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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Suggestions for the Prevention of Sheep Stealing

Suggestions for the Prevention of Sheep Stealing

In view of the losses of sheep caused by stealing and the difficulty of identifying stray sheep caused by the complication of earmarks at present existing. It is deemed advisable that some more simple system of earmarking should be adopted.

The following suggestions have been made by Mr Reginald Foster, while chief Inspector of stock.

The suggestions which I submit for consideration are:—
1.That earmarks should be registered for one year only for each sex, these to be the legal cars throughout the Colony, the other ear being left free for age, stud or sale marks.
2.That, while earmarking need not be compulsory, it should be an offence to mark any sheep with an unregistered mark on the legal ear.
3.That a penalty of not less than, say £50 or imprisonment, should be imposed for altering or adding to the breeder's registered earmark at any time.
4.That all front and back notches should be made with pliers bearing a Government stamp to insure uniformity. The knife to be used only for marks on the tip of the ear.
5.That a schedule of earmarks number should be agreed upon and form part of the Branding Act, as in New South Wales.
6.That, when all sheep are marked under the proposed system, owners when entering sheep for sale should stat the brands and earmarks of their sheep, and a record of the earmarks of all sheep passing through their hands should be kept by Auctioneers, Dealers, Freezing Companies and Butchers, stating the number of the registered mark, but not necessarily the number of sheep bearing each mark.
7.That travelling sheep, if sold, should bear a distinguishing mark, say a dot on the poll.

The question of brands being registered to be used with a stated colour might also be considered.

I append a condensed list of earmarks showing 400 fairly distinct marks arranged on a system by which each of the four notches used as initial marks command 100 marks, other shaped notches would give a further 100 marks each, but I do not recommend going beyond the four.

I suggest that each Branding District should be subdivided into districts containing wot more than 400 owners, no earmark to be registered more than once in each Sub-district.

Mr Coleman Philips moved—"That a better system of ear-marking and brands be adopted." He fully agreed with Mr Foster's proposal with regard to ear marks, as he believed that it would tend to stopping the sheep-stealing which is now known to be going on.

Mr E. Chapman seconded the motion. He strongly supported the proposal made by Mr Foster, and urged that in no case should the ear-marking put on by the first owner of sheep be obliterated. He could not but think that the people who were on the juries before whom persons were brought charged with sheep-stealing had an idea that it was no crime to take a sheep. He thought that the Associations formed for the purpose of checking sheep-stealing by offering rewards should be enabled to rate the sheep farmers in the district for the purpose of providing funds.

Mr Grigg spoke in favour of the resolution, and endorsed Mr Chapman's statement as to the difficulty of obtaining a conviction for sheep-stealing.

Captain Willis said he had proposed that every auctioneer should register the ear mark, brand, purchaser, and seller in their books. Further, the butcher should do so also. With Mr Foster's system, they would then have a decided check over the sheep stealing which was so rife.

Mr D. Thomas said that it would be impossible for auctioneers to do what Captain Willis wanted. He had some lots of sheep numbering not more than 500, in which there were no less than fifty or sixty different brands and earmarks. He did not think that here, where sheep changed hands so frequently, that there would be room on page 24 the sheep to put on the different brands.

Mr Bidwell thought the remedy for the sheep stealing which existed was to offer a large reward, say £300.

Mr Matthews said that he did not think any system except earmarking would be satisfactory.

Mr Fitzroy said that, fortunately, sheep stealing was not so rife in his part of the district, but the delegates were instructed to aid the Canterbury settlers as far as possible. He would suggest that a guarantee fund should be formed by all the Associations combining together, from which the expenses of prosecution, offering rewards, &c., could be paid.

Mr Waby did not think that the offering of large rewards would be the most effectual method of checking stealing.

Mr Coleman Philips proposed to add a clause to his resolution to the following effect:—"And that rewards be offered for the detection of sheep stealing from a guarantee fund formed by individual settlers," but the Conference were averse to it.

The motion as originally proposed was then put, and carried.

