Mr Fox’s Journey – postscript

A friend suggested I should say what resulted from Fox’s journey in 1843. This was just one of a number of ‘exploratory’ trips to the Wairarapa – but their purpose was the same: to find land for Pakeha (European) immigrants, especially land that was not covered in forest so it could be immediately used for grazing animals. Charles Clifford was a cousin of William Vavasour, Henry Petre and Frederick Weld – “who were all to play a part in the colonisation of New Zealand”. Clifford arrived at Wellington with Vavasour in June 1842. Financed by their fathers, they jointly owned land on the old Porirua Road and ran a land, shipping and commission agency in town. After their exploration of Wairarapa with Fox and the others, they leased land from Maori at Wharekaka in the Wairarapa.

Charles Bidwell also comes into the story. Having lived in Australia for two years learning sheep farming, he brought sheep over to New Zealand when he moved here in 1843. Many were lost along the way, some were sold in the South Island, and about 400 were put to pasture on Alfred Ludlam’s farm in the Hutt Valley.

Bidwill joined Charles Clifford, Henry Petre, and William Vavasour in another journey for the express purpose of leasing runs from the Maori owners of the district during the brief interval when this practice was officially condoned. According to Bagnall: “The chief Manihera, whose influence at the time dominated the lower valley, led them across the Wharekaka Plains … Clifford and Vavasour, who presumably had first choice, selected the Wharekaka proper, and Bidwill the country to the north. A satisfactory lease for an annual rental of £12 was arranged in both cases.”

The prospective runholders then returned via the coastal route to Wellington for their stock and such belongings as could be carried. Petre and Vavasour with Frederick Weld, who had joined the group as a partner, were in charge of the Wharekaka flock. Bidwill was assisted by naturalist and Hutt Valley settler William Swainson. Bidwill arrived at Dry River a week later than the other party, in mid May 1844.

These two Wairarapa farms were among the earliest New Zealand sheep stations.

Following Crown purchase of the area in 1853, runholders were given pasturing licences over the runs they occupied and they set out to acquire the freehold as quickly as was necessary and possible. In 1855 Bidwill held 10,000 acres, an approximate estimate only, of which 1,970 acres were freehold.

There is an interesting account of the ‘early days’ at Bidwell’s “Pihautea” in this newspaper article from 1910. According to this report, Manihera was pleased to have Pakeha settlers: ‘so they [local Maori] could share in the benefits they saw the Port Nicholson [Wellington] Maori having’.

Pihautea Mein SmithWilliam Mein Smith, Pihautea. C.R. Bidwill Esqre. [1849 or later]. Ref: A-035-005. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

While this may have been true, the Waitangi Tribunal’s report (in 2010) on Wairarapa land purchases by the Crown found: “In the nineteenth century the Crown purchased too much Māori land too quickly and without regard to the inevitable plight of a Māori population left virtually landless in a part of the country where agricultural enterprise was the principal route to a good livelihood….The Tribunal considered that Māori of this region have been sorely tested over a long period. Their small population and early colonisation left them struggling to assert their mana and identity in the face of a Pākehā majority that soon owned most of the land, made all of the decisions, and did not value Māori culture or language.”

Masterton

A concern that large runholders were stopping working people from accessing Wairarapa farmland led Joseph Masters to form a Small Farms Association in 1853. Masters lobbied to set up a 100-acre town on the Wairarapa plain where citizens would own a one-acre town section and a 40-acre dairy farm. By the end of the year the government had approved two settlements (they became the towns of Greytown and Masterton).  My great-great-grandfather, Henry Jones (yes, he had to come into the story somehow!) was successful in acquiring one of these sections, which is how he moved from being a farm labourer in England to small farmer in New Zealand and how come I grew up in Masterton.

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