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

Town, country and bush

page 170

Town, country and bush

We next turn our attention to the interrelationships between runholders, feldon yeomen, bush settlers, and townsmen. First let us ask how these changes in runholder New Zealand would have affected their settler neighbours. The widespread ploughing up of the runs would have created a demand for ploughmen, draught horses and oats. We have no figures for draught horses, but the 47 ploughmen of the 1881 census had increased to 340 in 1886, and the area sown in oats roughly doubled between the late 1870s and the mid 1880s. This demand for labour, horses and fodder would have been a great boost to the feldon yeoman districts. Some bush settlements would also have contributed, but their main input would have come from their forest harvest. A large proportion of the more than 5,000 tons of fencing wire imported in 1885 must have been for the runholder districts. According to Brett's Colonists' Guide (p. 77), a sheep-proof fence required seven wires, and ‘five wires at the bottom of No. 8, and two wires at the top of No. 6, will require 1 ton 7 cwt. per mile’. Had all the fences been constructed to this specification, the 1885 wire imports would have provided 3,765 miles of fence. In constructing wire fences Brett's advised

Sometimes the posts are placed one chain apart, that is, 80 to a mile; but to make a good fence at feast 320 must be used. This will place them 16 ½ feet apart, and then they require an equal number of battens or stakes placed alternately, which will thus leave a space of 8 ¼ feet between the uprights. Straining posts, every 10 chains, should be at least 9 feet long.19

On these terms, the fencing in 1885 would have required about 1.2 million posts (including about 30,000 9-foot strainers) and an equal number of battens. This explains the losses of piles of posts throughout the bush settlements in the 1885–86 fires. Posts and timbers will also have been needed for stockyards and shearing sheds to handle the growing flocks. The transformation of runholder New Zealand was indeed good news to bush settler New Zealand.

The almost 30 per cent growth in the sheep flocks, from a little under 13 million at the 1881 census to over 16.5 million in 1886, will have meant an enhanced demand for shearers, who will have been largely feldon and bush yeomen. With the growth of the sheep population outpacing that of the settlers, shearers over these years were ‘masters of the situation’ and runholders had ‘to wait their convenience’.20 The New Zealand Mail of 18 September 1880 describes the New Zealand shearer thus:

In ‘sheep districts’ the regular shearer almost forms a distinct branch in the social scale. He scorns the idea of being a laborer, and takes a position above page 171 shepherds and station hands, who in a manner bow to him…. The majority in this colony are men who own small farms. They leave them in charge of their wives and children from October to, perhaps, the middle of January, and during that time earn more money than the common station hand does during the whole year.

In the southern North Island the rising bush settlements were becoming an increasingly important source of shearers. Thus in the spring of 1892 the Dannevirke Bush Advocate reported that

The shearing season has at length commenced, and bush-fellers and others are furbishing up their saddles and sharpening up their shears preparing for the fray. Horses with or without legs are in demand, and anything that will carry a man and his swag can realise a fair price.21

Our last chapter dealt with much of the interrelationship between the bush settlers and other areas, and the runholders' place in the colonial world is already well covered in the literature. We will therefore now concentrate our attention on how the feldon yeomen related to other types of settlement, using first Waimea County and then Christchurch's Rangiora-Ellesmere fringe as our examples.

A striking feature of the Waimea County feldon yeomen was that they had a large input into servicing more distant runholders and urban dwellers, as well as their immediate neighbours. As shearers they crossed the hills and mountains to serve the Marlborough and Canterbury runholders22, and the sea to shear in the Rangitikei-Manawatu district.23 As farmers they produced various commodities in quantities much beyond the needs of their local Nelson City urban market. The evidence shows that a large part of this extra output was crossing Cook Strait to meet a shortfall in Hutt County's supply of the Wellington market. Figure 12.2 illustrates this. The New Zealand figures are included to indicate the average level of consumption in the colony. Waimea County production is related to its own population plus that of Nelson City, Hutt County production to its own population plus that of Wellington City. It will be seen that for each commodity the Waimea farmers are producing beyond the needs of their local market, and that conversely the Hutt County farmers are falling short, with their output of barley and fruit scarcely registering on our graph. A busy shuttle of coastal shipping linked the Waimea harvests with the Wellington needs.

