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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, September 1978

The Ungentle Shepherds

The Ungentle Shepherds

(Being the Tale of the Untimely Rift between Nelson and the Wairau).

The unfortunate traveller, leaving Nelson, has no sooner negotiated the Wangamoas and crested the Rai Saddle before he is confronted by a huge crimson hoarding on the roadside bidding him welcome to the Province of Marlborough!!

It seems so little time since he left Nelson and the distance travelled so short that he is surprised, perhaps confused even, to find Marlborough so close. If he is puzzled enough to make enquiries as to why the boundary should be so close to Nelson, he finds that he has stumbled on an old forgotten grievance once very important to both Marlborough and Nelson.

The grievance was whether the Wairau should govern itstelf or whether it should continue as part of the province of Nelson which, at that time comprised the top third of the South Island. According to the Wakefields, the Wairau had always been considered a part of Nelson from the beginning of the settlement. They had Blenkinsop's gun to prove it. The imbroglio at the Wairau in 1843, and the subsequent rebukes from the Governor of New Zealand and his officials on their hasty and intemperate action stung the New Zealand Company, and, sulkily, they decided they didn't want the Wairau. It was not until 1847 that Sir George Grey, deciding that it was good land and should be used for farming, bought it again from the Maori owners and threw it open for settlement.

True, some of the land-hungry Nelsonians had already nibbled at the outer edges of this huge area, as it seemed to them ideal for sheep farms. Morse and Cooper were already squatting with their flocks at Tophouse by November 1846 and a few months later had over a thousand sheep there. Weld, of course, had previously regularised his position by leasing Flaxbourne from the Maori owners.

By March 1848 the distribution of rural land in the Wairau had begun and the landowners who had waited six years for the rural page 36land they had paid for in 1841 or 1842 soon selected their chosen areas, although not a little nettled by the horde of newcomers who also pushed in to buy. Some of the newcomers became a little nettled too, and in February 1849, presented a memorial to the New Zealand Company "against the claims of the R.O.P.'s (Resident Original Purchasers) to a prior right of depasturising stock over all the waste lands of the province of New Munster contiguous to Nelson." These were our old friends Edward W. Stafford, H. Bed-borough, Thomas Renwick, John Tinline and Charles Elliott.

However, all were eventually accommodated and soon they settled down amicably together to raise their flocks and to dream of the wealth to come.

Not all the land was considered ideal sheep country. At the lower end of the Wairau among swamps and streams an agricultural settlement grew up with farmers and dairymen on smaller plots. Alfred Fell and Seymour sold their land in small blocks and soon a little town grew up as well—the Beaver—they called it—but it grew and prospered and soon had a boat traffic of its own with the boats coming up the Omaka as far as Blenheim itself.

The big run owners looked askance at this boat traffic as they had all received sections at the new port of Picton and pooh-poohed the boat traffic at the Beaver. But the small farmers increased until by 1855 the population of the Wairau was 627 with only 49 of them" pastoralists sitting on their half million acres.

Both parties soon found a common grievance against Nelson—they were entirely neglected, or almost so, by the Provincial Government; there were few roads and these were mostly impassable in winter; they had no police to protect them from the rowdy elements at such places as the hotel at the Boulder Bank; they had no schools, post office or government officials of any kind. They felt very hardly done by.

In fairness to the Provincial Government, they considered the settlement at the Beaver a temporary measure until the port of Picton should be opened and had no desire to waste money on such an ephemeral enterprise.

The big landowners, now settled down into one big happy band of brothers, felt these little grievances also, but to their dismay they were suddenly confronted by a new and menacing situation they had never even envisaged. From the beginning of the settlement of Nelson these Original Resident Property Owners had banded together to protect their own interests. Together with the newer sheepowners they were the most wealthy and influential party in the Colony and were consulted by Sir George Grey on all occasions. As Judge Broad remarks, "This party which was long known as the 'Nelson Supper Party' became the dominant party in the Nelson Settlement. The Governor made all appointments by their advice, they acquired control of the only newspaper in the place; the land regulations were made to suit them; the runs were divided amongst them."

In 1856 on the resignation of Stafford from the superintendency page 37of Nelson to become Premier of New Zealand, they confidently put forward another of their number—Dr Monro—as their candidate. To their great consternation he was defeated by the Radical candidate —John Perry Robinson—"a highly worthy and intelligent mechanic!"

