Story: Clough, Abner

Page 1 - Biography

Clough, Abner

1840–1910

Farm worker, character

This biography was written by Elsie Locke and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Abner Clough, also known as Amura, was born and baptised on 13 September 1840 at Akaroa, New Zealand. His father, James Robinson Clough, also known as Jimmy Robinson, had arrived at Akaroa several years before. He acted as interpreter for Captain Owen Stanley at the flag-raising of 1840, and was the first Pakeha to travel up the river Avon in 1843. Abner's mother was Puai of Ngai Tahu, a 'powerful big woman' who lived at Akaroa. She was the young widow of Reka, a defender of Onawe, on Banks Peninsula, against Te Rauparaha's 1830 attack.

J. R. Clough educated his sons Abner and George (later known as George Robinson) mainly on Herodotus and the Bible. After parting from Puai, father and sons worked on James Greenwood's Motunau run, and from 1851 to 1853 they managed the Homebush run for John Deans. At the age of 12 Abner was already a champion all-rounder who could 'manage a boat, shear, split, cook, thatch, cross rivers on a mokihi [raft], and was a great hand with wild pig.' 'Abner's Head', near Sheffield, was his lookout point to search for straying cattle.

In 1856 Abner was engaged as right-hand man to J. B. A. Acland and C. G. Tripp at Mount Peel for £50 a year. His strength and skill became legendary. Edward Chudleigh while working there described his leadership during a snowstorm: 'Abner does not usually walk but goes at a slow jog; none has ever been able to keep up with him in N.Z. yet.' Acland marvelled at his crossing and recrossing of the Rangitata River, wading in water which reached up to his chin. 'This comes of his Maori blood and few white men would attempt it.'

On 21 September 1863, at Mount Peel, Abner Clough married Ellen Regan from County Limerick, Ireland. They had at least seven children, and possibly two more who died in infancy. In 1877 Clough and his family joined Chudleigh on the Chatham Islands. Wrote R. Lyne, Chudleigh's cousin: 'Of all those who counted for anything in that wild country, Clough was the acknowledged master, a kind and helpful master, never blustering, but always taking the lead.' But drink was his downfall and in 1880 Chudleigh dismissed him, although he handed out contract jobs at times. Clough's work remained impeccable. Chudleigh wrote of one fencing job that it was 'a splendid piece of work, yards wire fencing and all. No man like him that I ever saw. His posts look like one line of wood. From end to end his work is a study; bog, rock or sand is all the same.' Employment was now intermittent. Clough resorted to beachcombing, and his wife departed for Christchurch; he ended his days with his son Herbert on Pitt Island. He died on 22 April 1910.

Samuel Butler called Abner Clough 'a prince by nature'; Chudleigh, 'absolute monarch among us.' E. C. Richards wrote from the Chathams: 'Abner stood 6 ft. 4 in. and weighed some sixteen stone; his black hair and beard, swarthy complexion, beetling eyebrows, erect bearing giving him a leonine and commanding appearance.' Abner Clough did not rise to any position of eminence, but his qualities of leadership were acknowledged and valued by those with whom he worked.