Chapter XVII. — Hard Times
In the chapter just closed the reader has enjoyed without alloy the delights of land improvement; without thought of the morrow and without anxiety as to finance, he has contemplated the beginning of a sheep station; but, alas! pleasure and profit do not always march hand in hand. Local knowledge, experience, judgment, acquaintance with stock, each plays an important rôle, each is necessary to final success. There were other reasons, too, militating against our young men about which nothing yet has been said.1
Well then, harking back to the last days of March, it will be remembered that Kiernan bought sixty rams, for which he had presumably given a station cheque of £150. On 1st April I find recorded these words: “Was surprised cheque for rams had been returned by Bank of New Zealand; had to give my private cheque for £150 to meet it.” 8th April: “C. H. Stuart returned from town with news of hard times and the likelihood of having to sell the run. Everybody down on account of bad news.” 9th April: “At Kihekanui, very miserable on account of bad news—no heart to do anything.” 10th April: “Went to town to page 133 arrange matters connected with run.” 11th April: “Returned from town owing to not being able to do business till Thursday next.” 12th April: “Trying to kill time.” 17th April: “In town waiting to see Miller.”
Thrice fortunate those who have not passed through the dreary stages of having “no heart to do anything,” of “trying to kill time, of “waiting to see Miller.”
Trusting that these entries from Kiernan's diary will prepare the reader for the sad sequel, we can go back many months—to the date, in fact, of the partnership of Stuart and Kiernan. The reader has, in fact, seen but one side of the operation of breaking in a run. If, however, he has been in any degree deceived, it has only been as Messrs Stuart and Kiernan were themselves deceived. He has intentionally been allowed to look at things as they themselves viewed their own affairs. The truth is, that from the beginning these pioneers were doomed—they were predestined—to failure. Conditions in the interior were in those days quite unknown; knowledge of local conditions—the most important knowledge of all—had to be purchased. Settlers in the fertile districts of southern Hawke's Bay may have been but little wiser or more careful, they always had this in their favour—that their soils were sufficiently rich to redeem the owner's faults, even making full allowance for the fact that in those days fern was fern, that none could tell in the 'seventies that a plant, easily destroyed in a dry climate and on warm rich soils, would prove almost ineradicable on porous land in a wet district.
The master and main difficulty was lack of sheep-feed. Eliminating the leaves of tutu (Coriaria ruscifolia), edible only to salted stock, and the growth of fern fronds, which ceased altogether for six months of the year, there were not 100 acres of sheep-feed on Tutira, there were not 100 acres of grass on Tutira when Newton stocked the run with 4000 sheep. In early times, not only on that station but on every property in Hawke's Bay, the sheep had to create his own pasture, himself to grow his own keep. Now, to understock is the secret of all successful sheep-farming, but action on the lines of this axiom was denied to the run. Irreconcilable contrarieties in nature had to be reconciled. The pioneers of Tutira had at one and the same time to “make” their country and to consider the welfare of their stock; it was to solder impossibilities and make them kiss.
In an earlier chapter a general description of the indigenous vegetation of the run—bracken, forest, woodland, and marsh—has been given. page 134 With the influx of Europeans into New Zealand and the importation of stock and of alien plants suitable for stock, the natural spread of grasses had begun in a small way on Tutira. It grew on pig-rootings, on deserted native clearings and cultivation-grounds, on landslips and along the bases of the marl and limestone outcrops. These patches and spatters of grass were scattered over the 20,000 acres of the station. They were sometimes hundreds of yards, sometimes miles apart, linked with one another by narrow tracks or rather bores through high fern and tutu. In addition to these self-sown alien and native grasses, sheep-feed was obtainable, as has been already mentioned, during certain months of the year by the burning of bracken. Of this plant the circinate fronds are on good land fairly nutritious; sheep can, during summer, be maintained on them in fair store order. These scattered patches of grass, this fern growth, together with the leaves of the tutu, were the original sum-total of sheep-feed on Tutira. The Children of Israel had to make bricks without straw, the pioneers of Tutira had to produce wool without grass.
