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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s

10 — Patterns

page 115


Even the most expert historians are in constant danger of falling into anachronism by reading a present day understanding into a past situation. Our first pattern reminds us that the most common everyday words subtly shift in significance and connotation as they pass through time.

The day, the week, the month, the year

Settler New Zealand was in the process of transition from a traditional to a modern understanding of time. In 1885 New Zealand imported 24,887 clocks valued at £9,385 and an unspecified number of watches valued at £1,553. Life in the larger towns was by now largely regulated by these timepieces, though they knew nothing of the complex web of timetabling that we experience with our radio, television, transport networks, etc. In the countryside and rural towns life was still much more regulated by the recurring rhythms of natural phenomena, the movement of the sun, the phases of the moon, the procession of the seasons.1 We will briefly survey these rhythms and then apply our findings to the Stratford firestorm of 6 January 1886. With a six day working week and sabbatarian restrictions on the use of Sunday, evenings were at a premium for community events, but their effective use depended on the phases of the moon. The difference between full moon and a moonless night was a crucial one to settlers travelling by horse or on foot over ill-formed roads and streets with only primitive means of lighting their way. Those arranging local and regional events jockeyed for die favoured nights, and a perusal of general election dates suggests that even the colonial government took this factor into account. Commonly polling day came several days after full moon—giving politicians and audiences the best evenings of the month for the electioneering.

While community life tended towards a monthly rhythm, home life was largely shaped by the week. The linchpin of the colonial week was provided by its inheritance of the strong British tradition of ‘Sunday Observance’. Whether one was a church attender or not, Sunday was commonly observed as a special ‘at home’ day, with leisure for family and friends to visit. Sunday preparations usually began in earnest with Friday as the weekly baking day. page 116 Saturday saw much cleaning of cutlery, lamps and candlesticks, stoves and fireplaces, and Saturday night was commonly family bath night. Saturday was also payday for weekly wage earners, and for rural New Zealand Saturday was the usual weekly market day. The new work week began with a clean set of work or school clothes on Monday. For the home this was washing day with Tuesday as ironing day. For the housewife, the mid week was the least committed to regular tasks, though there were always plenty of others awaiting her attention.2 For rural men work was less shaped by the day of the week than by the weather and the procession of the seasons, which brought an ever changing succession of tasks such as sowing and harvesting, bush felling and burning off, shearing, mustering, droving and road contracting.

Let us see how the Stratford firestorm fits into these patterns. Mid afternoon on this summer Wednesday probably found the families at their most dispersed. With two long holiday weekends behind them (for Christmas day and New Year's day had fallen on Fridays), many men will have dispersed to distant work on contracts or wage labour. For the children it was summer school holidays. Older children will have been left responsible for various chores by absent fathers. But whether set by father or mother, house, farmyard and farm chores will generally have been morning and evening tasks. The terror of the fire seems to have been deepened by the dispersal of many of the families in the free time of a holiday summer afternoon. The drama of the following night was heightened by its darkness; the previous evening had been new moon. There was no moonlight for the Hawera relief train, and this will have slowed its progress by hampering the lookout for obstructions on the line. The darkness will have thrown the continuing flames and embers into stark relief. The Lehmann family's failure to make their way to the railway station must also be accounted for by the darkness. In every respect, including its just missing the train north-bound to New Plymouth, the fire seems to have struck at the time which would give the greatest emotional impact.

Town, country and bush

‘There are three aspects of life in this district—town, country, bush’, wrote Hawke's Bay school inspector Henry Hill in his annual report for 1880. He pointed out that ‘the modes of life, the surroundings, and the pursuits of the people’ were different in the three environments, and that accordingly so were ‘the conceptions of the people’.3 The sharp distinction between open country and bush has already been discussed in Chapter 2, as it formed a necessary background to the account of the fires. We must now consider Henry Hill's ‘town, country, bush’ distinction as an important pattern for page 117
Wood carters, mid 1880s

Wood carters, mid 1880s

understanding colonial society.

