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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 4, October 1984

Flaxbourne Run No. 17

Flaxbourne Run No. 17

This run was taken up by Charles Clifford and Frederick Aloysius Weld in 1847. It is historically important as the first really large sheep run to be successfully established in New Zealand. It was Run No. 8 on the 1849 list of runs in Marlborough. Its northern boundary was from the sea along the surveyed sections in the Blind River area for about three miles, then for a short distance along the Blind River to its junction with the Tetley Brook and westwards along the latter stream to its source in the Haldon Hills; then over a ridge and down a small stream on the other side to the Flaxbourne River, the junction of which is opposite Dog Hill. Then up the Flaxbourne River for about a mile, then up a stream on the south side of the river and then across the upper catchment of the Needle stream, over a ridge to a stream running south to the Waima (or Ure) River. This stream used to be called Boundary stream but is more recently called the Dunsandel stream. From there the boundary followed the Waima or Ure River to the sea. Eastwards was the sea coast.

So much has been written about the life and times of Clifford and Weld that the story need not be detailed here. As with most of the early sheep runs the holding page 8of sheep on the part of the country that the manager wished to graze for good pasture management was a problem. Timber to build fences was almost non-existent and wire did not arrive in New Zealand in any great quantity until about 1865. Prior to this fences were mainly of the sod ditch and bank variety, but these took time to build and maintenance was also time consuming. We do not know how many miles of ditch and bank fence was erected on Flaxbourne, but the remains of a fence of this description which ran from the south west corner of Lake Grassmere across country to Lake Elterwater is still visible (the distance is 3½ to 4 miles.

In the early years a shepherd was in charge of a flock on various parts of the run. By day they grazed and at night he took them to a fold. These folds were in strategic sites on several parts of Flaxbourne, usually in a low easy saddle in the hills and were constructed of sod ditch and bank with a small sod hut nearby for the shepherd to live in and keep an eye on the flock in case there was an attack by wild dogs which were very troublesome for several years. When fencing did become available Flaxbourne, like many other runs in the Awatere, bought iron standards with holes in them. When these were driven into the ground every 8 or 9 feet they supported the wires. Posts were at much wider intervals.

A story about a bullock wagon load of iron standards and wire relates that, on the way from the Wairau to Flaxbourne, they took a short cut across Lake Grassmere on what appeared to be a dry lake bed. When nearly across they struck a soft spot. There was no hope of getting out with the weight of iron standards and wire so, with night coming on fast and a drizzle of rain, the driver threw off the wire and standards and managed to get the wagon out. He intended to come back the following day and pick up his load. Unfortunately it rained for several days and filled the lake bed and it was months, perhaps years, before it was dry enough to take any sort of vehicle onto it. The salt in the lake ruined all the wire and standards so that they were never recovered.

Many people were employed on the run as it increased its stock-carrying capacity. There were run managers, head shepherds, shepherds, bullock drivers, fencers, cooks, dog catchers, later, after rabbits became a nuisance, large gangs of rabbiters, packman, storekeeper, teamsters and, at shearing time, perhaps another 50 or 60 to run the shed and muster the sheep, etc. Some of the managers were James Laing, George Lovegrove, Herbert Westmacott, Henry Dunstan Vavasour, Walter Lovelace Clifford, Everard A. Wild. Others who served Flaxbourne well were John S. Workman, Tom Caverhill, 'Taff' Assal, Tachall, J. Moran. Tachall's Creek is named after a shepherd who had a hut near the sheep and cattle yards on the "Hummocks", Gulch Road.

In 1854 Flaxbourne lost 3,680 acres in between Lake Grassmere and the surveyed sections near Blind River; it was sold to Alfred Fell who took up Blind River Run in September, 1854 (Run No. 49). Another small area of about 50 acres in the lower Tetley Brook area was conveyed to William Atkinson of Sedgemere in 1871. A further area of about 400 acres was sold to the Crown to go with the Starborough Settlement of 1899. This was between the present Highway 1 and Caseys Road and is at present farmed by Ian Conway.

After negotiating to buy Flaxbourne for closer settlement the Crown compulsorily acquired 45,600 acres for over 181,000 pounds. Four Clifford brothers who, by then, were the main owners of Flaxbourne (Sir Frederick Weld having died in 1891 and Sir Charles Clifford in 1893), exercised their legal right to retain 10,511 acres in what was known as the Cape Block, but which they subsequently sold by public auction in 11 parcels in 1911 and 1912.

The interests in the estate of Sir Frederick Weld were looked after in New Zealand by Sir Christopher Bowen, 'gentleman', and Henry Hamilton Loughnan, solicitor, both of Christchurch.

At the sale of the land of the Cape Campbell bloc in 1912 by Clifford Bros, at public auction, the homestead block of what by then was known as "New Flaxbourne" of 3,072 acres was purchased by the manager of "New Flaxbourne", Everard Aloysius Weld, a son of Sir Frederick Weld.