Wednesday, 5 November 2008
JAMES MCKERROW SURVEYOR, EXPLORER AND CIVIL SERVANT
I have managed to get the whole of David Herron's full thesis typed out and here is the first chapter. Happy reading. I am currently trying to find a publisher to publish it as a book, but no luck yet.
Enjoy reading Chapeter One.
AND CIVIL SERVANT
With special reference to Exploration, 1861-3
History Honours. University of New Zealand 1948
By David Herron
EVERY country has its regions of mystery whose secrets lie undiscovered for years after the more accessible regions have been exploited. Australia had her Central deserts, Canada the unknown west.”
In Otago, it was the wild and rugged country(1)lying to the west of the chain of major lakes. Progress from eastto west brought with it ever-increasing di culties, and the last few miles immediately east of the west coast for long proved
mpenetrable. It was nearly twenty years after Tuckett had surveyed the original Otago block in 1844, that P.Q. Caples, a venturesome miner, struggled through to the west coast.
Much of the country he and later explorers bypassed (remains
unexplored to this day). In the initial work of exploration, and indeed in much of that carried out in later days, the surveyors played a major part. Danger was part and parcel of their everyday work; they found their reward in the feeling of satisfaction which comes from knowing that a job has been
well done, and not in the plaudits of the crowd. To them Otago owes a great debt of gratitude. One of the ablest of this band of surveyor explorers was Mr. James McKerrow, a young Scottish immigrant who, during a long and successful public career, served New Zealand faithfully in many capacities. His adventures in the west are worthy of consideration at length, but before a study of them can be conducted with profit, some background knowledge of Otago, its history, and McKerrow’s predecessors is desirable
Even a cursory glance at a relief map of the province is su cient to convince one of the ruggedness of its terrain. G.W. Hutton, one of the more ominant of New Zealand geologists has aptly compared the mountain system of Otago with the
extended fingers of the right hand with the palm resting on the south west portion of Canterbury.
This mountain system(2)covers the province so extensively that there are no large plains.
There are however, several small plains wedged between low ranges of wooded hills in fairly close proximity to the eastern seaboard, and it was to this area, rather than to the more central and western regions dominated by a confusion of mountain,
lake, bush, and gorge, that the earliest inhabitants of the province gravitated.
The Maori people as a whole were but little disposed to settle in territory so unlike that of their tropical homeland, and only a very few took up permanent residence in Otago or Southland (3}
Their knowledge of bushcraft and their venturesome spirit enabled and encouraged these southern Maoris to penetrate inland and on to the more confused regions lying further west.
The journeys increased in number and importance when supplies of the precious greenstone were discovered near Lake Wakatipu, and to exploit the new found riches to the fullest extent, small settlements were established. Northern tribes learned of the discovery, and sent trading parties to secure supplies either of the
precious stone, or of the finished products which the relatives of the central natives were producing at Murdering Beach on the east coast.
The Northern Maoris made full use of the West(4)Coast passes
in their trading expeditions, and as late as 1836 Te Puoho (5) traveled over the Hanst Pass, although on this occasion
6} his purpose was conquest and not trade. Even before Te Pucoho made his raid the greenstone trade had largely died out. The white man had made his appearance
around southern shores, iron had replaced greenstone and(7} the trade routes had become so over-grown from disuse that only a few of the older East Coast Maoris could boast of any personal acquaintance with their relatives in the interior. The
members of the latter had diminished to such an extent that by 1836 only around Wanaka and Hawea did hapus remain,and when in that year Te Puoho captured their pahs and drove out, took prisoner, or murdered the occupants, he terminated(8)large scale Maori occupation in Central Otago. Individuals or families still remained, but their exact location or distribution was unknown.
The Maoris at the coast soon became so conversant with
the pakeha way of life, that in time they became no more
disposed to nor even capable of venturing inland than the new
Thus, although by 1840 a reasonably accurate knowledge of the coast line was available through the activities of whalers and sealers, information concerning the interior was forthcoming only from the reports of the older Maoris, and these reports were often highly fanciful and misleading. Lake Wakatipu in the earliest maps was sketched as an oval sheet of water named “Waipounamu”, and the outlines of other lakes were equally inaccurate.
The early white explorers in Otago found this inadequate
knowledge a severe handicap. In 1843 Edward Shortland was engaged on a journey through Otago, but was unable to secure the services of any natives capable of leading him to the Molyneaux River by way of the old track. On his return journey
north however, Shortland met a chief named Huruhuru at the Waitaki river. Huruhuru had some personal knowledge of the central lakes, as well as the route over the Lindis Pass to Hawen, and all stages of the two day journey from Wanaka over the
Haast Pass to the West Coast.
