1849 - Power, W. T. Sketches in New Zealand - CHAPTER I. DEPARTURE FROM SYDNEY...

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  1849 - Power, W. T. Sketches in New Zealand - CHAPTER I. DEPARTURE FROM SYDNEY...
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SYDNEY. -- I got on board the "Castor" frigate at daylight on the morning of July 17th, 1846, just as they had weighed anchor, and were dropping down the harbour with the sails scarcely lifting to the morning breeze. I could not help admiring the beautiful little bays and sandy coves, the wooded and rocky islets, and the number of pretty villas and gardens dotted about the hills on both sides of the lake-like expanse, and which were seen to the best advantage as we drifted slowly down towards the Heads.

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I cannot say that I have any great desire to return to Sydney; for, though an exceedingly pretty place, and blessed with a healthy and generally pleasant climate, it would not be an agreeable residence for any length of time. The country, for a considerable distance round, is barren and uninteresting, affording no field sports worth speaking of; and the horses, though very cheap, are coarse, ugly, ill-broken, and generally vicious.

In the summer the town is scarcely habitable from the hot winds and dust; and, worse than all, it is now, with the exception of New Zealand, the place the farthest removed from all communication with Europe. But, in spite of many faults, Sydney is the best of our military stations for the officer, from the healthiness of the climate, and the cheapness of all the necessaries and most of the luxuries of life. For the common soldier it is exceedingly demoralising, from the vicious habits of most of the lower class, and the prevalence of all the drunkenness and low debauchery that may be looked for in a convict population.

After a comfortable voyage of eleven days, we dropped anchor at the entrance of the river Thames, and ran in with the flood tide on the following morning. The appearance of the country is barren

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and uninteresting. It consists of low, rolling hills, covered with fern; Mount Eden, and one or two other black, scoria-covered, volcanic hills, are in the distance, but their sterile look does not make the landscape more inviting. How heart-chilling to the emigrant must be the first glance at his adopted country, where the eye wanders over such a bleak and dreary expanse, without one pleasant spot to rest upon!

We anchored opposite the town, or rather the straggling village, of Auckland, which, at first sight, has by no means a prepossessing appearance; an effect that is unluckily confirmed on a closer inspection. There is no wharf or landing-place but the muddy beach, on which I was put on shore from one of the "Castor's" boats, and had to wade my way up to the barracks through a sea of mud.

On reporting myself, I found that I was destined to be sent off at once to the south, where there had been a fresh outbreak among the natives. Fortunately for me, the "Castor" was under orders to sail for Port Nicholson, to render what assistance she could; SO that I was to go down in her, instead of in one of the miserable little coasters, to which I must Otherwise have been consigned. There was very little time to become acquainted with Auckland, but

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I took a stroll through it, and saw nothing but a beggarly collection of poverty-stricken huts and wooden houses, without any of the bustle and briskness that betokens business and prosperity. This, however, could hardly be otherwise, as the colony was only just beginning to recover from six years of blundering experiments and maladministration.

Groups of Maories squatted about the sunny side of the street with pipes in their jowls, a few half-drunken loafers (beach-combers, as they are called here) hanging about the numerous pot-houses, here and there a sleepy-looking shopkeeper leaning against his own door-post in the vain hope of a customer, and one or two Maories going from house to house with loads of wood on their shoulders for sale, were the only symptoms of vitality at the seat of government. The streets and roads were unpaved, and, in some places, knee-deep in mud; and the whole town had a slatternly and neglected look, that reminded me of some of the ill-selected and deserted locations in the backwoods of America.

I sailed again on the following morning, after less than twenty-four hours' acquaintance with Auckland. On getting outside the Heads we encountered a bitter wintry gale, such as one rarely sees except on this coast and in the English Channel; it was

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luckily in our favour, so we scudded away gallantly under close-reefed top-sails and fore-sail, the old barkie occasionally giving a roll that would send everything flying. It was fortunate for me to have fallen in with such a fine ship; the officers, too, were old acquaintances of mine in China, so that I was in as comfortable quarters as I could wish for, and far better than I was likely to meet with again for some time.

