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Hedley Mitchell Johnson in New Zealand

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1902 to 1911
Location: New Zealandmap
This page has been accessed 44 times.

After returning from South Africa and the Boer War: "Hedley did not return to Castle Hill and did not stay long in Tasmania. No doubt he was eager to make his way in the world and maintain the independence he had gained in South Africa.

In October 1902, he was writing to his brother Fred:

Dear Fred

Will write you a few lines as I promised when leaving to let you know how I am getting on in New Zealand. I have got a job on Beaumont Station, a sheep station belonging to Dalgety and Co. and managed by R K Smith who also has the management of two other stations, Dunrobin and Hamilton Burn. ... When I got to Mossburn I heard he was away in town and had to wait a few days until he returned and saw him at the railway. He told me he could find me something to do and sent one of his men in with the trap to fetch me out to his place but only stayed there for one night and the next morning he brought me straight out here ... so you see he did not lose any time in putting me to work and I can tell you I am not sorry to get to it again. I have had quite enough of loafing about the last month or two to last me for a while. I have to do a little bit of all sorts here, fencing, draining and sometimes rabbit poisoning, but will be all shepherding now for a while as the ewes have just starting lambing and shearing time will soon be coming on.

The squatters are having a rather bad time here this season and no grass. The sheep are in very low condition and a great many are dying especially lambs. We have not been able to get out on the runs the last three days for the snow ... so we reckon to have a bit of skinning to do when we do get out ... there is a good foot of snow about the house here on the lowland and out on the runs and highlands it is up over the top of the fences ... I think things are very little better here than Australia at the present time. Fat stock is very scarce and is selling at sixpence a pound and I fancy that they have to buy the meat we eat on the station.

I find life a bit quiet here after what I have been used to in the last year or two but suppose I will soon get seasoned to it. There are only two other chaps besides myself. We all sleep in a hut and have our meals in the house with the overseer ... Beaumont is a fair sized station, runs about eighteen miles back taking in a lot of rough hilly country and runs about twenty thousand sheep.

I nearly got lost the first time I was sent out by myself ... coming home it started to snow and I thought I would take a short cut over a range of mountains but when I got to the top it came onto snow that thick I could not see where I was going ... but managed to come onto the road for home safely just as it was getting dark.

Hope you will write soon and let me know how things are in Kempton and please send a paper along occasionally. Hope this will find you all well at home.

In November 1902 Hedley wrote

Dear Fred

... Nightcaps (the nearest town) is down near the southern coast of New Zealand, so near we can see Stewart Island quite plain from here on a clear day. It is very different here to Tasmania I have scarcely seen a fine day ... it seems to be a very bad season, there is no sign of any grass here yet and the sheep are dying in all directions. They are lying about some of the runs just like poisoned rabbits. I have been doing a bit with the shears last week, myself shearing rams and another shearer had five hundred Romneys to shear. It took us a week to cut them out and I can tell you shearing rams is pretty hard work ... we are quite two months behind Tasmania here.

Has Percy Johnson brought my rifle back yet, if not will you remind him when you see him ... I would not like to lose it ... I would like to have it here. There are a few wild pigs and cattle on this station. We are thinking of going after some on Sunday.

February 1903 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... have been that hard at work lately have not had time to do much writing ... have been busy shearing stragglers all week ... (the weather) has not been too bad here lately ... it has been the longest spell of warm weather, nearly a fortnight, since I came here and hope it will last a while longer ... here are a great many tourists come here in the summer time to see the lakes and from all accounts some of the lakes here are very pretty ... have got to go to Nightcaps tonight about twelve miles ride from here ...

May 1903 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... I suppose you will be home again by now ... think you told me in your letter that you would be leaving your situation in a few days ... I think you have a very good time of it on the whole going about from one place to another. I think it is much nicer to be like that than always stuck at home or in the same place. Besides see what a lot you learn travelling about though sometimes it is not always of the best.

Sorry you burnt your fingers so badly with the hot plate and that you were so badly broken up by not being able to go to the birthday party at Buckland. There must be some great attraction there ... was it his birthday?

Just fancy Albert and Lyle going to get married at last and live at Belgrove ... won’t they be a funny pair ... I wish that I was somewhere near ... there will be a host of Johnsons about Kempton now ... just as well that I left, it makes one less.

