A Short History of The Peaks

by W N Hewett 1970

On this site


The Peaks settlement consisting of 18 leasehold sections of 45 to 50 acres, LIP government lease. I think the rent was 3/6 an acre.

I arrived in April 1887 with my parents, Mr and Mrs Samuel Hewett, being then 3 months old. My parents were among the first to take up their section but I expect the remainder of the sections would all be taken up about 1887. The area was of course just in the native with a fair area covered in scrub and flax and a condition of the lease was that the sections were to be fenced and dwelt on.

The original owners were as follows, the sections were all numbered;

No 1C T White & family
No 2W Hewett (Senior)
No 3 & 4Not taken up
No 5A young man named Deean
No 6Bob Marshall
No 7Frank Elliot & family
No 8Bill Prior
No 9A family named Renald. Afterward the home of Tom Crean & family. (Buchanan were first owner for a short time, I don't remember them. Renalds were owners when the school opened.)
No 10Tom Keedy

This completes the sections running from the road down to the Hurunui River. Following along the foot hills;

No 11Patrick Dooley & family
No 12William Marshall (Senior) & family
No 13Fred G Watkin & family
No 14Samuel Hewett & family
No 15John Bolger & family
No 16Jim Marshall (This is the long section across the road from No15.)
No 17G Watkin senior & family
No 18William Hamilton & family (now owned by Campbell Quigley)

A twice weekly mail was started, my grandfather being the first mail man. At first twice weekly on horseback, later three times weekly by horse and cart. He delivered his mail bag and collected the Peaks bag from the train at Medbury. My grandfather continued as mailman for over 25 years.

On the death of my grandmother, he came to live with his son Samuel on section 14 and carried on the Post Office, afterwards moving to section 17. My father having bought No 17 from a son of the original owner. A public telephone was installed about this time. When my granfather gave up as mailman, the PO was carried on by my mother and sister who eventually gave it up and a neighbour, Duncan Kennedy, took on the PO and mail carrying. Shortly afterwards the Rural Mail started and the Peaks PO was closed.

A school was opened in December 1891, the then MP Mr Meredith being at the opening ceremony. The first teacher was Miss Little and the school roll was about 32. Some of the pupils being nearly as old as the teacher. The school carried on until closed when the Hawarden Consolidated School was opened. The residents then purchased the property, enlarged the building and it is now the local hall.

Times were hard for the first few years, two or three of the settlers managed to get a four horse team together and did contract ploughing on Horsley Downs sheep station at 3/6 an acre. Some were carpenters and did building work about the district and the single men took on what work they could get.

I have heard my father say that fat lambs were about 5/- a head and merino ewes cost round about 1/6 a head. The Horsley Downs used to slaughter what surplus stock they could not sell and boil them down for the hides and fat. I imagine this would be before the freezing works were started.

The remainder of the flat was surveyed in 1891.

A man named Peter Hoban, a brother of M J Hoban, owned a block of land on a flat near the rabbit gate by Mt Noble. The area was known as Peter's Flat. He lived in a hut just over the Waitohi Gorge bridge, and later sold to M J Burke. There were three brothers living in the district at that time and were always spoken of by their christian names, Joe, Tommy and Peter.

Joe Hoban owned two blocks in the district, 396 acres on the Hurunui River about halfway between The Peaks Settlement and the railway bridge, and 458 acres about a mile up the Hurunui from the gorge. He bought this block in 1886 and sold it to M J Burke in 1897.

Sections varied from 150 acres to 200 odd and all the settlers were able to take up a section. I am not sure of the date but it would be about 1892 or 93. Surveyed in 1891.

Before the settlement was taken up, Horsley Downs had the grazing of the area and also owned a big area of freehold. There were only three areas with homesteads. A family named Costello lived on the banks of the Waitohi and the farm is still owned by a son of the original owner.

The other owners, two brothers named Mitchell, owned a block near the Waitohi gorge, their homestead was situated close to the property now owned by Finchams. The house may still be there in a square block of trees.