The first care of the settler was to increase his area of grass by the operation known through Hawke's Bay as “fern-crushing” or “fern-grinding,”—words ominous of the part played by the unfortunate sheep, and which will be described later. It is sufficient now to state that after fire had cleared the tangled bracken growth, the ground was surfacesown and kept clear by browsing sheep. As the greatest growth of fern took place during late spring, it was then impossible to have too many sheep. Every squatter in Hawke's Bay was in the 'eighties “fern-grinding,” so that in those times sheep could not be bought at that season of the year. The result was that every sheep likely to survive the winter was kept, however old and however fleeced. It was at least a pair of jaws, a beast that could bite bracken.
Fern-grinding, however unavoidable in the progress towards creation of the large flock—that distant goal upon which the eyes of the run were fixed—was nevertheless a process utterly incompatible with the ownership of properly-fed stock. The early years of the run were, in fact, a compromise between murdering the sheep and “making” the country. The run was in the position of having to wrong its stock because no other course of action was feasible. It had to transgress the first and greatest of pastoral commandments: Thou shalt not overstock; there was no remedy for the evil.page 135
Another difficulty, also insuperable and unavoidable, lay in the violation of the golden rule of stock purchase, the base of all sound buying. It is, never to move stock from richer on to poorer ground, never to move stock from a drier into a wetter climate. In these times, however, there was no worse or wetter country from which sheep were obtainable. Drafts purchased for Tutira had to be drawn from the drier climate and warmer soils of southern Hawke's Bay. Furthermore, these bought sheep had been done at any rate comparatively well on the runs where they had been bred.
On Tutira they were expected to act as fern-scythes and mowing-machines. Even stock removed from bad to good conditions requires time to settle down; purchased stock on Tutira changed contrariwise from good to bad, loathed their new environment, the grass contained less nutriment, there was less of it, their fleeces were oftener wet on their backs. They had to be acclimatised to wet country after dry, to bad land after good, to semi-starvation after a sufficiency of grass.
There is always a tendency for purchased stock to stray. On Tutira it was made easy by an unlucky geological condition, it was aggravated by the nature of the breed—merino—then on the run. The natural boundary to the south—to the quarter, that is, from which the purchased stock had been brought and to which they wished to return—was the only river stretch on the station not contained by cliffs. The Waikoau, though blocked and barred with vast limestone quadrilaterals, between and around which rushed and swirled the rapid stream, offered passable though highly dangerous fords. Swimming, distasteful to sheep, and especially to merino sheep, was, however, the comparative of dislike; the superlative of distaste was habitation of Tutira.
Each newly-purchased mob had therefore to be watched, until, after weeks of dogging and checking, the bulk of the newcomers accepted the inevitable and began to settle on their new abode. During the period of most marked restlessness the shepherd in charge watched his boundaryline day and night. Every dawn, as certain as clockwork, sections of the newly-bought sheep would trail in long lines down leading spurs to be as regularly checked and “barked” up again. A proportion, however, out of every mob would beat the best man. Trouble at one end of the line might give a chance to sheep at the other extreme; bright moonlight was a curse; a native pig-hunting might drive the sheep down the whole length of the line, making it impossible to check simultaneously page 136 animals but too willing to run in the wrong direction, for it is horrible how sheep resemble mankind in this, that ever such a small favourable chance will incline them to evil. Small lots, too, might be overlooked in the river-bed scrub and at their convenience cross unobserved. Through the cut manuka blocking approach to the easiest fords pig might have bored, thus opening an avenue of escape. Then, again, long after the bulk of the mob had resigned themselves to their fate and the boundary keeper had been withdrawn, leakage would still occur. Revived, I suppose, by misery and semi-starvation in winter-time, the old longing for home and comfortable quarters would again prompt the idea of escape; small lots would succeed in crossing the river, others would be drowned. In early spring, too, a considerable number of old ewes in twos and threes, anxious to lamb where they had previously lambed, would also attempt the river.
