Timaru Courier 15 April 2010 pg8
Teamsters had their hands full 15 April 2010 pg8 by John Button
For a long time horses were the prime sources of power on
South Canterbury farms and in Timaru. As far back as the 1860s a census counted
6049 horses in Canterbury. They pulled fire engines and early ambulances, carted
bricks, timber and beer, and pulled wool, grain and trams, as well as normal
farm work. And when their owners passed on, the horses pulled their hearses. One
writer describes the part teamsters and their teams played in the harvest:
‘‘Another job I had, during the harvest, was helping with the horses used in the
binders. These horses worked a two and a half hour shift — four changes in a day
— and my job was to take out the fresh team and then take the others back to the
stable and feed and water them. With short shifts like that the teamsters were
able to keep them stepping out freely all day. There were two binders operating
— three horses to each — and with some of the paddocks well over a mile from the
homestead I was kept busy. However, I enjoyed the job — anything was better than
weeding bloody carrots and onions. With 600 acres in crop the harvesting was a
big job. In those days most of the grain was threshed out of the stook, although
it was necessary to build a few ‘butts’ a week or two before the mill arrived.
Stook threshing could not start until all traces of dew had disappeared, and
with these butts to start on in the morning the mill could get going in good
time. With half a dozen cockies all screaming for the mill at the same time,
every hour counted. The oats, which were mainly for chaff, were always stacked.
All told, the stooking, stacking, and the carting to the mill involved a lot of
hard yakka, and a lot of men. With two binders operating, four stookers were
necessary — six men all told. Seven if you counted me. The stacking gang
required five: two dray men, one forker in the paddock, a stacker and a ‘crow’.
When threshing out of the stook, the farmer had to provide four drays and a man
to each dray. ‘This, of course, was well before the days of the header
harvester. The cartage, to the grain shed and then on to the railway station,
was all done by horse and dray and this in itself was quite an undertaking. When
carting to the station we used three drays, each with three horses, and the
regulation load was thirty 200lb sacks – the old three stripers. There were
somewhere around 5000 sacks all told, and the carting to the station alone took
a good two weeks.’’ He provides a full and interesting account of a teamster’s
day: ‘‘The teamster’s job starts at 5.30 in the morning when he gets the horses
in and feeds them; from then until breakfast at seven he has to groom and
harness his team, get their midday feed bags ready, fill up the chaff bin and if
time permits clean the stable. The rule was eight hours ‘tight chains’ (the
horses had to be actually working for eight hours) and with some of the paddocks
a mile or so away, it was necessary to be away from the stable by 7.30. As well
as the trip to the paddock the implements had to be oiled and greased and of
course the horses yoked up – all before eight o’clock. ‘‘Unless working close to
the stables, the horses had their midday feed on the job. They were simply
unyoked, given a drink from a handy dam (their only drink of the day) and fed
from nose bags. The bags, which held a kerosene tin of chaff, were attached to
the horses’ heads by a short strap or length of rope; the one tin of chaff
usually kept a horse chewing for the best part of the dinner hour. The teamsters
ate their own lunch alongside their horses. ‘‘Traditionally this was simply a
great bread and mutton sandwich – about two inches thick – and a bottle of cold
tea. With a bit of luck there might also be a slab of cake. With chains ‘tight’
again by one o’clock they worked until five, and it was then the best part of
5.30 before they were back in the stable again. By the time the horses were fed
and unharnessed and the men had washed off their layer of dust it was tea time.
‘‘However the teamster’s day was by no means over. The horses were fed three
times — three tins of chaff — before finally being turned out for the night at
about eight thirty to nine. During the winter months they were all covered. A 15
hour day, six days a week. Even on Sundays he had to be on the job, the horses
being fed morning and night. It was also a regular practice to give the stables
a thorough clean out on the Sunday morning. A six horse team eats roughly a ton
of chaff a week — and a ton of chaff makes a hell of a lot of dung. This was
usually barrowed out to a heap a chain or so from the stable and was quite a
job. Not many teamsters found time to go to church.’’
