He broke all the rules and still prospered.
George was born in the Isle of Man, England in 1812. In 1830, he followed friend Robert Quayle Kermode home to Tasmania, Australia. The pair settled on Robert’s father’s property of ‘Mona Vale’ and there became farming cadets. Nine years later, George married Anne Kermode, Robert’s sister.
In spite of being in a ‘loveless’ marriage, four children were born before George and Anne parted ways. George sailed for Lyttelton in 1853 without his wife as she refused to live in New Zealand. George was fine with that as long as one of his daughters (Annie) accompanied him.
Robert and he had heard good things about the Canterbury settlement so they wanted to look at the land and begin a business together. It didn’t take long for George to choose 40,000 acres of North Canterbury land. Kermode and Co was now a reality as his son William and Robert joined him in Waipara.
The new company started off on a great foot. The discovery of Moa bones in 1853 was a great find. This was the beginning of the Canterbury Museum and its collection which was in the care of its founder, Julius von Haast.
By 1855, the main station owned by the partners was ‘Glenmark’ and was stocked with 6000 Merino sheep. By 1864, this number had increased to 64, 000. Small fry compared to the 90,000 sheep Glenmark would eventually have in its care.
The hard-heartedness of George reached the papers in 1860. A swagman (an old Australian and New Zealand term describing an underclass of transient temporary workers, who travelled by foot from farm to farm) – knocked on his door seeking shelter on what was a stormy night. He was turned away so the swagman shot himself out in front of the mansion.
George saw in 1870 by being the only surviving partner in ‘Glenmark’. This did not stop the station’s further success at all. In 1888, a huge mansion was built on what was now 150,000 acres. The fact that the mansion had no back door stands in testament of his distrust of those around him. He was considered a ‘…hard employer and bad neighbour…” by all.
Large landowners all shared the same fear around this era of farming. George, like many others, leased his land off the crown and every year increased what he could turn into freehold. This meant that if another party took interest in the land that was leased and not yet freehold, they could buy the land from right under the lease holder’s feet. George knew how to keep prospective purchasers away…he never washed his sheep so his whole estate – freehold and leased – was infected with scab. Continually fined for this, George didn’t care and earned the nickname of ‘Scabby Moore’.
All through this, Annie, George’s only surviving daughter, was still living with him at Glenmark, effectively trapped. She was her father’s companion and house keeper until blindness finally overtook the sheep baron. She literally snuck out of the mansion. She was married in secret and sadly her new husband died a few years later.
Some could say George finally got what was coming to him when the mansion burnt down (pictured) around him in 1890.
It seemed the pair held no real hard feelings towards each other in spite of their history. When George died in 1905, he left Annie a million pounds which in turn made her the richest women in Christchurch at that time. Annie had a church built – St Paul’s – on the grounds of Glenmark in memory of her father in 1911.
The same year of George’s death, Annie Townsend, as she was now known, purchased a property on Fendalton Ave by the name of ‘Karewa’. She renamed it ‘Mona Vale’, after her mother’s childhood home in Tasmania. Annie had the Gatehouse and Bathhouse built during her ownership. As Mona Vale had once been the gardens of the Riccarton Mill (moved to Wise Street, Addington in the early 1890’s and is now the site of Chch Girls High), the grounds were something to behold. The gardens remain popular along with its buildings, even today.
Annie died in 1914.
*image of Glenmark courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library”
Glenmark Station, Waipara. Ref: 1/2-127240-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/
*photo of the Glenmark Mansion ruins by Chris Bulovic*