Brave, courageous, unlucky, unfortunate, pioneering …. Choose your adjective, as they all sit well with another of Queenstown’s founding fathers… Nicholas Paul Baltazar Von Tunzlemann.
Much is often said of William Reese and the role he played in the foundations of Queenstown, but equally, we should all be saying a thank you to Nicholas Von Tunzlemann too. As courageous and adventurous, Von Tunzlemann forged a path over the crown range side by side with Reese and went on to equally lay the foundations of Queenstown.
Von Tunzlemann was born on the island of Ösel, Livonia, today is known as Estonia back in 1825, to a German father who was a major in the Russian Army. His family once basked in their tight association with European royals and leaders of the time as is reflected by the choice of Czar Nicholas 1st as his godfather. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, his parents decided to educate him in German and England – without consent from the Czar, resulting in his family’s expulsion from Livonia and stripping of their fortunes and land.
It seems that Von Tunzlemann was a man of inquisitive nature and born to explore and travel. He studied medicine in both Canada and England, and then joined the cavalry service in India as a veterinary surgeon, furthering his studies at the Royal Veterinary College.
It was 1958 that Von Tunzlemann decided to set his sights on a new beginning, and immigrated to NZ, leaving behind a privileged world of wealth and education to carve out a new future for himself and generations to come. He would eventually marry the sister of Rees’s wife, Gertrude Rose Gilbert
Initially seeking pastoral land west of Lake Wanaka, Rees and Von Tunzlemann soon discovered the pass over the crown range and sited Lake Wakatipu in February of 1860. The next chapter of Von Tunzelmann’s life is a chronicle of hardships and perseverance.
It is said that the expansive land of the Wakatipu was decided upon the toss of a coin. The tale has it that Rees and Von Tunzlemann actually flipped a coin for the rights to have the first choice of land.
Rees, having won the toss, choose the land to the east and south of the lake, from Arrowtown down to Kingston which included Coronet Peak, Ben Lomond, the Remarkables and Ben Nevis which would develop into rich gold fields and a commerce centre, while Von Tunzelmann settled on land on the western shore of Lake Wakatipu which he called ‘Fernhill Run’, and from the Greenstone River down to the source of the Von River, which initially included Mt Nicholas Station
First came Von Tunzelmann’s high country farm at Mount Nicholas opposite Queenstown but bad luck came to visit when 1,500 of the 2,000 sheep bought by him in Melbourne died on the journey when his sheepdogs mistakenly drove them over Nevis Bluff. Rabbit infestations and Kea attacks lead to money woes which were just a few of the subsequent hardships he had to bear, eventually leading Von Tunzlemann to relocate to NSW, Australia. On hearing that his land could be lost, Von Tunzlemann returned to the Wakatipu and took a position as the station master at the Kingston railway station.
He died in Frankton Hospital on 31 July 1900, succeeded by his wife, who passed in 1918 and his two sons and three daughters.
Von Tunzlemann left a legacy that today still defines our community. Not least we have the geographical landmarks of the Von River, the Von Valley, and Mount Nicholas named after him, but I think more importantly, like Reese and Hays, Von Tunzlemann layered the very foundations, against adversity and struggle, for the next wave of pioneers to establish the communities which have become todays ‘Queenstown’