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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 5, 2002

Pioneer Farming in the Takaka Valley

Pioneer Farming in the Takaka Valley

The first European settlement in the Takaka Valley was near the coast but lawyer and explorer, WTL Travers, reported in 1857 that 'enterprising and hardworking settlers have already penetrated the recesses of its forests and he predicted that the valley's fertility and valuable timber would see it speedily occupied. 3

Those early settlers of today's East and West Takaka (at that time known as Upper Takaka) would have included the Sparrow, Handcock and Barnett families but little impression had been made on the bush when the Dixons arrived in 1863. Halket Millar remembered it, a few years later, as 'a grand sight from the surrounding hills, with tiny clearings dotted here and there, each with a small shack in the middle of it'. Muddy tracks were the only means of access to neighbouring farms, the stores at the Junction (Takaka township), or the port at Waitapu, where everything arrived from Nelson.

Millar relates how the young John F Rose arrived from Upper Moutere looking for timber to mill and found an excellent site beside the Takaka River. 'He looked about for the owners of the land and found a man named Dixon. He was a gold digger for preference and was not making any other use of the land. Asked if he would sell sufficient of his holding to give space for a mill and a stack of timber, Dixon was agreeable and sold the freehold of the site for £50'. 4

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It has not been possible to verify when Bartlett and Rose established the West Road sawmill, but it was probably in the late 1860s or early 1870s. They were clearly well established by 1875, when they were referred to in a newspaper account of a drowning. 5 The mill was not on the Dixon site first selected by Rose, but near the present Roman Catholic cemetery. Dixon held a water right and, like some of the other settlers, may have fossicked in the Anatoki and other rivers, but it is unlikely that he was ever a serious miner.

It was essentially subsistence farming at first, as bush was cleared and seeds broadcast amongst the stumps and fallen timber. Settlers hunted the numerous kaka and kereru, grew their own fruit and vegetables and some wheat, which was ground at Lewis Bros' mill. Poultry were kept, those who had a few cows milked them by hand and churned butter which, with the eggs, could be sold or bartered at the store when there was a surplus. By 1867 Dixon and Bromiley had a small flock of several hundred sheep and there were at least nine other flocks in the valley at the time. 6 Several farmers ran cattle, but getting them to market was a problem.

Dixon was probably unsuited physically and temperamentally to the heavy manual work of developing a bush farm. He had had little initial capital and faced mortgage payments and mounting debts to Page's store and the Road Board. With a rapidly growing family of small children – eight born in ten years – to support, he gave up farming for teaching in 1874.