The gale took us all the way to Cape Palliser, which we rounded on the sixth day, and got into Port Nicholson before dark the same evening. The entrance to the port is through a channel about three miles in length, with high precipitous hills on either hand, and deep water everywhere, except on one reef which runs some distance into the channel, leaving, however, abundant space for a ship to work in.

Wellington has scarcely a more pleasing effect than Auckland at first sight, from the houses being thinly scattered along three miles of sea-shore, with precipitous forest-covered hills overhanging them. There are, however, some good wharves and quays, a capital hotel, and a good many large brick-built shops and stores, showing that there is more capital,

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or a more enterprising population, than at the seat of government.

I went ashore and reported myself, and was informed that I should be required to join the field-force at Porirua with as little delay as possible. I was greatly amused to see the warlike look of most of the people I met, and who, in the guise of militia-men, were marching and counter-marching with most praiseworthy zeal. The guards, too, were mounted by the militia, as all the soldiers were away at Porirua, or the Hutt. A fortnight previously, before Rangihaeta and Mamaku retreated from the Hutt Valley, nearly the whole of the male population of Wellington was under arms, and, for some time, had an opportunity of indulging in the pleasures of military life, in mounting sentry, doing picket duty, and patrolling the muddy roads in the wet and cold winter nights.

I was making my arrangements to land myself and traps on the following morning, when I heard that Capt. Graham had just received a letter from Governor Grey, requesting him to set sail for Porirua immediately, as there had been more fighting, and Te Rauperaha, one of the greatest chiefs in the district, had been made prisoner for assisting the rebels. We started within an hour, with a fair wind.

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which carried us to the island of Mana the same evening, where we anchored at a distance of about five miles from Porirua.

The Governor came off as soon as we anchored; when, to our surprise, orders were given to get under weigh for Kapiti, an island about fifteen miles off, and where we anchored the same evening. It appeared that Rangihaeta was retreating in the direction of the coast, and the Governor was anxious to contrive means to intercept and annoy him by the intervention of the tribes through whose lands he would have to pass.

The barge and cutter were ordered away after breakfast on the following morning, and the men directed to take their arms. On arriving at Waikanahi, after a pull of a couple of hours, we found all the natives at prayers, or learning their lessons from the native catechists. Some of the pupils were old grey-headed men, busy in the mysteries of the alphabet, and far more submissive and orderly than a class of English school-boys. At the conclusion of the lessons, which was probably hastened by our arrival each class, after singing a hymn, marched off and dispersed at word of command. Three or four hours were then spent in speech-making on the part of the Governor and the chiefs, and it ended in their

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consenting; to aid and assist us to the best of their ability; and, as an earnest of their good faith, they gave up one of Rangihaeta's emissaries, who had been sent to ask assistance from them.

In the afternoon we went to the church, a fine, large building, of native construction, and very creditable to their taste and ingenuity. The service was read with much emphasis by a native teacher, who afterwards gave us a long sermon of which, of course, I did not understand a word; but it had an edifying effect on the audience, if one may judge by the close attention they paid. Almost the whole congregation had prayer-books and bibles in the Maori language, though they appeared to know the church-service by heart; even the young children gave the whole of the responses correctly and without hesitation. They repeat the responses simultaneously, and with the greatest attention to the punctuation, so that it produces a rhythmical effect, which, with the musical intonation they give it, is not unlike recitative.

The men are fine muscular fellows, and have pleasant, good-humoured looking countenances. A taste for European clothing appears to be general, and almost every one had some article of English dress. A few among them were quite dandies.

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dressed in chesterfields, or paletots, with cap, gloves, boots and straps complete. These favoured individuals had evidently a great opinion of their personal appearance, and were the centre of attraction for all the little coquetries of the young girls. The "Pa" is a large one, containing about 400 inhabitants; it has extensive plantations of potatoes, kumeras, and wheat, about three miles off.

