Thursday, 11 December 2008

JAMES McKERROW – 1834-1861 Chapter II

James McKerrow
With special reference to Exploration, 1861-3
Code Number.17
History Honours. University of New Zealand 1948
By David Herron

Here is Chapter 2 of Dave Herron's thesis.

ONE day early in December 1859, a young Scotsman walked
into the Dunedin Survey Office. He came in answer to the urgent
advertisement for surveyors made necessary by the persistent
demands for roads, bridges and general surveying which were
taxing the resources of Mr. Thomson’s little staff. The applicant’s
name was James McKerrow; a name which for sixty years was to
be known and respected throughout New Zealand.

James McKerrow had to survey Moeraki Beach and the Native Reserve pictured above.

McKerrow was well fitted both by aptitude and by
academic training for the profession he was to grace for so long.
His father, Andrew McKerrow, the famous ploughmaker of
Beansburn, Kilmarnock, Scotland, whose patent single furrow
ploughs and back delivery reaping machines were used as far
from his native land as South Africa and New Zealand,1 was
in a position to provide each of his seven sons with adequate
educational opportunities. James, the eldest son, showed general
all round scholastic ability from an early age and frequently
was top of his class.2

His particular interest was in the field of
Mathematics,3 and after an excellent grounding in both the
pure and mixed aspects of the subject under Mr. Thomas Lee
of the Kilmarnock Academy, he studied these subjects further
at Glasgow University.4
N.B. The Registrar Glasgow University can find no James
McKerrow on his files. He suggests however that he may have
been a “private” student. This would possibly correspond to the
extramural student in New Zealand.
On the completion of his academic studies, James was
compelled by his father to serve an apprenticeship in the
implement-making trade. All the boys were similarly treated,
for Mr. McKerrow senior considered that the experience in the
trade would prove a safe standby in times of need, and would
often open the door to numerous other occupations.
During this time James interested himself more in
surveying than in his apprenticeship, and much of his spare
time was spent in applying his knowledge to the surveying of
neighbours’ paddocks.5

In 1859, at the age of twenty four, and filled with the
courage and optimism of youth, he realized that the colonies
offered prospects where initiative and vitality would pay
ample dividends, and decided to emigrate to New Zealand.
The decision was made in no light hearted spirit of bravado or
without full realization of the implications involved.
“My first reminiscence of New Zealand,” he wrote much
later, “carries me back to my school days … when I remember
two or three families left my native place for New Zealand. At
that time it was considered a very great venture to set out for
these most distant Islands of the sea, inhabited by formidable
tribes jealous of the intrusion of the stranger the pakeha, and
who only a few years previously had wreaked a terrible revenge
at Tua Marina near Blenheim over a land dispute, now known
as the Wairau Massacre.”6

His marriage to Miss Martha Dunlop who, in the difficult
days ahead was to prove an admirable source of inspiration and
encouragement, took place at Fenwick, Ayrshire, Scotland, on
the 5th August, 1859.7 Shortly afterwards, the young couple
were accorded to public farewell which Kilmarnock habitually
tendered to her aspiring youth. A friend, Mr. John Thomson,
recalled the scene some forty-four years later. “Our guest’s hair
was then like the raven8 `his bonnie bow was bent.’ His face was
grave, thoughtful, resolute and self-possessed unusual for his
years, and his newly wedded wife an object of interest, looking
brave and handsome, just the type, I thought of an Ayrshire lass
fitted to be the helpmeet of a man going to carve his fortune in
a new and distant land.” In addition to this public farewell, the
young couple and another intending colonist were the guests of
honour at a farewell supper in the George Hotel, Kilmarnock,
arranged by a large company of enthusiastic friends, young and
old, to wish them God-speed.9

Less than three weeks after their marriage, James McKerrow
and his bride journeyed to Glasgow to board the “Cheviot”, a
speedy sailing vessel of 1066 tons on which passages to New
Zealand had been secured. As the ship was found to have been
delayed over the advertised hour of departure, the McKerrows
took the opportunity of enjoying a last stroll on Scottish soil.
Their path led past a field of turnips and James clambered over
the fence to secure one for himself and his wife. Unfortunately
at this juncture an irate farmer appeared on the scene. He
threatened to give McKerrow in charge, but a sum of money
far out of proportion to the value of the turnips pacified him,
and enabled the young couple to return to the “Cheviot” in
plenty of time before she sailed.10