Hawke's Bay might be taken as an exemplar of a typical New Zealand region of the 1880s. ‘Town’ was Napier, the region's port and capital, developed originally to service the squatters' ‘country’ stretching inland to the bush fringe along the Tukituki River, beyond which the second wave of settlement had begun to sweep in the 1870s, to create Henry Hill's ‘bush’. The railway linked the three aspects; any substantial occupation of the bush would have been impossible without it. The fragmented New Zealand railway ‘system’ of 1885–86 only makes sense when one grasps that it linked these three aspects of a scatter of regions all bearing more or less resemblance to this Hawke's Bay archetype. As much as anything else, it was this integrating of the reaches of virgin bush settlement into little ‘bush/country/town’ economic regions that gave the colony its distinctive character, in contrast to the British homeland, the mainland Australian colonies, and the United States. New Zealand of the mid eighties was more like an older Britain, before the pressure of population and the demands of the early stages of industrialisation had swept away the bulk of her forests, making her dependent on imports for 95 per cent or her needs in wood. There, stone, brick and plaster had long since supplanted wood as the main building materials, coal had become the main domestic fuel, and steel was coming into prominence in constructional engineering works of all kinds. In contrast most of the New Zealand settlers' houses were of wood, their main fuel for both domestic and industrial purposes was firewood, and their bridges, page 118 railway viaducts, culverts, warehouses and factories were fabricated mainly from wooden beams, poles and timbers. Timber shaped by the cooper, wheelwright, shingle-splitter, cartwright, ship builder and cabinet maker met a remarkable variety of the community's other needs. In its material fabric, the settlers' world was much less akin to the Britain from which most of them had come than to the eastern United States. They had inherited much from the American experience, from the backwoodsman's axe to the balloon-frame house. Yet in some respects the American settlement experience was the reverse of New Zealand's. America's settlement began in forested country, and it was nearly two centuries before the colonists began to occupy the extensive grasslands of the prairies. From the beginning the typical American frontiersman was a yeoman farmer. In contrast, the first extensive settlement of the New Zealand countryside was the squatter occupation of the grasslands, to be followed after about three decades by the main assault on the bush, and the accompanying rise to predominance of the yeoman farmer. Unlike North America with its one great region of forests and another of grassland, New Zealand had a series of small regions, each containing both forest and grassland, which in the later 19th century could be best developed by tying them together with a railway reaching in from a port town. A much closer contemporary parallel than either Britain or the United States was provided by France whose rural world still maintained a careful age-old regional balance between forest and arable.4 But even here industrialisation had been based on coal, and it had also replaced firewood as the main urban fuel.

The village and the globe

I explained the importance of this pattern for Victorian New Zealand in a 1976 article and my subsequent researches have only reinforced my conviction of its significance.5 This settler community was essentially a village world, but a village world that was responding to ideas and influences that were global in the scope of their origins. ‘New Zealand’ was of relatively less importance as a frame of reference. New Zealand's founding stock was drawn predominantly from village life in the Old World, and the village outlook which they brought with them was sustained and reinforced by the colony's geography. New Zealand-born New South Wales parliamentarian Arthur Rae neatly summed up the situation when revisiting his native colony in 1892. He wrote of ‘this long, loosely-built, jumbled-up mass of lofty, snow-clad mountain ranges, dark narrow valleys, filled with almost impenetrable bush jungles, and open plains crossed by cold, deep and treacherous rivers'. He concluded that ‘New Zealand is by nature the home of localism’.6 Here again there is a significant parallel with the United States, where Daniel J. page 119 Boorstin has shown at length that communities existed before either governments or nationalism.7 In New Zealand this localism found political expression in a multitude of local bodies. Thus the Hawera Star of 3 August 1885 drew attention to the fact that Taranaki (whose population was then under 18,000) had a total of about 100 local bodies, made up of the education, hospital waste lands and public reserves boards, 4 county councils, 3 borough councils, 3 harbour boards, 20 licensing committees, 4 domain boards, 6 cemetery boards, 26 road boards and about 20 school committees. We will look briefly at road boards and school committees as expressions of localism.

