The Farmer in New Zealand
3 — Gold, Wool, And Wheat
Gold, Wool, And Wheat
The First Settlers had grappled with their environment. They had tested their farming preconceptions. They had attempted first, with equal energy and impotence, to tame the vast forests of the North Island. They had, almost reluctantly, turned their attention to the native pastures of the South Island, as a source of immediate income. Their first use of native pastures had been to run cattle, although they very soon saw the superior suitability of sheep. The whole of Canterbury had been taken up by 1858, the Wairarapa had been occupied and flockowners had begun to penetrate into Hawke's Bay. These areas, with the tussock lands of the Marlborough coast and North Canterbury, provided a natural pasture for sheep. It cannot be supposed that they were fully in use or even partially stocked until the sixties, but the scene had been set for the main lines of farming development during thirty more years.
The settlers did not yet have the security of tenure they wished. By a curious paradox the small farmer page 54bent on subsistence was at last provided with facilities to get title to his land just at that moment when his type of farming was shown to be the most slowly remunerative. For the new fashion—the new necessity it would be better to say—was for running sheep for the sake of their wool, and this required vastly greater areas. At this stage in the country's development it would have been nearly impossible to make a profit out of grazing sheep if the land this required had had to be freeholded at the high prices still being demanded in most of the South Island. The pastoral lease got over this difficulty. But it did not give real security of tenure. The leasehold regulations made life precarious for the sheepfarmer, and put him on the defensive just at the time when he had become the economic backbone of the young nation. The regulations were framed with a view to allowing intensive cultivation ('farming as we do in England', as Samuel Butler aptly called it) to take precedence of pastoral farming. There was an intense suspicion of the aggregation of large estates, coupled with the still unextinguished Company notion that compact settlements promoted human welfare more readily than widely dispersed homesteads. Consequently the sheepfarmer might be turned off his holding by anyone with the cash to buy his land over his head. But there was a wide gulf fixed between the spirit of the leasehold system and its working in practice. The provincial councils, created in 1853, came to a gentleman's page 55agreement with the central government, when it acquired full responsibility in 1856, to keep the disposal of their own lands in their own hands. This arrangement favoured the keeping of their stations by flockowners who, being the best educated, wealthiest, and most politically experienced section of the community, were the moving force in provincial politics. The aggregation of land in the hands of a few took place in spite of the regulations. The insecurity of their tenure led the squatters—for so the owners of large flocks were rather indiscriminately labelled—into legal subterfuges to which they would hardly have had to stoop if it had been realised by the founders of the colony that pastoral farming was to be for at least two decades the mainstay. They acted in self-defence, and their occupation of great territories did not become socially or morally unjustifiable until the expansion of population, wealth, and farming possibilities following on the introduction of refrigeration. The squatters have always had rather a bad press among economic historians of New Zealand. Their practices of spotting, gridironing*, and securing pre-emptive rights over large areas by means of cheap and strategically placed 'improvements' seem to put them hopelessly in the wrong.
* Spotting was the purchase on a block of leasehold land of the best sites for a homestead and other particularly important areas—on the boundaries and the beds of streams. Gridironing was the purchase of land in strips, so that access was blocked to the areas inside, or in Canterbury along a road to leave areas of nineteen and a half acres, just below the minimum of twenty acres that could be taken up by any settler.
Yet in their hey-day they were obliged to have the control of large areas to carry on the one mode of farming that could pay its way. The second generation of large graziers rarely inherited either the charm or the education of their fathers, but at least they produced an increasing quantity of wool.
Two series of events revolutionised the market for farming produce in New Zealand and profoundly altered the whole economic structure of the country. One was the discovery of gold in Otago in 1861. The other was the later Maori wars which broke out at the end of 1859, and made the North Island a backward area for farming or settlement for more than ten years. In any case the great North Island forests were a severe obstacle to farming development.