Mr John Grigg moved—"That the attention of the Government be drawn to the extreme difficulty of obtaining satisfactory trials in the Supreme Courts of the colony in cases of sheep stealing; that, in the opinion of this Conference, juries should be empannelled consisting of men who have some knowledge of sheep and sheep farming, and should not be drawn from men totally ignorant of everything appertaining to the subject." The first thing a sheep stealer did when put on his trial was to challenge all but men taken off the street, who did not probably know a sheep from a goat. The result was that there was a direct failure of justice. It was just the same as if they in that Conference were asked to decide on a question of boot manufacture. Until the state of things he had referred to was altered they would find that sheep stealing would flourish as a business. They knew that sheep stealing was carried on to a very large extent, so much so that one man who had started with only a few pounds was now worth thousands of pounds and had become so daring in sheep stealing that at last he was caught.

Mr Pashby seconded the motion.

Mr McLaren suggested that Mr Grigg should furnish the Government with the information regarding a case in which a man who was charged with sheep stealing had got off, a very glaring case, and then tried to secure possession of the sheep.

Mr Chapman said that in one case in the Pangiora district the man who had been convicted on three charges had only got three years' imprisonment. The man had farms throughout the district and butchers' shops, and quite a perfect and beautiful system of sheepstealing. Now they had that gentleman back again amongst them.

Mr Gough suggested that the Sheep Inspectors, as knowing the brands so well, would be the best men to give information.

Mr D. Thomas said that to pass such a resolution would mean that they would have to alter the British constitution. Unless they did this they could not ask any Government to put a man before a jury which was bound to shop him. He looked at it that sheepfarmers were too lazy; they did not set traps for the thieves, and therefore they did not catch them.

Mr Holmes said to empanel a jury of sheepfarmers to try sheep stealers would be unfair, and he could never agree to such a recommendation. Now, he had a suggestion to make. They all had seen the indelible marks which sailors put on their arms, and which lasted all their lives. Now, if they could get some such system as this carried out with regard to the branding of sheep on the face or under the shoulder, they would have a brand which would last as long as the sheep lived. He would suggest that a reward be offered for a simple and effective method of branding something like he had suggested.

The motion after some further discussion, in which Messrs Weston, Grigg, Cole-man, Philips and others took part, was negatived on the voices.

Mr Bidwell then moved—" That sheep owners on petition to the Governor, be empowered to form special sheep districts, and be empowered to levy a rate on all sheep in such district for the purpose of protecting the interests of sheep owneis and advancing the cause of sheep breeding generally." The Rabbit Boards he might note had been formed for a special purpose, and they had also Cattle Boards, but they had no Sheep Boards. Therefore he thought that as in some districts sheep stealing was rife, whilst it was not so in others, the settlers ought to have the opportunity of protecting themselves.

Mr Coleman Philips seconded the motion, but suggested that perhaps the County Councils might be entrusted with the power to levy a rate.

Mr Chapman said that they in Rangiora had founded a Sheep Farmers' Protection Association, and they offered a reward of £50. This, however, was a private guarantee fund. He did not agree with the Government granting any rating power, but they might give the sheep farmers some aid out of the sheep rate.

Mr Fitzroy said that he felt that the best way would be for the several Agricultural and Pastoral Associations to combine and form a fund to cover costs of prosecution and the offering of a reward. He would move as an amendment—"That with the view of checking the increasing evil of page 25 sheep stealing, this Conference recommend that a fund be instituted amongst the various Agricultural and Pastoral Associations for the purpose of meeting the costs of prosecutions whenever prima facie cases of sheep stealing are made out."

Mr Brown seconded the amendment.

Mr Sinclair thought that the duty of offering a reward rested on the Government. If sheep stealing was rife in any particular district, the Association could bring the matter before the Government and ask for a reward to be offered. He did not think that those who were carrying on an industry which was pretty heavily black mailed should be called upon to put their hands in their pockets and defray the cost of punishing crime which affected all.

The motion was then put and lost.

Mr Thomas moved—"That the attention of the Government be called to the large amount of sheep stealing rampant throughout New Zealand, and asking that remedial measures may be at once taken, such as offering rewards, &c."

Mr Carswell seconded the motion, which was carried.