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Hidden bullion high country farm goes on the market for sale

Tags: Otago Rural

A high country sheep farm intricately linked to New Zealand’s biggest ever gold bullion heist has been placed on the market for sale.

The 1142 hectare property high in the hills above the Central Otago township of Clyde is believed to be the hiding spot for 30 ounces of gold – part of a daring robbery which netted two bandits the biggest theft in New Zealand’s pioneering history.

In early August 1870, Scottish migrants George Rennie and Malcolm McLennan audaciously robbed the Clyde police station storage vault of 2099 ounces of gold bullion and £6100 in cash. In today’s markets, their gold haul alone is worth $3.89million, while the cash equivalent in its day would have bought a large portion of Clyde township.

The gold was being transported in strong boxes under a mounted and armed escort from Arrowtown and was en-route to Dunedin. The escort troop stopped in Clyde overnight.

The heist was made even more scandalous as McLennan was one of the police constables posted at the Clyde police barracks. Rennie was a shoe-maker. The two men had met while sailing out to New Zealand.

After loading up their loot, renegade Rennie and his accomplice McLennan made off in the middle of the night – heading for the hills above Clyde. However when one of their horses pulled up lame under the weight of not only a rider, but saddle bags full of gold and cash, the pair had to quickly stash some of their ill-gotten gains. 

While camped up at night under cover of darkness, the duo’s fire were spotted by an eagle-eyed traveler who reported their whereabouts to the local police, and a pursuit posse quickly formed – buoyed by the chance to claim a £500 bounty placed on the fugitive’s heads.

To confound their trackers, Rennie and McLennan split up, but both men were nabbed and cuffed within hours.  A telegram from the Otago ‘Provincial Government’ duly decreed that virtually all the loot was recovered from the fleeing outlaws…..  except for  30 ounces of gold and £550 cash which the bulletin described as ‘lost’. By today’s standards, the 30 ounces of gold is worth more than $55,000.

Neither man ever revealed whereabouts they ‘lost’ the missing 30 ounce gold stash. Rennie and Mclennan’s infamous escapades were imortalised six years ago in a special permanent display created at the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown.

Now the property which Rennie and McLennan fled to after their heist has been placed on the market for sale by tender through BayleysLocations. The expansive high country farm – now operating as a grazing block – runs five kilometres along the edge of Lake Dunstan overlooking the dam. Tenders close on March 30. 

Property owner Neil North who has farmed the property for the past decade said the Clyde bullion robbery legend was ingrained in the region’s folk lore history. A substantial stone outcrop named Bankers Rock high in the hills was named after just one of the many sites where McLennan and Rennie were believed to have hidden their ill-gotten stash.

“It’s the stuff legends are made of. For decades after the robbery, locals from Clyde would spend time in the hills trying to locate the hidden cache,” Mr North said.

“Over the years as I’ve tendered the sheep up in the hills I’ve pulled aside the old bolder and looked down the occasional hole in the rocky hillside – always optimistic that I’d catch a glimpse of a canvas bag full of gold – but I never saw any sign of where it could be hidden.

“As I’ve ridden over the paths and tracks I imagined where the robbers would have camped out… a flat spot? I reckon they would have camped somewhere down near the lake – which would have been a river then before the dam was built.

“But I deduced that while they may have camped near running water, they wouldn’t have hidden the gold there in case the river flooded. So it could well be above the river level.

“It’s one of the region’s biggest mysteries….  but very few people know about it outside of long-time Clyde locals.”

Farm salesperson David Gubb from BayleysLocations said the legend of the great Clyde gold robbery added to the property’s mystique. The block was part of what was once Earnscleugh Station.

“While the property has operated as a merino grazing station, and with cattle and goats before that, it could easily be converted into a private lifestyle block or possibly the likes of a luxury lodge or private hunting reserve stocking deer and thar. And the history of the gold bullion would provide a perfect themed backdrop to the whole experience,” Mr Gubb said.

The block is situated on Fruitgrowers and Hawksburn roads and is in two titles – allowing for future subdivision. The farm is accessible by a multitude of well-formed four wheel drive tracks, while the boundaries are fenced. Water for domestic supply can be drawn from the Earnscleugh Domestic Water Scheme.

“Properties like this seldom come onto the market,” said Mr Gubb. “From a scenery perspective, the views over Lake Dunstan are outstanding. I can see why Rennie and McLennan stopped here… although their motives for taking a break were obviously quite different to anyone resting to take in the views these days.”

For further information on the Fruitgrowers Road/Hawksburn Road high country station for sale, contact David Gubb. ‘Phone 03 450 0200.


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