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

Birth of Pastoral Industry

Birth of Pastoral Industry

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.

page break
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.

Flockowners in 1877.

The principal European flockowners in the Poverty Bay-East Coast area in 1877 were:

Barker and McDonald, Whataupoko, Kaiti and Pouawa, 30,470; J. W. Johnson, page 322 Maraetaha, 11,047; G. R. Johnson, Te Arai, 8,564; E. Murphy, Tolaga Bay, 9,045; Duncan Fraser, Waikohu, Oweta, and Puhatikotiko, 5,547; A. B. Newman, Ngakaroa, 5,242; A. C. Arthur, Tokomaru Bay, 5,150; J. Allen, Waikanae, 5,047; W. K. Chambers, Repongaere, 5,067; A. Reeves, Tolaga Bay, 3,820; R. Noble, Tolaga Bay, 3,270; G. Scott, Kaiteratahi, 3,730; C. Westrup, Goodwood, 3,322; C. J. and A. C. Harrison, Rangatira and Whatatutu, 3,025; F. E. Tatham, Anaura, 3,025; R. D. McDougall, Lorne, 2,761; A. G. Burnett, Tangihanga, 2,462; J. Robertson, Hicks Bay, 2,295; H. Davies, Pouparae, 2,089; C. Agnew Brown, Whakawhitira, 2,050; E. Robson, Koukouhiki, 2,030; Johnson Bros., Lavenham, 1,975; S. Parsons, Matawhero, 1,957; J. B. Poynter, Bushmere, 1,780; S. C. Caulton, Combermere, 1,507; and F. W. Helyar, Ormond, 1,500.

The merino was the first type of sheep tried in Poverty Bay. Grazed on damp, heavily-grassed paddocks, it proved very liable to footrot. Harris and Ferguson introduced Cotswold rams at Opou in 1870, but the cross was not persevered with after 1874, when the Lincoln began to oust the merino. Prominent early stud breeders of Lincolns included: G. Scott, J. E. Espie, W. W. Smith, F. W. Helyar and H. Harris, and, subsequently, Smith Bros., Alex. McKenzie and D Kirkpatrick. Heavy mortality among the Lincoln cross hoggets in the late 1880's led many growers to return to the pure Lincoln, but without avail. Messrs. McKenzie and Kirkpatrick then began to experiment with the Romney, and, later, they were joined by J. C. Field and others. Romneys were first shown in Gisborne in 1891 and Southdowns in 1902. Thomas Todd (Gisborne Herald, 4 May, 1946) claimed that, within 10 years, a Romney type was developed in New Zealand which was not only much better suited to New Zealand conditions than the English Romney, but which is now able to challenge its prototype even in England. “This,” he added, “is something of which New Zealand might well be proud. Here, in Poverty Bay, we had a share in that work, and the fact is worth preserving.”

How Grave Menace of Scab Was Tackled

Scab broke out in Hawke's Bay in the early 1860's. Ramsden (The Chronicles of the Nairn Family) says that it was introduced with some rams which H. S. Tiffen obtained from Wairarapa. There were outbreaks in Riddell's flock at Mohaka and in W. Morris's at Waikokopu in August, 1862. When T. U'Ren, junior, was appointed scab inspector for Poverty Bay in August, 1866, Captain Harris, in a letter to Mr. McLean (25/8/1866), said: “It is through no fault of our settlers that their flocks are infected. The Natives brought diseased sheep here from Waiapu.”

In December, 1873, the General Government offered to erect dips on the East Coast and supply dipping materials if the native sheepowners would do the mustering and the dipping. Only Major Ropata, Mokena Kohere and a few others were willing to co-operate, and, consequently, the plan fell through. There were then about 14,000 native-owned sheep on the southern side of the Waiapu River, 4,000 on the northern side, and a further 2,000 about East Cape. In all, there were 52 native sheep-owners. The principal owners in 1875 were: Major Ropata, 6,000; Pine Tuhaka, 3,000; Tamihana Ruka, 2,300; Arapete Waititi, 2,000; Raniera Kawhia, 2,000; Mokena Kohere, 1,500; Koti, 1,500; and Wi Hihopo, 1,000.

Under the East Coast District Sheep Act, 1874, stringent measures were taken to cope with scab. All sheep driven into Poverty Bay or on to the East Coast, as well as those which arrived by sea, were inspected. If a single sheep was found to be infected the whole mob was quarantined. After protracted negotiations the General Government bought all the native-owned flocks on the East Coast at the rate of 5/- per sheep and 1/6 per lamb. In March, 1877, the tender of Bycroft and Ferral, of Auckland—3/1 per sheep and 1/1 per lamb—was accepted for the condemned sheep, and 25,000 were boiled down at Port Awanui.