Prime movers: Clydesdale horses pull a cart loaded with shingle from a beach in a painting by W. Green. For a long time, horses were the main source of power on South Canterbury farms. Photo: South Canterbury Museum p. 1767
Otago Witness 24 December 1902, Page 19
Mr W. Greene tells us that the simple pastoral landscape is to me much more beautiful than our grander scenes; and, and to neglect the interpretation of that quieter beauty which is within the reach of everyone, and yet is seen by few. Mr Greene is an Australian born, and obtained his art education in Melbourne but he has spent most of his time and painted his best pictures in New Zealand. His home is in Timaru, where he leads a very busy life entirely devoted to art. His studio is a delightful and much sought after place, and he has a number of private pupils, besides being art master in the Timaru Girls' High School, the Technical Classes, etc., where he is much beloved by his pupils for his readiness to help them, and to explain their difficulties. These are days in which to be successful in any pursuit, art being no exception, a man needs to specialise, to focus, and concentrate his attention in one particular line, and bring all the forces of his nature to bear in that one direction, allowing all his other work to fall into a subordinate position, and it is to this fact, no doubt, that Mr Greene owes his rapid rise to the foremost position among New Zealand artists. In doing this, as he himself told us, he follows his natural bent, and the hours spent in the farm yard and in the harvest field, in the forge, the byre, and the stable, are no doubt as full of fascination for him as their result is full of charm to the real lover of art. He is also a true outdoor worker, and if the animals were eliminated from his pictures they would remain very pleasing and truthful landscapes, in which the flat stretch in the harvest field in the middle distance the reaper and binder at work on the crest of a slight elevation, the leading horse most admirably fore-shortened, and apparently on the point of walking out of the picture. In the distance a glint of blue sea, and a low hillside covered with shocks of corn, and on the right some realistic heads of golden grain waving in a light breeze, and as yet untouched by the knife. Over all the soft haze of an autumn sky full of moisture and light. The success of Mr Greene's work thus lies in the thoroughness and finish of every detail, and the conscientious interpretation of seemingly unimportant details, as shown in the touch of blossoming gorse in the picture, called Spring, and the clods of freshly turned earth under the feet of the plough horse, who moves through the cold, colourless stillness of a winter day with almost startling realism.
Auckland Weekly News 28 March 1934 p40
Timaru Courier Sept. 23, 2010 pg9
Anatomy of a 19th century estate by John Button
An interesting insight into one of the lesser known South
Canterbury stations, Waihao Downs Estate, comes, oddly enough, from the Special
Correspondent of the Irish Times. In 1890 he visited the station and reported
at some length. Extracts are: My host, John Douglas, gives one the appearance of
what a Highland chief ought to be – tall, firmly built, erect, every inch a man
. . . The house is large, but very cosy — rather of a peculiarly personal
architecture, having been built and added to by its former owner who,
undoubtedly, had nothing but the raw material, good stone, at hand to suit a
solid building, and as Mr Douglas said, ‘‘The man was no fancy builder’’. The
estate is close upon 11,000 acres of first rate land, made more prolific still
by the system of drainage works carried on under the genial proprietor’s
personal supervision. The property when purchased was partly under cultivation,
about 3000 acres; the improvements since have been on a very extensive scale,
including draining, fencing, road and bridge building. A considerable portion of
the best of the property being of a swampy nature, to cultivate it properly was
a matter of impossibility until rendered dry and accessible. The chief outlet
for drainage, which had hitherto been completely obstructed by a dense mass of
rocks, was obtained by blasting a channel through this rocky gorge. The
buildings of the home stead comprise a large kitchen and oven where the baking
for the whole station is done; dormitories for the employees, stables, lofts,
blacksmith’s, engineer’s, carpenter’s and wheelwright’s shops, implement sheds,
store and harness room, cowshed, slaughterhouse and wool shed. The garden and
shrubbery round the dwelling house are of considerable extent and well studded
with trees and bushes, among which some very fine hollies are prominent. The
garden supplies ample vegetables for both house and huts and is intersected by a
running stream, keeping it fresh during the hottest season, while the
greenhouse, although not a leading feature — utility being the chief aim of this
establishment, is well stocked with ornamental flowers. The bees are an
important item in the garden, there being about 20 American hives from which the
honey is extracted at pleasure without injuring the bees, besides half a dozen
boxes of the ordinary sort. The present season has been rather dry for
successful bee keeping; the previous one supplied over half a ton of pure honey.
