Chapter XXXVIII. — Vicissitudes
Coming now to his last chapter, the writer would fain apologise in advance for what may at first appear its egotistical character. Really, however, as he hopes the reader will perceive, it is impossible altogether to dissociate the story of a bit of land from the story of the possessor or possessors of that bit of land. Without more words, then, he will proceed briefly to chronicle, not, alas! interesting changes of the earth's surface, the transformation of plant and animal life, but the doings only of man, the commonest species on the globe.
Yet even in this department of station life an evolution had occurred not without interest to the student of sociology. Readers will recollect how in the 'seventies and 'eighties, owners and employees had worked shoulder to shoulder as packmen, cooks, butchers, fencers, bullock-punchers, sawyers, and shepherds. In that arcadian life—for Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old—the lines of social demarcation had been unknown. All wore clothes—very few of them too—of the same cut, slept in the same hut, fed together on the spartan fare of those days—bread, mutton, potatoes, and duff.
Later, this primitive original relationship of master and man had given place to another slightly more complex, when management and clerical work had come necessarily to consume a greater portion of the owner's day, when he began to differentiate in outlook and responsibilities from his erstwhile fellow-labourers.
Later again, owing to a further extension of activities in station business, in fattening, in the multiplication of small paddocks, and in agriculture, the gap still further widened between the old life and the new.
1 Rock, log, nettle-clump, bush, or tree-stump may, as chance determines, become the foster-parent of the “placer.” Like other small phenomena already noted on Tutira, it is the outcome of a combination of special conditions. To begin with, it must happen that the dam of the future “placer” shall perish within measurable distance of some such conspicuous object as one of those named; it must happen likewise that she shall perish when her lamb is young enough to miss greatly its former diet of milk, yet old enough to be able to support life on grass. The ewe, furthermore, must die in an out-of-the-way, thinly-stocked corner of a paddock, where the orphaned lamb cannot attach itself to another lamb of about similar age, cannot watch till that lamb is about to suck its dam, then rush to the unoccupied flank of the foolish ewe, seize the distended vacant teat, and kneeling opposite the true progeny, steal meals by stratagem. Lastly, the lamb must be of the female sex. The ewe dies then in the neighbourhood of one of the outstanding objects mentioned—say, a rock. At first the unfortunate lamb may be seen standing for long intervals by its dead dam, now and again bleating, cold, hungry, expectant still of its needed milk. When compelled by hunger to crop the turf, it never strays far; when disturbed by passing shepherds, it runs back bleating to the spot where its mother lies. With increase of age and appetite it feeds farther afield, but always when alarmed runs for protection and companionship to the patch of fast-disappearing fleece in the lee of the boulder; by the wool and bones it camps at night. Little by little the carcase flattens out, the wool, losing its brightness, becomes grey and stained, it sinks into the ground; but still at each disturbance the lamb rushes for protection to the now hardly-visible relics near the rock, still at night it sleeps close to them, close to the rock by which they lie. It forms no association with other sheep; at dusk, when they draw upward to the tops, it remains alone by the rock where its mother died; at dawn during musters, when shepherds shout and collies bark, it stands fast at the accustomed spot. In course of time wool and pelt alike become lost in the soil, the bleached bones become hidden by the autumn fall of foul rank grass—only, as always, the rock remains. Round it, as always, the lamb circles when feeding, to it as always she returns to sleep. At last feelings originally called forth by the dead ewe are entirely transferred to the rock, which becomes parent, protector, companion. I have never known a “placer” produce a lamb: I believe, when sought by the ram, it evinces the same sort of commingled terror and anger as is shown by a single bird for long a prisoner at the introduction of a companion into its cage. As it is impossible to part a placer from its foster-parent, there it remains always on the one spot separated from its kind, faithful unto death to the rock of its salvation. The particular sheep here shown was an unshorn six-tooth brought to the yards after two days' great trouble by a shepherd who wanted the animal for exhibition. Its foster-parent was a log near the Maungahinahina bush reserve. “Placer” is a term used to denote a gold digger who remains year after year on the one spot, on the one place.
