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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 6, 1995

Pioneers of Aniseed Valley

Pioneers of Aniseed Valley

In this small book Ruth Whittaker pieces together the history of the Roding or Aniseed Valley, to the east of the Barnicoat Range near Richmond. As a newcomer, who lived in the valley for seven years from 1984, she would have had a difficult task trying to sort out the interrelationship of the various settler families.

The valley, named from the former abundance of the native aniseed plant, is typical of many in the Nelson back country with steep sided hills, mantled by thin infertile soils, and narrow stony river flats. Initially the valley was taken up by farming families such as Busch and Stratford who purchased land from the Nelson Provincial Government. These early families were joined by others, notably the Johnston and Murcott families and two largely absentee owners, Thomas Hacket and Edward Carthew. Ruth Whittaker describes the pioneering life endured by these families and the efforts made to clear and farm the land, construct roads and educate the children of the valley.

As well as farming, there were other opportunities for the settlers to improve their lot, such as sawmilling, tanning using beech bark, and mining. However, the search for copper and chromite in the nearby Mineral Belt cost more money than was ever got out of the ground. Nevertheless the prospecting and construction of tracks to the various mines, as well as mining itself, provided employment, albeit only temporary, for many of the residents in the valley. Pioneers of Aniseed Valley also documents the many social changes that have occurred. The decline of pastoral farming, because of poor soils and the invasion of gorse, and its replacement by plantations of Pinus radiata being the most obvious. In addition the construction of the Roding dam, an important component in Nelson's water supply, effectively closed the upper valley, allowing many of the hills burnt for farming or mining to regenerate into native forest. The final, and continuing, phase of settlement was the subdivision of the lower valley into life-style blocks. Many of the inhabitants of Aniseed Valley now derive their income from working in Richmond or Nelson.

The book would have been improved by the addition of a map of the whole valley and an index. Nevertheless it more than adequately records the settlement of one of the many valleys in the Nelson hinterland, as well as providing an example of the major social changes in country life that have occurred since the bush was cleared at the onset of European settlement.

Mike Johnston