"Ned the Shiner"
- Edmond Slattery (1840 -1927)
a wandering Irishman, a typical swagman, who had emigrated to the Colonies from
County Clare, Ireland.
Uncrowned King of the Knights of the banjo,
Star of the Great Southern Trail;
With his blanket of blue
The swagger fought through
Wind, drought, food, snow and hail.
by George Meeks.
The "Shiner", aka Ned Slattery, 'the champion of anti-sweat', with a dash of humour was a well known character in his own time, a fixture in the landscape of South Canterbury and North Otago for he was more than fifty years on the road bucking the system and work. He was immortalised by author, politician and former swagman, John A. LEE. His anecdotes are very amusing, of course had a basis in reality, as did the proliferation of stories about Irish 'characters.' In 1869 Ned Slattery emigrated with his family to Victoria, Australia and in 1873 Ned arrived in Dunedin and up the Shotover in search of gold. He gained notoriety in Otago and South Canterbury both for his story telling and his cons enabling him to march the road of life. He was respected by many and became a New Zealand folk hero. He died, aged 87, in Dunedin on 11th August 1927.
He wore a battered and holed straw boater and he carried a cane or an umbrella or at least the handle thereof under his arm.
Bruce Herald, 9 April 1901, Page 5 The Shiner (By A. S. Wagger.)
The first men to 'swag it' were the gold miners sometimes up from Otago and
through Lindis Pass. Station hands who wanted to go to another station or down
country had to swag it.
1905. A proper miner can always pay his way ; a " rush " is
not the place for the " sundowner." After gold ran out, Ned lived by his wits and at Macraes Flat, Otago (63 miles
north of Dunedin) he found himself penniless and gasping for a drink. He told
the publican, before he was served, that he had no money, only stamps, plenty of
stamps - enough for a barrel of whiskey. The publican gave him a bottle and a
glass. Eventually the publican interrupted his drinking: 'The stamps please."
The Shiner began to stamp his foot, counting at the same time. The publican grew
near apoplectic with combined with rage and embarrassment in front of the other
customers, 'Postage stamps! he spluttered.
"Did I say postage stamps" enquired the still-stamping Shiner.
The publican conceded that he had been had, but in traditional Irish fashion, he agreed to forgive The Shiner - on condition that he crossed the road and replicate the trick on his rival, a fellow publican and Irishman.
|Bruce Herald, 4 June 1901, Page 3
SCENE II— ROGUE'S HONOR. (By A S. Wagger.)
You've often heard it quoted that there's honor among thieves,
That rogues ev'n in their roguery have one another trusted ;
But one exception is there still in which each rogue deceives, —
When liquor's in the question roguish honor will be " busted."
The Shiner one day was as dry, as any torrid plain ;
His mate, Old Dan, for thirstiness just ran him neck for neck ;
But they couldn't face the barkeep of the country inn again,
Without a purse of " squibblums," or a decent little cheque.
They put their heads together for a quiet bit of think,
To try to fix some little dodge with which to fetch the boss : —
They both limped to the doorway resolved to halve the drink,
And Shiner dropped down sudden, like a drayman's done-up hoss.
Old Dan soon got a wriggle on when Shiner fainting fell,
And in his barking bass a pleading piteous tone he found,—
He rushed into the bar-room and he rattled up the bell,
And with a wistful, woeful stare, he wildly glared around.
"There's a man outside a-dying!" in trembling tones he wheezed ;
"Quick, quick, my girl, and pour him out a tumberful of gin ! "
"Oh ! poor old man !" she murmured, as a glittering glass she seized,
And soon she poured a lib'ral dose of ready spirits in.
Then bending o'er the dying man they held it to his lip,
And though he looked a waster, and was weariful and wan,
He finished off the gin as 'twere a tiny little nip,
And he never thought to offer the promised half to Dan.
"Greab Scot!" said Dan, "you've scoffed the lot. You haven't left my half!"
But Shiner only made another muffled dying moan,
And said, — as round his mouth meandered an incipient laugh ;
"Go, mate, and get a dying fit up (hic) right on your own."
Witness 9 September 1903, Page 69
ANECDOTES OF TRAMP LIFE
By J. C. Adams
The tramp is a small but interesting class, of whom the generality of people
know but little, placing all those who have to carry the swag as on the same
level. There are many different classes amongst them. There is the professional
whose only home is the wide, wide world ; there are others who by force of
circumstances are compelled to carry the swag — ex doctors, college-bred men,
lawyers, and, in fact, those of all classes who are brought down to the same
level, whether by drink, laziness, or from a variety of other causes. You will
find that all mix, and that no social or any other distinction is observed, and
their chief claim to notice is their ability to battle for tucker, tobacco, and
suchlike. The real old stagers are very clannish, and although never travelling
together, when they do meet they always share alike, and a more unselfish lot
generally specking, it would be hard to find. Most of us wonder what becomes of
the tramps during the snow time and bad weather, for tramps are very much like
flies — they come out when it is fine, and disappear when it is cold and rough —
and again, with their knowledge of the country, they keep migrating to those
parts where they know tucker is plentiful for the time being. For months before
shearing time, and till shearing starts, they visit all the stations, looking
for shearing (?), and then, when shearing starts, they are away looking for
harvesting, then spud-hooking, and so on. During rough weather the tramps
congregate at the huts known to them throughout the country, and it is really
very funny to listen to the tales that are swopped to pass the time away.
The genuine old "pro" is an adept at yarn-spinning, and years of practice and swopping make him a worthy rival to Ananias. Just as there are shining lights in other walks of life, so are there among the tramps particular ones who achieve notoriety. There is one in particular of whom few have not heard, and who is the subject of admiration amongst the pros, throughout Maoriland, and that one is known as "The Shiner," the old, original inimitable "Shiner," of whom hundreds of tales have been, and are, told. The Shiner was educated for the priesthood, but that not being to his fancy, he ran away and found his way to California in '49, and following up the gold rushes brought him to Victoria, and then to New Zealand, and he was a well-known character on the West Coast in the early days. Some of the tales told of him, whether true or otherwise, are well worth repeating. He and another man possessed a claim on the West Coast in the early days, but notwithstanding all their labour and time, the claim turned out a duffer, leaving their pockets empty and few half-worn-out tools on their hands. Credit being exhausted, they hardly knew what to do, and tools being plentiful, they were unable to sell them, and it was here where the resources of the redoubtable "Shiner came into play. Going into Hokitika, he walked into a second-hand dealer's. "Good morning, Mr Levy. Have you any second-hand mining tools? I have a claim out here a bit, and I wan't some tools." Mr Levy regretted not having any tools. "Well," replied "The Shiner," should you be able to get any, I wish you would buy them for me, and I will get them from you, as I am not in a hurry for a week or two." "Very well," said Mr Levy, and leaving a list of what he wanted, he departed. In the course of the week "The Shiner's" mate who was unknown to Levy, brought in and wanted to sell some tools and Levy, in anticipation of a handsome profit, hurried to secure the lot. Later on Slattlery walked in, and said, "Did you buy those tools? Well, thank you very much! I wanted to sell them very badly. Good day, Mr Levy." He claims that he was at one time well known to Mr Seddon, and relates how, when "broke," he took the present Premier down for drinks for a crowd. It was his ("The Shiner's") shout, and he asked whether Mr Seddon would take stamps ; he replied, "Yes," and when the crowd had had their drinks he proceeded to deliver the stamps — on the floor with his foot. On another occasion, when surveyors were busy in the country, and boundaries were not very clearly defined, it is related how "The Shiner " and a number of his mates imposed on a rather too credulous hotelkeeper, whose wit was not a strong point. One fine morning "The Shiner" manufactured a theodolite out of an old alarm clock and three flax sticks for a tripod, and explaining his intentions to his mates, they proceeded to make surveys in 'the vicinity of the hotel in question, driving pegs in in an indiscriminate way in all directions. When "The Shiner " and company commenced to drive pegs in his garden the hotelkeeper, who had been an interested spectator of the preliminaries, wanted to know what it all meant. "I am the head surveyor for the Government for this district." replied ''The Shiner," "and I am defining boundaries, and I find your hotel is 4ft over the road line. There is no doubt but that it will have to be shifted." This alarmed the landlord somewhat, and the whirr of the old alarm clock on three sticks, still further alarmed him. "Is there no way of arranging things with you. Mr Surveyor?" Of course Mr Surveyor was very indignant at the suggestion of his palm being greased, but by means of a few liberal presents to the chief and the members of his party a fresh "survey" was made which was much, more to the satisfaction of the landlord. "The Shiner" is now an old man, but he is still very erect and young in appearance. He has a quiet, humorous look, and hours might be spent listening to his tales. ...
