A continuation of a family story, as first told in 2005 – Straight off the Tussock

James Fulton, Jack’s grandfather, was a teacher on the Isle of Bute, half an hour by ferry from Glasgow. The island is only about eight by four miles wide but when he was headmaster there at Rothesay in about 1845, the school had around 1000 children, stuck out in the Firth of Clyde.

  In 1847, James was appointed director of Edinburgh’s historic Moray House, Scotland’s first teachers’ college and the first in the world to train women. A year later, the institution took a dramatic turn when it mounted a rebellion against the Church of Scotland. Moray House – now part of the University of Edinburgh – started in 1618 and it became a training college in 1813, when the Church of Scotland established a sessional school in the city. In 1835, that school became the Edinburgh Normal and Sessional School. In 1843, however, the disruption of the churches led to the foundation of The Free Church Normal and Sessional School nearby, while the Church of Scotland continued separately. In 1848, one year after James moved there, pupils and teachers of the Sessional School carried their desks down the Royal Mile to the new premises at Moray House. At Rothesay, James had been a leader in the Presbyterian Church, and at Moray House he instituted the Queen’s Scholarship for under-privileged children, which is still part of Scottish education today. He had married before he moved to Moray House, and soon there were four children in the family. James’ wife died about 1851, not long after his son John was born. According to the family Bible, James died on the Portugese island of Madeira, on his wife’s birthday in 1853.


Why on earth James ended up there, or what was going on, I don’t know – nobody talked about it in the family. Who brought up my grandfather John, or where he was brought up, again I don’t know. The next we hear of him we find he has landed at Bluff in about 1872.


To Maori, Bluff was known as Motupohe, ‘island of convolvulus’. It was a steep, raw sort of place and was not a settlement until the arrival of Europeans.  Not surprisingly, John didn’t stay there long. After spending some time in Invercargill, he returned to Scotland, however, he soon came  back to New Zealand and joined the Bank of Otago in Dunedin. When the National Bank of New Zealand absorbed the Bank of Otago in 1878, he joined the Rangiora Branch and was posted to the Rangiora branch. The Colonial Bank had opened in 1875 in the former store of Thomas and John Thompson,  and was replaced by a new building in 1880.

John made a foray into Rangiora life early on, showing his horse Lord of the Vale in the Rangiora stallion parade in 1879, but made a bigger impression in 1881 when he married Catherine Macfarlane, eldest daughter of prominent Canterbury pastoralist John

 Macfarlane. Three years after their wedding at “Coldstream”, Rangiora, they received a belated wedding gift from the bride’s parents; a new two-storey house on 29 George St. The same year, on June 22, Catherine gave birth to Gordon in the Colonial Bank building, where the couple lived upstairs. In the manner of many new fathers, a flurry of community service followed. John was president of the Northern A&P Association from 1885-1892 and in 1882 was also a founding member of the board of Rangiora High School-  arranging the purchase for the school grounds.

 John was also a member of the local territorial force, the cycling club, captain of the Rangiora Volunteer and a founder of the North Canterbury Caledonian Society. Besides that, he was an officer of the Presbyterian Church, a committee member for the local football, cricket and racing club. But that all came to a halt on September 27, 1893, when he died suddenly at his home,  age 43.

At it happened, the Colonial Bank closed its Rangiora branch two years later, most likely a victim of the Long Depression of the 1880s. 

New Zealand’s population had reached 500,000, boosted by government-assisted immigration. But the slump brought rising unemployment, poverty, social distress and violence. The country went through a long period of low prices for its exports of food and wool. Manufacturers and producers were generally just breaking even, making meagre returns on their investments and effort, demand diminished and unemployment became chronic. The financial system was contracting in a similar manner to the 1930’s when a certain amount of expansion would have alleviated some of the problems. The decline in the value of gold at this time also materially affected the business of the Colonial Bank.

Times were tough. This was the era of the swagman, and men of all sizes and nearly all races walked the dusty roads with all their worldly possessions tied in a swag held over their shoulder, usually balanced with a stick. Originally they were a mobile workforce, moving from station to station, hoping to pick up seasonal work. Later they came to be men who were looking for a life of freedom on the road.