The discovery of gold in Australia in the fifties had had some temporary effect on the New Zealand market. It had created a demand for flour, which the Maori farmer was better able to satisfy than the white man, and had kept up the price of stock. Preceded by other unimportant local discoveries, the Otago finds of the early sixties brought in a valuable addition to the population. In 1860 the European population of New Zealand was 60,000, which had risen to over 200,000 by 1868, the bulk of this increase going to the South Island, because the North was hampered in its development by the insecurity caused by the Maori wars, in the provinces of Auckland and Taranaki especially. This increase in population can only be page 57attributed to gold—first, to the desire to find it; second, to the rise in prosperity brought about by its being found. Few grew rich from what they could win by crude alluvial mining methods; but the sum of many petty winnings gave the country new purchasing power abroad. Then local farmers were obviously given a much better market for all their produce—except wool, which was in any case marketed overseas. The wars themselves undid some of the harm they had wreaked on the hapless northern settler by providing him with an enlarged market. In fact, the British army officers engaged in the campaigns (the British troops were withdrawn gradually after the subjugation of the Waikato) were wont to accuse the colonists of prolonging the wars for the sake of their own pockets. Certainly the market for fat stock was vastly improved by army purchases. The northern settlers benefited in another way. The destruction of the military power of the Maoris meant their elimination as competitors in food production, a result partly due to the voluntary retirement of the Maoris after the wars.
The South Island, given a lead in population by gold, held it by reason of its greater production of the most valuable item of primary produce in the middle years of the nineteenth century, wool. Fortunately the whole phase of farming centred on wool production is well documented in the writings of men who led their contemporaries in this field. Frederick Weld, page 58a premier of New Zealand and later a governor of several British colonies, was a pioneer in grazing sheep on the natural pasture of the Wairarapa and then of the South Island. In 1851 he published a pamphlet of 'hints to intending sheepfarmers' and re-issued it with very little alteration in 1860. Perhaps the chief interest of these pamphlets is the rigidity of Weld's opinions. In 1851 he believed the merino the best possible sheep for New Zealand conditions, and in 1860 he still upheld the pure merino against crossing it, as most of his contemporaries were coming round to doing, with 'the heavier breeds of sheep'. If a change was desired, try the Cheviot, he said. The merino, tricky to acclimatise, timid, and a bad mother, was a sheep for wool only. But even though Weld's mind ran on wool alone, he seemed here to be going against his own fundamental principle, 'adapt your sheep in any country to the peculiarities of that country.' Weld still clung to autumn lambing in 1860, because it interfered less with the best dates for shearing. In 1851 he could not advise anyone to risk more than £2,500 in a sheep station, but in 1860 a man should be prepared to spend £5,000. There is some slight hint that he realised times were changing, when in 1860 he advised the small capitalist to put his £2,000 into buying a few hundred acres of good land near a settlement and grassing it, the best of this land then carrying eight sheep to the acre. In the earlier pamphlet he disapproves of a mixed station page 59—sheep and cattle together on the same run. There are at least hints in these pamphlets that the men who had pioneered sheep farming in New Zealand, cutting clean across the small-farming ideas of the Company settlers with great originality and acumen, were themselves becoming conservative in defence of the methods they had so successfully developed.
Samuel Butler, one of the most interesting personalities among the early settlers in Canterbury and perhaps the foremost man of letters to have lived in this country, wrote a highly interesting account of his experiences, A First Year in Canterbury Settlement. As this was written in the first two years of his five years' residence, it obviously embodied the ideas current among Butler's contemporaries rather than the fruits of his own experience. One of his first dicta was 'As for farming as we do in England, it is universally maintained that it does not pay.' He then qualified this by adding that it might perhaps pay a 'bona fide labouring man'. Moreover, laying down a farm in English grass might create a 'permanent estate' for anyone with experience. His first impressions of sheepfarming were the possibilities for profit, even with very little experience, for sheep could always be let out 'on terms'. This usurious arrangement could only have been entered into in an understocked country on a rising market. Ewes were lent to a station owner for a set term in return for 2s 6d a head annually on account of their wool. Then at the page 60end of the term the sheep were returned with half the increase throughout the period, no deduction being made for losses from any cause. Even if one bought the goodwill of a run, and worked it in person, it would still be possible in a few years to enjoy an income of £2,000 a year for an investment of about £6,000. With these rewards in prospect it was understandable that all the land in Canterbury had been taken up by 1858; Butler made a number of exploratory rides up the great river valleys piercing the high country without finding any land worth taking up before he installed himself at Mesopotamia on the Rangitata by purchase. The cost of buying the goodwill of a leasehold run then ranged between £100 and £150 per thousand acres.
By 1860 when Samuel Butler began at Mesopotamia, sheepfarming had been reduced to a regular routine, a routine closer to the management of high country stations to-day than to our practice on better-class country. His account, those of Weld, and a number of other records, like surviving station diaries, enable a composite picture to be built up. To begin with boundaries had to be kept. The only fenced areas besides vegetable gardens and some acres of oats or hay were a few acres round the homestead for convenience in keeping within bounds their horses and — in the more advanced instances — a cow in milk. The best boundary was a natural one, a river or a range of craggy or snowy mountains. Otherwise page 61one had to install a boundary dog, the wretched beast being tied up in a strategic position to bark the sheep back into their own run. Or on a big station the boundary might be patrolled by a shepherd with a hut of his own. But a good deal of time had to be spent in simply watching the sheep to see they did not get off the owner's vast and perhaps vaguely defined territory. Samuel Butler recommended that the sheep should 'always have peace on their own run, and none anywhere off it', then they would soon learn the boundaries. But when a south-west gale swept the island merinos would simply run before it, even deserting their lambs.