The scab menace was at its height in Poverty Bay in 1878. Mr. page 323 Orbell (the inspector) insisted that all flocks should be kept within fenced areas, and rigidly enforced dipping in hot lime and sulphur. In October, 1880, 18 flockowners were fined at the rate of 3d. per sheep. David Doull (formerly of Southland), who was fined £156, told Parliament that, when he bought Wainui run and stock in 1878, the sheep were infected, although he had been assured that they were clean. It had cost him £500 for dipping materials and £500 to muster and dip on eight occasions. On account of being required to dip in mid-winter, he had lost 4,500 sheep, and, as he was not allowed to breed for two seasons, he had, in each of those years, been deprived of the anticipated natural increase of 3,500 lambs. For his own protection he had also had to dip his neighbours' sheep. Percival Barker, senior, of Whataupoko (fined £82), and James Seymour, of Whangara (fined £100), also sought relief.


Footrot was very prevalent in Poverty Bay towards the close of the 1860's. At Maraetaha J. W. Johnson killed about 500 of the most badly-smitten sheep in his flock. Lungworm became common after the big flood in 1876. On Toroa, A. F. Hardy had to bury 3,000 sheep. Facial eczema first appeared in Poverty Bay among some lambs on Repongaere in 1874.

Variegated thistle, which was first noticed near the mouth of the Waipaoa River in 1864, soon became widespread, and, in 1873, the Poverty Bay Highways Board declined to enforce the Thistle Act on the ground that many of its ratepayers might find the cost of eradicating this thistle ruinous. Prior to the Second World War the Gisborne-East Coast Sheepowners' Union subscribed £500 towards the cost of stationing an entomologist in the Balkans to search for a parasite which would control the pest, but, upon the outbreak of hostilities, he had to be withdrawn.

Poverty Bay's worst experience of caterpillars was in January, 1873. Following upon a drought lasting six weeks, armies of the hungry insects swarmed over the countryside, ruining grain crops and grass set aside for seed. Dips were erected on the highways leading into Poverty Bay from the north in 1921 to prevent the introduction of cattle tick, which had spread as far south as Taneatua. The red-legged mite found its way from Westshore (Napier) to the vicinity of Matawhero railway station in October, 1946, and it had become established on railway properties as far away as Ormond by July, 1948.

In 1874 the number of sheep in the areas which now form the counties of Cook, Waikohu, Waiapu, Uawa and Matakaoa was just under 200,000. By 1889 the half-million mark had been passed; in 1898 the total had exceeded one million; and, by 1910, it was in excess of two millions. The 1945 figures were: Cook, 728,547; Waikohu, 611,555; Waiapu, 459,392; Uawa, 233,516; and Matakaoa, 109,789—grand total, 2,142,799.

Poverty Bay has long been famed as a breeding-ground for cattle. The Shorthorn did not take kindly to the punishment involved in keeping country in order, and has been extensively replaced by the Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. As at 31 January, 1945, the number of cattle (with the figures for dairy cows in parentheses) in each of the East Coast counties was: Matakaoa, 18,894 (1,610); Waiapu, 70,761 (4,951); Uawa, 27,429 (1,948); Cook, 93,433 (9,623); and Waikohu, 96,321 (3,831)—aggregates, 306,838 (21,963).

The district's wool clip in 1879–80 amounted to 2,000 bales, valued at £34,000. In 1919, wool worth £2,034,948 was exported, but, on account of the scarcity of shipping, the exports for the previous year had been valued at only £501,652. Between 1922 and 1935 the best year was 1924, with 19,081,788 lbs. (£1,287,677), and the worst 1931 (during the slump), 13,603,072 lbs. (£283,630). For 1940 the figures were: 19,483,496 lbs. (£N.Z. 1,008,002).*

Frozen meat exports from Gisborne in 1890 came to 14,858 cwt., valued at £18,471. Heavy seasons were: 1919, 410,412 cwt. (£1,019,138); 1920, 443,449 cwt. (£1,115,044); and 1922, 512,011 cwt. (£1,008,853). In only one of the lean years during the 1929–33 slump did the aggregate value exceed £500,000; the worst year was 1932, 289,050 cwt. (£392,598). In 1940 the figures were: 242,639 cwt. (£618,181).*

In 1884 Poverty Bay exported produce to the value of £80,501. By 1909 the figure had risen to £1,040,621, and by 1916 to £2,000,000. In 1919 a record year (£3,466,502) was experienced. In 1915, when the total stood at £1,941,736, the value of the exports was equivalent to £96/13/6 per capita, as/ compared with a per capita average of £24/1/9 for the whole Dominion. The exports for 1940 were valued at £N.Z. 1,745,293.*

[* On account of Gisborne ceasing, in 1940, to be visited by Home vessels, statistics for later years are not available. Since 1940 Poverty Bay's exports have been credited to the port (Napier in particular) at which they were placed on board exporting vessels.]