On Tuesday, 23rd August, 1859, the “Cheviot” left the
“Tail of the Bank” at Greenock and with it Scotland. James
McKerrow was destined not to revisit his homeland for fortyfour
years. The “Cheviot” was a cargo vessel carrying much
foodstuff, spirituous liquors, iron goods, building materials,
far implements, as well as stud sheep, pigs and cattle.11

Thus although a ship of over 1000 tons, she was able to accommodate
only twenty-four cabin and eighteen steerage passengers.
The majority of the latter were emigrating under the
auspices of Mr. Holmes, a gentleman who had made extensive
purchases of land in the Lumsden district on which he intended
settling them. The McKerrows were in the steerage along with
sixteen other men and one other woman.12

The “Cheviot” rounded Ireland, reached Madeira on the
3rd September, the Cape Verdes on the 7th September, and
after several days of baffling winds crossed the line on 26th
September.13 From this point on the weather was reasonably
kind. The Cape was rounded on the 25th of October, a point
opposite Adelaide reached by the 18th November, Stewart
Island was sighted a week later and on the following day the
26th November 1859, ninety five days after leaving Greenock,
the “Cheviot” sailed into the Otago Harbour.14

Apart from the usual phenomena seen on such a voyage,
the passengers’ interests were aroused by such incidents as the
discovery of a stowaway, and the provisioning of a lifeboat from
a foundered vessel. Once the “nal de mer” had been conquered,
the passengers supplemented these casual interests with a series
of organized functions.
Church services and psalm singing took a prominent
place but shooting, fishing, dancing, charades, fortune telling,
ballad singing, fairday celebrations, a wedding anniversary
party, and the ceremony of crossing the line provided lighter
entertainment.15 From most of these lighter forms of amusement
James McKerrow exempted himself. His habitual retirement to
ponder over some weighty volume earned him the reputation
of a recluse and a certain measure of unpopularity among those
of the passengers more socially inclined.16

Conditions on board were often far from pleasant, and
there were frequent thunder storms, snow storms, and gales,
accompanied by ripped sails and dangerous flying blocks. Mr.
T.L. Barnhill’s entry in his dairy on the 3rd October, 1859, is
indicative of the spirit on board. “Shipped a sea which ducked
almost all the steerage passengers who were standing together
– all in good spirits owing to our making such progress.”17

Only one death occurred on board – that of a stillborn babe,
and over a dozen ships were overhauled in a swift passage.18
On their arrival the majority of the passengers, the McKerrows
included, appended their names to a letter addressed to Captain
Orkney of the Cheviot in which, after describing the voyage
as “a prosperous and agreeable one so far as it is possible to
be” thanked Captain Orkney for having done all in his power
to make the voyage “expeditious, safe and agreeable,” and
presented him with a purse of sovereigns.19

The first sight of Dunedin was quite equal to expectations. “I
was very much struck with the beautiful situation of Dunedin,”
wrote McKerrow later, “and with the clean, neat appearance of
the houses looking out spick and span from picturesque spots
in the surrounding bush. In coming up the bay and through
among the islets at Port Chalmers, I was strongly reminded of
beautiful Loch Lomond.”20

The “Cheviot’s” arrival at a time when other provinces
were pouring their surplus goods into Otago only served to
overstock the market further.21 Although the foodstuff market
was overstocked, the same could not be said of the labour market
where opportunities for employment and toil abounded. “Each
person as he arrives finds he has more to set his hand to than
he can possible find time or means to do,” warned a leader in a
contemporary newspaper. “Toil unwearied toil must be the lot
of those who emigrate.”22

The McKerrows were not slow to accept this challenge.
Mrs. McKerrow temporarily took up domestic duties at Green
Island,23 while James McKerrow applied for apposition in the
Survey Office. He explained that he was not a professional
surveyor, but thought he had a fair knowledge of their system
of procedure. Mr. Thomson’s urgent need for surveyors had
not blinde him to the realization that an additional surveyor, if
incompetent, was more of a liability than an asset. He therefore
enquired from the young applicant when he would be ready to
submit himself for a written examination. “Now,” was the reply24
and there and then McKerrow set to work on an exacting set of
problems. He soon finished, and handed in his test problems,
complete and correct, to a somewhat amazed official.25 The
quality of the work impressed Thomson profoundly, and to
this incident McKerrow attributed his immediate admission to
the surveying staff.26On the 21st December, 1859, James McKerrow was appointed
to the position of sub-assistant on the staff of the Dunedin Survey
Office at a salary of £150 till the end of the financial year on June
31st 1860, and thereafter at an annual salary of £350 for carrying
out the duties of a District Surveyor.27

