Station heritage endures at Otekaieke

The baronial mansion built for Robert Campbell is now the centrepiece of Campbell Park Estate. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The baronial mansion built for Robert Campbell is now the centrepiece of Campbell Park Estate. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
When land baron Robert Campbell married in 1868, he decided the attractive two-storey homestead on Otekaieke Station was not big enough to live in.

So he took his new bride, Emma Hawdon, back to his English home, Buscot Park, and dispatched Scottish tradesmen to build the couple's new house.

Undoubtedly the most impressive of North Otago's grand homes, Campbell's 35-room limestone baronial mansion is often referred to as a castle.

A few kilometres down a quiet, country road off State Highway 83, between Duntroon and Kurow, and now the centrepiece of Campbell Park Estate, it was the first house designed by a New Zealand-born architect, John Burnside, who worked for Mason and Wales.

It was also the first time a model had been made of a building prior to it being built It was sent to Australia for viewing and displayed at the Ballarat Industrial Exhibition and the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879.

The homestead deemed too small by Campbell became the manager's house and is now home to Michael and Wendy Bayley.

It had been built for another important figure in early North Otago history, William Heywood Dansey, after whom the Dansey Pass, linking North and Central Otago, is named.

The Otekaieke run - first licensed to Samuel Helier Pike in 1854 and later sold to John Parkin Taylor - was bought by Dansey in 1857.

According to Robert Pinney's Early Northern Otago Runs, English-born Dansey, an Oxford graduate, landed at Port Chalmers in December 1854.

He went up to Port Nicholson (now Wellington) and carried his swag over the Rimutakas in a search for Wairarapa land.

He crossed back to Nelson and, in 1855, accompanied David Monro - a future knight and Speaker of the House of Representatives - on his ride from Nelson to South Canterbury.

The intention of the ride was to find out what was being done in the Waitaki Valley.

They turned back after reaching Pareora.

But by the next year, Dansey was in the Waitaki Valley, from which he explored into the Maniototo Plain.

Dansey built a cottage on Otekaieke, one of the first recorded buildings in North Otago and which still stands in the grounds of Campbell Park.

The graves of his two young children, who died from eating either poisonous tutu or deadly nightshade berries, are on the hill above the cottage.

Dansey later moved to Oamaru where he was a collector for the Oamaru Borough Council.

He was believed to be the first man in the town to receive the pension.

Robert Campbell, who took up the Otekaieke holding in the early 1860s, was born in 1843.

Michael and Wendy Bayley in the grounds of their historic home at Otekaieke Station. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Michael and Wendy Bayley in the grounds of their historic home at Otekaieke Station. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
His father, also Robert Campbell, was from a wealthy mercantile family.

The younger Campbell, fresh from Eton, sailed firstly to Australia, where his uncle had a large holding in what is now the Duntroon Military College.

The Campbells made their fortune as merchants in India and Australia.

Limestone from the quarry at Otekaieke was used as ballast in ships making the return journey from New Zealand to Australia and some of it was used in Circular Quay in Sydney.

When Robert Campbell decided to settle in New Zealand, he bought up large tracts of land.

Otekaieke was only a small part of what he owned.

He also acquired Station Peak, across the Waitaki River near Hakataramea, the mighty Benmore Station near Omarama and Galloway in Central Otago.

The sprawling Otekaieke Station stretched virtually from Kurow to the Maerewhenua River at Duntroon, running back over to the Dansey Pass.

Money was no object to Campbell who imported the very best merino ewes from Victoria, Australia, and rambouillet (Spanish merino) rams, along with quality cattle, to stock Otekaieke and his other properties.

He employed a series of managers.

A prominent figure in the community, Campbell was a member of the House of Representatives and also chairman of the Waitaki County Council.

He and his wife were great entertainers and noted for their hospitality in their massive home.

They had no children.

Robert Campbell died, aged 47, in 1889 and his widow died a year later.

Both are buried in Dunedin's Northern Cemetery.

Otekaieke Station passed to Campbell's nephew, Robin Campbell, a military man who was not particularly interested in farming.

He retired to Christchurch and, in 1908, sold the freehold title back to the Government.

The Government subdivided some of the lower country, putting it up for ballot.

They were small farms and not economic, and those applying for ballots were mainly employees who worked on the property.

One hundred and twenty hectares was retained and a special school for boys opened in 1908.

Originally, only Campbell's mansion was used but eventually a manager's house was built and trees were felled to build cottages for the boys.

The school grew to accommodate 34 houses, as well as dormitories, administration buildings, dining facilities, a swimming pool, gymnasium, tennis courts and a sports field.

It closed in 1987 and the property is now in private ownership.

Dickson Jardine, who was managing Otekaieke at the time of its sale in 1908, had the pick of the station, and he chose the homestead block and the run which stretched into Dansey Pass.