On the pastoral east coast of the South Island, growing sheep for wool was profitable if the runs were large. However, the provincial government set a high price for land, so most early runs were leasehold. Under this tenure, leaseholders were able to set aside 50 acres (20 hectares) of land around an improvement such as a fence, in what was called an improvement pre-emptive right (IPR). There was also a homestead pre-emptive right (HPR) of 250 acres (100 hectares) around the homestead. Runholders had the right to purchase these areas if a third party tried to buy them. ‘Spotting’ was when runholders used IPRs strategically, to control larger areas of land.
By February 1866, the Levels station near Cave in South Canterbury, controlled by the Canterbury and Otago Association, had established a network of IPRs. However, concerned that they might lose other areas of their leasehold, in 1873 the station bought as freehold 10 small sections of between 17 and 50 acres (7 and 20 hectares). These sections were in strategic places, such as the entrance to the valley or along fence lines, to prevent others from buying land that Levels tenants wanted to keep under leasehold. In May 1873 a third party, Andrew Burnett, bought 989 acres (400 hectares) of the best lands on the northern section of the Levels. Within a month, the Levels reacted to this threat by purchasing 600 acres to the south-west of Burnett’s land, and then acquired further ‘spots’ around it. The next year, after the wool cheque had come in, the Levels further encircled Burnett’s land with a large purchase. Leasehold land had become freehold and the Levels’ holdings were secure. Click on the map to follow the stages in the Levels’ land acquisition.
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Source: Noel Crawford, The station years: a history of the Levels, Cannington, and Holme Station. Cave: N. Crawford, 1981, p. 49