The Industrious Heart A History of New Plymouth / 3


The mystery-laden faith in the future was, for the men and women who landed at Ngamotu in the first six ships-and for those who came after-a faith in the land. They had sailed half a year before, from an England beset with troubles of an urban industrial revolution and a landlord-governed rural society where it was virtually impossible for a man to possess his own bit of dirt unless he had been born to it.
And here, in the shadow of Egmont, was land aplenty; room for every variety of human scope, talent and skill. No matter whether it might be barren or fertile; friendly or hostile. The mere knowledge that there was land gave men a new kind of feeling. To occupy it would need strength courage to tackle unseen and perhaps unknown enemies and stamina to survive.
The land was a treasure house. But first it had to be conquered. Not by force of arms-not yet, anyway-but by the muscle and skill of men's (and women's and children's arms. There was bush and forest to be cleared before the first grain could be planted or the first sheep or cattle could be grazed; there were roads to be cut and bridges to be built-bridges strong enough to bear an ox-train of logs for houses for the families which would grow and carry on the good work. Men who had dreamed, not of an earthly paradise but at least of a better life than they had known, discovered that they were no longer slaves to their landlords in the west of England; they were slaves only to the land and what it could provide for them.
And gradually the frontiers of the forest were pushed back. Many of them had bought their land, sight unseen, before they had sailed. The price of the land included the fare out to New Zealand, and for many settlers this represented the total of their capital. Some came as labourers, with apparently no prospect of owning land, to find that this was by no means impossible. The first concern of all was to clear enough land to supplement the meagre stocks of food which had survived the voyage out, until the establishment of stores and supply depots were stocked with goods brought out by subsequent ships; and to make the acquaintance of the 'natives'. Typical of hundreds of settlers was William Batten, who arrived with his wife and six children on the Essex in 1843. He had left his job as a shepherd in Hampshire to find a new life. Writing to his former employer, 'John Clark Esquire', five years after his arrival, he painted a picture of the country and the times.
The greatest produce of the land hitherto has been wheat* of which we have very excellent sorts. The finest wheat that can be sold is £6 ($12) per load; barley six shillings (60c) a bushel; oats 6s and potatoes £2 ($4) a ton. The settlement has been very low, and the settlers in general badly off, but even then the labouring classes were much better off than the labouring classes in England. But now, thank God, we have got the boot on the other leg and every settler has plenty; in none but the miserable huts of drunkards can the inmates say they ever knew a banyan day. It is just five years, two months and ten days since I landed here, and have been just three years and twenty days independent on my own free land .I have a large two-storey house with eight rooms, convenient for every purpose . Neither myself nor one of my family have ever known a day's illness since we left England. I am now 48 years two months and a few days old. I appear twenty years younger to look on than when I left.' Of the Maoris, Batten wrote: ' it is surprising how the minds of the most savage tribes are now beginning to be very humble. Those about us are very civilised and honest. They work just enough land to keep them; it is not one acre out of a million. There wants now, in this district of Taranakie, 100,000 emigrants. People starving in England and millions of acres of rich, willing land here useless-such easy working land that any man can throw out twenty sacks of potatoes in one day. 'All cattle here are in good condition. Cattle here increase fast, as no calves are killed, and shiploads arrive from New Holland (Australia). All that will, may have cows and at the cattle station there are about 300. Here is horses, but the work is mostly done by oxen. Money has for a long time been scarce, and most of the business is done by barter.
'Here is no manner of wild beasts, no serpent or reptile no manner of vermin but rats, no thorns or thistles. You might travel barefoot, lie down and sleep in any part of the wilderness without the least danger.

