The Rhodes Brothers

William Barnard Rhodes (1807 – 1878) was the eldest of his 13 siblings and the first to arrive in New Zealand out of his 5 brothers! As Captain and co-owner of the ship ‘Harriet’, William saw a lot of the world.

In 1836, while employed by the firm of Cooper and Levy, William sailed into the future Lyttelton Harbour on the whaling ship, the ‘Australian’. From this visit, the Port would be known as Port Cooper and a nearby bay was named Levy – and still keeps that name today. Young William climbed the Port Hills and wrote the first ever description of the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains. He must of liked what he saw for he returned the following year with 40 Durham Cattle.

Not far from Akaroa, these frightened creatures were forced to swim ashore to their new home. Leaving them in the care of Mr and Mrs Green – whom he had employed for this purpose – William sailed up the east coast to Wellington.

Not forgetting his dream to own the first cattle station on the middle (south) island, William became a partner with his previous employer to create the firm of Cooper, Holt and Rhodes. He set up Trading Posts at Hawke’s Bay and Poverty Bay.

By 1840, he was well settled in Wellington, building the first wharf there and living in his estate, ‘The Grange,’ which was sited at today’s Wadestown. He died there in 1878.  He buried at Bolten Street Cemetery.

He married twice – his second wife was Sarah Moorhouse, the sister of Canterbury’s Superintendent, William Sefton Moorhouse. Both of his wives helped in the raising of Mary Ann, William illegitimate child he had with a Maori women.  In an odd twist of fate, Mary Ann went on to marry Edward Moorhouse – her step uncle – and their eldest son was known as Rhodes Moorhouse! Figures I guess ;p

William was a member of the House of Representatives (1853 – 1866), Wellington Provincial Council (1861 – 1869), Legislative Council (1878) and co-founder of the New Zealand Shipping Company, The New Zealand Insurance Company and the Bank of New Zealand.

Much encouraged by his elder brother William, George (1817 – 1864) arrived in Port Cooper (Lyttelton) in December 1843. He took over William’s interests at Akaora, and at times, was avalanched by guidelines and helpful hints from William.

“You must be enterprising, obliging and not afraid of hard work, nor yet show any improper pride”, William once wrote. In another letter he warns George to “…avoid public houses and whores…” Any failures business wise, according to William were the direct results of George not working hard enough.

George soon found his feet in business and to be polite – got himself a back bone!!! In 1847, George purchased Purau (a bay in Lyttelton Harbour) from the Greenwood Brothers for £1700. This became the central station for managing previous and all future land purchases for the Rhodes. All in all, the Rhodes would own over 800 sections (the smallest being 1/4 acre lots); 5 of their estates would be in the north island.

Just before the first four ships arrive in 1850, another brother, Robert (1815 – 1884) arrives and moves in with George at Purau. The two of them were sheep dipping when the ‘Charlotte Jane’ and the ‘Randolph’ sailed past the entrance of Purau on the historic day of the 16th December 1850 – WHAT A SIGHT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!!! The arrival of the settlers made the Rhodes business boom as meat, vegetables and milk were in very high demand!!!

Following the advice of a unnamed source, the brothers took a look further south and purchased 75,000 acres between Opihi and the Pareora Rivers. They named this new run ‘The Levels’, after one of their father’s properties back in England. The first 126 acres of ‘The Levels’ is now known as the Central Business Centre of Timaru!

Newly married George and his brother Robert, drive 5000 sheep out of Purau and down to ‘The Levels’ – the crossing of the Rakaia River was not for the faint hearted!  Robert returns to Purau and George settles himself down at ‘The Levels’ with William still giving demands from Wellington!  It was Robert that built the Rhodes Homestead (pictured) that is still the gem of Purau.  Very damaged in the earthquakes of 2010/2011, the homestead is too be fully restored.

In 1855, George and ‘The Levels’ were dragged into the legend that was become the naming of the MacKenzie Country!  The fact that the MacKenzie Country is named after a famous outlaw and now folk hero shows our Kiwi laid back attitude off beautifully!

James MacKenzie (1820 – ?) was a Scot that emigrated to Australia in 1849 – finding work in the gold fields there. No one knows for sure when James arrived in New Zealand but he first appeared in Nelson. He bought himself two bullocks, a boarder collie he named Friday and a dray. Taking jobs on as he travelled, he made it down to Mataura in Southland.

In 1855, J.H.C Sidebottom was informed by his two Maori ranch hands, Seventeen and Taiko that 1000 sheep were missing from the flock under his charge. They tracked the sheep westward into the low plains that is now known as the MacKenzie Country. Seventeen informed his boss that they were tracking at least 2 men.

At Dalgety Pass, they came across their missing sheep, under the watch of James MacKenzie and his dog Friday. They managed to overpower James, removing his boots and taking charge of his animals and dray. The party decided to stay over night, making for home with their prisoner the next morning. During the night, James let off a loud whistle and Friday began to growl. The nearby sheep panicked and stampeded. As the ranch hands dealt with that problem, James made his escape.

James walked to Lyttelton bootless, the journey being around 100 miles. He entered town limping and was arrested as the law was on the look-out for him. He was tried in the Lyttelton Court and was sentenced to 5 years hard labour. Amongst those in court was James Edward Fitzgerald who was the Canterbury Superintendent at that time.