1 In youth's gay morn a man may possess land, in later life the land may possess him; the writer, circumstanced amongst friends virulently solicitudinous for the station's weal, barely evades his frankenstein. Though not yet devoured by this monster of his own creation, the station dominates his life, for always it comes first. His head shepherd, out of his thousands' increase every spring, grudges him a single prime lamb for the table. He is fobbed off with poor, pitiful, half-fat black brutes—“blacks must be eaten, they spoil the look of the station lambs.” For mutton he will be given tough old ewes which, if offered for sale, “would ruin the appearance of a good station line.” His wife—for a Scottish household too!—has to beg sheeps'-heads like a mendicant; his daughter—deliver my darling from the power of the dog—sobs for sweetbreads,—they are “required for the station collies.” He has been forced to pay off his mortgage “to free the station.” He cannot debit a door-scraper to the run but his book-keeper is up in arms cross-questioning him as to “what interest the station can have in its purchase,” as to whether it is not a “luxury” which, “on a station run as a station pure and simple, could not be quite well dispensed with.” Advice is lavished as to the amount “the station can let him have” each year. Posed by a balance-sheet over which he attempts to appear intelligent, he smothers a sigh for the good old-fashioned ledger of the 'eighties with its simple entries—
|National Mortgage and Agency Co.||£9750|
It was in an atmosphere thus charged with political electricity that with considerable alarm the writer heard of the appointment of a Royal Commission armed with powers to investigate the tenure of certain native leases—Tutira amongst them. As a matter of fact his concern was uncalled for, but at the time he could only recollect that he was a squatter, that his character was in no condition to endure the fierce light that beats upon a squatter's concerns in a court of judicial inquiry; that he was in possession of too many sheep and of too much land.
In due time the Commission arrived at Tangoio, and there heard the views of the native owners of Tutira; it arrived, as became a Royal Commission, in a coach and four. In front skirmished an irregular light horse of landlords. In the wake of the Royal vehicle flowed a stream of buggies, gigs, and dogcarts of every date and description: some brand - new for the occasion, with shining buckles and clean page 386 leather; the harness of others patched up with rope, with wire, even with the humble necessary flax, but one and all containing landlords male and female, all agog and eager, like John Gilpin, for the treat. It was, in fact, high day and holiday with the owners of Tutira, for there is no event so exhilarating to a Maori as a korero over a piece of land; amongst the endless good qualities of the race, not the least pleasant is his affection for his patrimony. Firm that day in the mind of each owner was the resolve that it should have its rights. It was incumbent, therefore, that representatives of each “county family” should be in attendance to do honour to their property, to pay it due obeisance, to see that it was fitly honoured in speech and mythical allusion. Long and dignified, therefore, were the orations of the natives,—they are excellent speakers,—miserable was my counter-contribution to the general sum of speech. I have reason to believe that I appeared to the Commission rather in the light of fool than knave, and that my accumulation of 32,000 sheep seemed to their judicial minds rather the result of imbecility than of actual downright wickedness. I placed my affairs unreservedly in their hands, resigning my lease of the western half of Tutira, and asking in return that I should be given a fair deal.
Pakeha and natives alike, now that it was possible to do so, were eager to come to terms. Sincere were the felicitations that passed that day as to the reasonableness of all of us, I praising myself as a model tenant, the Maoris praising themselves as model landlords, and all uniting in praise of Sir Robert Stout and Mr Ngata. The natives were in high good humour that their land had been honoured by the approach of a Royal Commission, by my request for a fifty years' lease, by the greatly increased rental already fixed by assessment. Maoris, like other folk, appreciate the value of pounds, shillings, and pence: I believe, nevertheless, it was the aggregate sum of rental that was more pleasing to them than the calculation of each individual's share. Due respect, too, had been paid to the feelings of the land; its rights, its susceptibilities, had been fully recognised. To crown all, the Commission had decided with its own Royal eyes to inspect the honoured territory. Its coach and four accordingly was again put in motion, preceded by the station buggy, and followed as before by representative native owners. Tutira was inspected personally, and the Royal Commission, not snatched up to heaven in a chariot page 387 of fire as the assembled natives almost seemed to anticipate, proceeded in a cloud of dust on its way to Wairoa.