Figure 12.3 indicates that besides the outflow of labour and produce from Waimea County it was also contributing finance to other New Zealand districts. The figure is based on the work of Margaret Galt (née Arnold) on late 19th-century New Zealand rural mortgages. Her study included an examination of the majority of the mortgages taken out on land over one acre in page 172
Figure 12.2. New Zealand, Waimea County and Hutt County, production of various commodities per 100 population, 1885

Figure 12.2. New Zealand, Waimea County and Hutt County, production of various commodities per 100 population, 1885

the year to 31 March 1886 (a total of 2,582).24

Figure 12.3 of course deals with the overall provincial picture, and will include urban and runholder as well as feldon yeomen lenders. But the yeoman country of Waimea County represented a significant proportion of the province's wealth.

This outflow of finance from Nelson reflects the fact that its rural economy was well established by 1886, and that its own unpromising interior had by then little scope for further settlement. It is not surprising that when settlement of the lower North Island's Great Bush got under way in the 1870s there was strong migration from yeoman Nelson to this new frontier of opportunity.25 The flow seems to have strengthened in the 1880s, and by 1891 Nelsonians were so concerned at the exodus of their young people to the North Island that a public meeting on the matter was called in Nelson.26

A similar concern was being expressed in 1891 by the Lyttelton Times:

The best young blood goes from Canterbury and Otago to the North. About Woodville, Pahiatua, Hawera, Inglewood and Stratford you may find the young men hewing down forests and practising the hardy virtues they have page 173

Figure 12.3. Net flow of mortgage finance, Nelson and Taranaki Provinces, year ending 31 March 1886 (Source: Adapted from M.N Arnold, The Market for Finance in Late Nineteenth Century New Zealand, Map 4.2, p. 116)

learned from their sires, the pilgrims of the Akaroa Peninsula and the Canterbury plain.27

A strong flow from Canterbury to the North Island bush seems to have been under way since the early 1880s.28 Our study of the Stratford bush fire sufferers suggests a significant input from Banks Peninsula's older bush settlements. There is evidence that the Rangiora-Ellesmere feldon yeoman district was also an important contributor. As with Banks Peninsula, by the 1880s this district was producing a new generation of skilled yeomen for whom there were few prospects in Canterbury. The story of the settlement page 174 of the bush-clad Waimamaku Valley on Northland's Hokianga Harbour by the Christchurch Village Settlement Association is a good example of a North Island bush district providing a settlement frontier for would-be yeomen inspired by the Rangiora-Ellesmere achievement. In April 1886 two Christchurch working men decided to follow up a newspaper description of the Hokianga's virgin land and explore the possibility of a settlement association under one of Lands Minister John Ballance's schemes. They were 37-year-old James Morrell, jobbing gardener of Spreydon, married with eight children, and 30-year-old Robert Page, carpenter and joiner, married with four children.29 The Return of Freeholders 1882 shows both with land outside Christchurch in Selwyn County. Page's £180 worth was probably a farmlet around his home at Hillmorton, and Morrell must have been going out to his £50 holding from his Spreydon home. Over the next few months these two interested a number of their friends in the scheme, enlisted the help of A.P. O'Callaghan, member for Lincoln, in approaching the government, and Morrell travelled to the Hokianga to spy out the land. In due course an Association was founded, the land acquired, and over the winter of 1887 the settlement of the bush-clad Waimamaku Valley begun. The majority of the settlers were Christchurch working men, but the Return of Freeholders shows that at least three others besides Morrell and Page had earlier taken up freehold land in Selwyn County.30 Others may have begun participating among the Rangiora-Ellesmere feldon yeomen without having acquired freehold land. The holding of early meetings of the association in Robert Page's rural home suggests that the core members were working men from the city's southern suburbs who were already involved on neighbouring rural land. The Waimamaku settlement was thus well served by a combination of rural experience with craft skills such as those of wheelwright, bootmaker and carpenter.31 A combing of bush settlement local histories, settler biographies and family histories should provide many further examples of the contribution of the Rangiora-Ellesmere feldon yeoman district to the North Island bush frontier. We need studies in depth of this and other feldon yeoman districts to establish whether the agricultural mastery evidenced in our Waimea County 1880s statistics was common to feldon yeoman New Zealand, and to assess its contribution to the ensuing triumph of yeoman farming over so much of bush and runholder New Zealand.