The Counties Act of 1876, in setting up 63 counties to carry on certain of the functions of the abolished provinces, allowed existing road boards to continue to function, and also made provision for the residents of any locality to petition for the setting up of a road board to serve their district. It is clear that many rural settlers agreed with the sentiments of a Stratford correspondent of the New Plymouth Budget, that in his district ‘the whole science of politics … may be summed up as roads, roads, ROADS'.8 The strength of the desire for this matter to be in local hands is shown by the fact that by 1883 the colony had 320 road boards. The framers of the 1877 Education Act had clearly envisaged that the main administrative decisions would be in the hands of the regional education boards, but in fact, due to the strength of localism, they often gravitated to the local school committees. In Otago the committees tussled successfully with the board to retain the virtual control over teacher appointments that they had enjoyed in provincial times. In effect ‘grassroots’ democracy frustrated repeated attempts by the board to construct a viable promotion system for its teachers. The weapons so successfully used by the committees were the Act's requirement that they be consulted in all appointment, and its provision that the committees elected the boards.9 The situation as regards appointments varied from board to board, but even the Wellington board, which in general managed to maintain a strong control of appointments, had to advise a good teacher whose committee had decided that it wanted her replaced that ‘teachers cannot work against a committee’.10

Each significant New Zealand locality thus became an arena for continuous debate, lobbying, decision and action on important public matters. While much of the necessary discussion and exchange of information took place in public meetings and neighbourly conversation, the colonial press also reflected and gave voice to this localism. Not only was the press widely present in small town New Zealand, but it reached down to give a remarkably extensive coverage of village affairs. The elections and proceedings of the many local committees and boards were well reported. Correspondence columns carried much ‘parish pump’ material. A network of ‘Our Own page 120 Correspondents' covered the newspaper's circulation district, giving a continual commentary on each local scene, often laced with the boosterism of inter-village rivalry. Where two or three papers were competing for a locality's patronage, often each would have a correspondent reporting on its affairs. What makes it possible to follow the cat and mouse game between the fires and the scatter of little Seventy Mile Bush settlements is the reporting by local correspondents of rival newspapers in Napier, Waipawa and Woodville.

From these local correspondents one can learn of a rich range of grassroots social and cultural life. I will comment here on one aspect only. J.C Dakin has recently shown that the typical adult education institution of later colonial New Zealand, following the decline of the mechanics' institutes which the early settlers brought with them, was the strongly localised mutual improvement society.11 This was in sharp contrast to Britain and Australia where the mechanics' institutes maintained their vitality and where university extension and technical education made major contributions. Dakin comments on ‘the widespread diffusion and general popularity of the mutual improvement societies' and he judges that the movement ‘constituted the most significant development in adult education in the period 1870–1915’. The societies were very much creations of the local communities; there was very little networking or outside input into their activities.

So much for the village, now for the globe. The most powerful of the global influences impinging on the settler villages were those originating in the Old World homelands, mediated by both memory and continuing strong contacts. Typically a New Zealand settler locality was invigorated by the mixing of blood, ideas and customs drawn from all parts of Britain, with not uncommonly a Continental element as well. In addition the New Zealand colonial community was very aware of developments in Australia and North America, and receptive to influences from these sources. New Zealand's wool and gold industries were both in effect extensions of earlier developments in Australia. Thus many settlers had a period of Australian experience behind them, and an intricate network of interrelationships gave a significant Australasian dimension to colonial New Zealand. The New World of North America was also too prominent and too relevant to be ignored. It was, of course, the major destination of the British emigration flow and many New Zealand settlers had friends and relatives there. The New Zealand press responded to the strong global awareness of our founding stock by reprinting a wide range of material drawn from the experience of the other English-speaking settler communities. Politicians, administrators and business leaders also combed the globe for relevant ideas, innovations and precedents.

page 121

Locality, region, colony

‘The Village and the Globe’ was a strong pattern, but the settlers' views of their place in the world were an untidy and confusing mix which cannot be neatly crystallised under simple labels. To get across something of this diversity we will briefly examine the conflicting pattern of ‘locality, region and colony’. Regional consciousness had been there from the founding days, owing much to the regional character of the Wakefield settlements and the provincial period, and much also to the sheer facts of geography. It continued to have more reality in the settlers' minds than the 1876 county system. Some smaller provinces, such as Nelson, Marlborough, and Southland, had sufficient unity to serve as popular regions, but in the popular consciousness the larger provinces were broken into smaller regions such as the Mackenzie Country, Central Otago, the Wairarapa, the Seventy Mile Bush, the King Country. The improvement of communications and the general modernising of colonial society were in the process of strengthening both regional and colonial organisation and consciousness at the expense of localism. Following the 1870s Vogel development drive national organisations of all kinds began to multiply; for example firefighters (1878), educators (1883), Baptists (1882), temperance advocates (1886), seamen (1880). But the very improvement in communications which was making this possible was also creating a cross current—the deepening of an Australasian consciousness, giving rise to trans-Tasman organisations.12 So the settlers' mental maps were an untidy jumble in a state of flux, and we must be careful not to falsify the picture by too much tidying up.

