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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - Farming and the Purchase of Brooklands - Chapter VI


The purchase and development of the Halfway Bush property, first as a home and then as a farm, are detailed in reminiscences of 1870:—

Hearing of a much better empty house about two miles out of town at a place called "The Halfway Bush," I walked out one day with the owner to see it, and although inconveniently too far off I rented it from him for a year, to which place we soon removed, all the family and traps, and there we still remain ; eventually we purchased it, including 10 acres of sub. land for £200. Afterwards we purchased the adjoining 10 acres from Mr. Mosley for £60, making it one block. Having brought with me from home a N.Z. Company’s choice for 10 acres of sub. land, I selected a section fully a mile distant from the house, which I resold many years after to the (first) Waterworks Company for £200. [Apparently part of the Ross Creek Reservoir Reserve.] At one period the Provincial Government advertised all the remaining unsold sub. sections at the low price of 10s. per acre or £5 per section. Fortunately I was advised and persuaded to take up those near to myself which I did, viz., 8 sections or 80 acres.

My second son, James, not long after our getting settled at the Halfway Bush, had the offer of a situation as shepherd to Mr. Lees, West Taieri, which he accepted. He was sent to an outside station fully two miles from the master’s where he cooked for himself and slept alone. There he continued two years and gave satisfaction. Then he made a fresh engagement with Mr. C. Kettle to keep his sheep on the opposite side of the Taieri Plain at the Kaihiku, with whom he remained one and a half or two years. [Reminiscences, 1870.]

April 13th, 1857.

Our harvest is all over two weeks ago. We had a very good crop, averaging about 40 bushels per acre, both wheat and oats, and we never had finer harvest weather. James came home from his shepherding in January last, and has remained with us since, but he and George were occasionally speaking of the necessity of going to look for another place for themselves and their cattle. Our united stock now numbers about 60 head, which is a third more than we have a legal right to run in this district, so they had made up their minds to start for the south immediately after harvest—that was two weeks ago.

However a few days before then a gentleman called at our store in town just to do a little business on his return from the southerd, where he had been seeing a sheeprun of from five to ten miles square, which he had just got. I simply asked him if he had sold his estate in the north yet, which had been advertised in our newspapers for a few weeks, and which you will see by looking at the papers for March, lately sent you, under the title of "Estate of Brooklands." He said "No, not yet; would I be a purchaser?" After a very short conversation I promised to think of it, and would give him an answer next day. Next day I kept my word and made him a verbal offer for all the lands, buildings, and fencing thereon, providing everything met with our approval on inspection. Accordingly we agreed to start for Brooklands on the following Tuesday, distance 44 miles to the north of this over the mountains.

The day fixed was fine, so James, George, and I, together with the gentleman, all set off about 8 o’clock, but we only had two horses, so had to ride and tie in the old Scotch style. We all reached the place by 6 o’clock evening, quite ready for our tea. Next morning the gentleman and I saddled our horses and rode over all the ground, while the boys and the son traversed the bush to inspect all the cut fencing, etc. We all returned by 12 o’clock, and all expressed fully satisfied with everything about the place. We there and then exchanged missives, after which we had dinner. That being done, we proceeded to take an inventory of all the movables outside, consisting of a dray, two ploughs, one grub plough, harrows, fanners, grinding stone, wheat steel mill, etc., etc., some household furniture, all the wheat in stack (about 200 bushels), half an acre of potatoes, and one riding horse. The price of everything was left to myself, and by 5 o’clock all was settled without a word. I agreed to let the family remain in the house for the winter months, while they agreed to let us have the use of their bullocks free so long as they were unremoved. It was further agreed that the boys take possession next morning and proceed to work; it was further agreed that the old gentleman and I should return to Dunedin next day (Thursday), which we did, reaching home by 5 o’clock. Next morning we gave in our agreement to an attorney, and by Saturday night at five I had the titles complete in my pocket, and he had satisfactory documents for the full price thereof.

I have thus been minute in detailing all my movements in this affair to show you how we can do business here, that is to say, that in one short week we completed the purchase of an heritable estate of 500 acres, together with all the buildings erected thereon, and movables, etc., upwards of 40 miles distance. It was rather a stunner to some of the town inhabitants and afforded a little gossip, and some speculation about my intentions.