Then, once the slump hit, large groups of itinerant labourers walked the country roads, moving from farm to farm. Word quickly spread through the swagger network when a station owner was hiring casual labour, and many men would take up their swag and head for the work.

The 1880’s were called the hungry years. Sometimes there would be up to twenty swaggers on any one station. Country etiquette demanded that they be fed, and required that the swaggers, in return, move on in the morning. It was not acceptable to arrive at the next billet before sundown. Among the mix of men on the road were those who claimed they had once been ennobled, those who had been famous but had fallen on hard times, and those who were yet to make their mark in life. The Colonial Bank was hit by the Depression soon after it opened in 1974 – and it never properly recovered.

When the National Bank took over the Bank of Otago in 1874, all the banks operating in Dunedin were controlled by overseas or North Island shareholders. Dunedin businessmen therefore decided to form the Colonial Bank of New Zealand entirely with colonial capital of 400,000 shares of £5 each. The Dunedin doors were opened on October 1st, 1874, when that town was the largest in NZ with 18,000 people (Auckland numbered 12,000 at the time). The bank, 41 branches or agencies traded primarily in the southern half of the South Island but had expanded to Wellington, Napier and Auckland. In 1875 there were a total of £43,297 of notes issued in circulation and at that time was the smallest issuer of the six banks then trading.

 The Colonial Bank suffered reverses, especially in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s , and provision for bad debts had not been able to be made because of the previous unprofitable trading.  In 1889 and again in 1894, the B.N.Z. and the Colonial Bank considered amalgamating but nothing eventuated. Then, in 1895 a major banking crisis occurred and the B.N.Z. was bailed out by the Government, who then gave them permission to buy another bank. On the 18th of November, 1895, the B.N.Z. took over the good business of the Colonial Bank and so the C.B.N.Z. was gobbled up.

 With a verandah added, the Colonial Bank building became Bridgett’s shoe store and then Hickmott’s corner, before being demolished in the 1930s.

Catherine lived on in Christchurch until 1934, on a dairy farm in Fendalton that before her death became Fulton Avenue. Oddly enough, however, the man who is credited with giving the street its name is not thought to be a relation.

 I first learned about Jack’s father, Gordon, when, as a young boy, I found a glass eye tucked away in the back of a roller desk at our farm in Swannanoa.

I don’t know where he got to for most of his life, although he went through Christ’s College and played cricket for Riccarton second grade which won the Junior Cup in 1905/06. He then became an auctioneer with the Scottish stock firm Loan Mercantile, and I think his biggest day early on was a massive sheep sale at Culverden that sold 100,000 head.  There were sheep all across the road for hundreds of yards and they had to go up and down the road selling this stock.

The event, the Amuri Sheep Fair on March 5, 1908, is recorded in a clipping the from The Press, and it gives a sense of farming at the time.

“The annual sheep sale at the Amuri yards, Culverden, was the 21st which has been held since Mr Duncan Rutherford’s energy and enterprise brought the fair into existence. The entries at the respective sales, as kept by the saleyards company, show that the average yarding has been 47,000 to 48,000 per annum. The sale of 1898 had the largest entry, 105, 487 sheep being penned, and it was a picturesque sight to see that aggregation of sheep, which covered about 20 acres, but which at the time was remarked only as the  cargo of a large frozen-meat-carrying steamer…The rain has so improved the prospects of sheep farmers that it was only natural there would be a large attendance at the sale held yesterday. There was an entry of 35,346 sheep. Though the rain will do so much good, it will take time for feed to grow, and the smaller farmers who have none to spare at present, but who were in want of ewes, where unable to operate to any extent. The bulk of the sheep went to large graziers, while dealers took a few lines…The highest price at the sale was 28 shillings. These were Lincoln-Merino cross and not English Leicester Merino cross, like the bulk of the Amuri halfbreds.”

