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The Farmer in New Zealand

2 — Early Settlement and Farming

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Early Settlement and Farming

Farming by Europeans in New Zealand before 1840 did not have any important effect on farming practice in succeeding years except through its influence on Maori agriculture. The missionaries, although they avowed the intention of instructing the Maoris in the arts of civilisation, were not themselves masters of the arts they taught—not at least of the art of farming. As farmers on their own account —apart from whatever good they did merely by introducing new seeds, stock, or implements to the Maoris—their chief aim was subsistence. They had, on the one hand, too often run the risk of real starvation in the course of fifteen years' residence between 1815 and 1830 not to realise the necessity for having their own secure food supply. On the other hand their children (and many of them had large families) were growing up. There was no useful trade to which their sons could be apprenticed in remote New Zealand. Farming offered these young men the best chance of a living and a dignified profession.

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Missionary farms were hardly of great importance until the eighteen-thirties, in spite of the crops of wheat already grown at Keri-Keri. In 1835 their new farm at Waimate was flourishing exceedingly, according to the testimony of Charles Darwin, who paid New Zealand a short Christmas visit on board H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin was delighted with the well-dressed fields of Waimate. 'On an adjoining slope fine crops of barley and wheat were standing in full ear; and in another part, fields of potatoes and clover. . . . there were large gardens, with every fruit and vegetable which England produces. . . .' The missionaries in fact were growing both asparagus and hops, both 'gorse for fences' and English oaks. Their threshing barn held a winnowing machine, and they maintained a blacksmith's forge. With an abundant supply of labour and Samuel Marsden in New South Wales eager to send them every sort of seed, implement, or stock, the policy forced upon them by sheer necessity (dignified by the name of 'self-reliance') had advanced beyond its first intentions. Moreover, the missionaries, as well as others, had discovered that cattle could pick up a living in the bush, though this method of depasturing stock had grave objections on more than one ground. The beasts died of eating tutu. If not in the constant charge of a Maori herdsman, they went wild in the forest. Lieutenant McDonnell, on the Hokianga river in the eighteen-thirties, said he owned 300 'wild' cattle and twenty 'tame'. Trees page 25like the karaka provided some sort of feed, however, as the Wellington colonists were to discover thankfully a few years later. Captain W. B. Rhodes had cattle running on the heavily bushed Banks Peninsula in the late eighteen-thirties and had stocked Kapiti island. In 1838 and probably earlier wool had been sent to Sydney from missionary farms and also from Bell's flock on Mana island, stocked in 1832 and for a variety of reasons a precarious venture. One reason was that Te Rangihaeata, who lived there, sometimes graced his feasts with the white man's mutton. The wool from New Zealand was well thought of in Sydney. Possibly it helped to precipitate the frenzied land-buying of the late eighteen-thirties, when speculators were so convinced of the eligibility of the islands of New Zealand for agriculture that by 1840 they had bought, in a number of dubious bargains with sharp-witted Maori chiefs, more land than the country was estimated to contain.

In 1839, however, there was still a vast acreage left for Colonel William Wakefield to buy on behalf of the New Zealand Company. The systematic settlement of New Zealand, a process already begun haphazardly by a growing tribe of traders and adventurers, must in the first instance be credited to the Company. The Company, dominated by Edward Gibbon Wakefield at least in the early phase, had for three years before 1840 conducted a vigorous propaganda in favour of New Zealand as a field for British page 26colonisation. Consistently optimistic, incorrigibly exuberant, possessed, they felt, of a sort of magic formula which would at once turn the wilderness into a blossoming garden, the Company propagandists did at least advertise the country of their-choice. Their crime was their substantial ignorance of New Zealand conditions. That New Zealand was in fact the country perhaps best suited to farming among all the remaining uncivilised corners of the globe was a lucky accident for which the Company, with all its divine prescience, could hardly take credit. The Company's achievement was that it did induce a number of men and women of the best quality England had to offer to break with their homes and cross the world to settle in New Zealand.

