Settlers, politicians and scientists: Environmental anxiety in a New Zealand colony

Neil Clayton

Anyone who made the decision to emigrate from Britain to New Zealand in the 1840s was, whether they thought about it or not, turning their personal clock back a century or more, to a time when ‘the greatest single flywheel of the economy was the land’. In another sense too, some were reaching back to an ever-receding past, to a time when, they imagined, paternalism was ‘a profoundly important component not only of ideology, but of the actual institutional mediation of social relations.’ And in leaving behind them the industrial environments of Britain, they were each in their various ways, searching for a Virgilian Arcadia, ‘of fields, of cattle and of trees’.[1]

The Wakefield system of colonisation, out of which grew the first five colonies in New Zealand (at Wellington, Nelson, New Plymouth, Otago and Canterbury), was grounded in a paternalism which had already ceased to exist in rural Britain.[2] Those who wanted to ‘get on’ needed encouragement to ‘get out’, if they were to ensure progress for themselves and their families.[3]

Selection of emigrants by class provided a ‘proper balance’ between capital and labour. Above all, the allocation of land at a ‘sufficient price’, and George Rennie’s division of it into town, suburban and rural allotments, provided a mechanism for social control.[4] In the largely Scottish colony of Otago, with its powerful overlay of religious and educational sentiment, the colony’s leaders intended to use the land as a tool for the maintenance of Free Church ideology. But, from the earliest days, a series of tensions emerged between colonial theory and aspiration and the actualities of colonisation, which seems to have gone largely unanticipated by the promoters of the Otago colony.

The Arcadian ideal, as James Belich has pointed out, ‘was the sturdy yeoman, living self-sufficiently and independently, with his family on his own farm.’[6] Stresses were likely to be generated when that goal remained unrealised and land was apparently un-utilised.

They were generated too by the land itself, or rather by individual perceptions of it. Landscape, as Simon Schama reminds us, ‘is the work of the mind … it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape.’ Every landscape also carries multiple symbolic meanings ‘which emanate from the values by which people define themselves … Every river is more than just one river. Every rock is more than just one rock.’[7]

And, as Richard White has noted, for most white migrants ‘nature’ was a God-given set of commodities, which they were duty bound to exploit. That which had no utility value had no place in a human dominated environment. The only exceptions were those species which ‘inspire feelings of beauty, reverence, awe or sublimity’.[8]

The values carried to Otago by the colonists were grounded in circumstances quite different from those they found in their new landscape. Moreover, although they could not then imagine or know it, the landscape into which they came had evolved under very different geological and biological conditions from that which they had left.[9]

The agricultural passions of an ‘improving’ era, the scientific rationality and natural religion of the Enlightenment and its popular extension, the physiocracy of Humboldt, Buffon and the rest, new visions of a Pacific Arcadia: all these things shaped and preconditioned the colonists’ dreams and images of New Zealand, and were, as Schama put it, ‘projected onto wood and water and rock.’[10]

When their new environment did not contain the things they expected to find, when it presented the unexpected, and when it responded to their efforts to exploit and transform it in unpredictable and, all too often, unwelcome ways, they were discomfited, puzzled and anxious. Against this background, the Otago colony, from its genesis in Scotland in the early 1840s, to its final demise with the abolition of the New Zealand provinces in the 1870s, presents a microcosm of mid nineteenth century environmental anxiety within a small colonial society.

The survey presented here is a case study of the first two and a half decades of the social construction and reconstruction of the Otago environment by its earliest white colonisers. The colonists have been allowed to speak for themselves as much as possible; to define the problems for themselves as and when their observations of their new environment began to conflict with their expectations of it; to grope their way towards an understanding of what was happening; to articulate their individual ideas about the possibilities for mitigating those conflicts; and to argue and bicker their way towards some sort of political rapprochement about changing the way they did things.[11]

Emerging tensions: ‘a rabid English dissenter’

The prosecution of two labourers in 1850 some eighteen months after the founding of the Otago colony for taking firewood from the Town Belt, a wooded reserve on the slopes above the small village of Dunedin, gives an early insight into the way in which tensions emerged about the land and the resources it contained and the underlying sources of those tensions.

Captain William Cargill, the New Zealand Company’s Resident Agent for the settlement, had advertised in the Otago News that he had been called upon ‘by Authority’ to conserve public land in the province, and in the Town Belt. His powers included conservation of ‘the Timber and Underwood of every description upon any of these lands’. Squatters on reserves would be prosecuted under a Summary Ejectment Ordinance. Anyone helping themselves to the timber or underwood without a special licence could expect similar treatment.[12]

Within a fortnight he had his first prosecution. A couple of labourers found themselves in the Dunedin Resident Magistrates Court. Invited by the English magistrate Alfred Chetham Strode to take a soft line, Cargill instead called upon the full rigour of the law. Gaven Park was fined one shilling and costs. Strode noted wryly that it could have been a great deal more. Cargill elected not to proceed against the other labourer, Thomas Eade. Park’s conviction would serve as warning enough.

The Otago News took a particularly dim view of the proceedings. The editor, H.B. Graham, no friend of Cargill, devoted a particularly vitriolic editorial to the plight of unemployed Dunedin labourers and Cargill’s alleged moralistic antagonism towards them. It was hard enough for them to afford the necessities of life from an irregular wage, without compelling them to buy firewood. It would cost at least four shillings and eight pence a week for them to do so.[13]

English custom and common law enshrined the practice of taking firewood from forested land. The right to do so tended to reside in the user, rather than the land, and was both sanctioned and qualified by particular local usages. Graham viewed the denial of common use of the Town Belt as an instance of class conflict, which had so often marked acts of enclosure in eighteenth century Britain.

But the laws of the English in Otago, invoked here by a Scot, could take ‘no [more] cognisance of … a communal personality’ than they had in Scotland. Class settlement and exclusive rights in land were now enshrined in the Terms of Purchase of Land in the Settlement of Otago, in the drafting of which Cargill had had a major hand. Therein lay the seeds of contradiction and contention.[14]

Graham’s view of the Town Belt affair, a small incident in a remote and insignificant colony, is understandable. He was a Sassenach, and ‘a rabid English dissenter’ at that. The European social upheavals of 1848 were very much to the fore in his mind. Cargill’s ethos had been shaped by quite different influences. Simply by being a Scot, born in the latter part of the eighteenth century, he had absorbed the cultural aftermath of English colonialism in Scotland.

His prosecution of Parke and Eade laid open not only the social tensions in the colony but also a growing awareness across social boundaries that the colony was not the Arcadia its founders had made it out to be, and which their followers had expected to find. Ultimately the sources of those tensions lay deep within the mentalities of those who colonised Otago.[15]

Playing to the Arcadian market: ‘a clean and unspoiled environment’

From the little that has been recorded of Cargill’s education and personal background prior to his arrival in Otago, it is hard to discern any direct environmental concerns arising from them. If he was aware of the intellectual ferment with its roots in the French and German Enlightenment then going on in the Scottish universities, there is, as yet, no evidence of it.[16] Cargill and those of his fellow settlers who were also Scottish were, however, very directly involved in the intellectual movements which coincided with the changes in land ownership, deforestation and population removal that swept Scotland during the eighteenth century.[17] In looking to southern New Zealand, Cargill and the other protagonists of the Otago scheme appeared to be seeking ‘a clean and unspoiled environment’ in which to carry out their religious and social experiment.[18]

In their recruiting for their New Edinburgh, Cargill and the Reverend Thomas Burns, who would be appointed the first Presbyterian minister to the Otago colony, were not above playing to the Arcadian market, that market exploited by E.G. Wakefield and the New Zealand Association in their advocacy of New Zealand as a Better Britain, ‘the most beautiful country with the finest climate and the most productive soil’.[19]

