1866 - Henderson, G. Otago and the Middle Island of New Zealand - Chapter II, p 48-52

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  1866 - Henderson, G. Otago and the Middle Island of New Zealand - Chapter II, p 48-52
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THE political state of Otago--Follies of the Government--McAndrew the Superintendent--Town of Dunedin--Its state, climate, &c.--The country--The gold-fields--Wages.

The political is as bad as the social state of Otago. Though subject in some degree to the General Government at Auckland, (now removed to Wellington,) it is practically governed by a Superintendent and a Provincial Council. These have the control of the funds, and the framing of all internal regulations; and consisting as they do, chiefly of shopkeepers, auctioneers, and others equally unacquainted with the art and science of governing, it is not to be wondered at if they have made a sad mess of it.

Recently they missed a golden opportunity when the discovery of the gold-fields brought large sums into their coffers. Instead, however, of opening up the country by means of good roads, they have squandered all their means on a futile and useless attempt to cut down a hill in the town, known as Bell Hill, and throw it into the harbour. Having only succeeded in making a big hole in the side of the hill, they have been compelled to stop for want of funds. The hill, formerly a most picturesque object, dotted with houses, is now, an eyesore with its hideous and dangerous chasm. The ad-

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vantage gained, consists of a few building sites on the artificial soil by the side of the harbour.

Another foolish undertaking was the "Great Exhibition," ("heaven save the mark"), in which Dunedin thought she must ape the mother country. The result is, a huge building useless for anything else; and which, empty save for a few crude specimens from the adjoining provinces, proved an utter failure. Indeed, the thing was such a farce, that the Governor would not open it; and it was the subject, consequently, of a grand midnight hoax, when all the inhabitants were summoned by fire of cannon, and by bugle call, to escort His Excellency (who was quietly asleep in his bed at Canterbury) up from the jetty!

The colony had had a severe struggle for existence in its first years, under its excellent Superintendent, Captain Cargill, an old Peninsular Officer; but with honesty at the helm it had weathered the storm.

After his death, however, the choice of the people, (worthy of themselves,) fell on a person of the name of McAndrew. This man, who began life as office boy, in the service of Mr. Pirie, a paper manufacturer in Aberdeen, had been in business in London, in partnership with a Mr. Garden, where they had failed. He then emigrated to Otago, and being a smooth-spoken man, he was intrusted with large sums of money by private individuals. He also, on becoming Superintendent, had the fingering of the public funds. Doubts having arisen as to his conduct, the Provincial Council made an investigation into it, and a commissioner was sent from Auckland to examine his accounts. It having been decided that some sixty thousand pounds were

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deficient, (though his partisans deny it,) he was suspended by the Provincial Council, and finally dismissed by the General Government at Auckland.

Previous to this he was incarcerated in the common jail, for debt, but he cleverly proclaimed his own house in the country a jail, and removed to it! A good many other curious and similar stories are told of him. After his dismissal, he was restored to the common jail, and while there, he stood for the Superintendentship again, and actually addressed the electors from behind the bars of the prison! A large number of the electors voted for him! He was said to be very popular with the mob, and universal suffrage is the order of the day there.

The government of Otago is now endeavouring to obtain total separation from the other provinces, and to free itself entirely from the General Government. Some other provinces are endeavouring to do the same, and if they succeed, we shall have the ridiculous spectacle of a number of petty independent governments ruling over states the size of an English county, with populations equal to those of a small English town.

The town of Dunedin consists of a large number of wooden houses scattered over a piece of very hilly broken ground on the edge of the bay, and over an adjoining swamp. There are also a few stone houses here and there, and one compact mass of wooden buildings in the centre of the town. One long street (with a few short branches), has been formed and partially paved. Still it is a fearfully muddy place; and when not muddy, it is swept by hurricanes and clouds of dust. The climate is detestable. It is generally raining and

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blowing, sometimes for months together. A lady told me she had been prevented from going to church by the rain for seventeen Sundays in succession. One is never sure for half an hour that it will remain fair, however fine it may look. The high hills attract the clouds; and the somewhat funnel shaped bay at the head of which Dunedin lies, nearly meeting the sea as it does, and skirted on both sides by lofty hills, entices the winds to rave along its windings. If by accident it does not blow a gale during the day, the wind never fails to rise suddenly about four or five in the afternoon, blowing from the sea.

It used to be said in Australia, of New Zealand, that it rained nine months in the year, and blew a hurricane the other three; and a capital description it is. Altogether a more unpleasant place to live in than Dunedin, cannot be conceived, with its rain and its mud, its wind and [its dust; its ricketty wooden houses, with the wind howling, and the rain pouring through them; its close packed blocks of houses, hotbeds of fever, and devoid of all water supply; its frequent fires, its dulness, its low tone of morality, its insecurity, and the impossibility of obtaining justice, its want of good society, and its generally low style of population.

The climate in the country is much better, though also blowy and wet. There is very little land in the province fit for agriculture, and nearly the whole of it has been sold. When a little is put up to auction, it fetches absurdly high prices--frequently five or six pounds, or more per acre.

The province is fit only for pasture, and for this it is well adapted. The whole of it has however been long

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ago taken up, and when it changes hands it fetches extremely high prices--usually not less than one hundred pounds per thousand acres for the mere goodwill of the lease of it, for a few years, say for eight or ten.

Nevertheless, sheep farming pays even at these exorbitant rates, provided it is conducted with care and judgment.

Most of the leases will expire in from six to eight years, and it is supposed that the Local Government will then put the renewed leases up to auction. As, however, the government is bankrupt, and its debentures, recently advertised to a large amount, are quite unsaleable, it would be wiser if it allowed the run-holders to purchase their runs as they are able, at a moderate rate, (say five shillings an acre,) as has been done in the province of Nelson. The treasure chest would thus be filled, and a great spur given to the improvement of the country.

The gold-fields, which for a time looked rather promising, have, as I prophesied at the time of their discovery, proved to be neither extensive nor lasting. The hardships encountered in Otago in the search for gold, are extreme, owing to the rigour of the climate, the ruggedness of the country, and the excessive scarcity and fabulous high price of provisions. The gold-fields are nearly worked out now, some which I visited not yielding above three or four shillings to each man per diem.

There is, however, a good opening for shepherds, labourers, and servants, male and female, who are in great demand, and whose wages are three times as high as at home.

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