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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1981

Birch Hill Run: No. 2 of 1854 (No. 4 of 1849)

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Birch Hill Run: No. 2 of 1854 (No. 4 of 1849)

George Duppa squalled on this land about 1847 and then applied to the New Zealand Company at Nelson for a licence to depasture stock there. This was granted in 1849, but at first the run only took in the land between the Branch and Wye Rivers. A few years later, after persistent demands, he was granted an extension over what is now the Branch run while 1,190 acres of freehold land was granted to him on the north bank of the Wairau River in front of Mt. Patriach, and 1.460 acres along the south bank of the river in front of the Branch run. As well he was granted 5,700 acres of flat and easy hills in front of Birch Hill run.

George Duppa (1819–1888) was a go-getter. Alfred Cox described him as "Full of enterprise and energy; he had few superiors; he was entertaining and instructive, had a good ear for music and could do anything with his hands.' He had a most determined nature, particularly where his pocket was concerned.

When Duppa first arrived in Wellington in 1840 on the Oriental he brought with him land orders which he had purchased before leaving England. These entitled him to eight town sections and eight hundred acres in the Wellington settlement. He also brought with him two thousand pounds and a considerable amount of farm equipment. As there were delays in purchasing land from the Maoris and also in the surveying he moved to the town of Wellington and erected in Oriental Bay a prefabricated house which he had brought with him and began dealing in livestock. Impatient of the delays in the Wellington area he bought cattle in Australia and shipped them to Nelson where he squatted on land at Allington on the east side of the Wairoa Rivet at Brightwater. He prospered and was soon depasturing stock on any unoccupied land he could find. After long and acrimonious negotiations with the New Zealand Company he was granted 200 acres at Allington and, in addition he was granted depasture rights at Birch Hill in 1849. In 1856 he secured a further 8,000 acres there.

After a visit to the Amuri district in the spring of 1852 he applied for a vast area of land stretching from the Cheviot Hills to the Southern Alps. His repeated applications were declined, but at length he was granted a licence for a part of Lowry Peaks country where he founded the huge St. Leonards station.

Duppa did not stay at Birch Hill for long after this but transferred the depasturage licence to George W. Schroder in 1854, selling the freehold land to Samuel Robinson and Dr Thomas Renwick in 1856. (It is thought C. Robinson was their run manager).

As his fortunes grew Duppa became very unscrupulous. During his occupation of Birch Hill and St Leonards Stations he did not hesitate to improve his own position by evading his obligations. He encouraged his sheep to graze on his neighbours' runs, he avoided paying full annual dues to the Commissioner of Crown Lands by transferring 3,000 sheep from Birch Hill to St. Leonards, and tried to defraud his manager, Robert Ross of wages due to him.

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In 1862 he sold St Leonards for a very large sum and the following year returned to Kent in England where he purchased his ancestral home from a nephew. Here he had a second career as an English squire at the Manor House, Hollingbourne, Kent. In 1871 he married a society beauty said to be thirty-three years his junior. The wedding glittered with diamond ornaments and jewellery of the most costly description. He also served at High Sheriff of the County and was prepared to act as hangman himself rather than delay an execution.

During the time that Robinson and Renwick were in possession of Birch Hill they extended it by taking in the Raglan run which at that time reached up the east bank of the Wairau River as far as the Gorge. In 1867 they transferred the leasehold and conveyed the freehold land to Alfred Warren of Nelson who, in turn, disposed of it in 1873 to George Williams, surgeon, Nelson, and his brother, Henry Davis Williams, whose address at that time was Leefield, Marlborough. After three years George Williams sold his share to his brother, but with low prices for farm products and the inroads of scab disease and rabbits, Henry Davis Williams was soon in difficulties with the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company who put in its own manager and staff in 1880. Williams had no alternative but to sell his interest to the Company the following year.

About the turn of the century the N. Z. Loan and Mercantile Agency Co. formed a subsiduary company, the New Zealand Land Association Ltd, to administer their many farms and sheep runs and this organisation took over the running of Birch Hill. An agreement was reached whereby the Crown took over some of the freehold area, 1,100 acres on the north-west side of the Wairau River and all the freehold land to the west of the Leatham and Branch Rivers, in exchange for 15,148 acres of freehold land to the south-south-east of their run – 13,988 acres of it being already freehold land. At the same time the title to Birch Hill was brought under the Land Transfer Act and was surveyed into several lots with the idea of closer settlement However, in 1906 the Company sold the run to William Melhuish, who sold lots 3 and 5 of 5,786 acres to Albert Earnest Austin, a Blenheim surveyor, in 1910. The remainder of the run was sold the following year so George Henry Andrew.

G. H. Andrew held the run for many years and, in 1955, he took his son, Harold Gordon Andrew, into partnership and retired a few years later. In 1957 they sold 1500 acres near the confluence of the Wye and Wairau Rivers to James Alister Fowler. In 1960 a further 7090 acres along the Wye River to the south of State Highway 63 was sold to Thomas Bruce Fowler.

One of the stories told of Birch Hill is that about the year 1879 the wife of Henry Davis Williams died and her husband ordered a suitably inscribed marble tombstone to be prepared by a stone mason, but, before it arrived at Birch Hill, he had lost control of the run. Upon its arrival among stores on the wagon it was onloaded near the cookhouse where it lay for several years. When the brick oven was being repaired the builder looked round for something suitably flat to make the floor of the oven. His eye fell on the tombstone and in went the marble slab. There grew to be a local legend that page 12bread from this oven had, on the bottom of the loaf, certain words inscribed in raised relief. Therefore the employees in this area, when They want someone to pass the bread, say, "Pass the Dearly Beloved."