Nineteenth-century rural labour in Canterbury : rural apprenticeship or rural proletariat? : an assessment of the social mobility of the workers employed at Mt. Peel Station from 1856-1893. (2001)
AuthorsCottle, Eleanorshow all
This thesis focuses on a group of men who, in the last half of the nineteenth century, were employed at Mt. Peel Station in South Canterbury. While some held 'skilled' positions as shepherds, shearers, or contract workers, the majority were unskilled, employed as labourers, general hands, or general servants. As a study of the social mobility of these workers, this thesis will attempt to find out to what extent they' got on.' The value of a study such as this becomes apparent when it is found that there are two opposing theories on the structure of nineteenth-century New Zealand society. One theory is that nineteenth-century New Zealand was a relatively class-free country where good opportunities for upward mobility made it possible for wage-earners to eventually buy enough land to be largely self-sufficient and free of a total reliance on wage-labour; a country where rural labour was part of an overall rural apprenticeship. The other theory is that the opportunities for mobility were lacking and rural labourers remained largely landless and reliant on wage labour for subsistence; a country where the rural labourer was part of a distinct rural working class or rural proletariat. In order to find which theory is closest to reality information is needed on both urban and rural areas. While a lot of work has been done on social mobility in urban New Zealand, both of a qualitative and quantitative nature, rural New Zealand has largely been ignored, especially in terms of quantitative studies. This thesis aims to provide both qualitative and quantitative evidence of the social mobility experienced by this group of rural labourers and thus offer support to one of the theories of social structure in New Zealand. In the process, the various mechanisms and factors which affected social mobility will be examined.