The interrelationships between these feldon yeomen and their more immediate neighbours, the plains runholders and the Christchurch townsmen, are well illustrated by the careers of Kenneth McIntosh (1833–1906) and his wife Grace (1837–1932).32 This newly married Scottish couple arrived in Canterbury in 1859, and moved from labouring life to substantial yeoman prosperity at the northern end of the Rangiora-Ellesmere strip. It was shearing and dairying that put them on their feet. In their early years Kenneth worked page 175 at Tuahiwi pitsawing timber for the Christchurch market, and travelled out each summer to the shearing on the stations. Grace looked after her growing family in the home they had built with their own hands at Kaiapoi on a piece of rented land where they ran a little herd of cows. Using dairymaid skills learnt in Scotland she produced butter for the local and Christchurch markets. With their savings they purchased land, and increasingly their time went into farming on their own account, with Grace's dairying branching out into cheese making. By 1880 Grace was managing their own purpose- buik cheese and butter dairy, and Kenneth had laid the foundations of a Clydesdale stud, going on to become a prominent exhibitor, prize-winner and eventually judge of Clydesdales. Kenneth followed a mixed farming regime, with sheep and pigs as well as the cows and Clydesdales, and with various crops, including grain and potatoes. These careers fit in well with the needs of the neighbouring runholders and townsmen. Kenneth's shearing met a major runholder need of the 1860s; his Clydesdales met the new need of the bonanza wheat years of the 1880s. Town needs were met by his pitsawing of the 1860s, his mixed farming of later years, and by Grace's long involvement in dairying.

Our final glance at this district is of the development at its southern end of a self-conscious yeoman spirit—an expression of the district's distinctiveness as over against the neighbouring runholders and townsmen. ‘To the Rev Mr Bluett belongs the honour of first organizing the farming community of Ellesmere’ write the historians of Ellesmere County.33 The Rev W.J.G. Bluett, MA(Oxon), Vicar of Ellesmere 1865–72, was a farming parson who seemed to embody the spirit of his community:

… being a jolly fellow [he] was known throughout his countryside and far beyond it, as Friar Tuck…. it was a common thing for him to drive to church on top of a cart-load of sheep-skins, and after conducting the service in a most impressive manner, administering the sacrament, baptising the babies and doing all that was necessary within his sacred edifice, to hold a sort of market outside, dispose of his skins, make a deal for a colt or a calf, hire a ploughman or some reapers, and in short do all the agricultural business for the week. The simple country folk saw no harm in this, but on the contrary became strongly attached to their farmer-priest …34

Bluett took several initiatives to draw the local yeomen together to further their interests. He helped found the Ellesmere Agricultural and Pastoral Association, which from the mid 1870s ran the first A & P show in Canterbury each season. Ellesmere yeomen cannot have felt that their needs were quite met by the great Canteroury A & P Association even though its sumptuous Addington showgrounds were almost on their doorstep. They were not quite at home with this squatter dominated affair. Their farming page 176 parson was very acceptable to them, whereas he would doubtless have irritated a runholder or city congregation. Indeed he irritated the bishop, who ‘recommended the Rev Mr Bluett to resign his cure and stick to his sheepskins, which he cheerfully did.’35