Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1981
The Redwood Stables
The Redwood Stables
Red-bricked and derelict, the Redwood Stables stand next to Highway 60, fourteen miles west of Nelson. They are half a mile from the Waimea River bridge, at the base of the coastal foothills. Most motorists speed by with scarcely a glance, and the vibration from each passing truck brings their demise a little nearer.
Henry Redwood, pioneer settler of the district, and widely known as Father of the New Zealand Turf, built his home, Hednesford, about 1849 and fifty yards away his racing stables. A small part of the original house is still there, owned and occupied by Mr and Mrs Paddy O'Connor. In the far distance among the trees can be seen the dormer windows and steep sloping roof of Stafford Place, the second built on the site, original home of the Redwood family.
That part of the L shaped stables parallel to the road is a two-storey brick building, about 165 feet long, with eight stalls for horses, feeding troughs and a corridor for stable hands. The upper floor is storage for grain, fodder and harness, but at the eastern end is a loft in good repair, living quarters for stable boys. The remains of an outside wooden stairway lies rotting in the grass, but inside leading to the loft, is a perpendicular, ship's type ladder, firm and intact. The whole building, with patterned brick arches over windows and doorways is in reasonable repair and still attractive.
The smaller part of the L, with its brick and partly cobbled floor, was once a carriage house, and perhaps part dairy. It is in poor shape now, having suffered in the 1929 earthquake, since when deterioration has been rapid.
Early Days in the Nelson Settlement
The Redwood family (4 boys, 4 girls) were among the original settlers of Waimea West, arriving on the good ship George Fyfe in December 1842. From the "Reminiscences of Early New Zealand" by Francis (Archibald) Redwood. Henry's younger brother, and the Journals of his brother-in-law Joseph Ward, we get a lively picture of pioneering days.
The George Fyfe was anything but a "good ship". Both Joseph and Francis agree with Dr Sam Johnson that being at sea is "like being in prison with the added disadvantage of the chance of being drowned". Writes Joe, "I shall never forget the George Fyfe. Talk of suffering – New Zealand must be a very fine place to make up for this. Martha (his wife) very unwell, has tooth drawn; Betsy unwell, difficulty in breathing; Ann, headache; Uncle (Henry Redwwod, Senior), violent headache. Bad health, bad tempers. All as crabbed as bears with sore tails. The price is very high … Little George (6 months) died. Lucky George! He leaves his friends and finds Heaven, 'Tis a bitter, bitter world. Oh that I was on land again, among dear, dear friends among the green fields, on land again!" Francis, after suffering for several days "a revolution in my vitals" could keep nothing down. The remedy, given to him by an old sailor was "a dram of brandy, soak in it a piece of sea biscuit. That, I think, should stick." It did.page 44
There was a touching description by Francis of the first journey out to the Waimea 50 acre holding. They landed on the river bank, continuing on foot, the three year old Francis being sadly scratched by ferns and prickles, lagging behind the other children. "Wait for me!" the eternal cry of the youngest, which Katherine Mansfield describes so well with Lottie in "Across the Bay". Mrs Redwood was not without complaint, either. Henry, Senior, pointed out a tiny New Zealand daisy, "See what a beggarly country you have brought me to," she cried. "It cannot even grow a decent daisy."
Work began at once. The men dug a well, the first day and erected a 60 foot long tent, divided by wooden partitions. In this tent, one day later, Mrs Dillon gave birth to her first-born, Mrs Redwood assisting. Joseph is laconic about birth. He writes, "Mrs D. Just confined. Boy." Of his own, "Martha very unwell. My Aunt slept with her. Today Martha was confined of little Felix Barnard. Showery." Two years later, "Martha very ill. About 2 a.m. Joseph Augustine Charles made his appearance. Mrs D. had a box of cheese full of maggots." In 1848, "Scabs on my boys' heads, ringworm. Martha uneasy since 12 o'clock last night. I up between 2 and 3 built up fire, thinking Martha's task to be well nigh ended. No such luck. Doctor at my house most of day. At 4 p.m. my 4th son born. Got two loads of dung." The event (birth) was repeated eleven times, 8 sons and 4 daughters. It is recorded in Marlborough that the eight Ward sons all magnificently mounted rode each Sunday to Mass. They were known as the Brookby Cavalry.
There is little mention of horses or stables in the first few years. The rough 14 miles were covered on foot, often taking most of the day. There is mention of oxen in the cart and then a mule and then one horse between two, Henry and Joseph, who presumably rode "Ride and Tie". But surely after the triple family wedding of 1845, there must have been vehicles and riding horses for the ladies. Certainly before the wedding Henry let Elizabeth (Reeves) ride his mare one evening. Presumably she did it well for the wedding took place. Henry and Joseph were undoubtedly witnesses of the first two race meetings in Nelson, 1843 and 1844, and at the 1846 races at Stoke, Henry Redwood Senior was a steward and again in 1848, and Henry Junior was Clerk of the Course.
There is little mention of meat either in these early years, although young Henry had a butcher's shop in Nelson in late 1843, and one of the first jobs mentioned is "cutting poles for a cattle yard". The diary is of catching eels and shooting birds; ducks, pigeons, quail, pukeko and larks. Henry often shot twenty brace of larks for supper, and as many as 20 larks would be killed by the bullock whip as they followed the plough. Henry was a famous shot, and more than once in Sydney won the All Australasian Championship for pigeon shooting. Francis, too, on his way to study in France, impressed a Marist brother who took him shooting in Sydney. "I am a good shot", he writes. "All Redwoods are".