Viewing the number of unions formed by all classes, it is quite within the bounds of possibility that a "Swaggers Union" may yet be formed for the protection and direction of the swaggers' interests ; to compile charts to show how the uninitiated swagger can travel New Zealand with as much comfort as possible. If the Hon. Dick was to interest himself in benefiting swaggers thus wise, see what support the Government would have in the block vote of the swagging community.
Most swaggers were very poor and after 1900 most were elderly.
North Otago Times, 26 February 1887, Page 3
On the Road
There is one thing in connection with the harvest that is frequently a source of trouble and annoyance, and that is in reference to harvest men. Among those who flock from quarters to take advantage of the Oamaru harvest there are two distinct classes of men, one being composed of those who can work and are also willing to do so for the wages going ; the other class being a discontented lot, of all shades and degrees of uselessness, who by way of occupation follow in the steps of the illustrious "Shiner." The farmer perhaps gets a complement of men, makes a start, and for a while all goes merry as a marriage bell. Among "the crowd" there are, perhaps, three of these "sundowners." As the day goes on their energy flags, and at night they profess themselves "done up." In the morning, over breakfast, they inform the boss that they can't "stand it" or that they "have got their eye on a longer job," or that they "ought to have more wages," or some such excuse, and that they want their cheques. The cheques are duly handed over, and it is not long before they radiate, in too most natural and easy way, into the till of the nearest publican. As a sequence, the farmer has to work shorthanded until be can get their places filled ; and probably when the sheaves are being stoked the binding of the aforesaid gentry proves to be of the description known as the "American swivel," whose tenacity is more in the appearance than in the reality. The remedy tor this is surely not anything so enigmatical that such occurrences (which is a matter of fact are quite common) should be allowed to continue any longer. In the first place, let farmers co-operatively decide on the rate of wages. They will not be likely to fix it too high, but if it is fixed too low they will nullify their own action. Then, the wages being fixed, let the employers make the engagement of the men conditional on their staying for a certain time, which would not only do away with the nuisance of men leaving, but would ensure the finding of good men, since the other sort hardly ever wish to stay long anywhere. Something of this sort would put the relations between employers and men on a bitter footing.
The 1870's & 1930s Depression
During the depression in the 1870s a sixteen bed bunkhouse was set aside on the Waikakahi Estate for swaggers and they were always given an evening meal and a morning meal before they moved on. Charles Tripp of Orari Gorge Station also had a soft spot for swaggers and never turned them away, and one year he provided for 600 swaggers.
Timaru Herald, 28 February 1900, Page 2
A Winchester correspondent writes :— It is somewhat sad to see a daily parade of swaggers, sometimes numbering 20, passing along the road seeking harvest work, which, however, they seem unable to find, as farmers in this neighbourhood certainly seem to have their complement of hands. These men are not of the old sundowner type, but generally are youngish, respectably dressed, and well behaved. Some state that they were attracted south by information that there was a dearth of men and 2s an hour obtainable. The Government Labour Bureau should waken up a bit, and post at centres reliable information as to the wants of country districts, and go perhaps prevent long unproductive journeys to a class of men deserving of better things.
Waimate Daily Advertiser, 6 November 1900, Page 2
One of the many proofs as to the prosperity of Otago is to be found in the fact that a traveller who last week went right through to the back of the district, from Invercargill to Oamaru, did not meet with a single swagger.
In the 1950s A.E. Woodhouse wrote in Blue Cliffs
"The slump of the early thirties affected the whole country. The station hands, though their wages had been reduced, were better off than thousands of men in the towns who were unemployed... Again swaggers came to the station with their age-old request for a night's board and lodging. This was never refused. Then came the tradition question, "Any work, Boss?" This was now often a genuine request. But there was no work to give them. As times improved, swaggers disappeared from the roads and they are now unknown even in the back country." On page 110 there is a sketch of an old time swagger drawn for New Zealand Farm and Station Verses by Esther Hope.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
The Irish Jig
Ned Slattery, an expert Irish step dancer, danced in competitions at Caledonian Society games for forty years and often placed which provided him with a few pounds to further his interest in Irish whiskey.
Timaru Herald, 14 January 1876, Page 8 SOUTH
CANTERBURY CALEDONIAN SPORTS.
The Caledonian gathering held on the Agricultural and Pastoral Society's grounds, Timaru, on New Year's Day, was one of the most successful events that, has over taken place in the district. From an early hour in the morning crowds of people might have been seen wending their way to the place of amusement. Not only were the sports patronised by almost every individual in and around their immediate vicinity, but the trains running between Timaru and the Point and Temuka, on their arrival in town, discharged hundreds of country visitors on to the platform, who at once rushed away to the scene of the festivities.
Irish Jig. — First prize, £2 ; second, £1.
Brien Moloney ... ... 1
James Stack ... ... ... 2
Paddy's contest created perhaps more merriment and excitement than any other event during the day. Every other amusement was thrown aside for the time being, in the general desire to see the "trotters" shaken. Rounds after rounds of applause greeted the different competitors as they made the platform jump again with their energetic and lively movements, there being no less than five sons of Erin matched against one another, besides an extra individual who danced a hornpipe on his own account, and despite his ancient and battered appearance, came in for a share of the popular enthusiasm and favors, and received an encore and five shillings for his trouble. Bromahan would, have stood a better chance if he had been a little easier in his actions, as his steps were very good indeed. Shoehan and Slattery, although neither of them obtained a prize, were no mean adepts on their pins, and only for Moloney and Stack being extra good, would have held their own on the platform. The judges for this event were Messrs. O. Driscoll, R. Stansell, and J. Fulton.
North Otago Times, 28 December 1893, Page 3
Ngapara Caledonian Society
The annual gathering of the above Society was hold yesterday in a paddock kindly lent by Mr R. Paulin, in which a good track 342 yards round, with a straight of 100 yards, had been laid off Mr Paulin also provided the committee with an abundance of eucalypti trees from this plantation, which were utilised by the committee as timber in the erection of a large tarpaulin tent for the use of the ladies.
Irish Jig (open). Prizes (trophies) : 20s, 10s, and 5s— G Piper, 1 E Slattery, 2 ; B Rayne, 3.
North Otago Times, 3 January 1894, Page 2
The Oamaru Caledonian Society
Irish Jig (in costume). Prizes, L 2 10s, LI 10s, and LI. T Dickey 1, D M'Kechnie 2, E Slattery 3
North Otago Times, 3 January 1895, Page 3
The twenty sixth annual games of the Oamaru Caledonian Society Games began on Tuesday and cloned yesterday in pleasant weather.
Irish Jig— First prize L2 10s, second LI 10s, third LI : S Dickie, 1 : T Wesley, 2 : E Slattery, 3. Bills, M'Kechine and OBrien also competed.
Second day - Irish Jig (open to all who have never won a fast place)- First prize Ll 10s, second Ll, third 10s : T Wesley 1, J Haggie 2, E Slattery 3; E Massey was a competitor.
North Otago Times, 16 April 1895, Page 3
The inaugural sports meeting under the auspices of the Oamaru Hibernian Society were held yesterday. The weather bore up — only some slight showers falling — and the attendance very large. There were scarcely less than 1200 people present. Irish Jig. Prizes, LI (Mr Corcoran's special of L1 1s), and 10s. — R Thomson, 1 ; B Maloney, 2 ; W Williams, 3. T Wesney, E Slattery and D Foley also danced.