Cargill played heavily on the tensions between young and robust Scottish sexuality and the ‘moral restraint’ he believed was demanded by a burgeoning British population. Release lay in emigration. Burns drew a parallel between the proposed Otago colony and the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ of New England whose achievement was ‘pregnant with instruction.’ The Reverend Cotton Mather’s General Considerations for the Plantation of New England struck him as particularly apt:

The whole earth is the Lord’s garden, and he hath given it to the sons of Adam to be tilled and improved by them; why then should we stand starving here for places of habitation, and in the mean time suffer whole countries as profitable to the use of man to be waste, without improvement.[20]

Much of the confidence of the Otago protagonists appeared to rest on the word of a few individuals with very limited experience of New Zealand. One, Mr. Whytlaw, told the inaugural meeting of the Otago Association of the salubrity of climate and the ‘production of the country’, based on his experiences in the Bay of Islands.[21] Arcadian images of New Zealand were equally well-nourished by J.L. Nicholas, who had accompanied the missionary Samuel Marsden on a voyage from Sydney to northern districts of the North Island in the summer of 1814-15. He favourably compared the climate, soil, natural resources and vegetation of those districts he had seen, with those of New South Wales. Though he never went to the South Island, he differed from Cook’s estimation of it as mountainous and barren.[22]

A little more reliance could be placed on a report prepared by Captain William Mein Smith, Surveyor General to the New Zealand Company. Smith had at least visited Otago harbour in 1842. The surface soil was ‘a rich vegetable deposit’, rocky in places, overlying clay loam. Brick clay and sandstone suitable for building were available. Timber, including totara, matai, rimu, kahaikatea [sic], and kowai [sic] was ‘abundant though not as large as it is more to the north, [and] is sufficiently large for all common purposes in building.’

Bush covered the hills on both sides of the harbour, but towards the southwest it gave way to fern and grass. He thought this would lead to ‘a very large extent of fine country.’ The editor of The New Zealand Journal opined that ‘the New Edinburgh pioneers’ had, in Mein Smith’s report, a means of judging Otago as an alternative choice to the original proposal to site themselves at Banks Peninsula.[23]

Frederick Tuckett, the surveyor despatched to the South Island to determine a suitable site for the colony, also gave qualified approval to the Otago region. Writing to a fellow English Quaker, a Mr S. Hodgkinson, from Otakou, on 16 August 1844, he gave a fairly glowing account of what he had found. He might have been less sanguine had he had a better appreciation of the implications of the policy of concentration of population espoused by Cargill, Burns and the Lay Association.

A couple of weeks after Tuckett penned his letter, the New Zealand Company’s Principal Agent, Colonel William Wakefield, sent a despatch to Thomas Cudbert Harington, secretary to the company’s London court of directors, describing what he had seen of Otago. By that time Tuckett had completed his reconnaissance. Wakefield ‘perambulate[d] the boundaries’ before confirming Tuckett’s recommendation.[24]

He found that at the head of the Otago harbour, the steep, timber covered hillsides abruptly changed to ‘long slopes or downs, upon which grows good grass mixed with shrubs’ indicative, he thought, of a strong soil. Here the town would be sited, fronting onto the harbour. To the west of the site ‘some undulating slopes, covered to the water’s edge with beautiful timber and copse wood’ offered space for several hundred ten-acre sections.[25]

Cargill and Burns could reasonably feel that they had enough evidence from those who had seen Otago to confirm their deepest beliefs and aspirations. Providence had given them a vision, and now the possibility, of an Antipodean Eden.’[26]

But in the end even Cargill would realise that choosing one’s Arcadia based on the accounts of others can be a risky business. What he and his followers could not know, as they prepared to emigrate, was that the very nature of their colony would prove in many ways incompatible with the land itself. The Terms of Purchase, central to the idée fixe that Cargill, Burns and the Otago Association had for the Otago colony, were constructed in and for a European setting. Responses to Otago’s places would, at least initially, also be structured upon European ideas, education and experience.

Nevertheless, as the John Wickliffe and Philip Laing sailed into Otago Harbour in late March and early April 1853, the sylvan setting and autumnal serenity of the surroundings could only have confirmed to most of the immigrants on board that they had chosen well. Here in a climate conducive to progress and betterment of the human condition and in an ‘empty’ land they could indeed cultivate the Lord’s Garden. The Otago environment seemed to offer all that was hoped for in the way of an Arcadian release.

Little more than a year passed before incidents like that in the Town Belt began to define for the colonists a sharp conflict between their observations of the Otago environment and the ideas about it that they had carried with them across half a world. European norms coupled with degrees of ability or inability and unwillingness to recognise new realities would make for an often difficult and protracted adjustment to Otago’s radically different places and environmental conditions.

Confronting complexity: The Otago Colony, 1848–1853

That such an adjustment would sooner or later have to be made became evident to a few colonists as early as the beginning of 1849 when they began to recognise the complex realities behind the façade of their new Eden. They might have known. In 1843, a year before Tuckett had endorsed Otago, Dr Ernst Dieffenbach, botanist to the New Zealand Company in the early 1840s, published a book trenchantly critical of the suitability of the South Island for close settlement. If Cargill, Burns or the Otago Association read it, they appear to have given it scant notice.

Like Tuckett, Dieffenbach had observed that the luxuriance of the forest immediately surrounding Queen Charlotte’s Sound quickly gave way, towards the east, to rugged country. It was covered with bracken fern, relieved only here and there by brushwood, and hemmed in by ‘Snowy Mountains’.

These conditions indicated, in his view, that a European population, ‘A squatting population’ [his emphasis], must disperse itself in small communities around the coast, converting the country to grass and clover pasture on which to raise sheep and cattle. In almost every way, Dieffenbach’s assessment of the east coast of the South Island, although based on limited evidence, would eventually be confirmed.[27]

By the beginning of 1849 comments about the reality of the situation began to appear in the columns of the Otago News. In January ‘A Perambulator’ asked what was being done to ensure the supply of Wakefield’s ‘abounding fresh water’. The town was not liberally supplied with this blessing and what there was of it was being contaminated by rubbish and dirt, ‘which it seems to be no one’s business to remove.’ One stream, behind the surveyor’s office, had become ‘a stagnant pestiferous pool, foul and noisome, and unless speedily cleansed and opened, will be the cause of engendering disease and death among our hitherto healthy townsfolk.’[28]

Later that year an anonymous contributor to the News drew attention to the growing scarcity of wood:

The face of the country is everywhere rugged and hilly and densely wooded throughout … But good timber for building purposes is not very abundant, and in all accessible localities is rapidly becoming scarcer. Hence sawn timber in the neighbouring town of Dunedin bears high prices, and is not likely to be cheaper, as when the supply from the adjacent country fails, the inhabitants will have to import it by sea from a distance … One of the most serious impediments to the speedy progress of some of the rural districts, in an agricultural point of view, is the great scarcity of wood for fuel as well as for building. A man will not settle, for instance, in the midst of the Tokomairiro plain, however good the land may be, if he is to starve from cold for want of fuel.[29]

Another series of letters and leading articles in the News began to question Cargill’s adherence to a policy of concentration, when it had become obvious that the Dunedin hinterland was, as Dieffenbach had suggested, better suited to pastoral rather than agricultural development. And where arable land was available, it was equally evident that an acute scarcity of suitable and accessible timber for firewood, fencing and house construction prevented much of it being farmed. Nor did the climate of Otago live up to the claims made for it. ‘That it is healthier we have undeniable proof; though [it is] not the painless Eden we were led to expect,’ Graham reminded his readers.[30]

Despite these now-evident shortcomings, Cargill remained determined to achieve some sort of balanced approach to land use. A balance of land, capital and labour lay at the heart of the Wakefield scheme of colonisation, and had the endorsement of the Otago Association. Cargill intended to give substance to the vision by insisting on an orderly approach to land allocation and use. The Terms of Purchase gave him the means to do so.