M J Burke bought a block off Horsley Downs in 1893 which he named "Waitohi Peaks". It extended from the Hurunui Gorge, taking in the area now owned by J O'Carrol, followed the Hurunui as far up as the rabbit gate near Mt Noble. The other boundary followed the foot hills across to the Waitohi river and then up the Waitohi. I think the block bought from Horsley Downs was 13000 acres, but Burke bought two or three blocks which were more or less surrounded by his original holding which made the area up to 17000 acres. Two of the blocks were bought from Joe and Peter Hoban and a larger block from Nosworthy. This was the block originally owned by Mitchell Bros, who sold to a man named Douglas. A man named Cleaver was married couple for Douglas. Nosworthy bought off Douglas and the three Nosworthys, the father and two sons lived on the property until they sold it to Burke. One of the sons was later a member of parliament and was knighted. M J Burke sold his property in three blocks about 1906 or 1907. A man named Todhunter bought one block, George Rutherford another, and C O T Rutherford who owned the Lakes station bought the homestead block containing 200 or 300 acres. The area has been divided up and changed hands several times within recent years.

Another area which was purchased from Horsley Downs is the block of flat and downs land between the Waitohi river and The Peaks settlement. A man named W B Fox who was single lived in a cottage near where the Finchams homestead was afterwards built; and a man named Willie Howe was his cook and general handy-man. After a few years a homestead was built. W B Fox left the district and his brother Colonel Fox took possession. He later in three blocks; the homestead block was sold to a man named Crosley, and to Power Bros. The other half was sold to a man named Dunlop. The present owners are Fincham, Power, Quigley Est and Lester Hassall. Before being sold by Horsley Downs parts of this block were cultivated by share croppers.

I think this covers a history of the district from the time The Peaks Settlement was taken up. There is of course quite a lot of earlier history which is very interesting, but more difficult to trace although there must be reports to be seen if a person knew where to look.

Later I looked in at the Land and Survey Dept and spent a short time browsing through the old maps and could verify some of my dates, but didn't come across any records to take me back much further than the start of the Peaks settlement.

The earlier history I would like to hunt up is connected with early roads etc and dates would make this much easier to piece together. About 100 years ago there was quite a lot of traffic up the Waitohi over Jacks saddle and up the Hurunui, over Harpers Pass and down onto the coast; it was in fact the main route to the gold digging. Actually there used to be a pub on a small flat between the road and the river about a couple of hundred yards after crossing the bridge over the Waitohi.

When I first had it pointed out to me all that could be seen was a bit of a heap of dirt and one or two broken bricks. There was also a road formed right up to the Hurunui river commencing at a cutting known as the government cutting and situated about a mile and a half down the river from section number 1. Actually this was the only cutting on the river terrace and the only way down the terrace for vehicles when the settlement was taken up. It was evidently made for the use of stations across the river as before the railway went through all wool was shipped at Saltwater Creek. The road followed up the river bed to the entrance to the gorge and can be followed right up the river from there. It was formed right up to Lake Sumner. It would be interesting to know the year in which it was put through. I remember hearing that it had not been long made when about a hundred yards at the start of the gorge slipped into the river and was never repaired.

Also a railway was surveyed up the Hurunui in 1878 and in 1883 the present line up the Waimakariri chosen.

There is also the early settlement in the Waitohi Gorge known as Lankey Town and although the small flat where it was built has been cultivated there should still be signs to trace it by. When I first remember it there was a street about five or six chains ling with the remains of buildings on both sides and a few others scattered about; there was also a hotel a short distance away from the other buildings.

I believe the name originated from the fact that residents were weavers from Lancashire and were established there to try and weave the flax there being large areas along the foothills and on the swampy areas on the flat. However the venture wasn't a success and to give the men employment they were given work and formed the road leading up the Waitohi and known as Lankey Cutting. (5/4/1864 - 22 men from Lankey Town were employed on the Lake Sumner road.) I have heard rumours that this cutting was made by a man named Lankey and was named after him. This was not so, it was made by these Lancashire weavers and named accordingly. There was a small clump of native shrubs a little further down the river which marked the graves of a couple of small children. This is one case where dates would show how this cutting and the road up the Hurunui fitted in, the road up the Hurunui was completed right in to Lake Sumner whereas Lankeys Cutting just stopped about a mile or so up the river and led nowhere until M J Burke built his wookshed and mens quarters. The road was continued on from here in recent years over Jacks Saddle to join up with the Hurunui road which was repaired and now forms the present road to the Lakes.

I spent an hour at the public library browsing through old records recently and verified the following dates.

  • Harpers Pass at the head of the Hurunui was discovered in 1857
  • 405 Lancashire emmigrants arrived in NZ 17/8/63. Did not learn the number living at Waitohi Gorge but learned that 22 were employed on the road to the West Coast on 5/4/64 and the Hurunui route became the main route after February 1965.

by William Norman Hewett, 1970

Updated: 11 November 2006
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