David Seymour Belcher Interview
Good morning David. Thank you very much for allowing us to have a chat and you might just like to tell us the history of the Belcher family arriving in Hawke’s Bay and perhaps a little bit before. I’ll leave it to you.
Thank you very much Jim. Thank you for coming to our home and prompting me on this issue. All very interesting and I value the process in which the family history is going to be recorded and held in a good reliable place.
My father, Theobald Seymour, was the son of Richard John Belcher, Papanui, Christchurch and was born on Coutts Island, Kaiapoi on 21 March 1904 before moving to 121 Watford Street, Papanui.
While the family owned Craggy Range Station to the east of Havelock North he had his early education at Hastings Street School, Napier and also the Havelock North Primary School for one year. The family sold Craggy Range to the van Asch family just prior to World War I and returned to Papanui, Christchurch. From here Seymour attended Elmwood School where he obtained his Proficiency Certificate before entering Christ‘s College in 1919. His Christ‘s College number is 3149.
On leaving college in 1922 with matriculation he worked on his father’s farms in Canterbury for six years. During this period he drove and attended to a six horse team at Homeby, working land for crops before the introduction of tractors. This lifestyle represented work from daylight ’til dark often under very dusty conditions. He then managed one of his father’s properties gaining an extensive general and practical knowledge of sheep and agricultural farming and specialising in stock production. The Canterbury climate did not agree with Seymour so he went back to Hawke’s Bay where he had joined the stock and station firm of Hoadley, Son & Stewart Ltd as stock agent and stock clerk at Hastings for two years. During this time he also had the pleasure of showing a number of intending purchasers the Maraekakaho Station subdivision blocks.
On leaving Hastings Seymour was appointed auctioneer and senior stock agent for the New Zealand Farmers’ Co-operative Association Ltd at Kaikoura for two years. In addition to his normal duties he was supervisor for Mt Fyfe Station, Green Hills Station, Fernlea and The Elms for the New Zealand Farmers’ Co-operative Association Ltd. He naturally became experienced in all farm and station work including mustering, fencing, fat sheep drafting and buying and selling of all livestock. He later returned to Hawke’s Bay and purchased Hoemona and Peach Gully from Mr John Barker in 1933. This 615 hectare property at Waimarama, south east of Havelock North, represents good strong healthy country where Seymour strengthened all his knowledge and experiences.
He was a keen supporter of the local Dog Trial Club participating in a number of events and in latter years serving as a timekeeper. Seymour became a strong advocate of Angus cattle and Romney sheep. In 1935 he supplied cattle to Borthwick’s first chilled shipment of beef from New Zealand to London on the Port Ferry. Twice during his farming career he won beef competitions with the same beast winning the ‘on hoof’ judging, the ‘on hooks’ judging and again rejudged on the ‘on hooks’ final judgment at Smithfield.
He commenced the Tunui Angus Cattle Stud in 1944 and later became an Angus inspector and judge. He adjudicated at a number of A&P shows with both stud cattle and prime cattle for beef competitions. He became a strong advocate of beef competitions particularly in the heavy weight class where the art was to breed the correct type of beast to grow, and to what the consumer required. Seymour served as a senior advisory member of the Waimarama Young Farmers’ Club and then was a delegate for the Meat & Wool Section of Federated Farmers. He was elected Hawke’s Bay member of the Electoral Committee of the New Zealand Meat & Wool Boards from 1956 to 1966. He also became a director of the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Meat Company Limited in 1960 serving for 17 years. He was interested in all farming aspects and also in the mid-1960’s supplied cattle for the first Whakatu owners‘ account carton shipment of frozen beef to the United States. Seymour farmed at Waimarama until 1986 when health reasons forced him to Havelock North. He died at the Hastings Memorial Hospital on 26 May 1988 aged 84. Survived by only son David and daughter-in-law Marilyn.
You lived where when you came to Havelock and you farmed … Waimarama?
Yes, yes. The Peach Gully block which was separate to the main farm operation – we gave possession of that in March 2000 and Marilyn and I moved here to 22 Fulford Place, Havelock North in March 2000. I continued farming Hoemona for another three years and finally gave sale or possession of that in late 2002.
Now what sort of farming background did you have out there? Did you go to Lincoln College or ..?
No, I was under strict command of my father and on leaving school came home and worked there, head down bottom up every other day of the year. And I received a very good basic education really looking back on all now and the various bits and pieces that my father taught me I often repeat to other people today. All made common sense.