The new Superintendent soon showed the station owners that he had ideas of his own on land and introduced legislation—the Waste Lands Bill—on 27 March, 1857. This envisaged changes in the purchase and leasehold of land to the detriment of the station owners who were quick to react. Dr Renwick, the owner of the Delta Station and the founder of Renwicktown was intensely annoyed and threatened separation from Nelson. However, the Pastoralists were still in the majority in the Provincial Council and defeated the Bill so all was well for the present.

But the idea of separation had now become established and in May 1857, at a meeting at John Godfrey's Wairau Hotel (The Sheepskin Tavern) the subject was put forward before an enthusiastic audience and a separation committee was elected. "The boundary of their new county was to lie east of the Pelorus River thence along the watershed of the main dividing range to the southern limits of the province." At a further meeting the people voted 30 to 11 in favour of separation.

In August 1857 the Wairau Separationists launched their Manifesto and listed their grievances in a letter to the Nelson Examiner headed by the following lines:—

"Trust not for freedom to the Franks,
They have a king who buys and sells.
In native swords and native ranks
The only hope of courage dwells."

The letter was signed by Farmer Woolley who expressed his deep resentment at the cavalier treatment afforded the Wairau settlers by the Nelson Provincial Council. One of his main complaints was that all the money received from land sale in the Wairau found its way into the coffers of the Nelson Provincial Council where it stayed. The "king" in the poem probably referred to Edward William Stafford, the fiirst Superintendent of Nelson and later Premier of New Zealand.

On 15 August the Examiner published a letter written in reply to Farmer Woolley:

The Editor,


Your late despatches from the Wairau are really alarming; his Honour will have to exercise all the diplomatic tact and talent for which he is conspicuous to avoid internecine war.

Goodness gracious me! How could such muffs as we are contend in mortal strife against those doughty mountaineers with their long beards and still longer stockwhips. We should get all the kicks and they all the halfpence.

page 38

If these ungentle shepherds would curb their impatience for a few months they would find that our working-men's Superintendent would redress all the grievances and wrongs they complain of. Not only from a sense of duty but also from a wish to show the enlightened public that as a legislator and administrator he is far suerior to his predecessor, the Premier of New Zealand. For my part, sir, I would accede to anything and concede everything rather than rush into such a war which will convulse the Southern Hemisphere and frighten the whales from our sea coasts.

I am, etc.

Fred Funky.

As one would expect the letter had no obvious effect on the Wairau Separationists who on 22 August, 1857, presented their memorial for Separation to the Governor, Thomas Gore Browne, C.B., and to the House of the General Assembly. According to this document 162,000 acres in the Wairau had been sold in the previous three years for approximately 64,000 pounds (65,000 ha for $128,000) which had been swallowed up by the Nelson Provincial Council while the expenditure on the Wairau for that time amounted to three hundred pounds ($600). They had no magistrate, government officials, schools or clergymen, in spite of the fact that the district now had a population of 1,500, stock figures of 1,000 horses, 7,000 horned cattle, 35,000 sheep and an annual wool cheque of 50,000 pounds ($100,000).

Nelson had sharked all and still cried, "give, give." All alike the Nelson Governments had stretched out their rapacious hands and seized their land funds. As Farmer Woolley had said, "Let us not trust Nelson for our rights and privileges, in ourselves lies the only hope of justice."

To add to this emotional outburst he had written another poem. Only part is reproduced here. The full poem is in the 1857 Examiner.

Poem in Reply Fred Funky entitled How to Use a Stockwhip
Awake you longbeards, with your whips
Trounce well these Nelson snobs and snips,
Your halfpence you may certain feel
That they will try their best to steal.
Trust not this would-be Nelson head
Cracked up by Master Funky Fred,
For when in office like the rest
He for the town will do his best.
And you ungentle shepherds will
page 39 Find his hand dipped in your till.
If you thus let yourself be tricked
You richly merit to be kicked.
But only use your stockwhips well
Another tale you then may tell.
Are we to lose our thousands thus
And when we do make some slight fuss
Yield to such a barefaced monkey
As this well known friend, Fred Funky?

