New Zealand’s four legged friends owe their start in this country to Rev Samuel Marsden who in December 1814, arrived on his brig “Active”, at Rangihoua, just across the bay from Russell. On board were 3 horses, 3 head of cattle, and 8 sheep, a gift from Marsden to the fledging missionary settlement. From then, New Zealand’s sheep population increased and in the 1980s, they outnumbered New Zealanders 22 to 1. Marsden’s foresight played an initial role in the development of farming, benefiting many including stock buying drover and farmer, Mathew J Whitelaw. Father of Russell’s renowned game-fishing skipper, Jim (James) Whitelaw, Matty accomplished what may still be New Zealand’s longest stock drive by 3 people on foot: starting with 3000 sheep, from Napier to his Kamo farm (approximately 600 km), taking 3½ months to complete. Understandably the team lost a few on the way, but after 20 sheep were unaccounted for at Taupo, Matty backtracked to find several traps, “holes in the pumice flats that Maoris had laid sticks over”. Wiser, Mr Whitelaw and his drovers endeavoured to keep a keen eye for signs that the mob would split or wander. However, sheep are notoriously unpredictable, and while camping overnight in Greenlane “where there were no houses at the time” some headed off at 4 am. The drover who followed them was found, still in his night shirt at 9 am, arguing heatedly with owners of the Remuera gardens the errant sheep had invaded. Perhaps this is why Mr Whitelaw sold 1000 sheep while in Auckland.
Reference: 90/25 “Napier to Whangarei” a recollection by Jim (James) Whitelaw.