Reminiscences of Knife Fights with Wild Dogs

A recollection from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘.

The following account is 
given by Mr. Matthew Marshall, a passenger by the 
"Philip Laing" in 1848, and relates to the time 1852) 
when he was shepherding for Edwin Meredith on the 
Popotunoa Run. 

In those early days there were, in the Popotunoa 
Bush, a few wild dogs, which were a source of never- 
ending trouble to the shepherds., who had to gather the 
sheep together every night, and tie their dogs at suitable 
places round them, not only to keep them together, but 
to give the alarm when the wild dogs attacked. One 
night the wild dogs got in before being seen. and. while 
some attacked the sheep dogs, others went after the sheep. 
Hearing the noise, the shepherds rushed out, but had great 
difficulty in driving off the wild dogs. Meanwhile the 
sheep had scattered in all directions. For many hours the 
work of collecting them proceeded, and. although ulti- 
mately successful, it was found that many had been killed, 
while others were so badly maimed that they soon died. 

It was a strange thing that, if a sheep were bitten by 
a wild dog, it never recovered. No matter how small the 
mark made by the teeth, blood poisoning set in. and the 
animal was sure to die. It was also a strange thing that 
the dogs would never make a meal of a sheep, and the 
shepherds never saw the remains of one that had been 
eaten. They seemed to be content with worrying the poor 
brutes to death. 

In the following year the sheep were taken to Fuller's 
place at Hilly Park for the shearing, the whole flock being 
shorn in the stockyard, and the wool taken to Port Moly- 
neux, where it was shipped to Dunedin. After shearing, 
the sheep, which were divided into two flocks, were 
camped in two separate places, one being in the valley 
between the Awakiki Bush and the hill, the other on the 
Clinton side of the bush. 

Dent's time being now up, and he refusing to re- 
engage, Hobbs went to Dunedin for another man. while 
Marshall was left in charge of the sheep. In about a 
week Hobbs returned, bringing a tall, strapping man. in 
the prime of life, named Sandy Gordon. 

The sheep were then taken to Popotunoa. Some time 
afterwards Meredith arrived from Tasmania, but was 
greatly disgusted with the small returns. He ordered the 
mob to be divided into two flocks again, and Marshall 
was sent with the ewes and lambs to Moa Hill, Kaihiku, 
while Gordon remained at Bedding Hill with the wethers 
and dry sheep. Sandy Gordon was a very conscientious 
man and exceedingly careful with the sheep, but was 
terribly harassed by the wild dogs, often having hardly 
a night's rest for weeks at a time. One day Hobbs. on his. 
return to Moa Hill, after a visit to him, told Marshall that 
Gordon was in a terrible rage, and that his ultimatum 
was: "Just you look here. now. Mr. Hobbs. if you will 
not send me up another man, I shall just leave the sheep, 
and vou can do whatever vou like with them." 

It was then decided to shift the sheep to Wharepa 
to try to get rid of the dogs, so they were all mustered, and 
the trip started. However, the dogs seemed to think 
something was up. and actually followed them for some 
distance. The first night they reached Albert's Cap, 
where they camped on the banks of the Piawhata Creek. 
Hobbs and Gordon then came on to Marshall's hut at Moa 
Hill, where they stayed the night. On their return next 
morning what was their disgust and rage to find that the 
wild dogs had been among the sheep, which were scattered 
in all directions, some fifty being either dead or badly 

The remainder were collected and arrived safely at 
the Wharepa Bush, where Gordon built the first white 
man's hut in the district. It was built on the site of the 
present house, in front of which is still to be seen the 
stump of the first tree cut in the bush by a White man. 
It may here be said that Gordon afterwards purchased 
the section, and lived for many years in the original hut. 

For some time both flocks of sheep were not troubled 
by the dogs, and the shepherds thought they had now got 
rid of them. However, one clear frosty night in the 
winter time, when Hobbs and Marshall were in bed at 
Moa Hill, they heard the sheep running about. There 
was no barking of dogs or any other noise, so they did 
not suspect wild dogs. Getting up. they had a look 
round, when, to their amazement, they saw some dogs 
rounding up the sheep. The leader of the mob was a 
white bitch -a perfect devil and there were three other 
dogs, a black one and two reddish-coloured ones. This 
mob had originally consisted of seven dogs, but three had 
been killed at Bedding Hill. 

Hobbs had a grand collie bitch which had already 
accounted for two of the mob, and this night she led the 
chase. She managed to bail them up on the banks of the 
Kaihiku. and when the men reached her the white bitch 
was sitting on the ground, fighting viciously. On seeing 
them she dashed into the water, but the men were deter- 
mined she should not escape. Whenever she came out of 
the water their dogs tackled her and drove her in again. 
Hobbs' dog followed her, while Hobbs himself took one 
side of the stream and Marshall the other. Up and down 
the bank she dashed, but every time she was checkmated 
in her attempts to escape. At last she was played out 
and caught in the water. Marshall had a pocket knife 
with which Hobbs stabbed her to the heart, both men with 
grim satisfaction then watching her bleed to death. 
Owing to the excitement of the chase they had not felt 
the intense cold, but on returning to the hut. when they 
took off their trousers they found them so frozen that they 
stood up by themselves in the middle of the floor. 

Next morning being Sunday. Marshall went to pay 
Gordon a visit. When he told him the story, Sandy replied : 
"I'll not believe a word till I see her," so both set off 
for the Kaihiku. On reaching the spot where the body 
lay. Sandy stood looking at it for a few minutes with a 
grim look on his weather-beaten countenance. Then he 
jumped on the body, dancing about till there was not 
a whole bone left in it. He then skinned it and 
took the skin to his hut. where he cured it, keeping 
it for several years as a relic of the early days of shep- 
herding in the Clutha.
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