He drew a sketch of the interior(10}for Shortland, and for many years the offcial map of Otago and Canterbury showed the great central lakes as reproduced
in shortland’s map in his “Southern Districts”.(11}
The early surveyors added comparatively little to the existing knowledge of the hinterland. Frederick Tuckett arrived in 1864 to choose a suitable block of land for the projected Scottish colony, but he advanced no further inland than the Tokomairiro Plains.Charles Kettle, the surveyor who came to Otago in 1846 to
direct the survey of the block preparatory to settlement, had little opportunity for exploration, but on one occasion ascended the Maungatuas and saw the Strath-Taieri Plain stretching away into the distance.
Thus when the main body of settlers arrived from Scotland in 1848 they found very limited portions of the province open for settlement. Their early activities moreover, guided by the counsel and authority of their leader Captain Cargill who was a firm adherent of the Wakefield Tents of a concentration and contiguity,
were directed more to the immediate needs of home and business than to feats of exploration and adventure. From 1848-56 the majority of artisans and tradespeople were quite content to remain in Dunedin and to leave the few practical farmers to occupy small holdings on the adjoining plains of the block.(14}
During this period of consolidation within a small radius some exploration had been going on, sporadic and unsystematic though it was.
In 1850 J.W. Hamilton of the sur vey ship “Acheron”, which had been engaged in coastal survey, made an overland journey from Bluff to Dunedin, and embodied in his subsequent report a map drawn from his own observation and from those
of Maoris slightly acquainted with the more remote lakes and
The following year Charles Kettle, in the course of a trip from Waikouaiti to the Strath Taieri and Miniototo plains, made the first entry into Central Otago.(16}
In the same year, 1851, W.D.B. Mantell, the land commissioner, traveled overland from Blu to Dunedin and marked in his own map not only his own route, but also the progress up the Aparima and Waiau valleys to Monowai and TeAnau made by Messrs. Nairn and Pharazyn under the guidance of a native from the latter district.
By 1853 a thin stream of explorers and pastoralists were pushing into the interior. Nathaniel Chalmers, guided by a Maori, followed first the Mataura and then the Clutha until he arrived at Lake Wanaka, but was too exhausted to continue
over the Lindis Pass to the Waitaki River.(18}
When Mantell journeyed south once more in 1854, he was accompanied by prospective squatters who had been crowded out of Canterbury, and were in search of pastoral country. Some of these men found the pastures they desired on the Maniototo
Plains; others settled round Lake Te Anau and were still there when James McKerrow surveyed that district. (19}
y 1856 more general interest was manifest in land outside the Otago block, and Captain Cargill and the Provincial Council, prodded into action by Mantell, were forced to make a tardy recognition of the place of the pastoralists as well as the
agriculturists in the progressive realization of Otago’s potential wealth. Their change of front produced one great practical boon. The capital required to buy sheep runs and stock them had been beyond the means of the great majority under the old land laws, but under the exceedingly liberal land laws
promulgated and passed in 1856, even a humble settler might become a landowner. Rural sections in the old Otago block, now divided into eight instead of three hundreds, were on(20}sale at ten shillings per acre on condition that thirty shillings per acre should be expended on improvements within three
years. Outside the actual block, 600,000 acres were o ering in lots of not less than 2,000 acres at a price of ten shillings per acre, and depasturage licenses were available to those who would venture still further afield.(21}
The effect of these land laws was immediate. Scores of people took the opportunity to procure cheap land. But diffculties arose almost at once. The Survey O ce possessed little date on unsurveyed land, and when the balance of available land
had been snapped up, it was at a loss to obtain information for settlers’ guidance.
At this critical juncture, when the journeys of Kettle represented the only exploration of more than thirty milesinto the country west of Dunedin,and with her Lands and Sur vey Department hopelessly disorganized, Otago was indeed fortunate in securing for the post of Chief Sur veyor
Mr. J.T.Thomson, an intelligent worker with a wide colonial background of practical surveying, and a remarkable facility for adapting his methods to meet each fresh problem.
His(23)influence on New Zealand surveying was to be profound. Staying in Dunedin only long enough to remedy some of the more outstanding abuses in his headquarters, Thomson plunged into the task of exploring and sur veying as quickly and as accurately as possible, those tracts of land required so
urgently for settlement.
Starting from 1857, within four months Thomson had completed a survey extending from the Waiau Gorge, north to the Dome Mountains, south to the coast, and east to the Mataura river; an area of two and a half million acres. He
crossed and recrossed the country in every direction, passed over plains and through rivers and swamps, and covered 1500 miles on foot.
The report derived from this survey was so(24} encouraging that within twelve months the Dunedin Survey was inundated with applications for land to the extent
of three to four million acres.(25}
In October and November 1857 Thomson made another Reconnaissance Survey, this time over the Horse Range to the Shag Valley, and from thence by the Pigroot to the Maniototo Plains, Ida Valley and the junction of the Manuherikia River
with the Clutha.(26}
In December of the same year a further expedition took himto the upper Waitaki valley, and from some hills he subsequently descried the Lindis Pass, Lakes Hawea and Wanuka, and the course of the upper Clutha.(27}
In February 1858, Alexander Garvie, one of Thomson’s assistants, was instr ucted to explore and survey the basin of the Clutha as far north as the junction of the Clutha and
Enterprising runholders, among them the(28}Brennan brothers, had examined this area the previous year, but Thomson’s firm belief in the wisdom of survey before settlement prompted him to send out Garvie to explore the south-eastern (29}portion of the province and to link the Reconnaissance surveys already completed in the south and north-east of Otago.