The Company sent out its first emigrants in 1839 (they reached Port Nicholson in 1840) without having made any decision as to where they were to settle, although it did at least decide in advance that the settlement would not be located on the only land it then possessed in New Zealand, the property at Hokianga and Kaipara bought from Lieutenant McDonnell and the land, also in the north, acquired from the first (or 1825) New Zealand Company. If Colonel Wakefield, sent on ahead in the Tory, had failed to make a satisfactory purchase from the Maori chiefs, the four shiploads of emigrants would not have had a place to lay their heads, let alone land to farm. Many of the settlers' troubles in the decade after 1840 page 27were in fact due to the shaky title created by this initial irresponsibility and to the fact that no settlement had enough land to carry out the prearranged allocation of sections. The Company's emigrants were the real pioneers of white settlement in New Zealand. They came to farm. They were carefully chosen. The Company had sound ideas, on paper. It wanted to plant communities and to avoid the mistake made in some of the Australian colonies of scattering a few settlers over a vast area in which they lost all the amenities of living together and gained nothing but a precarious self-sufficiency. The Company settlements were meant to be compact towns surrounded by rural lands owned by the citizens, for the Company definitely designed to bring two main classes to New Zealand—capitalists and labourers. Partly to this end a fairly high price was charged for land and some of the funds were used to help immigration.

The Company settlers cannot be seen in proper perspective without some scrutiny of their origins, and of the forces winch induced them to seek a new home at the ends of the earth. The capitalists (for it is convenient to see the settlers through the eyes of the New Zealand Company) were men of good middle-class position, many of them retired from the army or navy. Most of them had spent the greater part of their capital when they bought their land-orders from the Company. A Port Nicholson landorder page 28for £100 gave its owner a section of one acre in the new city and 100 acres of rural land, and also entitle to a first-class passage, valued at £75. For Nelson and New Plymouth there were similar, though not identical, provisions. The labourers or 'emigrants', as they were called, might be brought to New Zealand by the Company or by the capitalists, for a capitalist who had not exhausted the credit towards passages created by the land-orders he had bought in bringing out his own family, might use the balance to bring out labourers. All these people, whether nominated by the capitalists or the Company, were carefully chosen—indeed the standard set was so high it seriously embarrassed the Company's agents in their task of recruiting. It was the general intention of the Company to bring agricultural labourers, but artisans of every sort might go. Although it was not until Canterbury was settled that there was expressly formulated the often quoted idea that the new settlement should transplant a 'vertical cross-section' of the England it had sprung from, it was an idea implicit in the earlier phase of colonisation.

Most of the capitalists were men who would normally have gone into the professions; a minority had already had actual experience of farming. They preferred and intended to rely on the labourers to start their farms. One of the Nelson settlers, Constantine Augustus Dillon, a retired army officer, wrote home proudly in 1844, some eighteen months after page 29his arrival: 'I am beginning to learn my trade of farmer and can do most things myself, such as ploughing, milking, looking after stock and so forth'. The main reasons that would induce such men to emigrate were ambition and a love of adventure. They expected to make their fortunes through the rise in the value of land following colonisation, a pernicious tradition that still clings to this country after one hundred years. Some had a real desire to farm for the sake of developing untrammelled a fertile, new country. Many were political liberals, filled with mercantile pugnacity, inclined to radicalism in politics, though not in economics. Most could have made a living at home if they had been prepared to sacrifice their social pretensions, though England was in 1840 suffering from a surplus of men and of money that it was thought could be remedied only by emigration.

As with their social and economic superiors, the pressure on the labourers who did emigrate was not so much the direct pressure of want as the general lack of opportunity for personal advancement. The average labourer who came up to the high standards demanded by the New Zealand Company was at the top of the working-class scale: he was not the dregs of the newly impoverished peasantry. Cobbett had written in 1830 that it was the 'sensible fellows', often with some small capital, who were emigrating. But what was the economic storm from which both page 30capitalists and working men were fleeing for shelter to the unknown hazards of a scantily explored country at the furthest end of the earth?

