It was a thrill (truly) to find myself during a recent trip to the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) in Thomson’s Barnyard. J T Thomson was the surveyor who gave the Maniototo names relating to animals- Sowburn, Eweburn, Wedderburn, Lowburn and so on.
The Maniototo (Mānia o toto) country is stunningly beautiful with distant dark blue mountains you’d love to be able to paint or write about coherently, and vast dry windswept plains. It was freezingly cold while I was there but cleared enough one day to visit some local sites: Patearoa where we found a tiny, but famous library; Waipiata with a welcoming pub, Naseby with its small old houses and international varieties of huge conifers.
There are at least three different stories about Thomson’s naming of the Maniototo area: as a surveyor in the 19th century he wished to name the country using Māori names but was quashed so used the barnyard names in a fit of pique; the Provincial Government staff were concerned that some Greek names were appearing (is Mt Ida the only remaining?) so wanted more prosaic names; there were no Māori in the area so he named many places after his homeland and the names of animals.
While Thomson may be remembered mostly for the idiosyncratic naming of the country he was also a painter and engineer – two of his bridges are still used. His surveying methods of triangulation and compass were admired.
And because I believe that J T Thomson lived in Caversham, and my great grandmother owned a boarding house in Broughton Street, I walked along the road and took a photo from the old station road near the old Cavy Bush.
For details of Caversham’s history read Exploring Historic Caversham, in which I originally found the information about Thomson.