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Saturday, 13 August 2016

NFHM Challenge: Charles Forbes, Wagonner

This week's NFHM blogging challenge suggests that we honour our working ancestors and the challenges they faced in their occupations. I've chosen to feature my great grandfather Charles Forbes, waggoner.  Here is his published obituary.

Obituary published in the Press (Christchurch), 4 September 1929, snipped from the Paperspast web site

As the obituary records, Charles was originally from Ballater in Aberdeenshire. His father had died before he was born and his mother had re-married and emigrated to New Zealand in 1860 with her new husband and their five children. In the 1861 Census Charles was living with the household of  the local minister and was described as a cattleman, despite being only aged 14 at the time.  I had a copy of his obituary before it was available to be read on the Paperspast web site and I've since found a number of newspaper references to the partnership of Murray and Forbes which substantiate some of the facts provided. The carting work they undertook with their wagons would often have been challenging.  Here are two articles describing accidents that befell Mr J Murray on one occasion and Thomas Powell, an employee of Murray and Forbes on another:

Star, 7 June 1881, snipped from Paperspast

♦- AN EXTRAORDINARY OCCURRENCE. A most extraordinary escape from what might have been a frightful death happened to a man named Thomas Powell, a carter in the employ of Messrs Murray and Forbes,waggoners, at Waikari. The firm have this year contracted to carry the wool from a station in the Awatere district, in Nelson, a distance of over 160 miles from Waikari, across same of the roughest country it is possible to get a waggon over. On New Year's Day Thomas Diamond, a driver who has been in Messrs Murray and Forbes' employ for a great number of years, and T. Powell started from their camping ground in the Yara creek, not far from the station, and were proceeding down the Yarra sideling into the Acheron river with two waggons carrying 20 bales each. The road along this creek is cut out of the side of the hill, and at the widest place does not exceed nine feet in width, which at some of the short turns that exist on the line of road makes it very dangerous for the traffic. Diamond took his waggon load safely over the worst point near the creek, but he had considerable difficulty in so doing, as the rubble had formed a mound on the track which lifted the wheels from the road. Powell, however, in attempting the same had the misfortune to find that the edge of the roadway gave way under his waggon wheels ; and the waggon began to turn over. Powell at once saw that he could do nothing to save the waggon, so he made a leap and landed amongst some big stones. Just as he fell, the waggon came on him ; but he being between two large pieces of rock, was only confined in a space large enough to hold him. His right arm was struok by a part of the waggon as it went over. Diamond, when he saw the upset, at once stopped his team and went to his mate's assistance, under the impression that he was killed. He was surprised to find him in the enclosure, and by degrees he managed to remove the waggon (in pieces) as well as the wool bales. When Powell was uncovered, the only injuries he was found to have sustained was a flesh wound on the right arm. Diamond and Powell at once set to work to get the waggon righted again, and, the horses not being injured, the matter was soon arrarged und tho teams started. Powell drove his team to Waikari, excepting over the difficult parts of the road ; and on arrival ot Waikari last night he went to visit Dr Brandon to have his wound thoroughly attended to. The distance from where the accident occurred to Waikari was fully 75 miles, and yet Powell, with one arm, drove the team of six horses, only obtaining the assistance of his mate at any of the most critical points on the road. The horses, strange to say, received no injury whatever ; but the waggon was greatly knocked about. '
Star, 6 January 1883, transcription from Paperspast web site
           Despite the heading describing what occurred in the second incident as an extraordinary occurrence, I can imagine that accidents to the wagons were not uncommon, given the hazardous nature of the work and the state of the country roads in those days.  I found several references to letters written by Murray and Forbes to the local road board, complaining of unsafe roads and river crossings, to which the board sometimes responded that the work would be done,sometimes not.