Nevertheless, the need to conserve already scarce timber resources, to provide adequate water supplies and above all to find both in close proximity to sufficient arable land to allow close settlement of the Otago Block now emerged as a contradictory policy imperative. Incidents like that in the Town Belt threw the necessity into sharp relief. To meet the need would stretch the powers inherent in his position as Resident Agent. Before long, the rapidly changing fortunes of the New Zealand Company would oblige him to seek other means.[31]

The Charter of the New Zealand Company, empowering it, by an Act of the British Parliament, to acquire land and carry out a scheme of colonisation in New Zealand, had up to this point underpinned settlement of the Otago Colony. Cargill derived his authority, as Resident Agent, from written instructions and a power of attorney received from the Court of Directors of the Company, just prior to his departure for New Zealand, late in 1847.[32]

The Company expected Cargill, once he had arrived in Otago, to consult with landowners and draft a set of land regulations that would suit the situation he found. Not surprisingly, Cargill procrastinated. He had his Terms of Purchase and he was determined to stick to them. As well, he could as a Justice of the Peace invoke New Zealand Government legislation, like the ‘New Munster Ordinances, Summary Ejectment Ordinance’, under which he took the prosecution against the two labourers on the Town Belt reserve, giving him a cheap and expeditious means of dealing with unlawful occupation or land use.[33]

But, riven by internal strife and lacking support from the British Government, the New Zealand Company soon found itself in its death throes. As a consequence, and as New Zealand moved slowly towards implementation of a Constitution Act in 1852, land administration in Otago took on a decidedly Byzantine aspect.

The collapse of the New Zealand Company left Cargill out on a limb. No longer Resident Agent, he found himself effectively stripped of legal authority, apart from that which he enjoyed as a JP. His appointment as Commissioner of Crown Lands for the ‘Otago District’ in February 1851 overcame some of the difficulty, at least as far as land administration went. But his terms of appointment effectively limited his authority to the original Otago Block. Then, in October, the Governor, Sir George Grey, appointed Walter Mantell as Commissioner for much of the rest of the South Island south of the Waitaki River, excepting part of the Otago Block.

Sharpening perceptions: Conflicting ideas and practical realities

The two appointments were a recipe for conflict and personal acrimony. Cargill persisted with his policy of concentration of the community within the Otago Block. Mantell, answerable to Grey rather than the colonists, took a different line. Unconstrained by ideology, he could meet a considerable demand for land by those who, for various reasons, did not see themselves bound by the Terms of Purchase. So he allocated land more or less according to the applicants’ wishes, as the provisions of the New Munster Crown Lands Ordinance allowed. With two quite disparate approaches to land allocation, the one theocratic and the other pragmatic, the stage was set for high drama.[34]

In the summer of 1852-3, W.H. Cutten, writing editorially for the Otago Witness, recorded a personal progress through the settled districts south of Dunedin, comparing them with earlier observations in 1848. The necessity to conserve timber forcibly impressed him. From 1851 onwards the dearth of timber had began to have a direct bearing on land settlement and usage patterns. Cutten observed that arable farming in the new colony depended on three principal resources: fertile soil, and a supply of wood and water.

Pastoral farming, too, made similar demands on wood and water resources. In very few places beyond the immediate vicinity of Dunedin could these things always be found together. On the Taieri, the settlers quickly gave up the reasonably plentiful wood, but impossible soils, in some of the valleys and foothills, in favour of the fertile soils of the open plain. On the Tokomairiro they forsook dispersed settlement on the open plain, congregating their homesteads around the scant supplies of wood. Even then, some less scrupulous elements in the community ‘peacocked’ the countryside, locking up timber supplies to gain control of choice pieces of the landscape.[35]

So within five years of the founding of the Otago the colonists had more or less defined for themselves a number of problems arising from a conflict between their initial ideas about its condition and their actual observations. Perceptions had sharpened to the point where they could recognise a number of environmental conflicts, and articulate their concerns in their public discourse.

Above all, they could not hide the fact that timber in all its forms had already become scarce, in quality as well as quantity. They needed it for so many things. Fuel and building materials were their most urgent needs. But transport and communications were also dependent on the availability of suitable species for the construction of vehicles and watercraft. Furniture and fencing made similar demands. By the middle of 1849 it had become evident that local supplies had fallen well short of demand, if they had ever been capable of meeting that demand.[36]

The realisation that the New Zealand environment could not be made to fit an esoteric social and economic policy gradually dawned on the settlers. They began to understand the points that Dieffenbach and Tuckett had made about the ability of the South Island environment to support close settlement and an economy based on arable farming. It had becoming increasingly clear that much of the Otago landscape was more suited to a pastoral idyll than their ex-Resident Agent was prepared to admit.

Cargill would have none of that. If conflicts existed between ideas and observations of the Otago environment, then they could be mitigated if the colony remained faithful to the Otago Scheme. Always wary of central power and authority, beyond his own of course, he was too much of an autocrat, too ideologically driven to do otherwise. He set his whole mind to establishing and maintaining the religious and social character of the colony.

Gendered landscapes: Mismatch between expectation and environment

It had also become clear to most that, as Graham had said, Otago was not the painless Eden they had been led to expect. Some of the women colonists especially, felt that keenly. For them the mismatch between expectations and environmental realities went beyond making a living in a new land. For them those realities came hard on the heels of that idyllic Indian summer they had enjoyed on arrival in April 1848.

In early May the picnic atmosphere and the adventure of cooking outdoors over open fires dissolved in drizzling northeast rain and cold southerly storms, leaking barracks and struggles to prepare a hot meal under umbrellas ‘held aloft by their husbands’. ‘Sandhills shining in the sun’ and ‘majestic forest giants’ became ‘dark sombre forest, reeking with misty vapours, and hanging on the steep hillsides right down to the water’s edge while the dripping mist rested like a pall overhead, shutting out sun and landscape alike.’[37]

Sarah Low railed against the variable climate and the sombre forest. She had settled with her husband at Green Island Bush, south of Dunedin, where she found it not uncommon to experience four seasons in a day. Both winter and summer wardrobes had to be ‘always at hand’. Scarcely a day passed without very high winds. She told a correspondent that if she had known what to expect she would never have come. And if she did not ‘get to like it better I will not stay.’

Used to the managed woodlands of Britain, she found the New Zealand bush quite impenetrable. Smaller trees and shrubs, with different kinds of supplejack hanging from them ‘render[ed] it impossible to walk out of the Surveyors Paths, which traverse them’. The rank growth of both native and introduced plants surprised her. ‘All kind of vegetation here is gigantic we had some Radishes given us yesterday very large, but no flavor [sic] the Potatoes are splendid (no diseases)’. Another woman colonist described Otago as ‘a very ugly country, rows of brown hills with no character in them’.[38]

It is hardly surprising that a depression of spirits set in, affecting both men and women. A sense of isolation, primitive living conditions, foul weather and the New Zealand bush itself could try the most phlegmatic of constitutions. A newly married couple travelling overland from Dunedin to their run at Mataura in May 1854 became weather bound at Kuriwao. They found themselves cooped up for a fortnight in a single-roomed hut with the owner and his friend, surrounded by dripping, dank bush:

During our stay the weather was so bad that we were obliged to keep the door shut the most part of the day, and the only light at night was a miserable tallow candle stuck in a bottle … Our friend Mr. Fuller [whose hut it was] gave way to melancholy and seldom spoke except to a favourite dog.[39]

From the earliest days of the Otago settlement both men and women sought to relieve the perceived monotony of the New Zealand bush by planting ‘English’ gardens. In 1850 Jane Godley, wife of the Canterbury settlement’s Resident Agent came across a clearing near Port Chalmers where two brothers had built a cottage of split fern trunks and surrounded it with a garden she described as ‘a picture of neatness and quite refreshing and English looking’.[40]