From the enclosed sketch you can form some idea of its appearance, situated on the banks of the Pleasant River, from the windings of which you may fancy the flatness of the land. Three hundred acres stretching along the banks is as level as the floor and quite dry ; with very little trouble the plough could run all the length. The river forms a natural fence along the whole length, the channel being very deep. The soil is deep alluvial, fit for wheat for many years to come. The narrow part of the triangle contains about 50 acres of heavy bush, which adds greatly to the value of the property, out of which bush the first proprietor cut 8,000 posts and rails for fencing, all of which we get. There is already 50 acres fenced in, in three fields or paddocks as they are called here; also one acre to the left of the house close fenced for a garden; also a large strong stockyard and piggery.

There is also a very good dwelling house, weather boarded and lined, consisting of three rooms below and four small bedrooms above. There is also a very good clay house at a little distance for the men servants. Indeed a very great deal of work has been done during the last two years, the proprietor fancying it to be a homestead for him and his family. His name is Mr. William Dalrymple, late merchant in Cupar Angus, and commission agent for Robert Hutchinson and Co., Kirkaldy. We had done a little business with him before in purchasing goods he had brought out. He is a thorough business man and lang-heided. This farm was considered a first-rate choice. He being in favour with the surveyors was directed to it, but now wishing to become a sheepfarmer he goes and sells it; so much for men’s changeable nature! I have not seen any place superior to it since coming to New Zealand.

But I am afraid I have written too much about this affair. You will be tired reading it. I will now leave it to the boys to write you their own account of it. I may merely mention that it is wholly intended for James and George, whose names are embodied in the title, and by next year will both have a vote for an M.P. We would have lived long enough in Scotland before I could have placed them in such a farm of their own. We are very happy in getting a place for them so near us, only one day’s journey. Had they gone to the south it might have been three times as far. We only now want men and money to carry it on to advantage. Suppose George Sinclair and his wife would come out and take charge of the cattle and milking they would get £60 to £70 per annum with double rations. William will be rather surprised when he returns and finds the boys both from the home.

Since William left this the Provincial Government has sent home a Mr. James Adam as Agent to bring out as many people as he can get, either friends of the present settlers or labourers and mechanics and servants. When you hear of him being in Kirkaldy, I would like you to see him. He is a personal friend of ours; was a member of the Provincial Council, and one of our elders. You will find him an independent character, but will be ready to answer all your queries.

June 4th, 1857.

I have little additional to say about the boys here, viz., about James and George, but they have now left the house and are located on their new estate. After spending the first two or three weeks on it, that I formerly mentioned, they came home and remained about three weeks plowing our land for the next crop and finishing up some things. They again left us, taking away all the cattle—63 head, and of course not all mine—in one mob, only leaving us three milk cows. For several days before starting they were employed daily gathering in the dry cattle, which had wandered over the mountains and in the gullies for ten miles distant. At last the whole were brought into our stockyard and were counted out that morning they left, so they made a goodly appearance when they left the Halfway Bush.

We were both grieved and glad when we saw them depart. Mother remarked with tears in her eyes that they were better off than Jacob was when he left his father’s house. Well, with the assistance of only one young man, they managed to drive the whole herd all the distance without losing a single beast, and the road—or rather no road—is not like the home country, but over high mountains and along ridges so narrow that in some places only one can pass at a time. [The old Maori track over the crest of the Flagstaff range was the usual route to Waikouaiti until the main road and Cobb’s coaches ended this uncertainty of travel in the ‘sixties.] About half way they slept a few hours on the hills in their blankets. Next day they reached their destination in safety about 5 o’clock. Since then we have had a visit from George (on his horse Lion) in order to get all their things packed up and shipped off by vessel round to Waikouaiti, about ten miles from them, to which they have a good level road, which things have all gone in safety and George off again, so we are now left with a great blank in the house, only we have got back Sandy Dickson who, with David, are jobbing away at leisure keeping the place in order. We have no servants just now, but we have much need of one. We offered £20 for a servant by the last ship, but did not get her; she got £2 per month from someone else.

We are living in hopes that William will bring somebody to help us. We have had to keep Jessie at home from the school this quarter to assist, but Rachel is still attending the Misses Dods’ day-boarding school, and Andrew goes daily into Dunedin to the High School, where he is making wonderful progress, though slow but sure. He is getting writing, arithmetic, grammar, and geography, and is pretty often at the top of his class. Now, without any intention when I began, I have written you a pretty detail of what is going on at the Halfway Bush.