In dealing with the exceptional affairs of individual citizens, the State is always able to drive a hard bargain. Nevertheless, though the decision ultimately reached was good business from the point of view of the Commission, the tenant also was treated fairly. The Commission, if at all a beast in its terms, was, like our famous Rugby headmaster, a just beast. Political conditions, in fact, against all likelihood, made it possible that the matter should be treated with impartiality. Seddon was in the zenith of his power, a leader whom not his bitterest enemies could accuse of neglect of the interests of the masses. None but a Labour Government such as his could have—would have—dared to give fair play to a squatter.1 Then, again, I was happy in the members of the Commission. Sir Robert Stout, amongst the innumerable activities of his great career, had played a prominent part during the 'eighties in the initiation of agrarian reform. He knew land at first hand from actual experience as he knew law. Mr Ngata, one of the four native members of Parliament, was an east coast sheep-farmer who had done excellent work in the organisation of native holdings in the Waiapu.
Well, making a long story short, and avoiding technical language, the recommendations of the Commission were that 18,000 acres should be leased to H. G.-S. for thirty years at a quadrupled rent, that certain lands should revert to the native owners, and that the rights of flax-cutting should be shared by tenant and landlords.
1 After the great snowstorm, which many years ago in the mountains of Canterbury destroyed whole flocks over a wide area, the Government of New Zealand reduced rents to its squatter tenants, extended their leases, and, when necessary, arranged that mortgages should be written off to reasonable amounts—actions not only wise in themselves, but proof that no class, however politically defenceless, was to be exempted from help when deserving of help.
Last, but not least, protests had been lodged against the signature of the lease recommended by the Royal Commission and sanctioned by Act of Parliament.
1 Like conditions tend to breed, or at any rate to revive, like stories. The Timaru breakwater, now a success beyond all controversy, was, whilst still in its probationary stage, shaken severely by an exceptional gale. Amongst other yarns circulated by the faint-hearted as to the extent of damage done, was one to the effect that a Newfoundland dog had been washed through a crevice in the ruptured monoliths. Some fifteen years later the Napier breakwater was also damaged by a great gale. Will it be credited that the self-same dog-story was revived? It was rumoured abroad that a Newfoundland dog—perhaps the same dog?—had been forced clean through one of the breaches of the mole!!
There is, I believe, in medicine a term—metastasis—signifying the transference of evil to which flesh is heir from one part of the human frame to another, suppression in one place leading to reappearance in another. There are racial analogues. Amongst the Maori tribes, the pax Britannica has stayed feuds which heretofore had found vent on the battlefield. Desire to war is still strong in the blood, but since it is no longer possible to slay each other decently in the open with mere and spear, the chiefs and elders of the tribes are constrained to bludgeon one another in the native Land Courts.1
The approaching litigation about the new lease of Tutira bore in its essentials no little resemblance to the famous cause between Jock o'Dawston Cleugh and Dandie Dinmont. The natives were apparently resolved that the land should have its rights, one of the most important of which was an appearance in court, vicariously represented by its owners. They were spoiling for a fight with some person or some Board. I am bound to confess, however, that they spared me to the last—that they took me on only when more legitimate game had failed.
1 R. L. Stevenson declares that the natives in certain Melanesian groups have died off chiefly from want of amusement—that the missionaries have killed them with decorum. If the true function of native Land Courts is to preserve the Maori race, to keep it alert, bright and happy, the writer can no longer regret his own involuntary contribution towards so good a cause.
Other influences, too, were at work utilising for their own purposes the litigious proclivities of the natives. The Royal Commission had, in dealing with another Hawke's Bay property, given mortal offence; to upset the Tutira lease would have been to discredit, perhaps to nullify, its labours.
