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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)


Although Samuel Butler, the centenary of whose birth falls this year, lived for barely five years in New Zealand, we are justified in claiming him as one of our great fellow-colonists. He was a pioneer for the short period he spent in the South Island; he took up a wild block of sheep country in the interior of Canterbury and became a hard-working pastoralist, living the roughest of lives in a far-back region. That part of his career was a strange contrast to his literary and artistic activities in England in his later life. But it was New Zealand that made him famous, or rather gave him something of the inspiration and all of the dramatic setting for his great romance “Erewhon.”

Samuel Butler (Born 4th December, 1835; died 18th June, 1902).

Samuel Butler
(Born 4th December, 1835; died 18th June, 1902).

Far up the valley of the snow-fed Rangitata River, growling down in many streams over its two-mile wide shingle bed, is the historic sheep station which the young litterateur turned squatter named Mesopotamia long before the world of letters discovered in him a genius; and rising broken range beyond range to the ultimate peaks of the Southern Alps is the mighty anteroom of “Erewhon.” Samuel Butler did not come to this Canterbury tussock land seeking “local colour” for a romance. He came prepared to make his living as a sheep-farmer; he toiled in that part to such effect that he made money and sold out well after only four years of pastoral effort, in which he took a hand in everything, from bullock-team driving to shearing and dipping, with intervals of exploring the back country for new sheep land. The wonder and enchantment of those lonely places, the solitudes full of promise and menace, the strange glory and the perils of Alpland became part of him. The landscape, the sights and sounds of the high country, gave him delight and naturally and without strained search influenced his thoughts and writings.