Though fencing was largely dispensed with, until the middle sixties, when wire began to work its revolution, there was probably more actual work on a sheep station of those times than to-day. On a well-run place like George Duppa's St Leonards, North Canterbury, in the fifties and sixties, the year was crammed with activity, beginning with burning off in February and March. The station diary, which comes down to us, relates this in detail. The flock was dipped, an operation that involved considerable haulage of the wood used to heat the witch's potion of tobacco and sulphur or spirits of tar that was supposed to be sovereign for the dreaded scab. Such fencing as was undertaken was a heavy job, whether it was the favourite ditch and bank surmounted by a live hedge (probably gorse!) or wooden post and rail. Ground page 62had to be ploughed for the most important crop, tobacco. (This was to a great extent raised by station owners themselves to reduce the cost of the universal preventive treatment for scab.) Sheep that actually were seen to have scab were drafted out, carefully treated, the spots scarified, and then rubbed with spirits of tar. Housing, on most stations a backward department, was a task to fall back on when all else failed. The first sod or lightly thatched huts were, as the years passed, replaced by neat cob, to give place in their turn to the weather-board houses of the era of greater permanence in the last two decades of the century. These cob huts were cheap and cosy and many still remain standing to remind us of the days when the mere waterproofness of corrugated iron had not superseded the adventurous uncertainty of raupo or toe-toe thatch. On a station in a high wind the roof might very easily disappear, being 'in a measure' blown off, or there might be a call for emergency effort propping up the woolshed 'which is leaning over very much'. Both of these domestic crises occurred in one October at St Leonards. In those days of bullock drays and negligible roads a tremendous proportion of the time of the station manager and employees would be spent in transport, inwards of stores and outwards of wool and skins. The bullock team rarely moved more than twenty miles a day. It was the stock joke and the stock exasperation for the bullocks to escape from wherever the party page 63camped at night. It was difficult to keep the bullocks yarded every night when they had to feed themselves on the landscape, and once a bullock was set loose on the unfenced plains it was natural for it to seek to browse the best pasture and to give free scope to its well-developed homing instinct. Bullocks might take days to recapture. In addition to the transport between the station and the outside world, on the station itself there was a great deal of haulage to be done of firewood, stores to outstations (shepherds' establishments) and building materials like raupo for thatching. The shepherds had to be constantly round the flocks, trying to strike the golden mean between not disturbing the sensitive merinos and keeping the main mob in sight lest it stray over the boundary or be attacked by wild dogs, against which a constant vigilance was needed, supplemented by an occasional special hunt.
Many of the problems of this sheepfarming were peculiar to that time and place. Scab, the grand enemy of the runholders, was known in the Wairarapa in 1846, but it was said to have travelled to Canterbury and Otago from Nelson. Naturally it would spread easily when sheep had to be driven through the unfenced runs, a travelling mob carrying or receiving infection wherever it passed. Thus it was an advantage to have a run far back: it was less likely to be on the way to somewhere else and therefore less exposed to infection. Woolsheds at first page 64were primitive stores, and it was some time before the idea developed of having a shed full of sheep waiting overnight for the next day's shearing. The slatted floor of the woolshed was in use at St Leonards in 1857. One wonders when it first became general. It was usual to shear the sheep on a tarpaulin or a special boarded floor, even in one instance on a treasured drawing-room carpet turned upside down. The dip was excavated near a stream, with a boarded watertight platform big enough to hold fifty sheep beside it, so arranged that drips from them would drain back into the trough of the dip after immersion. Sheep were dipped to clean their wool before shearing as well as to exorcise the scab. After being dipped the sheep were passed into the stream to be cleansed. According to R. M. Burdon, whose High Country is invaluable on so many points of detail, it was in the middle sixties that sheep began to be shorn in the grease, the wool being left to be scoured after it was off the sheep in preference to this habit of washing it while still on the sheep. The habit of winter lambing (or at times of all the year round lambing) kept down percentages, even though some careful station owners 'had the kitchen full of them' on bleak days in winter — a practice that survives, thanks to the rigours of the New Zealand spring. Enough has been written of the inconvenience of unfenced boundaries. It is well to mention, however, obvious though they may be, the benefits of the increase in fencing which galvanised page 65wire made possible. Time was saved on chasing errant stock, and the scab, so virulent in the sixties and practically unknown by the nineties, owed its disappearance largely to fences keeping stock from contact with infection. Fences also reduced the number of employees needed on most stations. A station with fenced boundaries was far easier to muster. On some Otago stations the difficulties of mustering were so great that sheep frequently had a two years' fleece before they were shorn.