Grapes grow and ripen here in the open air.
There is a seam of good coal, or rather lignite, on the property, but this has not as yet been properly utilised. On a neighbouring property, however, within a few miles, a coal pit has been opened, which supplies material of sufficiently good quality for steam raising and similar purposes. The sheep dip is situated on a creek about a mile from the homestead, and so constructed that it is selffilling and self emptying, the tank being made of concrete, the drying stages of corrugated iron, with suitable yards and paddocks for working this department. The sheep are dipped at the fall of the year. There is a large, elevated reservoir filled by never failing springs within 100 yards from the homestead, from which pipes convey the water to the dwellinghouse, men’s kitchen, lavatories, horse boxes, cow yards, slaughterhouse, engine room etc. When the property was bought in 1879, the carrying stock capacity was something like 8000 sheep. The station has since, off and on, carried 25,000 to 33,000 sheep, besides the acreage under cultivation. To make room for the annual increase a large number of fat sheep are yearly sold off, last year about 14,000 fat sheep being shipped for London and local markets. But until the distribution in the home country of New Zealand frozen mutton and other produce is placed on a sound, fair and honest footing, the returns to growers from property and improvements will not be so good as could reasonably be expected, the want of unanimity among growers and the tight compact of the middle men’s ring having hitherto been a barrier to this consummation.
It will be seen that the stock carrying capacity of this property has increased four fold, the results of the improvements effected by drainage and cultivation. The protecting of the crop from weather after being stacked is a point much neglected in the colony. A thatching machine made by Barnard and Lake, Essex, England, is used here and supplies thatch so rapidly as to nullify any excuse that might be offered for neglecting this matter. The machine is propelled by a crank handle driven by one man; the straw fed into the machine is straightened or pulled when being placed on the feeding band. Two or three men are required for this. Two needles lace the different handfuls of straw together, thus forming as it passes through the machine a straw web of any required length, and about three feet in width.
Highland chief: Waihao Downs Estate owner John Douglas, circa 1890, who was described as ‘‘tall, firmly built, erect, every inch a man’’.
Photo: South Canterbury Museum 2/300.261
Timaru Courier Sept. 30, 2010 pg8 Waihao Downs
Finest rations for station’s hard workers by John Button
In last week’s tale, we learned about one of the lesser-known
sheep runs in South Canterbury, Waihao Downs Estate, and how a scheme of
draining, fencing and road and bridge-building raised the 11,000-acre station’s
stock-carrying capacity from 8000 to more than 30,000 between 1879 and 1890.
