Donald Ross (1866 – 1904)

Department of Agriculture stock inspector, John Munro and stock agent, Donald Ross emerged from the Rainbow Accommodation House (North of Hanmer Springs) around 9.30am on the 14th February 1904.

The men had made planned to ride out to ‘Tarndale’ Station to meet the owner/manager, Mr. Gordon, to talk business and take care of whatever else the station needed. Tarndale sat on the other side of the Wairau Gorge in the Amuri District so the two men had quite a ride ahead of them.

An hour into their trek, it began to rain and the sky became dark and threatening. The pair decided to pick up speed, hopeful to make it across the Wairau River before it became too flooded. As they journeyed down into the Wairau Gorge, a storm erupted overhead and flash lightning lit up the landscape.

Hunkering down against their horses, John and Ross made it across the river and I’m sure, were pleased to be coming out of the gorge as Tarndale Station was not too far away. John, who was a horse length in front, looked over his shoulder at Donald who gave him a smile, his hat barely keeping the rain from running down his face. This image would be burned (no joke intended) into John Munro’s memory for the rest of his life.

An hour later, confused, out of breath and in pain, John awoke to find himself lying in wet tussock. What happened? He slowly made his way onto his hands and knees and looked around him. Not too far away he saw Donald Ross and Donald’s horse laying on the track. John quickly scrambled to his feet and hurried over, soon realising that Donald and the beast were dead. Donald was 37 years old.

Distressed, John backed his way onto the dead horse where he remained seated for the next 10 minutes. Donald had a red mark on his forehead and his hat had been ripped in two. He must have been hit by lightning!

John finally felt together enough to remount his horse – which luckily was unharmed and had not taken off – and ride on towards Tarndale. Mr. Gordon, who must have been worried by now, was on his way to the Gorge when he met John, a quarter of a mile from the accident site. Hardly believing what he was hearing, the two men rode back to Donald’s body. Mr. Gordon rode back to Tarndale to organise a recovery party, leaving John to watch over his dead colleague.

Due to bad flooding of the Wairau River, the party with Donald’s body didn’t make it back to civilization until 6pm that night. The Culverden police were alerted soon after.

Donald Ross was born in Rosshire, Scotland on the 12th August 1866. There isn’t much on his life in Scotland or how he came to be in New Zealand, but his wife had remained in Scotland. Donald did have a very well known family member who was involved in politics, his Uncle, Sir John MacKenzie. I have attached this link for those curious.

Donald is buried in the Hanmer Springs Cemetery. He was a much loved, respected member of the Amuri District.

*photo take by Annette Bulovic*

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