The land, even rough hill country, was greatly improved by being stocked. Once the runholder had celebrated his arrival on his large sector of the landscape by firing the tussock, the land could no longer be regarded as prairie. Successive burnings eliminated much of the matagouri, toe-toe, and tutu, but from a long-term point of view might, on hill country, do harm. Stock trampling the ground made spongy areas firmer and tended to eliminate swamps.
In the North Island on the fern uplands of Hawke's Bay, a harder task awaited the sheepfarmer attempting to improve natural pastures—or in this instance generally the lack of them. H. Guthrie-Smith has written an epic account of pasture management on his own Hawke's Bay country in his Tutira, albeit he is describing a period twenty or more years later than the days when Samuel Buder hobnobbed with over-educated shepherds in Canterbury and George Duppa turned from the cares of St Leonards to the training of his page 66redoubtable racehorses. Guthrie-Smith summarises the condition of Tutira station in these words: 'On eighteen out of its twenty thousand acres, it is no exaggeration to say that the surface had to be stamped, jammed, hauled, murdered into grass. It was only the low price of sheep that made such procedure possible.' Fern was burnt off in the autumn, grass and clover seed scattered on the surface, and a big mob of sheep turned into the burned area to eat and trample the young fern fronds. 'Without a big mob, the bracken fronds uncurl and become uneatable; on ground too heavily stocked, sheep fall away in condition'. Some sophisticated or dainty sheep, of course, 'would starve rather than eat the fern fronds.' As the fern was beaten down, second growth manuka advanced on the paddock, but this was only part of a long cycle by which successive burnings and stocking produced at last a sward that would winter a satisfactory number of sheep, though Guthrie-Smith himself realised that this profitable condition was not necessarily stable. Many men might have been discouraged by his station as he came to it in the early eighteen-eighties—devoid of grass, the climate wet, access bad, and the soil poor, quite apart from its record in having bankrupted a series of sanguine owners. Stock losses were heavy. A quarter of the ewes were lamed by foot-rot. In the wild scrubby hills the wool under the sheep's belly was usually torn away and lost. It was only the indomitable spirit page 67of its owner and the rise in prices following refrigeration that made Tutira in the end a successful station.
Guthrie-Smith considered New Zealand a good country for recovering from a stumble. 'In Hawke's Bay, at any rate, I can hardly think of a prominent settler of early times who has not been at one time or another on his last legs.' These men who won through should not blind us to the large number who went under for lack of skill, shrewdness, or luck. (Capital, luck, and cheek were one recipe for colonial success.) Samuel Butler and Weld both painted a favourable picture of the possibilities of the sheepfarming industry in 1860, but it was the sixties which were to be the testing time even of the Canterbury men whose seed had by no means fallen on stony ground. It is significant that many stations changed hands during the sixties. A number are held to-day by the descendants, not of their original owners—for that is something of a rarity—but of their managers and head shepherds. In the fifties and sixties scab had ruined many. The gold of the sixties had given a stimulus to prices, but this could not last indefinitely. Some sheepfarmers on the plains changed over to wheat and mixed farming. Those who still specialised in sheep were at the mercy of natural calamity like the great snow-storm that swept the South Island in 1867 (whose effects were vividly described by Lady Barker in one of her books). Sheep were often lost in large numbers in smothers. Then the runholder was page 68continually under fire from the man who coveted his land, sometimes a genuine small farmer in search of a holding, sometimes a speculator cheerfully reversing the process begun by the runholders themselves of buying up the best parts of a leasehold run, which the speculator would willingly sell back to the leaseholder at an enhanced price. Then came the rabbits. Whatever the date* they were introduced into the country, rumour accuses the gold-miners of Otago of deliberately spreading them, to have fresh meat about their camps. By the middle seventies Burdon records that they were already a menace. In 1873 he mentions an export of 3,000 rabbit skins, rising to about a million in 1877 and passing nine millions in 1882, with what result to the quality of the country's pastures one can imagine. The prodigious snowstorms of 1895 killed many sheep; but they did more than many years of human effort to cleanse the country of rabbits.
