Earnscleugh Station History

Earnscleugh Station was named by Otago area surveyor John Turnbull Thompson after Earnscleugh Water in the south east of Scotland.

In 1862 the property was purchased by Alfred Cheetham Strode, the resident magistrate of Dunedin. He employed William Fraser a fit ambitious young Scotsman of good breeding as his manager. Within a short time Fraser married Strode’s daughter and became a partner in Earnscleugh Station. With a will and boundless energy Fraser set about creating the essentials of Station life. First he built a stockyard then a woolshed. The homestead was built last, of layer upon layer of local stone cemented together with mud mixed with manure and straw.

The first winter on Earnscleugh Station was long and hard, and it saw diggers arriving in their thousands on the recently discovered goldfields. Fraser supplied them with meat and stores and ran a ferry service across the Clutha River.

In 1866 the Otago Acclimatisation Society took what was it’s most ill-judged step when it introduced rabbits to the province. The liberation of 60 rabbits was the first successful one in the country. Fraser was so keen to see them get established on Earnscleugh that a poacher, who was caught shooting a couple, was prosecuted.

Life was good in the years before rabbits over-ran the property, with big wool cheques allowing Strode to build a whole block of houses, and offices, in Stuart Street Dunedin, while William Fraser was able to support his political aspirations.

In 1893 Fraser, by now the sole owner, was elected to Parliament and sold the rabbit infested property to W. S. Laidlaw. Fraser went on to become Minister of Mines and was later knighted. In 1895, after one of the worst winters on record, with half the flock perishing, and  the rabbit problems seemingly insurmountable, Laidlaw walked off, and the property  was resumed by the Crown.

Earnscleugh Station lay idle until 1902 when it was taken up by Steven Spain. He employed 32 men for 5 months, and between them they killed 250,000 rabbits. About this time rabbits began to pay, with skins and meat being in demand for export. Spain set up a rabbit canning factory to meet this demand.

In the 1920’s Spain built a grandiose homestead modeled on a mansion he saw in Uruguay.

Earnslcleugh Station homestead
Earnslcleugh Station homestead

By 1948 the rabbits were once again in control and Earnscleugh Station was sold to M. F. Mulvena. In the early 1950’s the Government started subsidizing rabbit control under the “Killer Policy”, where the intention was to eradicate the pest. While rabbits were too cunning to be eradicated, they were able to be controlled, and the property once again prospered. By the mid 1970’s enlarged Rabbit Boards, and reliance on a single method of control, 1080 poisoning, meant that rabbits had evolved to avoid poison bait and were once again becoming a problem.

In 1981 Earnscleugh Station was bought by Alistair and Judith Campbell with four prominent Dunedin businessmen as partners. The Te Akatarawa Hereford stud was bought with them, and the prefix changed to Earnscleugh. A large scale development program was embarked on, with over 100 km’s of new fencing erected in the first 2 years. With fertilizer and seed applied, stock numbers were increased from 15,000 stock units to 22,000. This stock increase was short lived, as with bait avoidance becoming an ever bigger problem, rabbits escalated out of control again and stock numbers dwindled back to the original 15,000.

In 1990 the Government introduced the “Rabbit and Land Management Program”, with the aim being to reduce rabbit’s to a manageable level, and at the end of the five year term, withdraw from subsidizing rabbit control entirely. The program after some initial problems, and a total cost of over two million dollars, ($800,000 being paid by Earnscleugh Station) was very successful.

With the aid of permanent rabbiter’s, and RHD, rabbit numbers have been very low since the late 1990’s. Dramatic recovery of  native, and exotic grasses, has meant that Earnscleugh Station was back in good heart, and farming in a sustainable manner.

In 1988 The Earnscleugh Merino Stud was established, followed by an Angus stud in 1997, Earnscleugh Composite cattle stud in 2000, and Poll Merino’s in 2002.

In 1996 Earnscleugh Station was one of the first properties to get through “Tenure Review”, a process where the crown and lessee negotiated a settlement that allowed for good farmland to be freeholded, and the rest either retired, or farmed under special leases.

At the same time public access ways were set aside, and marginal strips laid off on waterways. Of the original 24,660 hectares, 16,600 ha was  freeholded and  4,200 ha was left in special leases, with the balance retired. The Special Leases are all on marginal country and are regularly monitored to make sure that they are being grazed in a sustainable manner. Shortly after this 2,574 ha was sold to Perilya Mining. This included the homestead flats, and the balance was mostly arid rabbit prone country.

By 2003 Alistair and Judith Campbell had bought out all the business partners and a company was set up, Earnscleugh Station Lands Ltd, to own the land and Earnscleugh Station Ltd to own the stock and farm the property. Daughter and son, Jessica and Duncan Campbell are shareholders along with Alistair and Judith.

 In 2007 65 hectares of irrigated land was purchased at Fruitlands, and then in 2008 Obelisk Station, a further 3,038 hectares, which is on the Earnscleugh Station boundary, and joined the Fruitlands block, was purchased. This brought the present area to 21,000 hectares.