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CHAPTER VI.
    Shepherd\'s Life—Driving Sheep to Christchurch—Killing a Wild Sow—Arrival in Christchurch.

I passed nearly a year at Highfield, during which time I made myself acquainted with all the routine of a sheep-farmer\'s life. I learned to ride stock, shoe horses, shear sheep, plough, fence, fell and split timber, and everything else that an experienced squatter ought to be able to do, not omitting the accomplishment of smoking. Mr. Lee then offered me what he had offered C——, and I agreed to accept it pending a visit I meditated making to Christchurch to consult my friend Mr. Gresson about a desire I entertained of entering the Government Land Office and to become a surveyor.

I had done my best to like the life of a sheep-farmer, but I was becoming weary of it, and something was always prompting me to seek for more congenial employment. So far as stockriding, pig-hunting, and shooting were concerned, the life was delightful, but such recreations could be enjoyed anywhere. To sheep and sheep-farming I conceived a growing aversion as a life\'s work, and although I was prepared to hold to it if nothing better to my mind presented itself, I was equally determined to find something else if it were possible.

Mr. Lee had three shepherds at this time in charge of flocks, who resided in different places at least four miles from each other and from the home station. Two of these were the sons of gentlemen in the Old Country, and one of them a distant relation. The life of the boundary shepherd is a peculiarly lonely one, especially if he be young and single. His residence is a little one-roomed hut, sometimes two rooms, built of mud and thatched with grass, an earthen floor, with a large chimney and fireplace occupying one end. His furniture consists of a table, bunk, and a couple of chairs, and if he be an educated man and fond of reading he will have a table for his books and writing materials. He is supplied monthly with a sack of flour and a bag of tea and sugar, salt, etc. His cooking utensils are a kettle, camp oven, and frying pan, to which are added a few plates,[Pg 31] knives and forks, and two or three tin porringers. He always possesses at least one dog and a horse, and possibly a cat. The only light is that procured from what is called a slush lamp, made by keeping an old bowl or pannikin replenished by refuse fat or dripping in which is inserted a thick cotton wick. He cooks for himself, washes his own clothes, cuts up his firewood, and fetches water for daily use. Such luxuries as eggs, butter, or milk are unknown. Perhaps once a month he may have occasion to visit the home station, or somebody passing may call at his hut, or he may occasionally meet a neighbouring shepherd on his round. With these exceptions he has no intercourse with his fellow-beings, and all his affection is bestowed on his dog and horse; he would be badly off, indeed, without them.

One of these young men, by name Wren, became a great friend of mine, and many a time I visited him or spent a night in his lonely little hut, which was located in a small clearing surrounded by dense bush and immediately over a small and turbulent stream, which he used to say was always good company and prevented his feeling so lonely during the long dark nights as he otherwise would. It is strange how in the course of time a person will get accustomed to such a lonely life, and many like it, but it cannot be good for a young man to have too much of it, and fortunately for Wren a few years would see him located at headquarters. To take charge of a boundary was part of his education as a cadet.

It was different with the other. He was an unfortunate of that class so frequently met with in the Colonies, a "ne\'er-do-well" who had while at home contracted habits of dissipation, and he was sent out to New Zealand under the then very mistaken supposition that he would thereby be cured. But there is no permanent cure for such a man; his life may be prolonged a little by enforced abstinence, but he will never, or rarely ever, recover his power of will so far as to avoid temptation if it comes in his way. If it be possible to do such a man any real good, there may be some chance for him at home, where he would have the care and influence of his friends to support him, but there is no chance for him in the Colonies. Such a man will under pressure abstain for months, but the moment that pressure is removed he will make for the nearest place where his propensity can be indulged, and give himself up to the devil body and soul, so long as he has the means to do so, or can obtain what he[Pg 32] desires by fair means or foul. He knows no shame; all honourable and manly feeling has become callous within him; and it is a happy release indeed for all connected with him when his pitiable life is ended.

It was a custom of Mr. Lee\'s to send yearly to Christchurch a flock of fat wethers for sale, and as I wished to proceed there on the business I referred to, I was to be entrusted with the charge of them, in company with a Scottish shepherd, by name Campbell, who was a new arrival in the country.

The sheep numbered four hundred, and we had to drive them nearly three hundred miles, and deliver them in as good condition as when they left. We started early in December, the hottest time of the year, carrying what we needed for camping out on one pack horse. It was by no means a pleasure journey to drive, or rather feed, sheep along for three hundred miles at ten to fifteen miles a day, over dry and hot plains with not a tree to shelter one, and to stay awake turn about night after night to watch them. Mr. Lee accompanied us as far as the Waiou river, over which it occupied the best part of a day to cross the sheep, then he left us to proceed to Christchurch to seek and bring back the Government Scab Inspector to meet us at the Hurunui river, the boundary, and there to pass the sheep, otherwise they would not be permitted to enter the Canterbury province.

