Fourpeaks, and I think Le Cren financed them. I doubt if they ever stocked this Clayton run.

The Kennaways were three brothers—Laurence, Walter and John—who came from Devonshire. They owned several stations in partnership with F. W. Delamain in the 'fifties, and I gave some account of them when I wrote about Alford. I do not know who Lee was. Edward Action was the son of an Exeter parson. He came out to the Kennaways in 1855 and was a cadet or overseer with them in Delamain's time. When page 165he left Clayton, he lived at Fordlands, a fine property near Pleasant Point which he bought in partnership with Walter Kennaway.

In his book Crusts, Laurence Kennaway describes the exploration and stocking of Clayton, under the name ' Bracken Hills,' but purposely confuses his account, so that it is impossible to make much of it except that they had rather a rough time there. Apparently they stocked the run in the summer of 1861-62, but the 1862 winter was one of the worst ever known and they lost most of their sheep, so, believing the run to be only fit for summer country, they sold it the following summer to Walker and Clogstoun who had lately bought Fourpeaks.

Walker and Clogstoun soon let both Clayton and Mt. Fourpeaks, with the sheep, to G, A. E. Ross and Charles Harper, but Ross and Harper were ruined by the great snow of 1867, and Walker and Clogstoun had to take the run back. While they belonged to Walker and Clogstoun, the Fourpeaks manager looked after both stations, but worked Clayton more or less as a separate place, with its overseer or head shepherd, and its own flock which was always shorn at home. During the Walkers' ownership of Clayton their managers were T. H. Bellett, Talbot Scott, Geoffrey Potts, and W. R. O'Connell. Their first overseer at Clayton was E. G. Griffiths. In June 1881, Hugh Hamilton, a pioneer Australian squatter, bought Clayton. He left his sons George and Dundas in charge of it. He died in 1900, but the station remained in the family's hands until 1919, when George Hamilton sold it to a syndicate: W. J. and John Dore, George Morris, George Moran and James Lynch. Some members of the syndicate bought others out and in June, 1925, the remaining partners sold the station to Simon Mackenzie, formerly of Raincliff, and part owner of several stations in the Mackenzie Country and in Queensland. Mackenzie bought it for his sons, the present owners. In April, 1938, the Mackenzie brothers bought the Big Forks and Little Forks, across the Phan-page 166tom and Orari rivers, from the Aclands of Mt. Peel.

Almost all the station diaries from 1877 to 1918 are still at Clayton and the Mackenzies have been good enough to let me read them. They are the longest and most interesting series of station diaries I have ever seen, except perhaps the diaries of Robinson's managers at Cheviot Hills; it is hard to summarise them all but I will give some notes from them.

As early as 1877 a good deal of freehold had been bought out of the run, including Meikleburn; and the owners already had trouble at Clayton with footrot. Fourpeaks was always a bad place for footrot in merino days, and the Clayton sheep probably got it from there.

In those days the wool was carted to Albury by bullock wagon at 5/6 a bale—back loading 25/-a ton. Clayton was an ' open shed,' that is, the shearers were not engaged beforehand, but turned up and took their chance of a pen on the advertised starting day. The cook fed the men by contract at 10/6 a man a week. Shepherds' wages were £60 a year, and the other hands got less.

When the Hamiltons bought the station in 1881 they took delivery of about 19,000 sheep, including 7,600 ewes. (They afterwards carried up to 30,000 sheep.) They took over Walker's head shepherd, a man named Davidson, who stayed till 1884 when he left to manage Meikleburn.

From their earliest time at Clayton the Hamiltons shore the dry sheep in early summer and left the ewes until they weaned the lambs in February, a practice unknown on the other stations in those parts for years afterwards. They were anxious about rabbits from the first, though there were not many at Clayton then. There is a prescription for poisoning them with arsenic and carrots in the 1881 diary. Hares were first seen on Clayton in July, 1883, though John Rutherford had a pack of harriers at Opawa, and Melville Gray one of beagles at Ashwick, before this. Wild pigs and keas were a great nuisance for many years.

In June, 1884, John Farquhar came as head shepherd at £80 a year. He afterwards became manager and page 167stayed with the Hamiltons until they sold the station in 1919. In 1884 they began using Border-Leicester rams on some of the ewes, and from the first they did a great deal of tree-planting and fencing, and grew turnips. In those days the contract price for erecting wire fences was £8 a mile. Breaking up tussock land cost 6/6 an acre, and harrowing l0d. As late as the spring of 1885 there seem to have been as many pigs at Clayton as rabbits. The rabbiter had killed 100 rabbits, 60 pigs and 3 keas during the winter.

By 1886 the run was pretty well fenced and the diary no longer records the large mobs of strangers brought into the yards at every muster. In 1886 there is mention of ' raddling ' (and not paying for) badly shorn sheep. I think by the 'nineties the shearers had managed to get this custom abolished. 1886 was also the last year that Clayton used bullocks for wool carting. By the way, in 1883 one of the wagons stuck in the Opuha river and it took 18 bullocks to pull it out.

The winter of the year 1887 was a bad one for snow, and remarkable because it was followed by another winter as bad or worse. The '87 snow fell late and caught the ewes lambing. Near two feet fell on October 1st. At Clayton the men were snow-raking for a fortnight, and skinning and plucking dead sheep until November. The diary does not say how many sheep they lost, but the sheep cut a pound less wool a head than the year before, and there were only 30 per cent, of lambs.