By 1840 England had gone through two revolutions. The first and best-known was the 'Industrial Revolution'. But if England was to feed its rising population in the new industrial towns there had also to be an Agricultural Revolution. Great advances in the technique of agriculture had been made during the later eighteenth century. These, combined with the expansion of the internal market, gave a new impetus to agricultural development. An indispensable condition for this advance was the enclosure of the remaining open fields, representing the survival of the methods of cultivation practised in the middle ages, and the commons. The process of enclosure had been going on gradually for centuries. It was not a new idea. But in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there was a new incentive to enclose: the inefficiency of the old agricultural methods that could not be altered so long as the fields were open, open to other men's stock, open to the weeds in other men's cultivations, open to every sort of trespass, flooding, or contamination. Though enclosure, a troublesome and expensive legal process, was inevitable, the manner in which it was carried out over the greater part of the still unenclosed tracts in the Midlands quite ignored the welfare of the peasantry. Cottagers in the unenclosed villages had page 31the right to use the common to pasture their stock. Generally there was no limit to the number of stock any one person with common rights might run—a fruitful source of abuses, of which the least was overstocking. The process of enclosure evicted the small man from these common rights without compensation. Thus the average cottager throughout the greater part of England had been gradually, but surely, deprived of his two main sources of livelihood: the Industrial Revolution had taken industry out of the hands of the cottage pieceworker; enclosures took away his small-holding rights. The social consequences of enclosure were deplorable—rural depopulation, the pauperising of millions, and the closing of the land to countrymen whose life had been farming for centuries.

The agricultural revolution itself has a direct bearing on the settlers of 1840, for New Zealand was colonised after its first phase had been accomplished. Improvement in agricultural technique had gone about as far as it could go by empirical methods, and the next advances had to wait on the chemist and the biologist. In 1840 it was a hundred years since the death of Jethro Tull who invented the seed-drill and studied the problems of plant growth. To farming he left the drill, greatly economising seed, and the working of the soil about the roots of growing crops, which the drill made possible. He was the first man to use a horse-drawn hoe. He discovered incidentally page 32that husbandry with drill and hoe was a substitute 'not only for fallows, but for farmyard dung,' which he dreaded as a weed-carrier. In the seventeen-thirties Lord Townshend formulated the famous Norfolk four-course rotation of crops. This rotation made new use of turnips and clover, saved the necessity of fallowing, and increased the number of stock that could be carried through the winter. Then Robert Bakewell in the seventeen-sixties revolutionised the breeding of stock. He was the first to adopt the principle of breeding 'in-and-in' to increase the qualities he wished to perpetuate in his animals. Before Bakewell began his experiments neither sheep nor cattle were bred for meat in England. Sheep were valued for their wool and as a source of manure. Cattle were valued for their milk-producing qualities or their power to draw the plough. Bakewell's New Leicesters were compact in form, small in bone, fattening readily, and maturing early. His Craven Longhorn cattle were well-bred for beef, but lost in milking capacity, later being superseded generally by the Durham Shorthorns. But Bakewell had linked both sheep and cattle to the new needs of a growing urban population. Most important of all, he had shown the way to breed for definitely desired qualities. The changes he introduced into sheep-breeding had another effect on the destinies of New Zealand. The half-starved sheep of the English commons grew a light fine fleece, but Bakewell's heavier, better page 33nourished animals had a longer and coarser fleece. This, combined with the growing fashion for finer cloths, provided an opportunity for the fine wools of the Pacific colonies. (Samuel Marsden already had his merino flock in New South Wales.) The improvements in breeding and in methods of cultivation were reduced to a routine by Thomas Coke of Norfolk, like Townshend a great landowner. Coke's part in the agricultural revolution was to draw together and put into common practice all that anyone before him had achieved.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century farming was a fashion with English noblemen and statesmen. Burke and Fox dabbled in it. George III had his merino flock at Windsor and busied himself with agriculture more enthusiastically than with matters of state. Coke, a practical propagandist where the traveller, Arthur Young, was merely a journalistic propagandist, was from 1778 to 1842 the acknowledged leader in the new agriculture. How far he had converted all his contemporaries by 1840 is problematical. He himself complained that his improvements travelled at the rate of a mile a year. In spite of the use he made of such manures as bones, his introduction of better grass seed, his mixing of soils, his pioneering of oil-cake and the new spirit of co-operation with their tenants which he inaugurated among English landlords, there were still men in the England of 1840 farming substantially as their ancestors had page 34done since the thirteenth century. Ploughs, drills, and harrows depended still on the talents of the local blacksmith. Wheat was still being harvested with sickle or scythe, though a crude threshing machine had begun to be used. A mechanical reaper was invented in 1828, but Cyrus McCormick in America did not market his improved reaper until 1851. Bullocks still drew the plough, as they frequently did for two decades more in New Zealand. The English roads were so bad in most districts that the lack of them in New Zealand cannot have been either a great surprise or an unusual inconvenience to travellers in early New Zealand.

