An unlikely combination? One impressive woman, a birthday coincidence and dogs

While searching for references to sheepdogs in our colonial history, and frustrated by less than rewarding findings, I happened upon today’s date – 14 April. It’s a date which always seems to leap out at me because it has special significance: it’s my birthday! As with most life events, there’s quite a story attached and the night of my birth is no exception. But I’m disinclined to tell it here because  I’d rather use this ‘birthday blog’ to re-tell a tale of far greater proportions . It’s about one woman’s journey which began on this day in 1861.

Mrs Henrietta Teschemaker, twice widowed, arrived in New Zealand with her sons Fred (20) and Tom (15) in 1854. Eventually, the ‘boys’ took up Haldon Station in the Mackenzie country, stocking it first with cattle and then with the sheep for which this inland region of the central South Island is now famed. Their efforts to build anything resembling a house fit for their mother to live in met with mixed fortune. Sod huts and chimney constructions notwithstanding, together with the equally immediate needs of sheep yards and woolshed, a new house was eventually started during the summer months in early 1861. Their mother ‘s arrival was imminent.

And so it was that Henrietta Techemaker, now in her sixties, left Christchurch on 14 April, 1861, for Haldon Station in the Mackenzie country. To understand the rigours of such a journey one critical aspect of Canterbury geography must be understood: braided rivers. Every one of them had to be forded and in every one of them peril lurked. In his chapter on Haldon in ‘Early South Canterbury Runs, Robert Pinney isn’t sure whether she rode – side saddle of course – or was driven in one of those small horse-drawn vehicles known as a dog cart, at least as far as ‘the Ashburton’. On the other side of the Ashburton River she was met by Baines, the mailman, and driven in his cart as far as the Rangitata. But the Rangitata was in flood – running high, as Pinney describes – so much so that the punt which normally served as a ferry had broken away.  It was four days before the river subsided its rage sufficient to allow a safe crossing.

If one river was in flood, then so too were the others.  It took a further two days to cross the Orari and Opihi rivers to get to Timaru. Here our intrepid traveller was able to rest in comfort for two nights with her friends the Le Crens, before setting out on a long day’s journey from Timaru to the Percevals at Albury Station, not arriving there until after dark.  The following day being Sunday, Mrs Teschemaker rested. On Monday she proceeded further inland, crossing Burke’s Pass and then on to  Stericker’s Sawdon Station, on the eastern side of the Tekapo River. On the morning of Tuesday 30 April, the seventeenth day of her journey, Henrietta Teschemaker set out for Haldon Station where she was reunited with her sons.

But what of the dogs, promised in the title? The Teschemakers, being Dutch, constituted an ethnic minority among the significant Scots majority of the Mackenzie country. The shepherds who kept boundary and worked on the stations in these parts were, in large number, Scottish immigrants and many had brought their dogs with them – the Border Collie ancestors of New Zealand’s current working dog population …  yet another story in our unique rural history.

By Dr Jennie Coleman