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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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Further sources - George Batt
- Newport, J.N.W. (1962). Footprints : the story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districts. New Zealand: Whitcombe & Tombs.
- Newport, J.N.W. (1989). Footprints farewell. Nelson (NZ): Nikau Press, pp.18-19.
- Clegg, R.J (1996). A Batt family history: from Hampshire to Wai-iti. Auckland (NZ): Author
- Resident Magistrate's court. (1890, 29 April) [Before A. Turnbull Esq. R.M. Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2