ACLAND, John Barton Arundel
Barrister, sheep farmer, and politician.
J. B. A. Acland was a son of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, Bt., and was born at Rollerton, Devonshire, in 1824. From the great English public school of Harrow, he went to Oxford, where he graduated in 1845. Three years later he was practising law in London. Here his life-long friend Charles George Tripp introduced him to John Robert Godley, James Ed. FitzGerald, and others interested in the projected settlement of the Canterbury Association. The result was that Acland and Tripp, who are inseparable in the story of high-country farming, both abandoned law as a profession and embarked for New Zealand to take up land. They reached Lyttelton in October 1855 and showed their uncommon good sense by first obtaining experience in sheep farming by working on established runs, one of which was in South Canterbury. Because of their radical views and sympathies, these two newcomers were regarded by other runholders as a pair of rather harmless lunatics, but both proved themselves men of courage and vision. When they found that all the richer plains and lowlands had been taken up by earlier runholders, they turned their eyes to the hills and, before going south on a trip of exploration, they each applied for 57,500 acres of country in the vague region of Mt. Peel and the gorge of the Rangitata River. Their choice was pure guesswork, for the region was both unexplored and unsurveyed. On their first exploring trip in 1856, they burned miles of this country with an abandon which would have appalled catchment boards of today, but it promoted luxuriant growth for their first stock. Acland and Tripp went south by bullock wagon with their stores and station hands and established Mt. Peel Station in May 1856. (Aclands have lived there ever since.) The partnership ended in 1862 when the property was divided, Acland retaining Mt. Peel and Tripp taking Orari Gorge. Other Crown leasehold was added until Mt. Peel took in about 100,000 acres of country, but it has since been much reduced in area. In the Victorian tradition of a benevolent squire, Acland encouraged his employees (as did Tripp at Orari Gorge) to marry and remain on the station with their families, and to this end provided accommodation for them. His vision of the future was that the homestead, built in 1865–66 and still standing, and the beautiful little Church of the Holy Innocents, which he built nearby in 1868, should become the centre of a large community of small farmers. The land, however, was unsuitable for close subdivision. Round both church and homestead he planted trees, for he was a great tree lover, and the splendid specimens of today are proof of his foresight.
Acland's interests led him far beyond the control and management of his station. He was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1863, and was South Canterbury's representative there for 34 years. He exercised considerable influence in local body affairs in his own district and worked for improvements during the formative years. He was chairman of the Mt. Peel Road Board from 1870 to 1900, and a member of the Geraldine Road Board in 1864, at a time when roading was a vital subject. Acland was keenly interested in education and was a member of the Board of Governors of Canterbury College (1873–78) and of the Senate of the University of New Zealand. His community interest also found expression as lay reader of Mt. Peel and Peel Forest Churches, and as member both of the Diocesan and of General Synods. He was a prime mover in bringing Bishop Harper to New Zealand, and afterwards married Emily Weddell, one of his daughters, by whom he had a family of nine.
Acland was a public-spirited man, cautious and prudent, with a dedicated sense of duty to his employees and the community in which he lived. Both he and Tripp were devoted churchmen, and even when alone on exploring trips, which they often made, they observed all church festivals. When among the silence and solitude of the hills these two men read to each other appropriate lessons from the Scriptures, and both observed the practice of daily prayers in their homes. Acland died in Christchurch on 18 May 1904, and was buried in the Mt. Peel churchyard.
The Acland family has made a decided impact on the Canterbury community. One son, Sir Hugh Acland, C.M.G., C.B.E., F.R.C.S. (1874–1956), became a distinguished and much-loved surgeon, and was one of the founders of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. He did notable work in cancer research. During the South African War he served as a civil surgeon and, in the First World War, with the New Zealand Medical Corps in France. For 25 years he was honorary surgeon to the Christchurch Hospital. Sir Hugh's taste for history was instrumental in preserving many of the documents and diaries concerning Mt. Peel Station. He was knighted in 1933. Another son, Henry Dyke Acland (1867–1942), a lawyer, was chairman of the Canterbury College Board of Governors for 11 years; president of the Dominion Council and of the Canterbury District Council of the WEA; chairman of the Railways Board; and member of the New Zealand Meat Producers Board. By prudent management and sound advice he extricated Mt. Peel Station from financial stress following disastrous snowstorms and eras of recession.
H. J. D. (Jack) Acland (1904–), grandson of J. B. A. Acland and son of Sir Hugh, carries on the family tradition at Mt. Peel. He represented Temuka in the House of Representatives from 1942 to 1946 and has been a member of the New Zealand Wool Board since 1947.
by Oliver Arthur Gillespie, M.B.E., M.M. (1895–1960), Author.
Diaries held by the Acland Family (MSS); Mount Peel is a Hundred, Harte, G. W. (1956); South Canterbury, Gillespie, O. A. (1958).