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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Poverty Bay's Far-Famed Ryegrass — When and By Whom Was It Introduced?

Poverty Bay's Far-Famed Ryegrass
When and By Whom Was It Introduced?

Many guesses have been made as to when, and by whom, ryegrass seed was first brought to Poverty Bay. The earliest record concerning the sowing of grasses in the district appears in Captain G. T. Clayton's land claim (10/12/1840). His improvements, it is stated, included “a quantity of land put down in grasses and on which cattle are now feeding.” In 1841 the Rev. W. Williams sowed some grass on Kaupapa. When Donald McLean visited Poverty Bay in 1851 the Flats were “covered with rich grasses.” Ryegrass is specifically mentioned by Mr. Williams in an entry in his journal (11/3/1858) dealing with the breaking in of the Waerenga-a-Hika mission station property. “The weather being very dry,” he says, “it was thought to be a favourable time for setting fire to the long grass and bushes … preparatory to sowing clover and ryegrass.” Ryegrass appears among Poverty Bay's exports to Sydney in 1858.

In Pakeha Rambles Through Maori Lands Lieutenant-Colonel St. John, who visited Poverty Bay in 1869, says:

“‘Poverty Bay,’ indeed! Not even when scathed by fire and sword, as I first saw it—its settlers slain; its houses burnt; its orchards and gardens ravaged; its cattle slaughtered—not even then did it deserve the name. I had never before seen such ryegrass as that through which I rode up to the horse's girth over the Patutahi Plain. In the ruined gardens, huge vines trailed over the few buildings that had escaped; the plums were weighing down the branches: and, as for apples, they were literally being carried away by dray-loads.”

When Mr. Goodfellow returned to Otahuhu after a visit to Poverty Bay in August, 1873, he reported to his fellow-members of the New Zealand Agricultural Society as under:

“Where the land is dry, it is very superior; indeed, not to be surpassed. Ryegrass there kills everything before it. Never before had I seen anything like so much stock on so little land. A well-known stockman was down there killing 200 head of cattle and salting them down for the Auckland market.”

The harvesting of the ryegrass crop on the Poverty Bay Flats attracted large numbers of natives from the East Coast; in 1878 700 Ngati-Porou assisted. Gisborne business people welcomed the presence of so many good spenders each summer. Most of the visitors remained until they had expended the whole of their earnings. For the residents—and for the police—it was a far from peaceful period. As a rule the crop ran into from 15,000 to 20,000 bushels. During the 1880's most of the land was settled and fenced, and the crop has since proved a very profitable sideline for the occupiers. The highest price was obtained in 1946—18/- per bushel for seed straight from the mill, and 26/- for machine-dressed seed.