* Nelson settlers liberated rabbits as early as 1845 on the evidence of these two August entries in the Ward diary:—25 'Uncle and Henry were gone to try to kill a rabbit at top of Dick's Valley'; 29 'Turned out 7 rabbits up Valley.'
By the eighteen-seventies sheepfarming methods had altered considerably. Areas like the Canterbury Plains that were capable of intensive cultivation were either grassed or devoted to wheat. On a grass farm it was possible, though not yet very profitable, to fatten stock and in any case to run a good number of sheep to the acre. As the owners of leasehold runs gradually freeholded their runs, they felt it worth while laying them down in grass. According to Condliffe, in 1858 there were about 140,000 acres of sown pastures in New Zealand; in 1881 there were over five million acres. The average weight of wool per sheep had about doubled in the same period, a fact that suggests a marked improvement in sheep nutrition.
There had been a great improvement too, or at least a great adaptation, of the breeds of sheep. Even page 70the earliest sheepfarmers, in defiance of Weld's advice, had mixed some Southdown or Leicester blood with the merino, to produce a less nervous sheep, with firmer virtues as a mother and a higher value—when near enough to a town for this to matter—as meat. The same tendency of adaptation that produced the crossbred, produced the distinctive New Zealand breed, the Corriedale. This inbred half bred sheep was specially designed to stock the intermediate hill country, which was neither high enough for the merino nor as flat as the Plains where the merino was less suitable than the heavier English breeds. The breed takes its name from the property in North Otago on which James Little in 1866 first crossed Romney Marsh rams with merino ewes. James Little inbred the product of this cross. He was a shepherd on another man's station, and later this first Corriedale flock was dispersed. In 1878 at Annandale, North Canterbury, Little recommenced his experiments, substituting Lincolns and then English Leicesters for the Romney Marsh rams he had first used at Corriedale. In 1874 W. S. Davidson had also experimented along the same lines at the Levels, South Canterbury. He crossed Lincoln rams with merino ewes, and inbred from their offspring. Other breeders developed the same idea, although it was not until the coming of refrigeration in 1882 that the advantages of the breed for mutton production were fully realised. The Corriedale to-day clips a heavy fleece. Its dual purpose qualities give it increas-page 71ing popularity, shown by its export to most of the other sheep-breeding countries of the world.
In the Wairarapa, in Hawke's Bay, in Otago, and particularly in Canterbury there was a distinctive type of society associated with the pastoral industry which in many ways left a permanent mark on the New Zealand community. The men who took up the early sheep stations were often people of education, belonging to families of English country gentry, or at least to those connected with the services and the professions. In the early years these men did not hesitate to put up with extremely crude living conditions—the slab or cob hut thirty miles from a neighbour. Men reading Latin or Greek for pleasure lived the hard, self-sufficient life of the back country with gusto, still hoping great things for the future. Weld astutely remarked that a man needed 'resources in himself' for success at New Zealand sheepfarming, and advised his readers to keep up their hobbies and intellectual interests to offset the dreariness of the colonial environment. Lady Barker, author of two inimitable accounts of the life of the squatter in Canterbury in the sixties, advised the squatter's lady to cling to the elegancies of life in the wilds. Lady Barker's own experience is evidence of a certain decline from the Homeric simplicity of the male establishment when a wife and family were added to it. She lived in a house, pre-built in Christchurch and dragged across the Plains by bullock wagon in its page 72separate pieces to be erected on her husband's station at a convenient distance from the woolshed, the men's quarters, and the unsavoury gallows bearing recently slaughtered carcasses. Distances and the transport problem dictated a much humbler abode for most squatters, however mighty they might be in flocks and herds. In a refreshingly flippant account of the life of the 'wool kings' in George Chamier's novel Philosopher Dick, a homestead is described containing 'polished cane furniture, a kerosene lamp and some crockery-ware—a degree of civilisation which had gained for Marino station a widespread fame.' In spite of their distance from one another the sheep-farmers kept up a surprisingly full social life. Picnics in the bush with a white tablecloth on the moss and the champagne cooling in a nearby stream (the veriest depth of roughing it!), eel-fishing, pigsticking, skating, and reading were the favourite amusements, especially reading. Lady Barker lent books to her husband's shepherds and busied herself to coax the bishop to visit them, for religion was vitally important, and failing more professional assistance, her husband read prayers for the men on Sundays.