Star 28 December 1895, Page 6
The annual sports meeting of the Waimate Caledonian Society was held on Boxing Day. There were about 1500 visitors on the ground. The prize-takers are as follow : Irish Jig (in costume) — R. McKechnie 1, E. Slattery 2.
North Otago Times, 3 January 1896, Page 3
Oamaru Caledonian Society - Irish Jig. First, L2 10 ; second, Ll 10s ; third, Ll.-S Dickie. 1 ; J Haggie, 2; E Slattery, 3.
He was work-shy and lived on inspired trickery.
See John A. Lee’s
books Shining with the Shiner
(1944) and Shiner Slattery (1964) 173 pages.
The Shiner was a professional tramp in Otago and South Canterbury throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. He was a specialist in the art of not working for a living. Few of the unemployed became national characters, or rate newspaper mention, cartoons and photographs. But Shiner did just that. The stories of Shiner's real and imaginary escapades to describe his life show, through this human barometer, the fluctuations of the country's prosperity, the impact of depressions, the change in emphasis as one way of life gave place to another, the opening up of access and the eventual disappearance of the swagger - the man who roamed the country following seasonal work, or like Shiner, avoiding it.
Roughnecks, Rolling Stones and Rouseabouts by John Lee. Christchurch, Whitcoulls. 1977. 149pp. "With an anthology of early swagger literature." Swagger days in early NZ. Contemporary illus. in B&W. History of NZ swaggers, bush-whackers, diggers, harvesters, wagoners...old time characters.
High Endeavour by Wm Vance. Chapter 11 Swaggers
Swagger Country by Jim Henderson of Open Country fame. It was published by Hodder in 1976 and covers many of the NZ swaggers'
Slattery, Edmond, 1839?-1927 photo Probably taken in either the North Otago or South Canterbury in the 1920s.
Dictionary of NZ Biography
Timaru Courier - South Canterbury Tales by John Button
No swagger finer than "the Shiner" on region's roads Feb. 25, page 6 with photo of Ned Slattery and March 4 2010 page 11
No swagger finer than ‘the Shiner’ on region’s roads
With his battered straw boater, starched celluloid collar, tie and cane (later replaced by a silver mounted umbrella), no one was better known on the road than ‘‘the Shiner’’ FROM the mid 1870s to the late 1890s New Zealand was in the grip of ‘‘the Long Depression’’. Sir Julius Vogel’s enormous loans to build railways and bridges and to bring great numbers of immigrants to fill the near empty land produced boom times but ended with disaster when low prices for exports and the end of the gold era brought poverty and unemployment. There was a great imbalance of the sexes and many men had no hope of ever marrying. This resulted in the phenomenon of the ‘‘swagger’’ and Timaru was one of the stages on their itineraries. Many men roamed from station to station seeking work but much of the work available was only seasonal and they were generally forced to live by their wits. Some were desperate for work but others were not as keen on the idea and lived a hand to mouth existence travelling the roads and sleeping rough. The most famous of these was ‘‘the Shiner’’, christened Edmund Slattery. He was born in 1840 in County Clare, Ireland, working there as a ploughman and farmhand before emigrating to Australia in 1869. He worked on the goldfields there and sailed on to New Zealand in 1873. He was a tall, well made, charming man who worked only when he had to at seasonal work on farms. With his battered straw boater, starched celluloid collar, tie and cane (later replaced by a silver mounted umbrella), no one was better known on the road than ‘‘the Shiner’’. While he was a person ‘‘of no fixed abode’’, he spent much of his time on South Canterbury roads on his usual beat between Oamaru and Ashburton, and can fairly be claimed as one of ours. When he arrived in this country the total white population was about a quarter of a million. There was not enough work even for the willing and work on stations was mostly seasonal anyway. There were 150,000 males and 105,000 females, so many men, with neither work nor women, took to the roads, some looking for casual work, some just looking for independence – freedom from the rat race of their time. The Shiner was one of these. While he was averse to work on principle, he could work well when he had to and was a man of great energy, usually walking more than 50 miles a day. While he obtained his luxuries by trickery, he had his own code of ethics and on one occasion spent a season working unpaid for a farmer who was down on his luck but who had been generous to the Shiner in earlier years. Every New Year’s Day he would go to the Caledonian Games wherever he happened to be – often Oamaru – and enter in the Irish Jig. He would put his swag in the corner of the ring, the music would start and he would dance. His clothes were scrupulously clean and just as scrupulously ragged. While he could foot it with the best he seldom won, but he always attracted most attention. The hat would go round, the coins would pour in and he would climb down with dignity to collect the tribute. There are countless stories about his ingenuity in outwitting publicans. He once ‘‘borrowed’’ a theodolite from a surveyors’ camp at Temuka. Next morning the new publican of the Arowhenua Hotel saw a ‘‘surveyor’’ plotting his hotel site. After an hour of this the publican was told that his hotel was partly built on the road line – it would have to be shifted back. After considerable discussion it was hinted to the alarmed proprietor that no official report need be made – for a consideration.The hotelier wined and dined the surveyor and handed him £20 – one up to the Shiner! One of his schemes was to go into a hotel, order a bottle of gin and immediately put it in his swag. He would then promise to pay for it next time he passed through and of course the bar• man would then demand the return of the bottle. After some debate the Shiner would search through his swag and return the bottle. He would be well down the road by the time the barman discovered that the returned bottle was full of water. He once asked a barman to fill a stone jar with whisky. When the Shiner asked for the cost to be put on the slate the whisky had to be poured back. Once he was round the corner the Shiner caught the string inside the jar and pulled out a sponge. Many of these stories are recalled in John A. Lee’s books Shiner Slattery and Shining with the Shiner. Ned Slattery died at age 87 in Dunedin in 1927 and was accorded obituaries in the Otago Daily Times and the Otago Witness.
Timaru Courier April 1 2010 pg 6
Two country lads tricked whiskey from the publican
The first hotels in Timaru were rather spartan affairs as is
seen in the photo of the Ship Hotel in George St or Strathallan St — a mere shed
— and Henry Cain’s first liquor outlet was his home. It was not until 1858 that
he applied for a hotel licence. Sam Williams applied for a licence a little
later the same year, and his Timaru Hotel in southern Stafford St (later rebuilt
as the Carlton Hotel) was much more impressive. The accommodation houses at
ferry crossings did not have a good reputation for a long time until government
regulations forced an improvement. Hotels in towns were much better, as is seen
in the description of the Geraldine Family and Commercial Hotel in the 1903
Encyclopaedia. The full entry is as follows: ‘‘The favourite hotel is a leading
house in Geraldine and is frequented by tourists, commercial men and principal
farmers in the district. The building, which has been enlarged and renewed, is
close to the saleyards, post office and other leading town businesses, and the
accommodation is all that can be desired, as all the rooms are well furnished
and the bedrooms are large and airy. There is a billiard room with a large full
sized table and other suitable appointments and there are several ample rooms on
the premises for commercial men. ‘The bar is stocked with a choice assortment of
wines, spirits and cigars. There is good stabling adjoining the premises. The
crockery is equal to that of the leading hotels in the large towns. Fine scenery
abounds in the surrounding district, the settlers are hospitable, and there is
good trout fishing in the numerous rivers. Anyone wishing to enjoy a short
holiday can do so at Geraldine with great satisfaction. The roads are ideal
roads for cycling, and they lead through varied and beautiful scenery of
mountain, glen and river. Mrs A.G. McLean has had over sixteen years’ experience
in hotelkeeping, and is ever mindful of the comfort of her guests. In this she
is assisted by Miss McLean, her only daughter.’’
