The Great Snow Storm – 29th July 1867

On the 29th July 1867, what started as a south wester turned into one of the worst snow storms to hit Canterbury.  Nothing of this magnitude had even been recorded down in Maori history or memory of the region.

Lady Barker and her husband Fredrick Broome were the owners of ‘Broomielaw’, a mid Canterbury farm today known as ‘Seventon’ in Whitecliffs.  As the storm hit at the beginning of lambing season, the pair lost 90% of their new lambs and 50% of their adult sheep also perished in the snow and floods.  Like many others farmers, here and further south, they were forced to cut their losses and sell out.  The newspapers, soon after the storm subsided, predicted that over half a million hoof-stock were killed.

Here are some outtakes from letters home to England from Lady Barker written during the storm:

30th July – …I woke the next morning, I was not surprised to see the snow falling thick and fast: no sheep were now visible, there was a great silence, and the oppression in the atmosphere had if possible increased…still the consolation was, “Oh, it won’t last; New Zealand snow never does.”

31st July – …the snow covered the ground to a depth of four feet in the shallowest places, and still continued to fall steadily…the fowl house and the pig-styes which stood towards the weather quarter had entirely disappeared…only one door which could be opened was the back kitchen door, as that opened inwards; but here the snow was half-way over the roof

1st August – …I could only peep down the tunnel dug every few hours at the back kitchen door.  My maids now gave way, and sat clasped in each other’s arms all day, crying piteously, and bewailing their fate…’And oh, when do you think we’ll be found, mum?’

The attached photo shows yours truly taking on the much tamer snow storm of 2011 outside the farm of ‘Kirkstyle’ in Coalgate.  Prior to 1906, ‘Kirkstyle’ had been a part of the Deans farm of ‘Homebush’ who were the neighbours of ‘Broomielaw’ in 1867.  Luckily for the Deans, they survived their losses of the winter of 1867 and still farm today.

*Photo taken by Chris Bulovic*
* Text taken from ‘Station Life in New Zealand’ by Lady Barker*

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