Medieval to modern

In emigrating to New Zealand the settlers moved from a rapidly modernising world to a more primitive one. For many the move was a deliberate choice of an opportunity to continue in traditional ways rather than adapt to the changes which modernisation was bringing. Others however were seeking opportunities to apply modern techniques in a promising new environment. The colonial scene was inevitably involved in the world-wide tussle between traditional and modern ways. Traditional patterns, often reminiscent of medieval England, were common in the primitive conditions of the early settlement stages. To illustrate this let us draw on some of the features noted by Maurice Keen in his recent English Society in the Later Middle Ages 1348–1500.13

It was a world of wood. ‘Even in areas such as the Cotswolds, where good stone was available, the commonest kind of peasant housing was the cottage built on a frame of timber “crucks”’ (p. 60): ‘there had to be wood-
Water driven flourmill, Wairarapa

Water driven flourmill, Wairarapa

page 122 land
in which to gather firewood and to pannage pigs' (p. 49). Agriculture had to cater for local subsistence: ‘in an age of poor communications and high transportation costs it was universally necessary to grow some cereals, if only for subsistence’ (p. 50). Compare this with the New Zealand of 1885, where all provinces except Westland grew some of their wheat requirements locally and the crops were processed in over a hundred flourmills scattered across the colony. Even high rainfall Taranaki had 1,735 acres in wheat and four flourmills at work. Medieval peasant family life had much in common with yeoman settler New Zealand. ‘Supplementary activities generally fell heavily to the wife's and mother's lot, spinning, milking, making butter and cheese, collecting the eggs of her chickens' (p. 61). ‘From an early age, children began to contribute to the economic life of the family’ (p. 61). As in settler New Zealand ‘the average English town of the late medieval period was indeed very small, in size and appearance more like an overgrown village than a town’ (p. 79). ‘The fortunes of the smaller “country” towns depended … above all on the weekly market which was … “the focus of their lives'” (p. 80). This was equally true in the 1880s of a town such as New Plymouth of which a visitor in 1888 wrote, ‘The business people of New Plymouth work very hard one day in the week—as a rule they put in close on ten hours on Saturday. On the other five days work is a mild diversion.’14

The parallels could be multiplied, but we will content ourselves with a final one from the area of demography. The rural worlds of both late medieval England and colonial New Zealand were living through the experience page 123 of a marked shift in the ratio of manpower to the land. The rural emigrants to New Zealand moved from a countryside where labour was plentiful and cheap to one where it was scarce and at a premium. The Black Death put medieval England through a similar experience—she finished the fourteenth century with perhaps 40 per cent less population than at the beginning. Keen's description of the economic and social consequences has strong parallels with settler New Zealand. ‘Labour was in demand, and after the mid-1370s the level of wages, in real terms, could no longer be held down…. In consequence, the late middle ages became a period of great mobility in the rural world’ (p. 70). ‘A marked shift in the agricultural world towards pasture farming, which … was less labour-intensive than tillage’ (p. 72). ‘The better-paid workers of the later middle ages expected a better diet, and ate more meat than their forebears' (p. 72). ‘There are significant indications that [the times] also saw new opportunities for women in work’ (p. 44). ‘In the records of the hustings court in the City of London we begin to hear, and quite frequently, of women, not necessarily unmarried, trading as femme sole, who in that capacity could sue and be sued, and could make valid business contracts' (p. 45). Colonial conditions similarly strengthened the position of New Zealand women in comparison with their homeland sisters.

