Page 1: Biography
Runholder, rabbit farmer, eccentric
This biography, written by Philippa Graham, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Henry Poingdestre, the fourth son of five children, was baptised at the parish church in St Helier, on the island of Jersey, on 3 August 1832. He was a descendant of Geoffrey and Raoul Poingdestre, who owned land on the island in 1250. Henry's father, John Matthews Poingdestre, had married a second cousin, Caroline Harris Poingdestre, in 1826.
Henry Poingdestre emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Lyttelton aboard the Royal Stuart on 4 January 1855. He went to Australia in December, probably to buy livestock, and returned in March 1856. On 20 May he applied for a depasturing licence on the 25,000 acre South Canterbury Run 31. This was granted on 1 July. A managing partner, George Buchanan, held a small share in the unsurveyed, scrub covered, unfenced station until about 1860, when he was replaced by Richard Groome. The station was named Blue Cliffs after the blue clay cliffs on the Otaio River. Poingdestre built his small homestead opposite these. In 1857, to protect the homestead, he applied for pre-emptive rights to 250 acres of Blue Cliffs and in 1862 he applied for pre-emptive rights to a further 50 acres nearby. In December 1861 his elder brother William, a civil engineer, and William's wife, Helen, arrived to settle with him on the run.
Henry Poingdestre was a popular, amusing eccentric. On 31 March 1856 at a scratch race meeting at Riccarton he ran a mare called Unprotected Female. His homestead paths were edged with gin bottles and it is said that after an evening drinking at the Royal Hotel in Christchurch, he rowed off down the Avon in a wash tub, saying, 'I'm off to look for more country.' Poingdestre was short and stout with a bushy beard and eyebrows, and very bright eyes. Children were fascinated by the carvings he worked on to their sticks or stock whip handles. He wore a white bell-topper and drove tandem a mule and an old white mare in a home-made gig, a packing case on wheels. He raced the mule for fun at the Timaru race meeting on 7 March 1860. In 1861 Poingdestre was nominated as the Timaru candidate for the House of Representatives. Although he received 12 votes to Francis Jollie's 5 at the Timaru polling station, he lost 16 to 20 overall. Nevertheless, in 1867 he was elected to the Waimate Road Board. He acted as judge for the Saltwater Creek Steeplechase in 1867.
In January 1866 Henry Poingdestre advertised Blue Cliffs for sale. Although he had taken out pre-emptive rights for 300 acres, he had not freeholded any land, and the licence for Run 31 was transferred to John Hayhurst on 28 May 1866. William Poingdestre returned to England with his family while Henry started a rabbit farm on Poingdestre's Island, at the mouth of the Waihao River. In 1868 a flood swept rabbits and hutches off the island and Poingdestre left for the Thames and West Coast goldfields. He died a bachelor at Murrumburrah, New South Wales, on 18 July 1885, after having spent twenty-nine years in New Zealand and one year in New South Wales. As much as a quarter-century after his death, at the Timaru jubilee procession in 1909, he was still remembered by a representation of the 'comic turn-out' he once drove.