 In the early 20th century, as workman pushed the railway into the backblocks, townships, such as Amberley, grew and rural populations increased. Many labourers and sheep-station hands, such as Jack’s father, Gordon, dreamed of owning their own farm. Their big chance came when the Liberal Government took office in 1890s, breaking up the large estates and to allow small farmers onto the land.

 The Government bought some stations and subdivided them into blocks, which it balloted to would-be farmers. Ballot winners were able to lease their blocks in perpetuity and later to freehold them. Many of these farms were too small to be economic, so owners had to combine farming their properties with working for others. But this did not stop a new development in the Canterbury economy; mixed farming and the towns that served it.

 Ironically, the very settlers who benefited from Liberal policy became the conservative figures of early 20th century Canterbury, who helped defeat the Liberals in 1912. Although Gordon wasn’t a landowner at that stage, it’s a fair guess he voted like one.

 Father then went to work for his uncle Alexander (Alec) Macfarlane, who took him on as manager at Achray and Mt Stewart; on the south side of the Waiau River, between Rotherham and Waiau. In his early farming days, Gordon once had to drive to Christchurch in his Unic.

He had an awful job starting it, but finally got it going, filled it up with petrol, kicked it in the guts and said, ‘right’o, you bastard, you’ll be going in the morning when I really need you to’. So he left it running all night, got in the next morning and took off with the car still going – what it did to the engine, God alone knows. Alec sold Achray a while later so Gordon managed the estate at Mt Stewart, until Alec died in 1913. In 1916, Gordon bought Tarbet – now called Nukiwai –  at Rotherham and farmed there until 1918, when he had to have a bad eye removed in a big operation.

The following year he went to Australia as part of his recovery, but the next chapter in his life is a mystery. In Elizabeth Austin gave much of her wealth away, establishing charitable institutions such as Melbourne’s Austin Hospital. In Victoria the 35-year-old somehow met 39-year-old Winifred Harriet Austin and married her at her home near Geelong the same year. 

A worldwide influenza outbreak delayed their arrival back in New Zealand, but they soon settled in Christchurch, before moving to the farm at Broomfield in 1921.

Besides the shock of the late children, Gordon’s life seems to have relatively settled until illness struck him down again 10 years later.

He had an appendicitis operation in 1931, and from what I can gather, mother had given him castor oil and his appendix burst. The next thing he was on the operating table at the old Calvary Hospital in Christchurch, where Southern Cross is now. It was the day of the Napier earthquake – he was actually on the operating table when the earthquake hit. They lost all the power in the hospital, the chimneys came down – there was all sorts of chaos. They had an awful job with him, from what I can gather.He contracted blood poisoning and the only real cure they had for it was hydrogen peroxide. They left his wound open for six weeks and poured this stuff in constantly until he finally came right.

Things must have been pretty tough for him, and then he got an injury that probably finished his cricket. He’d been playing for Amberley and had been quite a usual bowler in his day, but I was in the garden at Okuku Pass one time when he came down from mustering holding his elbow. When he got back to me, I asked him what was the matter. He said; ‘oh, I’ve got a thorn in my finger.’ I mean, what a stupid thing to say. You could see he was in agony, his face was absolutely white.

It turned out  he’d been leading a horse through some rocks at the back of the station, and the horse had pulled back, hooking the reign into the crook of his arm.

He’d dislocated his shoulder and couldn’t get on the horse, so he had to walk about seven miles with this injury. I watched him inside through the window. Old Bill Blain, the gardener, had a bit of an idea what to do and finally yanked the arm back into place. But poor old chap, he was in agony; especially having walked all that way.

Gordon’s fierce sense of pride was undeniable, as the gardener, Jimmy Harris, might have agreed.

