Another Shotover? . . . in New Zealand
Updated 2014-07-03

A Coincidence or not? Anyone surfing the web will have found that searches for the name "Shotover" return a plethora of web sites relating to adventure activities on New Zealand’s Shotover River. Perhaps like me, you may have wondered why a river on the other side of the world, should share a name with an Oxfordshire hill. So I decided to find out. This web page is the result of my researches. (An earlier and much briefer account of this work was published in the Summer 2006 Newsletter of the Shotover Preservation Society.) A list of references used, with web links where appropriate, will be found at the foot of this page. Our story starts in Scotland in the early years of the 19th century, where.......

George Gammie was born on the 16th August 1819. His parents were Peter Gammie and his wife Mary, formerly Mary McRobb. George, the youngest of five children, was subsequently baptised at Forgue, Aberdeenshire on 30th August 1819. His elder brother John, one of twins, was born on 5th April 1817. (Ref. 1) George and John were later to emigrate to Australia where.......

The Darling Downs were discovered by Allan Cunningham in 1827, in what was then New South Wales, but was later to become the new state of Queensland. The Darling Downs offered good grazing but were beyond the Great Dividing Range and close to the penal colony of Moreton Bay, so it was not until 1840 when the more easily accessible land near Sydney had been taken, that the early pastoralist explorers turned their attention to the area. The first to settle there were the Leslie brothers, Patrick, Walter and George, who established the run Tulburra (later spelt Toolburra) at the headwaters of the Condomine River. Like the Gammie brothers, the Leslies were from Aberdeenshire and it has been suggested that both families, along with others, were recruited there in the late 1830's (Ref. 7). It is known that the Gammie brothers first settled on the Darling Downs in 1843, on a run named Clifton, 10 miles to the North of Toolburra. By 1848 they were prospering and around this time they purchased the neighbouring runs of Talgai (60,000 acres) between Clifton and Toolburra, and Pilton (30,000 acres) to the East of Clifton.

Meanwhile in Wales, William Gilbert Rees was born on 6th April 1827. He was baptised on 7th May at Haroldston St. Issells, Pembrokeshire. His parents were William Lee Rees and Mary Pocock, who married in Bristol on 14th June 1826. In 1848 Rees was Godfather to, (and passed on his forenames to) his younger cousin William Gilbert Grace, who was born in Bristol on the 18th July 1848, the son of Henry Mills Grace and Martha Pocock (Ref. 1). This cousin was later to become famous as the cricketer, W. G. Grace. Rees himself was no mean cricketer and it is claimed that he encouraged his Godson in that direction. Indeed many of the family members, including W.G.'s father and elder brothers were all keen and successful cricketers, so it is probable that very little encouragement was required. However the baptism does serve to confirm that Rees was still in Britain in 1848.

In 1852, Rees, together with his younger cousin George Henry Bailey Gilbert (another accomplished cricketer), set off for a new life in Australia. After a brief flirtation with the gold fields, Rees chose the life of a pastoralist and by early 1853 had accepted a post as manager at Stonehenge, a sheep and cattle run owned by Robert Tooth and situated to the West of Talgai. George Gilbert remained in Sydney and established himself as one of the Colony's best cricketers, and in 1856 led the New South Wales team to victory against Victoria, in the first inter-colony cricket match.

For a return match the following year, Gilbert enlisted the services of his cousin Rees, who top-scored with 28 in the first innings, whilst Gilbert himself top-scored with 31 in the second innings, resulting in a second victory for New South Wales. This was Rees's only first class match in Australia.

Rees's nearest neighbour on the Darling Downs was George Gammie, who was by this time based at Talgai, and the two became good friends. Amongst his other talents Rees was a good amateur artist, and his sketch books include this portrait of George Gammie drawn at Talgai in 1853.

In August 1853 John Gammie died. George Gammie subsequently decided to return to England and sold his property in Australia. Details are known of the sale of "Talgai" (64,000 acres, 20,900 sheep in 1853), "Tulburra" (48,000 acres) and "Clifton" (10,000 head of cattle) (Refs. 3, 4 & 9). With part of the proceeds of the sale he purchased Shotover Estate here in Oxfordshire. In the book "King Wakatip" (Ref. 8), the author states that George Gammie had already purchased the Shotover Estate from the profits of his business, before the death of John Gammie. However the dates do not support this since the purchase was completed in July 1855 nearly 2 years after John Gammie's death (Ref. 12). Either way, it seems that following John's death, George Gammie and William Rees spent increasing amounts of time together. Conditions were becoming less favourable in Australia and like other pastoralists of the period, they turned their attention to New Zealand where new grasslands were being opened up and the prospects for profit seemed greater. The result was Rees's decision to leave the employment of Robert Tooth and to go across to New Zealand as Gammie's working manager and partner. A third person also joined the partnership, a Londoner named Colonel William Lewis Grant. In New Zealand the partnership was most commonly known as Grant and Gammie, but occasionally as Grant, Gammie and Rees. It seems reasonable to assume that the order of the names represents the relative financial interests of the partners. Rees returned to Britain in 1858 and this may in part have been to arrange financial backing for the New Zealand venture. However he also took the opportunity to marry his cousin Frances Gilbert on 20th July 1858, and of course to play some cricket!

