• The New Zealand Robert Campbell

    Robert Campbell (1843-1889) was the eldest son of Robert (Tertius) Campbell.  He was born in London, England on 8 January 1843.  At this stage his family made occasional trips to England from Australia, before his father moved to London in the 1850s and then subsequently purchased the Buscot Estate in Berkshire.  He provides the generational link with the Selwoods and the transition from Berkshire in England to Southland in New Zealand.

    Robert Campbell

    Robert was educated at Eton College.  Having grown up on the Buscot Estate in Berkshire he had acquired a good knowledge and grounding in large-scale farming technologies.  However, with the farming opportunities emerging in the colonies, and particularly the opening up of large blocks of sheep farming lands in New Zealand, this became a major investment opportunity for the Campbells.  With his father’s support and backing, and with the wider support of the Campbell Company in Australia, the young Campbell travelled to New Zealand and investigated pastoral land investment opportunities.  He arrived in Auckland at 17 years of age and quickly travelled to the South Island and started investing there.

    Robert’s timeline, events and achievements include:

    • In 1860, at the age of 18, he had entered a partnership with William Anderson Low and acquired the Galloway Run in Central Otago.
    • Within the span of 10 years, Campbell, either alone or in partnership, owned or leased large tracts of Otago and Southland land.  These included the stations of Benmore (1863), Rhoborough Downs (1862), Otekaieke, which became the home station (1865), Ben Ohau (1867), Ben Lomond (1869), Rocky Point (1869), Station Peak (1869), Burwood (1870), Mararoa (1870), and Mavora (1870).
    • At the height of their profitability, these Campbell properties contained 300,000 sheep, and over 600,000 acres, one of New Zealand’s largest farming operations.  Benmore Station alone, in the upper reaches of the Waitaki River, was 200,000 acres.
    • Campbell began active freeholding in the 1870s, reselling very profitably later in the decade.  He also acquired property for development and resale in Manawatu in the North Island.
    • Campbell had the skill to recruit key people to manage his sheep runs and business operations, including William Rees, Robert Orr, and A.C. Beggs, his Dunedin financial and legal manager.
    • Campbell imported stud merino stock from Australia and won many prizes with them.  He was active in both the Otago and North Otago Agricultural and Pastoral associations.
    • He had some success with his own racehorses.
    • From 1866 to 1869 he was elected the Oamaru member to the House of Representatives.
    • He married Emma in December 1868 at the St Luke Church, Christchurch.  She was the daughter of South Canterbury run holder Joseph Hawdon.  They had no children.
    • He resigned from the House of Representatives in 1869 and took his wife to England on an extended honeymoon.  They received a welcome at Buscot worthy of royalty with a coach ride, banners and a band reception (See Papers Past Otago Daily Times, 13 September 1869).
    • Campbell was appointed to the New Zealand Legislative Council on his return in 1870.
    • His national political career was apparently not outstanding as he was frequently absent, visiting his properties, returning to Britain (in 1875 and 1881), and being more active in local affairs.  He was the first chairman of the Waitaki County Council (1877-81), a member of the Oamaru Harbour Board, the Waitaki High School Board, and the Council (later senate) of the University of New Zealand (1871-79).
    • He was also a shareholder and director of the Duntroon-Hakataramea Railway Company and the Oamaru Woollen Mill Company.
    • Campbell gave general support to the Vogel public works policy.
    • He and his wife made another trip to Buscot in 1875, about the time the rabbit problem was mushrooming on his Southland and Otago sheep runs.  His visit was probably the catalyst for Buscot gamekeeper James Selwood and new wife Helena to immigrate to New Zealand and reside at the Campbell’s Burwood Station in Southland, New Zealand.
    • Campbell wanted a home a little bigger than his two-storey homestead on Otekaieke Station, so while in England in 1875-1876 he dispatched Scottish tradesmen to build the couple’s new home.  Perhaps rivalling his father’s Buscot mansion, it was a 35-room limestone baronial mansion, distinguished by castellated gables and turrets, stately and dignified, with a conservatory, wide lawns, avenues, gravel drives, ponds and water lilies, peacocks, extensive stables, and a lodge.  It was undoubtedly the most impressive of north Otago’s grand homes and is located on a side road between Duntroon and Kurow.
    • Campbell and his wife were great entertainers and were noted for their hospitality in their stately home.  Supported by servants, they entertained on a lavish scale with balls, functions and district picnics.
    • Robert Campbell led and promoted the Kurow branch railway which opened in 1875.  Initially the terminal was at Duntroon but eventually it was extended to Kurow in 1881.  Duntroon was named by Robert Campbell after the family Campbell’s ancestral home, Duntrune Castle, in Argyll, Scotland.  The Australian Campbell branch also had a “Duntroon Homestead” on land now occupied by Canberra, Australia.
    • He chaired the first meeting that led to New Zealand’s first frozen meat shipment to England, and supplied lambs for that shipment.
    • He was founder and director of the New Zealand Refrigeration Company.
    • His other business interests included coastal shipping, the Mosgiel Woollen Factory Company, and the Oamaru Woollen Factory Company.
    • Campbell again visited England in 1881 and the company restructured with a new company formed, Robert Campbell and Sons Ltd, and all other Campbell lands transferred to this company in 1881.  It was the seventh largest New Zealand land-owning company in 1882.
    • With the introduction of the frozen meat trade, Campbell adopted breeding programmes on his properties to convert from the wool-producing merino breed to a stronger meat-producing breed.
    • At the peak of his landholding, Robert Campbell held eight stations in Canterbury, Otago and Southland, with a total of almost one million acres (404,000 hectares) of leased or owned land.
    • He was strongly critical of the attempts of the Otago Provincial Council to subdivide and make available more better-class land for closer settlement, which could deprive some of the larger runholders of the most fertile parts of their leases.
    • During the depression years in New Zealand in the 1880s, Campbell was in a better position than many to withstand the downturn, but conditions were tough, and the rabbit scourge significantly impacted on the profitability of the Campbell sheep runs.
    • He was accused of “dummyism” in 1885 in which he held leased land in the name of various agents.
    • Drink increasingly diminished Campbell’s efficiency in politics and business, and most local decisions in the company’s affairs were made by the general manager, Alexander Campbell Begg, of Dunedin.  His father, Robert Tertius Campbell, died in 1887.
    • In 1888 he sponsored the demonstration of the Australian-invented Wolseley shearing machine which replaced hand-shearing.
    • After a long period of illness Robert Campbell died, aged 47, on 9 December 1889 in Dunedin.  His widow, Emma Campbell, died just four months after him.  They had no children.