James Beattie, Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington

Introduction

This blog explores the gardening culture of the early years of the Otago Settlement.

A Scots settlement planted in southern New Zealand

The Otago Settlement scheme of 1848 had a distinctly Scottish, Free Kirk flavour. Its founders had a mutual loathing of urbanism and industrialisation and sought to keep Dunedin a concentrated community of family-orientated, small-farming Presbyterians of the Free Church.[1]

Following full-scale colonisation begun in 1848 by the New Zealand Company (NZC), a permanent European presence on Ngāi/ Kāi Tahu land in Otago grew considerably. The Otakou Block, of c.400, 000 acres, comprising the first Kāi Tahu sale to the NZC in 1844, expanded over the following twenty years to encompass almost all of Te Wai Pounamu.[2] And the handful of Europeans and other groups living there as whalers in 1840 steadily grew in number to some 590 by 1850, and over 12,000 by 1860.[3] The Māori population and settlement in Otago also dropped, in response to colonisation, the effects of disease and their concentration on reserves—the economic and social effects of which are still keenly felt today.

Europeans arrived in a highly modified environment, following over 500 years of Māori occupation and landscape authorship. Significantly, extensive forest clearance and its replacement with native grasses by Māori provided ideal conditions for the later introduction of sheep consequent with European settlement. As biogeographer and historical geographer Peter Holland notes, ‘the widespread tussock grass, herbaceous, and low shrub communities [created by Māori burning] were a blessing as a source of palatable tissues for livestock and for shelter from the cold winds of winter and spring’ (Figure 1).[4]

Figure 1: Forest distribution in Murihiku, c. 1840.
Source: Author’s own, adapted and based on M.A. Bathgate, ‘The Maori occupancy of Murihiku, 1000-1900 A.D.: A Geographic Study of Change’ (Masters thesis: University of Otago, 1969), figure 7, p.57.
Putting down roots

The importance of gardening and introducing new plants is apparent early in Otago’s history, from the widespread growing of potatoes and other introduced plants by Kāi Tahu to the very first activities of the New Zealand Company. Charles Henry Kettle (c.1821-62), Chief Surveyor of Otago who oversaw the planning of Dunedin and the Otago area, established experimental plots of wheat and corn in 1846.[5]

In the early years of settlement especially, an established and productive garden represented the difference between life and death. Just how much so is illustrated by Otago migrants’ reliance on Kāi Tahu for their food supplies in the first years following settlement. Māori supplied settlers with both fish and potatoes, as well as engaging in a thriving export trade with Sydney.[6]

Most colonists introduced plants familiar from their home into their garden. Jane McGlashlan’s (1827-94) diary entry typifies many of the time. In 1853, she observed that ‘[w]e have many of the old home favourites here. Roses, Pansies, Carnations, daisies, hedges of Sweet Briar and the “bonny bonny broom[*]” which is perfectly glowing just now.’[7] Flower-growing, rather than raising vegetables or keeping stock, exemplifies best the effort given over to purely matters of the heart, rather than to the needs of the belly. The effort given over to raising flowers from home demonstrates, at least in the early years of settlement, the difficulty of Europeans sometimes having to shift their gaze and appreciation to native species.[8]

In terms of garden seeds, Otago colonists benefitted from the later timing of its settlement in Australasia, which meant that settlers could obtain seeds and plants from other parts of the country and abroad.[9] As early as 16 June 1849 Mr Cutten’s store as well as A. Anderson on Princes St were offering for sale vegetable seeds, and kitchen garden and flower seeds respectively.[10] A rival, J.H. Stirling, also operating on Princes St., advertised ‘well selected garden seeds’ on 7 July 1849.[11] The relative scarcity of plants kept prices of some varieties high for a time. In 1849, Sarah Low wrote that 100 hundred strawberry plants cost £3.[12] By the 1850s, Otago settlers could purchase a wider variety of plants locally, from several nursery firms.

Exchanges of gardening knowledge and appreciation of native nature

Some exchange of gardening knowledge between Kāi Tahu and colonists took place. As noted above, Māori supplied settlers with food when they arrived. Thomas Burns (Otago’s religious leader) employed Māori to labour on his garden, and planted his potatoes in the ‘Maori fashion’. This refers to the manner in which Māori grew potatoes by planting them in mounds, which was how they had grown other tropical tubers.[13]

While settlers enthusiastically introduced plants from their homeland, they also appreciated the beauty of native plants, including collecting seed for their garden (Figure 2). For example, Jane Bannerman ‘took great pride in watching the development’ of their manse through bush clearance, yet she still appreciated native flora. Her brother, Arthur, would row across Otago Harbour to collect native plants for introduction into the garden of their father’s property (Grants Braes) on Otago Peninsula.[14] Settler environmental change did not mean that Europeans failed to appreciate existing scenery, or to rue its passing in the name of progress.