In one way or another hundreds of sheep thus straggled from the run. Some were secured again at neighbours' draftings; others died or were bogged; a small percentage probably succeeded in crossing the intervening stations, eventually to reach their original home. Thus, patrolling beats in the manner described, fetching back stragglers from neighbours' draftings, on the run itself dogging sheep from oases of grass such as the old Maori cultivation-grounds on to burnt fern lands, consumed time out of all proportion to the size of the early flock. In the diaries of this period, day after day occur such entries as “dogging sheep from flat,” “attending draftings, “ bringing home stragglers.”
All sheep suffer from nostalgia, but the merino is perhaps the most miserably home-sick beast on earth. In Kiernan's diary of 1879 I find a note to this effect: “The nearly-purchased wethers persist”—he underlines the word persist—“in lying against the new fence.” Liberated in strange country, a mob of merinos will lie against the barrier—cliff, river, fence, whatever it may be—blocking their homeward route. Night after night, day after day, week after week, there they will camp resigned to starvation. They will hug the fence-line that debars them from return to their old haunts till their droppings are inches deep, until their lank frames reveal every bone. When they rise, it is to “string” up and down till the ground is worn bare, till not a bite of foodstuff remains.
From this sketch of the psychology of the merino some conception may be formed of Stuart and Kiernan's trouble with their first purchased page 137 stock. The result of this restlessness was by no means, moreover, covered by loss in stragglers and drowning. In a dozen ways besides, death gathered the wretched beasts with both hands. I find in Kiernan's diary the following item: “30 per cent loss in stock between 1st April 1877 and 31st March 1878.” It was an entry that must have given pause even to our pioneers.
The reader will recollect the first draft of 4000 sheep planted on the station by the intrepid Newton, and almost at once removed in consequence of Te Kuiti's raid. It was the earliest mob delivered on the run, but my own experience of similar occurrences has been so prolonged that this first mob may be taken as a text to illustrate the melancholy processes of a “30 per cent loss in stock between 1st April 1877 and 31st March 1878.” The preliminary leakage in droving would be small; a few sheep, however, would probably have been drowned at the crossing of the broad estuary of the great rivers, Tutae Kuri and Ngararoro. There was no bridge then; the sheep crossed in punts, the drovers swimming their horses behind with the offchance of an attack by sharks. I find in an early diary that on one occasion when the punt was filled with rams, its plug was kicked out and sheep and shepherds alike had to reach shore as best they could by swimming. The Petane river, too, would possibly claim a few victims; the “wash-out”—that dangerous break in the beach through which, under certain conditions, the tides passed too and fro—a few more; a handful or so might have managed to drink salt water; a few poison themselves on tutu, a shrub exceedingly dangerous to unsalted stock; a few drop out from lameness, or be lost in under-runners and pitfalls. It would not, however, be until the 4000—already depleted perhaps 2 per cent or 3 per cent—reached their destination that losses on a serious scale would begin. After that would commence the long conflict between sheep determined to return to their own pastures and owners determined to hold them on the station. The most careful collies will be rash at times; their shepherd masters had to walk by faith at least as much as by sight. The doings of their dogs were hidden by dips of the rugged land, by patches of intervening scrub, by belts of woodland offering harbourage to the leg-weary sheep, by deep bands of low charred tutu stems, by alternate tongues of dense bracken and of open ground, the whole countryside in addition pitted with under-runners and seamed with narrow gorges. The decencies of high-class shepherding were impossible in such broken page 138 lands—in such entanglements of scrub. Holding stock on to new ground in those days broke the hearts of the men and wore the frames of the merinos to greyhound lankness. With stock unharassed and feeding leisurely numbers must have been trapped and lost, but with sheep “stringing” or hurried, companies of tens and twenties were swallowed at a gulp. The animals themselves did not know where to go or what to expect. The country was as strange to them as to their owners. What happens in every paddock “worked” by sheep for any length of time had not then occurred, the first action of a mob in a strange enclosure being to map it out, to explore it, that is, by lines radiating from established camps. In time tracks turn aside and thus cease to reach crossings discovered to be impracticable because of bogs; soft spots, localities mined with under-runners, blind oozy creeks, cliffs and so forth are avoided. Neither man nor beast had purchased experience then, however; it had yet to be bought by lives of sheep and money of pioneers—to paraphrase Kipling, by the bones of the sheep of Tutira, Tutira has been made. These early losses were inevitable; they were as unavoidable as the mistakes of travellers exploring lands of unknown races of men, of unknown diseases, of unknown climates.
