Life of early settlers detailed in book

Members of the Sim family gathered recently and visited the former home of migrant matriarch Catherine Sim in Tinwald. Below: Catherine Sim's grave at Ashburton Cemetery.

A book called From Aberdeenshire to Ashburton details six decades of early family and farming life in Mid Canterbury.

The book has been compiled by Ashburton resident Alan Sim, a well-known rural land valuer, and primarily covers the years 1886 to 1950.

Mr Sim spoke to family members, used online resources like Papers Past and was able to access old land title records that then directed him to other sources of information.

The book is written as a family history of the Sim family and tells the story of widow Catherine Sim and her five children who sailed from Scotland to start a new life.

Catherine arrived in New Zealand in 1886 with three children and joined two others who had moved earlier to scout farming opportunities.

The move to New Zealand was precipitated by the desire to be farmers, Alan Sim said.

Their forbears had been tenant farmers, but with modest incomes in relation to the high price of land, it meant they could not realistically own land in Scotland, he said.

Catherine’s eldest son John was a trained watchmaker and set up shop in Temuka before a later move to Auckland.

His four siblings (Robert, Andrew, James and Catherine) all became land-owners in the Ashburton District, with one property remaining in continuous family ownership for over 100 years.

The family’s arrival in New Zealand was fortuitous because soon after government legislation broke down the big farming runs into smaller holdings.

The three big Ashburton runs of Coldstream, Maronan and Cracroft were subdivided into 110 farm holdings, one of which was purchased by Robert and Andrew Sim.

A decade later their sister and her husband Robert McElhinney purchased a 870 acre farm near Ashburton and in 1912 the youngest sibling James purchased an adjoining property of 650 acres.

Mr Sim said the book was essentially a history of his early pioneering family and he hoped it would inspire future generations, but it also contained a number of articles of interest to history buffs.

Eight pages of the 110 page book recount ship life and the long voyage from Scotland through the diary of John Sim, he said.

There were also articles on well-known farming merchants Friedlander Brothers, details of droving stock across the Rakaia River bridge, farming a team of horses and the wartime acquisition of Sim land at the airport by the NZ Defence Force in 1942, part of which is now the hub of Ashburton Airport.

Mr Sim said he had received great support from local business DPI Design & Print in laying out the book and was very happy with the finished product.

Over 30 members of the Sim family line recently attended a lunch gathering in Ashburton where the family history book was handed out.

Visits were made to Catherine’s Sim’s house in Tinwald, the Ashburton Cemetery and to farm properties owned by members of the Sim family near the airport.

Mr Sim said a toast was raised to the family forbears who had paved the way for current generations to enjoy a better life in New Zealand.

A limited number of copies of From Aberdeenshire to Ashburton are available and cost $40. Mr Sim can be contacted by emailing to

-By Mick Jensen