North Canterbury’s First Sheep/Cattle Farm Established – 1847

Unfortunately for the British-born Greenwood brothers – James, Joseph and Edward – their hard times weren’t to end with them fleeing from their farm at Purau.  Even though it had only been Edward who personally experienced Canterbury’s first ever robbery, none of the three brothers now felt safe on the Peninsula and longed to leave what had become their very own paradise which had been very much spoiled. The fourth brother, Andrew, remained in England.

The Greenwoods had first heard about the South Island from their nearby neighbour, William Deans, while waiting for the New Zealand Company to survey the future city of Wellington, then known as Port Nicholson.  Just as unsatisfied as many others over the lack of usable farm land at Port Nicholson, they took great interest in what Deans had to say about Port Cooper and the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains.

Upon making the permanent move down south in May 1843 (just 3 months after the Deans settled at Riccarton), they chose Purau to make a new start for themselves.  From all accounts, the brothers were doing well – until the Blue Cap Gang robbed them on the evening of 27th June, 1846. This historic robbery was also witnessed by fellow Cantab settlers and Purau employees, William Prebble (remembered in the naming of Prebbleton) and William Birdling (remembered in the naming of Birdlings Flat).

On 9th September 1847, after selling Purau to George Rhodes (who became the first to set up a sheep farm in South Canterbury in 1851), the brothers left on foot – driving a herd of cattle through Maori Valley (Gebbies Pass) and onto the Port Cooper Plains.  They slept under the stars that night and woke up to find their cattle gone.  William Prebble, who was working at Putaringamotu (Riccarton) for the Deans, offered his assistance.  The cattle were soon located and the small party pushed on to head north. They crossed the “WyrMcReddie” (Waimakariri) and took turns watching over the cattle that night.

On 15th September at 3pm, they finally arrived at their new farm.  A house and stockyards had already been built, with a couple hundred sheep already under the care of a farm manager. They decided to call the property ‘Motunau’ after a nearby river. The future was looking bright; the only real trouble being wild dogs and their new horses repeatedly returning to the Deans’ farm from where they had been purchased.

With the expected arrival of the Canterbury Association settlers later in 1850, the year of 1849 was to prove to be an interesting year for those Pre-Adamite farmers.  Tragically for the Greenwood family, both in Canterbury and back in England, it wasn’t going to be an easy year to forget.
Joseph drowned during a short sea trip to Christchurch and James failed to return from a trip to Australia where he was to buy stock and supplies.  It is suspected that he was robbed and murdered.  Heartbroken, Edward leased ‘Motunau’ to John Scott Caverhill and returned to England where he was to die the next year following a short illness.  Caverhill reported of how well managed ‘Motunau’ had been – all 981 sheep, 474 cattle, 40 pigs, 3 horses and the mule being named along with an accompanying personal description of each.

It wouldn’t be until 1867 that the last remaining Greenwood brother sold ‘Motunau’, then a farm of 28,000 sheep.  After years of being subdivided and sold, today, “Motunau” is now a small beach side settlement and a popular holiday spot.

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