A firsthand account of growing up in South Canterbury early in the
twentieth century left by well-known naturalist, the late Lance McCaskill
Lancelot William McCaskill was born in Winchester, South Canterbury, on 8
May, 1900. His parents, Daniel McCaskill and Janet (nee Bisset) were both
born in New Zealand to parents who had emigrated from Scotland. Lance was
third in a family of four. He wrote a short memoir of his first forty five
years about 1980 and this section records his childhood and teenage years.
He married Isobel Aitken in 1925 and they had two sons and a daughter. He
led a very active life as teacher, lecturer, conservationist and writer.
He retired from Lincoln College in 1965 and died in 1985.
Margery Blackman, Lance McCaskill's daughter, has supplied the above
information, Lance's story and the photographs.
As a child I lived in Winchester in South Canterbury. My grandfather,
Peter McCaskill, started the Epworth woolscour at Temuka in 1873 and later
another at Silverstream near Fairlie. My father, Daniel McCaskill, was
manager of the Winchester scour on Waihi Creek.
The McCaskill family 1904 or 1905
From left to right
Lance, Janet, Nella, Isabel, Daniel, Gordon
For Sunday best I wore my kilt. Two memories I have of my father are
associated with it. My father was President of the Temuka Caledonian
Society which ran Boxing Day Athletic Sports. A star item was the parade
of the pipe band round the ring with my father and me marching with the
Drum-major in the lead. I was four and a half.
The second was before he went to England in early 1905 to study the wool in
the factories at Leeds and Bradford. All the family went to Timaru by
train and were photographed in a place in the Arcade. I wore my kilt.
The only other time I remember him was when he was so ill. I had been at a
relative's farm and was driven over to see him. I can remember being held
up for him to kiss me. I understand he died next day, aged thirty five, of
Primary School Years
Mother leased the fifty odd acres with the Wool Scour but we had the
grazing for the cows, always one, sometimes two. They were grazed for the
day across the Waihi Creek, this often involving up to an hour's walk home
for milking at night.
Often a bit of fly fishing was done while collecting the cows, usually
legal! In all my time at Winchester I never came home empty handed. We
only tickled the fish if they were not taking the fly. On one occasion on
a very hot day in the summer holidays three of us went fishing and
failed to get a bite. We got into the water and under the watercress in a
few minutes we had three or four fish each. To make them appear legal we
were busy hooking the mouths of the fish with flies when out from the gorse
burst the Temuka Acclimatisation Society Ranger! He gave us a good talking
to and confiscated all the fish. We never liked him afterwards.
Legal fishing while at high school
Bounty for eggs
One of the joys of the life we led was bird watching and bird nesting.
Eggs were bought for threepence a dozen by the Temuka Roads Board (heads
for 1/- a dozen) for sparrows, thrushes and blackbirds. The sheds at the
woolscour were a haven for sparrow nests and easy to climb to. We learned
to leave one egg and this could be done for up to ten days. Then we would
let them lay four to five and take the lot. We would cycle to Temuka on
Saturday mornings, lay the eggs out on the grass and later collect payment,
most of which we kept for special savings.
Apart from the egg collecting we enjoyed watching the small birds. We knew
them all and their eggs and nests and were careful to leave undisturbed any
not rated as pests.
Trees and gardens
We were helped in this by our headmaster, J. P. Kalaugher, a great
naturalist and special lover of native trees. He took the school to
Geraldine Bush once a year in drays and waggons. There we were introduced
to matai and totara and other natives, and also to birds - tomtits,
warblers and fantails.
He was a keen gardener and on two or three occasions Winchester School won
a shield for the best school garden in South Canterbury. On one occasion
it was inspected by Sir Joseph Ward, then Prime Minister.
My other garden experience was at home. Mother was a very keen gardener
and under her supervision we grew all our own vegetables and looked
after the flower garden and shrubbery. After we went to school in Timaru
we often biked home for the weekend so that we could do the garden. The
sixteen mile ride was not always easy - no tar seal and often a nor'wester
Up until about 1910 we had a donkey. He usually lived in the corner
paddock opposite the hotel and was the friend of all the kids going to
school. He ate holes in the macrocarpa hedge so that the kids could supply
him with sweets and apples.
Our other favourite pet was Maggie, a very fine male white-backed magpie
reared after falling out of a nest. The first tune (and the last) he
learned was "There is nae luck about the house, there is nae luck at all",
which he whistled from dawn to dusk. He was a real wizard about
grass-grubs on the lawns.
Sunday excursions were by courtesy of Jack McInnes, my mother's manager of
the wool scour. He leased it from Mother, but lived in a 'galley' and had
his meals with our family. He had a wagonette and pair of horses and took
the family on all-day picnics - as far as Woodbury, Geraldine Bush, Hilton,
and the mouths of the Temuka and Orari Rivers. He taught us to boil
billies, harness horses, build harbours in streams, swim - in fact he did
what a father would have done. In 1918 Mother sold the wool scour and
shifted to Timaru just after I started at Lincoln College.
The annual inspection
The great day of the school year was the annual inspection. Everything was
polished up and everybody was in their Sunday best. Our inspectors were
Alec Bell (afterwards Director of Education) and Mr Gow. The latter had a
fearsome moustache and an equally fearsome frown. Just looking at kids he
would frighten them into silence even though they knew the answers. I
remember on one occasion he said the first two lines of Gray's elegy:
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day
Then pointing at a boy he shouted, "Who wrote this?" The boy struggled to
his feet, shook all over and stammered, "Please sir, I didn't."
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea."
I managed to win a South Canterbury Education Board Scholarship in 1912.
J. P. Kalaugher was a very keen sportsman and taught us rugby and cricket.
Dan Ferguson (headmaster after Kalaugher 1911-12) encouraged sport, but did
not participate. However he arranged a cricket match in 1912 with Waihi
School. Roger Blunt was captain. I remember fielding at point and
catching Roger out and then making two runs.
Timaru Girls' High School girls visiting for a tennis party.
Isobel Aitken, later to become Lance's wife, is third from the left.
At our home in Winchester we had a croquet lawn and tennis court - grass
and later asphalt. Mother always encouraged us to play both games and
invite friends. We played tennis especially when at High School, bringing
parties out for weekends. These mixed parties were great social occasions
and resulted eventually in my marriage.