The quality of rural living has long attracted contradictory assessments. In New Zealand where farm produce figured pre-eminently in the economy, opposing assessments abounded. Politicians tended to gloss over rural hardships, favoured an Arcadian myth, and initiated schemes to alleviate poverty by putting people on the land; dissenting portrayals emerged from the country's realist literature. Historians have taken sides but, in common with social historians everywhere, their assessments of the quality of life turn on fragmentary evidence. Moreover, the typicality of well-documented cases is open to question. First hand accounts by farmers, farm labourers, and farm women are scarce. A study of inquests into the suicides of over a thousand rural New Zealanders overcomes a dearth of information and provides nation-wide coverage over many decades. Witnesses' depositions afford glimpses into the material and emotional crises during booms, slumps, depressions, and wars. Rural men had a much higher suicide rate than urban men. Farm operators endured debt and commodity price fluctuations, while farm labourers-essential to farm profitability-faced emotional, financial, and physical hazards from youth to old age. Rural life for many offered no unqualified release from the stresses of the modern age.