The publican’s dealings with his or her customers were not always straightforward, as this article from an old newspaper shows: ‘‘One of the funniest stories that we have heard for a long time is going the rounds of Geraldine at the present time. It appears that two country lads whose parents hail from the land of wit and poetry recently pulled up at a bucolic public house a few miles from Geraldine and called for drinks. The publican served the whiskey out in the usual way and looked for payment. The lads, however, before taking up the drinks, said they would pay the following week as they had no cash on them. The publican said ‘No you don’t, I can’t afford to give free drinks here. You can pay for them now or go without,’ and with that he took the glasses of whiskey up and put them away on a shelf behind the counter. ‘‘The lads, needless to say, were very much nettled at seeing a drink ‘so near and yet so far’, and they left the hotel, one of them remarking that he would get even with the publican some day. About a week after, the same lad called at another hotel and borrowed an empty demijohn which he took to a creek and half filled with water. He then went on to the publican who had refused him a drink and drawing his horse up at the door called out, ‘Have you got any draught whiskey to spare? I’ve just called at so and so’s hotel (mentioning the name) and he could only spare me half a jar full.’
‘‘The publican took the demijohn and filled it, but as his customer picked it up to walk off with it to his trap he called out to him, ‘Where are you off to? I want the money first.’ The lad replied, ‘I can’t give you money today but will pay next week.’ This did not suit the publican and he demanded payment at once, whereupon the young Hibernian, with assumed indignation, called out, ‘You can take your whiskey back if you don’t trust me.’
‘‘The publican immediately ‘fell in’ as the saying goes, and emptied half the contents of the jar back into his cask, sending the happy youth on his way rejoicing over the neat way in which he had taken a smart man in. It is said that whiskey sinks and water floats. That being so, the publican must have drawn off three parts water and left the wily customer the best of the whiskey.’’
Unfortunately for many publicans the notorious swagger, Ned Slattery, or ‘‘the Shiner’’ brought this sort of trickery to a fine art, as can be seen in John A. Lee’s books Shiner Slattery and Shining with the Shiner.
Wanganui Chronicle 27 October 1911, Page 4
A well-dressed swagger who came to Timaru recently and applied for charitable aid, found fault with the Timaru hills as being too stiff to climb. Members of the Hospital Board at their meeting on Friday, unanimously agreed that they could offer no objection to the man seeking fresh fields in some district with level roads.
Timaru Herald, 28 August 1888, Page 2
The "sundowner" nuisance was being discussed by two gentlemen, both sheep-farmers, within the precinct of the Parliamentary Buildings recently. They had condoled one with the other, and had related to each other their bitter experience in entertaining the benighted bushman with bread, beef and tea, until they mutually agreed that "something must be done, you know," to abate the evil. At length one of the squatters said that he could generally tell the real, honest swagger from his spurious brother by his eyelids. " You see," said he, " I get the follows when they ask me for a feed somehow or the other to close their eyes, and if I find the eyelids brown and sun-tanned I know he is a lazy man, and instead of working he has been dreaming the happy hours away in the sun ; so off he goes."
Nelson Evening Mail, 14 February 1879, Page 2
"Ah!" sighed a hungry tramp, "I wish I was a hoss. He most always has a bit in his mouth, while I have not had a bit in my mouth for two days."
The Shiner was just a wag.
At Temuka Hotel the Shiner produced a couple of stone jars and ask the publican to fill one up, and half way through The Shiner said he wanted draft. So the Shiner put away that jar and the publican proceeded to fill up the other and somehow he got away with 1½ jars filled.
Marching on the road of life.
On the roadway comes a swagger,
Marching on life's beaten track.
Seeking work it is his slogan,
If you ask a simple question,
He will say - It was a woman,
Lifting up his home and moving
Pity grips the fallen heart;...
by Ernie Slow
They had a different life.
Bluey- Australian term for swag
Sundowner - An Australian slang word for a tramp or swagman or hobo, "on the wallaby", esp. one who arrives at a homestead near sundown in order to avoid having to work in exchange for shelter. No true swagger ever appears earlier than sundown. Tussocker -NZ slang. The loafer who travels from station to station seeking work is a ' sundowner', but not wanting to get any.
Sundowning - provided with food and shelter for the night at the squatter's expense.
Swag - A tramp's bundle, wrapped in a blanket, known as a bluey or matilda and carried over the shoulder,
Swagman - Australian term. A tramp, hobo, or vagabond travelling on foot, carrying a swag and occasionally seeking work. Swaggie.
The tramps use to chop wood for the house or dig the garden.
The real swaggerer was clad in flannel shirt, moleskin trousers and what were once thick boots, but might now be used as sieves. He tramps wearily along with his swag on back, pipe in mouth, and billy in hand. Unless the swagger wanted regular work he preferred the down country stations e.g. Clayton, Peel Forest, as over Burkes Pass the environment was tough. Found a few in the limestone hut on Ewart's, on Sherwood, by the river.
On the main road you would get quite a few. If you found a round stone on your gate post or if you didn't have a gate post then on the mail box you knew a tramp had been. They would pick up the stones from the river bed. The stone signified to a fellow swagger that he would not be welcome in that particular home. Ref. 'No chance of a meal here.'
From Brian Turner's "The Road Goes On" There were four pebbles on top of the gatepost. That is one of the secret swagman tokens. It would have been put there by another swaggie as a sign of a four star hotel, a good place for hospitality. The tramps knew where the huts were.
I remember swag men - this would have been post War World Two coming through Middle Valley and Sherwood!
Bay Of Plenty Times, 25 June
1888, Page 1 The remedy still needed.
Sundowner (excitedly): "For heaven's sake, landlord! give me a drink of whiskey. I've been bitten by a snake".
Landlord pours out a good sized dose, which the sundowner takes with evident satisfaction to himself and the snakebite.
Landlord (sympathetically) : "Where did you get bit?- in the paddock?"
Sundowner: "No ; right on the spot where this 'ere hotel stands."
Landlord: "Impossible! This house was built here twenty years ago."
Sundowner: "Well, that's when I was bit. Good day."
Rules of the Road
No more than two would travel together.
The custom of the country demanded that you should ask no questions.
Each man carried his own blanket as the stations did not provide these.
Never ask them in.
Never give them a bed in the house and they wouldn't accept it anyway.
They always took their own route. If the Shiner was going to Temuka he wouldn't branch off with someone else, he would stick to his route.
They had their regular beat and called only at stations which they knew would welcome them.
There was an unwritten law among station owners - each swagger would be provided an evening meal, lodging for the night, breakfast in the morning and if they arrived on Saturday could stay until Monday and when leaving given food for for his journey.
"If one swagger were to purloin the smallest article from a station which had fed and sheltered him, every other swagger in all the country side would immediately become an amateur detective to make the thief give up spoil." page 1863 Station Amusements in New Zealand by Lady Barker, 1875
Real names came up by accident. Almost every swagger had a nickname. e.g.
Baron De Lacy- The Baron
Jock Mackenzie -The Highland Chief
Archie McPhee - The Boar Slayer of the Mackenzie
Barney Winter - Barney Whiterats -
William Smith - Billy the Gooseberry
Jimmy the Bone Flaker- made whistles, needle cases, rings etc from sheep bones.
Wild Bill McBeath
Brockley Bill, from his face being pockmarked.
William O'Regan aka William Oregon aka Regan aka Woodyear aka Lawrence.
Don't judge a man by his clothes.
Charles Le Le Cree - known on the roads from one end of the colony to the other
Otago Witness 1 July 1903, Page 52
A travelling tinker named Charles Le Cree, better known as "Peg- leg," was found dead on the Winchester road, near Geraldine, Canterbury, on Friday night. When found the body was warm, and there was a cut on each side of the forehead. At the inquest on Saturday it was stated that a vehicle without lights had passed along the road shortly before the body was found. The jury returned an open verdict that deceased was found dead, but there was nothing to show the cause of death. Deceased was supposed to be about 84 years of age, and was known on the roads from one end of the colony to the other. He was a Frenchman, had been in New Zealand for over 30 years, and is said to have seen service in the Crimean and Maori wars.