So New Zealand of the 1880s was being shaped by a curious mix of traditional and modernising influences. Traditional societies are made up of small communities depending on word-of-mouth, face-to-face communication. Localism circumscribes both thought and behaviour. Modern societies are cosmopolitan with a wide range of communication and transport technologies. These encourage extensive commerce and the rise of large urban communities. The ‘village and globe’ pattern of settler New Zealand gave it an odd, facing-both-ways, traditional/modern stance. In traditional societies time passes in endless cycles of days, months and seasons; its movement is repetitive rather than progressive. In modern societies time is a scarce commodity, carefully measured, to be used in a continuous process of innovation. Again, as we have seen, both outlooks were well established in settler New Zealand. The social structures and politics of traditional societies rely on ascriptive hierarchy and deference whereas modern societies have a strong egalitarian flavour and authority is said to derive from the people and operate on their behalf, while social status is functional rather than ascriptive. Bureaucracies are a modern feature, permitting effective government across large geographical territories. A good example of a clash between traditional and modern outlooks is provided by the clash between mayor James Paul, and stationmaster Bass at New Plymouth on 8 January 1886. Conscious of his status in the age-old civic tradition, and of his authority as the acknowledged voice of the New Plymouth establishment, Paul responded to the page 124 news of the Midhirst crisis by engaging in face-to-face discussions with other leading citizens. This led to the strategy of a special train with volunteer firefighters. While that traditional figure, the bellman, went round the town rustling up volunteers, His Worship went to make his arrangements with that modern figure, die stationmaster. Bass firmly refused Paul's demand that he must have an engine at once. As a loyal bureaucrat, Bass insisted that the authority for such a decision did not lie in New Plymouth, and certainly not with a local figure outside the bureaucratic system. Paul's response that ‘an engine he would have, if he came down with a body of men to seize one’15 belonged to the old order of the hue and cry. Fortunately Oliver Samuel, the local MP, read the situation more realistically. Bass was not stealing New Plymouth's engine, it was not a local possession but belonged to a wider world. Samuel's telegram to the bureaucracy's masters in Wellington, shortcircuiting the bureaucracy's intricacies in the interests of the emergency, was an appropriate ‘modern’ response to the situation.

Oliver Samuel, 1849–1925

Oliver Samuel, 1849–1925

page 125

Democrats, gentry, agrarians, bureaucrats

Who should exercise political power and who were worthy of public honour and esteem? Many of the answers were provided by democracy which was flourishing in settler New Zealand. But there were countercurrents which can be neatly indicated by pointing to certain features of the country's constitution. While the House of Representatives had been elected on a universal male franchise since 1881, there was the Legislative Council, and an aristocratic Governor representing the Imperial Monarch, as continuing expressions of gentry traditions. And there was the ‘country quota’ with its agrarian message that country dwellers merited a bonus in political influence and esteem. Furthermore the dispersed nature of the New Zealand community magnified the significance of the departmental bureaucracies. Parliament's short, largely winter, sittings limited its supervision of the executive, while cabinet members themselves did not spend too much time together in the not over popular capital. Bureaucrats, gentry and agrarians gave colonial democrats a good run for their money.

The influence of gentry and agrarians was enhanced by two strong rural myths which the Anglo-Saxon world had bequeathed to the colony, the ‘landed gentry’ myth that was potent in English social and political life, and the American agrarian myth of the idealised yeoman. English landed society, drawing on a long aristocratic tradition, had shown considerable virility in weathering the challenges of the French and Industrial Revolutions, capturing the support and loyalty of the rising new classes, the labourers as ‘angels in marble’16, the industrialists and merchants as recruits to the gentlemanly ideal, with country estates and sons at the public schools. A ‘mushroom aristocracy’ quickly established a gentry style use of the open country of settler New Zealand. Teaming up with the leading merchants and professionals of the towns they formed a significant elite on the English model, with a pervasive input into the colony's social, political, economic, cultural and recreational life. Even in bush districts there were plenty of settlers with a hankering for the reassuring presence of this traditional English style of leadership, and genuine democrats such as Colonel Robert Trimble of Inglewood and George Marchant of Stratford were manipulated willy-nilly into the role of colonial pseudo-squire by popular demand.17