Conditions were not ameliorated by the nature of the breed of sheep then run in Hawke's Bay. They were merino, and there is something maddening to the merino in the sight of his fellows escaping to fancied freedom. There were in early times—many of them since hardened by processes to be described later—numerous stretches of narrow marsh, firm enough to bear the weight of the foremost dozen or score of sheep, yet insufficiently sound to withstand the puddling and poaching of hundreds of hoofs. The leaders of the mob would safely traverse such a barrier. It would then become a quaking slough, the original narrow line of traffic marked by bogged animals.
The wallowings of the wretched sheep in their mud baths would deflect the line of travel by a few feet until another parallel track would undergo the same process and in its turn also become a bog. Where hundreds had crossed, dozens remained—their carcases sinking into the morass or remaining half submerged; if discovered at all, advertised by the presence of the harrier hawk (Circus Gouldi), which from the date of the stocking of Tutira began greatly to increase in numbers. Another type of trap taking from this conjectural mob its two or three or four, day after day and week after week, was the crevice typical of marl formation. page 139 Sheep stringing closely to one another, especially if alarmed, are apt to blunder in the leaping of what appears an insignificant crack. Out of Newton's 4000, death would have reaped its harvest piecemeal in other ways. Fires constantly lighted to open up the surface of the country would have destroyed a certain number, some blinded by the flames, others losing their hoofs in the scalding heat. A few would have been snared by their wool in thickets of lawyer (Rubus australis), a few would have been caught by the foot, or, like Absalom, by the neck, in forks of low stiff scrub. Some would have died from the effects of ergot on certain of the coarse native grasses. During spring and early summer many would have poisoned themselves on the shoots of the tutu (Coraria ruscifolia). Landslips would have accounted for not a few, some actually caught in the moving masses, others stuck in the glutinous streams that exuded from them. With the arrival of winter, conditions would have become increasingly adverse. By reason of change from a dry to a wet locality, from rich to poor land, and because of constant dogging and shepherding, these conjectural 4000 sheep even in autumn would have lost condition. The grass about the old Maori cultivation-grounds, the slips, the marl outcrops, would have been eaten bare by mid-winter; stock would have been forced by hunger into spots where hitherto they had not ventured, spots where there were still additional risks to be run.
To make a long story short, if Te Kuiti's raid had not caused the clearance of Newton's 4000 sheep, 1200 or so would have died in rivers, pitfalls, slips, under-runners, cliffs, deep pot-holes in the ground, marshes, boggy crossings and ravines, or would have been poisoned, trapped, or burnt; about 200 of them would have been what we used to call “bushrangers”; from 500 to 700 would have straggled off the run, most of which would never again have been seen. Out of this first draft, in fact, not much more than half would have passed through the hands of the shearers.
In early times there were similar difficulties with horses and cattle, shortage of feed in winter and absence of sufficient fencing always, but just as the run had to be forced to carry stock without grass, so pack-horses and bullock-teams had to be somehow kept alive to work the place. The former fed on the rich marshland that extended along the margin of the lake. Thereabouts in summer - time grass was plentiful, for at that season of the year the merino, startled by page 140 every outbreak of barking, kept to the upper slopes and hill-tops. In winter, when eaten out by sheep, body and soul could still be held together on rank sedges and giant grasses like toe-toe (Arundo conspicua), yet, when forced by hunger into dangerous places, horses too perished in numbers.
The station bullocks in one way were less well off than the horses: a horse can bite as close as a sheep, a beast requires a ranker growth. On the other hand, there was ample scrub for cattle. When not in work they were indeed expected to wander and fend for themselves. Risks had to be taken in any case; if kept in hand about the alluvial lands they ran the risk of bogging; if allowed to wander in the scrub a proportion poisoned themselves on the shoots and fruit of the tutu. There were, moreover, in those days herds of wild cattle, more or less “salted” to tutu, roaming everywhere on the hills, and although sober team bullocks as a rule held aloof from these unbranded beasts, yet an odd worker would occasionally join them. When that happened he was lost to Tutira. Though the jangling of the bullock-bell worn may have revealed his whereabouts, it was usually impossible to follow on horseback into scrub through which heavy cattle could scarcely burst their way.
