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Settlers and Pioneers


The history of Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago is very different from that of the North Island because there were no Maori wars in the South Island to delay the progress of farming. The only spice of adventure, apart from the natural obstacles of wild rivers, was provided by the great gold-seeking rushes in the period 1860-65, first in the bleak and dreary back country of Otago, and then on the forest-covered and wet coast of Wesdand. That Golden Coast was then officially a part of Canterbury. When gold was discovered there the news did not cause much rejoicing in Canterbury. The sheepfarmers and grain growers were content with their steady and uneventful march to prosperity. There were many among them who strongly disapproved of the gold discovery and the diggers. They complained that it was all very unsettling; they did not like the invasion of the country by an army of eager treasure-hunters.

From 1864 onward there came thousands of page 109adventurers from all parts of the world, but chiefly from Australia, and many of these took the overland route through Canterbury. Many of the younger men of Canterbury, too, went off to the treasure coast. It was difficult to keep farm workers contented. Ships in Lyttelton Harbour were sometimes delayed for want of sailors; men deserted and went off over the range to try their fortune on the diggings. However, Canterbury presently found that it was profitable to have so good a market as the hungry West Coast for its mutton and beef.

The perils and adventures of the first sheepfarmers in Canterbury and Otago have been narrated by many of the station-founding families. Sir John Hall, who arrived in Canterbury in 1852, had some narrow escapes from drowning in the snow rivers in his early days as a squatter. He took up a run on the south side of the Rakaia. He tried to establish a permanent means of crossing that wide, strong river and experimented with a large Maori canoe, which he bought at Temuka, and a rope fixed across the river. This came to grief, and Hall decided that it would be better to let some one else be the first actual settler across the Rakaia, and he bought a station and sheep on the north side.

Innumerable mishaps befell those first plucky settlers in an inhospitable country. Many were recorded by Butler in his books. The story of the Mackenzie Plains is well known. The first Mac, who page 110should have been named Rob Roy in tribute to his gift for reiving flocks, was succeeded by many hardy pastoralists who acquired their sheep in a more legitimate way. Better than any book as a memorial of the truly heroic toils of the Mackenzie Country is that beautiful Memorial Church in stone, built in recent times by the Burnett family, which stands at 'Aorangi', near the township of Cave, inland from Timaru on the way to the alpine heart of the Island. This place of stone in the rough, boulders gathered close to its base, is like an ancient Norman keep. It is called St. David's, a place of worship built in memory, primarily of Andrew and Catherine Burnett, and secondarily of all pioneers of the Mackenzie Country. Its shape and its workmanship have been praised by many visitors and especially by craftsmen who marvel at its boulder work. There is a stone of history in the porch; it bears the legend: 'This porch is erected to the Glory of God and in memory of the Sheepmen, Shepherds, Bullockdrivers, Shearers and Station-hands, who pioneered the back country of this Province between the years 1855 and 1895.' Another inscription is in memory of the noble women of the pioneer families, the women 'who through Arctic winters and in the wilderness maintained their homes and kept the faith.' And there is the remembrance of Andrew and Catherine Burnett 'who took up the Mount Cook sheep run, May, 1864, and in the wilderness founded a home.' No other church in page 111New Zealand is like this square-towered sanctuary, built of the rock of the country, or holds such heart-touching memories.