However most smallholders subscribed to agrarian not gentry ideals. By ‘agrarians’ I mean those who looked on yeoman farmers as the moral and economic backbone of the colony and attributed particular virtues to rural life. Like Thomas Jefferson, the most notable spokesman for the American agrarian myth, they believed that ‘those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people’, and that ‘corruption of morals' has never been the mark of ‘the mass of cultivators’ but rather of page 126 those who depend on ‘the caprice of customers’ and of ‘the mobs of great cities' who relate to pure government ‘as sores do to the strength of the human body’.18 In the 1860s the yeoman's prestige had received a great boost when the American yeoman North crushed the plantation aristocracy of the South. The development of the myth in the New Zealand context is well described in Miles Fairburn's ‘The Rural Myth and the New Urban Frontier’.19 Agrarians were natural supporters of the country quota. A country quota was first formally acknowledged in 1881 when the House agreed that country districts should contain 25 per cent fewer people than town districts. The issue came under sharp debate in 1887 when the predominantly urban Stout-Vogel ministry introduced a Representation Bill proposing equal electorates. Country members held meetings to discuss the matter and appointed a deputation to the government strongly objecting to the change from the 1881 arrangement. In the debates they spoke of the privations of the remote country districts ‘where farmers are turning the barren waste into cultivated fields'. They told of how difficult it was for many of their constituents to get to political meetings, get their names on the rolls, and cast their votes. They compared their own laborious journeys around their scattered electorates with the easy life of members representing little town parishes, and asked why their vast electorates should be further enlarged in the interests of what they considered a false equality. They pointed out that the towns were already over-represented because many country constituencies were represented by townsmen. Their strong, largely pragmatic, case won the day and the 1887 Act granted a country quota of 18 per cent, which was raised to 28 per cent in 1889.

Classes and interests

There has been a good deal of discussion among New Zealand historians as to the significance of class consciousness in the shaping of settler society, and we will not retrace the matter here.20 Class feelings and traditions were strong in the British hearthland and some carry-over in customs and attitudes was inevitable. However my own reading of the colonial situation in the mid 1880s is that class had a limited significance as a shaping force in colonial society, which is not to say that the settlers were not grouped into a range of different roles in relationship to the means of production. Rather, it seems that contemporaries felt more at home with the 18th-century way of analysing society into vertical divisions by source of livelihood than with a horizontal division by class. Once organised settlement had begun, the landed interest had quickly elbowed aside the earlier missionary and whaling and sealing interests, ridden out the brief day of glory of the mining interest and gained a dominance in New Zealand life which it held till well page 127 into the 20th century. As we have seen, the landed interest was divided between die squatter and the yeoman ideals. What they had in common and their areas of conflict will become more clear in the chapters that follow. The colony's heavy dependence on overseas trade gave the merchant interest a dominant place in urban New Zealand. The mining and timber interests were also of major importance.

To my mind, our colonial landed interest falls into five main groups. The squatter ‘gentry’ and the family farm ‘yeomen’ we have already seen. My third group is the cottagers and petty landholders who supplemented wage labour with some subsistence husbandry. Well in tune with the yeoman ideal, they streamed steadily into yeoman farming. I call them peasant labourers or, if they had a craft, peasant tradesmen. My fourth group is the rural service proprietors—carriers, contractors, millers, brewers, innkeepers, storekeepers, blacksmiths and suchlike. They, too, moved readily into yeoman farming. Finally there were station hands and farm labourers, working for wages without aspiring to own home or land.

Most of the colony's urban settlers belonged to what might be termed the service interest. In the many small towns they worked together in a fairly egalitarian way, recognising that their centre's success in competition with its rivals depended on their cooperating for the common good. In the main centres class groupings, roughly paralleling those of the landed interest, were more in evidence, though even here the lines were blurred by the various facets of what Claire Toynbee has labelled ‘frontierism’.21 There was, however, something of an urban gentry, which in Victorian Wellington was made up of

wealthy landowners, professionals, politicians, managers or proprietors of substantial businesses, often merchants, senior government officials, ship's captains, top clergymen and regular army officers.22

As Roberta Nicholls points out, the dividing line for this gentry came just above shopkeepers.23 Shopkeepers and tradesmen formed a group comparable to the yeomen, with a strong tradition of the small scale family business. White collar workers were quite numerous in urban New Zealand with its large export/import and distribution functions. As in Britain they had a firm belief in some identity of interest with their employers, an identity often expressed in emulation of the latter's dress and manners.24 In Wellington the largest groups at the lower end of the social scale were the wharf labourers of the colony's largest port, and the domestic servants.

page 128

Capitalism, socialism, altruism

There can be no doubt about the settler economy's basic capitalism, but it was a capitalism facing strong counter currents. Capitalist society is characterised by the private ownership of capital and the sale of labour as a commodity, giving it two main classes—capitalists and labourers. Its main mechanisms are the widespread use of monetary values and the dominance of market forces. The colony's capitalism was undercut by a widespread lack of separation between ownership and labour, especially among yeomen, shopkeepers and artisans; by personal, non-monetary exchanges of various types; by colonial developments of the gentry noblesse oblige tradition; and by elements of utopian altruism.

