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The Small Farms Association is established

Gareth Winter writes.

Joseph Masters

At 7 p.m. on Friday 18 March 1853 a well–attended meeting was held in the Crown and Anchor on the beach at Lambton Quay in Wellington. The meeting, called by a group of Wellington working men, discussed the establishment of a Society to promote the cause of "village settlements," and the establishment of small farms for families with little capital. The meeting appointed a committee to set up such an organisation. The committee of five contained three who were to have a major impact on the future establishment of the Small Farms Association settlements of the Wairarapa plains - Joseph Masters, Charles Carter and William Allen.

Charles Rooking Carter

Masters had started the ball rolling with a series of letters he had written in 1852, published in the Wellington Independent, under the pseudonym of 'A Working Man,' calling for Wellington settlers to be judicious in the voting for public office. He urged that voters should only vote for those who supported the concept of small farms.

Masters envisioned a Wairarapa where sheep farmers would be confined to the hilly districts, and where the more fertile flat lands would be set aside to allow small farms to establish. He thought that under such a scheme villages would flourish, and the occupiers of the small farms would be able to enjoy schools and the "blessings of civilised society." His message found support among the working class settlers of Wellington. Many of them had been induced to migrate to the city by the promises of the New Zealand Company, which had assured workers employment and the chance to buy land, but had been unable to fulfil that promise. Instead, the working people of Wellington were finding it very difficult to obtain land near the city, and sheep farmers were rapidly taking up the land in Wairarapa. The sheep owners were entering into leases with the Maori owners and the working class settlers feared that there would be no land left for them.

Masters' call found support from other quarters too.

The successful Wellington businessman Charles Carter also supported Masters. Carter, who had been immersed in liberal politics in England, had only arrived in the colony in 1850, but had quickly set up in business as a public contractor, and was already at work on his first major contract, the reclamation of the Lambton Quay frontage. Carter had been a proponent of the small farm concept being applied to Wairarapa before he had even arrived in New Zealand. In a number of articles written in 1848 he set forth a plan of "systematic colonisation" whereby the Wairarapa plains were to be divided into 30,000 plots, each of five acres.

In 1847 Dr. Isaac Featherston's Wellington Independent had also called for the establishment of small farms, this time at the point where the newly-constructed road across the Rimutaka Range entered the plains, at the place later named after Featherston.

Head and shoulders portrait of Sir George Edward Grey
(AlexanderTurnbull Library)

Governor Grey was familiar with the calls for the creation of small farm settlements too, and had promoted the creation of a society based on ownership of land by all classes. He believed in the value of a "sturdy yeomanry based on ownership of a small farm."

Masters later recalled that the Governor consulted him about his plans, and following the consultation lowered the price of land from £1 per acre to 10 shillings in new land regulations. He also claimed that it was as a result of his advice that Grey's regulations stipulated a 40-acre minimum for the small farms. It was then that Masters called for fellow "Working Men" to come forward and take up shares "to purchase a good large block of land, (and) form your own village in the centre." "Be united," he told them, "and you will be able to have towns and farms of your own."

The small settlers of the Hutt Valley answered Masters' call too. They had also felt cheated by the New Zealand Company, and had been petitioning the Governor to be allowed to purchase small blocks of land under the new regulations. Masters, Carter and Allen journeyed out to the Hutt to attend a meeting of settlers, under the chairmanship of the charismatic miller, Alfred Renall. The meeting appointed Masters and his fellow Derbyshire native H.H. Jackson to travel to Wairarapa to select a block of land suitable for the small farms scheme.

Masters and Jackson both later wrote of the long and arduous journey to the hinterland. Their first day's travel took them only to Upper Hutt, and the next day they made even less progress, not even reaching the Golden Fleece inn at Pakuratahi. They did make their way over the partly formed Rimutaka Hill road the following day, walking up to their knees in mud at times. After two further days travelling they reached the banks of the Waingawa, and arranged a meeting with local Maori the following day.

After a night's rest at W.H. Donald's Manaia station they met with Retimana Te Korou and his son-in–law Ihaiah Whakamairu at the Ngaumutawa paa. Masters and Jackson convinced the two chiefs that they would gain materially by having towns established in their midst. Retimana agreed to sell some, but not all, of his lands, and Whakamairu later visited Governor Grey in Wellington, with Masters, to help arrange the sale.

Once Masters and Jackson returned from their trip the Small Farms Association was officially established, and a committee formed, the effective members being Masters, Allen, Carter, Jackson and Renall. The scheme was temporarily halted by a lack of land available for its purposes in Wairarapa, but land purchases from Maori in the district in mid-1853 gave the scheme impetus again. In September the members of the Association held a dinner to honour their governor and the role he had played in facilitating the purchase of the Wairarapa lands.

The Association had another hurdle to cross, however. The purchases in Wairarapa did not include the piece of land on the Waipoua River that Masters thought the "gem spot of the valley," and it did not include the land south of the Tauherenikau River where the road entered the valley. A further deputation was sent to the Wairarapa to liase with surveyor William Mein Smith about a suitable block of land for the settlement. After some confusion and disappointment it became apparent that there was no one block of land big enough for the needs of the Association, and it was agreed to take two different blocks.

The Association rules were settled. There were to be townships, each with 100 one-acre blocks, with 100 40-acre farms surrounding the towns. The townships were to be bought en bloc from the Government and surveyed by the Association, who would, in turn, sell it to the members. The 40-acre farms were to be purchased directly from the Government.

Meetings were held throughout November, both in Wellington and the Hutt, where applicants were informed of the details of the scheme, and applications were received.

A special meeting was held at the Crown and Anchor on Tuesday 9 December, 1853, for the subscribers to ballot for their choice of land in the townships. An excited crowd gathered to take place in the ballot, and by early 1854 the settlers were preparing to take the journey across the Rimutaka Range to their future holdings in the as yet unnamed Small Farm townships of the Wairarapa plains.


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