Feed­ing fam­ily hard 150 years ago

Hastings Leader - - News -

Get­ting food from the land on to the fam­ily ta­ble was a ma­jor pre­oc­cu­pa­tion 150 years ago — so vastly dif­fer­ent from to­day’s trip to the su­per­mar­ket.

In the 1800s nearly 30 years of di­aries were kept by Hawke’s Bay farmer David Pa­ton Bal­four, un­til his death by drown­ing on July 13, 1894, the day af­ter his 53rd birthday.

David and wife El­iz­a­beth Roberts raised three chil­dren and track­ing down food for the fam­ily was top of mind.

A typ­i­cal month could in­clude hunt­ing wild pig and pi­geon, slay­ing a bul­lock, rid­ing long dis­tances to buy flour and tea and, de­pend­ing on the time of year, shear­ing or killing sheep, in­clud­ing wild ones.

The 150-page di­aries are be­ing scanned and tran­scribed in a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the region’s mu­seum MTG Hawke’s Bay, and Hawke’s Bay Knowl­edge Bank (HBKB), which spe­cialises in digi­tis­ing the region’s oral and writ­ten his­to­ries, in­clud­ing his­toric di­aries.

The work is ex­pected to be com­pleted by late 2019, af­ter which it will be avail­able to the pub­lic on­line.

David’s records make fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing.

“There is such a wealth of in­for­ma­tion in di­aries such as Bal­four’s. These doc­u­ments of daily life give us a valu­able and de­tailed in­sight into the ex­pe­ri­ences of early im­mi­grants to New Zealand,” says MTG col­lec­tions as­sis­tant Cathy Dunn.

“If we think about the gen­er­a­tions to come and how far re­moved they will be from those times. If we don’t pre­serve these records they will have very lit­tle idea of how their great, great, great grand­par­ents lived.”

HBKB Trust chair­man Peter Dunker­ley says the com­bined project made good use of the as­sets of both or­gan­i­sa­tions — with the prime aim of mak­ing the his­toric in­for­ma­tion eas­ily avail­able to the pub­lic. It was also the first of what could be more col­lab­o­ra­tions that would re­sult in writ­ten records be­ing not only pre­served but ac­ces­si­ble.

“Our whole rea­son for be­ing is to en­sure in­for­ma­tion such as this is not only saved for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, but is eas­ily avail­able to them. Our vol­un­teers digi­tise and tran­scribe ma­te­rial but we do not store it. MTG has these di­aries but not the re­sources to put into tran­scrib­ing them at this time, and so it is the per­fect project for both to work on,” he says.

MTG direc­tor Laura Vo­danovich says tran­scrib­ing the di­aries re­quired a par­tic­u­lar skill-set, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to be able to read the writ­ing of the time and de­ci­pher the spell­ing used.

“That re­ally is not easy. The style of writ­ing is so dif­fer­ent from that used to­day.

“We also share the vision of be­ing able to make ma­te­rial like this widely avail­able. This col­lab­o­ra­tion also helps us build re­la­tion­ships across the region, in­clud­ing with stake­hold­ers such as Knowl­edge Bank,” she says.

A bi­og­ra­phy of David Bal­four, held by

‘There is such a wealth of in­for­ma­tion in di­aries such as Bal­four’s. These doc­u­ments of daily life give us a valu­able and de­tailed in­sight into the ex­pe­ri­ences of early im­mi­grants to New ’ Zealand. CATHY DUNN

notes that he was born in Scot­land and was not keen on school. He was work­ing as a cow­man at 11, be­fore his fa­ther moved the fam­ily out to Aus­tralia af­ter the death of his wife.

In his 20s, David moved to New Zealand, un­suc­cess­fully join­ing the Otago gold rush, be­fore go­ing back to farm­ing and land­ing a job as a sta­tion overseer in Hawke’s Bay in 1866.

By then he had de­cided there was value in ed­u­ca­tion, and had at­tended night school to be­come lit­er­ate, en­abling him to write the di­aries that are now be­ing recorded for pos­ter­ity.

Hawke’s Bay farmer David Pa­ton Bal­four

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