Pioneer conditions and localism both worked towards a socialist serving of the common good, reminiscent of the medieval manor. A good illustration of this outlook can be found in the small farm associations which the Stout-Vogel government was fostering in the mid 1880s to settle new country. Each such association consisted of a group formed in an older settled district to find a suitable piece of new country and settle it. In banding together, finding their block of land, and planning for their joint occupation of it, the group got to know and trust each other. Individuals who would never have ‘gone it alone’ as pure, self-seeking capitalists were prepared to attempt backblocks pioneering as members of a ‘band of brothers’ undergirded by a sense of community, and by an awareness that there would be a pooling of talents and a group commitment to the common good. This was merely the raising to a higher level of the general ‘village’ outlook of the colony. In his In Search of the Common Good Charles Erasmus reports on several decades of study of similar rural communities, drawing on wide field experience, especially in Latin America, Africa and Israel.25

The benefits of reciprocal altruism which Erasmus found in primitive peasant communities have parallels in the mutual support, working bees, and simple road board politics of frontier New Zealand. Erasmus's discussion of exchange labour also has strong New Zealand parallels. He shows how it works best in small close-knit communities because it requires knowledge of the other person, good communication opportunities to work out arrangements and mutual responsibilities, and community disapproval of anyone who cheats on their labour-exchange obligations (p. 50). Erasmus describes the advantages of labour exchange as ‘the availability of a labour pool to help meet peak work demands on subsistence farms' (p. 48), the superiority of exchange labour over hired labour (‘each works for the other as he would work for himself) (p. 54), and the superiority of working together over working alone, arising from competitiveness, so that ‘while each man accomplishes competitively no more than he could have accomplished page 129 alone, he actually accomplishes two or three times as much’ (p. 74). My article ‘Community in Rural Victorian New Zealand’26 gives varied examples of our settlers' use of exchange labour.

In one sense exchange labour has a strong ‘capitalist’ element, in that it involves careful ‘keeping of accounts’ of mutual obligations and its object is to further the productivity of each individual farm enterprise. But there was much giving and serving in colonial life which was not linked to any careful bookkeeping. The family enterprise, so common both in country and town, provided a thorough induction into a regime of all-encompassing mutual reciprocity. For rural New Zealand it is well documented from the mid 1880s in the letters to ‘Uncle Ned’ of the children's page of the New Zealand Farmer. These show the teamwork of the yeoman family manning the farmyard, garden, dairy, orchard, fields and home, meeting the unpredictability of pioneer life with the predictability of their mutual trust and support, and sharing the fruits of their labours according to their needs. The semi-subsistence nature of yeoman farming meant that there was an easy extension of this sharing to the wider community. Frequently a cabbage patch, a farmyard hatching, a plum tree crop, a hunting expedition, would provide a surplus for which there was no available market. It took just a little thought and effort to share the bounty with one's neighbours. The sharing of scarce resources in equipment and skills made equally good sense. As Richard Titmuss has shown in his study of blood donors in The Gift Relationship,27 there are circumstances in which the appeal to altruism is superior to the workings of capitalism, giving a cheaper, more reliable supply of a superior product. Pioneer yeoman New Zealand provides ample illustrations for his case. But with the passing of time the subsistence approach gave way to market forces and, in Erasmus's words ‘brotherhood becomes an otherhood; strangers become quasibrothers, and the high visibility of the small community is replaced by the low visibility of large communities' (p. 46).

At the larger regional and colonial levels it was the gentry who responded to the opportunities to step beyond capitalism and work for the common good. They largely manned regional, civic and national politics, until democracy was strong enough to produce more popular leaders. They founded townships, schools, churches, racecourses and cricket clubs. Even when serving their own capitalist interests the rural gentry were often serving yeoman New Zealand in ways it had neither the means or vision to do for itself. They played a major role in establishing Agricultural and Pastoral shows, in acclimatising livestock and crop varieties, in introducing and adapting new farm implements and machinery, and above all in introducing refrigeration and nurturing it through its difficult pioneer years.