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William Robinson


While the North Island was torn by war, the South was building the economic foundations for the New Zealand of the future. Gold had paved the way but something with a long term future was needed to secure the economy.

By 1870 wool was king. Large-scale sheep farming was the backbone of the New Zealand economy and huge estates ran thousands of sheep for wool. It offered sustained, dependable income and the rich owners of these estates began to mimic the lifestyles of the English gentry.

At the forefront of 19th Century pastoralists was William "Ready Money" Robinson. He had made a fortune out of wool in Canterbury and Otago.

Robinson was born in England around 1813. He was the son of a tenant farmer and was inspired by the grandeur of a neighbouring estate. He was determined to create his own one day. After immigrating to South Australia in 1839, Robinson sailed to New Zealand in 1856 and brought Cheviot Hills, a station in North Canterbury.

In 1859 Robinson and his family left for England. Upon returning to New Zealand in 1866, he began building a magnificent mansion with the huge returns from wool. Cheviot became a very English domain and a symbol of wealth and pastoral power.

Robinson died on 9 September 1889. He left Cheviot, then valued at 324,729 pounds, to his five daughters. But like many other large estates at the time, Cheviot was in financial difficulty.

In 1891 the Liberal government came into power. They wanted to buy back large estates and redistribute them to small farmers. Minister of Lands John McKenzie turned his sights on Cheviot. Dogged by debt, Cheviot's trustees unanimously consented to dispose of the estate in April 1893 under the Liberal's Land for Settlements Act. The government brought Cheviot and subdivided it so 400 small farmers could move onto the land.

Cheviot was one of the greatest estates in the New Zealand, but only its foundations survive today.


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