Well common sense has gone out the window now these days unfortunately, with a number of people – big companies and what-have-you. OK, now what about your education?
My education? I attended Waimarama Primary School in 1952 to 55, that was a very interesting school. We had 86 pupils on the roll, a mix of Maori, Pakeha and Chinese. Made a lot of lovely friends and many of those are still about today. It’s all very good when we meet at odd occasions. I then went on to Hereworth School from 1956 to 1959. That was a very good education also and I treasure those years at Hereworth before going onto Christ’s College to follow family traditions from 1960 to 1963.
Right – and your father went there didn’t he?
Father went to Christ’s College as did his two brothers and our son Philip entered Christ’s College in 1989.
Did you have any favourite teachers in your day that you remember?
Favourite teachers – yes well I cannot go without saying that Hereworth – certainly Grant and Lawrence Rickard … many many teachers I remember there, and the basics that – being an only son – the basics that I was taught and learned at Hereworth I think put me in quite a good position today.
What was the discipline like at Hereworth – I mean ..?
At Hereworth – well it was discipline – we certainly learnt not to talk after lights out, and there were minus marks and detention and the cane if necessary.
Yes, the cane.
Hear about it today and they don’t believe it.
No, no, no – cold showers every morning or if the pipes froze in the winter time it was cold baths. No – it was a good healthy lifestyle and I don’t think it – I think many old boys would be happy to admit today that it didn’t really do them any harm. And the same at Christ’s College. What – punishment was either lines, writing thousands of lines, or the cane.
What were your main topics that you succeeded in at school in Christ’s College and your sporting prowess as well?
Okay, well, I was never a top sportsman because I – being an only child, I was not involved and did not play in any sporting activities at all until I attended Hereworth. Hereworth was cricket and then the autumn into hockey. Winter term was all rugby. Commencement of third term was hockey and the athletic sports and then back to cricket. So that gave me a good grounding. I quite enjoyed cricket. I enjoyed hockey perhaps the most and then onto Christ’s College it was much the same. One was compelled to do cricket in the first year and because I was fairly tall I was fortunate enough to get into rowing. I thoroughly enjoyed rowing and in the winter time I played hockey. At College we also had all the benefits of different activities in the gymnasium – there were house events so one had the opportunities of learning, and there was squash, and there was fives … good number of opportunities.
Did you take on boxing while you were at Christ College?
I did not. I took on – it was compulsory to do a certain amount of boxing at Hereworth, and that’s where I left it.
With Teddy Ormond?
With Ted Ormond yes, with Teddy Ormond. Lead, parry, lead.
That’s right. Good story there about Ashton St Hill Warren too, with boxing – when he kept on – Ashton had a crooked arm and he kept on saying – hit me in the jaw, hit me in the jaw with a straight left Ashton got sick of that and came up with the right arm with upper cut and just clipped him on the chin and dropped him to the floor. His gloves came off very quickly and he took off. Anyway …
Yes. When you got into work what was your first paid job?
My first paid job was farm wages from my father.
At Waimarama. £3 a week. I still have all the farm wage books. I kept all my father’s wage books and all my father’s diaries. Because in his years at Waimarama there was quite a community of Maori families, tremendous families that we treasure. And during the freezing works’ seasons they all took off to town and worked in the freezing works and then when the off season came – “Oh Seymour, we got a job, we can do that draining for you, we can spray those blackberries, we do this, we do that.” Yes, that was quite a party of fellows and they – really they did a good job in helping father break the block in at Waimarama. There was an awful lot of hard work there.
And one thing I didn’t include just out of interest’s sake are the years at Waimarama I have on a chart 110 years of month by month rainfall total. The average at Peach Gully at Waimarama for all those years was 40 inches a year or 1000 millimetres in today’s language. Back in the hills on the Hoemona Block the average rainfall was 58 to 60 inches and in those years, in the ’60s and ’70s the average rainfall on the top of the Maraetotara plateau just above us was 100 inches. Much of that rainfall on the Maraetotara plateau actually flowed down through our property, Hoemona, and coupled with the rainfall that Hoemona also received actually presented Hoemona with quite considerable erosion problems.