When not in use these bullocks, and others bought to supplement the team, were for ever straying. Though from time to time rounded up and driven back to the lake as headquarters, they were perpetual wanderers. I find by Kiernan's diary that on one occasion they got away from Tutira, crossed Dolbel's Kaiwaka run of 30,000 acres, and were discovered “on Troutbeck's near the coast.” They had been bred on that station, and having nothing particular to do had walked home, tinkling and jangling their route through three runs, no doubt smashing down and lumbering over the single fence between them and the coast. Other diary entries prove them to have been almost as great a nuisance at home as abroad. Attempting no doubt to remedy the shortage of winter horse-feed, a single-furrow plough had been packed into the place and a patch of crop sown for oaten hay, sufficient for the one or two horses kept handy to run in the scattered team. This bit of delightful green must have been highly appreciated by the bullocks, led probably by “Dan,” who would take bread from the hand and allow himself to be packed. I find many entries such as “keeping cattle out of oats,” “turned them out twice,” “at nightfall found four back page 141 again.” At dusk, no doubt, with every indignity they were again hurried from the premises. Their triumph came with dark. Each bullock bears a bell suspended by a leathern neck-strap, so that when feeding in high scrub or flax his whereabouts can be readily determined. In the hours of light when searching the hills for a lost animal the tinkle of a bullock-bell is a pleasurable sound; at night it is not. Just as the camp is dropping off to sleep the far-distant faint jangle of the grazing beasts is heard. With aggravating slowness the sound approaches, until at last a man leaps up in drawers and shirt, and muttering in the gloom pulls on his boots, snatches his stock-whip and lets loose the dogs, who know the game well and have been yelping and howling in anticipation of the treat. The bullocks are hounded off, their bells performing mad music, momentarily half - choked when swept round to horn a heeling dog, clanging dull as the beasts swing away in an elephantine gallop, or merrily and clear as they file out in a rolling trot. With a final hounding on of the collies and a pistol practice of stock-whip, the sweating, dew-drenched rescuer of the crop returns. In early diaries there are very many entries regarding the bullocks. They were a necessary nuisance, whether about the homestead or away from it.
These were evils, but a still greater misfortune to a growing run like Tutira was lack of sufficient credit and lack of sufficient time, either of which would have saved our pioneers. Stuart and Kiernan had by hard labour and energy managed somehow or other to make the station carry 8000 sheep, or at any rate begin the winter with 8000 sheep. They had cut tracks, they had drained swamps, they had sawn timber—but none of these improvements had yet had time to produce any beneficial result on the station bank account. The repayment to the station of a line of fencing may fairly be spread over a score of years, whereas a cheque has to be given then and there for the wire. Reimbursement to the station for grass seed sown might also be reasonably spread over decades; the merchant, however, has to be paid at once. The same may be said of track-cutting, swamp-draining, the sawing of timber for house and shed; nay, the very increase of stock, surely an improvement of the first importance, spelled at first a large overdraft; it also had to be paid for with borrowed money. The benefits were to be perennial, the payments, however, for these perennial benefits had to be paid instantly in coin of the page 142 realm. Thus it came about that an immediate debt was run up for improvements which could not at once bear full fruition.
Properties in the transition stage, their improvements paid for, but the financial results of these improvements not yet apparent, are the first to feel the pinch of bad times; for what is a line of fencing to a banker, or a drain or a bag of grass seed? Simply damnable items on the debit side of a balance-sheet. From enthusiasm then, from inexperience, from want of good advice—there was nobody to administer the last, for no man had worked the light lands of northern Hawke's Bay at that time,—the obvious dangers to themselves do not seem to have troubled the brothers Stuart and Kiernan.