Rees and his wife arrived in Wellington, New Zealand in January 1859 and by 29th April that year had travelled to Dunedin in the South Island, where Rees made his first land deal on behalf of the partnership, purchasing the lease on Dalvey, an existing run, near the modern township of Tapanui. Two weeks later his first child, Mary Rose Rees was born and in the register Rees signs as "William Gilbert Rees, stockowner, of Dunedin" By this stage all the easily accessible pasture land in South Island had been leased. What remained were the unexplored regions beyond the western mountain ranges. At about the time Rees arrived in Dunedin, the Otago provincial authorities decided to release this unknown territory to public lease. This was just the sort of speculative venture, that Rees and his partners had in mind, and using various combinations of their names, they were involved in 5 of the of 68 applications made in 1859. In these Rees was clearly the man on the ground and Grant and Gammie were the financial backers. In "Golden Days of Lake County" (Ref. 6) the author reports that Grant visited Rees in December 1860 to view some of the partnership's property in New Zealand. I have so far not found any evidence that Gammie ever set foot in the country.

Soon after purchasing the Shotover estate, George Gammie married Ellen Yaldwyn at Midhurst, Sussex on 20th September 1856. The birth of their first child followed almost immediately and is registered in the Headington registration district for the July-September quarter of 1856, as "Female Gammie". So it is presumed the family were already resident in Shotover House by this date. No baptismal record has so far been found for this daughter, but the 1861 census reveals her name to be Grace Ellen Gammie. Their second child, Mary Maitland Gammie was baptised at Wheatley on 2nd February 1858. Subsequent children were also baptised at Wheatley; Emmeline Stuart Gammie (19/12/1858), George Cecil Gammie (09/09/1860), Stuart Yaldwyn Gammie (12/07/1861), George Claude Gammie (14/01/1863) and Reginald Gammie-Maitland (07/06/1865). This is so far the earliest instance I have found of Gammie adopting the surname "Gammie-Maitland", though the "Maitland" name clearly had some significance since it was used as a second forename for Mary Maitland Gammie. From the above, it would seem that Gammie was permanently resident in England from at least 1856.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, having acquired a pastoral lease from the government, Rees had arrived at the shores of Lake Wakatipu in 1859. By the next year, 1860, he was running sheep on the land near what is now Queenstown (Ref. 5). It was in this year that Rees "discovered" and named the Shotover River, after the English residence of his (former?) partner, George Gammie. (Ref. 6). (I have seen one reference include the word "Former" at the point shown bracketed in the previous sentence, whilst others omit it. So this may indicate that the partnership had been disolved by this date and Gammie's financial interests were by then, all tied up in the Shotover Estate in England. However the partnership was still formally in place until 1865, when a notice was published in the Otago Witness for 19 August 1865, stating that the partnership of Grant, Gamie & Rees was dissolved by effluxion of time as from 27 July 1865)

Either way,

Shotover River acquired its present name, and our fame spread!
Q. E. D.

Interestingly, had Rees but known, two Scottish pioneers MacDonald and Cameron had discovered the Shotover River shortly before him and had named it the Tummel, but in the end it was Rees's name that stuck.

To complete the story, Rees’s rural peace was shattered in 1862 when two of his shearers, Harry Redfern and Thomas Arthur found gold on the banks of the Shotover River. News of this got out and the Otago gold rush was on. In the early days of the rush Rees performed the vital role of feeding the hungry miners. In 1867 he left the Wakatipu district and moved to the Waitaki where he was once more able to run sheep in peace. He died in Marlborough in 1898.

Meanwhile Gammie's English Farming proved less successful and according to the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire (Ref. 11), he "overstocked the estate with sheep, many of which died and eventually he went bankrupt." I have not so far discovered the exact date of the bankruptcy. As noted above around 1865, Gammie had adopted the double barrelled surname "Gammie-Maitland" and later he appears to drop the Gammie altogether and just use the surname Maitland. It is not clear whether this was merely in memory of happier days in the town of Maitland in Australia, or whether following his bankruptcy, he found the name "Gammie" an embarrassment!

By census night on the 2nd April 1871, the Gammie family had left Shotover House and there was only a gardener in residence. Later that year on the 1st August, the property was again put up for auction and was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel James Miller whose descendants are the present owners.

