The Early Canterbury Runs: Containing the First, Second and Third (new) Series
The Levels — (Runs 1, 2, and S N.Z.B.; afterwards re-numbered 519, 520, 521, 522 under the Canterbury Regulations)
(Runs 1, 2, and S N.Z.B.; afterwards re-numbered 519, 520, 521, 522 under the Canterbury Regulations)
The Levels was the first station to be taken up in South Canterbury. It was first applied for by Rhodes Brothers, in three runs, of a hundred and fifty-nine thousand acres altogether, on 24th December, 1850. Colonel Campbell subsequently granted them a license to occupy the country. The Rhodes's made several early applications for country in the neighbourhood. In the Lyttelton Times of 30th August, 1851, they applied for all the country between the Opihi and the Makikihi and 15 miles inland.
William Barnard Rhodes, the eldest of these brothers, had come down to Port Cooper (Lyttelton) from Sydney in charge of a whaling ship in 1834, when his shrewd sense made him realise the possibilities of Canterbury. In 1839 he brought cattle down which he turned out at Akaroa. He bought whaling rights on Banks Peninsula, and took up several runs there. Before the arrival of the First Four Ships, W. B. Rhodes had been joined by his two brothers, George and Robert Heaton. There had been a whaling station at Timaru during the 'thirties, and it was from whalinghands who had been employed there that Rhodes had heard of the beautiful open plains in those parts. Owing apparently to confusion as to the localities of the runs in South Canterbury, further application had page 173to be made for the same country on 30th June, 1851. In a letter of 4th June, 1851, John Robert Godley says that Rhodes Brothers had lately taken a mob of sheep to the country south of the Canterbury Block, and in January, 1852, a mob of 7000 sheep from Purau, Ahuriri and Kaituna (the Rhodes's Peninsula stations), was started for their new runs at Timaru. The Rhodes Brothers named the station after the place near Doncaster, where their father lived, but in the earliest days they seem to have called their four Timaru runs by separate names, Mt. Elwyn (which afterwards became the Otipua station), Three Brothers, Tenawai, and Timaru.
The Levels was originally supposed to cover all the country from the Opihi to the Pareora River, and to run back from the sea to the Mackenzie Pass, but a preliminary survey showed that the Rhodes brothers had far more country than they should, so they made over a run of twenty-two thousand five hundred acres to J. King, a relation by marriage of W. B. Rhodes. This became the Otipua Station. The new southern boundary of the Levels ran from the sea at Saltwater Creek in a straight line to the back of Mt. Horrible at Claremont. A subsequent survey further reduced the area of the Levels—the Albury and the Opawa Runs being cut off it.
The Rhodes brothers had 30,000 sheep there as early as 1858. They finally worked the flock up to over 100,000.
George Rhodes looked after the station for himself and his brothers, until his death in 1864. In 1865 it was sold to the Honourable Mathew Holmes, as agent for the Canterbury and Otago Land Association, which was soon afterwards merged in the New Zealand and Australian Land Company.
J. H. C. Sidebottom, who was there in 1855, E. H. Lough, F. W. Stubbs, and Stephen Nosworthy (the father of the former Minister of Agriculture) were among the Rhodes brothers' managers, and J. H. Davison —afterwards at St. Leonard's—was their overseer at the Cave out-station. When the Levels was sold Nos-page 174worthy went to manage St. Leonard's where J. H. Davison succeeded him. As everyone knows it was from the Levels that the notorious Mackenzie took the sheep to the country he discovered and which bears his name. He was traced and run to earth by Sidebottom.
The Rhodes's sent J. Caverhill down from the north " to represent them at the delivery, during which the Wash-dyke race-day happened to fall. Caverhill was very fond of racing, and his excuse that the mustering had unfortunately been delayed, enabled everyone to enjoy the day's sport and go on with the work next day.
The company changed the old brand, a diamond, to HL conjoined (standing for Holmes Levels), which is still the brand of the owner of the homestead.
The Rhodes's had freeholded ten thousand acres of their run, nine thousand of which they retained when they sold. This land lay north of Timaru and was known as the Seadown blocks. The station, as the company took it over, consisted of 1000 acres of freehold and 120,000 acres of leasehold and carried 105,000 sheep. The company afterwards freeholded 86,000 acres, mostly before 1876. From the 'eighties onwards, however, they sold a good deal of land to settlers, so that when the Government bought the property for closer settlement in 1904, it carried only about 75,000 sheep.
W. S. Davison (who died since the 1914-18 War in England, as general manager of the Land Company) was at that time general manager of their Canterbury properties and lived at the Levels, where he was one of the originators of the Corriedale breed of sheep. Donald McLean, afterwards of Strathconnan, was his manager at the Levels until 1876.
From 1876 until the sale in 1904, Charles Newman Orbell managed the station, and then bought the homestead block, which he owned until his death. It has now passed to his son. It carries some 2000 sheep, a large part of which are stud Corriedales and Romneys.
In the old days, after all the runs were fully stocked, but before freezing or even boiling down had been invented, old sheep off the shears were not worth feed-page 175ing, or skinning for their pelts. Cutting their throats took time and the disposal of their carcases was a trouble. An easy way was found at the Levels—5000 of them were said to have been driven over the cliff at Washdyke and drowned in the sea.
The first Levels homestead was on the beach at Timaru just north of where George Street is now. There was also a V-hut at the present homestead by 1851—perhaps earlier. Mrs George Rhodes came as a bride to a wattle and slab hut on the beach in 1854, and soon afterwards moved to the slab and cob hut which is still standing in the Levels garden. George Rhodes built the present Levels house in 1862.