Jimmy arrived home one weekend after he’d been down at the local for a couple of days swilling cider. I think it was about 90% proof, a horrendous mixture. For some reason, when he got home he started taking to Mary with the broom in the yard and started to get really rough with her. Father settled it all down and Jim went off to milk the cows. He was living in the hut just over by the woolshed at this stage so while he was away milking father went over the shed, found six bottles of cider, took the caps off and put a packet of Epsom salts in each bottle. Father had a corking machine that he used to bottle up his own beer. So he recapped these bottles with a packet of Epsom Salts in each.  Poor old Jim got in from work and drank most of the cider that night. The effect on him was catastrophic… how the hell father didn’t kill him I’ve no idea. He drank it on a Sunday night but it was Thursday before we found him, before he got back to civilisation again. His language about the cider manufacturer was unbelievable. He put down all his awful stomach pains to the cider and never touched the grog again. It finished him –he swore off cider for the rest of his life.

 Jack was often on the wrong end of Gordon’s ferocious temper.

Father really could go to market. We were mustering one day on two ridges about ½ mile apart. There were sheep down the bottom from where we were so he yelled out to me to get them. I’d spotted them already but he started dancing and roaring and bellowing ‘Over here, on the side’. He threw his hat he was so furious. Like Admiral Nelson, I turned a blind eye and walked over the other side of the ridge, down the other way. I came back 20 minutes later and picked these sheep up. But he’d nearly gone berserk by this stage. Sometimes he would be out in the yards, which weren’t far from the house in those days. Mother could hear his language. She’d say; ‘Gordon, you have visitors here, you can’t swear like that.’ There’d always be a problem with the dogs or something like that.

One time, my father and I were riding about half a mile off the bottom of the Okuku Pass when we heard the roar of an aeroplane as it came down the valley from the top of the pass. It banked in behind the ridge, and tipped up at a right angle as it went past us so we could see down into the cockpit only 150 feet above the river bed. The plane must have scraped the tops of the trees and the bush when it came round the corner, and we were waiting for the explosion to come as he hit the ground. Meantime, though, father’s horse went about eight foot up the bank. His description of the pilot was magnificent. He called him every name you could lay tongue to. He was into his 50s by the time I knew him properly, much older than the normal father, and he was involved in all sorts of things.

A clipping from The Press in 1935 records Gordon’s contribution to the Canterbury A&P Show.

 “The Agricultural and Pastoral Show has become famous as the principal rendezvous every year, for all the most notable men engaged in the primary industries of the province. There is probably no other gathering of its kind, more representatives of farming in all branches, and in this respect alone – in the bringing together of all interests in the industry – the Show has achieved lasting importance.”

 The great and small of the vast body of men who till the soil, mingle at Addington in pleasant fraternity, exchange ideas and laughter, and just as much about the horses, the cattle, the pigs and sheep give the Show that comfortable atmosphere which is characteristic of country life and country men. The appointment of Mr Gordon Fulton to the presidency of the Agricultural and Pastoral Association this year was a tribute to his worth and a recognition of his long service in the interests of the association. Born at Rangiora, Mr Fulton, had the benefit of a good commercial grounding at New Zealand Loan Mercantile Agency Company in that town, both in the clerical department and as an auctioneer.

 Admittedly Gordon was busy with all these things, but I don’t know what the problem was between us. He’d come in sometimes – he would be absent for weeks sometimes with the mustering – and he couldn’t speak because he’d be so hoarse from yelling at me or the dogs. Really, we didn’t really have much of a relationship, my father and I.

The only time Gordon took Jack out anywhere was after Christ’s College had beaten Boys’ High in the 1943 annual inter-school rugby match.   

He had come back on the ferry with three or four others after a meeting in Wellington. After ferry trips there he used to go to the Christchurch Club to have breakfast. After he had heard about our famous win I was bidden to attend this breakfast. When I got there he said something like, ‘you’ve had a good win’, and for the rest of the time there I was totally excluded. There was no conversation at all. It was dreadful. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t talk. I mean, he used to chat away non-stop to the shearers and the shed hands. One time one of the shearers brought his four sons along. The father was totally deaf and the sons never spoke, so the shed was like a morgue – just the click of the blades going. My father nearly went berserk by the time he’d finished because he couldn’t get any conversation at all. It was a fortnight of purgatory. But what annoyed me was when I brought boys from College out for the day, he could talk away to them like he could never stop, but he couldn’t talk to me for some reason. He was a strange mixture, shy – I think.