Am having a quiet time here just now ... I went to a concert at Nightcaps on Friday night ... it was not up to much, something like the concerts they used to have in Kempton ...

November, 1903 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... Has mother got my letter yet? Had a letter from her last week, she was blowing me up to some tune, said she had not heard from me for over three months ... she should have received it by now and have her mind at rest ... she must fancy sometimes that I am not old enough to take care of myself.

We have got over the winter at last and a jolly hard one it was too ... it was the hardest I ever put in my life ... was camped out batching all the latter part at the Wauruki River ... a very hard place to find firewood ... no bush anywhere near, used to have to wade through the river and get some driftwood off an island in the river ...

January 1904 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... you will see I am still at the same place ... about the quietest place one could get ... it is a wonder it has not driven me to drink long ago. I get the blues something awful at times, sometimes feel inclined to go down a gully and cut my throat.

I had a day off for the New Year and went to Invercargill to the Caledonian Sports. Missed the train coming back so stayed another day and went to the races. It is not much of a town, could not get a bed for the night anywhere, had to be content with a couch in a bar with a tablecloth for a blanket. We did not get home till about two o'clock on Sunday morning, had about two hours sleep and then had to start way out to the great highlands to start mustering.

... I intend to go away for a week or two in April after the mustering is all finished and go through to Dunedin and Christchurch ... Have got to camp out for a week or two this week ...

This letter was obviously opened by Mother and sent on to Clara with an attached note ...

Opened Hedley's letter and don't feel much happier for its perusal

December 1904 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... Have had a very busy time here lately with the shearing ... will cut out tomorrow. Have got the last of the sheep in the shed, had a straight run right through, was not stopped by bad weather so you can imagine we were kept going ... we thought nothing of working eighteen hours a day and never knew Sunday from any other day. Am expecting to have to go to Dunrobin tomorrow for the shearing there. Have you got Harry's address yet? / have not had time to write to anyone lately ...

June 1905 (Extracts)

Dear Jinnie (Clara's pet name)

It is a long time since I wrote to any of you ... I don't think I have any news to tell, there never seems to be anything happen in this part of the world and I don't get a chance to know much of what's going on in other parts ... We have been having some severe weather over here ... nearly everybody about this part is layed up with influenza ... (I) have managed to escape so far ... am almost a cripple at present with chilblains, the first time I ever had them. I suppose it is walking about in the cold snow ...

September 1906 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... it must be an age since I last wrote to any of you ... suppose you will be settled down again now after your holiday, am glad you enjoyed yourselves so much and think you deserved to after sticking in Tassy so long. Somehow / think it does one good to see something of other parts of the world, it gives one something to think about when you get back to your everyday work again. Have just got back from my holiday trip, went as far as Dunedin and Christchurch ... We are having extraordinary fine weather here just now ... am in the best of health.

June 1907 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... yes, have read the book long ago that you sent and liked it very well. Have had plenty of time for reading lately, have been having a lot of snow and have not been able to do much. Could do with a library here, we had to spend three days of last week pretty well in bunk the weather was that bad. Am looking after a mob of sheep that we have feeding on turnips. They get frozen to the ground some mornings ...

October 1910 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... the season and everything else is very backward here ... had nothing but cold winds for weeks and weeks ... have been doing a good lot of travelling about lately after mobs of cattle ... hope you are all well at home ...

March 1911 (Extracts)

Dear Clara

... don't think there is much in the way of news to send along, there never is or perhaps I might write a little oftener ... It has been very dry over this way this summer, had no rain for over two months, water and feed got very scarce. It put me in mind of old times seeing everything parched up ... not much doing, have just got the dipping through and am back at the homestead again. Had to batch for about six weeks while the job lasted.

I intend to come home some time this year ... Will stay on till after next muster which will be in May and then take my hook out, so be on the look out for a job for me. Anything will do, I'm not flash …

Hedley returned to farming at Castle Hill with his brother Fred. His letters, read in full, show a gradual change in his personality from the eagerness and optimism of youth to one worn down by hard work, harsh conditions, boredom, isolation and lack of nurture."


Calvert, E. & L. The Johnsons of Castle Hill: The story of a Tasmanian family. Lois Calvert: Australia, 1996, pp. 60-64

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