William Gilbert Rees, the first Settler
You cannot miss his statue at the lakeside. William Gilbert Rees, sculpted together with a sheep, was the first settler in Queenstown, so the founder and pioneer, and had a huge sheep run at the site where the township of Queenstown is now, and far beyond.
Rees was born in Wales in 1827 and came to New Zealand with his wife Frances in 1859. They arrived in Port Chalmers, the port of Dunedin. In early 1860 he set off with five other guys and explored the High Country. Four of them gave up. Only Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann carried on. From the Crown Range they discovered “The Promised Land of Rees”. They travelled by horse, on driftwood rafts and on foot. After six weeks they returned to Dunedin and lodged their claims to grazing rights.
Rees gained rights to graze more than 240,000 acres in the Wakatipu basin. To take 3000 merino sheep across the mountains and rivers proved to be an extreme challenge. But he succeeded, and settled near the point where you see his statue, and erected the first buildings. In 1863, William Gilbert Rees was operating no less than 14 businesses in the town – as a carrier, coach proprietor, lighterman, boat builder, hotel keeper, store keeper, contractor, sawyer, gold buyer, slaughterman, baker, land agent, runholder, and ferryman.
The goldrush that had already started in Otago became a big problem for Rees, as gold-diggers swarmed over his land. He provided food and transportation for them but his sheep farming became more and more difficult. At the end he was paid compensation of about 10,000 pounds for the affected part of his farm, and he moved to the Kawarau Falls.
He did not stay there for long. In 1869 he moved on to manage sheep stations at Benmore (no lake at the time…), Otekaieke, Tekapo (no lake there either…), and Galloway near Alexandra. Later he became Government Stock Inspector in Timaru, Greymouth, Ashburton and Wellington. He retired in 1897.
Rees died in Wairau on 31 October 1898, aged 71. His wife died 28 years later in Stoke near Nelson.
His monument in Queenstown was erected in 2001.
You will stumble over his name every now and then, for example Rees Dart Track, but also names like Cecil and Walter Peak which have been named after his son Cecil Walter.
You find quite good and detailed information about William Gilbert Rees on the homepage of the Rees Hotel
Click on Home, then on History.
Good info also on this website:
Photo 2 shows the plaque of Rees’ statue.