My dad in 1949 commenced a soil erosion plan No.4 with the former Hawke’s Bay Catchment Board which records I still hold and treasure. We planted poplar and willow poles pretty much year in, year out and all those years, even up to the year in which I finished farming, there was always somewhere that required a bit of soil erosion work to be carried out and I became actually very interested in – particularly the newer poplar clones. The newer poplar clones that they developed at Massey in Palmerston North – they were very interesting in their growth form, their leaf colouring and their tolerances and a dry hard face or to the opposite in a wet place. In actual fact I have many photographic records of soil erosion and examples of tree plantings, and the poplar clones in the spring flush with the different reds and oranges are almost presented a better overall panorama compared with autumn colouring. And of course also very beneficial for livestock.
I’m going to talk to you about those later on – for what you do at present.
My other interest that I developed at Hereworth and carried on with at Christ College and still do a lot with today, is photography. I go crazy with a camera when I go out on a trip.
Yes you’ve got some great photos there of Tutira – that’s another one of your loves I know, and we’ll talk about that shortly. Leisure – what did you do in your spare time? Did you have any?
No. Spare time at Waimarama, no – it was often lawn mowing or cleaning up around the homestead. No I did not have a great deal of spare time. Good friend, Jim Newbigin, conned me into joining the foundation part of the Havelock North Squash Club. Played there for a little while and played a little bit of casual tennis, but that was as far as it ever got.
Did your parents disapprove of any of the activities that you did? Did you ever get offside with your parents?
Not exactly. Father and I had a few conflicting – not essentially arguments – but just minor disputes over the ways that different things were done on the farm, which of course was natural because farming was father’s life and apart from in his latter years on the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Meat Company Board he was always there on the farm and he had control of everything and virtually had full control of the cheque book until the day he died.
So then later in life you got married?
Now how did you meet your ..?
My good wife Marilyn I met – that was an interesting story, back in the latter part of the ’60s there was a little story going around on the television about how that little fellow Henry used to go along to the bank and meet his girlfriend, and that’s virtually how it all happened. My dear wife, Marilyn – ex Christchurch and St Margaret’s College – she joined the National Bank at Riccarton and after a few years learning the trade there she wanted to move to a more rural area of New Zealand so she came up here to Hawke’s Bay and was head teller in the National Bank Hastings. Seymour Belcher and his father (also in Christchurch) were all National Bank clients and of course National Bank was where David went and did his various bits of banking of his wages when he was paid – four weekly wages were paid.
And what sort of wage did you get David?
£3 a week when I started and I used to go along – so that was paid four weekly and I used to take the cheque then along to the bank and more often than not served by, as she was then, Marilyn Mantell, who was head teller in the National Bank. And father being ex Christchurch also used to aim for her because she was probably one of the most reliable on the staff and also coming from Christchurch so the pair of them had a good chat about Christchurch. So David continued going along there and banking his wages and drawing a bit of cash when he went to town on a Friday, and one afternoon he was walking into the National Bank – it was one of those days I think, must have been September or October somewhere, and all of a sudden the act of the gods fell out of the sky – it rained like billy-o and this charming lass said to David as he went to walk out the door – “you’ll get hellishingly wet if you walk out there, my friend”. So David went back and continued to chat with Marilyn behind the counter. So that’s how I met Marilyn.
And, later of course you got married, where did you get married?
Marilyn and I married in Christchurch, in St Barnabas’ Church, Fendalton on 30 October 1971.
Now David, also on top of us now, later on in life from there you moved to Havelock North, then you took up other interests that you wanted, and I understand that you’ve done a great job at Tutira with the planting there and you might tell us about your cycling. I saw you in your cycling gear the other day so you’ve probably got the latest bike and bike to Taupo and Wellington and all around the place. So you might like to just give us a bit of a chat on that.
Yes, sure, certainly. Yes, after leaving the farm at Waimarama affairs took some while to tidy up, but got over that hurdle and struggled for a wee bit for a while. But anyway, where we very fortunately based here at Havelock North, we have a large section here and being at the back of the subdivision neighbours are all out in front of us. We haven’t got neighbours right beside us and to the rear of the property we have the Karituwhenua Stream reserve where I do a lot of work – very interesting project there – and then I acquired a job in an adjoining vineyard, Black Barn vineyard, where I worked for nearly four years. Gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience working in the vineyard and the winery, all very enjoyable.
