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Chapter XV. — In the Beginning

page 116

Chapter XV.
In the Beginning.

About 1860 an immense territory was purchased by Government from the native owners of southern Hawke's Bay, the lands thus acquired being parcelled out in great runs as freehold. It was open fern country for the most part, extending from the foothills of the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges to the ocean. The homesteads of the stations thus created were connected with the port of Napier either by sea or by rough bullock-tracks following the lines of old river-beds deserted by
Packing wool pockets.

Packing wool pockets.

the streams which had made them, too barren to be blocked by vegetation, and offering the further inducement of sound going even in the wettest of seasons. At a later date another area of land north of Napier was confiscated from the natives who had taken part in the “rebellion” of the late 'sixties. Upon reconsideration, however, of their claims and counter-claims, it was discovered that in every tribe certain septs and families had remained “loyal.” The natives, in fact, had consciously or unconsciously hit upon a device practised by many Jacobite houses in the eighteenth century,—the head of the family supporting page 117 one side in the collieshangie, a younger son as stoutly maintaining the rights of the other, the estate being thus assured whatever happened. In the case of the native lands in question, final ownership of the block seized resulted in a compromise. The Government sold outright to European settlers a small proportion of the territory taken. The residue was for all practical purposes—though I believe not absolutely—restored to its former owners.

The bush areas of Hawke's Bay were still untouched except by the hardy Scandinavians penned in their forest settlements.

The better and more accessible countryside thus taken up as freehold, later arrivals in the province had perforce to content themselves with the lands of the interior. Settlers began to push inland, and, where purchase was not permissible, to lease runs from the natives. Amongst other blocks thus taken up were Tutira, Putorino—Waikari as it was then called—and Maungaharuru.

In February of '73 Tutira was leased by forty native owners to T. K. Newton for twenty-one years at £150 per annum. The block was held in common by these natives, but it was provided that the rent—£3, 15s. per man—should be paid to each of them. Like almost every other native title on the east coast, that of Tutira was imperfect. Newton must have been anxious at a very early period in regard to one of the signatures. It is characteristic, indeed, of the tenure of the station that—the run being then in its earliest infancy, a suckling not yet three months old—there should be an entry in the Deeds Office to the effect that “William Morris, sheep farmer, husband of one of the lessors, confirms his wife's action in regard to her signature of the Tutira lease.”

Newton stocked the place with 4000 sheep, and placed his brother-in-law, Craig, in charge of the new venture. Craig's headquarters during his brief residence on Tutira were near the site of the present homestead. The hummock of his clay chimney, just about the centre of my present lawn, remained for many years a monument to his memory. There is still visible the cutting whence he dug his clay. There are also mysterious excavations in the same hillock which we believe to have been his primitive dog - kennels. The 4000 sheep—merino wethers—were saved from a worse fate by the action of the notorious Te Kuiti, who at this date raided the little settlement of Mohaka, murdering impartially Europeans and “friendly” natives. His page 118 anticipated march down the coast cleared every homestead of its inhabitants. The 4000 sheep—or what remained of them—were mustered in hot haste and rushed off the place. Craig, with other outlying settlers, took refuge in Napier, and with his flight the first attempt to work Tutira as a sheep station terminated.

The Waikari run—now called Putorino—was no more fortunate in its initial stage. It also was abandoned during Te Kuiti's raid by its first owners. Maungaharuru, taken up by Philip Dolbel, was actually burnt out by Te Kuiti's band of ruffians, Dolbel and his men escaping by a fortunate delay in the delivery of certain newly-purchased stock. These sheep, which should have been ready to start from Napier on a Monday, were not forthcoming until the Tuesday; Dolbel and his drovers arrived at Maungaharuru in time to find the
Homestead of the ‘seventies.

Homestead of the ‘seventies.

yet smouldering remains of their little homestead—the twenty-four hours' delay had saved them.
Reverting to Tutira proper, we can well believe that Craig's hasty muster was not a “clean” job. Sheep, in fact, were left on the station in considerable numbers, for until the run was again in European hands the local natives were accustomed to dog them into high fern and there shear them. Sheep, however wild, are, in six-foot bracken, helpless. They sink belly-deep into the tangled springy growth, whilst the standing fronds surround them like a wall. After shearing, the wool thus commandeered was rammed into bags and carried off by the Maoris. This first Tutira shearing must have been picturesque at any rate,—the trampled trodden wedge driven into the solid fern, the blue open sky, the wild brown Maoris, the mongrel teams of dogs, the gleaming shears, the jollity and laughter over the pakeha's discomfiture. Newton's page 118a
“Wild” Sheep.

“Wild” Sheep.

page 119 experiment in sheep-farming had not been a success. He had paid two or three seasons' rent, and lost, in one way or another, probably nearly half his sheep.

In 1875 the station was sold to Edward Toogood for £5. I understand, however, from Mr J. C. Tylee, who managed the place during Toogood's tenancy, that even this sum was given, not chiefly for the goodwill of the place, but as payment for any claim Newton might have had on his abandoned sheep and their wild progeny. Again the run was stocked with 4000 sheep and 100 head of cattle. Boundaries were kept, the sheep only allowed to roam over what are now called the Natural and Reserve paddocks. The cattle lived about the swamp land round the margin of the lake. Tylee also tells me that two or three bags of grass seed were sown and that a few chains of fencing were erected.

Times were now beginning to mend a little; there were prospects of lasting peace; property was becoming more secure. The energy, moreover, of certain settlers in southern Hawke's Bay was proving that fern-runs could be made to pay, at any rate in good soils and in dry districts. Toogood, like other sheep-farmers, was beginning to “improve,” and doubtless found himself fully occupied with his Tangoio property. Be that as it may, Tutira was sold by him early in '77 to G. J. Merritt for £2500—a few score pounds more than the value of the 4000 sheep delivered with the place. In March of the following year Merritt sold to C. H. Stuart one half-share in Tutira together with 3600 sheep for the sum of £2500; it had been purchased for T. J. Stuart, a younger brother not of age. As Merritt had given that sum for the full share not long before and spent nothing in “improvements,” he must have cleared something by the transaction,—how much, at this distance of time, it is impossible to discover. It would depend on the age, condition, and sex of the stock delivered, and many other eventualities.

Up to this date the station had been owned by men who had not lived on it. Newton was a Napier merchant, Toogood's real interests lay in his Tangoio property, Merritt was a settler in Clive. Each of them had looked upon Tutira as a mere speculation; it had been regarded as a step-child. Its new owner, Mr T. J. Stuart, was a settler of a very different type; from the beginning he cared for the place. It was to be developed by his own labour; it was to become a home made by his own hands.