Near Lady Barker's home was a 'nest of cockatoos', a village of small settlers, shepherds who had saved their wages or immigrants with a little capital, trying to make a living from twenty or thirty acres bought out of the larger leasehold territories of some squatter and trying to make a home in a two-roomed sod hut page 73thatched with toe-toe. There was a certain amount of antagonism between the average runholder and these people who had nibbled away an insignificant few of his best acres. But the general relations of one man with another were democratic from the first, for as Lady Barker said 'This is a country where every man is ready and willing to help his neighbour, without any enquiry as to who he is.' Hospitality was boundless and indiscriminate, a numerous tribe of swaggers exploiting the station owner's bounty without shame or subterfuge. This burdensome hospitality was more than mere good nature, however, until the country was more closely settled and accommodation houses were available at easier stages, for a man on horseback could alone hope to pay for each night's lodging on a journey. Many of the swaggers were simply wandering labour—carpenters, brick-layers, and such seasonal labourers as shearers and musterers in quest of work. Others, who were on their way to the goldfields, were a hated tribe to the squatter in spite of their-raising the price of stock.
The permanent employees on a sheep station were a superior type, in contrast with itinerant hands. Wages had risen from £60 a year and 'all found' in the fifties to over £100 a year and found in the seventies. Many shepherds were men of education, unfurnished with the capital to become squatters on their own account. It was quite possible to save money to set up a small farm. The shepherds were nearly all page 74great readers, a necessary standby in their loneliness. Some, when they took a holiday from what Edward Wakefield called 'the regular and decorous' life of the larger sheep stations, could not resist 'knocking down' their annual cheque at the nearest hotel. The same writer, however, commenting on the eighteen-eighties, mentions the increasing respectability even of nomadic labour. Shearers and musterers had for years been noted for their Bohemian ways, their-language and contempt for 'swells', as they termed anyone with conspicuous social pretensions. One of their favourite pastimes was 'capping yarns', described as 'trying to tell the most outrageously improbable, indecent or revolting story'. Their living conditions were crude. Chamier wrote of the 'long, low, straggling building, made of sun-burnt bricks, with a shingle roof', the men's kitchen and their leisure abode, for they slept in a number of lean-to sheds furnished with a double tier of bunks, calico windows and 'plenty of ventilation'. It was the general absence of women in rural society which made life both uncomfortable and, for the weaker-minded, brutish. As settlement progressed the farm hand had a better chance of founding a home of his own, and conditions, as Edward Wakefield noted, improved, until the days when the only causes of death in the back country had been 'drowning and drunkenness' were gone for ever.
Farming began to depend less on wool production page 75even before refrigeration. Coincident with the gradual fall in wool prices, the more accessible and better leasehold land was being freeholded for closer settlement. Otago exported its oats to Australia, and in Canterbury a new golden age dawned, the age of wheat. Of course, there was throughout the country a progressive increase in mixed farming, spreading out from the main towns and along the new railways being built with Vogel's borrowed money. The public works of the seventies did much for the small man, but they could hardly create a market for his miscellaneous produce. Even horse breeding, a profitable sideline whether the product was a hack or a racer, was a speculative addition to more regular sources of income rather than a main occupation. Dairying suffered from the narrowness of the local market, and the production of meat was similarly handicapped in spite of valiant attempts to export it tinned during the seventies.
Reid's experience foreshadowed the development of the grain-growing industry which was to mean so much to Canterbury and Otago in the eighteen-seventies and eighteen-eighties. This industry started with crude equipment. The single furrow swing plough was in nearly universal use. Bullock teams were preferred on virgin soil, though horses generally carried out later ploughing. Drills were rare, though not unknown, and the seed was generally sown broadcast by hand. The back-delivery reaper was not superseded by the wire reaper and binder until well into the seventies. This machine was soon replaced in its turn by the superior binder which tied the sheaves with twine. Stooking and stacking were done by hand. In the sixties threshing was generally done by horse power, as the scale of operations rarely made a steam engine justifiable. A cheerful omen was the emergence in 1869 of the ingenious tine harrow of James Little, of Woodend. But on the whole, the sixties, when some newer districts, like South Canterbury, actually imported oats and flour from the older page 78seats of settlement, hardly gave clear promise of the great expansion of the seventies.
