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  • Keith Newman

Foothills to the River - The Tuki Tuki Station story (Part One)

The Tuki Tuki property and rebuilt classic colonial homestead looking out over the Kaweka ranges, adjoining Craggy Range and the Williams’ Longacre and Broadacre properties, is an important part of the rich and varied history of the Cape Coast.

Tuki Tuki Station was originally part of the massive 30,000 acre Kidnappers Block purchased and leased by brothers William and Barney Rhodes whose monopoly on the area was challenged when other investors began bidding for the deep valleys, hills and undulating lands running down to the Tukituki river. In 1855 after Crown negotiator George Sisson Cooper completed his dealings with Ngati Hawea chief Kurupo Te Moananui and other hapu (families) who declared an interest, the Rhodes brothers found Ashton St Hill had beaten them to farmland they were hoping to freehold. St Hill, acquired a 5120 acre (2072 ha) portion of the “fern hills and grassy slopes” the Rhodes were leasing, from what would become Clifton Station in the south and running west down to the Tukituki River and up to the boundaries of the proposed Clive township. George Moore concurrently applied for an adjoining block, and despite objections from Rhodes, St Hill began running 500 sheep in 1857 and later in partnership with A.H Price took over the lease of Moore’s 4800 acres (1942 ha). This was then expanded to become the 11,000 acres (4451ha) Tuki Tuki Station, comprising hills and valleys and steep gorges overgrown with manuka and native grasses.

In the late 1860s the land was sold to Allan McLean who became known as ‘Tuki’ due to his purchase. He came from the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides and built Duart House (1882-1883) in Havelock North, which took its name from the Gaelic in memory of Duart Castle on the island of Mull, home to the chief of the McLean clan. The Tuki Tuki homestead was sheltered by gums with lawn-like slopes reaching down to the river. By 1874 McLean had 9764 sheep along with crops of potatoes, barley, oats and vegetables on his land. Within two years the 11,000 acres was freehold; 3000 acres was ready to be ploughed and the rest subdivided into paddocks. On the land thoroughbred racing horses were trained, and paddocks of shorthorn stock and 10,000 sheep grazed; 5000 of them Merinos. McLean married Hannah Chambers from Te Mata Station in 1879 and had nine children. He was known in local circles as something of a character, disliking formal gardens, trees and shrubs and insisting the grass and grazing livestock come right up to the house. Tuki McLean and Hannah moved to their new residence Duart House on the rise of Te Mata Peak, Havelock North with their seven children early in 1883 and their last child was born there. He named Duart after a castle owned by McLeans on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, where he and his family had lived before coming to New Zealand. 

Loughnan remained on as manager of the station but after three years the loan from Nelson hadn’t been repaid. The farm wasn’t making enough and the country was in a serious economic depression with Hawke’s Bay suffering a series of droughts. In 1891, Loughnan was summoned to Tomoana where Nelson offered him 540 shares in Nelson Bros, newly issued on the London Stock Exchange. That was in fulfilment of the £1600 balance Frederick and William Nelson had full legal ownership of the Tuki Tuki property which they had technically owned since 1888. Laughnan agreed knowing that his accommodation and job were at risk. Nelson also advised that he may place one of his sons on the property in 1896 but the property was auctioned off. Loughnan vs Loughnan, High Court Napier, February 1896, newspaper reports

A special reporter from the Hawke’s Bay Herald visited Nelson’s property a week prior to the sale of various blocks of Nelson’s property by Hoadley & Co auctioneers, which was described in the local paper as “one of the richest and most highly improved in Hawke’s Bay, having wintered 18,000 Lincoln Leicester sheep and 800 head of cattle.” The report described the homestead portion of the 4500 acres as largely planted in native pea grass known for its livestock fattening properties. The other blocks were laid out so they could be taken advantage of during the different seasons and were well grassed, fenced and watered and ideally subdivided to become separate holdings. The southern part had “some of the richest limestone country anywhere in Hawke’s Bay, parts being too hilly for the plough, but the area that has been ploughed and what can be bought under is considerable’ while the flats, notably along the river bed and block 2, may be described as equal to anything to be found around Hastings...”

The writer reckoned the richly grassed property could handle at least another 8000 sheep and a larger herd of cattle but the management policy had been to understock “which no doubt has proved to be the wise one, which the excellent prime condition of the flock goes to support”. He described the property as “one of the best I have seen in New Zealand during some thirty years’ experience”.

The 10,700 acre (4330 ha) Tuki Tuki estate went to E.J Watt of Longlands who owned neighbouring land and placed it under the management of Mr Hewitson who grazed and trained racehorses before eventually dividing it up for closer settlement. Early Stations, Macgregor, pp.243 – 44 Ignatius Laughnan, after accruing further bad debts and again depending on Nelson to bail him, out, stayed to see the property change hands and assisted the new manager get up to speed before returning to England at the end of 1899.

E.J Watt then sold it to William Tyndall Scrymgeour in 1900. He had arrived in Otago on the Neptune from Scotland in 1862 and married Mary McGregor in Dunedin in January 1880. He not only acquired the land but Nelson’s spacious mansion “The Lawn’ in Lawn Rd, which he had broken up into sections and moved by a Mr Pilcher by traction engines, horses and barges across the Tukituki river to Tuki Tuki station. The house was originally located on swampy land and there were rumours it was haunted (See: The Ghost of Lawn Rd). Scrymgeour returned to Australia in 1906, acquiring Callandoon and Tarewinnabar Stations in the Goondiwindi district of Queensland. His son James Tindall Steuart Scrymgeour, who was 21-years old when the Tuki Tuki property was sold, served in the Australian Lighthorse Infantry and was wounded on 14 July,1918 during an engagement in the Jordan Valley when “a bullet entered the right eye and passed through the back of the nose and the left eye, resulting in total blindness.” James thrived despite his disability, becoming known as ‘Jim Scrymgeour, the Blind Cattleman’, celebrated for his cattle breeding expertise and winning innumerable prizes at Royal Shows throughout Australia. He was personally invested with the OBE by Queen Elizabeth in March 1954 and was author of several books including Memories of Maoriland, an autobiographical account of life in New Zealand until the 1920s including his time at Tuki Tuki station and Lincoln College (1960). His mother Mary died in July 1925 at their home Callandoon North, aged 77, and his father William died in December 1929, aged 90.

