Family ‘part of community folklore’

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Research request . . . University of Otago history lecturer Dr Jane McCabe is keen to learn about the Shand family, which once owned a large area of land on the Taieri Plain. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The extraordinary influence of the Shand family on the Taieri Plain in the 19th century has been highlighted through research by University of Otago history lecturer Dr Jane McCabe.

In a three-year project looking at the relationship between people and the land, specifically through inheritance patterns on the Taieri and in the Hokianga area, Dr McCabe has been struck by the prominence of the Shands.

“The Shand family are part of community folklore out there – people often say they owned the Taieri,” she said.

James and Barbara Shand arrived on Phoebe Dunbar in 1850 with their eight children, and took up a 5ha farm near Green Island.

After the sudden death of her husband less than a year later, Mrs Shand showed herself to be a talented, hard-working agriculturalist, increasing her holdings to almost 200 freehold hectares with the help of her son, James.

She rewarded James for his help with a farm at West Taieri, and he gradually extended his holdings to 12,500ha, married Isabella Duncan and fathered eight children.

Unfortunately, financial troubles led him to heavy drinking and gambling, and he drowned himself in the Taieri River in 1888.

While the Shand family retained substantial holdings into the 1960s and 1970s, the family’s presence in the area gradually diminished, Dr McCabe said.

“They were famously wealthy in those early generations, and many early farmers – as well as Chinese market gardeners – got their start by leasing land from the Shand family.

“People will say most of the Taieri was Shand land, but it is not clear what happened to the family’s descendants later on.”

In the hopes of filling in the blanks, Dr McCabe is appealing to Taieri people who may be descendants of the Shand family, or have knowledge of their land management and holdings.

She will be on hand in the Downes Room at the Mosgiel Library this Saturday, from 10am to 12.30pm, and hopes local people will drop in to share information with her.

“I am interested in local folklore, as well as any family knowledge.”

Funded by a three-year Marsden Grant, Dr McCabe’s research contrasts the situation on the Taieri Plain, where land was in private hands, with Hokianga, where land was mainly in Crown ownership.

“The big shift in my study has been from thinking of inheritance as land being handed down through the family, to understanding that there was a community and family trade in land,” she said.

Dr McCabe will outline her research findings in a book, to be entitled Land and Inheritance in New Zealand – focusing on Taieri and Hokianga

To make contact with Dr McCabe, email jane.mccabe@otago.ac.nz