The two never made amends. On April 17, 1945, Gordon died of a heart attack.

He was reasonably athletic, and he rode a lot – loved his horses. But the war was a dreadful strain on him, especially with the staff shortages. Apparently, father had been warned that his heart wasn’t right but he just refused to take any notice of it, and never let on. He just simply didn’t ease up. And he was so bloody excitable at times, he really was putting an awful strain on his heart.  Finally the strain might have been too much for him. The weekend before father died, he and mother had gone off to the races at Riccarton and arranged to stay the night in town. But on the way there he said he wanted to pass the Coldstream homestead where his mother Catherine had been born. He hadn’t been down there for years but suddenly he decided he wanted to go there. After the races he stayed Saturday night at the Canterbury Club, and collapsed there the  next morning. In hindsight, Mother was silly for bringing him home that day instead of taking him to the hospital.

Anyway, the next day, I had an argument with him over getting some whethers to the Addington saleyards. I hadn’t rung the stock agent to arrange it and he wasn’t pleased with me, so I took off to do my own thing – some tractor work way up the back blocks along the Long Spur.

I was doing some ploughing to try and keep the gorse away from a walking track to the spur, when next thing Mary came tearing up in the truck and told me he’d passed away. He just went ‘boom’, as far as I know – another heart attack and there was nothing anybody could do.

 Gordon is buried in Balcairn Cemetery, but his life had a strange post-script in the form of land he had bought in the early 1920s. Coutts Island was formerly an island enclosed by channels of the Waimakariri River, but was incorporated into the south bank when a stop bank was built across the former channel of the old South Branch. This left water in only a portion of the old stream bed. The area had been formerly known as St Helena, and also as Kaiapoi Island until 1874, when it was renamed after one of the early settlers, Donald Coutts.

 He had bought a block at Coutts Island with his great friend, Bob Todhunter from Methven. But there was a big flood in the Waimakariri in about May 1924, and the property got badly flooded. There was no catchment board or river protection banks in those days, and father sold it straight away. Fifty years later, though, I started getting accounts for rates on land in mother’s name. It took us months and months to find out where this land was. Apparently, the river had changed course in the flood, which left seven or eight acres on the eastrn side of the South Branch. Everyone had forgotten about it. It was an awful block, just sand, rubbish, gorse and blackberry – virtually no value at all, but the catchment board wanted it to finish a walkway. That was after about four or five years of paying rates on it, with a minimum charge of about $100, so we figured nobody would want to lease it. Eventually we sold it to the board for a couple of hundred dollars.


The family of John and Catherine Macfarlane spread far and wide across Canterbury, but these previously unpublished extracts from 1976 provide a glimpse of what early settlement in North Canterbury was like – and the family that Jack’s grand-father John married in to.

St Leonards was taken up in 1852 by George Duppa, then sold to Rhodes and Wilkin; business men from Christchurch. J.D.H Davidson was the manager. In 1877, J.D.H Davidson bought the home block at a sub-division sale. The south-east block, Kaiwaro was sold to John Macfarlane, comprising 19,180 acres and carrying 15000 merinos.

 John Macfarlane had long dreamed of the Amuri – he arrived at Wellington from Scotland in 1941 and headed to Nelson, working for Henry Redwood and then Major Richmond in the Wairau Valley.

 Macfarlane was the boy who galloped to Nelson with news of the Wairau massacre, as it was widely described at the time. Later, sickened by events, he joined a survey party led by a Mr Cameron, who was later to become his brother-in-law. In 1846, John first visited the Lowry Hills Range, and set his heart on one day farming the low, undulating hills known as Mount Palm, Achray and St Leonards.

 In 1848, he married Catherine Cameron in Wellington, and together they raised a family of 11 children. One son was drowned and one daughter died at 16 but six of his sons, Malcolm, John, James, Walter, David and Alexander farmed in North Canterbury – becoming known as the Wool Kings. In many ways, their farming livelihood helped get the province on its feet.