In a similar vein Jane McGlashen, who arrived in the colony in late 1853, contrasted the fern and flax north of Dunedin, which her brothers were converting to farmland, with a ‘pretty nursery garden’ in North East Valley replete with flowering English and Scottish trees, shrubs and bedding plants, including broom, gorse and sweet briar. In due course the latter three took to the Otago landscape rather better than some of the colonists.[41]

Hard on the heels of constructing their cottages the settlers fenced off vegetable and flower gardens both to provide sustenance and to ameliorate some of the strangeness of an unfamiliar landscape. One settler urged intending immigrants to bring with them ‘some haws and some Scotch thistle and some heather with a root, and take care of it on the voyage.’ Gorse seed, a rarity in the new colony, sold for fencing at two shillings and sixpence a pound, almost a day’s wages.[42] Settlers coming to New Zealand in ships which touched at Capetown generally brought flowers and shrubs from there, ‘and they all do uncommonly well’.[43]

Factional stirrings: Adjusting land policy to the Otago landscape

However hard the colonists worked to make their immediate surroundings more congenial, the overriding problem remained of adjusting to a landscape that did not fit their plans for it. Regardless, Cargill continued to allocate land within the Otago Block to anyone still prepared to abide by his Terms of Purchase, while Mantell called for applications and allocated land to all comers.

To compound this, Cargill mistakenly thought he could allocate land anywhere within the 400,000 acre Otago Block. Mantell correctly understood that Cargill’s authority carried no further than the 144,000 acres surveyed and purchased by the New Zealand Company. Both proceeded to allocate land as they saw fit, resulting in acrimonious exchanges between the two. Unsurprisingly, after little more than a year, land administration in Otago had fallen into considerable disarray.[44] Sir George Grey unceremoniously resolved the impasse by abolishing Cargill’s position altogether, an act interpreted as a sign of hostility towards the Otago settlement in general and a private pique against Cargill in particular.[45]

Following Cargill’s dismissal Mantell continued to call for applications for pastoral land within the Otago Block, regardless of continuing criticism from Cargill’s mouthpiece, the Otago Witness. But, having surveyed much of coastal Otago outside the Otago Block from the Waitaki River southward, Mantell considered he had the better appreciation of the location and balance of soil, timber, and water resources needed for successful settlement.

Although, for example, he found the pasture in the Waitaki ‘good throughout and of large extent’ he considered the valley ‘unfit for occupation’ due to the ‘scarcity of timber and even fuel, and distance from a point of shipment’. In the circumstances, timber must be either imported or obtained from the small local sources he had surveyed.[46]

Aware of the pressing need to conserve whatever timber existed, Mantell instituted in Otago a Central Government licensing system for extraction from sources other than Crown lands reserved for public use. Issued for a year at a time, each non-transferrable license limited the extent of the land that could be cut over. It also prohibited interference ‘with a portion of a forest upon which any other person has expended capital or labour’. His action appears to have been in response to an issue with a North Otago runholder caught felling timber on a Crown reserve without authorisation.[47]

While Mantell was out and about attending to the realities of the Otago landscape, political stirrings continued in Dunedin. General expressions of support for Cargill followed immediately upon his sacking by Grey, not so much out of any great sympathy for his policies but because he symbolised local control of land administration. The Otago Witness considered that Grey’s action had virtually ensured Cargill’s election as the first Superintendent of the soon to be established Otago province.

In case there were any doubts about his land policies in the face of Mantell’s activities, Cargill took the opportunity at a dinner held in his honour to emphasise the continuing centrality, in his scheme of things, of the Terms of Purchase for the government of the Otago province:

Allow me for a moment to glance at our origin. The principles of the Otago Scheme are sufficiently asserted in the ‘Terms of Purchase’. No man could possibly misunderstand them or be blind to the fact that they belong to a people who never change or abandon what they have once set their hands to, – and for this simple reason, that they thoroughly understand their principles, and clearly appreciate the rights and privileges of Britons …[48]

To make matters worse, in March 1853 Grey issued new regulations designed to simplify and bring some uniformity to land administration throughout New Zealand. The Cargill faction in Otago responded with the charge that by setting a low price of five shillings an acre, including pastoral land, the regulations cut the ground completely out from under the Wakefield system with its town, suburban and rural sections, its ‘sufficient price’ and its supposedly carefully regulated right to depasture on unallocated land. Cargill at once cast his mind back to the Highland clearances:

Let no man deceive himself by supposing that the owners of estates acquired at so low a figure would sell any portion to increasing colonists. No doubt in certain situations patches of them might be let on easy terms, but assuredly without the admission of a purchasing clause, each leviathan would naturally look to the founding of a Sutherland estate for his own family.[49]

Memories of Assynt and the events of 1813 were never far below the surface in Free Kirk Otago. The following week Cargill returned to the fray with another broadside about converting the Crown lands of New Zealand into

a few Companies or Sutherland estates … the whole might at once be made over to a few Australian or Yankee monopolists – the wideawakes and long purses [looking] for a good and firm bargain under our Queen’s seal which can neither be effaced or [sic] repudiated.[50]

Powerless for the time being to do much more than signal publicly that, should he become the provincial superintendent, his beloved Terms of Purchase would remain at the core of his land policy, Cargill turned his efforts to those ends. For much of the second half of 1853, he and the Otago colonists preoccupied themselves with preparations for and the conduct of the provincial elections and with establishing ground rules for running the Council itself.

Polarised politics: Letting go of the wreckage

At its first formal sitting in early January 1854, the newly-elected but politically divided Council, with Cargill as its Superintendent, set about bringing control of land administration back into local hands. But they struggled to come to terms with their various understandings of the problems presented by Otago’s complex landscapes, let alone being able to agree on possible solutions. The ideas and perceptions of the settlers and their elected representatives were too polarised for that. For his part, William Cargill and his followers clung tightly to the Otago Scheme. Others recognised that the ‘normative ideas’ contained within the Otago Scheme were impossible to reconcile with their emerging understandings of Otago’s environments.

To compound the issue, Grey’s actions in displacing Cargill and imposing a set of land regulations on the Free Church colonists had clearly driven the wedge between the two groups even deeper. Organising political support to overturn the policy of concentrated settlement, and to get effective conservation of, or even equitable access to, scarce resources would prove a difficult task.

The process began at the inaugural session of the Council in January 1854. One of a series of policy resolutions, in the framing of which Cargill clearly had a hand, dealt at length with the land question. Aimed squarely at Mantell and the alleged ‘ruin and confusion’ felt to be inherent in his ‘random’ disposal of land, it proposed that the Terms of Purchase would, until the election of a General Assembly, take precedence over any existing New Zealand land legislation.[51]

That still left the matter of protecting timber resources. Cargill thought the best way would be to amend the existing terms of purchase. Bush land should be reserved for what he called pro forma sale to proprietors of adjoining open land.[52] In the ensuing debate he and his supporters accused Mantell of selling or leasing timber-covered land, regardless of whether or not there was open country available in the vicinity. To put a stop to ‘the mischievous effects to the public of [this occupation and misuse] of Bush Land by individuals’, Cargill insisted that his authority had to be upheld. He wrote to the Colonial Secretary insisting that Mantell abide by it. Clearly unwilling to do so, Mantell replied to the Colonial Secretary to the effect that he wished he had never agreed to take over land administration in the Otago Block.[53]

Mantell had in the meantime, on instructions from Grey, surveyed the Murihiku Block, south of the Clutha. In contrast to the Waitaki Valley he considered the lower reaches of the Mataura River to be ‘one of the most beautiful Parks of the Province.’ From there to the Oreti river, to the south-west, he found the tableland studded with groves of trees, ‘each with its belt of rich soil where the Timber has but recently been destroyed.’ This part of the Murihiku block he recommended as ‘fit for … Farms large or small around the woods, the open land being left for commonage for cattle.’[54] He also reported to Grey that he had set aside various reserves for public purposes.