It is not just on South Island that the name Shotover is to be found in New Zealand. I am indebted to David Wilton, of Massey University, Auckland, who has pointed out that the name "Shotover" was also applied to the first major strike in the Thames goldfield on North Island. From what I have discovered so far, it seems likely that this name was derived indirectly from the Shotover river, rather than from any separate link back to Oxfordshire. Although the existence of gold in the area had been known about since 1852, territorial disputes with the Maori precluded activities in the area and it was not until 1867, that a party comprising George Clarkson, John Ebenezer White, William Hunt and S, Cobley discovered a rich vein. The claim was named the "Shotover Claim" but was also commonly known as "Hunt's Claim". In "The History of Gold Mining on the River Thames" (Ref. 13), the author states: "White brought his partner W.A. Hunt, an experienced miner from the South Island, who was to give the name "Shotover" to the claim in the valley." From which we can assume Hunt was at least aware of the discovery on the Shotover River, five years previously. My suspicion is that the link is closer than this. The "Shotover Mining Company" (previously the "Shotover Terraces Mining Company") was already in existence in the Otago area, with a number of shareholders. Unlike the alluvial gold being exploited in the South, the new Shotover claim was reef gold, requiring investment in expensive crushing equipment before it could be exploited. It seems likely that the existing Shotover Mining Company provided the necessary finance and so the claim was made in their name. This is speculation on my part, but if anyone reading this has definite evidence one way or the other, I would love to hear from them.

George Clarkson certainly approved of the name. He named a daughter Louisa Shotover Clarkson!

Note that the name "Thames" for the river has no significance in relation to Shotover or Oxfordshire. The river was named by Captain Cook in 1769, because its lower reaches reminded him of the English Thames at Greenwich.

References used in the above:

  1. Early genealogical information relating to the origins of Gammie and Rees has been derived from transcripts of parish registers, made available by the LDS church on the web site

  2. The web site quotes stories from William John Best Gray, an "old timer" from the Darling Downs, writing in 1903. He makes a couple of references to George Gammie, one in particular being:
    ". . . . they were a fine class of men. Their word could be taken for any amount, with the exception of two. Those two were Sir Arthur Hodson and George Gammie. If you had anything to do with those two worthy gentlemen you required a very substantial agreement, and, if there was the least mistake in the wording of it, your chances of getting your money for whatever work you may have done for them was very small indeed."
    From which we may conclude that George Gammie was not the most popular of land-owners!

  3. The web site Describes the history of Talgai in Queensland, Australia and provides confirmation that George and John Gammie had an interest in the property. It provided me with the first indication that George's brother John was also in Australia.

  4. Another significant reference to George Gammie occurs in a footnote to a document to be found at:
    The bulk of the document is concerned with use of Chinese labour in Australia, however in a footnote, the following appears:
    "Hood in partnership with John Douglas purchased ‘Talgai’ (64,000 acres and ‘Tulburra’ (48,000 acres), from George Gammie in 1854."

  5. The web site
    gives a good description of Rees’s history and his life in New Zealand. It includes photographs of a statue of Rees and a plaque describing his role in New Zealand's history.

  6. The book 'Golden Days of Lake County' by F.W.G. Miller, first published in 1949, contains the following description of the naming of Shotover river, on page 15:
    ". . . . until they came to a fine river which they [Rees and von Tunzelmann] named the Shotover, after the English residence of Mr Rees's partner, Mr Gammie, Shotover House . . . ."
    I am indebted to Peter Holland, Professor in the Department of Geography, Otago University for initially locating this quotation, and to Neil Selman for forwarding the details to me. I am even more indepted to Brian Wilsden of Masterton, New Zealand, who kindly presented me with a copy of the book on a visit to Oxford in 2007.

  7. The Australian Dictionary of National Biography, which can be found on line at: has no specific entry for the Gammie brothers, but there are several passing references to them. In particular the entry for Ernest Dalrymple at provides a plausible explanation and approximate date for the Gammies emigration to Australia.

  8. The book "King Wakatip" (How William Gilbert Rees, cousin and cricketing godfather of the incomparable W.G. Grace emigrated to the colonies and founded the most beautiful township in New Zealand) was written by G.J. Griffiths and published by John McIndoe, Dunedin, in 1971. Since first creating this web page in March 2007, I have been fortunate in obtaining a copy of this book, from Carmarthenshire Rare Books Carmarthenshire Rare Books and it has proved very useful in establishing details of the partnership between Gammie and Rees.

  9. The Allora & District Historical Society's web site at describes the sequence of ownership of some of the runs on Darling Downs and in particular mentions the death of John Gammie in 1853 and the subsequent sale of the Gammie properties.

  10. The Cricket Archive Web Site gives details of W.G.Rees' cricket career at

  11. The "Victoria County History of Oxfordshire", Volume V. ed. Mary D. Lobel, contains details of the history of Shotover including the period of George Gammie's ownership of Shotover Estate. (See the Oxfordshire VCH web site at )

  12. "The Times Newspaper" Monday May 21st 1855, page 16.

  13. The web site The History of Gold Mining on the River Thames at gives a good introduction to the origins of the Shotover Mine, in the Thames area of North Island.

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