The real development of the grain industry, like that of wool, was carried out by large owners with ample capital to match their spirited enterprise. In 1867 some flour was exported from Canterbury to England, and the next year wheat made the same long journey. This was a speculative trade, the wheat fetching, after payment of expenses, sometimes a few pence more than the current local price, sometimes a few pence less. Australia was the main market for New Zealand's export of grain in its hey-day in the next two decades. As wool prices gradually declined it was natural that farmers should seek these alternative lines of development, for the New Zealand farmer is usually ready to try new methods. Canterbury and Otago were naturally suited to growing grain and by the beginning of the seventies eighty-three per cent of the country's requirements came from them. Moreover, these two provinces were already the wealthiest and had the greatest opportunity of putting their capital to work. The great estates, mostly in the hands of self-made men, led the way.
John Grigg first took up land at Longbeach in 1864. He had had some experience raising potatoes for export in the Auckland district and growing hay to supply the needs of the army. At Longbeach he first ran sheep and cattle. The drainage of the unpromising-looking tract of peaty swamp was a long but steady page 79process. As it proceeded land was sold off, these sales whittling down the original 30,000 acres to half that area. Gradually cereals and later root crops were grown, until between four and five thousand acres were cropped each year, the harvest sometimes employing as many as 350 hands in spite of the fact that the whole cycle of production was now highly mechanised and only mechanisation had made it possible. This was no exploitation of virgin soil, like so much of the cropping of the seventies and eighties: yields remained high, wheat averaging fifty bushels to the acre and oats surpassing this. This extensive cropping did not mean that sheep and cattle had gone by the board. Very large flocks were still carried, and it is noteworthy that John Grigg played a leading part in the development of the new freezing industry.
At Springfield, Methven, Duncan Cameron was grappling with a problem the converse of Grigg's at Longbeach. Longbeach had been a swamp; Springfield was unconscionably dry. Cameron began building water races in the early seventies and, encouraged by the success of his irrigation system, by 1880 he had forty miles of races on his land. Needless to say his example was soon followed by others, and to-day one of the most certain agencies for bringing the Plains into fuller production is the extension of surface irrigation. To-day, however, the state undertakes for the common good what Cameron had begun for his own purposes. At the peak of the grain-growing page 80boom there were 5,500 acres under wheat at Springfield and 1,200 under oats. Right through the nineties at least 4,000 acres were devoted to wheat. At harvest time as many as thirty-five reapers and binders were at work on these immense fields. Again grain production did not mean that the 20,000 acre estate was cleared of stock. In 1902, after the wheat industry had begun to fall into a decline, 19,000 sheep were being carried, in addition to cattle and the draught horses for which the station was famous. Cameron, like Grigg, helped to pioneer the frozen meat industry.
It would be easy to multiply examples of large-scale production made possible by improvement in the mechanical aids to sowing and harvesting and made desirable by changes in the market values of other produce. Menlove at Windsor Park, Oamaru, in 1874 had 1,800 acres in wheat, as well as considerable areas in oats and barley. Menlove had also some 19,000 sheep on the rest of his 14,000 acre station, over 2,000 acres of which were grassed. On Studholme's property at Willowbridge in 1883 there was one field of 3,500 acres in wheat, another of 1,200 acres in oats, and 400 acres in barley. Ten years earlier 12,000 acres were 'under cultivation' at the Levels under a contract system then in vogue. This gave the contractor breaking in virgin soil a certain remuneration and the right to grow a crop of wheat, grass being sown later. The main object of this system was, of course, to convert native pastures into grassland, page 81but it was equally well a preparation for using the land for arable farming.
During the seventies the areas under wheat increased greatly, and with them the number of acres of wheat to every hundred inhabitants, which in 1880 reached the high level of nearly seventy acres to every hundred people. Although wheat was the most profitable crop at this time, it was not because the price of wheat was high. In the sixties the local price was about 4s a bushel, but in the next twenty years the average was more like 3s 4d, according to Dr F. W. Hilgendorf's Wheat in New Zealand. It was the volume of low-cost production made possible by the relatively highly mechanised state of the industry which gave wheat its eminence. The low price of wheat also favoured the growth of the export trade. In 1883 grain was the second most important export. In 1893 it had sunk to half the value of 1883 and had taken an inferior place. To-day New Zealand is hardly self-sufficient in growing wheat.
A certain amount of the grain production of this time undoubtedly exploited the fertile vitality of land never previously cropped. William Bateman in The Colonist, 1881, stated that no manure was ordinarily used 'except the refuse of the straw stacks'. A six or seven year rotation was practised. The land was pastured by sheep for three years, then ploughed out of grass and sown with wheat. Oats followed wheat, and barley oats, before a new sowing of grass seed.page 82
Some critics assailed the excessive breaking up of the Canterbury soil, and their complaints might have been more vehement if refrigeration had not arrived to put a new emphasis on meat production and necessitate not less, but more, cropping. The figures of the area under turnips and rape climbed steeply in the late eighties, when the system of alternative grain and root crops came into greater use, harnessing the ideas of Coke of Norfolk to the needs imposed by advances in the science of agriculture of which he could hardly have dreamed. The fattening of lambs tended to oust wheat for both practical and market reasons. But the two aims were not incompatible.