In the meantime, he had been instructed by Grey not to sell any land acquired from the ‘Aborigines’ in the Murihiku Block ‘until the Superintendent and his Council should consider what reserves should be made therein.’ Mantell responded with the very model of disingenuousness and acerbity. He had not been honoured with any recommendations from Cargill. He had long since made the reservations, after long and careful inspection of the country and ‘a consequent knowledge of it that could not have been increased by conference with gentlemen unacquainted with that district.’[55]

Towards the end of 1854 the Council gazetted two sets of proposed ‘General Land Regulations for the Province of Otago’ for public consideration. Those by Cargill and his executive proposed regulations modelled on the Terms of Purchase. The other draft, prepared by three disaffected members of the Council and published in the name of John Hyde Harris, one of Cargill’s English sons in law, set out to deal with some of the realities of Otago.

Cargill’s version did at least compromise on the question of concentration, suggesting he now had some glimmer of the problems inherent in the old policy. Within declared hundreds, land would still be divided into town, suburban and rural allotments. But outside hundreds, waste land could be now occupied under pasture or timber licences set out in the old Crown Lands Ordinance. To conserve timber, bush land within hundreds would be reserved and could be sold to the owners of open land in lots of not more than five acres. Each sale of bush land would be regulated in proportion to the amount that was actually available in a given locality and to the amount of open land a prospective purchaser held.[56]

Hyde Harris’s draft, backed by John Gillies and Edward McGlashen, suggests that they had a far better appreciation of the actualities of Otago’s landscapes than Harris’s father in law. It more or less lumped together suburban and rural land and restricted sales of these to small allotments. More importantly, the draft proposed three new categories of waste land – special occupation land, general country land and timbered land.[57]

The first of these new categories recognised the general configuration of the Otago hinterland and the way that it impacted on the location, size of allotments and uses to which the land might be put. At least a quarter of every district would be set aside as special occupation land. Such land had to be of the same average quality as rural and general country land in the district and, more importantly, have regard to three specific requirements – soil fertility and the availability of wood and water. It would be set apart in blocks of a size and location determined by the locality and nature of the land and would be sold at ten shillings an acre.[58]

General country land would be of a similar nature, but limited in size to between 40 and 60 acres and, where possible, ‘of rectangular form’ with a depth of at least three times the frontage wherever the latter adjoined a river, road, lake or coast to ensure some measure of equitable access to these. Timbered land would come under the jurisdiction of a Waste Land Board, to be established under the proposed regulations, which could refuse to grant applications ‘if it shall appear … that the sale of such land would be injurious to the public interests.’ Otherwise the Board could sell timbered land, of at least an acre in extent, in any type of land district at the same price as other land in the district.[59]

The version of the land regulations finally adopted by the council provided for only two classes of land, town and rural, inside declared hundreds. Hyde Harris’s restriction on frontage was included, but little else of his draft proposals. An elected Waste Land Board could refuse to grant an application for land if it was, in the Board’s opinion, ‘injurious to the public interest’, but the board could sell timbered land in any quantity it saw fit.

Other amendments appeared over the next two decades but none that in any way put into effect the degree of political and legislative adaptation to the Otago environment that the Hyde Harris’s proposals had sought. Nor were there any further moves to reintroduce timber ‘conservation’ measures. Game, set and match to Cargill, almost.[60]

In the end, recognition of the depressed and worsening state of the Otago economy during the 1850s forced Cargill to abandon his cherished Terms of Purchase and to open up land outside the hundreds for unrestricted sale at ten shillings an acre. Mantell, who had long since returned to Britain, might be forgiven any astonishment he felt at this new-found pragmatism. Cargill had finally let go of the wreckage of the Otago Scheme. Unfortunately, any hopes some might still have had of putting a stop to peacocking and the unnecessary clearing of bush went with it.[61]

In the right place at the wrong time: Science and wasted resources

Within a very few years the consequences became all too evident. During the summer of 1861-2 a visiting Scottish MD, William Lauder Lindsay, remarked publicly about the effects of colonisation on the natural resources of Otago. In particular he drew attention to the lack of knowledge of the type and extent of those resources, particularly forests; the likely consequences of a failure to manage them effectively, including possible climate change; the need to carefully manage the introduction of exotic biota, and the economic benefits the colonists themselves could gain from giving urgent attention to all three.[62]

He expressed his views about what he saw in Otago rather more forcefully in a paper published some years after his return to Edinburgh. Apart from natural causes, bush had been lost indirectly, through the depredations of introduced cattle and pigs. Direct or deliberate causes of its loss included clearing for agricultural purposes, timber cutting for building, fencing and fuel, and track cutting for ‘man or cattle … materially hastened by the reckless and improvident, or illegal and culpable timber-felling, both of colonists and natives.’

The former stemmed from the abuse of wood cutting licences, the latter from ‘deliberate destruction in connection with their superstitions’, both causes inevitably resulting in ‘a great scarcity of timber both for fuel and building … rendering expensive imports [his emphasis] indispensable.’ He directed his most scathing criticism towards both provincial governments and colonists for their

blind indifference to, or ignorance of, the importance of … preserving to the utmost the old or primitive forests and of … forestalling their inevitable disappearance, or replacing them, by the systematic cultivation of new forests, whether of indigenous or … exotic (acclimatized) trees.[63]

But it was a bad case of being in the right place at the wrong time. Dunedin and Otago just then had its collective mind firmly fixed on gold. The provincial council, about to be overwhelmed by a daily influx of hundreds and then thousands of miners and their camp followers, had little time or inclination to turn its attention to resource allocation or conservation.

The few squatters on their sheep and cattle runs in the deep interior of Otago already knew however, and the influx of miners soon discovered, that ‘there was absolutely no timber on the Goldfields’. The few patches of manuka scrub that did exist had to be eked out for cooking, with none available for heating, a privation sorely felt by the miners in the harsh winter of 1862. The lack of timber also impacted directly on mining operations, forcing the miners to adopt all manner of stratagems to obtain materials for mining cradles and sluice boxes.[64]

The discovery of the immensely rich Wakatipu goldfield, in reasonably close proximity to the native forests on Crown land west of the inland lakes, made sawn timber from those sources reasonably accessible. Some in the mining industry seized the opportunity, heedless of the need to obtain licences. Preoccupied with regulating and then developing the mining industry, and in any case powerless to conserve these forests from the depredations of the industry, the provincial government contented itself with putting notices in Dunedin newspapers warning that cutting timber on Crown land without a licence could attract a 50 pound fine.[65]

Indeed, the boon conferred upon the Otago colonists, the so-called Old Identity, by the arrival of tens of thousands of miners, the New Iniquity, seems to have completely overshadowed any anxieties the former may have still held about the shortcomings of Otago’s environment, let alone the depredations inflicted on it by the wholesale mining activities of the latter.

The only public voice raised during the late 1860s about the need to conserve New Zealand’s forests came not from Otago, but from Thomas Potts, Member of the House of Representatives for Mount Herbert in Canterbury. Like Lauder Lindsay, Potts complained about the waste of resources from burning bush land to establish farms and the potential climatic effects of reducing forested areas. The Government of the day shrugged its shoulders and told him the matter would be looked into.[66]

Ironically, it took a complaint from a representative of mining interests to eventually prod the Government into action. Behind its new-found enthusiasm lay a realisation that a shortage of timber and inadequate means to conserve the little that remained could jeopardise an extensive public works programme promoted by the Premier, Julius Vogel.

