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Rees descendents applaud Queenstown development

Media Release 13th July 2004

Rees descendents applaud new Queenstown development

“A wonderful way to celebrate William’s outstanding contribution..”

The family of William Gilbert Rees say the naming of the Queenstown’s newest luxury accommodation -The Rees - is a fitting tribute to their distinguished relative.

William Gilbert Rees was Queenstown’s first European settler and the community’s founding father. He established the first farm in the Queenstown area in 1860, and played a key role in the gold rush that followed soon after.

The Rees legacy of strong character, determined leadership and commercial flair captured the imagination of leading New Zealand property developers, SMG Properties.

The company has recently unveiled plans for a $90 million dollar luxury accommodation complex to be built on Queenstown’s Frankton Road, and named in honour of William Rees.

The colourful pioneer’s family say they are delighted to lend their support. William Rees’ great-granddaughter Rosemary Marryatt says she maintains a strong interest in the continued rapid growth of Queenstown.

“Quality accommodation is an essential requirement for beauty spots all over the world,” she says. “We must feel proud that Lake Wakatipu is rated so highly by tourists as a place to see.”

“We were thrilled and pleasantly surprised to be contacted by SMG Properties, telling us of the plans to build The Rees complex, and seeking the family’s approval to incorporate William’s name.

“After the initial discussions, I was relieved and excited to realise how much forethought and research had gone into the planning of The Rees. It’s going to make this complex rather special.”

Rosemary Marryatt says her great grandfather was determined and resourceful.

“Losing his own father at the early age of 12 years probably helped make him resilient and strong in character.”

“There is no doubt he inherited many traits from his Rees & Pocock forebears that provided him with the ability and determination to cope with situations involving physical endurance, as well as retaining a sense of fairness and gentlemanliness.

“W.G. was one of the blessed ones who saw the Wakatipu district in its pristine state. But I am sure he would never have been one to halt progress. After all, he began that process by being the first runholder at Queenstown.” The Rees family is also keen to ensure the contribution of pioneering women is not forgotten. Rosemary Marryatt’s great grandmother Francis Rebecca Rees (nee Gilbert) was only 19 years old when she married William Rees in England in 1858.

“It is hard to imagine a young woman, brought up in middle class English society coping with her first home - a canvas tent - in a place with temperature extremes of like Queenstown.”

Rosemary Marryatt says the presence of The Rees in Queenstown will be a permanent reminder of her great-grandfather’s exploits, vision and contribution to the area. She says the renewed interest in his role, and in the man himself, are a welcome sign that his efforts are receiving the attention they deserve.

“It is essential that those of us who are descendants of the early pioneers do not allow their story of hardship and endeavour to be forgotten.

“We are indebted to the directors of SMG Properties for having provided an opportunity for history to be remembered, and told to forthcoming generations.”

Queenstown history Alan De La Mare agrees that Williams Rees deserves recognition and admiration.

“Rees was the father of Queenstown,” he says. “In the early days, it was Rees’ strong leadership and business acumen that really made this town tick.”

SMG Properties managing director Lindsay Singleton says the new development will ensure future generations are fully aware of the William Rees legacy.

“Our interest and enthusiasm for the Williams Rees story extends far beyond the name,” he says.

“The style and design of the complex reflects William’s passion and pride in the Queenstown district. We’ll be providing more information about both William and Francis Rees in special written material, available in the foyer.”

“From the moment they step into the main entrance, residents and visitors will be reminded of the couple who contributed so much to the early success of this remarkable region.”

William Gilbert Rees - Background

Welshman William Gilbert Rees – a cousin and god father of the famous cricketer WG Grace – was the first European settler in Queenstown. The explorer and pioneer run holder arrived on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in 1860.

Along with fellow explorer Nicholas von Tunzelmann, Rees was in search of quality pastoral land. He returned a short while afterwards and established a high country farm at the site where Queenstown is today.

But the Rees’ farming lifestyle was to be short-lived. In 1862 gold was discovered in the Arrow River. Rees then found himself at the centre of a gold rush – even his homestead was declared an official goldfield.

In the early days of the rush William Rees was the only source of food for miners working around Lake Wakatipu. With a flock of sheep and the first boat of any size “the Undine” on Lake Wakatipu to bring the flour and other supplies from the south end of the lake, Rees was - for a few vital weeks - able to prevent starvation for many miners

“Without his active co-operation in making supplies available to the hungry miners, his ready acceptance of the inevitable changes after the discovery of gold on his run, his whole-hearted devotion to duty which gave him an unquestioned authority in the community, and his enthusiastic interest in public affairs, the story of the Wakatipu gold discoveries might well have been one of disaster in the first stages” (Golden Days Of Lake County, FWG Miller)

Rees’ boats weren’t confined to supply runs. His famous whaleboat was also used to carry the first 25,000 ounces of gold to the foot of the lake. The boat was regularly used to carry gold until a special police boat began operating.

William Rees was no typical gold digger and explorer. Those who have researched the man say he was a unique person with exception qualities. His other achievements included:

Boxing - A strong reputation in Queensland as a young amateur boxer Top level cricket – appearing once in a first class match for New South Wales against Victoria Social services – He played a prominent part in the establishment of the hospital at Frankton, (the settlement named after his wife, Frances). Religion – he was a driving force behind the establishment of St Peter’s Church in Queenstown. Entertainment – he was a co-owner of the Queen's Arms hotel (a forerunner to Queenstown’s Eichardt’s Hotel) Racing – he was the first president of the Wakatipu Jockey Club

“William Gilbert Rees has long been one of the genuinely romantic figures of New Zealand’s past. One of the first white men to reach Lake Wakatipu and the founder of what has become the beautiful tourist resort of Queenstown, he is remembered particularly for his dominant personality at the time of the gold rushes. The picture most New Zealanders have of him is a big bearded run holder, holding off hungry miners with a loaded revolver as he carefully rationed out inadequate supplies of precious flour” ( “King Wakatip” by GJ Griffiths)

Soon after seeing the Wakatipu area for the first time in 1959, Rees wrote a letter to the Otago Witness describing the journey and the new areas they had explored.

The editor subsequently wrote an article on the subject, and made two prophecies, which have been completely fulfilled in a remarkable manner.

“…The information indicates the country around the Wakatipu is in all probability a gold bearing district … should the precious metal be discovered the 65 miles of inland water carriage would be such an immense advantage that in all probability the country would be extensively wrought.

But apart from any consideration of wealth to be derived from the mineral resources of the country, the existence of such lakes as are to be found in Otago will we have no doubt, at some future date, cause this part of New Zealand to be extensively visited for the mere purpose of viewing the grandeur of the same.

William Rees was still a fit and powerful man barely in his forties when he left the Wakatipu district in 1867. He went to the Waitaki where he ran big runs, then to Alexandra. Ironically, his dream to be a runholder had been shattered by the gold rush as the Waste Lands Board of the time removed the pastoral designation from his land.

He died in Marlborough aged 71 in 1898


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