Figure 2: William Cargill was a keen plantsman, as evidenced from this photograph of his house, Hillside, in 1860, shortly before his death. Neat and well-tended, Cargill’s garden contains many New Zealand native species, including Harakeke (Phormium tenax) and Tī Kouka (Cordyline australis). Visible in the front left of the house is an extensive glasshouse. ‘Photograph of “Hillside”, Captain Cargill’s Residence in 1860. The Captain is visible on the deck of the house’, unknown photographer, 1860, 179 x 245 mm, CS.13803-1.
Source: Reproduced with permission from Toitū Otago Settler’s Museum
A community of professional gardeners

Dunedin was well served by gardeners. One of these, William Martin (1823-1905), set up business at Fairfield, Dunedin, laying out 10 acres in garden.[15] He advertised a variety of fruit trees for sale in July 1850: apples, pears, cherries as well as gooseberries and other currents.[16] Thereafter Martin’s business grew. Another early Dunedin nurseryman, George Matthews (1812-84), arrived in 1850, and set up a nursery at Moray Place. Later, Matthews bought property at Mornington on which he developed a shrubs and trees nursery, named Hawthorn Hill (now Hawthorn Avenue).[17] Many, like Martin and Matthews, had been apprenticed on the larger Scottish and English estates, and brought considerable garden experience (and seeds) with them to Otago.[18] Several had also received a good education. Martin, for example, had taken papers in botany, mathematics, Hebrew, Greek and surveying at Edinburgh University.[19]

Martin brought many plants with him from Britain and elsewhere. By 1861 Martin’s nursery had ‘a wide variety of trees, shrubs, fruit trees, pines, hedge plants, and herbaceous plants, many of the importations coming from California.’[20] In addition to seeds, Matthews brought to Dunedin everything from fruit and ornamental trees to flowers, mosses and cacti.[21]

Despite the later success of both Matthews and Martin, introducing plants from northern climes to southern ones represented a great challenge. Many plants failed to make it even half way around the globe. Erratic watering, extremes of heat and cold, and the ever-present danger of salt water served to destroy many a collection of living plants. Although chances tended to improve following the widespread use of the Wardian case—invented in the 1830s, and effectively a miniature glasshouse—and the reduction of voyage times with steamers, the shipment of living plants and seeds halfway around the world proved a chancy affair.[22]

As well as obtaining plants locally, many settlers continued to receive seeds from friends, relatives and commercial nurseries in Britain and elsewhere. In respect to access to seeds, New Zealand settlers benefitted from the boom in gardening that took hold in the British Isles from the 1840s. In Britain and, by dint of emigration, its colonies, gardening, along with natural history, became a marker of respectability and civility, especially among the burgeoning middle- and working classes. Aside from publications, a large number of commercial firms catered to demand for plants from near and far.[23] As noted above, Dunedin nurserymen relied upon British firms to send them seeds.

In the 1850s politician John Richardson (1810-78) developed extensive vegetable and flower gardens on his Willowmead estate, Inchclutha. Richardson grew an astonishing number of flowers. One entry for 2 February 1857 lists an order of 32 varieties of flowers from Sutton’s Seeds. These ranged from Geraniums and Cowslips to Dahlia and ‘Forget-me-nots’.[24] In 1857 he also paid £8, 18 shillings and 5 pence for considerable quantities of seeds from the UK nursery firm of Chatwood (?) and Cummins, sent through the wholesaler George W. Wheatley, London. Richardson received asparagus, peas, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cabbage, celery, turnips, cucumber, spinach, red beet, Scotch kale, Windsor beans, Brussel sprouts, American cress, mustard, ‘a collection of flower seeds’, as well as ‘2 Bushels [of] mixed pasture grass.’[25]

Protecting the Garden

While settlers enthusiastically set about establishing gardens, keeping them, as well as crops, free from unwanted grazing animals was a challenge in the early years of settlement. This concern was addressed by two ordinances, passed by the Otago Provincial Government in the 1850s. (In addition, lease conditions also stipulated improvements to property, including fencing.) The Otago Provincial Government’s Fencing Ordinance, 1855, reflected environmental realities in much of Otago, in which timber was in relatively short supply.[26] The Otago ordinance, as environmental historian Michael Bagge notes, added a new section on live hedges, and legislated against ‘the destruction of well-trimmed live hedges’ and their replacement with a new fence without an owner’s consent.[27]

Settlers in relatively poorly timbered provinces, such as Otago and Canterbury, generally favoured live fences over ones constructed of timber.[28] The 1855 ordinance itself represented an awareness by Otago authorities of environmental limits, in this case of the limitations of timber supply, in their region. Although, as noted, the immediate area around Dunedin was relatively well forested at the time of first European settlement, this was generally not the case for inland and northern areas.[29]

The second measure enacted by Otago authorities to deal with the problem of wandering stock was the Cattle Trespass Ordinance, 1858. Under its provisions, individuals whose cattle strayed within the town boundaries of Dunedin or Port Chalmers could be liable for a fine of up to £5 and have their stock impounded.[30] Not only did the ordinance attempt to prevent loss of private property, but it also sought to minimise tensions within the community by providing a clear system of complaint and redress.

Conclusion

Together with Māori before them, early European colonists brought with them a well-established culture of gardening, attempting to grow what they could, where they could, but also admiring the beauty of existing plants in their new home. The last they adapted to their gardens, as illustrated by the activities of the likes of Arthur Burns, as well as the image of the garden of William Cargill.