Following that I decided working full time there I was not getting to join up with or continue with any of my other interests because I was always in demand at the vineyard, even to going and turning water on various blocks of grapes in the evenings. I decided that, no, I’m going to have to grab the bulls by the horns and get on with my other interests. And then my other interests extended to really attending my strong interest in Forest & Bird and I have been a member for the Hastings Branch – well my Dad made me a member actually when I was a child and he paid my subscription thankfully until I commenced working on the farm and he said to me, now that your earning wages you can pay your own subscription. I paid my own subscription for each and every year and this year will be my 50th year as a member of Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society. I now belong to the Napier Branch of Forest & Bird and we do a lot of work in Little Bush at Puketitiri and we have monthly field trips and there are various other activities. The Hastings Branch, when I was a member there, I did a lot of work at Blowhard Bush which is a spectacular reserve on the Hastings/Taihape Road – well worth a visit.
My other interest then grew to the Guthrie Smith Trust Arboretum at Tutira. I was first of all approached in 2007 and asked if I would do some of the photographic recording. All very interesting. Started there on the photography side. The Arboretum really began in 2002 and there were a few photographic opportunities but since then – the property being divided into international geographical regions of the World, for example, Australasian , Mexican, Mediterranean, Chinese, Japanese, Himalayan, very large New Zealand section – there are now something like 25,000 plantings. Plantings eventually all get labelled and a label consists of the year in which the tree, or group of trees were planted, and a number. For example, NA154 meaning North American tree number 154. Then there is the botanical name and if David is lucky enough, the common name beneath. I take these photographs of various trees, shrubs, flowers, autumn colourings, spring blossoms … whatever, and each and every photograph I take I have to record in a notebook what I have photographed according to the label. That information is all gathered and put on a disk and I type out sheets and it is then forwarded to the curator and they then enter all that information into what is known as a “GAMS System” so that in the future if any visitor visits the Arboretum and asks about for example tree NA 154, up should come all the photographs that have been taken of that tree and information about it. My work at Tutira then kind of grew past photography and I was elected to the Board later on, the Guthrie Smith Board, and I was placed in charge of buildings and also the homestead gardens. I have done a lot of voluntary work up there, tree planting, tree releasing – that’s also interesting – and so on going.
Other volunteer work I do I once a month under Mike Lusk, if I’m available we do a Saturday morning in Te Mata Peak Park. We plant native trees and do a lot of tree release work and eradication of weeds. And another job I do voluntarily – it’s all through Forest & Bird, but it’s with DOC at the Ahuriri Estuary. That’s a morning a month and same again, that’s eradication of weeds mainly and the main problem over there has been working with the eradication of seaweed lavender, which is a creepy little weed and if left it will actually smother many other plants that the migrating birds love. So – yep, seaweed lavender is no.1 target, but we’ve also done in the winter months quite an amount of planting, particularly on the western banks on the Old Road rail embankment facing the Expressway, and further over in the Ahuriri Lagoon farm area, an area adjacent to the walking and cycling track which has been under the Living Legends programme for the last three or four years.
You’ve certainly had a – you’ve got a great knowledge of the plants and everything and thinking that you haven’t been to University to … like Lincoln or Massey to learn all about that side of it.
No, well that’s right Jim, I’ve struggled a bit with learning but I – in writing names down as I do at Tutira when recording photographs – no, I come home and there’s the computer of course but I also have quite a collection of books that I prefer to read about a plant in a book and sort of think … and it’s something you can always go back to.
A lot of people don’t know that – the amount of work that volunteers do.
No, Jim, I’ve actually absolutely been blown away since really leaving the farm. The amount of opportunities that are out there for volunteers. I mean there are many other projects that I’d – conservation and environmental projects in Hawke’s Bay here right at our door that I’d dearly like to be involved with but I just have not got the time. I’m busier now than ever before. For example, there’s the Cape Sanctuary, there’s Boundary Stream Reserve and many others the list just grows.
I know, I spoke to someone recently about this and they said they don’t know what to do so I grabbed them a list of organisations that you could do on a voluntary basis. He was quite pleased, he didn’t realise they even existed.
No, that’s right.
I feel sorry for a lot of people who retire and haven’t got an interest – and have just worked all their life. You’ve got to have something.
Definitely, and that was why my Dad sat so long at Waimarama – because after he … when the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Meat Company closed its doors, he had no other interest. He always tried to tell me that he was going to Taupo to do some fishing. But no, there was always the farm and that was it.
David I’ll tell you something we’ve missed on a little bit – about your family.
Yes, I was wondering about that Jim. Yes, Marilyn and I have three of a family. Our eldest daughter Margaret aged 41, and son Philip who is 39 and Louise 37. Margaret resides in Havelock North and she works for Heinz Wattie currently. She’s worked there the last 13 years and her position is dealing with the certification of export products. Our son Philip, he has been largely a family man, he and his wife Nia who is Samoan – they have four sons, so we have four grandsons aged from 15 down to 8. Louise our younger daughter she is currently now based back in Nelson working with Craig Potton Publishers as Assistant Editor.
