Swamp clearing 1900’s style

Hamilton Libraries Perry Rice starts the new year with a look at farm life from a century ago.

Far from his home in Wellington, the intrepid photographer SC Smith took this photo of a farmer/farm worker near Piako Road around 1909.

We have many other SC Smith photos in our collection as does the Cambridge Museum I believe – he did a wonderful series of photos in and around Cambridge. Smith travelled the country with large pieces of equipment, over rough roads on horseback, in carts and occasionally he would have travelled by train.

On this occasion he could have got off an eastbound train at Eureka and trekked along the rudimentary road that traversed the Piako swamp.  The records accompanying this photo, scant though they are, suggest this chap on the cart may have belonged to or worked for the Fow family. I would have doubts that this would be land owned by Fows but, as JR Fow, the patriarch of the Waikato Fows was a blacksmith about this time, could this chap be associated in that realm?

Yet, on another record another person sometime in the past has noted ‘Chapman flax farms’. Could Chapmans have owned the land?

It becomes apparent after a short time that photos such as this ask more questions than they give answers.  At any rate, the information we have says the location is Gordonton so it’s right in Number 8 Network territory.

The cart is interesting to say the least.  It is a ‘log-wheel’ cart. You do have to look carefully but it most certainly appears that the log behind the chap’s boots is the wheel – more a roller.

I recall seeing something like this in my very young days but not as big and not as crude. It was used by men in the locality to flatten out ground to prepare for laying lawns. After flattening some of the humps and bumps two of the larger men (my father was one and a neighbour across the street – both built like bison) would then drag a large plank with a several children standing on it to level the land. I have to think this cart and its peculiar wheel may have had something to do with land clearing.

Another thought is that as the area was substantially swamp, was the log wheel an anti-sinking device? Either way it was built for neither speed nor comfort.

The chap posing with a broad grin is wearing sturdy boots and gaiters. Was he happy in his work or happy to be having his photo taken? The gaiters have a look of leather and the boots appear to have been made by the very skilled cobblers that would have been found in and around Hamilton in the day. The yoke about the oxen’s necks is not a type I’ve seen before – would it be home-made?

Any comments as to the identity of the chap or the location of the photo would be most welcome. Oh, it looks like wet weather so just what would he have been up to?

Update 2018 – This photo was taken on taken on the land the John and Louise Bridgman built their house, they believe the resting farmer is one Albert Champman. 

By Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.

Email Perry here.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

5 thoughts on “Swamp clearing 1900’s style

  • January 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Examples of yokes like that can be found in Northland Museums, and would have been locally made. Even with the photo blown up, I have no idea about the implement. Not sure if it’s a beam or girder behind the subject.


    • January 23, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for that Alan. It’s a grand photo, Perry.

    • January 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks Alan. You may need to call in sometime to the library to have a look at a TIFF image. We don’t publish them.


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