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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]

Mr. Watson Shennan

Mr. Watson Shennan , Of the Conical Hills and Puketoi Stations, left Scotland when he was quite a young man in company with his late brother, Alexander, on the 8th of July, 1857, and sailed from Liverpool on the 12th of July, en route for New Zealand, via Melbourne, in the Royal Mail Steamship “Emu,” making the voyage in fifty-eight days—a very good passage at that time. After a short stay in Melbourne the brothers sailed in the brig “Thomas and Henry” for Port Chalmers; Captain Thomson, now of Port Chalmers, in command. The voyage was a fine one, taking fourteen days. The Shennans landed at Dunedin on the 3rd of October, 1857. There were no large ships in the harbour, only a few small coasters. Passengers had to go up the harbour in a boat, as the Upper Harbour was too shallow to take a ship of any tonnage. The Dunedin harbour was very pretty at that time, as the hills on each side were covered with bush to the water's edge. Dunedin was only a village, with only a house here and there on the ridges. There were no streets but only bullock dray tracks, and a large portion of the town was still covered with native timber. The Shennans left home with the intention of starting sheepfarming in New Zealand, so after a short residence in the country they went on an exploring expedition with the object of selecting a sheep run. They explored a large portion of the country now known as the Otago Central district, and took up runs in the valley of the Manukerikia, and named the stations Galloway and Moutere; Galloway after their native county in Scotland. The Shennans were the first white men to explore that part of the country. No bush was found, only scrub on the river banks in places. Game was plentiful in the form of wild duck and quail, and wild pigs numerous. The stations were formed and stocked with sheep in April, 1858. As no timber could be found suitable for building a house or sheep yards, the nearest timber being 120 miles away, the work of forming a station was very difficult and expensive. The nearest neighbours at that time were 100 miles away, so no assistance could be got from them. Everything had to be packed on horse back or on bullock sledges, and wool and stores had to be taken on sledges for 120 miles, the roads being very difficult. There were no roads, in fact, and the pioneers had just to travel over the ridges where a way could be found. But the country was nearly all taken up by sheepfarmers in 1858–59, and after that time the roads were made passable for bullock drays. The Shennans had a very hard rough time of it for some years, and were just getting comfortably settled when the gold diggings were found on the Upper Molyneux river. So the home of the squatter was invaded, and the quiet retired life in the wilderness vanished like a dream of the night. The country on the banks of the Molyneux, where no one but a shepherd with his dogs was ever seen, was changed within a few weeks from the quiet of a wilderness into a scene of the greatest excitement; and thousands of people looking for gold, townships springing up like mushrooms, stores, hotels, banks, theatres, etc., etc., appeared as in a transformation scene. With the view of improring the breed of sheep in the colony the Messrs Shennan imported high class Merino sheep from Germany and longwool sheep from Scotland in the years 1859 and 1861, and were the first direct importers of stud sheep to Otago. Mr. Alexander Shennan went to the Old Country in 1862 and died at Edinburgh in 1863. The rough life he had lived in New Zealand while there had brought on rheumatic fever which caused his death, and so ended a short industrious life. Mr. Watson Shennan bought the Puketoi run in the year 1868 and the Conical Hills estate in 1878.