After the death of Robert Campbell (1843-1889), the Campbell estate was managed by his Dunedin-based manager A.C. Begg. However, the Campbell home at the Otekaieke Station was later occupied and managed by Robert Campbell’s nephew, Robin Campbell, who came out from England in 1897. He was a military man who was not particularly interested in farming, but he and his wife did continue the Otekaieke tradition of social occasion, noblesse.
A local report of a function hosted for the Waitaki Hunt Club stated: “A substantial lunch was provided to which, needless to say, all did justice. In the midst of this entertainment the ‘common people’ were not overlooked. The residents of Duntroon, Otiake and Kurow, despite the cloudy and sometimes drizzling weather, spent a pleasant time at Otekaieke House on Tuesday at the invitation of Mr and Mrs Campbell. The beautiful place yields a charm, no matter what the outlook is. . . . But now, the guests are gathered on the lawn. Mr Campbell loses no time in drawing the interest of all present to the pleasure of the sport. Here, we have games for boys and girls and the ‘man of the big house’ draws pretty heavily on the exchequer, I can tell you, which makes competition fast and strong. . . . Excellent tea and varied refreshments for old and young provided on tables under the willows and other trees make up a complete day of change and pleasure. If you add to this cheerfulness of the host and hostess, you have an inkling of what a picnic is at Otekaieke House. We ended the day with three cheers for Mr and Mrs Campbell, which the recollection of many such picnics in the past made the more lusty.”
But times were changing. There was a political shift from the 1880s into the 1900s. No longer did the rural elite hold the government benches. The working class sought more social equity. There was increased pressure on subdividing the large farm blocks and north Otago became a focus in this shift.
Robin Campbell did not support the government move to break up his station and his recourse was to sell the freehold title for the Otekaieke Station back to the government in 1907. He retired to Christchurch. This left the Campbells with just the Benmore and Galloway Stations which returned to the government at the expiry of their Crown leases in 1916. The firm of Robert Campbell and Sons, which had been an English registered company since 1881, went into voluntary liquidation in 1917, after 60 years in New Zealand.
When the Otekaieke estate was finally offered for settlement by the government in 1908, it had been sub-divided into seven small grazing runs, 37 farms and 12 small holdings. The runs ranged in size from
998 acres to 12,364 acres, the farms from 58 acres to 817 acres and the smallholdings from 10 acres to 40 acres. Most of those applying for ballots were employees who worked on the Otekaieke property. Most farm units proved to be uneconomic, and within a generation or two the owners had sold up and moved out.
The original Campbell homestead was too large to be attached to any of the properties, and since the Campbells had no wish to retain it, the government reserved the mansion and some 120 hectares of the land surrounding it and set the place up as, to use the words at that time, a “School for Defectives”. It was a residential school for boys who were developmentally delayed and/or who had behaviour problems. Campbell Park School was opened in 1908 by the Department of Education, Special and Industrial Schools Branch, and run by the New Zealand Education board. It was known as the Campbell Park School for Boys.
Originally, only the large Campbell 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.
The Special and Industrial Schools Branch became the Department of Education, Child Welfare Branch (later the Child Welfare Division), in 1925. In 1972, the administration of Campbell Park School reverted to the control of the Department of Education. Campbell Park School closed in 1987.
The property and mansion were privatised and have since had several owners. One of the most recent owners, the Bayley family, have had a five-generation connection with working on the Otekaieke Station, which now covers about 9,700 ha. The grounds contain some of the original trees, now over 150 years old, and the gardens, even without the employed gardeners of the Campbell years, are immaculate.
The farming of the station itself has shifted from grazing to more intensive farming, including aerial topdressing, sub-division of hill blocks, and deer fencing and farming. Otekaieke, stocked with merino sheep, beef cattle and deer, has not been an easy place to run because of the large distances involved, but has become easier with four-wheel-drive tracks established since the mid-1960s, replacing the horses and bridle tracks used before that.
The Ministry of Works has deemed Robert Campbell’s mansion to be an earthquake risk but through a lobbying effort it still remains but is unoccupied.
In recent decades, Campbell Park has also played host to a number of movie production crews including that of The Lion and The Witch and the Wardrobe, with the surrounding area featuring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In November 2015, the property was once again put up for sale, and drew further controversy in February 2016 when it was purchased by a company described as Chinese-owned, for an undisclosed sum (the company itself argued it was a New Zealand-registered firm). Their plan was to establish an English school for overseas, mainly Chinese, students, and to capitalise on the Queenstown to Christchurch tourist trade.
Now known as the Campbell Park Estate its future remains uncertain. Let us hope that this link with the past can be maintained, but that is not easy.