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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)


The names used in this story are entirely fictitious. The incident described, however, and the method used for stealing sheep from the large mobs which were driven via the East Coast of the North Island, in the early days, may, perhaps, be recalled by many of the older generation.

“While the brothers worked, Rex had been chewing things over in his mind.”

“While the brothers worked, Rex had been chewing things over in his mind.”

Monty Carden leaned over a rail of the sheep pen attached to the woolshed. He was thinking deeply, and evidently his thoughts were not particularly pleasant, judging from the frequency of change of position and the deep scowl which had settled on his face. There were about 170 sheep in the pens—ewes, hoggets and weathers—in various grades of condition.

Monty Carden was a fine stamp of young man—clean-limbed, with broad shoulders and of medium height; he was clad only in a pair of dungarees and a low-cut, blue flannel singlet, exposing a well-developed chest deeply tanned by constant exposure. Suddenly he straightened himself.

“Rex,” he called.

“Righto—coming,” and a young man vaulted the rails of the outside yards as he spoke, and joined his brother.

“I think we'll go through this mob to-night, Rex. Get the red ochre handy. I'll mark all the ones we can't cover with our earmark and they can go into No. I paddock for a week or so. If any trouble comes of it, I can simply say that they were held awaiting a claimant.”

“I don't like this business, Monty. As sure as one thing we'll be nabbed some day. Besides, it's pretty rotten on the drovers to be too or so short every trip, and they have always been very decent to us. We are quite well enough off without sheep-stealing.”

“Dry up, Rex. You are too soft for this game. You catch, and I'll ochre and use the ear-mark where I can. It may run out about 50/50. As a rule our mark is just sufficiently large enough to cut out the average single ear-mark which young sheep usually carry—the old beggars which have changed hands so often, one dare not touch—so the red ochre goes on them.

“Thanks for your instructions, Monty,” said Rex, somewhat stiffly, “but you seem to forget I helped you with last year's unholy catch and I swore it would be the last—yet here I am helping you again. If poor old dad was alive he would shoot the pair of us, and if mother knew it would break her heart. Monty! let's chuck it before it's too late. What would the Jeffreys and Chadwicks think of us?”

“Never mind the Jeffreys and Chadwicks,” exploded Monty.

“Is Mabel included in that remark?” asked Rex, carefully indifferent.

“No, she isn't, but in any case I'll have her as well,” Monty flung back.

“Anyhow, that's enough of that; let's get this lot finished and talk after.”

When the drafting was over 75 young sheep were sent over to the Run with the general flock and the balance, 52, put into a front paddock.

While the brothers worked Rex had been chewing things over in his mind. Suddenly he burst out: “Now, look here, Monty, you have got to let me out of this. I'd hate to have a breach with you and I know that so far I have committed myself and that we're both equally liable, but I shall go no further. If you want to carry on with this nefarious traffic you must carry on without me. That's final!”

“Have you calculated what that means, Rex? You couldn't carry on the farm here and know what was going on without becoming an accessory to the fact, and you can't leave, as it would kill mother.”

“Then, Monty, for old times’ sake, chuck it,” pleaded Rex. “Forget all about this mad idea of making extra money in this way. We have a good farm and it's only a matter of time when we can sell and retire.”

Monty's face hardened, but there was a curious, unfathomable glint in his eyes. “I'm afraid I must carry on alone,” he said. “You must do as you think best. If it means a break I'll find the cash for your share of the farm.”

“But what about mother, Monty?”

“Well, you'll have enough money to settle somewhere else and take mother with you. However, you can settle all that. I don't want to discuss it any more. You find the way out—you can have the money when you have decided.” There was finality in his tone.

* * *

With furrowed brow Rex whistled page 45 his dogs and returned to the homestead.

Rex decided to take his mother to Auckland for a change, to which she readily consented, and the disagreement between the two sons was not mentioned.

Monty Carden was a likeable enough young man. He had a pleasant word for all with whom he came in contact. He had a dignified manner and to all outward appearance was a gentleman. It was hard to understand his obsession for sheep-stealing which he carried out with all the cunning and forethought of a clever criminal. Last year's haul amounted to roughly 500 sheep. Three hundred of these went into the general run and 200 were killed. The pelts were dried, trimmed and baled for export direct, and the fat was rendered down, while the carcases were boiled. Anything fat was sold to neighbours and the Maoris.

The success of last year's operations urged him to try and double the haul, and to deal with the extra killings, he had bought over 100 pigs. Fern country —right at the back of the farm was fenced into two, 25 acre runs. Some of the carcases were fed out raw, and all bones dry enough, were put through a small bone mill which provided considerably more than enough manure for the farm. To cover any inquiries that might be made he bought every bone the Maoris would sell him. He was thus able to sell any surplus without suspicion.

Culled sheep of his own flocks he killed also, and these shortages he supplemented by entering into his tally book a percentage of lamb over and above the actual against any normal increase of his flock, so that in the event of a muster, the tally was not far out. Monty recognised that one man could not handle the business, and he was obliged to call in the assistance of one of the three Maoris he employed. He knew there was a danger in this proceeding, but he minimised it by doing the skinning himself and immediately burning the part with the ears on. He never attempted to handle more than could be finished by 3 o'clock and by tea-time, everything was disposed of, fed out to the pigs, burned, or in the boiler.

He was careful always to keep a few fresh skins with his own ear-mark hanging about. Monty had installed an elderly housekeeper—a week's batching was quite sufficient—and things in that direction assumed more or less a comfortable and orderly state.

* * *