There could at any rate have been but little forethought in the financing of the run; indeed it is to be feared that a diary entry of a very early date was typical of the financial methods then in vogue: “Bought from William Villers, one team of eight bullocks, waggon and all complete, for the sum of £135. Terms, to pay when able.” In the diaries, entered amongst shearing tallies, lists of washing sent to Napier, inventories of chattels, as the pots and pans of the station are rather grandiloquently termed, appear also from time to time financial calculations, figures enow in all conscience, but often lacking items to which they can be attached. These reckonings have apparently been jotted down hot from the writer's brain and then left high and dry, stranded and never retouched a second time. There is yet extant also a little note-book whose perusal will raise a sympathetic sigh in the bosom of every Hawke's Bay pioneer. Lined in columns for the months and weeks and days of the year, it is nothing less than an attempt at the daily registration of lost sheep, cattle, and horses. This melancholy volume, however, like other New Year resolutions, made only to be broken, seems to have been discontinued after the deaths of 31 sheep, a drowned horse, and a bogged bullock.
Sheep received with station 3600 Put on since, before shearing 1389 685 Put on since, after shearing 1211 1081 7966 Less 30 per cent, leaves 6460 Lambs 300 30 per cent from 1st April to 31st March 1878.
On hand from shearing 4200 Received since shearing 2282 6492 Shorn by Mackinnon 8 6500
We may take it, therefore, that the shearing of '78 totalled 4200. At the beginning of the winter of '79 the number of the flock had been by further purchases brought up to 9999. Of these devoted beasts 7164 were shorn. At the beginning of '80 there were running on Tutira 8324, of which 6344 passed through the shearers' hands.
Altogether apart from these losses, however—losses which were perhaps inevitable—the finances of the station had never been on a sound footing.
The City of Glasgow Bank in Scotland had failed some years previous to the date we are considering. Between that bank and certain New Zealand land companies there had been close connection; its fall had already reacted disastrously on all New Zealand securities. It was likely, therefore, that a drop in the wool market would seriously affect the already weakened system of colonial credit. It was certain, moreover, that should such a condition of affairs occur, the first and foremost to feel the pinch would be owners of partially-developed sheep stations. Wool did drop, the mournful rumour circulating that so-and-so page 144 had “offered his clip at 5d. for the next six years, and couldn't get a taker, mind you”; the usual squeeze began of those least able to bear pressure. Among them were the brothers Stuart and Kiernan. There is indeed something almost pathetic in the naïve surprise evinced in Kiernan's diary entries of this fatal April of 1879. That the price of wool could possibly fall, that bankers could conceivably tighten their purse-strings, seems never to have entered the heads of our pioneers. The necessary knowledge had, I suppose, to be paid for, and although the considerable number of thousands of pounds lost in its acquisition may not—as Miss Wirt, in ‘Vanity Fair,’ was wont to tell of her father's financial transactions—have convulsed the exchanges of Europe, these sums were all their owners possessed. The hole in their resources, though neither as deep as a well nor as wide as a church door, was sufficient. 'Twas enough, at any rate, 'twould serve.