Thus egged on, the safety-valves of other possible channels of litigation closed, balked of their desire to “fight” other Boards and other persons, the eyes of my landlords turned Tutira - wards. It was then, I imagine, that the idea of disputing the Tutira lease took form. The plan had many advantages over the Tangoio and South Island enterprises; it would raise the mana of Tutira to a height hitherto unattained. I feel sure that on the Maoris' part there was no malice. One of the Commission, indeed, had told me of the special wish of my landlords that I should remain on Tutira. They thought, not perhaps that I would actually enjoy a lawsuit, but that, as with themselves, it would dissipate ennui and boredom and provide me with a subject for thought and varied speculation. In the latter respect they were correct too; it did.
The old lease by which one-half of Tutira was still held was in page 391 the meantime steadily running out. With only seven years remaining, it was impossible to improve; without improvements the flock began to diminish in weight of wool and in general productivity. More than that, chance of success in the law courts militated for the time being against the run. It postponed work which would have been done in the ordinary course of events; fern and scrub, that otherwise would have been fired, were allowed to remain unburnt; the possibility of dealing properly with the large area of waste lands in central Tutira had to be taken into account. This postponement, although of future advantage in case of success, was in the meantime detrimental to the health of the flock; it was the sacrifice of a certain present to a problematic future. There occurred, on a greater scale than ever before, what has been fully explained in previous chapters. A huge contraction of the area over which sheep fed took place. Fern and scrub closed in everywhere, relegating stock on to the highly - manured tops, the sunny northern and western hill-slopes, the fertile alluvial flats.
Nothing, however good or evil, endures for ever. The Lower Court pronounced that, “unless notice of appeal be given within one month from this date, and proper security be found for the costs of the appeal,” the Tutira leases were to be executed by the Board. That was the main matter.
I should have let it go at that. Not so the other parties. Why stop now and lose half the fun? Notice of appeal was launched, when again it was ordered that the leases must be executed.
As to the future, the Court very properly refused to stay execution, and also very properly refused to grant any interim prohibition; leave, however, on the other hand—quite unnecessarily, in my opinion,—was granted to appeal to the Privy Council; in short, the Court was disgustingly fair. Towards me, who deserved it, it was right that this should have been so, for, without a proper title, how in the world could I proceed with my improvements? Towards my opponents it was an open - mindedness absolutely chucked away; for there is no reason now to make a secret of the fact that, whilst the writer himself and his legal advisers were men of the highest moral standing, those acting against him showed a callous depravity sad to find in human nature. One great source of uneasiness to me at the time was, I remember, lest these wretches should contaminate my men. I could not but share in the amazement and horror of page 392 another litigant in a more celebrated case1 when my adversaries' adviser from time to time had the audacity to wish good - morning to my people.
I was not destined, however, to perish in the supple-jack entanglements of the law. Unknown to me, out of Court, a life-long friend, who, by all the laws and rules of human nature should not have interfered, did so on my behalf. By his interposition and influence further interference with my affairs was barred. The appeal to the Privy Council never came off; the Ikaroa District Land Board signed the lease.
1 Bardell v. Pickwick.
I had now to count the cost: one-quarter of the flock had been snipped off by the loss of Maungaharuru and Tutira lands reverting to the natives; my rents had been quadrupled. To make ends meet in station management was impossible with the low prices ruling for wool and meat. It was necessary, therefore, that the five thousand sheep gone should be at once replaced, that feed where there had been no feed should be created. It was my task as superpatriot to make five thousand blades of grass grow where none had grown before.
So huge a proportionate increase on soil such as that of the trough of the run would have been impossible, except that of late years the run had shrunk in feeding area, especially in its westermost portion. This had occurred partly because the lease of the Opouahi Educational Reserve, now also happily renewed, was about to expire, partly on account of wet years, partly because during the few dry spells available we had purposely abstained from burning the country. Further subdivision, the felling of manuka, and ploughing, were each expected to do their respective parts towards replenishment of the flock.
1 Reiteration of exceptional events may easily become misleading, the more so as it is the unusual that sticks most firmly in the mind. Thus references throughout this volume to heavy storms may give quite a wrong impression of normal Hawke's Bay weather. Certainly deluges do occur, certainly also there is a considerable annual precipitation, but because of its very vehemence whilst falling, the hours of actual rainfall are few; a splash of a couple of inches falls in an eighth of the time it would require elsewhere. It is an emotional climate—brief bursts of passionate tears, long spans of smiles and happy laughter, sad for an hour, serene for weeks.