This week, we continue an account of the station by a correspondent for The
Irish Times, who describes the workings of the station. The wool shed is of
a T shape, arranged for 18 shearers. The shearing board extends on one side the
whole length of the building. The T wing of the shed, where the wool press and
bins are located, built on a slope, has a large cellar underneath into which the dags and such of the wool as requires hand picking is passed through a hatch way
in the floor above. Several boys engaged at five or six shillings a week are
employed here during shearing time in picking and selecting this refuse and
doing other odd work, and the manipulation of these is finished almost
simultaneously with the shearing operations. The holding capacity of the shed is
about 1200 sheep. The sheep are counted from the shearers’ pens at the south end
of the shed into a race in front, which continues tunnel like into a yard. The
sheep in pens at the north end are counted into the same yard, which leads to
the branding race. By this arrangement much labour is saved, as well as chasing
and dogging sheep thus avoided. One notable feature, as regards the housing, is
the portable kitchens and dormitories, both on wheels, thus enabling them to be
shifted from one portion of the estate to another, at a moment’s notice, and
without delay or discomfort. Having the men’s camp placed in the centre of their
work, however distant that may be from the homestead, affords great facilities
for carrying on the work economically and with comfort to all concerned. I may
here mention that these kitchens are about 20 feet in length and 8 feet wide
inside measurement, with a door at each end. A suitable stove is placed at one
of the ends, but so as to allow a clear passage. A uality is rather curious,
especially when there are some 15 teams belonging to one camp. There are fully
110 horses engaged in carrying on the work of the station. The ploughs being
double furrow necessitate four horses in each plough team. The draught horses
live almost exclusively in the open air but in winter are protected during the
night by a canvas cover, lined with woollen felt, buckled at breast and round
the girth, and knit under the tail by a soft rope. The saddlery is kept in a
state of proper repair by contract, at per horse per annum at a cost of 10
The shearers are paid at the rate of 15 shillings per hundred and rations, which consist of six feeds a day, unlimited tea, and ‘‘smokes’’ at regulation times. The dietary scale on this station is more than liberal, each man being allowed as much as he can honestly consume, the only restriction being against waste in any shape or form. The victuals supplied are all of the very best quality, it being found false economy providing any other, as this would only lead to waste and discontent. For breakfast the men have chops, steak or stew, bread and tea. Porridge is also provided (Tuesday and Friday mornings) for those who prefer to indulge in this home proclivity. Dinner consists of soup, roast or boiled meat and vegetables, consisting of parsnips, carrots, cabbage and potatoes etc, according to the season; pudding three times a week, with an occasional fruit tart. Supper is made up of meat, potatoes, bread, sweet cake and tea. There is always lashings of tea, which is their chief beverage. Ye toilers and workers in Old Ireland, what think ye of that for daily rations?
The table, extending the full length on each side barring the space occupied by the stove, is sufficient to dine 18 men at a time. When required, a lean to roofed with calico affords dining space for as many more, and by dining in relays one cook easily manages and meets the requirements of 60 or more men. The dormitories are also set on wheels and are of similar dimensions – not quite as long as the portable kitchens, with treble tiers of bunks at each side, doors at one end, and movable hinged windows at both ends, thus giving air and light ad libertum. These at first sight might strike one as resembling large bathing machines. The huts are generally placed near to one of the water boxes, thus affording a convenient and ample supply for cooking and other domestic purposes, as well as for the teams, which are fed with oats and chaff from portable troughs, of size to feed teams of four horses each, carried for that purpose and located for the time being at a convenient distance from the different kitchens, thus giving each camp the appearance of miniature towns on wheels. It is curious to watch the movements of each team: they feed together, move about and play together, hold no equine discourse with any other team, and sleep close together every night.
Waihao Downs station: A hand-painted photograph shows numerous farm buildings at Waihao Downs station, with the homestead and another stone building to the right of the picture. The homestead has a bright red roof; the other buildings are coloured brown/orange. The photograph was coloured by Pauline Mathias in 1924.
Photo: Waimate Historical Society REF#2002-1026-06288
Timaru Courier April 8 2010 pg 6
Demand for servants from wealthy settlers by John Button
In the district’s early days there was a desperate shortage of
domestic servants. There were many wealthy immigrants who lived in large
households and, before electricity made household chores easier to cope with,
servants were in great demand. Emigration agents in Britain had been asked to
find domestic servants who were ‘‘sober, industrious, of good mind, in good
health’’ and many young women answered the call in the hope of a better life.
Many who did so were perhaps over optimistic and were quite unsuitable, judging
by the behaviour of some on the sailing ships. The lives on board were very
restricted and they sometimes rebelled.
