John Henry Menzies (1839 – 1919)

The wildness of Menzies Bay was equally matched with the man who broke ground there – John Henry Menzies.

Menzies Bay sits between Pigeon Bay and Little Akaloa.  Before the 1820’s there had been a Maori settlement high on its shores but the Ngai Tahu’s Kai Huanga Feud had wiped it from the face of the earth.  Even 5 decades later, bones and other Maori artifacts were still being discovered by those who farmed there.

European life began in 1847 when Alexander McIntosh set up a dairy farm there.  You can imagine the alarm he felt when he learnt that the Canterbury Association had sold the land out from under his feet to a Mr. William Webb in 1850.  As Alexander was an illegal squatter, he really had no rights at all.  Determined to not lose his farm, he managed to get the money together and brought the land back off William Webb.  It was around this time that the term of McIntosh Bay began to be used.

Alexander’s big dream was to be the proud owner of a whaler’s boat so access to neighbouring bays and Lyttelton would be made ten times easier.  He had begun to put aside paper money but got frustrated when it would either be misplaced or find its way into the lit fireplace.  So he swapped to coins as surely, they would be harder to misplace.  He found a perfect tree stump and his savings soon grew.  Poor Alexander though, didn’t count on heavy rains one year and the coins along with the tree stump were washed away with a flood.  He gave up on his dream.

It was 1878 when the bay changed into the ownership of John Henry Menzies.  A farmer from Southland – looking to relocate – had made the journey up north on his own, leaving his wife Frances and their 7 children behind.  He had first seen McIntosh Bay 18 years previous when his emigrant ship had sailed passed on its way to Lyttelton.  In spite of having good letters of introduction, Canterbury failed to open any real doors of opportunity for John so he went south – after purchasing a horse named Bottle – where he established his own farm.  Now wanting a warmer climate, the Menzies family was heading north.

All up, John purchased from the McIntosh’s 1215 hectares and 5000 sheep.  The McIntosh’s also predicted that there was at least another 600 sheep living wild in the surrounding bush.  Successfully rounding up all the sheep in spite of the difficulties, John sold them all and replaced them with Merinos.
He was a man who loved to sing and could be heard throughout the bay as he worked.  He was also known for not wearing much, for hardly resting, for never getting sick, his blunt manner and his amazing wood carvings.  He could hold children’s undivided attention with his story telling and washed every morning by pouring a jug of cold water over his head.  He gave no second thought of heading off for Christchurch on foot, traveling only with a spare shirt, a hair brush, all rolled up in a MacKintosh carried over his shoulder.

The Menzies hadn’t been in the bay long when John started on a homestead to house his large brood.  He named it ‘Glen Mona’ and the place soon became known for its beautiful carvings in its woodwork.  Over 6 feet tall, he used no mallet but relied on his own brute strength to do his beloved hobby.

In 1905, John was offered the ultimate job to design and build St Luke’s Anglican Church at Little Akaloa. His family didn’t see much of him as the project carried him into 1906 but the results are one of the most beautiful, individual character churches on Banks Peninsula.

Tragedy struck the Menzies in 1907 when Glen Mona was destroyed by fire.  Even though Glen Mona had a telephone, in the confusion and panic, John kept dialing his own phone number instead of dialing for help.  In his well-deserved anger, he ripped the phone from the wall and it was one of the few items saved from the blaze.

John rolled up his sleeves the following year and rebuilt Glen Mona.  Sadly, as the house was near completion, Frances died and John no longer wanted to live in Glen Mona or even the bay for that matter.  With his sons now being all grown up, the property happily remained in the family while John retired to Cashmere, Christchurch.

Soon bored with retirement, John found a small farm to buy in Halswell.  Before he died in 1919, the bay had taken on the name of Menzies Bay which I’m sure made him very proud.

For images of St Luke’s Anglican Church, Little Akaloa, please check out http://www.pbase.com/kayjaynz/st_lukes_little_akaloa

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