The early years are crammed with the practical details of fanning; the chopping of stakes, planting potatoes, the bulling of heifers, the slaughtering of sheep and pigs, the pupping of bitches, the castrating ("cutting") of male page 45calves, milking cows in the rain, building a malthouse, making bricks, brewing beer, getting a boat (tub) across the river with ropes and pulley, and getting in the harvest. "Tall, golden grain," writes Francis, who came home from Father Garin's Seminary in Nelson to help. "1 did my share, half an acre a day".
Hospitality was plentiful, and if meat was short, drink was not. The men (never the ladies mentioned) were never short of whisky, brandy, port and beer, home brewed. There were many convivial visits of friends to Stafford Place and many visits to friends in Nelson and parties as on Anniversary Day, February 1, 1844. After the jollifications, the horse race (Duppa won again), the sack race, Nelson folk dancing on the green, they went to a friend's house. "Could not find liquors," writes Joe, "looked under bed for them. Girls all gone to Marsden. Bolton and I laughed heartily … A jolly crew … all drank wine, 1, brandy and water. Sang several songs and had a glass or two of champagne. Slept at Uncle's."
The routine of farm life was enlivened by such incidents. Francis writes that the Maoris, who loved the novelty of horses (hohios – "big dogs") rode them recklessly up the valley to Motueka, often turning them out all sweating, so that many caught chills and died. One night, a calf was killed and the blood smell set the bulls roaring. The women in the tent feared that the bulls would charge it, and they set off guns to frighten them off. "Such little incidents", writes Francis, "helped to sweeten the sameness of everyday life."
Religion played a major part in the Redwood story. Henry Senior nearly pulled up stakes and went to Tasmania when he found that there were no regular masses celebrated in Nelson. The visit of Bishop Pompallier and Rev. Father O'Reilly from Wellington to Waimea West thrilled Francis. "We venerated him as an angel from Heaven, and from then on an appropriate room in our house became the hallowed place. "Every night there were prayers and Bible readings, Sundays, mass, prayers and all in full dress. When work demanded, there were prayers in the shearing shed or cow byre. From then on, Father O'Reilly visited regularly – once a year! He it was who conducted the triple wedding at Stafford Place in 1845, January 23, when Henry married a widow, Elizabeth Reeves; Mary married a lawyer, whom Joe did not like; Joseph Greaves and Betsy, Edward Bolton. "All good Catholics", says Francis, "and all at their duties". Soon after, Francis heard his call to duty, and sailed to France, was ordained as priest, served in Ireland, then in Wellington, finally becoming Archbishop of all New Zealand.
And so the Redwoods prospered. There were three houses and the stables, probably built in 1850. Henry used to train the horses on Rabbit Island, using the Tick Tock track for timing (most meticulously) and a small shed there. One can think of jockeys on frosty mornings returning from training gallops, blowing on frozen fingers, trooping noisly in to the large Hednesford kitchen for hot cocoa and the warmth of an open range. One can imagine too in the evening, the sleepy talk of tired stable boys in the loft, assessing the chances of Zoe for Marlborough, and what price Ladybird for Dunedin, and I wonder will the old man bring home any new stock from Sydney?
Henry was born in Tixall, Staffordshire. When he arrived in Nelson in 1842, he was twenty and already a man, having owned and raced horses in England. He was a pioneer fanner, a man of many parts, having run a butcher's shop, a flour mill, and he was the first to install a threshing machine and to release a stag and a hind in the hills behind Nelson. But racing was his chief love, and after 1851, he established the first New Zealand stud for breeding thoroughbreds. The brig Spray arrived from Sydney in 1851, bringing him 33 horses, among them Sir Hercules and Glaucus, stallions who each founded a great racing line. Other famous Redwood horses were his favourite, Zoe, Strop, Zingara, Peeress, Lurline, Flora McIvor, Frailty and Ladybird. Henry had two sons, Joseph, who rode as his jockey for seven years, and Thomas. In 1863 he moved to Marlborough, but continued to race his horses in Nelson, Canterbury, Otago and Sydney, building an enviable record, his colours, red and black being well known all over Australasia. He was known abroad, and acknowledged in European racing journals as a pioneer of racing in the Antipodes. He was known in France, and imported stock from there later returning some of the progeny.
As a boss, he was known to be stern with his boys and kind to his horses. There is a story of a lad too frightened of him to confess that the horse in his care had a sore foot. After the race the boy was whipped, the horse pampered. He loved his horses but rarely made money. In Sydney he raced one of his favourites, Strop, successfully, then sold him. Later he was not satisfied with the horse's condition, and brought him back at a loss to give him honourable retirement in Nelson.
Redwood won 2 Wellington Cups. 3 Marlborough Cups, 2 Dunedin Cups, 2 Canterbury Cups and 4 Nelson Cups. His horse Ladybird won the first Interdominion Championship in Dunedin, 1863, defeating the favourite Mormon, from Victoria. Mormon was second to Archer in the first Melbourne Cup, 1861. He was known in all his business dealings for his firmness and in his racing for his integrity. All Redwood horses were ridden to win, and win they did through all of 60 years. Redwood died full of honour in 1907.
The Examiner has a note in 1866, "Mr Redwood's stud is outstanding. No gentleman has a finer lot of brood mares south of the Line, except perhaps Mr Fisher's Maribyrnong Stud in Victoria. He has as valuable a stud as could be found in any British colony."page 47
Restoration of the Redwood Stables would be a fitting memorial to an outstanding pioneer of the district and to the Father of the New Zealand Turf.