It is appropriate to consider how far the New Zealand Company settlers had available to them the basic necessities for successful farming. The basic necessities may be crudely defined as access to land, with security of tenure implicit, a reasonably realistic technique, an assured market, and energy and initiative. It is customary to credit the pioneers with the last-mentioned qualities almost by definition. This is perhaps due to the habit of contemplating exclusively the successful examples. It is, however, well to remember, if mildly treasonable, that the first twenty years of farming in New Zealand were a time of experiment, that there were conspicuous failures, and that occasionally failure was due to lack of energy as much as to mistaken judgment.

In regard to access to land it would appear that page 35the first New Zealand settlers had ideal conditions. There was any amount of good land, uncultivated and awaiting their efforts: but this land belonged to Maori tribes, whose rights were jealously guarded by the Treaty of Waitangi itself. The New Zealand Company had made extensive purchases, but the Land Claims Commissioner reduced the 20,000,000 acres it claimed to 283,000. The government was definitely hostile to the Company in the earliest phase of New Zealand's history and did nothing to help it in its difficulties. The disastrous effect of the Company's failure to give possession of their promised sections to its settlers (a failure partly due to delays in survey) are described by many writers, but perhaps no account is so clear and damning as Thomson's picture of the country in 1842 in his The Story of New Zealand: 'At Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson, the settlers were living on their own resources, from not having got possession of their lands; some were frittering away their lives in idle pastimes, while torpor and drinking had taken possession of a few. There was little land under cultivation, farming implements were rusting for want of use, and money was spent in purchasing what labour should have supplied.' Possibly the settlers could have done more for themselves. Some did. Young William Deans paid his way cultivating some leased land on the shores of Port Nicholson, before, with his younger brother John, who had found Nelson wanting, he page 36sought pastures new on the Canterbury Plains. But there is a sharp contrast between the high hopes of the emigrants and the reality. Even for those who had possession of their land, security of tenure was only comparative. The troubles with the natives during the forties created uneasiness and for a time paralysed Wanganui and Wellington. On the other hand it was by no means a novelty to most settlers to defend their title to land by process of law or to acquire land by legislative devices: in the fullness of time some groups of colonists legislated themselves into wide acres and so recouped the disappointments of the early years.

New Zealand at least was free of the vexatious burdens upon agriculture which were to prove so especially burdensome to the English farmer during the nineteenth century. In England the Poor Law rates and Tithe (which, though supporting the Church of England, fell upon all denominations alike), the incidence of taxation, and the legal difficulties of large owners were a heavy load for farming to carry through good times and bad. The Game Laws annoyed both the tenant farmer and the poor labourer who so frequendy risked dire penalties to increase his food supply by poaching. To the liberals of 1840 New Zealand must have seemed gloriously free of the weight of custom and oppression.

The New Zealand settlers, one must suppose, would be well informed in matters of farming technique, page 37and here the inexperience of many of them would not be a disadvantage in view of the intense conservatism of many professional English farmers. The implements they brought, purchased from metropolitan manufacturers rather than from local blacksmiths, would be the latest on sale. In one respect, however, they were ill-equipped: they had come with the intention of engaging in arable farming, without consideration of whether this was suitable to New Zealand conditions. Here the Company had really very little certain information for them. It was impossible to forecast an agricultural economy for a country till then known only for its exports of timber, flax, and whale-oil. The arable farming of the early settlers, like that of the England they had left, made wheat the pivotal crop. To-day, in both England and New Zealand, milk production receives the emphasis once given to wheat. The first ships brought few animals—valuable horses, rams, and bulls rather than stock for general use. New Zealand was in fact largely stocked from New South Wales, a country that for some years was more important as a source of supply than as a market for New Zealand produce. Markets had to wait on the general development of agriculture on which the prosperity even of the towns depended.

It was probably inevitable that a pioneer community would go through a stage of dependence on food imports and food produced by the natives before page 38its own agriculture had had time to develop. In part the farmer produces what he can of any nation's food supply; in part he produces what the nation demands of him. Although he exists to supply a demand, the means at his disposal alone make possible how far the demand will be supplied. Pork and potatoes had been the monotonous diet of the white settlers of the eighteen-thirties. This diet survived well into the next decade as the sheet anchor of many households. Pork and potatoes had not kept either the Maoris or the missionaries from near-starvation. Pork and potatoes were the staple food of Ireland, a country notorious for its famines. (Florence Nightingale, writing to Sir George Grey in 1863, accused the pig of being 'of all animals, the decivilizer'.) Wheat was evidently the crop needed to balance young New Zealand's domestic economy. But it was not the easiest means of producing an immediate improvement. For that the settlers had to pay greater attention to their stock, particularly to the milk supply for food and to wool for a marketable export.