David that’s a very interesting little talk you’ve given me and given us a great insight into the background of the Belcher family and yourself. Anything else you want to..?
Perhaps just add a little history in that grandfather, John Richard Belcher, he also was born in Kaiapoi. He was born in Kaiapoi in 1865 and educated locally. He was the son of Richard Belcher, Springfield Farm, Coutts Island. And Grandfather Belcher at one stage he had three farms in Canterbury, and lot of his history I’m trying to catch up with. I’m told by my first cousin in Christchurch, John Belcher, that he was – in his working life he was a surveyor and in various jobs that he did, was surveying round Canterbury. He came across various other blocks that Grandfather Belcher owned and farmed. So we’re still trying to find out all this history because it would … again it would be most valuable to have recorded. But nevertheless I do know that Grandfather Belcher he has these three farms in Canterbury, Homeby which is out toward Darfield and another separate block I know he had at Darfield, and also one on Rangitata Island.
Grandfather Belcher was, yes he was a pretty tough sort of a man and he – quite interesting in the years that he owned, I don’t think he really farmed Craggy Range east of Havelock North. That was a property of 3,500 odd acres which included the land from the present Red Bridge, Tukituki Bridge heading to Waimarama, down to bound Coupes and then back to join the Maraetotara Stream and Smalls’ property. Grandfather Belcher I’m told had a relation … I think his name was Frank, and they apparently the family including my Dad always referred to him as Uncle Frank, but where he quite fitted into the family I’ve never been able to fully establish. I’m still working on that, but anyway the Belcher family – they owned Craggy Range from 1906 to 1911 and within that period they built – not a homestead, but they built a cottage – immediately as you cross the Red Bridge heading to Waimarama. The house still stands today back well hidden in trees.
Grandfather Belcher decided because his wife was Irish – she came out from Ireland at aged 4 to Christchurch and was the daughter of John Seymour Theobald and they lived in Gloucester Street, in Christchurch. But anyway, Grandfather Belcher wanted to take his wife back to Ireland for a trip and decided that he could not really trust anybody to run the farm, Craggy Range, so that’s when he sold it to the van Asch family in 1911 and had intentions of returning to Christchurch to tidy family affairs before making arrangements to go over to Ireland. Then of course with the onset of World War I, well that put the kibosh on that – they didn’t go for their trip.
Grandfather Belcher I just remember, and the first flight in an aeroplane I ever had – well I remember it when I was a young lad at Waimarama School, father and I flew down for my Grandfather Belcher’s 90th birthday. I distinctly today remember walking into the lounge at the home at 121 Watford Street, Papanui, there was Grandfather Belcher sitting up in this great big armchair. Father and I walked through the door, “Seymour” he says “take young David out to such and such a block of potatoes at Coutts Island. If the land does not fall two feet behind you you have not done your job correctly.” I distinctly remember those words and I distinctly remember that visit. And Grandfather Belcher died the following year aged 91, just not long after I commenced Hereworth.
You’ve got a great knowledge of history. Now what are you doing – your family tree or are you looking at family records?
I’m only looking at records, Jim, that I’ve collected, and I’ve tried to – in Christchurch I still have three remaining first cousins. They are the family of my father’s brother, Nelson Belcher, who also attended Christ’s College and the bulk of his working years in Christchurch were with a good old Christchurch firm that was then John Burns & Co Limited. Nelson Belcher, yes he had – and wife Lesley, who was a Hargreaves, had three of a family. That was another Margaret Belcher. Margaret Belcher is a great, long time life associated with Canterbury University, and is currently writing the life history and works of an old architect, English architect Peugeot, and she resides in Christchurch and her eldest sister, Pam who married a farmer, Pat Steele, and they farmed many years in North Canterbury and Pam now resides in a home in Christchurch. And other first cousin is John Belcher. So between us we are still trying to correlate early family history.
You look to me as if you’ve got some pretty interesting papers down there and I’m just wondering have you ever thought about having them digitised?
I wouldn’t know how Jim.
Well, I’d like you to come to the Knowledge Bank and just have a look one day and see what it is. Because if you have a fire you’ve lost all that.
So you know – that’s history.
I do keep it away in a locked steel case but even so – OK.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Jim Newbigin