Life of a pastoral station

Prior to European settlement, there was an abundance of seafood, eels and ducks in the area which was to become the South Island's first and largest pastoral station. However the open country meant Māori were vulnerable to attack.  In the 1830s, there was a battle near the mouth of the Flaxbourne River between Te Rauparaha's Ngāti Toa and Ngāi Tahu, with considerable loss of life.1

Plan of Flaxbourne Settlement, 1905. Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc. Click image to enlarge

Initially Charles Clifford and Frederick Weld leased a huge block of land from Ngāti Toa stretching from Lake GrassmereKapara Te Hau to the Waima/Ure River2 for £24/annum in 1846. Within a short time they had settled as far south as Kēkerengū.3 They began with 3000 merino sheep, bought from New South Wales, and by the 1870s there were 70,000 merino sheep on the station.4

Thomas Arnold described Flaxbourne in Passages in a Wandering Life. He left Wellington on 4 October 1848, in a small cutter navigated by Weld:  "We steered for Cape Campbell.... The station, a wooden building in two wings, with a kind of veranda connecting them, painted white, with stables, sheep-yards, &c., stood about a quarter of a mile from the beach....At that time there were about 12,000 sheep on the run, which was the joint property of Weld and his cousin..Clifford...."5

Flaxbourne homestead group. Standing (L to R) Unknown, J. Conolly, Miss Mien, Mrs Walter Clifford. Sitting L to r E.S. Rutherford, W. Trolove, Bursill, Jean Rutherford, Mrs W. Trolove, Mrs Ballantyne. Sitting on ground L to R E. Weld, J. Greenfield, Mr Ballantyne. Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc
Click image to enlarge
Flaxbourne Estate map as in 1904 Reproduced 1968 and redrawn 1984 for Marlborough Historical Society field trip. Click image to enlarge

Many people were employed at Flaxbourne: run managers, shepherds, fencers, cooks, and later, rabbiters.  Before fencing materials became readily available in the new colony, boundary riders were employed to keep the stock under control and safe from wild dogs.6

The first shearing machines were used in the late 1880s on stations such as Galloway in Otago, and Flaxbourne.7

A pair of silver grey warren rabbits were sent to the Flaxbourne manager and, when Clifford paid a visit to the station in 1881, he commented on the ‘excellence of the rabbit shooting'.8 In the 1880s, Flaxbourne (along with Richmond Brook) bred and released about 800 ferrets a year to combat the rabbits.By the 1890s the rabbit plague on Flaxbourne was severe, with more than 500,000 skins exported from the estate in 1893. It was eventually brought under control but cost thousands of pounds.10

On 16 October 1848 an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.5, centred in the Awatere Valley, shook central New Zealand.11  Weld wrote in his diary: " It threw down our ware..... A succession of minor shocks for two or three days. Large fissures are everywhere seen in the ground and one of them stretched right across the ware at the outstation." 12

Shipping wool from Ward beach - wool was lightered to waiting ships. Image courtesy of Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc
Click image to enlarge

Flaxbourne suffered severely during an earthquake (estimated magnitude 8.2) in January 1855. About 16 new cottages were flattened and a land uplift of two metres closed the little harbour at the Flaxbourne river mouth.13

Members of the court and council working on the Flaxbourne Compensation Case held in Blenheim courthouse, Dec. 1904. Image courtesy of Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc
Click image to enlarge

There was a need for more land as New Zealand's population grew. In 1894, a Lands for Settlement Act was passed by Parliament, which allowed the Crown to compulsorily take estates and award compensation.14 One of the Dominion's most important land law cases resulting from that Act, in 1905, concerned Flaxbourne, which the Government wanted to buy for resettlement.  It was claimed by the owners that the capitalised value of the property should not only be of the actual income earned, but also of the income that might have been earned from the property.  While the official valuation of the property was £112,000, various witnesses claimed it was worth as much as £560,000.15

Flaxbourne show (1923) Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc
Click image to enlarge

The Crown eventually compulsorily acquired 45,600 acres of the estate for more than £181,000. Four Clifford brothers who, by then, were the main owners of Flaxbourne, exercised their legal right to retain 10,511 acres, which they subsequently sold by public auction, in eleven parcels, in 1911 and 1912. The homestead block of, what by then was known as "New Flaxbourne," was purchased in the 1912 public auction by the manager, Everard Aloysius Weld, a son of Sir Frederick Weld.16

Within four years, about 300 people lived there,17 and the area continued to be known as Flaxbourne.  In 1911, when the main trunk railway went through, the town became known as Ward, named after Joseph Ward, Minister of Railways at the time.18


Both Clifford and Weld were elected to New Zealand's first parliament in 1853, and Flaxbourne was just one chapter in their lives.19 Sir Charles Clifford was a Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1854 to 1860, when he returned to England with his family. He died in 1893.20

Sir Frederick Weld relished the challenge of establishing pastoral stations (he was involved with three), but commented in May 1855: 'colonizing, exciting enough in its early struggles becomes very milk & waterish when it resolves itself into merely going certain rounds to visit sheep stations and staying a week in this settlement & a week in that.' He became Minister of Native Affairs in 1860, Prime Minister in 1864, left New Zealand in 1867 and was a colonial governor in Australia for 18 years. Weld died in 1891.21

2013 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Taylor, Jack (compiled by) (2000) Flaxbourne: Its people and their stories. Flaxbourne Settlers' Association, pp.9-10 http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/155394149
  2. Denton, R. (1984) Flaxbourne run no. 17. In the Early sheep runs of Marlborough. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies,1(4), p.8
  3. Jack Taylor, personal communication 16/04/2013; Kekerengu means "black wood bug" common on Manuka in the summer. The place takes it's name from Ngāti Ira chief Te Kekerengu, son of celebrated chieftainess Tamairangi. Kekerengu fell foul of Te Rangihaeata in the early 19th century, and fled to this area. He was later pursued and killed by Te Rangihaeata (NZGB Gazeteer)
  4. Kennington, A.L. (1978) The Awatere: a district and its people. Blenheim, N.Z. : Marlborough County Council, pp.27-30
  5. Arnold, T. (1900). Passages in a Wandering Life. http://www.enzb.auckland.ac.nz/document/?wid=1488
  6. Denton
  7. Williams, D. (2012) Shearing - From blades to shearing machines. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12. http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/shearing/page-2
  8. Kennington, p 189.
  9. Peden, R. (2012) Rabbits - Using predators for control. In  Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rabbits/page-5
  10. Kennington, pp.190-191
  11. McSaveney, E. (2012) Historic earthquakes - The 1848 Marlborough earthquake. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12
  12. Grapes, R. (2000) Marlborough. Just over 150 years of earthquakes. Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 6 (3) p.6
  13. Kennington, p 34.
  14. McLintock, A.H. (ed)(1966) Liberal Land Policy for Closer Settlement, 1891–1911. In An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 23-Apr-09
  15. The Flaxbourne Estate (1905, February 28) Evening Post, p.2
  16. Grapes
  17. McKinnon, M. (2012) Marlborough places - Awatere valley. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12. http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/marlborough-places/page-9
  18. Jack Taylor, personal communication 16/04/2013
  19. Kennington, p.34
  20. Laing, H. (2012) Clifford, Charles - Clifford, Charles. In the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012.
  21. Weld, Frederick Aloysius. In  the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012


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  • I had no idea that New Zealand had wild dogs as mentioned in this article. Where did they come from?
    The first dogs in NZ were brought here by Māori and became extinct in the 1800s. Some interbred with dogs brought by European Settlers.

    Posted by Anne, 06/11/2023 6:47pm (7 months ago)

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