The character as well as the capital of the early settlers decreed that their society was to be more complex than a series of simply self-sufficient farming communities. The export of produce was a necessity both temperamentally and financially. Many, of course, made their own way, self-reliant and self-denying. Typical of the self-sufficient farmer, free of banks, polite friends, government, Maoris, and page break
Repairing a Cottage (1847)

Repairing a Cottage (1847)

The Deans Farm, Riccarton (1848)

The Deans Farm, Riccarton (1848)

page 39Company, was the establishment of the Sinclair family at Pigeon Bay, Banks Peninsula. Like William and John Deans on the Plains and their neighbours, the Hays, the Sinclairs had been inveigled to Port Nicholson by the alluring prospects held out by the New Zealand Company. All three families elected in 1843 to seek their own fortunes independently in the South Island. In 1844 Edward Shortland, travelling through the South Island on government business, commented on the easy and contented household of the Sinclairs, where everything was made at home, even the family's shoes. The Hays too were well established. They had eighteen cattle running loose in the bush, including nine cows which gave twenty-five to thirty pounds of butter a week. Gebbie and Manson, employees of the brothers Deans, set up for themselves in 1845 at Teddington; they also were dairy farmers. What produce could not be sold to the whalers of the Peninsula was sent to Wellington by coastal schooners. Gebbie, who had landed in New Zealand without a penny, was worth more than £1,000 when he died in 1851, in spite of a serious loss in a wreck, so that it looks as if the successful self-reliant farmer could make the best of both worlds in early New Zealand. It is significant that the Banks Peninsula independents all kept cows.

Similar success attended independent farmers in early Otago. John Jones, an Australian whaler-merchant, who had long been familiar with the New page 40Zealand coasts, established a considerable settlement near Waikouaiti in 1840, and by 1844 the surveyor Tuckett reported that he had there one hundred horses, two hundred cattle, and 2,000 sheep. Jones did not farm in person and was not at first even resident at this establishment. But he was the driving force, both managerial and financial, which ensured its success. When the Otago colonists arrived in 1848, Jones was able to supply them with fresh provisions from his cultivations and herds at Waikouaiti. Although he raised wheat crops, he practised a very balanced mixed farming from the first. Another forerunner of the Otago settlers was Archibald Anderson, like the Banks Peninsula and Canterbury pioneers a seceder from the Company settlement at Wellington. He made his home first at Waitati in 1845, farming with some thirty cows and 500 sheep. Native dogs soon obliged him to shift to what was afterwards Roslyn, where the Otago settlers found him. At Port Molyneux and also at the Bluff small settlements preceded the organised development of later years.

The more highly organised settlements, where much more depended on community as against individual success, went through some dismal days before they reached a degree of self-sufficiency in anyway comparable to that achieved by the Scots of Banks Peninsula. The first stock landed at New Plymouth were a few working bullocks, though later in the year sheep and seventy cattle were brought page 41overland from Wellington. But the energies of the New Plymouth labourers had apparently been too closely engaged in cutting survey lines, for the harvest was a poor one. Without working cattle, the settlers had cropped only a small acreage, some of it infected with smut. At Nelson in the middle forties there was something approaching starvation among the labourers. They had been dependent on employment with the Company, for the abnormal proportion of absentee owners of Nelson land sections provided less than the designed amount of employment. When the Company stopped payment of wages and they had to shift for themselves, they had no land to fall back on, though twenty acre plots were lent to them to do what they could with. Seed potatoes were dug from the fields already in crop; native food like fern-root was tried. The capitalists, though they might have had enough to eat, were hardly prosperous, but they had cultivated some land. By 1844 Dillon had twenty acres in wheat, six in oats, eight in barley, and ten in potatoes, but he could employ four men on his farm and two indoor servants. His cattle ran wild and did for themselves, but this was a great waste of time and, he complained, their manure was lost. He had nine cows in milk and twelve working bullocks ready to sell. He was expecting 500 sheep from Australia. He could not recommend anyone coming out to New Zealand without capital. This was indeed a crucial problem. By the time they had page 42spent two idle years without a return for their outlay on Company land-orders, many of the Wellington settlers were verging on bankruptcy. Besides, there had already been a minor land boom and a slump in values before any production to speak of had been begun.