The 1888 snow began on July 26th and lasted well into September. This was a particularly bad snow year in the Mackenzie Country, but the loss at Clayton was chiefly in the wethers. The ewes lambed 70 per cent, after it, and the Hamiltons managed to fatten several hundred cull merino wethers for the freezing works in the summer. The keas gave more trouble this year than usual.

In 1889 nearly a third of the ewes were put to Border-Leicester rams. The Hamiltons had only tried the experiment in a small way before. There is also mention in the diary this year of ' smearing ' the hoggets. page 168Smearing was an old Scotch practice and was done by parting the wool and rubbing a mixture (of grease and tar, I think) into the skin. It was said to make the fleece soft and weatherproof, but the practice died out even in Scotland when dipping became general, and this is the only time I have heard of smearing in New Zealand.

During the spring and winter of 1889 the rabbiter killed 140 rabbits, 27 pigs and 12 keas. He also let his gun off accidentally and blew the top off his little finger. During the late 'eighties and onwards most stations kept large rabbit packs—lurchers, spaniels, terriers, and sometimes a retriever. The 1903 diary remarks ' feeding 19 rabbit dogs. It takes a sheep and a half to go round. Feeding them three times a week requires, say, five sheep.'

All through the 'nineties the Hamiltons bred more and more halfbred lambs, and during the late 'nineties tried inbred halfbred rams for a year or two but gave them up, and until about 1914 about two-thirds of the flock were still merinos. After 1914 they gave up breeding merinos altogether and went in for Corriedales.

The 1895 winter was the worst we ever had in Canterbury. Snow fell in the middle of April but did not last long, but afterwards fell or lay continuously from the middle of May till the end of August. It was deepest on July 10th, when there were two feet four, inches on the Clayton lawn. On July 27th the men were given ' a few days' spell after 28 days' incessant work.' There were eight shepherds out on the hills and six men making tracks and feeding sheep with hay at the station. Skinning and plucking dead wool went on till the end of October and it took months to put the fences in order. Snow fell on twelve days, and altogether to six feet six and a half inches. The Hamiltons lost half their flock. After this year they always bought turnips and wintered their hoggets down country.

The 1903 winter was another bad one. July 11th ' woke to find it snowing; 12 inches at 8 o'clock, 15 atc page 16910 o'clock, 20 inches at 12 o'clock, 24 inches at 2 o'clock, after which it did not increase.' On the 12th it snowed ' more or less all day but did not lie much. Greatest depth 2 feet 2 inches. Hear there was 2 feet at Fairlie and…. 4 or 5 inches at Timaru.' They put on six extra shepherds at once and had twenty men out snow-raking. It took six draught horses to pull the snow plough. However this winter only cost them about 2000 sheep.

The next bad winter was in 1908. Snow fell on July 7th, and two feet five inches fell on the 10th, when there was a good thaw, but there was another fall of seven inches on the 15th. The Hamiltons had twenty-eight men snow-raking, and the sheep were pretty safe by the end of the month. They sent a great many down country to feed.

In 1917 some of the best of Clayton was taken for closer settlement and the Hamiltons sold over 14,000 sheep by auction at the station, keeping 15,000 for the country that was left.

There was a bad snowstorm in 1918. Near three feet fell on July 1st. The sunny faces were clear by the end of the month, but the men were snow-raking until the middle of August.

I have described the snowstorms at Clayton in some detail, not because they have been any worse there than at the other hill stations in Canterbury, but because it is difficult to get reliable accounts of past storms, and the record may be useful. Clayton is probably safer than most country which is equally high.

All the same, until the Hamiltons bought it, Clayton was an unlucky station. In 1862 winter knocked out the Kennaways; the 1867 winter ruined Ross and Harper; and Walker and Clogstoun did no good with the station. But the Hamiltons were exceptionally competent people with money behind them, and did very well, as have the owners ever since their time. I remember Clayton well in the 'nineties and it seemed better cared for than most stations in those days—a neat homestead, well planted, good fences and good sheep. The Hamiltons were said to be strict masters page 170but their station hands must have liked their ways. On few stations did the men stay so long. Besides Farquhar, who was there for thirty-five years, the diaries show that the same men, both permanent and seasonal hands, were there year after year. Rowe, the gardener, came in the 'eighties and stayed till the end. Other old hands were W. Wood, the Davidsons, the Bains, Hornblow, Lilly, Archie McPhee (' the boar slayer ' as he liked to be called)—he was a famous pig hunter—Pigott, a cadet at first and afterwards the handiest of men at all difficult jobs, Dopping who classed the wool, Crea sometimes a classer but more often a general hand, Hammond, and Acland (or Akland or Ackland—the diary spells his name all three ways), and many others, came back or stayed on, year after year.

I gave some account of Walker and Clogstoun when I wrote about Fourpeaks, and of Ross and Harper when I wrote of Waireka. Dundas Hamilton died many years ago in Africa. George Hamilton, who managed Clayton most of the time it belonged to his family, still lives at Rozelle, his house near Orari.

I think there is no doubt that the Kennaways named Clayton, but never heard what they named it after, and never thought of asking while anyone was still living who was likely to know.