Craigieburn is a colonial subsistence farm that adjoins Ross Creek and the entrance to Flagstaff Scenic Reserve on Tanner and Fulton Road above the picturesque Leith Valley. It was originally settled by William and Elizabeth Rankin along with their daughter Elizabeth in 1860. It has a unique heritage and conservation history and today many of the historical colonial features of the site have been conserved along with 4 hectares of impressive rimu forest. With its fine 360 degree views of the city, recreational and conservation linkages to Ross Creek and the Leith Valley Craigieburn is a rich slice of our colonial and botanical heritage.
William and Elizabeth Rankin arrived in Dunedin with their daughter Elizabeth from Scotland in 1860 as assisted immigrants on the Robert Henderson. The Rankin’s arrived with a small amount of money and purchased a 7.2 hectares bush block as a subsistence farm. Subsistence properties were common in early Dunedin where local authorities kept property prices high and wages low. This was a deliberate policy of the provincial authorities to ensure that working men could not afford to buy land, and would be forced to supply labour to larger landowners and businesses at a cheap rate.
The Rankin’s began work on their property by clearing the kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) from around the entrance to the site between Tanner and Wakari Roads up to the present location of the stone wall and beyond. Firewood was at a premium in Dunedin in the 1860’s because there was no reliable local coal supply until 1870, and firewood lots were worth £200/acre. To earn extra money Elizabeth and William felled the trees together and while William took the wood to the city for sale by bullock sled, Elizabeth would cut and split the logs ready for the next load. It was hard physical work and Elizabeth Rankin is recorded as wearing “breekit” drawing her skirts up between her legs like trousers and holding them up with a leather belt. Click on images for viewer.
William Rankin died in the 1872 and Mrs Rankin married Edwin Tanner in 1879. Edwin Tanner was a strong influence on his community and his family. A self-taught surveyor he served as a City Councillor for the Maori Hill Borough. During this period a deliberate halt to the removal of tree’s on the property occurred within the family and that ban remained in place throughout Tanner and Elizabeth’s life time. Edwin died in 1909 and later his wife Elizabeth died in 1921 at the age of ninety-four.
Elizabeth Rankin had arrived at Craigieburn as small child with her parents, William and Elizabeth senior, and lived on Craigieburn all of her life. She married local man Robert Sherriff and moved to a separate house on the property brought by bullock from Wakari to Tanner Road. Her husband Robert died in 1902 and she was widowed with 10 children in a two bedroom house. Elizabeth Sherriff continued to farm the small property and lived on the site for nearly ninety years, eventually dying on November 3, 1949, at the age of ninety- three. She had maintained the love of trees that her step-father Edwin Tanner and mother Elizabeth had been so vehement about, by ensuring that an area of four acres of native bush remained on the northern boundary of Ross Creek Reservoir. Mrs Sherriff had held onto this legacy despite pressure from her family to have the area milled. Click on images for viewer.
The Dunedin Amenities Society
The Dunedin Amenities Society recognised the conservation values of Craigieburn at some period during the late 1940’s and approached Mrs Sherriff to see whether she would sell the property. She agreed to give the Society first right of purchase on her death and left instructions in her will. The purchase was finalised in 1950 and managed under a deed of trust to protect the property in perpetuity. The replanting faded in the early 1970’s and the project was revitalised in the 1990’s when much of the historical material was rediscovered and researched. The Otago Polytechnic Horticultural students have been planting trees with the Society for the last 20 years and new forest has been created in formerly cleared areas. Since 2006 the Society have now completed a major archaeological survey and restoration of the stone structures on the property as well as initiating interpretation and linking the site to Ross Creek Reserve. Click on images for views of some of the artefacts from the archaeological work at Craigieburn
A Conservation and Heritage Legacy
Today there are 52 rimu (Dacrydium cuppressinum) within the Craigieburn property that range in age from 250-350 and 450-550 years old. They form a dense stand of original forest cover that is a unique remnant of the original lowland forest cover of the Dunedin landscape. It’s difficult to know what the motivation for preserving the rimu forest at Craigieburn was for Mrs Tanner and later her daughter Elizabeth Sherriff. That proposition is made even more difficult because they left no written records describing their thoughts on the proposal. We can only surmise from scraps of information about their characters what their intentions were. Whatever their reason’s their foresight and loyalty to one another has left a living conservation and heritage legacy, which must be considered one of New Zealand’s earliest private conservation areas.
The Historical and Conservation Trail
Visitors to Craigieburn will find several well marked and easy gradient gravel and grass tracks around the site. There is on site interpretation signs at the main heritage and landscape areas of the site and directional markers to help you find your way around. Particular highlights of the site are;
The complexity and scale of the stone work at the cow byre in the central paddock where the colonial family moved from subsistence to larger production.
- The restored stone wall in the central paddock with its mixture of building styles and massive consumption stones dragged from the paddock
- The simple little ruin site within the bush giving the visitor a feel for the early beginnings of settler life.
- The giant 550-650 year old rimu adjacent to the stream opposite Wakari Road.
The Society welcomes visitors , please take care of the heritage and forest features and we hope you’ll enjoy your time there.
The following aerial view shows the location of the Craigieburn reserve. Use Google maps to navigate your way to Tanner Road or Wakari Road and drive there. Alternatively catch the No 3 city bus to Ross Creek from the Dunedin Bus Hub in Great King Street (opposite the Dunedin Police Station) and get off at the Tanner Road stop no 106 opposite to the entrance of Craigieburn.
Good luck and enjoy your time in a very unique area of Dunedin City.