The Company settlers had come out with the intention of engaging in arable farming, but it soon became apparent that they had an alternative—pastoral farming. It was the more wide awake who realised this fact ahead of their fellows, the men of capital to whom the New Zealand enterprise was a business proposition rather than a crusade, even as Gibbon Wakefield would have conceived a colonising crusade. In the Company settlements, hemmed in by the sea and the frontiers of still unextinguished Maori title, confined to an area much narrower than had ever been designed, there were lands that could be turned into farms, slowly and painfully with great labour and expense, while all around, outside the legal limits of these settlements, right at their back doors so to speak, were apparently unlimited expanses of natural pastures, pastures that could be grazed at once on payment of an almost derisive rental to a Maori chief. In the circumstances the choice between tillage and sheep and cattle farming must often have been dictated by the amount of capital in a man's hands. There was also the influence of temperament. Arable farming was considered a more certain profession, page 43though one where the work was more constant and less agreeable than grazing stock on open pastures. But the grazier's pleasanter profession was liable to be adversely affected by fluctuations in prices and the competition of the older colonies in Australia, which could at any moment flood the market for stock in New Zealand.

Most of the land in the Company settlements was sold for £1 an acre (though this rose to £3 in the Canterbury settlement of 1850). This, the annual rental per acre of much farmland in England, seemed cheap enough, but there was still the expense of breaking it in, an item that a number of sanguine spirits had altogether overlooked. Land under heavy bush was the most expensive to bring into production. In the Hutt valley in 1844 felling, burning, and grubbing an acre was said to have cost £10, with another £5 in the second year, but Dillon had estimated £30 an acre as the cost of making the Nelson forest land ploughable. A later estimate was £60 an acre. Settlers were better advised to try fern land, which cost £6 an acre to break in, according to Dillon's estimate. Land growing flax was considered the best. The sterner critics of New Zealand farming declared that 'spade husbandry' was essential in conquering the waste and that land so cultivated was worth 'two of land scratched with the plough, for the operations of the plough in new land amount to little more than scratching.' If every acre had to be page 44dug, the cost might well run to £30: even in a new country success had to be bought with both money and work.

There was still the cost of fencing. Though this was more elaborately conceived than to-day, it was relatively cheaper. An Auckland colonist of 1844 paid is 6d a perch for 'a ditch and bank, with a hurdle fence at the top. . . . The ditch is four feet wide at the top, nine inches at the bottom, and three and a half feet deep. Thus a farm twenty-eight chains long, and twenty chains wide, which would contain fifty-six acres, would cost, to fence in this way, £28 16s.' This is just over 10s an acre. Another Auckland colonist at the same date paid approximately £20 to fence thirty acres, style offence unspecified. Post and rail or a paling fence would be the minimum to content our ancestors, while many of them felt safer with a double ditch and a planted hedge on the bank in between.

Some Auckland colonists—and in Auckland in the forties land was generally also about £1 an acre when sold in small lots—claimed to have cleared on their first year's crops an amount greater than all expenses and the cost of the land and buildings. This could have been due only to unusual circumstances, for Australian and Maori competition in later years kept down the price of wheat. Moreover, these crops were not grown on stumped land, but on land previously used by Maoris to grow potatoes. The wheat had page 45been 'chipped in', a process that in the Hutt valley cost 30s an acre. The plough was not put into the ground in Wellington until a year after settlement had begun. Nelson witnessed this exhilarating ceremony in 1842, when the Examiner recorded with sober gusto 'the first furrow in the Nelson settlement . . . was made on the acre purchased to be the site of the Bank'.

Although it was expensive to clear and crop new land in New Zealand, it was a process that favoured the small man. An experienced man could begin farming on ten acres with a capital of less than £100, while farming as an overseer rather than as an actual labourer on his own property was possible to a 'careful person' with only £300. A wooden house ('large enough for five or six people') could be put up in Nelson for £15, and in the warmer climate of Auckland a raupo hut would do, which cost about £3, even when it was embellished with sashes and a door on the European model. However, this type of farming did not give the quick returns that were being obtained by the pastoralists. The small acreages of nearly all the farms described in such settler's Baedekers as Jerningham Wakefield's Hand-book (1849) and Earp's New Zealand: Its Emigration and Gold Fields (1853), still reflect the small-farming mentality of the Company settlers.