John and Catherine first settled in the Wairarapa but the Maoris were not friendly and they decided to go south and try their luck in Canterbury. They sailed with son Malcolm in the Alpha and after a journey of three weeks reached Port Cooper, now Lyttelton, where they stayed for some months until the first four ships of the Canterbury Association. Only after the settlement was organised could others apply for land outside the Canterbury Block.The small family were camped at the Heathcote River at the time of the birth of their second son, John Donald.

 John snr. was away looking at likely land when the river flooded. The river reached the top of the bed and the tiny baby was hurriedly carried to higher ground.

 When the Lands Office opened, John drew Run No 1, 13000 acres north of the Ashley River – a run he named Loburn. The family went up the coast by boat to Kaiapoi, then by canoe up the river to the Maori pa, where they were treated with great hospitality. They stayed there a week, before making the rest of the way by bullock wagon.

 Catherine was the first white woman to cross the Ashley and for the next two years was not to see another white woman. It was a blessing she was young, healthy and strong and an excellent child-bearer. Eleven children in 14 years was no mean feat in those pioneering conditions. However, Catherine did miss the family from Kaiwaro in Wellington and for many years they were to be outsiders in the Anglican atmosphere of the Canterbury Settlement.

 To the end of her days, Catherine preferred to use the Gaelic tongue. John, on the other hand, really loved his new country and wished to live like a New Zealander. He cut the ties of home and entered whole-heartedly into the life he made for himself and his family. So, he prospered, adding Whiterock to his property in 1859 and Coldstream, near Rangiora, in 1862.(This is where he made his final home).

 In the 1870s he bought Hawkeswood, Lynden, Achray and Kaiwara for his sons. Kaiwara’s sucessor was John and Catherine’s sixth child Walter, born in Loburn in 1856. In 1881, he took on Kaiwara and seven years later married Minnie Wilson in Dunedin. Minnie had a 48-year “reign” at the station:

 “Indeed, the mistresses of these large station homsteads at the turn of the century were truly queens of the domain, as with a station staff of 20 and cook, housemaids, nurses, grooms and gardeners they had great responsibilities towards the people working for them”. As the product of a wealthy family, Gordon almost certainly inherited his mother’s sense of obligation to the local community.

 His numerous involvements included 15 years as president of the Amberley Jockey Club, steward of the Canterbury Jockey Club for 24 years, and a delegate to the New Zealand Racing Conference, representing the North Canterbury clubs. Other roles included judicial steward for Amberley, Banks Peninsula, Hororata and North Canterbury, and member of the New Zealand Sheep Owners Federation.

He was also prominent in horse racing, especially as the owner of ‘Art’, which won the 1916 Grand National Hurdle and every hurdle race on the C.J.C programme over four years – a total of nine races. He had the first privately owned car in the Amuri district and was president of the Canterbury A&P in 1935, a director of C.F.M and Quill Morris, liquor merchants.

Gordon’s sister, Katherine, won the Legion of Honour as a WW1 ambulance driver, at one point driving 400 miles in one night. It seems that for a brief period  in the 1920s she was a nurse to the ailing New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, but little more is known of her because during this period she married an American Frank Loring, and lived the rest of her life in the United States.

A brother, Norman, was born 1883 and attended Christ’s College, including its then prep school, from 1887-99. He was in the 1st 11, fought in the Boer War and later farmed in Western Australia. He died 11.4.1946, age 63.



James Fulton was born 20.5.1809, in Kirkoswald, Ayrshire. He died 4.4.1854

He was Rector of Moray House in Edinburgh, and married Catherine Macindoe, who was born at Glasgow 20.4.1817. She died 29.12.1853.

Catherine died Dec 29, 1853. James died the following year.

James and Catherine’s son John Fulton was born 15.8.1850 and died 1889.

Gordon Fulton b. 22/6/1884. He was 9 when his father died, and at age 35 married Winifred Harriet Austin.

 References: (1)the Colonial Bank: 1874-1895. Alistair Robb, January 1995.

(2)The Press “Canterbury 150”, December 15, 2000.

(3) “The story of Kaiwaro Station and its people – so far”, by Jennifer Macdonald; daughter of Leslie and Mima Macfarlane.