"It looks like you want to die with your boots on. And he didn't disagree. Well, Harry, you certainly went to the wire."
Brenssell was in the Fernvale yards, sorting rams for sale with son Lloyd and grandson George on the morning of Saturday 2 December. Later that day, he was in an ambulance to Dunstan Hospital. He died surrounded by family the following morning, with a bowel ischaemia.
Henry (Harry) Terrance Brenssell was the third of five children born to farmers John and Winifred of Moa Flat. He grew up on Fernvale, which is still farmed by the Brenssell family today.
He left McGlashan College in Dunedin at 17 and started his working life at Mt Nicholas Station, before moving closer to home to work for Dave Robertson at Merrydowns Romney and Southdown Stud at Waikoikoi.
“Dad was mad about sheep, right from a little boy,” Son Lloyd says. “Most boys would be playing with dinky toys. But not Dad. He would use pinecones as sheep and sticks as temporary yards.”
In 1964, Harry married Prue Collingwood and the couple had five children – Bridget, Lynda, Henry (deceased), Lloyd and Anna.
As one of four brothers, Harry and Prue moved around the Brenssell family’s various farms during their early married years, until each brother was allocated a piece of land. The young couple were allotted Heath Block, immediately opposite Fernvale which they also later purchased off Harry’s parents.
Over subsequent years, Harry and Prue purchased several more pieces of farmland, including Harry’s much-loved 4250-hectare Whitecomb Run block in 1985. Lloyd says his father loved that piece of land.
“He’d worked on it for previous owners since he was a young boy. His happy place was with his pink stick, mustering at the run with his Jack Russell, Toby, tagging along or hitching a ride on the front of the horse.”
Craig (Snow) Buckley has known the family for 37 years and worked for Harry for 10 years, from 1987, in the Romney stud side of the business. Alongside the Fernvale stud, Harry and Prue had also purchased Ivan Oakley’s renowned Tresco stud in 1978. Buckley describes Harry as a forward-thinking stud breeder, who was an early adopter of advanced practices, such as corrective mating, fresh-semen AI and later laparoscopic AI.
The Fernvale and Tresco Studs’ on-farm auctions and the annual Gore Stud Ram Fair were calendar highlights, particularly during the late 1980s’ Romney boom – ‘the glory years’, as Buckley describes this period.
“This one year, we offered for sale 19 elite Romney rams. Sixteen went under the hammer at auction and three sold privately. We sold an aged ram privately – Tresco 606 – to Argentina for $20,000, a half share in Fernvale 297 for $20,000, and Fernvale 402 at auction for, at the time, a world record price of $42,000. That year, those 19 rams grossed Fernvale/Tresco $260,000. That’s a true testament to the stockmanship and incredible talent Harry had. It was just in his DNA.”
Ken Bain says Harry was one of New Zealand’s leading Romney stud breeders, with his foresight, dedication and desire to breed the best producing sheep that he could. “The highlight was in 1988, when seven Fernvale rams made a record average of $18,700, with a top prices of $35,000 and another at $30,000.”
Several Fernvale and Tresco rams were exported around the world in those glory years and, at the 1986 World Sheep and Wool Congress in Edmonton Canada, a Fernvale ram won supreme champion and yielded the Congress’s top sale price.
Harry Brenssell will be remembered as a passionate stud sheep breeder and larger-than-life character, who approached life at full speed, with no half measures.
Words supplied by Brenssell family