Author

James Beattie is an environmental historian who teaches at the Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington. The material from which this blog comes from ‘Fashioning a future. Part I: Settlement, improvement and conservation in the European colonisation of Otago, 1840–60’, and is published in the refereed, online journal: International Review of Environmental History (ANU Press).


References


[1] Tom Brooking, ‘The Great Escape: Wakefield and the Scottish Settlement of Otago’, in edited collection, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the Colonial Dream: A RECONSIDERATION, Wellington, 1997, pp. 127-130.

[2] Harry C. Evison, The Long Dispute: Maori land rights and European colonisation in southern New Zealand (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1997).

[3] Peter Entwisle, Behold the Moon: The European Occupation of the Dunedin District, 1770–1848 (Dunedin: Port Daniel Press, 1998), 79–106. There were 307 males and 283 females in Dunedin in 1850: Otago Journal 8 (March 1850), 111.

[4] Peter Holland, ‘Room for All? European Settlers and Native Plants in the Southern New Zealand Lowlands: 1850–1920’, in Robert Sweeny et al., eds., Sharing Spaces: Essays in Honour of Sherry Olson (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2020), p. 43.

[5] Kettle to Wakefield, 4/46, 25 January 1847, Hocken Library.

[6] West, Face of Nature, 179-80. On shifts in Kāi Tahu food production, see the comments by Horomona Pohio (c.1825-81), reproduced in. Tremewan, Selling Otago, p. 62. Settlers also received supplies from John Jones’ settlement of Matanaka.

* Broom later became a curse to farmers because of its ability to spread owing to its dense root system and because of it did not fix nitrogen.

[7] Jane McGlashlan, 8 October, 1853, Journal of Voyage “Rajah”, 14 June 1853 – 3 December 1853, typescript, MS 35, Copy 67, Toitū.

[8] I am indebted to Paul Star for this observation.

[9] Louise Shaw, A History of the Dunedin Horticultural Society, 1851-2001 (Dunedin: Dunedin Horticultural Society, 2000).

[10] 16 June 1849, Otago News, Toitū.

[11] Otago News, Toitū.

[12] Shaw, p. 19.

[13] West, Face of Nature, p. 172.

[14] Bannerman, ‘Reminiscences’, p. 45.

[15] Wm. Martin, ‘Early History of Fairfield’, November 1963, typewritten, in Martin DC-0320, Toitū.

[16] Otago News, 20 July 1850.

[17] Ruth A. Gow, ‘George Matthews’, in The Advance Guard Series 1, ed. by G.J. Griffiths (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times, 1973), pp. 97-110.

[18] Shaw.

[19] ‘Mr William Martin, a Pioneer Horticulturist of Otago’, handwritten notes by Wm. Martin (grandson) 3 February 1953, Martin DC-0320, Toitū.

[20] Wm. Martin, ‘Early History of Fairfield’, November 1963, typewritten, in Martin DC-0320, Toitū.

[21] Shaw, p. 18.

[22] James Beattie, ‘“The Empire of the Rhododendron”: Reorienting New Zealand Garden history’, in Tom Brooking and Eric Pawson, eds., Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2013), pp. 241-257, 365-367.

[23] On which, see James Beattie, ‘“The Empire of the Rhododendron”’.

[24] JLC Richardson Diary 1857-1860, Toitū, AG-101. He grew 2 varieties each of lettuce and cabbage. See entry 4 October 1857, for example.

[25] Invoices & Sundries, supplied by Geo. W. Wheatley of London’ on the vessel Southern Cross, no date, but in 1857 Invoices, JLC Richardson Invoices 1856-60, AG-101, Toitū.

[26] ‘Fencing Ordinance, 1855’, in Ordinances of the Province of Otago, N.Z., session 1 to 14 inclusive (Dunedin: Otago Witness, 1862), 47A-48A. It replaced a New Zealand-wide ordinance: ‘An Ordinance to Encourage the Fencing of Land, 1847’, Session 8, 283.

[27] Michael L.S. Bagge, ‘Valuable ally or invading army? The ambivalence of gorse in New Zealand, 1835-1900’, ENNZ: Environment and Nature in New Zealand, 9, 1 (February 2014): 135.

[28] Ray Hargreaves, ‘Farm Fences in Pioneer New Zealand’, New Zealand Geographer, 21, 2 (1965): 150. Although live fencing of this kind generally found favour in provinces like Otago and Canterbury with relatively scarce timber sources, some North Island settlers showed a preference for this method of fencing, such as hawthorn in the Waikato and native Manuka fencing in Katikati, in the Bay of Plenty. Hargreaves, ‘Farm Fences’, 149.

[29] See Neil Clayton, ‘Settlers, politicians and scientists: Environmental anxiety in a New Zealand colony’, ENNZ: Environment and Nature in New Zealand, 9 4 (2014): 26.

[30] ‘Cattle Trespass Ordinance 1858’, in Ordinances of the Province of Otago, N.Z., session 1 to 14 inclusive (Dunedin: Otago Witness, 1862), pp. 103-4.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s