Hugh McIlraith (1836 -1904)

Grace McIlraith (nee Lyons) was only 10 years old when she came to stay at Riccarton in 1854. In the company of her parents, they had walked up to the Deans Cottage (which then faced the Avon, just a few metres from a cattle track that we know as Kahu Road today) and was met with a red-eyed Jane Deans, her infant son tightly held in her arms. Grace will never forget the grief that sat in Jane’s eyes as she accepted their condolences with her soft Scottish voice, asking them if they would like to come inside.

Grace was to be Jane’s companion, offering support and company in the view of John Deans’ death just days before. He left his widow with a 10 month old son – Little Johnnie – and two estates (Riccarton and Homebush) to run and safe-keep until Little Johnnie would come of age and inherit everything that his late father and Uncle had fought the Canterbury Association for. As Jane set about making a hot drink for her guests, there was something so proud in how she stood. There was a deep set strength in the very foundation of her and in how she spoke of her late husband and the plans he had for the two farms.

William Lyons, Grace’s father, knew these plans well as John had asked him to be one of the trustees over Riccarton and Homebush after he was gone – assisting Jane with all the business choices that she would face. William had accepted and the Lyons would remain life-long friends of the Deans and the McIlraith’s.

Little Grace would have had no idea that this very sad time at Riccarton was the beginning of the pathway that would lead her to her own husband. She was not to know that when Jane spoke about her half-brothers coming over from Scotland to help her, Grace’s destiny was all set.

20 year old Hugh McIlraith was indeed making plans with one of his brothers – George – to join his grieving sister in New Zealand.
By 1855 George and he were aboard a ship heading to Australia. The pair’s older brother James was set up there and they wanted to see him first. Hugh must have felt like he was coming into his own, he was about to start making his own way in the world and had the best start a man could ask for.

Before the two McIlraith brothers left, they had met with James Deans (Jane’s brother-in-law) at his home and place of business, Kirkstyle. James had made arrangements with his late brothers – John and William – before their deaths that half of Homebush was his – 14,000 acres. He wanted to open a sheep station and he asked Hugh and George to run it for him. James gave Hugh £1500 so the area within Homebush – to become known simply as The Sheep Station – could be stocked with sheep. What a great start for these two young men.

Hugh and George arrived at Lyttelton on the 10th May 1856. Jane writes many years later of the joy they brought into her life with their arrival and how much they had grown up since she had last seen them. During September 1856, the family travelled out to Homebush for a few days, Hugh at last seeing the land where he would open and run James Deans’ Sheep Station. The remainder of Homebush which was under the care of manager ‘Honest John’ Cordy would remain a cattle run.

By 1858 and after the arrival of James McIlraith from Australia, the arrangement between the in-laws over the sheep station began to break down. Poor Jane was caught up in the middle of her warring male kin-men and did her best to keep the peace.

Tragedy was to strike Homebush during this time when George was dragged to his death by his horse. Jane Deans – who was now living in Riccarton House – was greeted by a very out of breath Hugh who had ridden in from Homebush for a doctor. Hugh and the doctor were half way back to Homebush when they were met by a farm-hand who bared the sad news that George had died. I can’t imagine what that moment felt like for Hugh.

In 1859, James McIlraith took over management of Homebush and Hugh made his break from James Deans’ Sheep Station. He took his profits and purchased his own land. It’s around this time that Hugh McIlraith and Grace Lyons marry.
There is not a lot about their courtship but as Grace’s father was one of the Deans’ trustees, the pair had ample opportunity to get to know each other.

Hugh took his new bride to their new farm ‘Culverden Station’, followed by a move to ‘Montrose’ in 1868. In 1877, the McIlraiths’, now a family of 11 move to ‘Broom Park’ in Methven. Unfortunately for Hugh, to be a successful farmer was not in his cards and the family was soon in very bad debt.
Finally facing the facts and wanting the best for the children, Hugh sold Broom Park to his nephew, John Deans II in 1885 (who had inherited Riccarton and Homebush in 1874) who renamed the farm ‘Waimarama’. The farm stayed in the family until 1916.

Along with his farming failures, Hugh was not taken too seriously with his political career either. He was the chairman of the Amuri Road Board and was a Member of Parliament for Cheviot in 1881 till 1884. He was President of the New Zealand and New Brighton Trotting Clubs. His great passion was racing.

Hugh and Grace retired to Riccarton (not Riccarton Farm) and then finally at Opawa. Hugh died in 1904 and Grace followed him in 1926. They are buried, along with three of their daughters and one of their sons at Linwood Cemetery in Christchurch.