Thomson, with his customary foresight, saw to it that
inexperienced recruits of his staff were employed close enough
to the head office for effective surveillance and encouragement.
During this period in which he was for all intents and purposes
on trial, McKerrow surveyed the road from Anderson’s Bay to
Tomahawk and extended Stafford Street as far as Town Belt.28
From road surveys he graduated to the task of surveying
blocks into subdivisions suitable for occupation.29A five thousand acre block on the south side of Blueskin Bay and about a dozen miles north of Dunedin was his first scene of operations; operations which involved traverses of
roads and streams in rather difficult country. Such phrases as
“through bed of creek,” “enter stream”, “enter swamp”, “enter
bush”, “on to dry land”, “on to beach”, were frequently written
alongside notes of bearings in his field book.30
This work, completed without the assistance of any senior
officers, occupied his attentions uptill the end of June 1860. In
his report for the year ended June 1860, Mr. Thomson wrote,
“As the cost of the rural section surveys of Messrs. McKerrow,
Moran and Shanka is above average, it is due to them that I
should mention that they all entered the service in December
and January. Their operations were in very rugged country…I
have no doubt that these officers will give a better account of
themselves in the coming season.”31
The amount of section survey completed had not been
outstanding, but, as Thomson pointed out, the completion of
triangulations would make available several more surveyors to
proceed systematically with section surveys in those districts
requiring settlement of claims. Triangulation was, however, a
necessary prerequisite to accuracy in section survey; accuracy
unobtainable under the obnoxious “spotting” system.32
For the 1860-61 session it was proposed to employ three
surveyors on triangulation, five on rural section survey and
two on town sections.33 James McKerrow was one of those
appointed to rural section survey. For seven months he spent
his time in surveying five blocks in the Otokia region on the
east side of the Taieri plain, and in distinguishing bush reserves,
quarry reserves, sections previously surveyed on application or
otherwise unavailable for occupancy. Traverses of all roads were
also made.34
His next task was in the Moeraki district, where he was
required to survey a block covered by serubby bush and
including Moeraki bench and the native reserve. Soundings of
the harbour were also taken, and a summary of the rise and fall
of the tide compiled.35 McKerrow was greatly impressed with
the delightfulsituation of the surrounding countryside, one of
his favourite haunts in later years, but his subsequent purchase
of a piece of land near the harbour can perhaps also be attributed
to his shrewd business acumen. Along with others, not the
least of whom was Frederick Tuckett, he envisaged Moeraki a
flourishing port and the neighbouring countryside the centre
of North Otago commerce and industry. That Oamaru not
Moeraki should prove to be the chosen site, and that his land
would not yeild a substantial profit, was his misfortune.36
McKerrow’s forceful personality, together no doubt with his
mysterious survey instruments, made a deep impression on the
Maoris at Moeraki, and many years later when he received an
appointment in Wellington, several of the natives commented
to his relatives on his promotion.37