After this ill-starred month of April there appear few further references to finance. Immediate difficulties seem to have been tided over. Improvements, moreover, proceeded, although work done now was doubtless the completion of work already begun, which could not have been stayed even from the point of view of an uneasy banker. Nearly 200 bags of good ryegrass and cocksfoot were sown; delivery of pit-sawn timber, begun in happier times, was proceeded with, and wool-shed built. From April of '78, however, owners worked with the sword of Damocles suspended over their heads. With anxious eyes they scanned that fatal barometer of hopes and fears—the wool market. I find, for instance, this entry: “No good news—wool market showing no signs of improvement.” Kiernan's diary is, nevertheless, as ample and careful as ever. Details are given of the first station garden, of the planting of eucalypt, willow, and pine. I think no fact could more clearly prove how its owners must have cared for their station than its adornment under these tragic conditions—the adornment of a bride about to be ravished from their arms. These eucalypts, willows, and insignis, planted on a promontory jutting into the lake, have now been for forty years an ornament to the station. I never look at them on the fine headland Taupunga without thinking of the sad circumstances of their planting, how in the joy of labour chilling thoughts of the future must have obtruded themselves, thoughts that take half the energy out of the settler's arms. The days, weeks, and months of the year passed page 145 away. Again shearing-time arrived without an improvement in the price of wool. I suppose it was recognised that matters were desperate; at any rate, I find that in February of 1880 “C. H. Stuart left the run.” In October 1880 “the first piles of the new wool-shed were in the ground,” but, as with the planting of the trees, the impending calamity must have taken the heart out of its erection. Hope was almost gone, and without hope no man can put his best into his work, the labour of his hands can no longer be what it should be—pure delight. On 27th May 1881 the entry occurs: “T. C. K. and T. J. S. transacting station business all day with Bank of New Zealand and Loan and Mercantile Agency Company; made arrangements to tide over everything till shearing.” Alas! alas! “transacting station business,” or any other business at any time, is a loathsome task, but how much aggravated this renunciation of an incomplete labour of love to an unemotional bank or soulless mortgage company. What pangs of disappointment, what heart-searchings as to the past! What disgust of self and all concerned! What a sickening void of interest! I can picture the poor wretches overwhelmed with abominable figures, signing mechanically, their minds idly wandering to green Tutira, its ranges and lakes.
The end was rapidly approaching, for on 28th May “T. C. K. left for Melbourne.” In August he was again in New Zealand, for in that month, there being then a debt on the run of £8600, he sold his halfshare to C. A. M'Kenzie for the sum of £160. There is then a blank in the station diary until the 1st September. Upon that date appears in a new handwriting—no doubt that of M'Kenzie—“Left Napier for Tutira after having squared up everything; gave Matthew Miller bill at three months for amount due him by Tutira.” The station was now worked entirely by two men, Stuart and M'Kenzie, with W. Stuart, a younger brother, acting as cook. I have never gathered that W. Stuart was a brainy man. I find in the station diary kept by M'Kenzie, 10th September: “Willie trying to make bread.” Three days later the diary was again an outlet to the feelings of the writer, “Willie trying to make bread,” and later this entry, almost with the ring of tears in it, “Willie wasting good flour and yeast.” When a man can confide his sorrow to a diary, he must indeed have suffered. Conditions were now desperate; in M'Kenzie's diary, from time to time, there are ghastly reminders of bills about to fall due at briefer and briefer intervals.
By a deed of July 1882, the place then owing £9000 to the Loan page 146 and Mercantile Agency Company, C. A. M'Kenzie transferred his share to T. J. Stuart for ten shillings. W. Stuart now, I believe, took over a half-share and put some money into the place. The brothers, at any rate, shared the few score pounds remaining after final sale. In September 1882 Stuart & Stuart sold the property to W. Cuningham Smith for £9750—the price then owing to the Loan and Mercantile Agency Company. It had been purchased on behalf of H. Guthrie-Smith and Arthur M'Tier Cuningham, at that time minors.page 146a
1 It is never pleasant to speak plainly on certain subjects, especially in a book of this sort open to the general reader, yet surely, after the attainment of a certain age and of a certain amount of experience, warning becomes a plain duty. Reading, then, between the lines of certain entries in these diaries, it cannot be concealed that our pioneers had got into very dangerous company. It is not my place to preach—readers will resent anything in the way of a sermon; I suppose, too, that young men will be young men to the end of time—yet, to be frank, there were persons to be met with in the streets of Napier—and pretty openly too—whom it would have been better our pioneers should never have known. There were parlours, too easy of access altogether, where nothing but harm could happen. If the presence of a certain class, if the trade they ply, cannot be eliminated, its conditions, at any rate, should be regulated. In the 'eighties nothing of that sort had been attempted; bankers and managers of mortgage companies might charge what rates they chose. Legislation in respect to this matter came later, when the New Zealand Government began itself to borrow and relend cheap money to struggling settlers. In the 'eighties it was otherwise. In those days young fellows like the Stuart Brothers and Kiernan were, in spite of themselves, so to speak, forced into bad company.