Saturday, April 4, 2015

DROVING, from "No Roll of Drums" by C.B. Brereton.

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
                                                                        --- C.G. Rosetti

Nowadays one hears pedagogues, finance wizards and other false prophets and politicians trying to misled the populace with orations and press verbiage on the worn catch cries such as starvation in the midst of plenty, capitalism, man-made slumps; and by means of such red herrings they side-track the majority from common sense principles which nearly everyone possesses. However, we are now in a transition stage where everyone is highly educated and widely read on the most abstruse subjects but has forgotten the real knowledge he might learn from personal experience.   

A world without efficient transport including a flexible exchange would find itself in many or most places, “Starvation in the  midst of plenty,” but to reiterate that fact does not bring a single sack of rice to a starving native of India, or a round of ammunition to hard-pressed soldiers in the front line. When will the day come? And in time it will, when the people of New Zealand will not merely be filled with an unassimilated mass of education divorced from reality, but will be able to sift the grain from the chaff and use their commonsense.

Up to a point, without markets for much of their produce, the early settlers in Ngatimoti ran a risk of starvation in the midst of plenty. Not for food, because mutton, potatoes, wheat and butter were greatly in over supply, but farmers cannot conveniently live on these alone, but require groceries, clothing, implements and other things as well. Disposal of stock was a difficulty that the individual farmer could not solve, but luckily in a country of freedom of effort such needs provide a solution, and Ngatimoti solved its own problem.

Tom Grooby and John Salisbury grazed stock on a considerable scale, and were capable men with business ability and a complete knowledge of stock. Luckily for the community they had sufficient capital, which in those days was not despised as an evil. They were friends from childhood and when Ern Robinson joined them they enlisted a man of equal calibre.

Home of Ernest & Emma Robinson in Lloyds Valley, Orinoco.

The small population of Nelson could only consume a tiny fraction of our produce, but the West Coast wanted food and in Christchurch there was a steady market for stock. These men worked out plans not only to make a small profit, but to market their own stock as well. If such a move had not been made farmers might have given their sheep and cattle away. As it was, poor sheep were sometimes sold as low as five for half a crown.

Between the buying and the selling of stock two months often elapsed, and an unforeseen drop in prices would have been disastrous for stock dealers. Fortunately Tom Grooby had a cousin George in the Buller who was in touch with the butchering trade and he proved a reliable partner. Buying campaigns covered the Motueka, Takaka and surrounding districts with assembly points, culminating in Ngatimoti, where the stock was usually held on the farms of the partners, ready to begin the long journey to Christchurch. West Coast markets were nearer, and usually the drives were smaller.

The drive for Christchurch required about 4000 sheep for economic handling, and on this the loss or gain of a shilling a head meant 200 pounds. Altogether the project that faced the drovers was a highly sporting one, with little chance of undue profits. Drovers were required to be men of great experience, with a reputation for honest dealing as well. Everyone employed by them was hand picked.

On a long drive the flock is not driven, but feeds its way along taking a bite here and there whenever food appears. When there is room to spread out and grazing is good, sheep travel at about a mile an hour and maintain their condition. On hard country sheep and dogs become footsore and may be crippled, and occasionally numbers of sheep become temporarily blind. As a daily routine the cook goes forward with the pack-horses and pitches tents and cooks a meal for the end of the day’s journey. It is absolutely necessary to have a reliable count before starting each day. Very few men can count four thousand sheep in unfenced country. Sheep will not run continuously across a gap for the tally-man’s convenience but some drovers were wizards at their job and the boss usually counted, singing out “tally” at each hundred until all were found present and correct.

If the track was unfenced notice was given to run-holders to clear the way. When other sheep strayed into the drive, they had to be drafted out before leaving their home station. The trained eye of the stockman picked them out by their colour or the texture of their wool or some such characteristic foreign to the flock; sheer magic to a new chum. Sheep were killed daily to feed the men and dogs as one of the cook’s jobs.

Droving with John Salisbury and Tom Grooby was very popular and it was a distinct honour to be asked to join them. In good weather with a strong mob the work was easy and pleasant, although the work was from daylight to dark or longer every day including Sunday. Sheep have a psychology as well as other animals. Tired ones must not be allowed to lose heart and lie down, because their stronger mates leave them behind, and blind sheep must be kept in touch with other sheep.