Barney Whiterats - died age 90, he was buried 12 July 1911 at Oamaru Cemetery block 114, plot 18
A well-known character was Barney Winter, whose circuit was the foothills of Canterbury, through the Mackenzie Country, then on to North Otago. Part of Barney's entourage was his performing white rats and puppet dolls. he'd go around the stations with a box of white rats and mice to entertain the men at night. He had them trained to do all sorts of things. He would stump the country with his one man show, admission fees being adults threepence and children a penny. He also did a ventriloquist act, a puppet show with dolls and shadows of animals with his hands in front of a lantern. The professional swagger.
Grey River Argus 17 July 1911, Page 5
Oamaru, July 16. Barney Winter, known also as Barney "Whiterats," a monagenarian, died here this morning. Deceased was a very old identity and quite a celebrity in his way. In the early days he tramped extensively in different parts of the Dominion as a showman, his stock in trade, including a number of white rats.
NZ Truth 22 July 1911, Page 1
An old identity in the person of Barney Winter, but better known as "Barney White Rats," has handed in his marble down South. Barney, who was reputed to be 99 years of age, passed out in the Victoria Home, Oamaru, on July 13 last. He was a tramp and preferred to tramp with his Punch and Judy show all over the South to the infinite delight of the school kids. It was only recently that he had to take to the Old Men's Home, because he possessed that love of independence so characteristic of the old time battler. A writer to "Truth," in regretting that Barney is no more, records the fact that, a few years ago he met Barney on the road, and the old 'un, who was fond of his beer, wanted to know the whereabouts of the nearest pub. Barney was told that it was forty miles off. He might be forgiven his sin. Barney, swore and declared that Prohibition was sending the country to hell. It is not recorded whether Barney set out for that pub or whether he struck a sly grog joint.
Otago Witness 28 March 1906, Page 64
The "Song of the Sundowner," one verse of which runs as follows : —
So I wander away at my own sweet will,
Be it northerly, south, or west ;
When I'm hungry my paunch I can always fill,
When I'm tired I can always rest.
I care not what others may do or think,
I'm a monarch without a crown;
I can always be sure of my food and drink,
And a home when the sun goes down.
He is not always a beggar
Timaru Herald, 1 April 1865, Page 5
Arowhenua. The river again has been extremely high, so much so as to make it dangerous to cross, and several narrow escapes have been had. Dr. McLean, of Timaru, was washed off his horse the other day, and had rather a sharp "squeak" for it ; and Sergeant Ramsay also had to keep a good look out one day; however, it is now tolerably low and quite passable. The Rangitata River has also been higher than usual m a fresh, and there a few men have been drowned — one, a man called Taylor, I see you noticed in your last week's paper. His body has been recovered. An inquest has been held on it on Wednesday last, when a verdict of " Accidentally drowned" was returned. A well known old colonial unfortunately lost his life at the lower (Ward's) ford on Monday last; he was shewing some diggers over and dropped his coat, and galloped down a spit after it, and by some means got into the river, and was seen no more of. The body was recovered the next day and brought to the Orari, where an inquest has been held on it but I have not heard the result. The name of the deceased was William Smith, but better known by the name of "Billy Gooseberry;" he was a very honest, steady man, and was much respected by the residents of the district.
Evening Post, 21 July 1880, Page 2
Timaru. 20th July. A swagger had a very narrow escape from being drowned in the Opihi River this afternoon. He was swept off his legs and carried a long way down the stream, and but for the plucky conduct of Fred Hodge, a jockey, who jumped his horse into the flooded river, and at the risk of his life saved him, he would have been swept out to sea.
Timaru Herald, 30 August 1898, Page 3
THE SWAGGER. Mr Crowther.— I believe there are fewer swaggers now than there were seven or eight years ago. And let us recollect, when you see a man with a swag on his back he is not always a beggar. He is a working man looking to get an honest living. If I see a man with a swag on his back and a billy and a frying-pan in his hand I think he means business. He is far better with his swag on his back and going to look for his living than to be loafing about town from one public house door to another, and waiting for the Premier to come up and offer him an easy billet. There is a great deal of that in Wellington.
Timaru Herald, 26 February 1880, Page 2
A very narrow escape from being drowned in the Opihi river occurred on Tuesday evening. It appears that a swagger, wishing to cross the river near Spillane's, followed the track to the river from the Temuka end, and fell into a very deep hole, where he was found by Mr A McBratney, up to his neck in the water, and quite unable to move, as he bad been in that position for quite two hours. Mr McBratney, after great exertion, succeeded in lifting the man on to the horse that he was riding, and took him to his own house, where every attention was paid him.
Timaru Herald, 11 February 1884, Page 2
Itinerant Tradesmen. Two men, strangers to Timaru, sat down on the kerbstone near the Club Hotel corner on Saturday afternoon and went to work with the air and celerity of adepts at the business, to put new cane beats in a couple of old chairs. A small crowd quickly collected about them, curious to see their performance, and this brought down a policeman, who issued the order Move on. The men argued the point for some time, claiming the right to work in the street, because they, were allowed to do so in London. "But this' isn't London," replied the constable. Not much, it isn't," said one of them. But we've as much right. to work in the street, as the knifegrinder over there. Why don't you move him on "He does not collect or crowd and you do. You must go somewhere else, where there is more room for a crowd." The men then picked up their, few tools, bundle of cane, and old chairs, and moved off in very evident ill humor at being ejected from their stand in the gutter.
Waimate Daily Advertiser 27 August 1898, Page 1
It was at a picnic in the Waimate district, and among the party was the very-frequently met-with bully. The site of the picnic was a small hill sloping to the road. While the young men and women were playing games and enjoying themselves, a "bread inspector " came along and sat on his swag to watch the fun. Down comes Mr Bully, who was a bit of a pugilist. " Here, you, what the deuce do you mean by stopping here." The swagger civilly replied that he was doing no harm. He was on the public road. For answer, Bully gave him a right hander on the jaw. The swagger quickly rose up, and before the other picnicers could get on the scene, had given the fighting man enough to keep the doctor busy for several weeks. One lot raised the fallen brave, and another the warrior, and a bee line was made for the nearest public, to the uproarious chorus of " He's a jolly good fellow."
Waimate Daily Advertiser 12 November 1898, Page 5
A trick was worked in a small township near, Waimate the other, day. It was very hot and a swagger took shelter in the blacksmith's shop. he had a short conversation with the boss and and a few minutes afterwards emerged from the smithy with sleeves rolled up, leather apron on and the orthodox black about about his face and arms. Marching into the pub, he planted a small bucket on the counter and requested that it might be filled with beer. Taking him for a new boniface compiled. A quarter of an hour later the swagger struck across the country and the men in the smithy went back to their toil, wiping an amused smile from their mouths. They are now waiting further developments.
Timaru Herald, 16 April 1895, Page 3
Timaru Monday, April 15th. FALSE PRETENCES AND FORGERY. Robert Stevenson, a young man, a stranger here, who was stated to have come up from Oamaru eight days ago, a swagger, was charged with obtaining board and lodging to the value of 11s by means of false pretences from Mary Ellen Taylor. He pleaded not guilty. Detective Livingstone stated that accused went to Mrs Taylor with a story which he had admitted to be false, about his employment. He asked for a remand till to-day ; and also on a second charge of obtaining a pair of boots, value 10s 6d, from D. Shea, by means of a forged order. Accused was remanded accordingly.
Timaru Herald, 8 November 1892, Page 2
The many friends of Mrs Carter, of the Makikihi, will regret to learn that her death took place at 10 30 on Sunday evening. Mrs Carter was one of the oldest settlers. She belonged to the parish of Ayton, Berwickshire, Scotland, and came out to the colony with her husband in October 1861, making a home at Makikihi in 1863. Her husband died in 1868 [sic], and she had ever since lived with her family at their farm in the district named. The late Mr and Mrs Carter were good and faithful servants to the late Mr Studholme. Living so close to the main road the late Mrs Carter's hospitality to travellers, especially in the early days of settlement, was widely known, and she never turned a "swagger "' away from her doors. Her goodness to neighbours was also widely known, arid she was particularly fond of young people. She was an earnest supporter of the Presbyterian Church, and set an example to all about her that must have bad a good effect. Her funeral will take place to-morrow, and will be conducted by the Rev. Mr Gillies. Mrs Carter leaves one son (Mr Andrew Carter) and five daughters, among the latter being Mrs Alex. Sinclair (wife of Mr A. Sinclair, builder, late of Timaru), and Mrs F. Cullmann, wife of Mr Cullmann, of Timaru.
