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Conditions harsh and uncertain for original settlers

Conditions harsh and uncertain for original settlers
The Smith family at the Century Farm awards in Lawrence.

Within a year of commencing her new life in the Colony of New Zealand with husband Robert and their children, Margaret Smith declared in her sweet Scottish brogue, “If I’d knoon what I was coming to I would ne’er have come!” Braving the ocean waves on a clipper ship from Ayrshire in Scotland, Robert and Margaret along with their children had arrived at Port Chalmers in 1863 to commence a new life together. Conditions in Dunedin were harsh and uncertain.

Robert had worked around Dunedin for eleven years, often involved in horticulture and agriculture but with little certainty of income, even trying his hand panning for gold mining with no real success.

Then in 1875 an opportunity arose for the couple to purchase 200 acres with good topsoil east of the Waikaka River.

Sale by Ballot on Deferred Payment Terms was held – 25 shillings an acre with 10 years to pay it off – and Robert drew Section 11 Block 2, taking just seven years to pay the last brass penny over.

Great grandson Allan Smith and the fourth generation on the land, says Robert walked the 150kms from Dunedin to Gore to view his farm for the first time and build a sod hut, later returning the same way to report progress to Margaret.

The following year eldest son Hugh packed up all the family’s belongings into a borrowed dray and journeyed to their new home farm. Brothers Robert, James and John towed along on foot droving 3 cattle beasts – the trip taking five days.

“John was my grandfather – only five years old at the time. On the last night they camped at Conical Hill. Next morning when they came over the Landslip above Pukerau, from the Blue Mountains through to the Hokonui Hills all they could see was a sea of silver tussock. Eventually they ploughed the tussock in.”

Margaret and three daughters travelled by train to Balclutha, then coach via Otaria where the horses were changed. Then on to Mataura where they were able to go by train to Gore – travelling the remaining 7kms to the farm by dray.

“In those early times the Smiths grew oats and wheat to get them on their feet,” says Allan.

“ The oats for chaff being sold to the gold miners in Otago and Southland. Margaret milked cows, hand churned the milk and sold butter in Dunedin as well as Gore – She really got things going.”

Robert did a lot of development transforming natural tussock ground into productive pasture and cropping land and including many tile drains.

“In more recent development I have dug up tiles with four flat sides and I’m told they were imported from England in those early days,” says Allan.

“Robert didn’t want gorse introduced into New Zealand because he could remember digging it out and cutting it in Scotland. After four generations I too have a loathing of gorse and broom!” Noeline, Allan’s wife of 53 years, says women really had it pretty hard in those days.

Conditions harsh and uncertain for original settlers

Original settlers Margaret and Robert Smith. The Smith family today – Kerrie, Allan, Nicola, Vaughan and Noeline Smith. Family outing and laying tile drains.

She says that while there are times when she can relate to Margaret, women of that day really had to endure significant hardship that is only just now being recognised.

“I think the loneliness and having no family around you is huge for a woman. She must have been a very strong woman – bearing nine children – one died in Dunedin. Eight children is huge for any women to bring up especially because she would not have had much in the way of income on a regular basis. There were probably lots of worries about where money would be coming from.”

Allan reflects that the Smiths have been fortunate with the women in the family. He says especially Roberts’s wife Margaret – adding that his own wife, Noeline has also been his rock over the last 53 years.

Noeline says, “Working together as one unit is always going to be more successful than the families where the man does the work and the woman takes very little interest. Working together has been part of our success story.”

While Allan and Noeline still have the same land that formed the new life for Robert and Margaret 143 years ago, the farm has been added to and now covers some 384 hectares. “It means a great deal to both of us,” adds Noeline.

“I feel the connection very strongly and the problem is that we do not have someone immediate in our family to take over.

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