A former journalist, founding editor of the Otago Daily Times and sometime Otago Provincial Councillor, Vogel had arrived in Otago in 1862 on the coat tails of the miners and worked his way steadily through the body politic towards the premiership of the colony. In the early 1870s he advocated a policy of borrowing extensively overseas to fund roads and railways to open up the countryside. Adequate supplies of timber were essential to his programme.[67]

The implications of the failure on the part of provincial councils, Otago included, to conserve timber resources now impressed themselves forcefully on Vogel and a growing number of his parliamentary colleagues. For Vogel and like-minded abolitionists, that failure also represented another nail in the coffin of the provincial government system in New Zealand. Legislation passed in 1877 swept Otago and the other provinces into oblivion. Debate and argument about Otago’s places and the place of people in them would now have to be conducted in a much wider arena than people like Cargill and Burns had ever contemplated.[68]

Conclusion: Long years of trial and error

In something less than three decades Otago folk, like many other New Zealand colonists, found themselves at some remove from the Utopian ideals they had brought with them in 1848, of a close knit community for individual betterment, improving agriculture and, as true covenanters, an orderly place, shaped to the purpose of an enlightened people. It had not taken some of them very long to realise that their new environments conflicted sharply with their preconceptions of it. Its climate was definitely not the most congenial. Its landscapes were, perhaps, as William Cargill would have it, abounding in interest. But they could be primeval, forbidding and oppressive places too. Fertile land there was, but too often in awkward places. Too often, land, wood and water did not sit easily together. Too quickly, the timber they needed for so many basic purposes became scarce.

Some of them, realising that Otago’s places were quite different, began to reconstruct their landscapes. They understood that they could not altogether reach back into a European portmanteau of ideas and experiences to cope with their new environments. Some also came to see that the Otago Scheme with its Wakefieldian paternalism, notions of class, concentration of land use, and Free Church theocracy had a stifling effect on them and their chances of ‘getting on’, preventing them from properly identifying and exploring possible new ways of mitigating their difficulties and anxieties. They began to understand that a concentrated colony centred on small-scale, intensive, arable farming, simply would not allow them to utilise Otago’s untrodden wastes.

In the early years of virtual autocracy, many who believed that in pastoral farming they might indeed better themselves, took the only possible course of action open to them. They turned their backs on the Otago Scheme and looked instead to Grey and Mantell to get them onto land outside William Cargill’s purview. Others who needed more immediate use of resources like timber either helped themselves directly or, in the face of growing scarcity took advantage of the obvious limitations of Cargill’s policies, authority and administrative ability. For some who understood the ‘system’, peacocking the land provided, so to speak, a hedge against the future. Those of the wrong class, and who were less subtle in their depredations, like Messrs Park and Eade, became the scapegoats.

The advent of provincial government provided at least a forum in which political support for changes to land policy, and for conservation of scarce resources, might be organised. The first council elections indicated a groundswell of support in that direction. Against it, the Free Church hurled the spectre of pastoral monopoly.

In the Council itself the Cargill faction’s proposed land regulations demonstrated their apprehension at last of the need to do something about timber conservation. But on the wider issue of matching land policy to the realities of the Otago landscape, they remained locked into visions from an ever-receding past and could not yet shift their ground. On the other hand, the small group of councillors around Hyde Harris, had already begun to reconstruct their images of landscape and their places in it. But the proposals they put forward, in an attempt to match settlement and land use patterns to Otago’s places as they then understood them, were too radical for the time.

The option finally selected by the Council, the land regulations gazetted in 1856, was from the outset a dead letter regarding timber conservation, As far as maintaining the land policies of the Otago Scheme went, it mattered little that the regulations adopted were a hollow compromise. By that time it had become clear to most that if anything like betterment was to be the colonists’ lot the Scheme should be allowed to sink quietly into oblivion. Towards the end of his tenure as Superintendent Cargill finally let go of it, clutching hold of a new-found pragmatism. Prodded by sheer economic necessity, he floated away on the rising tide of pastoralism.

Long years of trial and often-profound error would follow, as the colonists cast about for possible solutions to their own blunders and argued their way towards political support for one or another of them. What happened in Otago, while not unique, differed in detail from other colonists’ interactions with their landscapes, in other regions of New Zealand. With the demise of the provinces in 1877 and a shift to centralised government, any anxieties about forest conservation and other environmental issues the Otago colonists and their descendants might still hold now had to be addressed within a much broader political forum.

[1]P. Mathias, The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1914, 2nd edition, Routledge, London, 1988, p 29; E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common, Merlin Press, London, 1991, p 24; Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, A.A. Knopf, London, 1995, p 516.

[2]Thompson, Customs in Common, p 24, Chapter 2, passim.

[3]James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, Allen Lane, London, 1996, pp 292-3.

[4]Tom Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1984, p 28.

[5]New Zealand Company, Terms of Purchase of Land in the Settlement of Otago 1847, Pam 29/6, 7, Hocken Library, University of Otago.

[6]Belich, Making Peoples, p 293.

[7]Schama, Landscape and Memory, pp 7, 10; T. Greider and L. Garkovich, ‘Landscapes: The social construction of nature and the environment’, Rural Sociology, 59, 1 (1994), p 1.

[8]Richard White, ‘It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own’: A History of the American West, University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, pp 212-3.

[9]Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, Reed Books, Chatswood, 1996, chapters 27 and 28 passim.

[10]Schama, Landscape and Memory, p 61.

[11]The methodology adopted for this study is an organisational model advocated by Frank Uekoetter of the University of Bielefeld, Germany. It focuses on the ways responses to perceived environmental problems are organised within a society. This model postulates that an environmental problem exists or existed only when or if the historical participants themselves perceived a dissonance between normative ideas about certain environmental conditions and actuality. F. Uekoetter, ‘Confronting the pitfalls of environmental history: An argument for an organisational approach’, Environment and History 4 (1998), pp 32-52.

[12]Otago News, 21 September 1850, p 2. Cargill appears to have absorbed the term ‘squatter’, meaning a person occupying land without a legal right, into his vocabulary prior to leaving Britain. He used it first in 1848, soon after his arrival in Otago. Cargill was responsible to the Court of Directors of the New Zealand Company, through the Company’s Principal Agent in Wellington.

[13]Otago News, 21 September 1850, p 2. About one and a half day’s wages for a labourer at that time. Cargill supported the New Zealand Company wage policy of three shillings a day for labourers; see A.H. McLintock, The History of Otago, 2nd edn., Capper Press, Christchurch, 1975), p 249, for an account of Cargill’s dealings with, and the Otago News’ support for, ‘the labouring class’. Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, pp 76-7, has referred to Cargill’s ‘unyielding commitment to principle’ in his dealings with the labourers, and to his efforts to reduce their pay to two shillings and sixpence for a ten hour day.

[14]Thompson, Customs in Common, pp 97, 99, 101-2, 104, 138, 141, 145, 161, 163-5, 175-6.

[15]McLintock, The History of Otago, pp 275, 276; Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, p 76.

[16]Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, pp 13-14.

[17]McLintock, The History of Otago, chapters 4 and 5 passim. and Brooking, 1984, p 24, saw in the disruption and social conditions arising from the industrial revolution the proximal causes of early nineteenth century Scottish emigration, including that to Otago.

[18]Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, p 24. It is tempting at this point to speculate on whether Cargill’s army service in India might have had any formative influence on his later environmental views and, if so, to what extent.

[19]Belich, Making Peoples, pp 298-9. Schama uses the term ‘Arcadian market’ (p 520), in the context of contemporary advertising of prime London real estate.

[20]William Cargill and Thomas Burns, Free Church Colony at Otago in New Zealand … a Letter from Captain Cargill to Dr Aldcorn of Oban, 1847, Pam 29/6, 5, Hocken Library, University of Otago, pp 8-10.