John Edward Salisbury,
 eldest son of John Park & Clara (nee Deck) Salisbury.
The road rises to 2,000 feet in the first sixty miles, and in the Wairau to 4,000 feet crossing the Molesworth and Tarndale Stations, before dropping to the Conway River. Snow and rain, swollen streams and bad roads or no roads are encountered but seasoned bushmen take such things casually. Sometimes they toiled half the night with wet sheep in drenched bush and at other times whole days were spent working in cold streams to help the sheep across.

After the sale at Christchurch, the long ride home was a holiday. On one occasion Harry Salisbury had no horse for the return journey, so he set off on foot with his swag. He arrived home before his mates with an average of forty miles a day. He was a man of great endurance. To see him walking up the nearly sheer “Sugar Loaf” with a coil of fencing wire without a thought of rest, would give an ordinary man a headache.

Selling and buying was conducted good-naturedly, usually by fair methods, and both sides were expert. With some farmers the dealers took extra precautions because “ringing in” was neither impossible nor unknown. To check this, buyers sometimes put private marks on the skin inside the sheep’s foreleg, and later when taking delivery, a quick examination brought to light any inferior animal that had been substituted.

Still, buyers were not always innocent lambs. One of them arranged with a farmer to view 250 cattle a fortnight ahead with a view to purchase at a price. They were driven forty miles to the place of inspection. The dealer spent two hours looking them over and pointing out shortcomings, and the more he looked the more pessimistic he became. He damned them with faint praise. “That there steer is a good beast, but he has a touch of Jersey,” he would gloomily remark or “That black one is a bit light aft,” and a few minutes later, “They look travel tired; perhaps they have been driven too hard. I know your last accommodation paddock is eaten out!”

When the time was ripe the dealer said he was very disappointed but the stock was far below description and he refused to take one of them. The seller was annoyed but he made an offer. “You can cull out fifty of the worst, mister, and then take a run off. As many as you can do with,” but even this was not accepted. “No, they are not what I want.” This was the farmer’s opportunity to give his opinion of the dealer personally, commenting on his honesty, business methods and parentage, but the dealer walked quietly to his horse, mounted, whistled his dogs and rode to the gate as unmoved as a duck in a summer shower. His conscience may have pricked him, but as a matter of fact the price of cattle had fallen heavily in the past week and was still falling and the dealer was not buying to make a certain loss.

The story of a drive to Christchurch in February, 1898, may be of interest. It left Ngatimoti and went through Stanley Brook up the Motueka Valley. A day was spent forcing the sheep through the Motueka River at Bobbie Stuart’s accommodation house. Next morning dense fog filled the valley. At 9 o’clock it thinned, and the runaway sheep were seen stringing away up the far mountain spurs. It was a matter of boot and saddle and away in haste. By mid-day the wanderers were brought together but they only travelled a mile or two that day.

There were five men in the drive, with five riding and two pack-horses, fifteen dogs, and four thousand sheep. The men were Tom Grooby and Ern Robinson, in charge, Cecil Beatson, Harry Grooby and Guthrie Beatson. Ern acted as packman and cook, travelling ahead to prepare the night’s camps. One pack-horse was called "Bishop Suter". The road led over Kerr’s Hill and on the seventh day the drive reached Top House and was going through the pass into the Wairau. The sheep were allowed to feed along at their own pace and only checked for straying and in open places all the men were together at the back joking, laughing and enjoying each other’s yarns while the sheep moved along. Ten miles a day was good work. Luckily the sheep did not require breaks for meals.

"Greenhill Tom" Grooby

Day after day they travelled on. They crossed many streams which meant delay, hard work and a thorough soaking, but steadily the drive mounted the Wairau over the Howard, Rainbow, Tarndale and St James’s stations. Then over Jack’s Pass, 4,000 feet high, and down to St. Helens, now called Hanmer. There the track led across Culverden, at the boundary of which a lonely dog sentry kept guard. Boundary dogs were common enough and a hard life they led, especially when their food or water was neglected. The track followed the Wairau River until good roads were reached, which led to Christchurch and the saleyards at Addington.

For the ten days between the Wairau and St. Helens, the sheep were in high tussock-covered country with no sign of roads or tracks. It was hard country and sheep became footsore and lame and some blind. Station owners were warned and cleared their stock away. In the Wairau, Ern Robinson had to hunt for a pack-horse that had strayed.  While he was away a local man met the party and told them he had seen an escaped lunatic in the bush who asked him, “Have you seen Bishop Suter about? He got away from me this morning. He has a halter round his neck and a white star on his forehead.” The new-comer was sure the man was mad because he was wild looking and dirty and had been sleeping in his clothes. As he said, “He was a nasty chap to meet in a lonely place, grinning at me all the time he was talking.” It was easy enough to realize he had met Ern, who loved a dramatic joke.

