MCLEANS ISLAND – Allan McLean (1822 – 1907)

The McLeans brothers seem to be the Scottish version of the Rhodes brothers!The McLeans lived in a small town on the island of Coe in Scotland. Alexander and Mary had 9 children and made their living farming as well as Alexander being a fisherman. Tragically, Alexander would drown in this profession, leaving his family in disarray in 1836.Mary tried to battle on but with a crop failure on their farm so soon after losing Alexander, Mary made a bold move. She packed up and moved with her 5 remaining children to Victoria, Australia.

As Mary’s boys – John, Allan and Robertson – were now teenagers, they went out and looked for work. They became shepherds and amazingly enough, owned two sheep runs by 1848.

In 1851, they sold up and took jobs at the goldfields of Bendago. They made a living as merchants and gold buyers. The following year, the brothers arrived in Lyttelton and became run-holders again.

There’s isn’t much about their lives in Christchurch oddly enough even though their surname is now a suburb – McLeans Island. The two runs they owned in Christchurch were named ‘Ashfield’ and ‘Acheron Bank’ – no address is given except for “being close” to Christchurch. One was sited at Burwood and the other was out at McLeans Island. In those days, there was an island out that way named ‘Kaiapoi Island’, only becoming land locked when modern land-works were done.

The rest of the family joined the brothers, bringing with them 500 sheep. They sold out of their Christchurch properties in 1854, moving to Ashburton and a run they named ‘Lagmhor’. Robertson returned to Scotland at this time and remained there until his early death in 1871.

The McLeans’ moved on again, heading down to Otago, naming their main run ‘Movern Hills’ – at 500 000 acres, it was the largest run in New Zealand at that time. The other Otago-based run was named ‘Redcastle’.

In 1866, Allan and John bought ‘Waikakahi’, near Waimate for sister Alexandrina and her husband George Buckley – as an investment. In 1880, the Buckley’s sell out and Allan decided to make ‘Waikakahi’ his home. He built a fine homestead of 21 bedrooms, had 40 x 4 member horse teams working the land and 69,000 sheep. John remained in Otago at ‘Redcastle’ until his death in 1902.

Known for his plum-coloured suits and his white wagonette, he was considered a little strange but was well liked. He was very charitable, always concerned for those who were seeing hard times. He built a large bunk room at ‘Waikakahi’ for the likes of ‘swaggers’, so they could sleep there when passing through on their aimless wanderings.

Allan’s life was turned upside down when the government forced the Settlements Act on him in 1894. Due to intense need for more land, those who owned large runs were encouraged to sell up – the Act making it compulsory for those who dug their heels in. Heartbroken at losing ‘Waikakahi’, Allan left the Waimate district and never returned.

Legend has it that Allan swept into the England Brothers Architect office in Christchurch, asking to see plans for a house. Showing him a plan for a four bedroom house that was proving popular at that time, Allan exclaimed, “Not 4 rooms, 40 rooms!”

Allan got more than 40 rooms in his new mansion, he got 53. ‘Holly Lea’ was finished in 1900, in Allan’s 78th year. It was the largest wooden house in New Zealand at the time. Allan died there in 1907, leaving the mansion to his housekeeper, Emily Phillips who had been more like a companion. Allan had never married. She moved on in 1913, opening ‘Holly Lea’ to its future as the McLeans Institute. Even after death, Allan’s nature for caring for those who hit hard times still prevailed. According to his wishes, once Emily was done with the place, he wanted ‘Holly Lea’ to become a home for educated, refined women who were dealing with troubled times. It served this purpose until 1955. It has also served as a Rest home and now houses The Christchurch Academy that run courses for those wanting to learn trades such as brick-laying or hairdressing.

Now known as the McLeans Mansion, it can be found at 387 Manchester Street. Closed since the 2010/2011 earthquakes, the place is currently under repair. You just can’t beat those old wooden places 🙂

The McLeans’ grave at Addington Cemetery represents the entire family, whether they are buried there or not. It covers Mary, the mother who died at ‘Waimakariri’ in 1871. Robertson who died in Edinburgh as the young age of 45 also in 1871. The daughters, Mary and Alexandrina both died in Christchurch – in 1875 and 1902 respectively. John died at Redcastle in Oamuru in 1902.

*photo of McLeans Grave taken by Annette Bulovic*
* image of the McLeans Mansion courtesy of*

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