[21]William Cargill [?], ‘Meeting of lay members of the Free Church of Scotland held at the Eagle Inn, Glasgow on Friday 15th May 1845 for the purpose of considering the scheme of a Scotch settlement at Otago in New Zealand in connection with the Free Church’, MS 81, v.7, Hocken Library, University of Otago.

[22]J.L. Nicholas, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, London, 1817, facsimile edn, vol. 2, Wilson and Horton, Auckland, n.d., pp 230-1, 243-60.

[23]William Mein Smith, ‘Port Otago’, The New Zealand Journal, 30 September 1843, p 262; McLintock, The History of Otago, p 126.

[24]Frederick Tuckett to S. Hodgkinson, transcription by T.M. Hocken, MS 81, v. 70 Hocken Library, University of Otago, pp 3-4.

[25]The burning may have had its origins in indigenous land use practices, where fire was used to clear land for travel, for security and as a swidden tool, or it may have been used by the few squatters who preceded the colonists to clear tussock cover from the underlying grass. It may also have been a combination of the two. See M.S. McGlone, ‘Polynesian deforestation of New Zealand’, Archaeology of Oceania, 18 (1983) pp 11-25, for an account of the former. Pre-European swidden practices in Otago present something of an enigma. Athol Anderson, The Welcome of Strangers, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 1998, pp 176-7, says that gardening can be inferred from the available data, but its precise nature is unknown. McGlone, p 19, suggests that bracken fern, which invaded burned areas, provided a source of carbohydrate when all else failed. Anderson, p 176, quotes Rev. James Watkin, a missionary at Waikouaiti, as saying that fern root regularly staved off famine.

[26]Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, p 151.

[27]E. Dieffenbach, Travels in New Zealand, London, 1843, reprinted Capper Press, Christchurch, 1974, pp 25-6, 60-1, 66, 186-7. Dieffenbach’s concerns about the consequences of forest destruction in New Zealand were published earlier in The New Zealand Journal, 5 May, 1840, p 6, and 27 February 1841, p 52. It would be surprising therefore, if the Otago Association did not know of them.

[28]Otago News, 10 January 1849, p 3.

[29]The Handbook to the Suburban and Rural Districts of the Otago Settlement: Notes on the Suburban and Rural Districts of Otago, 1849, Pam 6/29, 18, Hocken Library, University of Otago, pp 1-2, 11.

[30]Otago News, 4 August 1849, p 2.

[31]See McLintock, The History of Otago, pp 152-3 for a discussion of the Wakefield scheme of colonisation, including the ‘delicate balance’ between land labour and capital which Wakefield believed, and Cargill accepted, was necessary ‘before a struggling overseas community could achieve a full measure of success.’

[32]T.C. Harington, as secretary to the Court, signed both documents. Included with Cargill’s instructions were copies of several other documents intended for his particular and general guidance. These documents are contained in MS 79, Pam 29/6, 7, and Harington to Cargill, MS 11/48D, Hocken Library, University of Otago.

[33]Printed in The Ordinances of the Provinces of New Zealand and the Legislative Council of the Province of New Munster, 1841 to 1843, Government Printer, Wellington, 1871, pp 131, 132. Oddly, they contained no general provision for reserving land, other than for coalfields or other mineral contents, in the Terms as they were finally published in May 1847. Reserves could be set aside for a variety of public purposes, including a park and other forms of recreation, within the Dunedin urban area. It was this provision that Cargill used to limit the uses to which reserves could be put within the town. But it was not until March 1849 that the Company made provision for the regulation of the use of ‘unappropriated land’ in the wider Otago Block. A system of licensing was introduced, covering pasturage and ‘for timber cutting, for Flax collecting, and for raising minerals.’

[34]Most applications Mantell dealt with between 1851 and mid-1853 were for runs in the region north of the Otakou Block. He referred any applicants for Crown land within the Block to Cargill.

[35]Otago Witness, 12 February 1853, p 2 and 19 February 1853, p 2. Mantell would in due course receive much of the blame for this last circumstance. ‘Peacocking’, an Australian slang term for the practice of choosing the best parts of an area and leaving the rest.

[36]Charlotte Godley commented, when she and her husband and young son were living at Port Cooper (Lyttelton) in 1850 that furniture made from local wood was unsatisfactory. ‘[M]ost of the tables give way or come to pieces.’ Charlotte Godley, letter to her mother, 30 January 1851, in J.R. Godley, ed., Letters From Early New Zealand, Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1951, p 164.

[37]Soper, The Otago of our Mothers, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948, pp 34-5. Ann Black Fraser, who arrived as a child in 1848 remembered ‘It was Springtime and surely the beauty of the Scenery and the song of the birds as they walked through the bush, together with the mild weather, would compensate in some measure for all the weariness of the past months.’ Ann Black, I Remember, 1848-1866, 1937, MS BIOG/7, Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, p 5.

[38]Sarah Low ,‘Letter to Esther’, 6 November 1849, in Letters of Sarah Low, 1849, MS 74/124, Otago Settlers Museum, pp 1-2; Soper, The Otago of our Mothers, p 43.

[39]F.L. Meivelle, cited in F. Waite, Pioneering in South Otago, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948, p 40. Both Ferdinand von Hochstetter and William Colenso later commented about this melancholic aspect of the New Zealand bush. See W. Colenso, Essay on the Botany of the North Island of New Zealand, 1865, Pam/154, Hocken Library, University of Otago, pp 3-4, F. von Hochstetter, New Zealand: Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History, trans. E Sauter, J.G. Cotta, Stuttgart, 1867, pp 135-6. A later generation of evolutionary psychologists attributed this phenomenon to humans being mentally ‘hard-wired’ to live in relatively open landscapes. See G.H. Orians and J.H. Heerwagen, ‘Evolved responses to landscape’ and S. Kaplan, ‘Environmental preference in a knowledge-seeking, knowledge-using organism’, in The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, ed. J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides and J. Tooby, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, pp 555-79, 581-98.

[40]Soper, The Otago of our Mothers, pp 16-17, 21-2, 94, 133. Like Sarah Low, she also noticed the tendency towards rankness in introduced plants. During the six months she spent at Wellington, she observed that ‘things grow too quickly. I mean that vegetables, for instance, have run to seed before you know where you are.’ Cabbages, to her amazement were ‘sprouting up again as high as ever’ from the cut stalk. So did the weeds.

[41]Jane McGlashen Journal of Voyage, ‘Rajah’, 1853, MS C67, Otago Settlers Museum, p 48. She did comment favourably on the native birds inhabiting the bush around Dunedin, particularly for their song, the contribution the larger species made to ‘many a colonial meal table’ and the value of their feathers for mattresses and pillows.

[42]McGlashen Journal of Voyage, Otago Settlers Museum, p 40.

[43]Godley, ed., Letters From Early New Zealand, p 141.

[44]W. Mantell, Letter Book, Crown Lands, Southern District of New Zealand and Province of Otago, Nov 1851 to Dec 1855 inclusive, AG220, Series 2, n.1, National Archives, Dunedin, pp 169-70. Otago was not alone in this. McLintock, The History of Otago, pp 337-43, has given a succinct account of the disarray which characterised land administration in Otago between 1850 and 1854. With the benefit of hindsight, however, and guided by a particular antipathy towards Cargill, McLintock saw stubborn adherence to the class and religious character of the Otago colony as the rock on which Cargill’s land policy eventually and inevitably foundered. But that was first and foremost the policy of the Otago Association, to which Cargill felt morally obligated, and it was not the whole story behind what was going on. The suspension of the first constitution in 1849, the New Zealand Company’s collapse, the division of the country into two quasi-autonomous provinces, the distance of Auckland, Grey’s capital, from the other settlements, the idiosyncratic ways of men like Cargill and Mantell and the mismatch between theocracy and environmental actualities, all contributed to the general chaos.

[45]Otago Witness, 12 March 1853, p 2.

