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Holme Station: Homestead

Courtesy of NZ Today magazine.

Holme Station is a landmark in South Canterbury and is where the New Zealand branch of the Elworthy dynasty was established. The Elworthy family have not only been an important family in South Canterbury, but have made a major contribution to the nation as a whole. And Holme Station played a pivotal role in the birth of modern, commercial farming in New Zealand.
Jonathon Elworthy was the Minister of Lands in the last three years of the Muldoon government while his brother, Sir Peter Elworthy was the Chairman of Federated Farmers during the reform years and flew a Tiger Moth as a hobby.
Earlier there had been Charles Elworthy, the son of Percy and the grandson of the Edward, the founder of the Elworthy dynasty. Charles went to London in the 1930s and studied law at Marlborough College and Trinity College before joining the RAF in 1933 to become a bomber pilot. His RAF career was a thing of marvel. He rose to become the Marshal of the RAF & the highest rank in the RAF & and was made a baron and after a glittering career he retired in 1971, returning home to live his final years in Timaru as The Lord Elworthy. He died in 1993.
Lord Elworthy’s son, Sir Timothy is the Queen’s Director of Travel.
 
Edward Elworthy was born at Wellington in Somerset in 1836 and sailed for Australia in 1860 to become a grazier. Hearing of good prospects for sheep farming in New Zealand he arrived here in 1842 and went into partnership with David Innes, buying 42,000 acres of rolling land south west of Timaru and established the homestead at what is now Otipua, adjacent to the interestingly named Mount Horrible.
A year later, having sold his Australian farming interests at a good profit, Elworthy bought out Innes’s share of the station for £33,000.

In 1866, with the station well established, he sailed for England where he married Elizabeth Shorrock and brought his new bride back to the Pareora District and the first of the Holme Station Homesteads to raise a family.
By 1872 Elworthy had added 40,000 acres of leasehold land to his freehold 42,000 and was running 46,000 sheep along with some beef and cropping.

When many of the leases expired in New Zealand in 1890, Elworthy set out to buy as much land as he could and became the largest single landowner in South Canterbury.

He was also very active in local affairs and was Chairman of the Waimate County Council, Chairman of the Timaru A&P Society and one of the founders of the South Canterbury Refrigeration Company.

Holme Station Homestead was one of the great homes in the area and the Elworthy family played host to many balls and hunts. The three Elworthy boys & Arthur, Herbert and Percy were active socially and were known as the Flying Squad as they rode cross-country to attend social engagements.Edward Elworthy died on the 22nd of January 1899.

The property was divided among the three sons and it was Arthur who took over the original homestead.
In June 1910 Arthur, his wife and children sailed for Sydney on an extended holiday, but when the ship docked in Australia there was shocking news & the grand house had burned down.

There had been an earlier, smaller fire that had been traced to a faulty chimney and it’s thought the second blaze that destroyed the home started the same way. The alarm was raised by the servants and Percy Elworthy, who lived a short distance away is reported to have motored to the scene in what must have been one of the earliest motor cars in the region.

Seeing the house could not be saved, Percy ordered that the staff save as much as they could in the way of trophies and other family heirlooms. Newspaper reports of the time say this rescue effort was successful and little in the way of family treasures were lost. However, most furniture and clothing was destroyed.

The newspaper also reported that the house had been insured for £3700 and the contents for £2550.

The Elworthys were one of New Zealand’s wealthy pioneering families and the homestead reflected their heritage, their upbringing and place in society.

At it’s height, the homestead had one of New Zealand’s earliest hydro electric power systems, there was a tennis court and a team of 47 servants looked after every need of the family, the house and the 15 acres of park that was created around the home. It took 12 servants alone to look after all of the fireplaces in the house.

As an aside, Lord Jellicoe of Jutland, NZ’s first Governor General (the position was Premier prior to 1920) stayed for 6 months in the house in 1920 prior to taking up his GG appointment & he wrote a naval defence strategy for New Zealand to keep sea-lanes open against a growing Japanese naval threat.

A kilometre or two away were the Holme Station saleyards & saleyards which still exist and are in fine condition, but which only a month or two ago held their last sheep sale.

The yards have become a victim of the lessening number of sheep in New Zealand as more farmers turn to dairying.
Today this is typical, rolling, South Canterbury lowland. Pleasant, green & almost manicured.

In 1900 the large Holme Station had been split into three for each of the three sons, Arthur, Herbert and Percy. Arthur and family set up their 25,000 acres as mixed farming, but sold off land over the years. They owned the last vestiges of the property until 1947, when Holme Station sold to the Walters family in 1947, and the Walters farmed and used the homestead as South Canterbury’s finest reception centre. It was in this role that some of the lower internal walls were removed, opening up much of the ground floor into one large area.