It is, however, an ill wind that blows no good. The very weather that had poisoned the flock with rank grass had suited perfectly the first crop of turnips, swedes, and red clover attempted on pumiceous ground. I had always hoped that something might be made to grow on the trough of the run, which had, at the revaluation of Tutira prior to the coming of the Royal Commission, been valued at 5s. an acre freehold. Instantly, therefore, upon signature of the lease, operations had been started. A patch of a hundred acres was fenced, the stunted bracken burnt off, the manuka fallen, the larger stumps grubbed, piled in heaps and burnt, the ground ploughed, disced, and tyne-harrowed. Turnip and swede seed was then drilled in with superphosphate, at the rate of one and a half cwt. per acre; attempts were made to consolidate the light porous land by means of Cambridge rollers; immediately prior to the rolling, and after the drilling in of the turnips, red-clover seed was scattered broadcast over the whole. The result of this heterodox farming was eminently satisfactory; there was a splendid take of both clover and turnip. The crop, certainly, was not a heavy one, yet it was a marvel to such as passed along the road—a vindication of my sanity to the travelling public who had scoffed to my ploughmen at the idea of any good thing coming out of a sahara of pumice grit. From the hill-tops miles away its bright verdure showed up an oasis of green in the desert of fern and manuka.
It was the one bright spot in this unfortunate year. With the station books showing a debit balance on the profit and loss account page 396 of several thousand pounds, prudence would have seemed to dictate a cessation of ploughing, grass-seed sowing, fencing, and stumping; inexorable necessity demanded, however, their full continuance,—a certain income was necessary to run the place, a certain-sized flock was necessary to provide that income. Improvements, therefore, in half a dozen different lines continued to be lavished on the run. Still, however, the station books showed a loss; it was a lesser loss—about half that of the previous year.1
Tutira was passing through a phase similar to that which had proved fatal to the pioneers of the 'seventies and 'eighties—the transition phase, when capital has been sunk and before returns have begun to pour in. Wool and stock were still low; although there was less to be heard of the man who had “offered his clip at fivepence,” confidence was still far from having been restored.
It was then—the station books for a third sequent year continuing to show a loss, though a loss of but a few hundreds—that a letter arrived, one of those epistles “where more is meant than meets the ear,” expressing my banker's opinion that it would be advisable to sell part of the run.
1 Returns of the last few years are not available, but a sequence of nine years will show the range in number of sheep carried, average weight of wool, death-rate, and working expenses (including war taxation for last two years).
Number of sheep carried, weight of wool, and rate of mortality hinge chiefly on the rainfall.
|Number of sheep wintered||Average weight of wool per sheep||Death-rate||Working expenses|
With that resilience which is so marked a feature in new countries, the position now began to improve. On the ploughed paddocks entirely open to the sun young stock throve splendidly. The miles of fencing transmuted themselves into sheep. On the principle that it never rains but it pours, the wet seasons passed away. They were succeeded by the kind of weather that best suits Tutira: fires were everywhere obtainable over a countryside tinder-dry; an expansion of feeding area occurred comparable only with the previous shrinkage. In one paddock alone the number of sheep carried rose in a single season from a few score to nearly two thousand. Native grasses spread enormously, suckling clover seed germinated in hundreds of millions on the burnt-out paddocks. The percentage of lambs was unprecedented, the lambs themselves of excellent quality; for the first time in the annals of the run fat sheep rolled off in thousands to the freezing-works.
Expenditure on improvements ceased, while the full effects of these same improvements proclaimed themselves alike in clip, condition, increase, and monetary return. The affairs of Tutira prospering progressively like those of another station whose possessor had also known bad times, for the third time the mortgage was paid off. If the writer did not, after escape from the hands of Satan, possess precisely “fourteen thousand sheep and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand she asses,” he owned their equivalents; he had at least as much as was good for him. The Lord, in fact, had blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning.