From Moeraki McKerrow moved to the hilly Maungatau
district on the south side of the Taieri plains. Part of this
block had been surveyed under the old system, but as so often
happened, the validity of certain clams had been questioned and
it was found necessary to cover the area in a more systematic
manner. The traverse of the Waipori river and indeed the
subsequent traverses of roads on the Taieri plains, necessitated
wading through creeks, swamps and stagnant pools.38
Mr. Thomson’s report on the state of surveys in the province
for the year ended 30th June, 1861, showed that 141,690
acres of rural survey had been completed. James McKerrow’s
contribution, 29,420 acres, represented a substantial part of
the total. He had covered more ground than his confreres and
at a lower cost. Thomson was aware that there was no adequate
standard for comparisons however, and refused to enter into
“All have done their utmost towards the services,” he
reported.39 Major Richardson, the Provincial Superintendent,
expressed his satisfaction with the service rendered. “It is with
pleasure” he said in an address to the Provincial Council, “that
I bring under your notice the systematic progress of the surveys
now being made under Mr. J.T. Thomson. I think it would
be unwise to interfere with a department which has attained
its present efficiency at some considerable cost of money and
labour…40 When you regard the amount of work done of a
permanent character, the rate at which it was done, and the
great advantages flowing from the surveys, you will, I feel
assure coincide with me in regarding the operations of this
Department as of a strictly reproductive nature.”41
Six months later Major Richardson reiterated his expression
of confidence when he asked the Council to “continue your
present heavy expenditure which may be termed an investment
payable on the sale of unsurveyed land.”42 Funds were urgently
needed if the Survey Office was to extend its services to the
additional and extended hundreds.

James McKerrow was fortunate in receiving his early
professional training under such a capable and painstaking
master of his profession as Mr.J.T. Thomson. The benefit
of this sound training, unique in New Zealand, was made
manifest during his journeys of 1862-3. McKerrow himself
was an apt pupil. The qualities of versatility, independence, and
adaptability, the hall marks of excellence in a colonial surveyor,
were developed to a high degree in the bush, hill, river, scrub
and swamp conditions of the coastal regions. Here he learnt
the practical application of the finer points of his profession,
and a knowledge of outdoor life. Survey work was indeed a
valuable preparation for exploration.-

1. Per Mrs. Ross, Invercargill. McKerrow ploughs may still be seen in this
country. One was seen years ago near Lumsden.
2. Letter to the author from Mrs. Caldwell, McKerrow’s daughter.
3. Ibid
4. Kilmarnock Standard, 22 August, 1903, also Scholefield, G.H.,
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Vol. II, P. 30
5. Per Mrs. Ross. At least two of the McKerrow boys made use of this
knowledge, temporarily at least, in occupations in N.Z.
6. McKerrow, J., Reminiscences, Pp. 9-10, M.S.S. – in the hands of Mr.
J.A.D. Ritchie, Wellington.
7. Mennell, P., Dictionary of Australasian Biography, P. 301
8. In later life McKerrow’s beard and hair were white.
9. Kilmarnock Standard, 12 September, 1903
10. Letter to the author from Miss McKerrow, Hampden
11. Otago Witness, 3 December, 1859
12. Ibid
13. Barnhill, T.L. MSS Diary of Voyage of Cheviot – in the hands of Miss
Adamson, “Castlerock”, Lumsden
14. Ibid
15. Barnhill, T.L., MSS Diary of Voyage of Cheviot – in the hands of Miss
Adamson, “Castlerock”, Lumsden.
16. Per Mrs. Ross. Told her by the late Miss Cochrane, Invercargill, a
passenger on the “Cheviot”
17. Barnhill, T.L. Diary, M.S.S.
18. Ibid
19. Otago Witness, 3rd Dec., 1859
20. McKerrow, J., Reminiscenses, P. 10 MSS
21. Stewart, W.D., The Journal of George Hepburn, P. 187
22. Otago Witness, 3rd Dec., 1859
23. Per the Misses Todd Invercargill
24. Kilmarnock Standard, 12th Sept., 1903
25. Per Mesdames Caldwell, Ross and the Misses Todd
26. Kilmarnock Standard, 12th Sept., 1903
27. App. V. and P., Otago Prov. Council, Session XVI, 1863, Council Paper
No. 2. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. IV, P. 83, gives his date of admission as
the 26th Dec.
28. Field Book No. 106, Dunedin Survey Office
29. For an explanation of this see P. 27
30. Field Book No. 106. Dunedin Survey Office
31. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. IV, 30th Aug. 1860, P. 82
32. Ibid
33. Ibid
34. Field Book No. 106
35. Ibid
36. Per Miss Cross Invercargill
37. Per Mrs. Ross Invercargill. This land passed into the hands of McKerrow’s
brother Andrew. It is now being farmed by that gentleman’s grandson
Mr. Ross.
38. Field Book, No.106
39. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. IV, 11 Nov. 1861, P. 271-3
40. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. IV, 26 June, 1861, P. 222
41. Ibid
42. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. IV, Jan. 6th, 1862, P. 281.

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