BIRDLING’S FLAT – William Birdling (1822 – 1902)

For the young William Birdling, experiencing the first robbery in Canterbury I’m sure was a life changing experience. He couldn’t quite believe that the man who now pointed a gun at him had just a few days earlier worked along beside him as they shared their stories of their past adventures as young men of a young colony.

William was born in Somerset, England in 1822. Upon arriving in Akaroa in the early 1840’s, William found work at Flea Bay, working for William B. Rhodes who operated a cattle station – Bank Peninsula’s first.

In 1843, a schooner by the name of ‘The Richmond’ sailed into Port Cooper (Lyttelton) carrying quite a few families – mostly Scottish – who had been settled at Port Nicholson (Wellington) since 1840. Quite over the hassles of land and farming problems of the North Island, these families moved down to the Middle Island and the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains. Aboard were William Deans (John Deans was at Homebush, Australia purchasing hoof stock) who settled at Putaringamotu (Riccarton), the Gebbies and Mansons of Gebbies Pass, the Hays and the Sinclairs of Pigeon Bay and the three Greenwood Brothers – the only Englishmen aboard.

The Greenwood brothers settled in Purau, a bay in Port Cooper (Lyttelton) and hired William Birdling and William Prebble (the latter settled in what we now know as Prebbleton) as overseers for their farm.

On the 27th June 1846, at gun point, the two William’s were forced to carry down the material belongings of their employers to a nearby waiting boat by the Blue Gap Gang – Joseph Price, Joseph Davis and George Langlands.
Just days earlier, the three robbers had knocked on the door looking for work. The Greenwoods were able to offer them a few days which was gratefully accepted. As Edward Greenwood was being tied up inside his own home, I’m sure he realised that the men had wanted nothing more than to scope the place for the now happening robbery. To make matters worse for poor Edward was the thought that they had shared freely the locations of other the settlers in the area…their friends the Hays in the neighbouring Pigeon Bay and the Deans on the plains.

Luckily for the Hays and the Deans, word managed to reach them in time and the gang had no more luck with looting those living at Port Cooper. Edward, who had been the only one of his brother’s home that fateful day, was so unsettled by the event that Purau was put on the market.

A buyer came in the shape of George Rhodes – the brother of William’s previous employer William B. Rhodes. Soon, things and fears settled down to those who called Purau home.
William’s wage was £20 a year.

Around the very late 1840’s, William was able to purchase land of his own. He named his property ‘Lake View’ as it over looked Lake Ellesmere.
Known to the Ngai Tahu as Poranui, it had been a popular area for eeling as the eels would actually crawl up the stone beach from Lake Ellesmere to head to the sea for breeding season. Pickings were easy!

As William made cheese for living, his stretch of land was mostly known as The Spit. He would travel from The Spit across Gebbies Pass to a waiting boat at Teddington so his cheese could be taken to market in Lyttelton. As time went on, he turned his hand to stock breeding and was very successful. When he built a fine home for his wife Jane, 7 sons and daughter, he renamed his land Waikoko.

In 1882, the Railway arrived on The Spit, the line coming in from Lincoln. The Railway Station was named Birdling’s Flat. The Post Office that opened the same year also adopted the same name and the area has been known that ever since.

In 1896, William retired and handed Waikoko down to his sons. Jane and he moved to Lansdowne Run (once owned by William Guise Brittan) in Halswell. He died there in 1902.

*image courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/*

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