Curious about Waimarama:

*photo of McIlraith Grave taken by Annette Bulovic*
*photo of Melrose Station taken by Chris Bulovic*

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5 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    Excellent article, but would just like to point out that “Culverden Station” was not named by the McIllwraith brothers but by its first owner, Henry Young. a son of Sir Samuel Young, 1st Baronet Young of Formosa Place, Berkshire,

    A retired East India Company man, Henry Young arrived in Nelson on the brig “Comet” at the end of 1852, having bought the rights to a huge chunk of the Amuri (250.000 acres) from Edwin Dashwood (later 7th Baronet Dashwood of West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire). Only catch – unscrupulous colonial entrepreneur, George Duppa, was also after it. A race ensued to see who could get the land stocked first and Young won, though he had to concede part of the original holding to Duppa anyway because he couldn’t meet the stocking rates required by his depasturing licence. That piece became Duppa’s “St Leonard’s Station.”

    Henry Young never lived at the run he named “Culverden Station” after
    a home he had formerly owned on Culverden Street in Tunbridge Wells, England. He put in a manager and settled in Nelson and Motueka for several years before selling up all his properties, including the run in the Amuri, and buying another run near Riverton in Southland.

  2. Hi Anne

    Thank you so much for that wonderful history and I have corrected my article. Sometimes sources just don’t agree!

    The day my Husband and I found Montrose Station, we had hoped to find the Culverden one too, but no luck there – is that still a farm today, do you know?

  3. Anne says:

    Hi Annette

    Henry Young is another of those intriguing NZ pioneers who slid in under the radar. I’m in the process of writing up his story at the moment and discovered your article while trying to establish exactly when he sold his Culverden run. Young certainly wasn’t short of a bob or two – local eyes boggled when he arrived in Nelson with two sturdy cash boxes filled with 3000 gold sovereigns – just a bit to tide him over!

    I’m not all that familiar with the historic Amuri runs, so not sure of Culverden Station’s exact geographical position but in the early days it was bordered by the Montrose, St Leonards, Kaiwara and Balmoral estates.

    Under increasing pressure from new immigrants looking for land to farm, the NZ Parliament passed the Lands for Settlement Act in 1894, which gave the government the right to compulsorily acquire the large old estates of the early pioneers and subdivide them into smaller blocks which were then offered to settlers using a ballot system. Several large runs in Marlborough were seized in this way, like the Starborough Estate, which became basis of the settlement of Seddon.

    This is what happened to the Culverden Station in 1908 – it was seized and divided into 29 blocks of varying sizes which were then offered for ballot. As you can imagine, estates seized in this way were sometimes taken against the wishes of the owners, and things didn’t always work out all that well for the new settlers either, some of whom ended up walking off he land with nothing to show for their work.

    You might be interested in this story about the Culverden ballot published in the “Press”

  4. Anne says:

    Hi Annette

    I’ve just tracked down the definitive book on the historic Amuri runs and have found some discrepancies in what I’d read elsewhere. It was Edward Minchin who Henry Young raced to the Amuri, not Duppa, though Duppa did share a boundary with “Culverden”. The early run-holders quite shamelessly tried to pinch the best bits of land off each other! Young and Minchin shared half each of Dashwood’s 250,000 acres and Young’s part encompassed both “Culverden” and “Montrose” stations which were run as one. Young sold both stations to the partnership of Macdonnell, Dodds and Munro in 1858-9 and McIlraiths bought “Culverden” from them. If you’re interested in following up the McIlraith “Culverden” story further you might like to have a read – bound to be held by a Christchurch library.

    Gardner, W.J. “The Amuri: A County History” 1st ed. 1956, 2nd ed 1983.
    Pub. by the Amuri County Council.

  5. Rod Thomson says:

    Hello all

    This research and the comments, especially the details on Henry Young, are much appreciated. I live on the original Culverden station, my grandfather being one of the settlers from the 1908 ballot. Jim Gardner’s book Amuri and also Acland Early Canterbury Runs both have Culverden and Montrose station details. But although Henry Young named the station, it was never clear to me precisely where the name Culverden came from, until recent Net searches revealed the Tunbridge Wells locality. The early station homesteads are now long gone, but were roughly on the site of the current buildings, at the end of Homestead Road, off School Road, to the west of Culverden township. Hugh MacIlraith was a half brother of Jane Deans at Riccarton and like the Deans family, planted trees on a fine scale.

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