George Batt


Drover and Bullocky

George Batt (1854-1931) was born in the Waimea Plains area near Nelson, the sixth child of John and Ann Batt who had emigrated from Hampshire in 1842.

George Batt with two dogsGeorge Batt with two dogs
Image supplied by author.
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When he was seven years of age, his father purchased thirty-three acres of land at Wai-iti (about two miles south of Wakefield). It was here that George grew up along with five brothers and five sisters.

Geo. Batt's bullock Team, Hardy St. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Copy Collection: C120
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In 1873, when he was just nineteen, he began his career as a drover and bullocky - a career which would continue until 1926, a period of 53 years. When he finally parked up his bullock wagon beside his whare at Glenhope he was 72. He lived for five more years in retirement.

He must have enjoyed the solitary life. The freedom of the open road and a pioneering desire to explore the Nelson back country would also have motivated him. Photos show him to be slightly built, although apparently tough and wiry enough to survive many years in a job which was physically very demanding.

George Batt's whareGeorge Batt's whare. Image supplied by Dorothea Hay.
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His work, involving long periods on the move away from his base at Glenhope and family at Wai-iti, was not conducive to married life and he remained a bachelor, although his life on the roads brought him at times into contact with many people. He carried both people and goods on his bullock wagon: wool, hops, timber and gelignite for railway construction in the days when even main roads were poorly formed. Ranging over the Nelson back country from the Wairau in the east to Christchurch via Tophouse and to the Buller in the west, he would doss down for the night wherever good tucker for the animals could be found.

Hut CeilingHut Ceiling.Image supplied by author.
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William Brooks with bullock team in the Motupiko Valley, c. 1890. Tyree Studio. 10x8-0927-G. Permission must be sought from Alexander Turnbull Library for further use of this image. Click image to enlarge

Before he was twenty, George carried timber from the Hope Junction to Nelson by bullock wagon. On returning from one of these trips he was asked how he had fared and replied quite cheerfully, "Not bad. Only three capsizes." Not many today could cope so calmly with a dislodged load, and a team of bullocks on their own.

George's Hut in WinterGeorge's Hut in Winter
Image supplied by Dorothea Hay.
Click image to enlarge

Soon after purchasing a bush farm of about 100 acres at Glenhope in 1883, he built on it a small two-roomed whare (also known by the family as "the Hut"). It still stands today; 127 years later, on rising ground looking north up the Hope Valley. Inside the ceiling is papered in parts with photographs of the Auckland Weekly News and other magazines of the early 1900's. An old camp oven (essential for cooking in such a large open fireplace) is still there.

George knew how to stand up for his rights. The Nelson Evening Mail of 29th April 1890 records the case of Batt vs Brooks (another local bullocky). George brought a claim of £44 16 shillings for work done with his bullocks constructing a bridge at the Hope but for which he had not been fully reimbursed. The resident magistrate eventually found in George's favour.

George is now a figure from a bygone era. He represents the type of strong, hardy individual who performed an essential service in the pioneering days of New Zealand's development. Today he rests in the Foxhill cemetery, not far from the grave of his parents.

2010. Updated May 2020

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  • I am the eldest child of Dr Arthur Batt. He has written a book 'If Thou Wilt, Remember" which is a history of our family. He was a Flight Instructor during WW2, married my mother Fay Pilkington, did a BA. Dip Ed, taught at Shirley Intermediate, did MB ChB, practised medicine in Howick, then did Town Planning after retiring. He was Chair of BoT Pakuranga College and Cockle Bay School committee, President of Lions Club etc etc.

    Posted by Elisabeth Batt, 19/07/2020 8:27am (4 years ago)

  • He did a degree in Town Planning at the University of Auckland. He was in the class of 85/86. He did it because he was on the Howick Community Board and wanted a better understanding of the subject.
    Peter Mickleson

    Posted by Peter Mickleson, 29/06/2020 6:22pm (4 years ago)

  • I am trying to find information about Dr Arthur Batt. He was a GP in Howick, Auckland when I was a child (I'm 65 yrs old now).

    Posted by Lea Zouch, 21/07/2018 12:25pm (6 years ago)

  • Enjoyed the bit of history,along the way of my mission to find out more about the batt family

    Posted by C Batt, ()

  • My Moorhouse family knew George Batt well. They were situated at the South side Hope Saddle.
    I enjoyed your article and pictures. Newports have published an early photo of the bullock team outside the Hope saddle farm house. We have a further photo of George's team taking part in Queen Victoria's jubilee celebration in Nelson. Happy to share it.

    Posted by Mark Moorhouse, ()

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