It may appear strange that it would occupy a day to cross 400 sheep over a river, but it is a very difficult thing to induce sheep to take to the water; indeed, by merely driving them it is impossible. Where the water is at all fordable, several men wade in, each carrying a sheep, and when half-way across the animals are loosed and sent swimming to the other side, but not infrequently this plan fails, by reason of the sheep turning and swimming back to the mob, and the operation may have to be repeated many times before it is successful. The object is to give the mob a lead, and when sheep get a lead they will follow it blindly, no matter where it will lead them to. When the river is too deep for wading, men on horseback ford or swim over, carrying sheep on their saddles, and drop them in midstream till the required lead is obtained. As soon as the mob understand they have to go, a panic seems to take them, and they make such frantic efforts to rush on that to prevent them hurting each other is sometimes impossible. An unfortunate instance of this occurred while I was at Highfield. We were driving a large[Pg 33] mob of sheep to the yards to be dipped, and had to pass them over one side of the rocky gorge leading to the Highfield plateau before mentioned. Some of the leaders near the edge took alarm, and a few fell over the cliff. Seeing their comrades disappear, others followed, and then the whole mob made for the precipice, and jumped frantically over. The fall was about twenty feet only, but the animals followed each other with such rapidity that in a few minutes some three hundred sheep lay in a mass, piled on top of each other. It was with great difficulty the dogs and men prevented the whole mob following suit, in which case there would have been great loss; as it was, nearly one hundred sheep were smothered before it was possible to extricate them.

There is another danger to which they are exposed when driving them over new ground. There is a small plant, I forget the name of it, but it is well known to every shepherd, and grows in luxuriance along some of the river beds. It is about a foot high and has dark green leaves. If by any chance a mob of hungry sheep are driven into this plant, they will attack it ravenously, and in a few minutes they will stagger and fall as if intoxicated, and if not immediately attended to they will die. The only chance for them is to bleed them by driving in the blade of a small knife each side of the nose. The blood will flow black and thick, and the animal will speedily recover, but delay is fatal.

We travelled steadily about 15 miles each day, and in due time reached the north bank of the Hurunui river, only to find no sign of Mr. Lee or the Inspector. This was specially disappointing as our supply of flour and sugar was getting very low, and we were promised a fresh supply at this point. For several days neither the supplies nor Mr. Lee appeared. The little flour remaining was full of maggots, our tea and tobacco were finished, and we had to live on mutton boiled in a frying-pan (we were obliged to kill a sheep). There was no feeding ground near the river, the country having been recently burnt, and so we were obliged to take the sheep daily a couple of miles inland, carrying with us some of the mutton and water, and drink the latter nearly hot, travelling back to the river-bed at nightfall to camp the sheep in an angle between two streams, by which means we contrived to obtain a little rest.

One day we varied our food by securing some fresh pork in a somewhat novel manner. There were many wild[Pg 34] pigs about but we had no means of shooting or otherwise killing them. One day while driving our sheep inland, we came across a mob of pigs in a dry nallah, all of which bolted except a full-grown sow and a litter of young ones, which could not run with the herd; and as the mother would not leave them behind, she decided to stay, and if need be fight for her family. It was a touching picture, no doubt, but there is not much room for sentiment when the stomach is empty and the body weary and unsatisfied. The prospect of fresh pork that night in lieu of the everlasting mutton, the cooking of which we had varied in every way we could devise was very tempting, and we set to work to make some plan for capturing the sow; the baby piggies were too young and delicate for our taste.

We possessed no weapons but our pocket knives, and they would be of small use against so powerful a brute as a wild sow in defence of her young. The dogs shirked her neighbourhood altogether. At length, in our extremity, we were struck by the idea that we might strangle her with one of the tether ropes carried around the horses\' necks. We unloosed one, and each taking an end thirty feet apart, approached to the encounter. To our amazement and joy the sow herself here contributed in a quite unexpected manner to her own capture. Immediately the rope was within her reach she snapped viciously at it, and retained it in her mouth. Discovering that she persisted in holding on, and that the rope was far back in her jaws, we shortened hand rapidly, and ran round, crossing each other in a circle, keeping the rope taut meanwhile. By this means we quickly twisted the rope firmly over her snout, so that had she now desired she could not have rid herself of it. The rest was easy; we shortened hand till near enough to despatch her with our clasp knives. We cut up the beast and carried off as much of the meat as would last us some days, and that night supped sumptuously off pork chops.

Killing the Wild Sow

Killing the Wild Sow.

After ten days of this very undesirable existence, Mr. Lee arrived and informed us that the Inspector would be up on the morrow. Very welcome news; and we were further gladdened by a fresh supply of the necessaries of life which Mr. Lee had brought on a led pack horse. The delay was owing to the Inspector having been called away to a distant part of Canterbury, and Mr. Lee had a ride of nearly a hundred miles to find him.[Pg 35]

In those days the postal arrangements were very primitive. Once a week only the mails were carried, and some stations distant from the line of route were obliged to send a horseman 20 to 50 miles to fetch their post.

The sheep were safely crossed on the third day, and we started afresh for Christchurch.

We had up to this time been more than a month on the journey, at the hottest season, without a tree to shelter us and with only the bare ground for a bed. One blanket and one change of clothes had I. Campbell, I think, had not so much. For a part of the time mutton and water seasoned with dust was our food, and the open sky our covering day and night; however, we were none the worse for it, and to a certain extent I enjoyed the life, for had I not then rude health and a splendid constitution, which subsequently carried me safely through rougher, if not more enjoyable, experiences than driving sheep.

The rest of the journey was comparatively easy, and fifteen days saw us in Christchurch with the sheep in excellent condition. Here I found letters from home awaiting me, those from my father and mother almost insisting on my return and to resume my studies. This was due to the accounts given them by C——, for I took special care to write in glowing terms of everything. The letter had, however, no effect towards altering my determination to stay in New Zealand.

Through Judge Gresson\'s influence I obtained temporary employment under the Land Office, but to join permanently would require the payment of a fee for which I had not sufficient funds in hand. It was suggested that I should write home and ask for assistance, but this I objected to do. I merely mentioned the circumstances, leaving the rest to chance, and in the meantime I was engaged to accompany a survey party down the coast, which would start in a few days.
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