The Rainbow provided a long swim for the sheep and took a whole day to cross. The trip took twenty-eight travelling days, usually from dawn to dark in the long summer days, but the drovers found the trip interesting and enjoyable. By hard travelling and short-cuts they returned home in four days. Every night they slept in a tent, the sound sleep of tired men.


Brereton, Cyprian BridgeNo Roll of Drums (1947) Wellington, NZ: A.H.& A.W. Reed. Ch. XIV, pp. 140-145. (Stories of Ngatimoti's early settlers.)


The three partners in the Ngatimoti droving business were:

John Edward Salisbury (1862-1924)
Eldest son of John Park and Clara (nee Deck) Salisbury.
John Park Salisbury, with his brothers Thomas and Edward, was the first to open up the way for settlers to Ngatimoti, the Baton, the Graham and the Tableland. John Edward Salisbury was raised in the Graham Valley, with the Tableland as his backyard.

Thomas Grooby (1853-1934)
Son of Edward and Sarah (nee Hudson) Grooby, who settled very early in the Shaggery area on the West Bank of the Motueka River. After the terrifying experience of nearly being swept away in Ngatimoti's "Old Man Flood" of 1877, Thomas removed to higher ground in the Greenhill Road area. He became known as "Greenhill Tom" to distinguish him from several other related Tom Groobys living in the Motueka Valley.

Ernest (Ern) Robinson (1867-1930)
Third son of Robert and Mary Hannah (nee Butler) Robinson, who moved from the Waimeas in 1882 to settle in Lloyds Valley. Ernest married Emma, a daughter of Orinoco pioneers George and Sarah (nee Thomason) Lines. Ernest's brother Alfred Robinson was a regular hand on the Ngatimoti-Christchurch drives.

All three were members of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious movement which had a substantial following in Ngatimoti, thanks to the influence of James George Deck (whose daughter Clara married John Park Salisbury). They were men of firm but practical faith and days on a drive generally started with a prayer or Bible reading. They were also successful farmers, shrewd businessmen and fond of a good yarn or a joke, and generally (but not always) tended to choose men for their drives from local Brethren families. For almost a hundred years, Anglicans and Brethren in the Motueka Valley lived and worked together with a great deal of goodwill. During the period that they ran the droving business all lived close to each other, with John Salisbury and Ern Robinson both in Lloyds Valley and Tom Grooby nearby at Greenhill, though he eased land between Greenhill and Loyds Vally for accommation paddocks.

Although Ern Robinson was taking mobs of sheep through to Canterbury  as early as 1893 and probably before that, the first report of the Ngatimoti droving enterprise appeared in the "Colonist" of the 14th May, 1896, under the heading "A Plucky Venture.". This decsribes a trial drive of 1400 sheep to Christchurch undertaken  by Mr J.E. Salisbury and notes that they were sold for "prices so satisfactory that we are given to understand that Mr Salisbury will repeat the experiment." The opening in 1909 of the Nelson Freezing Works in Stoke soon made the business redundant and all three partners had retired by 1911. In May 1922 a  test draft of lambs was sent to the Nelson Freezing Works by motor lorry and this was found to be such an efficient way of getting sheep to the Works that it sounded the death knell for the traditional droving method.


Bishop Andrew Suter was Nelson's Anglican bishop from 1867-1891. He was well known to Ngatimoti's early settlers - in January, 1880, he travelled to Ngatimoti with a mixed party, including his wife Amelia, to mark out the future site of Ngatimoti's St James Anglican Church. Perhaps his unerring choice of the knoll looking out toward the magnificent Mt Arthur range was guided by the psalmist's words "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."? While there, the Bishop's party made a 9-day expedition up to Mt Arthur and the Tablelands, where the Bishop preached to the gold-miners working their claims. The features in the Cundy Creek area named "Bishop's Cave" and "Bishop's Pool" are said to date from that time. Their guides on this occasion were Tom Salisbury and his nephew Johnny - the John Edward Salisbury mentioned above. Bishop Suter also returned with a large party of Nelson Anglicans in October, 1884, when he consecrated the completed St James Church.