Wheat is still an important South Island industry, though it is no longer an export industry. The wheat-growing lands of the Canterbury Plains have developed a distinctive social pattern, that takes its main shape from the self-reliance of the small farmer rather than the centralised cultivation of large estates. In the wheat-growing areas for the first time in New Zealand there emerged the chance for a father to hand on to his son substantially the same methods of farming and a conception of farming at once socially healthy and as stable economically as farming ever can be.
The most consistent feature in New Zealand farming until the end of the nineteenth century was its liability to change, in methods and in aims, and to change quickly. Men had come to a new country which had to be tried out. Then events beyond their own choice, like fluctuations in world prices, demanded change with bewildering insistence. The men who farmed in New Zealand before the coming of refrigeration were no less resourceful, no less up to the minute, than those who came after that agrarian revolution. In some ways they were amazingly modern, anticipating by many years the mass-production methods achieved, with some page 84self-congratulation, in the factory. No factory could surpass a woolshed in the rationalisation of effort, the speeding up of all processes, and the securing of a maximum of production from each worker engaged. Similarly the mechanised large-scale wheat industry first brought into being in the seventies and eighties is a tribute to the natural inventiveness constantly demanded of the New Zealand farmer and not demanded in vain.
The New Zealand farmer has been remarkable also for two things—an ability to organise his farming as an industry and a considerable degree of social conscience. These qualities, with that of versatility already cited, came into prominence during this middle era of wool and wheat production. Only organisation made possible the great wheatfields that excited the admiration of travellers and the flocks running into tens of thousands pasturing on hundreds of thousands of acres without either type of holding becoming unwieldy. Even the humble potato could be organised into a profitable export, by using Aspinwall's potato digger, admired by William Bateman, and by hoeing and harrowing instead of using expensive artificial manures. The social conscience is best shown in the series of regulations governing access to the land.
When one remembers the great aggregation of estates in spite of the law and the conscientious scruples, wrenched awry by private interests, that had page 85dictated the law's form, it may seem ironic to talk of easy access to the land. Yet throughout the greater part of our history, even in the days of the 'squat-tocracy', the man who could make the best use of the land economically could usually get possession of the area that would serve his purpose. With the development of more intensive farming methods, first on the wheatlands and then everywhere after refrigeration had come in, the large holding became both socially and economically undesirable and, partly by political action on behalf of the community, it was broken up. Yet even though the country had to 'take a stick to' the large landholder during the eighteen-nineties, it is doubtful whether this gentleman had outlived his usefulness by very many years. His pioneering in many important departments of agricultural effort was invaluable, and it was only where a large holding was accompanied by an inefficient farming method that the case for eviction became overwhelming.
Large-scale wheat cropping existed side by side with the small man's cropping helped out by itinerant threshing mills. The big man did not smother the small man, if for no other reason than that there was still land available, for the breaking in, in the North Island. Many farmers in a large way were remarkably liberal in their attitude towards their employees. Donald Reid had weaned his men from an immediate stampede to Gabriel's Gully by organising at a page 86convenient time an expedition in which they were equal partners and from which all in fact derived profit. The record of a man like James Gammack, of Springston, a self-made successful farmer, who, at his death in 1896, left money for scholarships and library books, shows the pioneer in another socially valuable mood. He loved reading himself and therefore assisted others to read. Nearly all the wealthier farmers of this era of expanding achievement were generous to churches. Thomas Holloway, an English working man who toured New Zealand in 1874 under official auspices to report on irnmigration possibilities to the agricultural labourers of Britain, commented on one of the blind spots in an otherwise generous-minded proprietor of a great station. He pointed out that though this man provided excellent accommodation and fare for single men, he gave no thought to the possibility of employing married men. Donald Reid had made such provision in the sixties, but he was an unusual character. Holloway was disturbed by the size of the large estates he saw over, although their owners were obviously leaders in the technique of production. He believed in giving the small man a bigger chance, and fundamentally he was right, as the conscience of New Zealand was soon to endorse. But this conscience, as is the way of consciences, did not work very vehemently until it was plain that large individual holdings constituted an economic as well as a social bottleneck.