Joseph Pearson was born in 1821 at Bothel, Cumberland, overlooking Solway Firth, and throughout his life retained the broad North Country brogue. He was brought up on his father's farm and gained a good knowledge of stock there. He sailed from England for Australia on 3 March 1841 and was taken on as a cadet by a well-known squatter, Eden Grace, from whom he soon learnt the pastoralist business. He became a skilled and daring horseman and carried out several outstanding stock drives in Australia.
Pearson came over to New Zealand in 1851 in charge of stock for Joseph Hawdon, J. C. Aitken, and the Macdonald brothers and, further, was to make a report on the country. He was said to be the first to explore the upper Waimakariri where Lake Pearson was named after him.
He selected Craigieburn and Grasmere runs for Hawdon, and Burnt Hill for himself. Burnt Hill is an isolated hill in the middle of the flat country north of the Waimakariri. Haast said it was a volcanic outcrop – in fact, a small extinct volcano. Pearson took it up in October 1851. Robert Waitt, in a journey he took on horseback in 1856, visited him and was much impressed with his improvements. “His woolshed is an admirable one, capable of storing 100 bales; his run is a fine one and there is at hand abundance of timber for every purpose.” Pearson added to it two small Waimakariri runs, Dagnam and Worlingham, the latter of which he soon transferred to his son William Fisher and a friend Harry Brettagh. Later, he bought a small run, Rockliffe, of 7,000 acres, above the Waimakariri Gorge.
Pearson twice saved the life of R. H. Rhodes – once when he was surrounded by milling cattle and once when his horse became terrified by a swinging signboard in Melbourne. J. D. Lance said in a speech: “He was a grand example of a pioneer colonist to whom (I myself) and others 30 years ago looked to as their instructor.”
Pearson married, in Australia, Sarah Parkinson, a sister of T. H. Parkinson, of Kaituna; she was a tiny woman to whom he was devoted. A favourite saying of his was: “Sarah! Have some regard for the truth!”. Of his family of eight only two survived him.
Pearson died at Burnt Hill on 27 March 1901 aged 80, three months after his wife. His brilliantly able son, William Fisher Pearson, M.H.R. for Ashley, died on 3 July 1888, aged 34.
by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.
- Early Canterbury Runs, Acland, L. G. D. (1951)
- Oxford – The First Hundred Years, Gillespie, O. A. (1954)
- Lyttelton Times, 10 Jun 1885.