Horsley Down Station Rabbit Fence

205 - 325 Lake Sumner Road, Hawarden

  • Horsley Down Station Rabbit Fence.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Horsley Down Station Rabbit Fence.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Frank van der Heijden. Date: 13/03/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3676 Date Entered 5th September 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt RS 7553, Pt RS 9916, Pt RS 33843 and Pt RS 29257 (CT CB31K/478), Pt Sec 12 Horsley Downs Settlement (CT CB335/248), Lot 1 DP 63479 (CT CB37A/655), Pt RS 36583 and Pt Sec 12 Horsley Downs Settlement (CT CB37A/656) and Res 3496 (NZ Gazette 2006 p. 3590), all Canterbury Land District, and the structure known as Horsley Down Station Rabbit Fence thereon. The fence runs for approximately 3.7 kilometres along the aforementioned land parcels, on their boundaries with Lake Sumner Road (refer to extent map tabled at the Board meeting on 29 August 2013)

City/District Council

Hurunui District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt RS 7553, Pt RS 9916, Pt RS 33843 and Pt RS 29257 (CT CB31K/478), Pt Sec 12 Horsley Downs Settlement (CT CB335/248), Lot 1 DP 63479 (CT CB37A/655), Pt RS 36583 and Pt Sec 12 Horsley Downs Settlement (CT CB37A/656) and Res 3496 (NZ Gazette 2006 p. 3590), all Canterbury Land District

Location description

The fence starts on the west side of Lake Sumner Road at the intersection of Medbury Road, and continues along the south side of Lake Sumner Road to the intersection of Hobans Road, for a total distance of approximately 3.7 kilometres.


The Rabbit Fence at Horsley Down Station is a significant remnant of New Zealand's agricultural history and stands as a reminder of the many kilometres of wire netting fences once constructed throughout New Zealand to try and stem the spread of rabbits. Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand from 1838, primarily for sport and by the 1860s were firmly established throughout the countryside. From the 1870s they were a noted pest in the Wairarapa, Kaikoura, Otago and Southland, devasting farms in what was sometimes referred to as a 'living drought'. The problem became so bad that in 1876 the government established a Commission of Inquiry to look into the 'rabbit nuisance'. By 1882 rabbits had been observed on the boundaries of the Hurunui district, where Horsley Down is situated.

The Rabbit Fence at Horsely Down Station was erected by James Dupre Lance (1829-1897) around 1891-1892 and was described as being 'without doubt the most substantial fence yet constructed'. (Gardner, 1983, pp.277-278) Lance purchased the Horsley Down run around 1862-1863 and ran the estate in partnership with his brothers-in-law, the Mallocks, who owned the neighbouring run 'Heathstock'. Lance turned his estate 'into one of the most hospitable houses in New Zealand' and became involved in both local and national politics. He spent a vast amount of money on improving his land and on attempts to combat the growing rabbit problem. He eventually bought out the Mallocks. As the member of the House of Representatives for Cheviot from 1884-1890, Lance played a major role in organising the anti-rabbit campaign at both the local and national level, and was a strong supporter of the Hurunui Rabbit Board's decision in 1887 to construct 78 miles of netting fencing along the south bank of the Waiau River. This fence was completed by 1889, but within two years it was seen as inadequate.

Lance's rabbit fence, built around 1890, was distinguished by an extra section of netting, which projected at a right angle to the fence, making it more difficult for the rabbits to jump over the fence. This feature meant that the fence was sometimes described as an 'apron' fence. It was also constructed from heavier wire than was normal and was estimated to have cost around £230 per mile. In 1892 another fence, the Hurunui rabbit fence, was erected and this joined Lance's already established fence on Horsley Down.

Partly due to his spending on the rabbit fence, Lance was virtually bankrupt by 1896. The government purchased nearly 4,000 acres of Horsley Down for closer settlement between 1896-1897. After Lance's death in 1897 his widow, Mary, remained in the homestead with only 100 acres (40.5 hectares) of land still attached. When the bulk of Horsley Down was subdivided the conditions on some of the blocks of land required the new lessee to maintain the rabbit fence to a suitable standard. In the case of the property with the rabbit gate, the new occupier was required not only to maintain it but also to keep 'a lantern...burning on one of the posts every night between sundown and sunup, excepting when the moon is in its second and third quarter'. Unsurprisingly, the new occupiers of the land preferred to hand the fence and its maintenance over to the Hurunui Rabbit Board.

While the various late nineteenth century attempts to control the rabbit population provided some temporary solutions, by 1918 the rabbit problem was as bad as it had ever been. In 1923 the continued maintenance of the various rabbit fences within the Hurunui district was questioned by the local council, as they were physically deteriorating and ineffective, and in 1928 the Board sold all the rabbit fences under its control. Today a little less than four kilometres of Lance's original fence remains.

The rabbit fence at Horsley Downs is an important reminder of the devastation caused by rabbits and of late nineteenth century efforts to halt their spread. While the fences did not ultimately succeed in keeping the Hurunui District free of rabbits, they did slow the spread of the pest for a time. This rabbit fence is also a significant reminder of one man's commitment to fighting the pest. It is one of the best examples of a rabbit fence to survive in New Zealand and is of an innovative design.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1888 - 1890

Completion Date

28th May 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1876, I5

Christchurch City Libraries

Christchurch City Libraries

Hurunui Rabbit Board, Letter books and papers, 1887-1928, Central's ANZC Archive 62

Gardner, 1983

W.J. Gardner, The Amuri: a county history, 2nd edn, Culverden, 1983

Harper, 1997

John Harper, Farms and Families of Horsley Down Settlement 1897-1997, Hawarden, 1997


Howard, 1958

Walter E. Howard, The Rabbit Problem in New Zealand, Information series (New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) no. 16, Wellington, 1958

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.