There were a succession of owners of the Tuki Tuki property in the years leading up to and after World War 1. William Coombs further sub-divided the land into 1000 and 1500 acre blocks, selling these off within 18 months. He moved back to Palmerston North and between 1912-1914 built a replica of Tuki Tuki homestead which he called Highfield.

In the interim the adjoining lands all gained new owners; Yule purchased land at the rear of the Tuki Tuki property in the foothills of Cape Kidnappers which was later acquired by Charlton who named it Tiromoana (later the Shaws). Belcher bought two blocks of 1500 acres which became Craggy Range. J. H Lloyd acquired the Mahinga (Hollands) block and the land known as Broadacres was acquired by the Oswald Nelson and the Gordon families while J Small bought the Te Kahu block.

George Bainbridge bought the now significantly reduced Tuki Tuki block and homestead and was later joined by H. Bale. They sold to Andrew Christie and his family from Dunroblin in Scotland around 1914. It appears the timing was bad as their sons were called away to war so within a short time it was sold again. The Christies moved to Bluff Hill, Napier. Letter from Stuart Mitchell, grandson of the Christies, Ngangaru, Whangarei 4 May 1986

The next owners of Tuki Tuki Station were Jim Brownlee and his wife in 1918. Their sons Maurice, Cyril and Laurence played in the All Blacks in the 1920s. The Brownlees struggled to bring the property back into profitability after the war and facing one of the driest seasons on records were forced to cut their losses.


Early Stations of Hawke’s Bay, Miriam Macgregor, Reed, Wellington, 1970, pp. 242-243

New Zealand Founders Society, Local History gem discussed at AGM, presentation by Peggy van Asch and Cary Greenwood, 7 April 2016

Loughnan vs Loughnan, High Court Napier, February 1896, newspaper reports

The Tuki Tuki Estate, description, Hawke’s Bay Herald, 26 October 1896

Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW), Wed 4 Nov 1953; The Argus (Melb, Vic), Thur 11 Mar 1954

70-odd years at Tuki Tuki, handwritten notes from Malcolm Coop, December 1996 and personal interview with Kip and Dale Coop February 2020

Letter from Stuart Mitchell, grandson of the Christies, Ngangaru, Whangarei 4 May 1986

Interviews with Kip and Dale Coop

Photographs: Frederick and William Nelson photos and original homestead photo courtesy Knowledge Bank

A Haunting History - The Ghost of Lawn Road

Before it was broken down and moved across the Tukituki River there was an unexplained death and mysterious goings on at ‘The Lawn’, the 32-room homestead built by William and Frederick Nelson at Mangateretere.

The Lawn - 32-room homestead built by William and Frederick Nelson at Mangateretere.
The Lawn - 32 room homestead

No-one is prepared to say who lost their life or how and the historic record doesn’t help. Some say it was a mistress or a housekeeper. Rumours persist that one of the reasons the home was moved across the river by a subsequent owner William Scrymgeour around 1902-1903 was the presence of a ghost. A 1931 book, with a chapter on homes of the old pioneers, says an eerie persisted for many years.

“After Mr. Nelson went to live at Tomoana, The Lawn stood empty, and acquired a reputation as the haunt of a supernatural apparition, reputedly the ghost of a woman. By a great many people the tale was taken with all seriousness. Sceptics organised parties to waylay the spectre, and spiritualists visited The Lawn to find evidence of the occult thing.”

The ghost story apparently arose after a tragic death. Local Maori suggested the haunting would end, once the building crossed the river “as ghosts cannot cross running water”. Oral history conveyed by Colin Trevelyan. “There is no record that anyone actually saw the ghost, but the place was nevertheless under suspicion for years.”

Present owner Kip Coop says the tale has been passed down to him like many traditional ghost stories and no doubt embellished in the re-telling “the sound rattling chains down the stairs, a candle that would appear horizontal with a blue flame that never went out.”

And even after that massive feat of moving the house in sections across the Tukituki river the presence remained. In fact Kip recalls the sense of “a good ghostly presence”, a feeling, a sense of something in the old house. For example, “the figure of a horse on top of a big grandfather clock kept turning around and Dad (Malcolm Coop) had to keep putting it back to face the right way.”

Around 2000, a leaseholder of a property along Lawn Rd near where the homestead was originally located installed a surveillance camera after a series of trespassing incidents. He was stunned on one occasion to find images of an old woman in 19th century dress with a walking stick, who he suspects may have been the ‘ghost’ stranded when the home was removed across the river.


Hawke’s Bay Before and After, Homes of the Old Pioneers, Romantic History, Stories of a Ghost, Daily Telegraph, 1931, p.22 Oral history conveyed by Colin Trevelyan.

Hawke’s Bay Before and After the Great Earthquake of 1931, An Historical Record, Daily Telegraph, 1931, p.22

Kip Coop interview Feb 2020

Part Two of The Tuki Tuki Station Story will follow shortly...


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