Out of interest, here is a report of a reader's response to the accident involving Messrs Powell and Diamond:

Auckland Star 13 February 1883, snipped from Paperspast

When the railway first came to the area, Murray and Forbes were initially able to compete, as reported here:


New Zealand Herald 23 April 1881, snipped from Paperspast

 However by 1886, the firm realized that they could no longer compete successfully with the 'iron horse', as the train was then known. The photograph below was taken by the firm of Edmund Wheeler and Son, and shows 6 sets of horses and wagons assembled in Cathedral Square Christchurch NZ in April 1886.  It comes from the  extensive collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington NZ, and the wagons belonged to Murray and Forbes. Prior to dissolving their partnership they arranged for this photograph to be taken, as you can read in the article taken from the Star newspaper of 28 April 1886. Unfortunately there's no identification of the men in the photograph, and as I have so far only been able to identify photographs of Charles from a much later date, I can't be sure whether he is one of the drivers, or one of the two men standing just left of the centre of the picture.  You can zoom in and see some good detail of the men, their horses and wagons, or alternatively you can click on the link below to do the same with the photo in its original library location.

Report in The Star, 28 Apr 1886, snipped from Paperspast.

Here are transcriptions of a couple of reports of the sale of horses and stock that followed.

From Timaru Herald, 5 May 1886, snipped from Paperspast:

MESSRS H. MATSON & CO. have received instructions from Messrs Murray and Forbes, who are relinquishing the carrying business, to OFFER FOR SALE AT TATTERSALL'S, on THURSDAY, MAY 6th, The whole of their HORSES AND PLANT, Comprising 42 VERY SUPERIOR DRAUGHT MARES and GELDINGS; grand sorts, capital workers, and on the whole, perhaps one of the Best Lines of Horses to be found in Canterbury. Also, 6 CAPITAL TILTED WAGONS, each with patent axles, and in good repair. 42 SETS OF HARNESS. Covers for each Horse. The attention of Farmers, Shippers, Contractors, and all who may require first-class Draught Stock, is directed to the above Sale. The season for Autumn Ploughing is now at hand, and gives a good prospect of a remunerative return for the labour, and farmers, as well as other buyers, would do well to attend this auction. The Horses have all been carefully selected, are of the best stamp,in the pink of condition, and there is not a bad worker among the lot. As Messrs Murray and Forbes are giving up the business in which they have recently been engaged, the various lots will be for bona fide sale. DATE—   THURSDAY, MAY 6th, At 12 o'clock. Place of Sale Tattersall's, Christchurch. H. MATSON & CO., Auctioneers.

From the Press, 7 May 1886, snipped from Paperspast:

Live Stock Market
Special Sale of Carrier's Plant -  Yesterday at Tattersall's, we conducted a sale of more than ordinary importance. The great northern caravan firm of Messrs Murray and Forbes, who, for so long a period, have done such good service in the transmission of produce and goods for the wool kings of the Amuri, have, in this age of progress, been compelled to yield to the superior facility afforded by the iron horse, and as the mist of the early morning disappears before the sun, so bullock drays were superseded by horse waggons, and these, in due time, by the railway at Culverden. There was a very large assemblage of people to witness this interesting dispersement of the relics of the past, the popularity of the firm, the superior and well known qualities of their teams, and the known bona fides of the sale created an attraction which brought together sentiment and business. Biddings came freely, and prices were good, only a very few of the lots passing the hammer without finding fresh owners. Figures were equal to a rise of 20 per cent upon ordinary values, the majority of the horses going to farmers and not to the trade; £20, £25, £30 to £36 were not infrequent quotations upon the catalogue of the day. A prominent member of the Railway League hardened his heart and dived in with a vengeance, buying a large proportion.

Shortly afterwards it appears that Charles Forbes took a consignment of 14 horses plus two waggons and a harness 'across the ditch', to be auctioned at Kirk'S Bazaar, a big horse auction house of the day in Melbourne. This must have involved quite a hazardous boat journey back then and I don't know what prices he obtained in Melbourne, but hopefully it justified the trip.  Charles appears to have stayed in Australia for around six months before returning to NZ. The following year he married Jane Isabella Young, whose parents Charles Young and Jane Paterson were also from Ballater, and became a farmer. 

This advertisement appeared in the Argus on 20 May 1886, and has been snipped from the Trove web site.

Here is the final notice of dissolution of the Murray and Forbes partnership, which refers to the iron horse as the reason for the dissolution.

                                         Press, 11 September 1886, snipped from the Paperspast web site,

Charles and Jane Isabella Forbes and family, c. 1914

Charles Forbes with his baby granddaughter Jean (my late mother), c. 1928

Postscript: As mentioned in his obituary, Charles enjoyed pole vaulting in his younger days, and I've found a number of references to his participation in annual sporting games, but that is for another post.

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