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

The Run on the Rangitata

The Run on the Rangitata.

But many long rides over rough country and many nights in the open soon made quite a seasoned colonial of the young settler. He made a trip up the Waimakariri Valley by himself, but found no country there worth taking up.

Then in April, 1860, he and a companion found and selected “a small piece of country” in the valley of the snow-fed Rangitata. In May, seeking more land, they travelled north and went up the Hurunui River to its source and looked down from the dividing range on to the western forests. But there was no suitable land for sheep in that direction, so they returned to the Rangitata and fixed their primitive homestead there.

He was bent on becoming a sheep-farmer, and he became a pioneer in earnest, roughing it in the great lonely land, facing peril often in the crossing of the swift snow-rivers. He bought some more land, adjoining the original selection. He went to Christchurch to procure stores, plough and harrows, all manner of tools and utensils, doors and windows for a hut, seeds, flour, tea, sugar, and all the hundred things necessary in establishing a home in the wilds. He had a bullock-team of six, and a dray, and he turned bullock-driver, with a mate, taking his team through the gorges of the Ashburton and across a roadless land, a long journey with many adventures in the river crossings.

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The run stocked with sheep, Butler became the perfect shepherd, determined to make his fortune. He certainly went about the business thoroughly, and many pages in his “First Year in the Canterbury Settlement” are taken up with a discussion of the problems of sheepfarming and useful hints for new settlers. He grazed and shore sheep for four years and prospered at it.

In a letter to the famous Charles Darwin—whose “Origin of Species” delighted him as soon as he saw it in New Zealand, he said (writing from London in 1865, soon after he returned to England) that he would probably return to the Colony in three or four years. He had sold out his run and stock, thinking that prices were going to fall, which they had since done. In England—what a complete change-about from the toil of a wild-country sheep run!—he turned art student again. It was his old love; it was because his father disapproved of his art studies that he came out to New Zealand in the first place. But the turns and twists of destiny kept him in England and Europe; he never again saw the hills of Banks Peninsula or heard the rushing of the great snow-rivers of the Canterbury Plains.