Last year this tribe sent 450 bushels of wheat to market, for which they obtained 7s. per bushel (157l.). This had set them up for the winter in blankets and tobacco, and had encouraged them to plant more than four times the quantity this year. We just left the church in time to see the whale boats from Kapiti in pursuit of two whales; both of them were struck, but unluckily they crossed one another, and the lines got entangled: to save the boats it was necessary to cut one of them, so that the whale got off, though not till after an animated chase by half-a-dozen boats. The other whale was killed within a quarter of a mile of us, after a hard struggle for his life.

We were to have returned to Porirua on the following day, but a gale of wind set in which obliged us to remain quietly at our anchorage, where we were completely sheltered from both wind and sea.

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In the course of the morning a whale boat came alongside from the whaling station at Kapiti, with a request for medical assistance for some of their women. The assistant surgeon was requested to go, and I accompanied him.

We arrived at the station just in time to see them cut up the whale they captured yesterday; it was a female of a piebald colour, and about seventy feet in length. The value of a whale of this size is estimated at about 300l., and the capture of four of them would pay all the expenses of the station for a season. There are about fifty or sixty Europeans employed on this station, which is now the largest in New Zealand, though a few years ago there were no less than seven establishments on Kapiti alone, and all larger than this.

There are only four European women at the station, the greater part of the men being provided with Maori sweethearts to keep house for them. These last, it is said, make by far the best helpmates, being sober, thrifty, and hard-working; they attach themselves very strongly to their white partners, putting up with their frequent ill-usage without complaint, and are always cheerful and good-humoured. They are extremely inexpensive too, their dress consisting of a calico gown and a blanket, and their only luxury

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an occasional pipe of tobacco, the cost of which they fully repay by obtaining potatoes and fish, without charge, from their relations. On our return to the ship it rained and blew very hard, so that I could scarcely have conceived it possible for an open boat to live in such weather -- at times we seemed almost to fly over the crests of the waves, but, with the aid of the powerful twenty-feet steer oar in the experienced hands of the whalers, we rode safely over them, scarcely taking a drop of water on board.

We got under weigh from Kapiti the following morning (August 11th), and ran to our old anchorage under Mana, where I bade adieu to my friends of the "Castor" with some regret, after spending three weeks most pleasantly with them.

On landing at Porirua we found, to our great surprise, that the whole of the soldiers had returned from the Horokiwi Valley. There had been no fighting since the skirmish in which Ensign Blackburne was killed; In fact, owing to the dreadful weather and the impenetrable nature of the country, nothing more had been attempted except to throw some shells into the enemy's intrenchment, and which had no effect. The camp is a miserable place in the midst of sand hills on the sea shore, and completely exposed to the violent gales which are very frequent

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at this season. There is a slight stockade round the small reed huts in which officers and men live, without chairs and tables, and with only a couple of blankets for a bed: this in a dry climate might be well enough, but here, where it has poured incessantly for six weeks, it is no joke.

It was a startling change for me, so recently from the luxurious habits of China, and the comforts of Sydney and of the "Castor," to find myself left on the shore in such a place, a stranger in a strange land, and unprepared to fall into the habits of my companions, exposed to rain and wind, with coarse fare and coarser lodging, my clothing ill adapted to the climate, and altogether inexperienced in the scrambling state of society where the rule appears to be "every man for himself, and God for us all." It was a most uncomfortable though not an unexciting scene, from the constant arrivals and departures, rumours of war, alarming reports, the anxiety for news from the outposts, the numerous shifts and resources to employ time and extract amusement from such limited resources, and the ingenuity required to supply the commonest wants. In the evening thirty-six of us sat down to dinner, consisting of native beef, biscuit, and rum. Our utensils were tin and pewter plates and tin cups,

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which latter served alternately to contain the soup, the grog, and the coffee. He was a lucky man who had knife, fork, and spoon, very few had all three, some none at all; and these last fared badly in the general scramble, and met with but little pity or assistance from their more fortunate neighbours.

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