Pioneer Canterbury farmer.
A new biography of Grigg, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Grigg was born in 1828 at Brodbane, near Duloe in Cornwall, the son of John and Marian Grigg. Although he was a Cornishman by birth, his ancestors were of the Clan McGregor, who had been attainted prior to 1700. When, later, they moved to Cornwall they anglicised their family name to Grigg. Grigg, who was educated at the local “dame” school in Bodmin, was destined for a farming career, but an injury to his leg forced him to change his plans. For a time he studied theology, with a view to taking orders. But, despite his father's wishes, young Grigg turned again to farming and was apprenticed to his uncles Nattle. This training was cut short two years later (1847) by his father's death and Grigg returned to Brodbane, where he undertook to support his widowed mother, a brother and sister, and two step sisters.
Colonisation was in the air and Grigg was attracted by the challenge of large-scale farming overseas with its attendant problems. His decision to emigrate was hastened by the departure of Martha Maria Vercoe, the girl he intended to marry, who left Cornwall for New Zealand in 1848. In 1853 Grigg sold Brodbane and arrived in Auckland in 1854, where he obtained a lease of some land at Otahuhu. On 7 June 1855, at Trinity Church, Otahuhu, Grigg married Martha Vercoe.
Grigg was president of the Otahuhu Agricultural and Horticultural Society in 1861 and again in 1863 and 1864, when it had become the New Zealand Agricultural Society.
At Otahuhu Grigg began mixed farming — crops for export — hay for the army — and sheep breeding for exhibitions. He was particularly successful with sheep and exhibited as far afield as Dunedin. It was on these southern trips that he decided to settle in the South Island as he disliked the humid northern climate and, as an admirer of the Maori people, was concerned at the growing state of unrest among North Island tribes.
In 1864 Longbeach, Canterbury, was purchased. At least 2,000 acres were freeholded in that year and the remaining 30,000 acres were leased. It was not until 1871 that the whole 32,000 acres of “impassable swamp” of the survey plan was freeholded. The area, which extended from the Ashburton River to the Hinds, and 7 miles inland from the coast, contained some tongues of dry land, but in the main it was swamp — peat and silt on a clay subsoil. The Hinds River ran into the south-west corner and spread over the swamp area, as there was no direct outlet to the sea. Grigg was to spend the rest of his life converting this unproductive swamp into “the best farm in the world”. Development of the property began immediately, but Grigg lived at Avon Head, near Christchurch, until 1871, when the first homestead was built at Longbeach. At first he brought in cattle from all parts of Canterbury, fattened them, and each summer drove them over Arthur's Pass to the West Coast gold fields. He built miles of small drains through the swamp, and as it dried out he planted crops and commenced stock breeding. In 1867 a small area of wheat was planted and in 1869 the first sheep (5,000 merinos) arrived.
In 1882 Grigg's brother-in-law and partner, Thomas Russell, the banker, decided to withdraw his capital from Longbeach. Accordingly, the whole of the livestock and implements were offered in a historic sale which lasted a week and attracted buyers from all over New Zealand. The total amount raised was £35,000, of which Grigg himself paid £12,000. By this time, too, some of the original 32,000 acres had been sold and some 16,000 acres, in lots of 100–150 acres, fetched £9 to 15 per acre — which was a reasonable price as it had cost Grigg up to £4 per acre for draining the land. Generally such sales were made to Longbeach employees who wished to set up as independent farmers.
On his reduced acreage Grigg intensified his development plans. Tile drains were added to the existing open drains, a brickmaker was employed, and a brickworks manufactured drainage tiles on the estate. Each year some 40 miles of tile drains were laid, and by 1900 the total length exceeded 150 miles. During this time most of the farm buildings were replaced in brick and an imposing brick homestead was erected. Grigg was attracted by the possibilities of the export of frozen carcasses and, in 1881, he convened a meeting from which grew the Canterbury Frozen Meat Co., with himself as first chairman of directors. In 1883 Grigg chartered a sailing ship and consigned 4,000 Longbeach mutton and lamb carcasses for England. Unfortunately, the refrigerating machinery failed during the voyage and Grigg lost heavily, but even this setback failed to discourage him and he began to buy stock for fattening on a large scale. By 1894 there were 37,000 sheep on Longbeach, and in one season alone he fattened 80,000 sheep and lambs for export. Cropping was also intensified, and in one year over 5,000 acres of wheat was grown. A statement made in the House of Representatives in 1891 summarises these developments in terms of money: “Mr. John Grigg has spent £40,000 on improvements, he pays each year £4,000 to the railways for transport. His men save each year over £5,000. His place of 15,000 acres, was, when he got to it, impassable swamp”. The permanent staff at Long-beach usually numbered 150 and included not only farm workers but also a wide variety of skilled tradesmen.
In 1883 Grigg was attracted by the possibilities of dairy farming and he instructed his son, who was then in England, to procure for him the best dairy cattle in Europe. The black and white Dutch Friesian breed was selected and one bull and six cows were imported from Holland. In 1890 Grigg founded his last pure-breed sheep stud — the Southdown — and believed that this would be the sire for future export lambs. It was not for another 20 years that the Southdown received serious consideration, but for the last 35 years the breed has dominated export-lamb breeding in New Zealand.
Even while he was converting his “impassable swamp” into a highly productive model farm, Grigg found time for public duties. He served a term (1884–85) as member of Parliament for Wakanui, but was never entirely at ease in the political atmosphere of Wellington. He was a member of the Ashburton Roads Board from 1872–79, and of the County Council, which succeeded it, from 1879–99. At one time or another he served on the local school committee, the Ashburton Domain Board, the Hospital Board, both the Ashburton and Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Associations, and on the various stud-breeders' societies — and on most of these he was, from time to time, chairman or president. His interests in education found expression as a Fellow and Governor of Christ's College (Christchurch) and as a governing member of Canterbury University College.
A staunch admirer and friend of Bishop Selwyn, Grigg was a signatory of the original Constitution (1857) of the Church of England in New Zealand. For many years he served as a lay reader and was a member both of the Diocesan Synod, and of the committee appointed to provide a cathedral for Christchurch. In addition he built a small undenominational church at Longbeach to serve the little community. Grigg died at Longbeach on 5 November 1901 and is buried beside the church. He left two sons and five daughters.
An acknowledged leader of men, of hot temper controlled by a strong will, Grigg was reputedly an infallible judge of good men, and he certainly gathered about him a loyal band of highly skilled farm workers and tradesmen. Like Grigg, many of them spent their whole working lives on Long-beach. An imposing monument, provided by the public of Canterbury, depicting Grigg hatless, his heavy walking stick in hand, and with one foot on a field-drain tile amid the raupo reeds of the swamp, stands in Baring Square, Ashburton. A bas-relief below shows scenes of ploughing, harvesting, and shearing, and the four corners bear the symbols of justice, prudence, fortitude, and industry. But Grigg's most impressive memorial is the Longbeach area, which has been converted from a useless swamp into some 220 fertile farms, many owned by past employees and their descendants. The sentiments of his employees towards him is aptly expressed in the inscription they chose for the plaque to his memory in Longbeach Church:
“Who laboured for the common good
Large was his bounty;
His soul sincere”.
by Percival George Stevens, DIP.AGR., formerly Senior Lecturer in Animal Science, Lincoln Agricultural College.
John Grigg of Longbeach, Stevens, P. G. (1952).