Meanwhile the Memorial had been presented solemnly to the General Assembly among whose members were to be found our old friends the pastoralists—Messrs Stafford, Clifford, Monro, Weld and others who received it just as solemnly. They laid their plans beforehand and the "New Provinces Act" was passed giving districts the right to break away from their old provincial districts and to form new provinces. Petitions were received at once for the creation of three new provinces—Hawkes Bay, Murihiku (the name chosen for Southland) and the Wairau. There were of course certain provisions to be met before any district could be considered eligible for speration. There had to be a certain area of land, sufficient population and a stipulated number of residents entitled to vote on the issue before the Assembly could consider the request. By 1859 the Wairau separationists had all these and the Assembly could go ahead.

But wait. Someone had inserted a clause in the new Bill which would have made the whole of the voters in the Wairau a laughing stock, and negated their efforts completely. The offending clause read: "No point of the boundary line of any such district shall be within sixty miles, measured in a "right" line, of the capital town of any province already or hereinafter established." But this was ridiculous. Sixty miles east of Nelson in a straight line would put the nearest boundary of the Wairau beyond Blenheim. Possibly in Cook Strait itself. The clerks drafting the new law were told in no uncertain terms that "This would not do!" and scuttled away in fright, displaying an alacrity seldom seen since in the Civil Service. They returned smartly with the solution—a special provision to apply to the Nelson Region, and to be inserted in the New Provinces Act. The sixty mile limit was not to apply to Nelson and in its place was inserted the clause: "provided that the condition shall not apply to any boundary line dividing territory drained by rivers falling into Blind Bay." This blatant piece of political chicanery by the pastoral-politicians meant in reality that any piddling little stream flowing into Tasman Bay could decide that boundary line. The little stream at The Glen, perhaps, or even Oldham Creek at Wakapuakal But displaying slighty greater magnanimity the sheepfarmers picked out the pretty little stream which flows down Collins Valley to join the Whangamoa River before falling into the sea. As it rose near the Rai Saddle this became the boundary of Nelson and Marlborough, the new name for the Wairau. Hence the notice there. Perhaps the page 40politicians had been too ashamed too come any closer to Nelson. It might have been embarrassing to have been seen from the streets of Nelson City by the jeering Nelsonians while they were still standing in Marlborough. Some of them like the Richardsons, the Renwicks and the Monros could have overlooked their own backyards.

People in Nelson laughed as they knew why so much land had been included in the new province. They evidently didn't have enough people in Marlborough to meet the provincial requirements. Alfred Saunders, always a pungent critic, suggested that in order to get the required numbers, they must have gone beyond the ranks of those living there and included the votes of those who had long since forsaken the pastoral delights of the Wairau for the even fairer meads of the Elysian Fields. But he was sternly rebuked by William Adams, the Wairau spokesman and prospective Superintendent of the new province. There were 180 men's names, all voters, on the petition, and they were all alive and kicking, as Saunders could see if he chose to come over to the Wairau. As for Saunder's other criticism, that it had been an act of discourtesy to apply for separation without notifying Nelson, Adams stated that he had given a copy of the Memorial to the Superintendent of Nelson when he passed through on his way to the Assembly. Apparently the Adams had not built their mansion at Langleydale at this time, for when the Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, rode over there to see Adams and discuss the separation of the Province only one spare bedroom was available for him in the house. His retinue was accommodated in a haystack, luckily with no ill-effects as none of them smoked in bed. It would have been a pitiful sight if they had, and Wellington would have cringed to see the Governor returning with a bedraggled retinue in singed nightshirts.

Thus Marlborough became a separate province in October 1859 and was left to its own devices.

Other districts might have been tempted to follow their example, the Amuri, for instance, but lack of population prevented this. It was not until 1876 that the Amuri managed to break away to become part of Canterbury, but strangely enough under the present electoral changes they have now again returned to the Marlborough district. Even though they removed their moneybags from the clutches of the Nelsonians, their souls still remain in our keeping, as they are even yet part of the Anglican Diocese of Nelson.

As a last word, and in fairness to Edward Stafford, it must be said that he had become an ardent centralist and welcomed the breakaway of Marlborough and any other new provinces as the more provinces there were, the less powerful they would become politically. He looked forward to the time when they would become mere municipalities rather than provinces and confine themselves to local affairs.