October 30th, 1857.

I wrote in May last with a detailed account of a new place I bought for James and George called Brooklands, which letter I presume you will have opened, seeing it was from New Zealand, and that you will now be in possession of all the particulars. It is now six months since they left us, and I am happy to inform you of their welfare and of their succeeding well so far as they have gone. They have ploughed up an additional ten acres of new land (George is ploughman) with a team of eight bullocks and a driver carrying a whip 15 feet long. Their cattle are all doing well. They (James and George) and another young man live together in the bachelor style, but would be all the better of a housekeeper. About three weeks ago Sarah went to see them and to put their house somewhat in order. She went by sea, a voyage which can be accomplished in five or six hours, but it came on a storm just at sailing, so after beating about five hours on the river [The whalers’ name for Otago Harbour.] had to take shelter at Port Chalmers for two nights until the wind changed. Still she had a rough passage, but reached in safety. The boys came to meet her at the beach ten miles with their dray. After staying with them three weeks James and she came home over the mountains on horseback only last Saturday. That road is both wild and romantic, and it is rather an event for a young lady. They were 13 hours on the road, but reached in safety.

January 29th, 1861.

About ten days ago, being slack, Uncle James and I proposed a jaunt to Brooklands, he never having seen it and I not for nearly two years; rather I should say Uncle consented to go if I would go with him—agreed. The day was more than ordinarily fine and hot. The Geelong steamer sailed at 12 noon (only a three hours’ sail to Waikouaiti). Off we set, but no sooner were we outside the Heads than we encountered a heavy sea, reached the landing place by 3 o’clock, but landing was impossible, the sea and surf being so heavy. There we lay and rolled all night, until next morning at 6 o’clock the Maoris came off for us in small boats. We were all safely landed on the beach, five miles off from the nearest accommodation house, which we had to walk to before getting breakfast. This we partook of heartily. Then there was nothing for it but walk another five miles to Brookiands. They knew nothing of our coming, or they would have had the horses there for us. By the by, little Andrew was with us too. However, we tramped and took them by surprise just as they were at dinner (after cutting among the wheat all forenoon). Rested ourselves all afternoon. Next day we kept walking about the whole day over all the farm, and in through the thick bush and neighbourhood. Uncle seemed much pleased with everything he saw. Their crops are excellent, and the improvements of fencing are first-class. Besides they are building a new barn of stone and lime 4Oft. by 20. The fine stone and limestone they get plenty of at the back of the house; burn their own lime, and drive the driving. Masons’ wages, however, 10s. per day and keep, so it will cost something; but they could not do without. The following morning I left Uncle behind and set off for Dunedin, Andrew accompanying me the first five miles with a horse; then he took it back, and I walked on to the beach and got a passage back on the same steamer. Reached home about 6 o’clock and found all well.

(The two youths remained happily together for several years. George, poor man, caught a heavy cold which sat down on his chest and ultimately cut him off, aged 24 years. David, our fourth son, next joined James in the farm. It unfortunately happened one day that they were delivering some fat sheep to the butcher from the yards. One sheep broke off from the rest. David, poor fellow, jumped on his horse, which was standing close by, with a view to help the man away with his lot. The single sheep was fixed on by the strange dog and came among the horse’s feet on which David rode, causing the horse to fall and roll over David, thereby crushing him internally so severely that he never spoke after it. He was carried into the house; a doctor was speedily got, who did all he could for him. We received a telegram. Mother went off that night; she saw him still breathing but insensible. He died before I reached by next morning’s coach. Aged 29 and much regretted.) [Reminiscences, 1870.]

June, 1858.

We have just finished the threshing of our oats at "Wakari" by a threshing machine which cost us 50s. per day. This year we had ten acres of oats, the first crop off our new 10s. per acre open land. It got three furs, lay fallow one year, off which we have 450 bushels oats (at 5s. per bushel), beside a great lot of fine straw, one half of which I sold for £12 on the spot. The oats I have shipped to Melbourne on my own account of risk, expecting to realise even better return. (The Strathfieldsay is loading oats for Melbourne.) Sold our stock of clover hay for £11, but our potatoes have been a very light crop this season from the drought. Prices are £10 per ton of 20.


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