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The Hereweka Trust have recently deconstructed the small barn used as an early 20th century woolshed at the Larnach’s farmstead on the Hereweka site. The work was undertaken by local contractor John Clearwater from Clearwater Civil and supervising archaeologist Peter Petchey. While it was sad to see the building go, the building had reached a state of such disrepair its retention and conservation were almost impossible. From the deconstruction the Trust were able to ascertain that the building was;
- probably not part of the original Larnach-period and was constructed in the early 20th century.
- its construction was a mixture of timbers (including imported hardwoods, a small amount of pit-sawn natives, milled rimu and milled pine).
- some of the material had been “cobbled together” from other buildings.
- very little of the material was sound enough for reuse, though some may be used as seating in the future.
A full archaeological report will follow the work and this information helps the Trust develop further understanding of the use of the site both during and after the Larnach period. Some of that will help form part of the later interpretation for visitors to the site.
Dairy farming around Harbour Cone declined in the early 1900s. The Nyhon family bought out the small farms down in Smiths Gully, as well as the Larnach Model Farm on Camp Road. The amalgamated farms gave the Nyhon family 250-300 acres, with their best road access being at Camp Road, rather than Highcliff Road.
Larnach’s Camp Road farmstead was not ideal for a shearing shed and associated yards as they sit precariously on a small flat section of steep hillside. The small barn was eventually built into two-stand shearing shed around 1910. The back wall had been supported by massive natural posts, which were two stories high, with corrugated iron cladding to protect the supporting bank. Today, the posts are now rotten hollow shells, the cladding sheets dropping off in chunks, and the central roof beam broken in two places.
The Hereweka Trust is in the process of deconstructing the little shearing shed, with detailed recording at all stages. While making his first drawings and measurement of the building, consultant archaeologist Peter Petchey, came across eight wool bale stencils, tucked neatly away on a top plate since the shed was last used in the 1990s. They are an interesting find and provide an insight into the move from dairying into sheep farming.
Today the New Zealand dairy industry is worth approximately $18 billion dollars in export earnings and produces around 20.7 billion litres of milk per annum. It has become one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners and dominates our landscape and economy. However, the dairy industry began in a more humble manner during the 19th century colonial period in places like Hereweka on the Otago Peninsula.
Hereweka was divided into nineteen farms varying in size from 10 – 115 acres. Some were probably no more than subsistence properties, while larger farms were developed into economic units for the period. As the Hereweka bush was cleared and developed into pasture, dairying became the dominant type of farming on the property. With this development, Hereweka farmers began to look for opportunities to sell their milk and cream further afield to make important farm revenue.
In September 1877 a group of farmers on the Hereweka property met and decided to build a cheese factory. The building was to be situated on Captain William Leslie’s property adjacent to Highcliff Road. Very little is known about what the building looked like, though we do know its dimensions were 14 feet x 24 feet. Water was drawn from a natural spring and fetched through pipes from a wall built above Highcliff Road. The founding shareholders of the Hereweka Cheese factory were;
- Capt William Leslie Snr
- William Leslie Jnr
- Robert Forbes
- Robert Dick
- William Allan
- William Roger
- Thomas Scott
- William Hunter
- James Rutherford
- George Bates
The cheese factory was not without its difficulties especially due to the steep terrain. Each farmer had different methods for getting milk to the factory. Robert Dick had special milk cans with flat sides that could be attached to a horse, William Hunter used a wheelbarrow while James Rutherford used a bullock with a sled. The first cheese maker at the Hereweka factory was Edmund Ward who began learning the trade under supervision from the experienced cheese maker John L McGregor. McGregor was the first cheese maker at the Springfield site near Pukehiki. Hannah Scott, the daughter of Thomas Scott assisted Ward in making the cheese at the factory. The cheese was sold directly to the George Street grocery store of Esther & Low, and the Otago Daily Times reported that the factory had produced 2.5 tons of cheddar cheese in 1879 valued at 6.5 pence/pound. However, disaster struck the factory in October 1881 when a massive bush fire destroyed the factory and many other farmsteads in the area. The Otago Daily Times gave a dramatic report on the 17th of October 1881 of the Leslie family and their attempts to save the factory.
“…the Harbour Cone Company’s Cheese Factory succumbed to the flames, though great exertions were made by Mr and Mrs Leslie, and Mr Leslie, jun., to save the building. Nothing with the exception of some bacon and a saw could be got out, and the whole building became a total wreck within a few minutes’ time. Mr Leslie’s dwelling-house was twice on fire, but was put out, though in one place the weatherboards were burned through. The dairy also had a narrow escape, one of the piles being burnt completely through before it was noticed. Mr Leslie’s byre and sheds were also destroyed. The factory, in which there were three cheese presses and other machinery, was insured in the Norwich Union Company’s office for £150, but the building was valued at £50 above this sum.”
On a blustery day punctuated by a few showers, students from the Otago University Anthropology Society worked at the Rogers farmstead on Hereweka today. With expertise provided by archaeologist Dr Peter Petchey, the team mapped the byre, barn, house and surrounding farm structures. The largely intact but heavily modified byre has a beautiful brick floor and stalls that would have been part of the Rogers’ family dairy operation. One of the tasks of the Society was to produce a floor plan of this building that would give the Hereweka Trust a better understanding of its historical use.
The work of the Society members is invaluable to the Trust. It provides further insight into the farming activities and the lives of the families that settled and worked in the Hereweka landscape. The Trust are looking forward to having the students visit the area again and are excited about what more they can tell us about this site.