[CARTER. On the 6th November, at her residence, Makikihi, Elizabeth A. Carter, relict of the late John Carter, aged 78.
Death. On the 30th December, 1866, at Meadow House, Makihikihi, John Carter, late of Berwickshire, Scotland, Aged 55]
Colonist, 10 November 1903, Page 3
Napier, November 9. An elderly man named Thos. Alexander, a swagger, was found on Saturday evening lying on the road about five miles from Putoku. He was in a fit, and was frothing. He was taken to the Putoku station, where he died on Sunday morning. An inquest was held to-day, and a verdict of death from natural causes was returned. It is believed he had relatives at Timaru.
Evening Post 25 August 1934 (mother of the bridegroom) wore a brown silk frock and swagger coat and a hat of brown and fawn straw.
Grey River Argus, 6 June 1901, Page 3
Timaru, June 4th. The Supreme Court, was occupied this afternoon with the case of Jeremiah McCarthy, charged with manslaughter in 1895 by beating with a stick an old swagger, apparently half witted, who called at his farm, breaking his leg and collarbone, then wheeling him away in a barrow and leaving him on the roadside, where he died in a couple of days, and it is alleged that McCarthy took the body in a trap farther from his house and 1_ ft it again on the roadside. He was charged with murder in 1895, but the grand jury threw out the bill The principle witness at this trial is one of accused's daughters, a girl between 12 and 13 at the time of the occurrence. This girls is now 19 and states that she saw her father beat the man with a stick and carry him from the house and throw him over a wire fence, and afterwards wheel him about a quarter of a mile to a public road. Deceased was seen on the roadside by two other young people next day. Accused sent one of his children with, food and tea for him that morning and in the afternoon took him some himself. Next morning he shifted him and it was suggested that he was probably dead at this time. The cross examination failed to shake the girl's story on any material point. The case will probably last all day to-morrow. The peculiarity about it is that deceased was not identified except by a few people who saw him a day or two days before he reached McCarthy's. It is not known where he came from and the name he gave, one witness (Thomas Sullivan) is doubtful whether it was his own name.
Wairarapa Daily Times, 25 September 1905, Page 7 A
The mystery surrounding the supposed suicide of a man named Thomas Chambers, at Orari, nineteen miles from Timaru, is exciting considerable interest in South Canterbury. The body was found in a paddock, close to a plantation, and near the main road between Orari and Rangitata. The deceased was lying on his back with his head towards the plantation, and a bad cut across his throat. In the same paddock was found a cap, and in the plantation was picked up a pair of drawers, a towel, a table knife, and a new billy. What puzzled the police and others at the trail was the fact that there was practically no blood on the body and clothes, or on the ground where it lay, and moreover, there was no knife or other instrument at hand to indicate how deed had been carried out.
The evidence at the inquest went to prove that probably the body had been lying in the rain for a day or two, and the blood had been washed away, and it was further suggested that the deceased might have cut his throat and thrown the knife away afterwards, and that, it might still be tying somewhere in the tussocks. Strange to say, there was no medical evidence called on at the inquest to show the extent of the injuries, and the result is that there is a doubt as to whether the important vessels of the man's throat were actually cut or not, the body having been interred at Geraldine the same night, by torchlight.
Naturally, public opinion has been aroused since the inquest, and rumours have been current that the man was murdered, and did not commit suicide, as was supposed. A constable went to Orari on Monday last, and after two hours' search made an important find, which clearly showed that the deceased had either been murdered, or had cut his throat a considerable distance from where his body was found. A quarter of a mile away the constable came on a large pool of blood, a razor smeared with blood, a pair of drawers, a flannel, a rug, a sack, and two butcher's knives, rolled up in a copy of the English Field. There were also signs of someone having rolled in the tussocks near the pool of blood. If the case is one of suicide the man had to walk a-quarter of a mile and climb a post and-rail fence after he had cut his throat and bled.
On Thursday morning, an Orari resident, who conducted an independent investigation about the locality where the body and swag were found, and who made drawings of suspicious footprints, discovered at a spot between the cap and the billy a piece of flat iron similar to what a stonemason uses to scrape soft stone, wrapped up in another piece of the Field.
It is now said that a storekeeper in the district remembers selling a new billy to a strange swagger, who was passing through on the day that Chambers went in the same direction. The fact that a new billy was found in the plantation, and what appeared to be two separate camps were discovered a-quarter ©f a mile from each other, has led some to believe that Chambers was not alone in the paddock. The people of the district naturally feel uneasy until the mystery is definitely cleared xip, and before this can be done the body may have to be exhumed.
Ashburton Guardian, 29 August 1908, Page 3
Timaru, August 28. All accident occurred at Seadown, near Timaru, on Thursday night, a swagger, who had been sleeping in a stack, being badly burned about the head and body through his pipe having set fire to the straw about him while he slept. Early on Thursday morning the injured man went to the homestead at Seadown to seek assistance. He was in a pitiable plight, his head having every vestige of hair burned off it, while his clothes were also nearly burned off him, and he had painful burns all over him. A blister a foot long was formed on the. right side of the back, and another large one on the right chest. Bits of his hat were burned fast to-the skin on the top of his head, and his hands were, greatly swollen. His trousers were also burned through. His wounds wore dressed, and a suit of clothes was given to him. An offer was made to drive him to the hospital, but he declined, saying that he would be all right.
Dominion, 3 March 1914, Page 6
Waimate, March 2. All inquest was held to-day on the charred remains found in a two-roomed cottage at Waihao Forks burnt down on Saturday night about 11 o'clock. The licensee of the Forks Hotel saw the glare of a fire from inside his premises. On. going outside ho found a small cottage about 100 yards away in flames. He failed to gain admittance. When the fire had burned down, the charred remains, which were proved to be those of a man about 35 years of age, and presumably those of David Sullivan, a swagger, who was seen to leave Waimate For the Forks by the last train on Saturday night, were found. Sullivan is supposed to have been sleeping in the cottage in which were five bunks, no other trace of him having been found. A verdict was given accordingly.
'As a child growing up in the
1940s I remember the occasional swagger's visit to our farm at Tripp Settlement.
The road was visible for a mile or so and I remember watching these weary men
traipsing towards our house. Dad never turned them away, always offering a bed
in the shed. Mum sent Dad with a cooked meal over for them when tea was ready.
They were always gone in the morning.
I remember thinking about them having to sleep in the hayshed with no bed of their own. The tattered clothing was another memory I have....a long muddy coat, a battered hat and a bag on the back is what I remember vividly. I suppose a blanket would have been part of the contents of the bag. Swaggers were never considered a problem or likely to cause trouble. They were usually looked upon as harmless tramps just looking for some food and a lie down. Some did work for the farmer and I have a vague recollection of wood chopping at home, but I am not sure about that. ' Margaret Todd - posted March 2010.
Otago Witness 9 July 1896, Page 41
11.- THE SWAGGER.
The winter ain't been bad as yet, though frosts was pretty keen,
But there's one thing that I'll tell you, mate, the country's getting mean
The price of wool is lookin' up, the harvest ain't been bad,
But for them that's on the wallaby there's little to be had.
The country's lookin' not so bad, the prospect's pretty fair,
But for coves that's out of collar, mate, there's hunger in the air.
I mind the time when men was pinched and things was pretty blue
For the mortgage-burdened station and the struggling cockatoo,
But if work was hard of getting and a fellow had to tramp
He was pretty sure of tucker and a decent place to camp.