Some would invade the poop deck — even speaking to male passengers, which was absolutely forbidden. Some are said to have sung music hall songs at church service and fights were not uncommon. One disgruntled employer wrote in 1851: ‘‘The great inconvenience of New Zealand is the want of female servants; they get paid enormous wages, and are most of them bad servants with questionable characters . . . We are now giving £20 per annum to a person, who, if she were in England would have some trouble to get £6. The cargo of needlewomen sent out here sometime since did not add to the number of domestics; they say half of them got married, and the other half took to bad causes.’’ In a country short of eligible young women, the matrimonial prospects of these women were much better than at home. A generation later, a report on the conduct of single women by the Matron in charge of an immigration barracks in 1874 gives an idea of the conduct of the worst cases. It includes comments such as: ‘‘Still in barracks drunk’’; ‘‘Nearly as bad, gets money no one knows how’’; ‘‘Expelled — drinking and out at night’’; ‘‘Drinks and fights’’. But these would have been exceptions and the vast majority of the young women were well behaved and modest. Despite the influx, there was still a great demand, even though in 1861 there were 151 domestic servants in South Canterbury, compared with 187 labourers. By 1900, one in every 17 workers was a domestic servant. Even by 1906, the New Zealand High Commissioner felt it necessary to ship 1000 girls to New Zealand to meet the demand. These young women had full board, and, by the standards of the day, were reasonably well paid but their conditions were appalling. There was no restriction on their hours of work and some worked up to 18 hours a day. They were totally dependent on the goodwill or otherwise of the lady of the house. There were no guaranteed holidays and no weekly days or half days off. In 1906, brave servant girls in Wellington organised the Wellington Domestic Workers Union in an attempt to achieve a 68 hour working week, but this was unsuccessful and their hours were limited only when the 40 hour week was made compulsory in 1935. It was not always found easy to train girls who had come from very poor backgrounds, as many of the girls did, and cooks were often the most difficult of the lot.
Mrs Caroline Philip, nee McTague, who was born in 1883 and worked at Holme Station, described one of the problems: ‘‘I arrived at Holme Station with another girl. We were to bring out a new cook from the North Island. As we were going home she said she was thirsty after the long journey. She had a bottle in a shopping bag; it was thought to be cold tea. She was swigging this and we never thought anything of it but it smelt a bit funny. By the time we got home she was a bit tiddly and it turned out it was whisky or brandy. ‘‘Next morning she had to interview Mrs Elworthy. She came down but it seemed that through the night she had been having a good sip at her bottle and she wasn’t too sober. ‘‘She had a great big range to clean, with two ovens, but managed to clean out the soot before she lit the fire. She wore a funny bonnet, which rather shocked Mrs Elworthy. ‘‘The previous cook, who was just leaving, reported that the new cook had arrived rolling drunk — a bit exaggerated, as she only had a few in, enough to make her merry — so this really put her pot on. ‘‘Mr Elworthy said he couldn’t have a woman on the place that drank so she’d have to go. The groom was told to get the horse out and take her back to town.’’
Timaru Courier December 03, 2009
Forest fire near Waimate destroyed five sawmills, 70 homes, totara stand by John Button
With the growth of European settlements in South Canterbury
came a great demand for building timber. Much of this came from the forests
around Geraldine and Waimate, but forests are susceptible to fire, as any
Australian will tell you, and in 1878, 3000 acres of forest near Waimate was
destroyed in the district’s greatest disaster to date. Over an eight-day period,
five sawmills and about 70 cottages were burnt out, together with possibly the
country’s most important totara forest. With it went the livelihoods of most of
the township’s men, just when a general economic depression was starting — one
that would last a quarter of a century.
