Wanted: owners of abandoned land

Descendants of a pioneering Wakatipu family could be entitled to some plots of land listed as abandoned by the Queenstown Lakes District Council. James Beech investigates.

Two Queenstown law firm employees have turned detective in the search for descendants of a famous pioneering Cardrona and Wakatipu family who could be in line to inherit land to which they never knew they were entitled.

Macalister Todd Phillips (Mactodd) solicitor Tanya Surrey and law clerk Rohan McKenzie have been searching for the descendants of Rebecca and George Bond, and 19 other registered owners of abandoned land, over the past six months on behalf of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The council was not receiving any rates payments because of the absence of owners. The council could only recover rates for the previous six years.

Council spokeswoman Meaghan Miller said descendants might be entitled to the land but it was not guaranteed.

"First the High Court must appoint the Public Trust as managers, then the Public Trust will decide what to do. A number of issues must be considered as well as the entitlements of descendants."

Descendants for the unclaimed titles had been traced, except for Rebecca Bond, Jennie Baird Galbraith, who is still the registered proprietor of 607sq m in Kingston, and Wah Yeong, Ah Kin or Ah Hin, Wong You, Sudy Key and Ah Lem, who were all Chinese goldminers in the late 1800s.

The Mactodd team was actively seeking family members of those early settlers and had also liaised with the Chinese embassy and the New Zealand Chinese Association regarding the goldminers. However, nothing more was known about Ms Galbraith and the goldminers.

The titles for sections that Mactodd had not yet found descendants for ranged in size from 405sq m to 2808sq m. All were within the district, with nine in Cardrona.

The market values of the outstanding parcels ranged from $50,000 to $385,000. If the market value was less than $40,000, the Public Trust could choose to manage the land without the need for a High Court application and the process of finding descendants of title-holders.

Mactodd placed public notices in the Otago Daily Times and national media, consulted cemetery records, museums, Public Trust, Archives New Zealand, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists and the Department of Internal Affairs' Births, Deaths and Marriages section.

About 25 people from around the country, including four in Otago-Southland, had contacted Mactodd and the firm was working with the Public Trust to apply to the High Court at Christchurch to manage the land.

"There are legislative requirements that the High Court and Public Trust will consider before land is given to descendants," Ms Surrey said.

Mrs Bond was the licensee of the Mountaineer Hotel in Queenstown, in 1885, and is still the registered proprietor of land with title issued in the late 1880s in Cardrona.

The Bonds had seven children - George Butler jun, Alice Maud, Ada Rebecca, Isabella, Mary Ann, Minnie and Frederick Bond.

Alice was the only offspring known to have children, but one died in childhood, one was thought to have emigrated to Scotland, one became a nun and the other died in World War 1.

Mr McKenzie said the descendants the firm had found had been very helpful.

"Some of the stories behind why some of the lands weren't claimed are fascinating.

"There is a lot of excitement in the possibility there is land in their ancestor's name they didn't know about, but we've been making it clear there is a process involved and the Public Trust may be appointed to manage it."

Ms Surrey said she and Mr McKenzie would love to hear from anyone who had a genuine belief they were a relative of Rebecca Bond, or any of the other landowners for whom the firm was looking.

"We're optimistic there will be descendants out there who may have a claim to the land.

"Any descendants will need to establish their ancestry and identify a family link to Mrs Bond," Ms Surrey said.