A new biography of Little, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Little was born at Moorfoot, Midlothian, on 22 October 1834, son of Henry Little, who followed his son to New Zealand and farmed at Ngapara, near Oamaru, where he died on 5 November 1885. James Little worked among sheep from childhood and belongs to that race of trained Scottish shepherds who came to New Zealand and established order and efficient control in the management of sheep on the runs of Canterbury and Otago. At the age of 29 Little answered an advertisement by Dr G. M. Webster (1818–78) for a manager to come to New Zealand in charge of sheep for his leasehold runs. He reached Dunedin in 1863, bringing 22 Romney Marsh ewes and nine rams for his employer, and was given the management of Webster's Corriedale run near Oamaru. Because the country was then unsuitable for pasturing Romneys, Little, with Webster's sceptical consent, began experimenting in 1866 in crossing long-woolled Romney and Lincoln rams with Merino and then inbreeding selected progeny to produce the most economical, all-purpose, wool-and-mutton breed of sheep.
In 1869 Little left Webster's employment and leased Allandale, a property near Waikari, North Canterbury, where he continued his experiments with stock purchased from the Corriedale run. The new breed, named after Webster's Corriedale run, was established by 1890, though not admitted to the flock book register until 1911. By a curious coincidence, William Saltau Davidson, then manager for the New Zealand and Australian Land Co. (q.v.), of the Levels run, South Canterbury, was working for the same result at the same time. He, too, was successful in producing a Corriedale breed and his strain was fixed by 1874.
Little became known far and wide as a breeder of Ayrshire cattle, draught horses, and English Leicester sheep, and was an excellent judge of the type of animal best suited to particular New Zealand conditions. In 1907 he visited Scotland and returned with a shire stallion with which he established one of the finest studs of draught horses in Canterbury. Such was James Little's reputation that no agricultural and pastoral show in Canterbury was complete without his presence and his exhibits of stud stock. In 1915 he retired to Christchurch where he died on 31 October 1921. Little was a man of vision in the pastoral world and pursued his experiments with Scottish tenacity. He succeeded in improving the strains of stock in which he was interested and was recognised as one of the founders of the stud sheep industry in New Zealand.
In 1855, at Lanarkshire, Scotland, Little married Mary Telfer, by whom he had one son and five daughters.
by Oliver Arthur Gillespie, M.B.E., M.M. (1895–1960), Author.
- Sheep and Sheepmen of Canterbury, Crawford, S. S. (1949)
- Press (Christchurch), 1 Nov 1921 (Obit)
- The Corriedale – History of Development – New Zealand's Own Breed, Corriedale Sheep Society (Inc.) (1939).