The Wairarapa had first attracted the attention of the Wellington settlers bent on enlarged grazing page 46activities. Clifford and Vavasour had taken sheep round the coast in 1844, and by 1847 there were fifteen sheep or cattle stations on the open natural pastures of this district, which was, of course, outside the boundaries of the Company settlement. Pharazyn, at Watarangi, a man who had previously tried both store-keeping and 'cultivation' at Wadestown, had an experience typical of these stations. The lack of fences was troublesome, although the grazing of cattle on native grasses and shrubs was the chief asset of the arrangement. Maori dogs were a source of loss, and in 1846 the dreaded scab first made its appearance,* the most considerable check to the prosperity of pastoral farming during the next thirty years. Scab could be discouraged by dipping in tobacco water, with spirits of tar added. Sheep cost £1 a hundred to shear. The wool had to go to Wellington in open boats from Palliser Bay. The fifteen Wairarapa 'squatters' (for here the word may be used in a literal sense), paid the Maoris £325 in rent for the grazing, in 1847, of 1,365 cattle, 13,011 sheep, and some seventy-three horses. Only twenty-five acres were under cultivation, to grow wheat and potatoes for the population of sixty odd. It is significant that names like Bidwill, Morrison, Barton, and Cameron, well known to-day in the Wairarapa, appear among the owners of the fifteen runs.

page 47

In 1847 two of the Wairarapa pastoralists, Clifford and Weld, began a station across the straits on the open tussock country near Cape Campbell. Soon there were 12,000 sheep in the South Island owned by Wellington settlers, in addition to the growing flocks of the Nelson men, who had been gradually filling up the Wairau during the forties, finding the Company's land far too narrow a bound to their ambitions. Pastoral farming had reached the status of a definite profession, and it is hardly a coincidence that the men who engaged in it were the top layer of the early colonists, the men of good family and education who afterwards took a prominent part in politics, both provincial and national. Wool was the only farming export of importance. In 1847 Nelson exported £80 worth of butter to £1,878 value of wool. Timber alone vied with wool as an export. Money invested in sheep 'doubles itself every third year.' Sheepfarm-ing, therefore, had the status of a business, while arable farming was still fumbling with the novelty of New Zealand conditions.

'The best interests of a farmer in a virgin soil,' wrote Earp, the guide and comforter, 'are comprised in one word—"experimentalize". Never mind one man's opinions, for no man has sufficient experience to form one worth hstening to.' The pastoralists had conducted a highly successful experiment. They had had capital and they had invested it in stock, not in land. The whole field of farming in New Zealand page 48had to be tried out and the preconceptions of English practice accepted or rejected. The man new to farming would often do better than one with experience to unlearn. By the fifties the prospective immigrant was being advised not to bring out an elaborate armoury of agricultural machinery. The first settlers had imported 'half the patent implements of an agricultural show', only to leave them 'rotting on the beach'. A north-west gale was as good a winnowing machine 'as ever received the medal of the Royal Agricultural Society'. The first settlers certainly bought their experience in a costly school. They were, however, eager to carry out the precept to 'experimentalize'. Many of them planted linen flax. They tried different dates for lambing, from May to October, before they settled down to the later season. Their casualness on this point may, however, have been due to the difficulties of keeping rams and ewes separate on unfenced runs. The need to 'experimentalize' was accentuated by the marked differences of opinion among the colonists as to the best method of bringing the country into production. In Otago the News within a short time of the beginning of settlement repudiated the idea of agriculture altogether, advocating the development of pastoral farming as the only road to prosperity, an advocacy that so angered the citizens of Dunedin that the paper came to an end late in 1850 for lack of influential support.