Although the Poverty Bay-East Coast clip totals about 55,000 bales, Gisborne is page 324 not on the national wool sales roster. A sale scheduled for 5 December, 1907, fell through, on account of the growers withdrawing 4,000 of the 5,000 bales catalogued because the market had receded. For the 1920–21 season three sales were awarded Gisborne, but, when the first was about to be held, the market was dull and most of the growers withdrew their clips. The Wool Disposal Committee scheduled two sales for the 1947–48 season; a new store was erected and some others improved at an aggregate cost of £115,000; but the overseas buyers refused to attend on the ground that the strain attendant upon their work in New Zealand was already too great.


Captain Joseph Bond Kennedy was born in 1841 at Kennedy's Bay, which was named after his father, John Kennedy, who settled there when H.M.S. Buffalo went ashore at Whitianga in 1840, and who was robbed and slain by the crew of the cutter The Three Bees whilst en route to the Bay of Islands to bank some money. “Joe” was only ten years old when he paid his first visit to Poverty Bay in the cutter Fly. For many years he was a sailing master for Captain Read. He died at Auckland on 19 June, 1913.

Captain Thomas Fernandez (born in London in 1832) first visited Poverty Bay on the schooner Sarah Jane in 1850. During the Waikato War he was in charge of the gunboat Pioneer. He was deprived of command of the Pretty Jane after she stranded off the Waipaoa River in 1875 whilst in charge of a pilot and during his absence on shore. For some time he was engaged in a search among the Pacific Islands for a supposed “Treasure Island.” In later years he was a pilot at Auckland. He died at Gisborne in 1914.

William Wilkinson Smith (born in Dublin in 1839) took up shepherding on H. S. Tiffen's station (Hawke's Bay) in 1862. He went off to Gabriel's Gully in 1863, but, a year later, leased a small property at Te Arai. He was wounded at the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika when a squad under Captain Wilson was nearly cut off, and he took part in the fighting against the Te Kooti rebels. With R. Thelwall he acquired Waitaria in 1869, and, three years later, bought out his partner. He died on 9 April, 1913.

Richard Sherratt (born near Melbourne in 1851) went to England with his parents when he was a child. In 1867 he came out to New Zealand. He was taught stock work in Canterbury and the Waikato, and, in 1872, joined G. B. Morris and E. Robson in leasing a Tolaga Bay property. In the 1880's he managed the East Coast Land Settlement Co.'s properties, and, in the 1890's, looked after the Poverty Bay interests of the Assets Realisation Board. He bought Mangatoetoe in 1899, and took up his residence at Swarthmoor in 1918. For several terms he sat on Cook County Council. He died on 13 December, 1938.

Alexander McKenzie (born at Strathpeffer, near Inverness, in 1834) landed at Wellington in 1857, spent three years at shepherding, and then joined a Wellington firm engaged in shipping sheep to the South Island. He was overseer of Woodlands (Hawke's Bay) for some years prior to taking up Te Harotu at Mohaka. In 1875 he bought Seaforth (Ormond), and became a successful stud sheep breeder. He died on 10 June, 1907.

William Kenway (born near Birmingham) was one of the first settlers in the Waimata district (1883). His brothers Philip, Frank and Howard came out from England to join him. Their earliest neighbours included D. McNair, S. C. Caulton, E. Richardson (who sold out to his son, W. F. Richardson), V. S. Lardelli, J. Partridge and W. E. Akroyd. He spent some years in Western Australia before settling at Broadstairs (Kent), where he died on 23 November, 1910.

Samuel L. Clarke (lessee of the Waerenga-a-Hika mission station property in 1868) was first chairman of the Tauranga Highways Board (1872). Hanging in the Gisborne Borough Chambers is a picture, in page 325 water colours, of Early Gisborne which he executed in 1869. The donor was a son (Frederick S. Clarke, of Kenya).

William Cooper (born at Bradford in 1845) came out to Wellington with his parents in 1856. He learned stock work in the Wairarapa. Settling in Poverty Bay in 1874, he was a heavy sufferer on account of the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank. In 1896 he claimed that he had sunk £10,000 in the search for oil in Poverty Bay. He died on 6 May, 1905.

Christopher John Parker (born in County Kerry in 1840) migrated to Victoria in 1853. Four years later he settled in the Wanganui district, where he became a farmer. He was chairman of Wanganui County Council for eight years. In 1892 he bought Emerald Hills (8,500 acres) at Te Arai. He died in January, 1924.

David Kirkpatrick (born in Dumfriesshire in 1862) came out to New Zealand in 1883, and obtained a position on Opou as a shepherd. In 1885 he became manager of Pouparae. He afterwards established a very successful stud sheep farm at Patutahi. He died in July, 1943.