TAI TAPU – William Barnard Rhodes (1807 – 1878)

The view of Waitaha (Canterbury Plains) from the top of the Te Poho o Tamatea (Port Hills) in the late 1830’s wouldn’t be hard to imagine – swamp, grass, cabbage trees, flax and Toi Toi.
Was it a place where a future could begin for someone not afraid of hard work? William Barnard Rhodes (pictured) thought so as he stared not only over the Plains but also over the Peninsula where he stood.

William sailed out of Port Victoria (Lyttelton) – soon to be renamed Port Cooper – a few days later with Banks Peninsula never far from his thoughts.

He was back less than 2 years later, sailing into Akaroa Harbour with a ship full of sheep that were forced overboard so they would swim ashore. This was the humble beginnings of the Rhodes family in Canterbury.

Before the First Four Ships in 1850, William, who was now settled in Wellington, and his two younger brothers (George and Robert) were substantial landowners. George and Robert had taken over William’s interests on the Peninsula which now included Purau, Mt Herbert, Kaituna and Ahuriri.

One of the most well known managers that the Rhodes hired for Ahuriri was Edward Dobson, the brother of Arthur Dobson from the Arthur’s Pass fame.

In 1875, the Ahuriri Run – 4047 hectares – which had been nothing much more than a grazing area for Purau, was subdivided and sold off by the brothers. As they had surveyed the main roads and erected the first of the buildings, they made the suggestion of calling the new settlement ‘Epworth’ after a town in England they knew well. The name didn’t stick but the original Maori name came back into fashion.
Taitapu or Tai Tapu as we know it today.

Meaning ‘Sacred Water/Tides’ because of the nearby Heathcote River, it was home to the Maori tribe of Ngati Koreha Hapu and its Pa.
It was sacked during the 1830’s along with Kaiapoi, Kaikoura, and Onawe when Te Rauparaha and the Ngati Toa swept with deadly force across Waitaha (Canterbury).
Ngati Koreha Hapu tribe member, Wi Te Paa, and his wife Hera did manage to get a little of their own back when Hera successfully wooed one of the Ngati Toa warriors into a trap. While Hera distracted this unaware romeo, Wi Te Paa smashed his head with a rock until he was dead. Then they ate him!

Apart from the Rhodes grazing their sheep at Ahuriri, other Europeans began to settle at Tai Tapu around 1855. One of these farms belonged to Frank Guinness. The ground was so boggy that he had to drain the land before he placed cattle on it otherwise the poor creatures would just sink.

That farm passed through many hands and was known by many names but in 1921, it was Horseshoe Farm. It was brought in what would have been a sweet moment by Sir Heaton Rhodes, the son of Robert Rhodes, nephew of William Barnard Rhodes.

Back in 1893, Heaton had purchased back 1860 hectares of the original Rhodes land that had been sold 18 years earlier. He built a beautiful estate that still graces Tai Tapu today – Otahuna. As he had been born at Purau, he felt he had finally come home.

When he made the further purchase of Horseshoe Farm, he gifted it back to the people, now known as Rhodes Memorial Park. It is still in use today.

The main income for Tai Tapu in its heyday was the Taitapu Dairy Company. This was the first company in New Zealand to send butter overseas.

In 1888, the manager of the dairy was James Johnston who had settled in Canterbury before the first four ships arrived. He had been the first commercial carpenter in the area, helping to build the Lyttelton Immigration Barracks, the first jetty, Riccarton House (Stage 1 – 1856) and the first buildings of Christ College. I guess he had a change of career.

In 1943, the Taitapu Dairy Company merged with the Central Dairy Company situated on Moorhouse Ave. The first director of the Central Dairy had been John Deans II. This company would go onto make the trademark Fernleaf Butter.

The photo is of William Barnard Rhodes and his first wife Sarah King. The little girl is William’s only child and daughter – Mary Ann – he had with a Maori woman in Wellington in 1850. Believe it or not, Mary Ann was gifted to the newlyweds!

Mary Ann was a much loved part of the family though, even to William’s next wife, Sarah Moorhouse – the sister of William Sefton Moorhouse.

Mary Ann would grow up to marry her Step-Uncle Edward Moorhouse in 1883! Their eldest was named William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, a tradition that was passed down for a few generations. What a great merging of two fine Canterbury pioneer names!

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