But it's when God's hand is open most with plenty and to spare
That the swagger feels it roughish when there's hunger in the air.
It isn't fallin' wages that makes a fellow sick.
We had our turn of fairish times, there ain't no cause to kick ;
And drink, that cursed the most of us, helped pay the country's way,
But there's thousands tramping on the roads that do no work to-day.
And when skies ate grey above us it seems middlin' hard to bear
The feeling that the swagger has of hunger in the air.
A rabbiter or digger cove will stand a chap a feed—
The poor man helps the poorer best in any time of need-
But cockatoos with decent homes and firesides warm and bright
Will send a starving fellow-man to sleep outside at night.
With stations mostly busted up that once was pretty fair
It's little wonder there's a feel of hunger in the air.
I don't count much on parson-talk, I ain't an Army cove,
And blest if I can understand some people's God of Love ;
They didn't use to go to church so much a few years back
And they hadn't such a deny on the bloke upon the track,
They weren't mean and grasping and they had a feed to spare,
And fellows wasn't made to feel the hunger in the air.
I used to read the Bible once, and thought it pretty clear
That Christ was on the wallaby that time that He was here,
And when He looked around about some likely mates to choose
He didn't pick on squatter swells or well-off cockatoos ;
And I used to sometimes fancy, with their tramping here and there.
The Lord and His disciples felt the hunger in the air.
Well, there ain't much use in talking— I'd best hump my bluey on,
There'll be goodish men and meanish men when we'll be dead and gone ;
I'd be happy as a skylark if I dropped across a job,
And as for saving money— well, you know, at fifteen bob,
With his clo'es and his tobacco, a chap won't have much to spare,
But it's something that he'll miss awhile, the hunger in the air !
Pukotoi, June 26. David M'Kee Wright.
The National Debt
Taranaki Herald, 4 June 1894, Page 2 UNEMPLOYED IN CANTERBURY
SUGGESTIONS OF A WORKING MAN. The Minister of Labour has received the following outspoken letter from a working man in South Canterbury: — "You will excuse me, a stranger, to you, for taking up your time, but as a working man and one who appreciates the efforts of yourself and colleagues in endeavours to ameliorate the workers' condition, I feel that in offering the following suggestions you will accept my apology without criticism. I have noted the difficulty which the department occasionally meets in finding work for the large number of men who make use of it for the purpose of obtaining employment, and, as you are aware, since last election the land owners are determined to give as little work as possible, the intention being, as some of the papers put it, to harass the Government. Now, in South Canterbury the roads are covered with gorse in many places, and, with the exception of the Geraldine Board, the Road Boards neglect then - duties in the matter. Work could be found for hundreds of men at gorse alone if pressure could be brought to bear upon the Road Boards to do their duty and enforce the powers they possess in the matter. After suggesting that voting power should be given to swaggers, he continues : — "Now regarding the State farm, about five years ago a leading article in the Canterbury Times severely criticised the hordes of wandering loafers''— I think that was how it put it — 'going about the country.' I replied to that letter, and pointed out at the time the the desirability of establishing such a farm in the different provinces, more as a place of refuge for the unemployed than as a place for sinking money to spend in drink, and I can assure you, from my experience of the average unemployed, that drink is at the bottom of the evil. I am not a prohibitionist nor temperance fanatic, and in periods of depression have earned the 'national debt' (N.B. — slang for swagger's blanket) upon my back, looking for work. I can assure you I have studied the question, and can state positively that three-fourths of the poverty amongst the labouring classes is caused by thriftlessness. I hold that the Government is wrong in finding employment for all comers, and though a single man I maintain that only married men should be employed on relief works. Take my case. I left work at Christmas with £10. I made £8 harvesting, and up to date £11 on a threshing mill. I spent £5 on clothes, was in work all the time, and yet am the possessor of about 30s. There are hundreds like me ; and should the State be compelled to keep me. If the Government were to look well into every case, and find out what a high old time the 'poor unemployed' can put through occasionally, I am certain the result would be beneficial to the country."
The sky is my roof
The field is my bed
The tussock my pillow
by The Hon. John Burke O'Brien
Timaru Herald, 15 March 1900, Page 2
John Burke O'Brien, after serving a longish term, paid Fairlie a visit, and a short time was escorted to the local lock-up by Constable Willoughby. On being brought before Mr F. R. Gillingham, J.P., he was again ordered to Timaru to do seven days for drunkenness. He begged to be allowed a return ticket, but was informed that his return was not desired.
Hawke's Bay Herald, 4 January 1892, Page 4
Waipawa Court Dec. 31 1892. This morning, before Messrs Inglis and Leslie, justices, John Burke O'Brien was charged with vagrancy, and pleaded not guilty. ..defendant sated that he had only been in town one day when he was locked up; he said he had regular employment at Blackburn's flaxmill. O'Brien commenced protesting against his incarceration and declaring he would appeal against his sentence of two months' with hard labor in Napier gaol. Then he burst out into something like poetry, which was rudely interrupted by the constable removing him. As nearly as I could catch, the words he said were like poetry and went like this: -
Honest men like me to gaol are sent,
Sad and cruel is their tale.
Alas! Too often they repent
of being too honest for to steal.
For when they leave the prison vile
The police are on their track;
Poverty's their only crime,
For a longer period they're sent back.
I believe he had a record of eleven convictions since April last.
Observer, 28 September 1895, Page 19
John Burke O'Brien is one of Wellington's Police Court celebrities. He had only been out of gaol a few hours last week when the police again collared him for drunkenness. John Burkes story to the S.M. was that he was a correspondent of an influential paper, and had got drunk under very peculiar circumstances. The fact was, Your Worship, he had Just received a good appointment at Temuka, worth £200 and travelling expenses, and his friends had taken advantage of the occasion to tender him a champagne supper, the after-effects of which were the cause of his appearance in the dock. This journalistic engagement story is an old one with John, and as it is persisted in, Magistrate Martin decided to remand him for seven days, to ascertain whether it is not a genuine hallucination.
Press, 26 July 1909, Page 6
A notorious character, John Burke O'Brien, well known in Christchurch, is reported to have died last week in Auckland, after an unsuccessful operation. The old man had come down very much in the world. It is said he occupied the position of war correspondent in the American Civil War. He could (according to an exchange) speak four different languages, including Greek. Drink was the cause of his downfall.
He's a character alright,
He's fond of getting tight,
And with hobbies then he'll fight,
He's a whale at lowering beer,
And it gets him on his ear,
When he does things that are queer,
The sundowner seemed to have gone the way of the moa.
Otago Witness 21 October 1882, Page 26 THE SCIENCE OF
The loafer found an excellent representative in the Colonial " sundowner," the bete noir of stationholders. A happy, careless, gay dog was he. When summer was abroad in the land, and the time of singing-birds was come, then he might have been seen, with swag on shoulder, strolling leisurely along pleasant country roads, or smoking on some grassy bank, or taking a quiet siesta, with his hat tipped over his eyes, beneath a shady tree ; but as soon as the glow of sunset died in the western sky he would be sure to make his way to some friendly station. Flinging his burden on the ground, he would saunter up to the house, and greet the boss with : " Good evening, sir. Could you let a chap have a shake-down in the hut ? " uttered in such a tone of assured complacency that only the heart of a Nero could refuse. Then he took up his quarters in the hut ; shared the men's supper — probably found fault with it ; smoked by the fire ; made the men discontented by telling them of the much better wages they could get elsewhere ; looked out for a comfortable bunk ; slept the sleep of the just ; ate a good breakfast ; begged enough cold food for a lunch ; and went on his way rejoicing, to make another homestead ere the shades of evening fell. The sundowner never thought of giving the smallest return for the hospitality bestowed upon him. If anyone were mean enough to suggest that he might do some light work, such as wood-cutting, he would do it, but with such an injured expression and so reluctantly, that a man's heart smote him that he should have demanded payment for what the wayfarer evidently considered as his by prescriptive right. Sometimes, before resuming his way, the sundowner would saunter into the shearing-shed, and look with an expression of lazy sarcasm on the halfnaked, sweat -begrimed toilers there, evidently lost in wonder that men who might be loafers could be such fools as to work. During the harsh, inclement winter time these happy-goluckys disappeared no man knew whither. Perhaps they hybernated in some cosy nook, and only awoke to life and uselessness when the returning warmth called forth again the gnats, mosquitoes, snakes, and other vermin. But the "old order changeth, giving place to new," and the absurd system of free emigration has been fatal to the sundowners, for there are now hundreds of men throughout the country ready to work for wages, and glad to do it. The loafing vagabond is fast becoming extinct, with the moa, and the apteryx, and the native rat. It would be a problem worthy the investigation of the curious where these peripatetic mendicants have disappeared to. It cannot be that they have all turned into honest working men — that were a transformation too absurd ;...
