The Reverend J.G Butler from the Bay of Islands excitedly wrote in his journal that the date of 3rd May 1820 would be remembered for all ages to come. That day, he had taken the first plough to New Zealand’s soil – following a team of six bullocks as they carved the beginnings of our farming history right into the earth…and we have never looked back.
As for the Waitaha (Canterbury) Plains, our first plough arrived by boat and came ashore at Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) on 11th April 1840. The Herriot/McGillivray farming party of five men (which also included two women and a child) were employed by Sydney’s “Blackett, Dodds & Davis” and were instructed to grow wheat. In what must have been the most trying journey of their lives, they hauled their supplies by bullocks and plough across the swamps of the future Christchurch from Lake Ellesmere and settled by a large group of trees known as Putaringamotu. We know these trees today as Riccarton Bush.
Here, Canterbury’s first twelve hectares were ploughed by Malcolm McKinnon where wheat and potatoes were planted. Every fortnight, a trade was made with whaling stations at Ikoraki and Red House Bay on Banks Peninsula for meat, milk and any other need. A number of reasons caused this project to fail and Putaringamotu, with its broken ground, lay deserted until Scottish pioneer William Deans laid eyes on it in August 1841.
It would be William Deans and his younger brother John who would introduce the first horses and sheep to the plains in 1843. The brothers wrote home that, due to the fact that their three surviving Clydesdale mares (one died at sea) were already in foal, their first ploughing efforts were made with slow strides. But soon and famously known even before the arrival of the Canterbury Association ships in 1850, Riccarton’s garden, orchard and stock became a fine example of how good Canterbury’s soil really was. It was because of the Deans brothers that the area was chosen for the settlement of Christchurch.
On 25th October 1854, the first ploughing completion was held in Canterbury. It took place at a farm belonging to William Boag who had begun his life in Canterbury as a ploughman at Pigeon Bay after his arrival in 1851. By 1854, he was leasing 200 acres from Jane Deans and had named his property Burnside which was also known as Burnhead.
William famously transported a plough over the Bridle Path after offloading it from a ship. His bullocks had no issue pulling the instrument uphill but heading down into Heathcote proved to be much more difficult. After having to chase after his new purchase and stock (more than once) as the weight of the plough caused it to slam into the backside of the bullocks which sent them into a gallop – he bought the plough down the rest of the way with just man power.
Today, the art of ploughing is kept alive by the ’New Zealand Ploughing Association Incorporated’. There are twelve ploughing associations in Canterbury alone and, along with the rest of New Zealand, they compete in 23 competitions every year – in order to be acknowledged as the country’s best. The winner goes on to represent New Zealand on the world stage – the first invite to do so was on 14th November 1955.
Delightfully, competitions usually hold a vintage section so the horse, bullock and even steam powered tractors can return to the paddocks and show the modern age how it is done.
PLEASE NOTE THIS IMAGE IS NOT OF NE ZEALAND