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           Home >  Regions  > Banks Peninsula  :

Farming on Banks Peninsula with the Barretts - Part 1

An interview with Robert Barrett

Dorothy - 19/03/03

Barretts have been farming on Banks Peninsula since 1874 - first at Wainui, then in Akaroa and more recently in Kaituna Valley. Over the years they have experienced many changes, working as shearers, owning a dairy farm, growing cocksfoot, sheep and cattle farming and farm forestry. Banks Peninsula cocksfoot was sought after by North Island farmers clearing new farmland in the first half of the twentieth century. The family experienced hard times and the women worked as hard as the men as they struggled to support their families.

Robert Barrett looks back over the family history and comments on the current situation for farmers on the Peninsula.

Robert Barrett
Robert Barrett.
The first Barretts on Banks Peninsula
In January 1874 William and Catherine Barrett and their six children arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, on the ship "Waimate" after a three month voyage. William and his oldest son are listed as shepherds. They continued on to Akaroa to take up the land that they had been allotted before leaving England at Wainui, on the Akaroa Harbour.

The map they had seen did not show that the area was hilly and their land was rather high on the hills. Accessibility was a serious problem. On one occasion William and his oldest son had to carry Catherine over the hill to a midwife for the birth of one of the younger children.

William died in Akaroa in 1880 of pneumonia and heart trouble. He was forty six. He left 186 to be divided among his wife and children.

The second generation
William's third son, Enoch, stayed on Banks Peninsula and lived until 1951. He had five children. He began work as a blade shearer and went as far away as Birdlings Flat in his gig. He gathered swans' eggs and sold them to the baker in Akaroa. Later he farmed in Akaroa.

Enoch and Jane Barrett with children Charles, Nell and Joseph.
Enoch and Jane Barrett with children Charles, Nell and Joseph.
The third generation farming
Enoch's fourth child Joseph (Joe) was born in Akaroa in 1903 and lived there all this life. He left school when he was thirteen and went to work for David Curry in Grehan Valley above Akaroa milking cows. After a few years there he went share milking with his brother on the same property. His father, Enoch, had two farms in the Grehan Valley, but had problems keeping up with the mortgage, so after some years of share milking Joe took over one of the farms from his father.

A fifty acre farm considered an economic unit at that time
This farm was fifty acres supporting twenty cattle, then considered the norm as an economic unit to support a family. The skim milk fed pigs, walnuts brought quite a good price, and grass seed was produced too.

At first he made cheese on the farm, but later he separated the milk and sent the cream to the Tai Tapu dairy factory near Christchurch. The cows were milked by hand at the beginning and end of the season to reduce the amount of petrol used to drive a milking machine, a big expense at the flush of the season. Petrol was rationed during the war and was always considered expensive when butter fat was only fourpence a pound. Access was always a problem. All the cheese and cream was sledged down the hill to the creek where a truck picked it up.

To improve his income he helped a lot of other farmers, grass seeding and haymaking. He also killed most of the pigs on the farm, later with the help of his two sons. Like the milk the pigs were sledged down the hill and the butcher, Mr Narbey, would come and pick them up in his truck.

At first Joe bached in an old house on the farm, but later built a new house doing most of the building himself. All the material for the house had to be sledged up the hill by horse.

In September 1926 Joe married Gertrude Shepperd (Gertie) who was working as a tailoress for the Akaroa tailor, Mr Morkcom. While the new house was being built she and Joe lived with his parents. When they moved to the farm life was very hard for them both. Access to the farm was difficult and for some years they had no electric power or telephone.

The Depression years
During the Depression butterfat was fourpence a pound and on year there was a bad drought. Money was so short that Joe and Gertie could not pay the mortgage and nearly walked off the farm as those who held mortgages foreclosed on many farms. They stayed only because there was nowhere else that they could go and get work. Then Gertie's brother who worked in the Bank of New Zealand arranged a loan to tide them over, and the bank took the farm cheques until it was paid off. With produce from the farm and the garden the family did not go hungry, and Gertie sewed and mended clothes. Joe went possum hunting to sell the skins. The family also collected stones and carted them to the top of the farm to be used on the Long Bay Road. For this they were paid 3/6 (three shillings and sixpence) a cubic yard.

Joe and Gertie had five children, of whom Robert was the oldest. The youngest were twins, one of whom died as a baby. To help make ends meet Gertie used to do a lot of sewing for Mr Morkcom at home, most of it by kerosene lamp at night. The children used to deliver the suits back to Mr Morkcom on their way to school.

Robert well remembers washing days, up at daylight to light the fire under the copper, with the washing taking most of the day to do. Gertie made her own washing soap from mutton fat and caustic soda rendered down in the copper. The copper also had to be lit to heat the water for baths on Sunday nights.

Children helping on the farm
Robert remembers helping with the milking from the time when he was about eight years old. He joined his father in the grass seeding from an early age, first as billy boy and then cutting the cocksfoot. When he left school he went shearing and working for other farmers in the district and it was left to his younger brother Bill to help with the milking.

Hay making by hand on the farm in Grehan Valley.
Hay making by hand on the farm in Grehan Valley.
Haymaking on the hills was done with a scythe. The hay was put in a little sheaf, a rope was tied round it, and it was pulled into a main stack with a horse and forked up into a big stack and covered. Now it would be done with a four wheel drive tractor and small baler.

When they eventually got the electric power it made a wonderful difference to their lives.

Isolation and access
Isolation and access were always problems. When Robert's five year old brother choked on a piece of carrot Robert had to run to a farm which had a phone to ask the people there to ring the doctor. When the doctor arrived he said that the boy would have to go to the Christchurch hospital. The doctor rang the Akaroa taxi and Joe carried the boy down the hill to the road. It was touch and go whether they would get to the hospital quickly enough, but after a fast trip they made it in time. Robert was left in charge of the farm and a neighbour came to help him milk the cows.

Joe had a motorbike and a side chair for several years. One day he and Gertie were going down the Valley Road to Akaroa when the local carrier was coming up the valley with his six horse team of draught horses and wagon. Joe came around the corner and ran straight into the horses. There they were - horses legs all around them. The horses must have been extremely quiet, because the carrier just quietly backed the horses right off them and no one was hurt. Gertie's confidence was shaken, however, and she wasn't keen to ride in the side chair again.

Horses played a big part in life on the farm, and the family were either riding them or working them in harness every day. Robert went to school on a pony, and then took his sister to school behind him. Then his brother went on the same pony with them until they became too heavy . In the weekends Robert and his brother took a little sledge his father had made for them and carted firewood with the pony. When they could not ride the pony to school it was given back to the farm it came from and Robert remembers being very upset.

When his little sister fell and broke her arm while they were walking along the slippery road in the winter Joe asked if the school bus could pick the children up. The bus route was extended to pick up the Barretts and two other families high in the valley. This made life easier, especially in the winter.

After years depending on horses or walking up and down the hill, using a taxi home only on very special occasions, in 1957 Joe bought a four wheel landrover, his first vehicle, and in spite of having sight in only one eye he learnt to drive - a great boon.

A cheerful family
The life of the family was certainly not easy and they all had to work extremely hard to make a living on the farm, but they didn't complain about their lot. Many other families lived the same sort of life. Gertie found a great deal of pleasure in creating a beautiful garden.

Joe died aged sixty two, but Gertie lived on at the farm and then in Christchurch until her death at age ninety three. Her hard work had clearly not shortened her life.

For more of the Barrett story go to Part 2.

Photos for this article were supplied by Robert Barrett.

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