Brancepeth, Wairarapa (1856)

An early pastoral kingdom

Sheep would trample Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s dreams of a corn-growing facsimile of Britain into the dust. At first his New Zealand Company discouraged Australian-style squatters, but with New South Wales riding on the sheep’s back from its wool exports, New Zealand had to follow. In 1844 Charles Clifford, William Fox and William Vavasour edged around the rocks at Palliser Bay and drove their flocks into Wairarapa.

In 1856 the Beetham brothers, William, George, Charles and Richmond, took up 4000 ha of pastoral land in ‘The Wydrop’ (Wairarapa) and built a whare from pit-sawn tōtara. Through skilful marriage alliances and hard work, the family expanded Brancepeth Station, which at its peak covered 21,457 ha. The Beethams became one of those New Zealand farming dynasties ­ – the Deans, the Griggs and the Studholmes were others - that put down deep roots. Beethams still farm here, although subdivision has shrunk the estate.

The 36-room Brancepeth farmhouse typifies the large New Zealand timber pastoral homestead. A castellated central tower successfully unites the 1886 and the 1905 sections. The original whare, built in 1856, still survives, as does the first homestead (1858), both keeping an 1859 woolshed company. The outbuildings also include a coach house and stables, station school and the library built in 1884 for the station’s workers (Victoria University of Wellington’s library now houses the books).

Further information

This site is item number 20 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • Alex Hedley and Gareth Winter, In the boar’s path: a journey to the heart of a pastoral kingdom, Hedley’s Books, Masterton, 2012
  • Lydia Wevers, Reading on the farm: Victorian fiction and the colonial world, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2011

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