Edgar Studholme writes: ‘‘On the morning of November 15 a strong nor’wester blew up and fanned into flame the sawdust dumps that were always quietly smouldering; the fires spread to the surrounding bush, and soon fires were burning in several places . . . soon the whole bush was ablaze. My father drove over to see what could be done, but the force of the gale was so great that he was blown over, buggy and all, on the road by our front gate. But that did not stop him; he proceeded on foot and was lost to sight in the smoke. Ambrose Potts, who was managing the station at the time, heard that the Boss was entrapped by the fire and did a very brave thing. He rode into the burning bush in search of him, and managed to force a way through as the flames parted temporarily; but his beard was scorched off his face, and his hands were so badly burned that he was laid up for months. Luckily, however, my father had got through to the other side of the bush and was unhurt. ‘‘The gale continued unabated, and the flames travelled at a terrific speed. When a fire like that is going in heavy timber, with a gale like that behind it, the flames are any length, and the sparks set the dead trees alight, chains away in the green bush. There was no possible way of stopping it until the wind dropped. The fire had started in the early morning; by four o’clock in the afternoon five mills and about 70 cottages had been burnt out, although no lives were lost. By night the bush was burning over an area of several miles and was a sight never to be forgotten. ‘‘The conflagration continued for eight days, and the country to the south and east was enveloped in thick smoke, which was even carried out to sea, and the captains of passing vessels had great difficulty in navigating. The sawdust dumps, stumps and fallen trees continued to smoulder for a long time, and two months later there was still much smoke hovering over the place where the bush had been burnt.’’ The atmosphere, filled with smoke and dust, was almost suffocating. All doors had to be closed and windows fastened. It was not safe out, and few ventured. Sheets of iron from burnt houses and pieces of burning wood, chiefly totara bark, were carried by the wind high up in the air and fell in all directions for miles around. The casualties of the day included a broken leg and several dislocations, but surprisingly there were no deaths. The Waimate fire brigade had the most strenuous day in its history, but it had an impossible task. Witnesses said that a stream of carts with women and children and as many belongings as they could fit in began to travel from Mill Road to the township, and before long all available accommodation was filled. A public meeting was held on November 16, with Michael Studholme the chairman, and a committee was elected to provide relief for those who had lost all their possessions. It was a high-powered group which included the mayors of Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin and Christchurch, and their efforts raised nearly £2000.
An inquiry was started later in the month and the finding was that there was insufficient evidence to prove how the fire started. But the matter was still not over and 22 claims were filed against Michael Studholme for damages totalling £28,000 on the grounds that his employees had been to blame for burning off tussock. Studholme stated that the bush took fire from the smouldering sawdust heaps and was well alight before the flames swept down from the hill. Only three of the cases came to court and all three were unsuccessful, since it was proved that the fires had started in three different sawmills. The legal expenses, however, amounted to £6000.
Great Waimate fire: A sawmill amidst forest before the 1878 fire that devastated more than 1200ha of forest, including one of the country’s best totara stands. Fortunately no lives were lost, but five sawmills and 70 homes were destroyed in the eight-day blaze. Picture: Waimate Historical Society Photograph Collection 2002-1026-03933
Timaru Courier Jan. 21 2010 page 6
Wheat had golden era in SC by John Button
South Canterbury had originally grown on the back of the
sheep, but by the late 1860s wool was no longer the only significant export. The
wheat trade with England was firmly established and for about 20 years wheat was
by far the local farmer’s most profitable crop. The low rainfall and large
proportion of flat land meant that, even more than with wool production, wheat
farming was concentrated in Canterbury and Otago, where some of the pastures had
been ploughed up and sown with grain crops. Although cereals were grown by some
of the small farmers, the typical wheat farm was large and used costly
machinery. The later 1870s and early 1880s were the era of the ‘‘bonanza’’, with
most wheat being exported, though the local demand for flour had been stimulated
by the West Coast gold rushes and the Land Wars in the North Island. Popular
varieties of wheat were Tuscan and Velvet, but these were later superseded when
Dr Frederick Hilgendorf of Lincoln College produced his improved strain.
In 1874, 70,000 acres, mostly in Canterbury, were sown in wheat; in 1878 the total was 147,000; in 1884 almost a quarter of a million acres. The coming of the railway was an enormous boon, facilitating the easy movement of the harvested grain, and wheat from areas like the Pareora Estate was carted to the railway in up to 30 drays at a time. There was a drop in production after 1895 but another rise in the early years of the new century.
