Today, as promised, we decided to visit the what remains of the Stewart homestead, one of the Harbour Cone Reserve’s best preserved early settler ruins.
We parked on Highcliff Rd where the public walking track crosses the road and headed down the rough steep slope. The Stewarts certainly had a beautiful little valley, with emerald green grass dotted by little yellow flowers and a view all the way out to Hoopers Inlet.
Once we got down to the valley floor it was a quick traverse over a boggy patch before we arrived at Stewarts Creek. There is a concrete ford over the creek under the trees so we were able to cross easily.
Then we headed into the macrocarpa grove to the homestead.
The house seems quite intact apart from the missing wall. Stepping inside there are old scraps of wallpaper to be seen and even a coal range made by H.E. Shacklock, an early Dunedin iron moulder and manufacturer who died tragically of suicide in 1902.
On the other side of the house there is a mysterious pile of bricks, as if something was once built there.
And now it’s time to do what I love best – find out who lived here! Luckily some descendants of the Stewart family still live in Dunedin and one, Julie Stewart, kindly agreed to help me.
Robert Stewart was a Scottish immigrant to Dunedin. He married Marion Patrick, also from Scotland, in 1869. They settled on this land, calling it Glenmore. It was here that they would raise thirteen children.
Robert attended the meeting in Walter Ridell’s house in 1870 regarding the establishment of the Sandymount School, and was one of five men elected to the first committee, which he served on for some time.
His children all attended the school, and since there’s so many of them I’ll give you the details on only a select few.
Robert Alexander Stewart, born in 1876, was working in a flaxmill at Sandymount in 1905 (perhaps the mill owned by the Robertsons of Seal Point). His partner at scutching the flax was caught in the machinery and his entire arm mangled. The arm was amputated at the shoulder but sadly the man still died of his horrific injury.
When drafted by ballot to fight in the First World War at 41 years of age, he was a healthy single man of 5 foot 5 inches, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was at the time working as a water ranger for the Rakia plains water supply and living in Chertsey, Ashburton.
His sister Marion (Minnie) Stewart, born in 1877, married a Green Island bricklayer by the name of John Stewart Lawson Morland when she was about 22. The marriage went downhill however and in 1911 a notice appeared in the Otago Daily Times detailing Marion’s accusation that her husband had deserted her for the past five years. He was urged to come forward or the marriage would be dissolved and Marion would be awarded custody of their children.
Her younger sister Christina Catherine Stewart would have been happier in 1908 when she celebrated her own wedding at Glenmore. She married William Noble Dumas McBryde of Outram wearing “white satin…the orthodox veil and orange blossom”. Her little sisters Annie and Maud attended as bridesmaids and “looked charming in cream voile”. The wedding was followed by a dance in the Sandymount Hall, then the happy couple departed for a honeymoon up north, having received gifts “both costly and numerous”.
Alas their joy would last only six years, as Christina’s husband would pass away in Dunedin hospital in 1914 at the young age of 38.
William Donald Stewart, born in 1883, took over the Glenmore farm when his pioneering father died in 1913 at the age of 77. He married Jessie Anderson Morton of Waitepeka in 1915, and in July 1917 he appeared before the military service board asking to be spared from conscription into the war. He argued the need to stay to care for the farm, which was carrying 27 head of dairy cattle at the time, and to look after his wife and elderly mother. The case was adjourned until August, when William was advised that the farm should be carried on as a grazing farm and he should “prepare to go into camp” at the end of another three month adjournment. But in November, the board heard William argue against this solution. He now had an infant child at home, and two of his brothers were already serving, both wounded in hospital (New Zealand had a more than 80% casualty rate – casualties being soldiers either wounded or killed – in the First World War). The case was adjourned again, and it seems the lucky William escaped conscription after all.
Wiliam and Jessie Stewart were not quite so quick to multiply as the previous generation, raising only three children in this house.
William Morton served in the Second World War, but sadly passed away only a few years after it ended.
Ron married Doreen Harwood (of another venerable Peninsula family) in 1946 and they rented the house next to the Sandymount School (owned by James – or Jimmy – Weiper) for eight or nine years. During that time Ron was a shepherd for the Burnside Freezing Works and also a contract shearer. Three of their four children were born while living there.
Despite this, to the family, the original Stewart block would always be known as “down home”.
Down Home was last occupied about 1950. William and Jessie built a house in Portobello and retired there until William passed away in 1957. Afterwards, Jessie sold the Portobello house and moved into the city.
Land on the Peninsula was being consolidated and converted to sheep farming, and this farm was no exception. In 1954 Ron purchased an adjoining farm from Sandy Roger and the family moved over there, where their fourth child was born. And in 1956 ownership of the Down Home farm also passed to him. Ron and Doreen farmed both blocks and later on acquired another adjoining property through Doreen’s family.
Ron was a sheep farmer, and used the paddock around his parents’ old house for producing hay. It was for this reason that the front wall of the house was torn off, and the home that had raised fifteen Stewart children became a hay shed.
Loyal to the very end, Ron intended to send his children to the Sandymount School his grandfather had helped start. But he only had time to start his eldest son there before it was closed and after that all four children had to be sent to school in Portobello.
Ron eventually sold his farms to Akapatiki A Block and retired to Dunedin City with his wife Doreen. From there, the old Stewart farm eventually came into the hands of the DCC and became part of the reserve we can enjoy today.
Exploring the slope behind the house, I found a few more interesting things. The first is what appears to be a group of old burned tree stumps. The early settlers often did clear the land by burning, and I wonder if the evidence could have survived this long?
Further up the slope there is a concrete structure with the rusted remains of a machine. This is what remains of an Anderson Oil Engine, used often by settlers in the period between the wars for such purposes as milking, pumping, milling or grinding. This one was likely used for milking, back when this was still a dairy farm.
Behind the engine room is a large concrete foundation, which may have been the floor of a cattle byre.
Having explored to our hearts’ content, we bade our farewells to Glenmore and began the steep trudge back out of the valley.
Sandymount School, Otago Peninsula : centennial of inauguration. Seaton, Reg.