[46]The Witness, during 1852- 53, frequently took the Otago Association’s line that ‘squatting’ was a departure from the exclusive character and basic principles of the religious and educational provisions of the Otago Scheme. Dispersal of population removed people from the influences of church and school. Inevitably the character of the colony would change. Walter Mantell, Report on the lower Waitaki from Cape Wanbrow to Pukewhinaie[sic], December and January 1852-3, Letter Book, AG220, Series 2, n.1, National Archives, Dunedin, pp 40-45. So conscious was he of the paucity of wood for fuel and for building timber that he took the trouble to measure up the areas of scrub, copse and forest he found. From Cape Wanbrow, near present day Oamaru, to Kokrau (Kurow), 35 miles (56 km) up the river valley, he found only 24 acres (9.71 hectares) of scrub, 27.5 acres (11.13 ha.) of copse and a little more than 50 acres (20.23 ha.) of forest. The latter was well inland, somewhere upriver of present day Duntroon. Mantell noted this scarcity of timber throughout much of coastal North Otago, reinforcing the point by naming two localities near the Shag River, south of the Waitaki, Goodwood and Betterwood. Although local Maori told him of forests beyond the Waitaki watershed and around two inland lakes, Hawea and Wakatipu, he considered them to be of no immediate value because of the distance from the east coast and lack of road access. Only the pervasive ‘tumatukuru’, (tumatakura, Discaria toumatou), the prickly Wild Irishman or Matagouri shrub, which in some inland river beds grows to the size of a small tree, provides good firing even when green. The only other available wood he found consisted of charred totara logs on the hills, and scrub and driftwood on the river islands.

[47]Otago Witness, 27 August 1853, p 2; A. Domett, , ‘Rules and regulations for the issue of pasture and timber licences for the occupation of waste lands of the Crown outside hundreds’, New Zealand Gazette, New Munster IV, 19 August 1851, pp 113 ff; Walter Mantell, 30 July 1853, Letter Book …., p 65.

[48]Otago Witness, 9 April 1853, pp 2-3 and supplement.

[49]Otago Witness, 23 April 1853, p 3.

[50]Otago Witness, 30 April 1853, pp 3-4.

[51]Otago Provincial Gazette I, 2 (1853), p 2.

[52]By ‘existing terms’ he appears to have meant those he had never let go of, even though they no longer had any force in Otago, having long been overtaken by the Land Regulations for New Munster gazetted by Domett in 1851. The latter were in turn superseded by the General Land Regulations which Mantell, on instructions from the civil secretary to the Governor, had advertised in Dunedin April 1853 and which came into effect on 29th of that month. (Walter Mantell, 20 April 1853, Letter Book …, pp 48-50.)

[53]Otago Provincial Gazette II, 14 (28 November 1854), p 1. Cargill, Macandrew, John Cargill and McGlashen also signed a similar letter to the colonial secretary. See Walter Mantell, 30 July 1853, Letter Book …, pp 132-6. See also ‘Otago Land Regulations’, (Macandrew/Rennie), 26 April 1854, in Votes and Proceedings of the Otago Provincial Council I, Session II (April 1854), p 50. Mantell, to his credit, never appears to have responded publicly to this very public vilification. Cargill wrote to Mantell in November 1853 requesting him to revert to the old New Zealand Company terms of purchase. Mantell wrote to the colonial secretary, asking that Cargill be instructed to ‘direct his energies to the channel to which the Constitution appears to restrict them’ and allow Mantell to ‘extricate the District lately under his [Cargill’s] management from the state of confusion in which he left it.’ Mantell then wrote to Cargill asking him to substantiate his position. Cargill, unable to do so after a number of fruitless exchanges, retreated from this extraordinary fracas on Christmas Eve. Walter Mantell, 24 December 1853, Letter Book … , pp 75 ff.

[54]Walter Mantell, 18 March 1854, Letter Book …, pp 112-18. There was one matter that did concern him in the course of his perambulation of the Murihiku Block. He objected to titi (muttonbird) expeditions by local Maori because they resulted in a ‘great yearly destruction of Totara Trees’. Maori used the bark to protect poha, the kelp bags in which they preserved the birds. See Anderson, The Welcome of Strangers p 123, fig. 7.6 and pp 141-2, figs. 8.6, 8.7.

[55]Walter Mantell, 11 January 1854, Letter Book …, pp 94-5. He would have been well aware that the council had only just met for its first session and that even its ‘country’ members, city dwellers to a man, had not stirred far beyond Dunedin.

[56]Otago Provincial Gazette II, 20 (30 March 1855), pp 37-47.

[57]Otago Provincial Gazette II, 20 (13 March 1854), p 41. Hyde Harris represented a country district on the provincial council, and with John Gillies and Edward McGlashen formed an opposition to the Cargill, Cutten, and Macandrew Free Church faction. Harris, Gillies and McGlashen seem to have had a better understanding than most at that time, of the implications of the Otago environment for land settlement and land use patterns.

[58]Otago Provincial Gazette II, 20 (13 March 1854). p 42.

[59]Otago Provincial Gazette II, 20 (13 March 1854) p 43-44.

[60]‘Land Regulations for the Province of Otago, New Zealand’, General Government Gazette of the Colony of New Zealand, IV, 5, (12 February 1856), pp 34-44, esp. p 35. The delay in gazetting the regulations was probably due to the slow communications between Dunedin and Grey’s seat in Auckland.

[61]Brooking, And Captain of their Souls, pp 110-12.

[62]Otago Colonist, 24 January 1862, p 4; W. Lauder Lindsay, The Place and Power of Natural History in Colonisation with Special Reference to Otago, 1862, MS6/11 and Pam 37, Hocken Library, University of Otago, passim.

[63]W. Lauder Lindsay, ‘On the conservation of forests in New Zealand’, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign VI (1868), pp 38-46.

[64]Vincent Pyke, History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, 1962), pp 21, 61, 63-4, 79, 132, 143; J.H.M. Salmon, A History of Goldmining in New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1963, p 73. Those at The Woolshed diggings simply helped themselves plank by plank to a woolshed at Cameron’s Station. It disappeared within a week. Shannon later recalled, ‘I admit it was wrong, but the men were desperate – good gold to be had and no appliances.’ One resourceful fellow removed an outhouse door at Mt. Ida sheep-station, carrying it some fifty miles overland to the Dunstan digging, with the station manager, revolver in hand, in hot but unsuccessful pursuit. A 30-foot flagpole for the warden’s tent at Dunstan had to be fetched by river from forests 45 miles away at the head of Lake Wanaka. It cost the provincial Goldfields Department thirty-six pounds, about five month’s wages for a labourer at the time. Small bundles of firewood, usually matagouri scrub or tutu root, cost between seven and ten shillings, a day’s wages. A JDKZ gin case, used first as a baby’s cradle at Shennan’s station near present day Alexandra, fetched five pounds for conversion to a mining cradle. At Waipori, according to Vincent Pyke, the ‘Bush Reserve’ consisted of ‘a few sparsely-scattered tussocks … The explanation was that immediately beneath the soil there lay buried a small forest of timber upon which the inhabitants of the township relied for fuel.’

[65]For an early example, see Otago Colonist, 22 November 1861, p 2.

[66]T.H. Potts, ‘The forests of the colony’, New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 7 October 1868, p 188.

[67] New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 25 October 1872, p 946; 3 September 1873, pp 861-3; 1 October 1873, pp 154-7; 3 October 1873, p 254; 25 October 1873, p 946. Raewyn Dalziel, Julius Vogel, Business Politician, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1986, pp 146-7, 171. If he didn’t already know it, a series of article in the Otago Daily Times may have alerted Vogel to growing international concerns about dwindling timber resources, and possible remedies being pursued by some of Lauder Lindsay’s compatriots in countries like India.

[68]New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 15 July 1974.