In 2001, learning that the place was to be auctioned, Invercargill born Gareth Morgan and business partners Martin and Sally Lyttleton from Auckland bought it and formed a plan to restore the homestead to it’s original glory.
The exterior of the house was in good shape, but inside it required a lot of work, work that was designed and overseen by Sally Lyttleton.

This has been an enormous task and I’d estimate that more than a million dollars would have been needed to not only restore and refurbish the interior, but also add every modern convenience and technology that today’s sophisticated travellers expect and then to furnish and decorate the entire house with appropriate furniture, fittings, pictures, paintings and decorations. And books. There are hundreds of books and magazines in shelves, on coffee tables, in nooks and alcoves.

"Much of the cost was mainly for the hidden work behind the walls in water systems, new electrics, sewerage, etc, and a lot of structural work & it was on its last legs when we got to it," says Gareth Morgan. "One of huge tasks was cutting away 50 years of overgrowth to reveal a completely hidden patio, a wonderful turn of the century rock garden, and discovering we had 150 species of trees on the property."

Gareth Morgan and the Lyttelton’s plan was to use the house as a commercial venture, but also to allow themselves quality time as a private retreat. Because they would be largely absentee owners, local farmers, Gary and Joss Webley were appointed as managers and groundkeepers, with another local lady employed as housekeeper when required.

Friends Buster and Linda McGaw had offered me accommodation at their luxury B+B in Timaru for the week I was going to be in the region, but when he heard of Destination South Canterbury, Gareth Morgan contacted me from Singapore where he is based and offered me the use of Holme Station and suggested I look at the website. I did. And I was hooked.

Initially we were to be a "team" & a small group of us based in South Canterbury for the week, but in the finish it was me alone who rolled up the driveway through the 15 acres of parkland late in the evening on a Tuesday evening to be met at the door by Gary Webley who had the central heating going at a cosy 20 degrees with a log fire roaring in one of the lounges.

Gary and Joss, who I met later, are a warm, charming, salt-of-the-earth couple who make perfect managers/hosts for such a place. Joss dropped me off some home made fruit cake the next day.
There is no point in me attempting to describe this place & let the photographs do that & but this really is a truly luxurious, magnificent, historic home.

Gary gave me a guided tour, but it was so large and so complex that I needed to get up in the morning and reasses the situation and work out exactly where everything is.

Downstairs is essentially the living area with a large entrance hall, two large lounges, two large dining areas, a large kitchen and a small sunroom which are open plan and flow from one to the other.

There is another large room which is the sitting/games room and out the back there is a large bathroom and a double bedroom that’s been converted from the former kitchen. A nice touch is that the original coal range has been left in place. Upstairs is all bedrooms, bathrooms and the library.

At the head of the wide staircase is a large landing off which branch two very wide hallways. Up here you find seven double bedrooms that range from bungalow sized to Eden Park sized. There are also two single bedrooms and six bathrooms & all enormous, all with shower, toilet, two hand basins and a bath. And heated floors!

And then there’s the attic where you will find an office, a bathroom and a large, complex shaped room that is empty, but which could be a bedroom with two or three single beds.

Outside, there are two large paved deck areas and the 15 acres of parkland to explore.
I lost count of the fireplaces, but there seemed to be one in every room except the bathrooms. All have been rebuilt and are fully functional. It was early winter and so most of the trees in the grounds were beginning to lose their golden leaves and I awoke each morning to find the immaculate lawns dusted with frost.

I spent two nights here before heading back to Auckland and I felt that using the place as a motel was a waste, so I returned the following day with wife Keri and invited close friends Brian and Jill Houston up from Dunedin so we could "live in" the home and experience it fully.

Mostly it is self-catering with a magnificently appointed kitchen and a well stocked larder, deep freeze and liquor cabinet, if you come expecting to find a restaurant two minutes away. In fact, the Homestead is probably 20 kilometres out of Timaru at the end of some typical, secondary country roads. For big events, there are several caterers in the region who will provide meals.

How much does it cost to live the Grand Life? It’s more expensive than a motel on Blenheim Road, but the cost is more than reasonable. The home sleeps 18 people in the existing bedrooms and the tariff is $1000 a night for four people, with each extra person $100. Use of Home Station is on an exclusive basis and two nights minimum. That means 18 people could stay there for $2,400 a night, or about $130 per person. There would be no long wait for the bathroom and there’s an endless supply of hot water. It would make a fabulous weekend for 18 friends, or a business break.

Gareth Morgan is now buying out the Lyttletons and there are plans to further develop Holme Station with a wine tasting room and a small conference centre in one of the outer buildings.
If you are tempted, go to www.holmestation.co.nz                  

Story and photography by Allan Dick. Previously published in issue 26 of NZ TODAY. To subscribe phone 0800 611 911 or e-mail

Published 7th Aug 2008

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