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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989

An Englishman's view of Rural Nelson

An Englishman's view of Rural Nelson

page 42

Arthur Clayden was a middleclass Englishman who had a great deal of sympathy for the farm labourers in the England of the 1870s.

In emigration schemes, he saw a way in which they could have a better life for themselves and their families. His connection with New Zealand began in 1872, when Brogdens were recruiting men to work on railway contracts in New Zealand. They were offering free transport and guaranteed work as navvies. Later, Clayden spent some time in New Zealand and wrote reports, which he sent to the Daily Mail and to the Labourers Chronicle. These were later published in a small booklet.(The England of the Pacific or New Zealand as an England Middle class Emigration Field).

Extracts from the Daily News 19 April 1873

Nelson is a highly picturesque region dotted over with every variety of wooden house. There is little pretension to order anywhere and enterprise appears to be unknown. Persons in easy circumstances own or occupy numerous pretty villas all along the mountain sides and valleys at their feet and sundry trades occupying shops in rough unrefined streets minister to their wants. The Emigration Barracks occupy a good site in Waimea Road, this shows the need for more workers.

Poverty appears to be unknown, a lot of fellows carting mould etc. received eight shillings for a day of eight hours work and actually struck the other day for an extra shilling- I am afraid their demand had to be gratified– the utter unreasonableness is at once seen when the price of provisions is remembered. (similar to that in England.)

I spent a few days at a 'bush' farm some twenty miles from Nelson City, the railway of a very elementary character took me about 17 miles of the distance and the good farmer conveyed me the other 3 in his primitive vehicle. It is a most romantic region. The house is a four-roomed shanty in a valley surrounded by lofty hills.

The farm consisted of about 1000 acres, we rode over it on horseback. After an hour's ride we came to a neighbouring farm-house where there were wild cherries.

Labourers on farms are very independent, they have their own homes and a small farm, a cow or two, a few sheep and three or four acres of land. They have plenty of food and of work on neighbouring farms.

Life is very material – all effort is spent in subjugating Nature, in clearing bush and so on. It is very different from England – there is need to spend time looking for stock for example I was struck by the farmer's appearance of being overworked and dreadfully poor. Their hard horny, shapeless fists betoken manual toil such as the English farmer is a total stranger to. It is the same with with the female portion of the family, due to the dearness and scarcity of labour. Milking, buttermaking and often worse fall to the lot of the wife and daughter, there are no servants. When asked if she did not find such a life dull the lady of the house replied,' Dull? I don't have time to think of such a thing'.

The ride by rail from Nelson to this bush region revealed a charming succession of seemingly prosperous farm homesteads. Richmond seems specially prosperous. Farms there had more of an English finish about them. Here there is plenty of work for farm labourers.