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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Pioneer Flockowners' Problems

Pioneer Flockowners' Problems.

The pastoral industry in Poverty Bay and on the East Coast had a very chequered early career. On account of lack of fences the initial flocks were apt to wander, and some of the sheep fell victims either to wild dogs or to hungry natives. Most of the ills to which sheep are heir also became prevalent. Consequently, for a number of years, sheep-raising proved a precarious form of gaining a livelihood. So small were the earliest flocks that some years passed before lamb and mutton became a regular item of food. According to H. S. Wardell (the first magistrate, 1855–60) “mutton was, then, too sacred to be eaten, and, as cattle also were too valuable for ordinary food, the settlers' choice of meat was limited to goat-flesh and pork, with a little beef on gala days.”

It is a matter of historic interest—and singularly prophetic—that some sheep were on the Endeavour when she reached Poverty Bay on 9 October, 1769. However, it is not at all likely that it occurred to Cook that Poverty Bay might some day become the chief port for a notable pastoral district. If there were no sheep on Abel Tasman's vessels when he touched off New Zealand in 1642, those on the Endeavour must have been the first to reach New Zealand waters.

In a report to the Church Missionary Society (16/8/1853) the Rev. T. S. Grace stated: “Now, as we are about to leave Poverty Bay, we see the plough in full operation, sheep being introduced, and four small vessels bought by the natives and nearly paid for.” E. F. Harris (Harris Memoirs) says that he was told that Anaru Matete (who became a notorious rebel in 1865) was the district's first sheepowner, “he having obtained a dozen or so of Lincolns in 1850.” On the East Coast, W. B. Baker, of Tolaga Bay, appears to have been the pioneer sheepowner; he had (D. McLean's journal) seven in February, 1851. There were some sheep at Rangitukia in 1854 (Rev. C. Baker's journal, 24/12/1854). In May, 1857, Mr. Baker, senior, on leaving Rangitukia, “left a number of cattle and from 10 to 20 sheep at East Cape.”

An appreciable fillip was given to sheepfarming in Poverty Bay in 1856, when Captain Harris and Captain Read placed a flock of 200 merinos (obtained from Sydney) on Kaiti. Shortly afterwards, Captain Fernandez brought some sheep from Auckland for the Waerenga-a-Hika mission station. On account of head winds he landed the mob at Tolaga Bay and page break
Gisborne-South Railway (opened 1942). Building Waikokopu Causeway. Approach to Waikokopu Bluff. By courtesy E. W. McEnnis.

Gisborne-South Railway (opened 1942).
Building Waikokopu Causeway. Approach to Waikokopu Bluff.
By courtesy E. W. McEnnis.

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First Express Train from Gisborne to Wellington, 7th September, 1942. S. R. Vincent, Photo.

First Express Train from Gisborne to Wellington, 7th September, 1942.
S. R. Vincent, Photo.

page 321 drove it on to Poverty Bay, leaving Captain Read to bring the schooner on. Captain Glover (the pioneer sheepfarmer on the East Coast) placed 300 merinos on Mangapeka in 1864, but sold out to Andrew Reeves at the close of the following year.

In 1864 Henry Parker, of Napier (assisted by W. W. Smith) landed a flock for Whataupoko run near the site now occupied by the McRae Baths. As the natives threatened Mr. Parker because he had poisoned some of their dogs, which were worrying the flock, he returned to Napier, and his brother William took his place. The initial flock for Ngakaroa, which arrived in 1867, had to be landed by Maoris in whaleboats on Waikanae Beach. As scab was prevalent in Hawke's Bay, these sheep were dipped, singly, in a tub at Waerenga-a-Hika, a perforated bullock-hide, stretched on four posts, being used for a draining pen.

The first mob of sheep to be driven from Hawke's Bay above Mohaka was taken by Andrew Reeves in 1863 to a property which he had leased on the south side of the Wairoa River. In 1864 George Walker had charge of the first mob that was driven as far north as Mahia. At Wairoa he was held up for a fortnight by some natives, who demanded payment for the right to pass over their lands. A friendly-disposed native advised him to make a monetary gift. He tendered an I.O.U. for 5/-. Meantime, he had feasted royally on pork and kumaras as the guest of the chief. He was never called upon to honour his pledge! With the assistance of Duncan Fraser and Steve McGlashan, Captain W. H. Tucker (who had been appointed by G. Sisson Cooper to manage his newlyacquired run at Pouawa) brought the first mob overland to Poverty Bay in 1866.

During the early 1870's, on account of dearth of shipping, several large mobs were brought overland from Hawke's Bay. Some of the journeys proved tedious, and the losses were not inconsiderable. On 11 April, 1873, A. McDonald, with his drovers, left Napier with two mobs, aggregating 6,000. Swollen streams led to delays, and Gisborne was not reached until 2 June. About 300 sheep were lost. The transport position was eased in 1874, when the s.s. Pretty Jane joined the p.s. Comerang and other vessels on the East Coast run. For some years both were kept very busy with two-way traffic. Freight charges to Auckland were: Cattle, 50/-; sheep, 3/- per head. Prominent among the early shippers were: Allen and Kelly, A. C. Arthur, E. Cameron, J. Clark, R. Thelwall, Smith Bros, and Major Westrup. Mr. Cameron, who became the district's largest shipper, had his busiest period during the Boer War.

Shipping of stock from Gisborne in the early days was apt to provide an exciting scene. In December, 1886, a bullock got away from the stockyard at the wharf. First of all, a child named Johnstone had a narrow escape. The animal then dislodged a lad named Kennedy from a horse. Reaching the main street, it tossed a child outside James Craig's shop. Without hesitating for a moment, Mrs. Craig, who was in a delicate state of health, ran to the rescue, and she, too, was tossed, receiving injuries which left her a cripple for the rest of her life. Mrs. Armour went to the rescue of her child when it was charged, but was herself tossed twice. The arrival of a horseman enabled her to escape by crawling through a gate. In turn, the horse was attacked and badly ripped. Several shots from a rifle were required to dispatch the animal.