The early settlers eagerly sought the best information page 49available. They were equally eager to give it, as the number of books dealing with what a settler should know and do may testify. At quite early dates in their history the main settlements held agricultural shows or founded agricultural societies. As early as 1843 an Auckland society was in existence, advising its members to grow barley for export, to fatten cattle, and establish dairies. In 1844 a Nelson Agricultural and Horticultural Exhibition was held, prizes being offered in a variety of classes. A ploughing match was decided at Waimea in 1843 that induced the competition of eleven ploughs, seven with bullock teams, four horse-drawn. Prizes for agricultural exhibits in that year were awarded for the usual classes, sacks of wheat, sainfoin, vetch and ryegrass seed, turnips, rams and bulls, and—sinister portent—a pair of rabbits. The latter was certainly not a profitable line with which to 'experimentalize'. Thus at the earliest date it was the habit of the New Zealand farmer to learn from his neighbours, or if he could not do that, at least to exhibit his own achievements in competition with his fellows, a fashion fairly new in England itself.

If one considers how far the New Zealand of the forties and fifties had the minimum requirements for success in farming, there are a number of paradoxes to note. There was access to land for arable farming, but not to as much as the settlers wished. Access to land for grazing purposes had been gained simply by page 50stepping round the formal difficulties. Since the graziers had their capital locked up in their stock, the insecurity of their tenure of their lands was not as great a worry as it would have been to a Company settler waiting perhaps twelve years to get a title to his land. Francis Fuller, in his New Zealand reminiscences published in 1859, suggested to the pastoralist who wished to control 20,000 acres for the purchase price of 5,000 acres the systematic 'spoiling' of the pasturage for anyone else by freeholding streams and other strategic areas. This may be taken as already current practice for the large sheepowner, whose problem of security of tenure during the first forty or more years of our history was to get legal possession, or at least effective possession, of land he already used. The conflict between the interests of graziers and small arable farmers was to be one of the main themes of political difference in later years.

The technique the settlers had brought from England, in spite of the fact that the England of 1840 led the world in agricultural skill, had to be modified in the new country. The chief modification was, of course, the development of a type of grazing farming more akin to the nomadic habits of the Bedouin than to keeping stock in the enclosed fields of England. Breeds of stock too were modified. The favourite sheep was the merino, brought to Australia from Saxony where it had been taken from its Spanish home. But in New Zealand the merino was crossed, page 51three-quarters to one-quarter, with Southdown for increased size, greater hardihood, and 'a tendency to produce more twins'. It had been proved by experiment that the Scotch plough, with the 'foot of the plough, on which the share is fitted, made in a separate bar of iron', was the most practical. Wrought iron was generally preferable to cast in any case in view of the difficulty of making replacements, and a wooden plough was best for the first ploughing of new land for the benefit of its greater weight. Many other discoveries were made by the early settlers in the school of experience.

Markets were never very sympathetic to the early settler selling anything other than wool. Wool, being valuable for its bulk at is 6d or more a pound, could be raised in remote districts and show a profit after fairly long carriage by bullock dray to a port. Arable farming could be carried on only close to a town and port. So many competitors in the same lines—wheat, barley, and butcher's meat—would keep prices low. Meat was always liable to be undercut by salted beef from Australia, while local butter in the forties had to compete with the 'dumping' of butter that arrived salted in kegs all the way from Ireland. In two years the price of butter in Nelson sank from 2s 3d a pound to 9d. The internal market had to wait for the discovery of gold to reach a really economic condition.

The energy and initiative of the early settlers was page 52shown most clearly in their adaptability, a by no means universal quality. The grazier had shown conspicuous courage and business acumen. The small farmer could break in forest or fern with a good deal of spirit, though there were not wanting grudging critics to point out how uneconomic this process might be. The colonial environment encouraged experiment, though some experiments might prove expensive: the large herds of goats owned by some early settlements—5,553 in Nelson in 1849—might be reckoned among these.

Socially farmers had in these first two decades of our country's history become divided into two sharply contrasted classes. The grazier was a man of capital, engaged in a profitable business, a business that provided him with an agreeable and adventurous mode of life if he wished it, but which equally provided him with the means of living in a town and of enjoying the amenities of its colonial society. The arable farmer, though he might, like William and John Deans in Canterbury, branch out into pastoral farming, was generally closer to the soil. Farming was his whole life. Often he was a labourer with a small section, still working for wages while he established his own farm. He aimed at a modest independence, at self-sufficiency and a little over. The future was his, for 'workmen cannot be considered unimportant personages in a new country'. The present, however, was full of struggle and uncertainty.

* But it was already known in Nelson:—'Uncle at my place scabbing sheep.' 18 June 1845, Ward diary.