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What was the Manawatu like in the 1870’s?

The Manawatu was one of the later areas to be settled by the pakeha. The tall bush, almost impenetrable in places, was quite a barrier to settlement. It was the more open country that was easier to prepare for farming and the favoured areas for the new settlers from Europe.

What was it like for our ancestors to arrive into 130 years ago?

Manawatu was at the frontier, on the edge of European settlement. It was heavily forested with some more open country. Access to the region was by way of the rivers and early European access was limited. Pakeha settlement began to the south around the mouth of the Manawatu River, near present day Foxton.

The earliest European accounts of the district date from thirty years earlier in the 1840’s. It gives us a taste of what the land was like before the incredible transformation that was to take place.

Edward Jerningham Wakefield recorded one of the first descriptions of the botany of the Manawatu from on board a ship.

"As we ran along within two miles of the shore I saw a remarkable grove of high pine trees rising from behind the sand hummocks"

p7 A E Esler "Botany of the Manawatu" (1977)

Wakefield later walked from Parewanui to Puketotara and wrote;

"About two miles through the forest, which almost entirely consisted of magnificent totara trees, brought us to the banks of the Oroua" (Wakefield 1845, volume 2 page 235)"

Calling Manawatu home

Why did the Bailey brothers enter the Manawatu in the early 1870’s?

Land ownership was one of prime importance for many settlers from the United Kingdom. The enclosures of England and the clearances of Scotland had convinced the people of the 19th Century that land tenure guaranteed their future. In both these cases the landlords had evicted the rural people to allow the new agricultural methods to improve their fortunes. Families that had lived off the land for countless generations were quickly and unceremoniously evicted.

In New Zealand they were not going to allow that to happen, they wanted the security of land ownership. Farming offered the way to get ahead in the colony, combined with the other extractive industries such as saw milling.

The New Zealand Company settlement in Wellington was quickly exhausting the available farmland and had eyed the forested landscape to the north in the Manawatu. Land in the small Hutt valley was soon snapped up. As Monte Holcroft, in his Manawatu County centennial history, "The Line of the Road" says;

"A group of frustrated settlers in the Hutt Valley formed themselves into a body known as the Hutt Small Farm Association, and in 1868 bought about 5,000 acres of open country in the Rangitikei-Manawatu block. Its 27 members were each able to buy 200 acres at £1 an acre. Timber was essential for farmhouses and fencing posts, and a remnant of forest had fine stands of totara less than three miles from the centre of the new settlement. Members therefore divided their acreage, taking 180 acres of good land, still under manuka and light scrub, and 20 acres of bush at Ohakea."

The plan set up by the small farmers was idyllic. Land to farm, a 20 acre bush section and a village section. Designed on English lines where people lived in villages and farmed close by. No one person was allowed more than 200 acres. There was to be no grand landlords here. This was to be place of hardworking settlers of modest means.

The Wellington Provincial Council established the conditions of the land settlement for the settlers. Members were to occupy the land not be absentee landowners, and ‘such occupation shall include the enclosure of at least five acres of land, with a substantial fence, and the erection of a tenement of the value of 10 pounds at least.(Acts and Proceedings of Wellington Provincial Council Session 14, 1866 p. 56).

Furthermore the character of the settlers was to be examined;

"The bone fide character of the occupation shall be certified to by two visiting commissioners, one appointed by the Superintendent, and one by the Trustees of the Association, with power to appoint a referee; and it shall be necessary to produce such certificate before the Crown Lands Commissioner before the applicant shall be entitled to receive a Crown Grant."
(Acts and Proceedings of Wellington Provincial Council Session 14, 1866 p. 56)

Indeed the threat of huge land speculators and sweeping estates was quite real. Other parts of New Zealand had seen that occur. This district was to be reserved for hard working small farmers.

During the land wars soldiers had been issued with scrip, that could be used for purchasing unsurveyed land. It had become common for speculators to buy these scrips very cheaply from soldiers who had no intention of ever buying the land.

"…thus, the speculators were able to buy up land without any cash coming to the government which could not find the money to open up the land by the roads it had promised. Provision existed, however, to prevent scrip being used to purchase township lands. So the government simply called this block of land a Township-surely the largest in the world! -So that cash had to be paid for it"

(Tannock 1977)

The township was named after Lord Sandon, a member of the Colonial Land Company. But the township was to have a separate name.


"Their secretary, Henry Sanson, had worked strenuously on their behalf, and the Association decided to honour him by giving the village his name. The surrounding country had been divided into districts for survey purposes; and one of them, where the Hutt Association made its purchase, was already named after Lord Sandon, a member of the Colonial Land Company, another of the bodies which in those days were interesting themselves in emigration."

(Holcroft 1977)

So Sanson is the village, and Sandon is the district.

The deal to occupy the land also had the ability to pay for the land on deferred payment, an essential requirement for small settlers.

The Hutt Small Farm Association land was part of the Rangitikei Manawatu Land purchase of 1866. The Wellington Provincial Superintendent Featherston for 25,000 pounds. The Hutt Small Farms Association had been established in 1868, with members making their first payments in February of that year.

There had been some delay in settling the Rangitikei Manawatu land purchase with local Mšori, which covered the area between the Rangitikei and Oroua rivers. The details of this process are described in detail in a chapter in Buick’s "Old Manawatu". The effect was to delay granting of the land to the settlers for some time.

This part of the Manawatu had been settled later than nearly Parewanui across the Rangitikei River. The bushland meant that the more open country was preferred as a settlement area.

Why then did the Bailey brothers select firstly Sanson and then Feilding?

It is hard to be exactly sure after 130 years but we can speculate based on what we know of the period and the people involved.


We know that the Bailey brothers were quick to establish themselves on the land. Henry Sanson’s letter to the Provincial government lobbying them to establish the promised road tells us that "Mr G Hedges, Bailey Bros, and myself are building upon our sections and others are making preparations to so do" (Letter dated 9th August 1871, National Archives)

It is also worth noting their ages, and the fact that they were recently married. William Lisson had married Elizabeth Flighty in 1868, aged 31. James Alexander married her sister Sarah Flighty at an age of age of 44 and a year after arriving in the Manawatu

Penned by DaleBailey August 2000



Further reading on this subject

T.L.Buick (1903) "Old Manawatu" Buick and Young Reprinted Capper Press 1975

M.H Holcroft (1977) "The Line of the Road" Manawatu County Council

David A Tannock (1977) "The story of Saint Thomas’s"

J G Wilson (1914) "Early Rangitikei" Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd Reprinted Capper Press 1976