The reports derived from these sur veys gave concise summaries of the agricultural and pastoral potentialities of land remote from the coast, and were eagerly scanned by prospective settlers. They revealed that of the 15,047 square miles sur veyed, apart altogether from the 11,23 square miles as yet untouched no fewer than 12,516 square miles were suitable for pastoral purposes and 4,200,000 acres of this were capable(30}for producing corn and vegetables. (31}
The combined effect of the 1856 land lawsand Thomson’s optimistic forecast was to change the whole character of the province. In the first eight years of its existence Otago had made little progress. Mr.J. de la Condamine Carnegie in 1851 wrote home saying that he believed less than forty immigrants had arrived during the previous twelve months. (32} “The settlement was in a statement stated,” wrote Thomson describing conditions in 1856. “The pilgr im father s
were dissatisfied with ill success and poverty discontent reigned.”(33}
After 1858 optimism and confidence were characteristic, and engendered vitality, growth and prosperity. Stock owners were attracted from all quarters, and with the help of the new maps had no di culty in finding and occupying r uns. Settlers
from less prosperous provinces helped to swell the numbers of assisted immigrants. The number of sheep in the province increased from 75,000 to 300,000 within four years, and the value of wool exports showed an increase of from £16,000 to £107,000 in a similar period.
Otago was on the crest of a (34} minor boom; a boom which two years later was to be absorbed in the greater one resulting from the discovery of gold.
Mr. J.T. Thomson’s contribution to this prosperity was outstanding. Although enjoying indi erent health he persevered
n tackling a task of inherent di culty and great responsibility,
and actually carried out operations beyond the terms of his
1. Sutherland, Miss L.E., The Settler and Surveyor Explorers of Otago, P.
76. Unpublished Thesis, Public Library, Dunedin
2. Durward, Miss E., The Maori Population of Otago, Pp. 6-7.
Unpublished Thesis, Hocken Library, Dunedin.
3. Gilkison, R., Early Days in Central Otago, P. 18
4. Park, J., Maori and Early European Explorations in Western Otago,
Pp. 4-6, Pamphlet, Hocken Library, Dunedin
5. Ross, A., The Puoho And His South Island Raid, pp. 87-98.
Unpublished Thesis, Hocken Library, Dunedin
6. Durward, op cit, P. 18.
7. Ross, op cit., pp.98-103
8. McClymont, W.G., The Exploration of New Zealand, P. 75.
9. Shortland, E., The Southern Districts of New Zealand, pp. 205-6
10. McClymont, op cit. P. 78
11. Thus the original Otago block was confined to a comparatively narrow
strip of land on the east coast.
12. Hocken, T.M., Contribution to the Early History of New Zealand,
Appendix A, Pp. 203-25, being a copy of Tuckett’s Diary
13. Kettle, C.H., Letter to Col. William Wakefield, 13 April 1847, M.S.S.
Hocken Library, Dunedin
14. McClymont, W.G., op cit. P. 112
15. Ibid. Pp. 90-91
16. Cowan, Miss J.C., A History of the Maniototo County, Pp. 10-11.
Unpublished thesis, Dunedin Public Library
17. McClymont, op cit. Pp. 114-115.
18. Beattie, H., Pioneer Recollections Vol. II, P.54, Letters from Chalmers
19. McClymont, op cit. P. 117
20. “Hundreds” was the name given to the new districts which from time
to time opened up for settlement by the Provincial Council.
21. Hocken, T.M., op. cit, P. 167
22. McClymont, op cit., P. 113.
23. Hocken, T.M., op cit., P. 169
24. Thomson, J.T., Survey of the Southern Districts of Otago, passim,
Pamphlet, Hocken Library
25. McClymont, op. cit., P. 119
26. Otago Prov. Gazette, Vol. III, 22 Sept. 1859, Pp. 270-73. Thomson’s
27. Thomson, J.T., The Exploration of Otago and Recent Travel in other
Parts of New Zealand, Pp. 75-81, Pamphlet, Hocken Library
28. Otago Prov. Gaz., Vol. III, 22 Sept. 1859, Pp. 276-281, Garvie’s
Report. Garvie’s Diary can be found in the Survey O ce, Dunedin
29. McClymont, op cit., P. 122
30. Byars, Miss F., John Turnbull Thomson Early Surveyor, P 88,
Unpublished Thesis, Hocken Library
31. Thomson, J.T., The Exploration of Otago, P. 82.
32. Cowan, Miss J.C., op cit. P. 12
33. Thomson, J.T., The Exploration of Otago, P. 75
34. Ibid. P. 82.
35. Ibid, P. 75. also Byars, op cit., passim