Jane Shennan is on a mission to tell the story of her great-grandfather — a prominent figure in Otago's early pastoral history.

Shennan, who lives in Australia, is visiting Otago to gather information for the biography of Watson Shennan, whose name is synonymous with the large runs of Galloway, Moutere and Puketoi and merino sheep.

Born in Galloway, Scotland, Mr Shennan arrived in Otago with his brother Alexander in 1857.

They scraped together enough money to buy horses and rode over the hills into Central Otago in search of land to run sheep on.

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They decided they wanted to breed merinos and Alexander Shennan travelled to Europe to select some stock, including purebred merinos from the King of Prussia's stud.

The 84 sheep — mostly rams but including some ewes — were dispatched to New Zealand but Alexander Shennan never made it back, dying in Scotland.

The original sheep never went to Central Otago. Instead they were kept on the Otago coast and their progeny sent inland.

While not the first merinos in New Zealand, it was probably the largest consignment to come, Shennan said.

Watson Shennan bought rams regularly from Australia, attending at the Melbourne and Sydney sales most years.

After his death in 1920, his widow Grace continued with the sheep, employing managers and continuing to buy rams from Australia up until 1940, when she dispersed the stud.

Matangi Station, near Alexandra, farmed by the Sanders family, was originally part of Galloway Station and the sheep on the property could be traced back to those first merinos imported by the Shennan brothers.

It was established with the purchase of sheep from the dispersal of the Puketoi stud.

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Shennan said she initially started the book project "just as a family history thing" about 2014.

Then she bumped into writer Jim Sullivan in Patearoa, who said a biography should be done on her great-grandfather, and that changed her focus.

She spent about six weeks most years coming over, spending hours at Toitu and the Hocken Library, and it had been an "absolutely fascinating" project.

Her goal was to have a well-written and accurate story, because she believed it needed to be told, and she hoped to have it out next year.

She grew up on a farm and did a wool-classing course before becoming an agricultural journalist.

She had a Border Leicester sheep stud for many years, and a highlight was winning Border Leicester supreme champion at the Royal Melbourne Show.

Coincidentally, she had since found out that the Shennan family bred Border Leicesters back in Scotland.