James, who was a well build man of 5 foot 11, stood in the dock bravely – that was until they brought Friday into the courtroom. He instantly sagged at the sight of her, tears welling up in his eyes. Friday began to whimper too, clawing at the wooden floor to get back to her old master. James bursts out in protest,
“She’s mine, bought with my money, she was doing no harm to no body! I’ll make your roads, break your rocks, call myself a thief if you let her stay. She’ll only work for me, let me keep her!!!”
Visibly more upset over the fate of Friday, he listened horrified as they called her ‘a witch’ and ‘a whore’ and the only reform for her was a bullet. They even reckoned that Friday could ‘sweep a run by herself’.

Luckily for Friday, she was only banished from Canterbury soil. She was given to a un-named run-owner in Otago. In a wonderful twist of irony, Friday eventually found her way back to ‘The Levels’, living the easy life in the company of the Rhodes family. They did try and put her to work but as James had said from the dock, she would only work for him. James had not only trained Friday in Gaelic, he also trained her not to bark. They did try Gaelic with her but still, she refused to work. The Rhodes even joked that maybe the work “was too honest” for her so she lived the rest of her life, kicked back and enjoying her well-earned fame.

Back in Lyttelton, James managed to escape twice during his 9 month stay in the gaol. He was never free for too long though. He wrote to the Governor, Colonel Thomas Browne, a letter containing his life’s story and how a unknown man paid him £20 to drive those sheep from Timaru to Otago. In fact, the unknown man had just left Dalgety Pass before he was taken prisoner, telling him to watch over the sheep while he was gone. With this account, along with letters from Sheriff H.J Tancred and James Edward Fitzgerald, he was pardoned in 1856. After all, Seventeen had said that they were tracking two men and there was no record of James being in trouble before his arrest. James boarded a boat for Australia after his release and disappeared into history. He never saw Friday again.

Today, in Dalgety Pass, there is a marker concerning James and the 1000 stolen sheep. It is not only written in English but also in Maori and Gaelic.

In 1863, Robert released two Blackbirds and a Magpie at Purau, the latter being shot dead by a neighbour. The matter was later settled in court. Later in 1868, The Acclimatisation Society released 25 trout into Purau Stream and unfortunately there is no trace of trout in the Bay today.

In 1864, George returns to Purau to help out with Sheep Dipping season and spends a few days up to his waist in the freezing dip, sleeves rolled up and working to his limit. Tragically, George catches a chill from the dip and passes away at the young age of 47. To say the family was crushed is a serious understatement. He is buried in the finest and largest graves in Lyttelton Anglican Cemetery.

Purau is leased out instantly and the following year, the brothers sell ‘The Levels’. Their station days were done! Later as a memorial, the Rhodes pay for the tower and spire of the Canterbury Cathedral in George’s memory. 8 of the 10 bells in the tower are dedicated to George. Thanks to this family, the cathedral was finally finished and completed.

On the tenor bell was the following inscription:  Through all the roads of life, the best we’ll strive to be your guide; and let our notes do your behest by tolling far and wide.  We’ve crossed the seas to this fair land, to do God all the honour; from clime to clime, we’ll ring our chime, and tell of Rhodes the donor.

They sell Purau to Henry Dent Gardiner in 1874 – the Gardiner’s still live there today! Gardiners Road in Harewood is named after Henry as he farmed there in his younger days.

Robert moved into Christchurch, building a fine home on the edge of Papanui that he called ‘Elmwood’ – now the suburb. Destroyed by fire in 1882, the 2nd home is built in 1884. 1884 is the same year that Robert dies. It was demolished in 1954 to make way for Heaton Normal Intermediate School.  Robert is buried at St Paul’s Anglican Church Cemetery in Papanui.

In the 1870’s Robert also owned an estate he called ‘St Leonard’s, situated just over the Hurunui River.

Robert was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council (1853 – 1874), Executive Council (1869 – 1870), Akaroa House of Representatives (1871 – 1874) and co-founder of the New Zealand Shipping Company and the Kaiapoi Woollen Company. He was also one of the judges at the very first A & P Show in 1853.

Oakford was owned by Robert’s son, John Heaton Rhodes which once graced the corner of Riccarton and Mandeville Streets in Christchurch. Sadly this home was demolished to built a hotel in the 1960’s.

The son of George, Arthur Edgar Rhodes became mayor of Christchurch in 1901. He built a fine home he called ‘Te Koroaha’ which is now a part of Rangi Ruru Girls High. He married Rose Moorhouse – this is the 3rd time this family marries into each other!!!!

Two more brothers made the journey to New Zealand!

Peter Rhodes (1813 – 1897) made it over for a few months but he returned to England.

Joseph Rhodes (1826 – 1905) had run away to sea but joined William in Wellington in 1843. He became a butcher and merchant. After living in Australia for a few years, he moved to Hawkes Bay where he took over William’s estate – Clive Grange. He never took an interest in his brother’s South Island affairs but was on the Hawkes Bay Provincial Council from 1849 to 1876. He died in 1905 while on a trip to Australia. Joseph was the youngest of all 13 Rhodes siblings!

Robert’s son –  Sir Robert Heaton Rhodes (1861 – 1956) – owned a very fine home in Tai Tapu, called Otahuna! This still graces Tai Tapu today and functions as a Lodge where you can have cooking lessons, walk the gardens and/or stay the night.  This was a very sweet moment for Heaton as the land had been once part of the grazing area for Purau, where he had been born.

To view some of the fine homes of the Rhodes:

*image of William Barney Rhodes courtesy of the *
*image of Robert Heaton Rhodes courtesy of *
*photos of graves taken by Annette Bulovic*



Comments are closed.

4 Responses

Contact Form Powered By :