There is but little more to add. In August 1914, whilst the writer was at home, war broke out, the old world crashed and passed away. At first he was stranded, for possession, at the age of fifty odd, of a certain local knowledge of sheep-farming and of a certain field naturalist acquaintance with New Zealand bird-life, are difficult to fit into the plan of a European war. He was ashamed to be seen unemployed; for a couple of terms, therefore, in the scant company of British crocks and blackamoors, he hid himself as a sort of superannuated undergraduate at Cambridge. Later he had the good fortune, whilst soliciting employment as an orderly, to become acquainted with the famous and kindly physician then in command of No. 3 London General Hospital. There he took over and ran the grounds of that great hospital with his staff of artists, known locally by the bye as “the chain gang.” It is not for him to say more; he believes he was of some use, and that were an page 398a page 399 earthquake to swallow Tutira he could always get a billet from Sir Bruce Bruce Porter. Then it was he found salvation; then it was that he had leisure to meditate on his sins as a citizen, one of which was perhaps—only perhaps—occupancy of too large a tract of land. To this repentance, certainly somewhat of the leisurely eleventh hour or death-bed order, he was moved furthermore by many prosaic mundane reasons. He desired a greater portion of time for the pursuit of his own particular hobbies; lastly, he did not deem it wisdom to slave and save for the ravening wolves who determine the gradations of a New Zealand land and income tax; in short, like the lady in “Don Juan,” who, swearing she would ne'er consent, consented, he decided to subdivide the larger remaining portion of the station into farms. This has been done; his interests in Maungaharuru had already lapsed, Putorino had been already sold; now, together with the Opouahi block, thirteen thousand acres of Tutira proper have passed out of his hands, and with the new era of settlement our history of the station may cease.
It but remains for the writer to advise any youthful readers who may have struggled through his book to go forth also into the wilds and to possess lands and flocks of their own, to become citizens of a country where content and moderate riches are within the reach of every man, where, without being quite aware of how the golden age has dawned, wealth has become something of a superfluity, and where, therefore, excessive toil in its pursuit is futile. Heredity and environment alike have conjoined to serve New Zealand; she has had no bad past painfully to live down. Her pioneers, gentle and simple, whether from north or south of Tweed, have come of the soundest stock; for eighty years, too, as like draws like, kinsfolk and friends of similar breeding, tastes, and aptitudes have been attracted to her shores. In the sowing of the nations other emigrants have sought homes in lands of easier attainment, the heaviest grain has been the furthest flung. New Zealand, if unlikely to produce a world poet or a world musician,—brains do not emigrate, no intellect of the highest order has yet arisen anywhere outside Europe,—can lay claim, in her founders, to courage and character; in her present population, to the saving virtue of simplicity. Her children arise and call their little country blessed in its absence of great cities, in its riches absorbed by none but shared by all, in its ideal of life measured in happiness rather than in wealth, in its climate of sunshine and rain though never of fog and gloom, in its sturdy page 400 children reared inland on green fields or along its coasts on clean sands washed by enormous breadths of sea, in its lowest death-rate in the world. The writer cannot but exclaim, when he thinks of what he could have found in his heart to say in praise of his dear adopted land throughout every page of ‘Tutira,’ that, like Clive before the wealth of India, he marvels at his moderation.
One last word: he hopes that his readers have played the game, that they have not indulged in the practice of skipping. If this has not been done, if every chapter has been read, they can rest assured that in examination, as it were under the microscope, of one station, they have discovered what is to be found in all. The writer cannot too strongly emphasise the fact that there is nothing exceptional in the little bit of land about which he has written. Taking chapter by chapter, every station in New Zealand has been moulded by a great rainfall, possesses legends and relics of a splendid aboriginal race; has been clothed with forest, flax, and fern; has been subdued by pioneers in desperate straits for credit and cash; has been overrun by an alien vegetation and alien beasts; has righted its equilibrium; has had its surface mapped by stock, its rivers affected by scour; has seen its original breeds of domesticated stock supplanted by others better fitted to meet changed conditions; and lastly, has been, or is in process of being, subdivided into smaller holdings. It has been the good fortune of the author to have witnessed these changes; they have been of enduring interest to himself; in bidding his readers farewell he hopes he may have been able to pass on that interest.