Nevertheless, the world makes shift to do without them, and the station hands are not more discontented, and the station rations not at all the less, that no confiding wanderer makes his appearance at the homestead gate when the summer day is closing and the cold dews fall. So much for the sundowner — a vagabond pure and simple ; a useless, poor loafer, ignorant and mean, content to eat the bread of idleness, and die in a ditch. ...They insist that education and culture are of no value in the Colonies ; that he fares best who knows only how to do the hardest, lowest manual labour. This is true to a certain extent ; but, being aware of the fact, would it not be better for thorn to forget a little of the useless lumber with which their brains are packed, and learn to use their hands ? They pride themselves on their exclusiveness, their descent, on their accomplishments. All these are good ; but let them add thereto a little honesty, a little manly ambition, some touch of true pride and pluck. Let them become teachers, carpenters, blacksmiths, chimney-sweeps — anything in the world but loafers.
I'm out in the cruel world
I'm out in the street
I'm asking a penny
From each one I meet.
Sadly I roam
What will become of me
I have no home.
Otago Witness 19 October 1888, Page 34
My experience teaches me that the majority of them are always ready to give a fair day's work for a fair wage, but their besetting sin is drink and extravagance. A new chum lands in New Zealand and gets a job. When this is finished he starts upcountry to look for another, and gets one, and so on over and over again. He is shut up on a station, and the first time he comes to a town with his mates perhaps he gets a glass or two of drink (and such drink!), and ultimately knocks down his cheque or is robbed. He has no friends in the colony, and he is shut off from that great softner and corrector of human infirmaties, wholesome female influence, as he does not stay long enough in one place to become acquainted with womenfolk. In the course of two or three years are formed that will influence his habits for evil through life; he has no home to stay in but the hotel, where he has every facility for drinking while he has money, and he is shown the door when his money is done. In the summer he is welcomed by those who wish to buy what he has to sell— viz., his labour ; but in winter, when he wants a job he is not so welcome and is very often called a loafer. There are many swaggers who think they have a right to the hospitality of the squatter to the extent of supper, breakfast, and a shakedown in return for the convenience afforded him by the fraternity in providing men whenever he wants them. I fail to see, however, why a squatter should be taxed to the extent of finding 10 or a dozen men in food every night, and receiving no labour in return. If he wants a man he employs him, and when he has finished his job he is paid, and very likely knocks his cheque down at the first pub., and has to beg his way until he gets another job. My experience teaches me that a man who " hoists bluey " in New Zealand is a fool; for if a man stays in one neighborhood, and is steady and industrious he can always get full employment in nearly any country district; and my advice to any one who is about to start on the " wallaby " is —" Don't." S. E. S.
Where these sundowners
miserable or happy in their wanderings?
Homeless, ragged, and tanned,
Under the changing sky.
Who so free in the land ?
Who so contented as I ?
Timaru Herald, 17 March 1876, Page 3
Many of our readers doubtless remember a Mr Frederick Napier Broome, who was at one time a sheep farmer in Canterbury ; and his wife, who for some unexplained reason chose to retain her former husband's name, and called herself "Lady Barker." This latter was originally a Miss Stewart, of Jamaica, and she acquired her title through her marriage with Captain Barker, R. A., who was made K.C.B. for Crimean and Indian services. That officer died in 1860, and five years afterwards his widow married Mr. Broome and came out to settle in the Malvern Hills. On returning to England in 1869 "Lady Barker" published her "Station Life in New Zealand," a volume which, while, hot altogether void; of interest, is chiefly remarkable for the powers of imagination displayed by its authoress. At all events, if her Ladyship did not pull the long bow tremendously, life on the Broomielaw Station must have been very different from life on any other station in New Zealand; The work however, acquired some reputation for its writer, and others soon followed from her pen. Eventually she published "First principles of cookery," and was immediately appointed Lady Superintendent of the National Training School of Cookery, South - Kensington. When last we heard of her she was being mercilessly exposed by the literary Press in London as one of the coolest and most audacious; plagiarists on record ; it being alleged on apparently indisputable evidence, that some of her books were cribbed holus bolus from other I people; In short her culinary ladyship seems have carried, her professional skill from her kitchen into her literary bureau; and many of her ablesest publications were not, indebted to her for their origin, any more than the meat and vegetables dished up under her auspices at South Kensington. They were rechauffles, cooked truly, by "Lady Barker," but produced in the first, place by the labor of quite other hands and heads than hers. ..
Timaru Herald, 7 October 1897, Page 2
Sergeant Fraser received a telegram yesterday from Constable Parker, Waimate : — "Body of a swagger, apparently about 30 years of age, found dead on the road near Teschmaker's Otaio station at 8 a.m. by John White. Body since removed to Makikihi Hotel. No marks of violence on body, but quantity of blood near body, apparently from mouth. Last seen alive at 4 p.m. yesterday, going in the direction of Teschemaker's station. Had in swag Savings Bank pass book with name John Menchen. Account opened at Makikihi in February last." The Waimate police have arranged for an inquest to be held to-day. [Verdict - Deceased died from the rupture of blood vessels in a diseased lung, probably caused by a fit of coughing. [See report published 09/10/1897, page 2.] [He was buried in the Waimate Old Cemetery, Free Ground, 08/10/1897, 35 years ]
Wanganui Herald, 2 March 1898, Page 2
The " Swagger's " Tip for the Cup.
I was riding down across the run, trying to make it out,
Why wool should fall to sixpence and fats to seven bob :
Why the coleseed and the turnips failed through this infernal drought,
Why the hot fly should attack the draughts and kill my favorite cob.
When I came to a lean old swagger with his bluey and billy and dog,
Lighting his fire near the boundary fence, in the lee of a dead gum log —
Who asked for a fill of tobacco and if he could get a job,
And said "He hadn't earned that month more than fifteen blessed bob!
" So he couldn't go to the races though he had a real good tip, "
And he'd pass it on if I gave my word not to give it lip "
For half a quid and two long beers down at the bush hotel :
" And if I didn't like his terms then I could go to ____ "
So thinking I might make a bit and see the Jubilee Cup,
I agreed to his conditions and began to anty up—
He answered me " Gor-bli-me, boss ! as you have acted fair,
" This is the griffin straight old man, and I'm talkin' on the square : — "
Back the black 'un ! that's old Swordfish for all your bloomin' bit
" For Jim McTaggart rides him and he's lookin bloomin 1 fit :
" And if he don't come out on top I'll bet that you will say
" You've had the best run for your stuff you've had for many day.
" And St. Paul ! Yes— he'll be second, and Leda she'll be third
"From Tire — he's a good 'un— some thinks they've got a bird : —
"But there— it's quite enough and more to make a punter swear "
I think I'd give them drinks of yours if I could but be there "
Then he kicked out at his dog and missed; and swore till all was blue,
And I guessed what he had earlier said might very near be true :
And so I just came on to town, and I write to let you know
How to put your bit upon the tote and make a pound or go ;
And if the good thing should get home I'll ask you to a sup
Of a bottle of dry monopole to drink our Jubilee Cup.
South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project