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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Sheep and Cattle-Stealing

Sheep and Cattle-Stealing.

The next subject was "To consider means for putting a stop to sheep and cattle-stealing. Compelling auctioneers to register all brands."

The Revising Committee's remarks on the subject were as follow:—"As it is generally supposed that sheep and cattle-stealing is still prevalent throughout the Colony, and that no feasible method has yet been found to put a stop to the practice, the attention of the Conference is again drawn to the matter. The subject will be introduced by a short paper prepared by Mr Russell, M.H.R., and Mr R. Foster, though the Revising Committee do not in any way bind themselves to support their suggestions."

Mr C. Pharazyn said the question was a very large one, but he was inclined to think from his own observation that the amount of stealing going on was considerably exaggerated. A good many people lost their stock by death and in other ways, and they immediately attributed their losses to theft. The general idea had been to establish vigilance committees to prevent stealing, but he questioned whether that would be desirable in a community which was supposed to have a Government to protect life and property. Besides, vigilance committees were only resorted to in extreme cases where they had not an efficient police force. To his mind that was not the direction in which the most good could be done. There was a necessity for smarter detectives in the country districts, men to whom settlers could apply with some confidence that proper steps would be taken to recover stolen animals. There was a suggestion that auctioneers should be required to register all brands. That did not appear to him to be a suggestion that would work at all well: auctioneers would say it was simply impossible, and unless it could be done efficiently it was no use attempting it. He moved—"That with a view to putting a stop to the practice of sheep and cattle-stealing, this Conference do its utmost to recommend some feasible scheme for the suppression of the same."

The motion was seconded by Mr J. Barnett.

Mr Buchanan remarked that session after session the question of sheep-stealing had cropped up, and various attempts had been made to minimise or if possible to prevent it. In his opinion the complaints chiefly came from the South Island, and they must look to that quarter for the chief information on the subject. What lay at the root of any system of registration was the identification of the sheep, and that had not been touched upon in the first of the papers just read. As to the second paper, a system of ear-marking was proposed, but he was of opinion that under that system in a good many cases there would be no ear left to mark. The only thing of a practical character left for them to do was to recommend the Government to pay particular attention to this subject, and to appoint men whose duty would be practically to act as detectives in the various districts.

Mr Pattullo thought the Government should appoint men to attend sales and take notice of the sheep sold, and if there were any suspicious circumstances, to report them. They also wanted a better system of earmarking.

Mr M. C. Orbell moved, "That, in view of the large revenue derived from the taxation of stock, the Government be requested to appoint a competent person in such centres as may be considered necessary for the purpose of detecting any sheep or cattle-stealing."

Mr Barnett thought it was very important that flock-owners should have a knowledge of their neighbours' brands, and that a book of brands should be printed and sold at a moderate cost.

Mr Pharazyn's resolution was then put and carried.

Mr Seon seconded Mr Orbell's resolution.

Mr F. Bradey thought the appointment of an inspector in every district would fall very heavily upon the ratepayer.

Mr Chaytor said the only practicable scheme was to begin with the appointment of one efficient inspector to be under the orders of the Stock Department. Local work might be done by the sheep-owners subscribing the necessary funds to set a competent detective to work.

Mr Cliff thought the offence of sheep-stealing would very soon be put an end to if every agricultural society was to offer a large reward for the conviction of offenders.

Mr Stuckey said it was generally acknowledged they paid a very heavy sheep rate, which was not all spent in stock inspection and such like, and he thought a reward for the conviction of sheep-stealers might be offered out of the surplus. He thought clause 53 of the Stock Act would help them, as it prohibited people driving sheep without a permit.

Mr J. G. Wilson suggested as an addition to the resolution, "That a pamphlet be published by the registrar of each sheep district of all brands and earmarks on his register, such pamphlet to be procurable at a small cost at the various post offices in the Colony."

Mr Orbell agreed to this being embodied in his motion.

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Mr McLaren thought if juries were more ready to convict persons charged with sheep-stealing that would do more to put down the practice than anything else.

Mr Grigg quoted two cases of sheep stealing where there had been miscarriages of justice, and said he thought it would be a good thing if in all such trials the venue of the Court could be changed to some district in which the offenders would be tried by people having knowledge of the subject.

Mr Buchanan pointed out to Mr Stuckey that clause 53 of the Stock Act was not operative unless the residents of a district petitioned for it to be put into force.

Mr C. Pharazyn remarked that they had plenty of laws to deal with the matter, and it was simply a question of how best to carry them out. He proposed as an amendment, "That in the opinion of the Conference, the prevalence of sheep and cattle-stealing in various parts of the Colony is so serious that the special attention of the Minister for Justice be called to the urgent necessity for taking immediate steps to detect and punish the offenders; also that a suggestion be made to the Stock Department to offer rewards for the conviction of sheep and cattle-stealers out of the funds raised by the special tax on sheep."

The amendment was seconded by Mr Cliff.

Ultimately the amendment and Mr Orbell's resolution were taken as one and adopted, and Mr Wilson's addition to Mr Orbell's resolution was carried as a separate motion.

Mr Hare proposed that a system of sale notes bearing brands, as recommended by Mr Russell, be adopted.

Mr Dunlop seconded the motion, which was lost on the voices.

Mr Hare also moved an addition to clause 52 of the Stock Act, by which anyone travelling sheep would be required to show from whom they came.

The amendment, however, was not seconded, and consequently lapsed.