Among the thousands of birds I have never seen one like I saw in England, except hawks. The small green parrot, with red heads, are the only birds that hurt the corn. ' Batten concluded: 'This settlement of New Plymouth has been for some time like an infant without a friend; it seemed like no man's land, belonging to neither government nor company; but since his Excellency Governor Grey has visited, and seeing it as a paradise, and a good corn and cattle district, although no harbour for shipping, he is very desirous to encourage and put it forward and, with good industry of the settlers, this will be the best settlement in the south.' In 1854 Benjamin Wells, farmer, artist and historian wrote to his mother in England urging her to 'come out and lay your bones here'. He described his own farm house built at Te Henui 'with a pig in the sty, a cow in the field, wheat in the barn, potatoes in the garden, mead in the cellar, honey in the comb, a loafin the oven, a ham in the chimney, a side of bacon on the rack, and the grace of God in our hearts .. .' (Wells was a Primitive Methodist teacher and lay preacher). He described conditions outside the settlement everything has to be carried on the back, for there are no roads, no bridges-you travel in Indian file along a narrow path about two feet wide, worn by the natives' feet, for miles and miles, through fern, sedge, rushes, grass or whatever may be the natural produce of the district. You have also to cross rivers up to your neck, to wade through swamps, climb up precipices, and sometimes to wade through the verge of the sea where a cape or promontory runs out to a low water mark . . .' In the early years the settlers had hoped to follow the mixed farming methods of the West Country from which they originated, and they concentrated on grain as one of the main crops. This was necessary to provide the settlement with flour until it could be obtained from other sources. The first flour mill, the Alpha, was built by Samuel Oliver and began operation in 1843. It was erected on a section jointly owned by himself and Richard Rundle, on the Huatoki River about 100 metres upstream of the present Leach Street viaduct. A second mill was built by White and illingham, also on the Huatoki about 50 metres downstream from Mill Road bridge. The New Zealand Spectator, Wellington, on April 12, 1844, described these mills in great detail. They were turned by 8m water-driven breast wheels. Oliver's mill 'which is furnished with one pair of stones, is remarkable in many respects. The whole of the machinery was made in the settlement and under his direction, and in part by himself.' William King Hulke, a Dutchman whose family left the Netherlands to scape persecution by the Spanish, was 26 when he came to New Plymouth in 1845. Five years previously he had landed at Port Nicholson and walked to Wanganui where he founded a general store. Almost immediately he went to Sydney where he bought cattle which he farmed at Miramar, supplying that town with milk. He also built a flour mill at Wanganui, remaining there until it was destroyed by fire. In New Plymouth he built the Union Flour Mill, worked by water- wheel. He bought land at Bell Block which he farmed until the land wars, when he moved into New Plymouth to establish another flour mill, steam-driven, and also a nursery garden. In 1876 he returned to Bell Block and the following year became the first breeder of Jersey cattle. According to a memorial stone on his grave in St Luke's cemetery, Bell Block, he 'established the breed in the province when he led the first Jersey cow, Jenny, from Marton to Bell Block, a distance of 130 miles'. Other flour mills were built in and near New Plymouth, and although the Sentry Hill mill continued to be worked until 1918, it had long been apparent that Taranaki's climate was not ideal for cereal crop ripening, and farmers turned their attention to animal husbandry.
Every farmer naturally possessed as soon as possible at least a couple f'house cows', if only to supply his family with milk, butter and cheese. Indeed, hand-milked, hand-skimmed and hand-churned by the house- wife, the surplus butter provided for several years the sole currency with which many farmers were able to barter food and clothing from storekeepers in the town. A few enterprising merchants and storekeepers began salting down the surplus butter and developed a market in other parts of the country. They later exported it to Australia in small barrels. Deterioration of relations between Maori and Pakeha culminated in open warfare in 1860 and farmers were forced from their land. Most of the women and children were sent to Nelson while the men joined the military forces. For more than two years the only farming done was under armed protection, with the farmers returning at nightfall to the security of the many military forts. Soon even this was impossible. Many farms were burnt and plundered and overgrown, and when peace came it was necessary to start all over again. One of the children sent with his mother to Nelson was four-year-old Newton King.

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