"Bobbie Stuart" was an Irishman from County Down by the name of Robert Stewart (1835-1911), who after many years working as a digger on the gold fields of Australia and New Zealand, settled at Gordon Downs (now Golden Downs) at the head of the Motueka Valley, where he ran the Gordon Downs Accommodation House between 1880 and 1902. A condition of his licence was that he convey travellers free of charge across the Motueka River - in Stewart's case he met this requirement by operating an aerial chair which ran on wire ropes over the river .Most accommodation houses situated close to a river were expected to supply a ferry service of some description. Sheep, however, had to make their own way across!


The indefatigable Harry Salisbury referred to by Brereton was John Edward Salisbury's younger brother, Henry Dudley Salisbury (1869-1931), generally known as Dudley. He farmed the "Sugar Loaf" run in the South Graham Valley. His homestead was close to the river, at the end of the valley. From there the pack-track led to Mt Arthur, the Tableland and the Cobb Valley, where the Salisburys grazed their stock.


"Boot and saddle". The military trumpet or bugle call signalling the command "mount up", used by 18th/19th century British cavalry troops and adopted by U.S. cavalry in 1841, as in "the bugler sounded the 'boot and saddle'". Also known as "boots and saddles".

Stock routes south

Early map depicting the location of goldfields
and accommodation houses in the Upper Motueka Valley
Shows the route from Orinoco (top lt-hand corner) 
through the Motueka Valley to the Wairau Pass (bottom rt-hand corner) taken by the Nelson to Canterbury 
drovers from Ngatimoti.

The route from Ngatimoti to the Motueka River followed by the Orinoco stock drives was known as the "Old Baton Road", and was part of the trail originally taken by the early goldminers heading for the diggings at the Baton.  This route came up Waiwhero Road from Lower Moutere, through the Orinoco Valley, up Jacob's Ladder and through the Thorpe Village and Dovedale, then down Sunday Creek Road to connect with the Motueka River Valley road. Much of the stock mustered for a drive was held on Ern Robinson's considerable Orinoco holdings up in the hills between Lloyd Valley and Greenhill before numbers were sufficient to set out up Jacob's Ladder.  Roses' accommodation house at Thorpe would be the first stop along the way and drovers dossed down there for the night. The Roses had a couple of accommodation paddocks available for stock. One of these paddocks was the 10 acre "Travelling Paddock" used for overnight stays and the other, 50 acres in size and known as the "Canterbury Paddock", was used to accumulate stock from different farmers before being driven as a mob down to Christchurch. 

Roses' store and accommodation house at Dovedale
(Photo: Nelson Provincial Museum)

The drovers then went through Stanley Brook into the Upper Motueka Valley, with a stop at Bromells' (later Kohatu) Hotel, and crossed the Motueka River at Gordon (now Golden) Downs, with the Gordon Downs Accommodation House on the far side.Then it was up Kerr's Hill, through to the Tophouse Accommodation House then down the Wairau Gorge towards Canterbury. Camps would be set up en route, with stopovers on the Tasman side of the Wairau Pass also made at the Gordon Downs Accommodation House, David Kerr's "Blue Glen" farmstead and at Tophouse Heading towards Canterbury and Jollie's Pass there were the Rainbow and Tarndale Accommodation Houses. The drovers also passed through the St James and St Helen's (Hamner ) Stations.

Early stock routes to Canterbury
through Tophouse and Hamner.
Both went through the Wairau Gorge but separated
at the original Tarndale accommodation house site
The Ngatimoti drovers tended to take the Inland Pass routein preference to the Acheron one.


Further reading

Salisbury, J. Neville. Bush, Boots and Bridle Tracks: The Salisburys, Pioneers of the Motueka and Aorere Valleys (2006) Auckland, NZ: J. Neville Salisbury.

Newport, J.N.W.(Jeff) (1963) Footprints: The story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districtsChristchurch, NZ: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd. Ch, XI Sheep Trade with Canterbury: Drovers and Rabbits pp 127-138  His second book.  titld Footprints Too, covers the history of Ngatimoti and the Tableland.

Low, Ruth Entwhistle. On the Hoof: The Untold Story of Drovers in New Zealand  (2014) Wellington, NZ: Penguin Books

Droving  -- "on the hoof"
Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.


* Photos  ex the Nelson Provincial Musem photographic collection.

* Maps ex Newport, J.N.W. (1962) "Footprints: The story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districts.

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