In 1878 the Waimate County, which included the Pareora Estate, had 21,000 acres of wheat, despite the constant possibility of bad weather. Nor’westers could shake out the maturing heads and spring rain could wash out early crops. Exporters also had their worries, such as the high cost of freight, the risk of a drop in the British market during transit, and the danger of the wheat heating during the voyage. But the risks were worthwhile and the wheat kept coming. Timaru became a great milling centre at this time, and the St Andrews district, because of its climate and fertile soil, became one of the world’s most productive areas for wheat. Topdressing was unnecessary at that stage and little manure was applied, yet crops still exceeded those of Europe, where manures and fertilisers were used heavily. In South Canterbury: a Record of Settlement, Oliver Gillespie records that in 1879, the glut of wheat caused many practical problems. There was insufficient storage space in Timaru as wagonload after wagonload arrived for shipment and commercial firms worked frantically to house the bulging sacks. In April that year the whole of Strathallan St was blocked by sacks of grain, piled up there by P. Cunningham and Company and covered with tarpaulins. It became impossible to get to the Customs House or the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and finally the Collector of Customs, C.E. Cooper, appealed to the Mayor to have the street cleared as the sacks obscured the view of the buildings. By then Cunningham’s men had taken down most of the fence round the Customs House, removed the front gate from its hinges and started to chop down the back gate-posts.
By 1881 part of the old Pareora run had become an immense wheat field, and it was not an unfamiliar sight during the harvesting to see 14 horse-drawn reapers and binders following each other in the vast paddocks. Much of the harvesting was done by contract and newspaper advertisements indicate what was required of tenderers: F.M. Rickman, for ‘‘cutting, tying, stooking, carting and stacking 600 acres of oats’’; J.H. Taylor, for ‘‘cutting, tying and stooking 300 acres of wheat, 360 acres of oats and 110 acres of barley’’. But a decline in grain prices and rapid impoverishment of the soil through ruthless overcropping brought the first great wheat era to an end. Contractors leasing land for a short term only and keen to get as much out of someone else’s land as possible without putting anything back in, exploited it remorselessly.
However, this period of depression was relieved when prices for wheat rose and the price of oats soared 250% because of the Boer War in South Africa, horses being essential for mobility. War once again was shown to benefit those who did not actively participate in it. In 1899, South Canterbury produced over a quarter of the wheat exported from New Zealand, in 1900 nearly half, and in 1901 a third. Cropping reached its peak in South Canterbury in 1912 when 101,000 acres of wheat were harvested and 250,000 acres were under cultivation for turnips, rape and potatoes. By this time farmers were reasonably well off. But from then on cereals were in decline as the price for wool and lambs rose gradually.
Wheat bonanza: Wheat stooked in a field at Peel Forest Estate, near Geraldine, with Mt Peel in the background (date unknown). The extensive flat lands of South Canterbury enabled the region to become a major producer of wheat. In 1900, during the second boom period for the crop, nearly half of the wheat exported from New Zealand was grown in South Canterbury. Picture: South Canterbury Museum P1978
Colonist, 8 April 1908, Page 2
A peculiar case of somnambulism occurred, at Geraldine last week, says the Christchurch "Press." A young man employed on a threshing mill was sleeping over night in an upstairs bedroom in one of the local hotels, the mill being stationed 1 close to the township prepared to commence operations in the early morning. About 4 a.m. the mill whistle was blown. The young man referred to^ on hearing the whistle in his sleep; sprang out of bed, threw up the bedroom window, and bundled out on to the asphalt footpath, falling about 13 or 14 feet. As he fell, the young man came to his senses, and was able afterwards to get on his feet and find his way back to his room by climbing the fire escape, when his groans attracted the attention of the proprietor, who immediately summoned medical aid. Strange to say, no bones were broken, and beyond a had shaking and severe bruises, the somnambulist is none the worse for his adventure.
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