CHAPTER II. HOKITIKA
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To me, coming from San Francisco and the Nevadan towns, Wellington appeared very English and extremely quiet; the town is sunny and still, but with a holiday look; indeed I could not help fancying that it was Sunday. A certain haziness as to what was the day of the week prevailed among the passengers and crew, for we had arrived upon our Wednesday, the New Zealand Thursday, and so, without losing an hour, lost a day; which, unless by going round the world the other way, can never be regained. The bright colours of the painted wooden houses, the clear air, the rose-beds, and the emerald-green grass, are the true cause of the holiday look of the New Zealand towns, and Wellington is the gayest of them all; for, owing to the frequency of earthquakes, the townsfolk are not allowed to build in brick or stone. The natives say that once in every month "Ruaimoki turns himself," and sad things follow to the shaken earth.
It was now November, the New Zealand spring, and the outskirts of Wellington were gay with the cherry-trees in full fruiting, and English dog-roses in full bloom, while on every road-side bank the gorse blazed in its coat of yellow: there was, too, to me, a singular charm in the bright green turf, after the tawny grass of California.
Without making a long halt, I started for the South Island, first steaming across Cook's Straits, and up Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton, and then through the French Pass--a narrow passage filled with fearful whirlpools--to Nelson, a gem-like little Cornish village. After a day's "cattle-branding" with an old college friend at his farm in the valley of the Maitai, I sailed again for the South, laying for a night in Massacre Bay, to avoid the worst of a tremendous gale, and then coasting down to The Duller and Hokitika--the new gold-fields of the colonies.
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PLACED in the very track of storms, and open to the sweep of rolling seas from every quarter, exposed to waves that run from pole to pole, or from South Africa to Cape Horn, the shores of New Zealand are famed for swell and surf, and her western rivers for the danger of their bars. Insurances at Melbourne are five times as high for the voyage to Hokitika as for the longer cruise to Brisbane.
In our little steamer of a hundred tons, built to cross the bars, we had reached the mouth of the Hokitika river soon after dark, but lay all night some ten miles to the south-west of the port. As we steamed in the early morning from our anchorage, there rose up on the east the finest sunrise view on which it has been my fortune to set eyes.
A hundred miles of the Southern Alps stood out upon a pale-blue sky in curves of a gloomy white that were just beginning to blush with pink, but ended to the southward in a cone of fire that blazed up from the ocean: it was the snow-dome of Mount Cook struck by the rising sun. The evergreen bush, flaming with the crimson of the rata-blooms, hung upon the mountainside, and covered the plain with a dense jungle. It was one of those sights that haunt men for years, like the eyes of Mary in Bellini's Milan picture.
On the bar, three ranks of waves appeared to stand fixed in walls of surf. These huge rollers are sad destroyers of the New Zealand coasting-ships: a steamer was lost here a week before my visit, and the harbour-master's whale-boat dashed in pieces, and two men drowned.
Lashing everything that was on deck, and battening down
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the hatches in case we should ground in crossing, we prepared to run the gauntlet. The steamers often ground for an instant while in the trough between the waves, and the second sea, pooping them, sweeps them from end to end, but carries them into the still water. Watching our time, we were borne on a great rolling white-capped wave into the quiet lakelet that forms the harbour, just as the sun, coming slowly up behind the range, was firing the Alps from north to south; but it was not till we had lain some minutes at the wharf that the sun rose to us poor mortals of the sea and plain. Hokitika Bay is strangely like the lower portion of the Lago Maggiore, but Mount Rosa is inferior to Mount Cook.
As I walked up from the quay to the town, looking for the "Empire" Hotel, which I had heard was the best in Hokitika, I spied a boy carrying a bundle of some newspapers. It was the early edition for the up-country coaches, but I asked if he could spare me a copy. He put one into my hand. "How much?" I asked. "A snapper." "A snapper?" "Ay--a tizzy." Understanding this more familiar term, I gave him a shilling. Instead of "change," he cocked up his knee, slapt the shilling down on it, and said "Cry!" I accordingly cried "Woman!" and won, he loyally returning the coin, and walking off minus a paper.
When I reached that particular gin-palace which was known as the hotel, I found that all the rooms were occupied, but that I could, if I pleased, lie down on a deal side-table in the billiard-room. In our voyage down the coast from Nelson, we had brought for The Buller and for Hokitika a cabin full of cut flowers for bouquets, of which the diggers are extremely fond. The fact was pretty enough; the store set upon a single rose--"an English rosebud"--culled from a plant that had been brought from the old country in a clipper ship, was still more touching, but the flowers made sleep below impossible, and it had been blowing too hard for me to sleep on deck, so that I was glad to lie down upon my table for an hour's rest. The boards were rough and full of cracks, and I began to dream that, walking on the landing-stage, I ran against a man, who drew his revolver on me. In wrenching it from him I hurt my hand in the lock, and woke to find my fingers pinched in one of the chinks of the long table. Despairing of further sleep, I
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started to walk through Hokitika, and to explore the "clearings" which the settlers are making in the bush.
At Pakihi and The Buller, I had already seen the places to which the latest gold-digging "rush" had taken place, with the result of planting there some thousands of men with nothing to eat but gold--for diggers, however shrewd, fall an easy prey to those who tell them of spots where gold may be had for the digging. No attempt is at present made to grow even vegetables for the diggers' food: every one is engrossed in the search for gold. It is true that the dense jungle is being driven back from the diggers' camps by fire and sword, but the clearing is made only to give room for tents and houses. At The Buller, I had found the forest--which comes down at present to the water's edge, and crowds upon the twenty shanties and hundred tents and boweries which form the town--smoking with fires on every side, and the parrots chattering with fright. The fires obstinately refused to spread, but the tall feathery trees were falling fast under the axes of some hundred diggers, who seemed not to have much romantic sympathy for the sufferings of the tree-ferns they had uprooted, or of the passion-flowers they were tearing from the evergreens they had embraced.
The soil about The Fox, The Buller, The Okitiki, and the other west-coast rivers on which gold is found, is a black leaf-mould of extraordinary depth and richness; but in New Zealand, as in America, the poor lands are first occupied by the settlers, because the fat soils will pay for the clearing only when there is already a considerable population on the land. On this west coast it rains nearly all the year, and vegetation has such power, that "rainy Hokitika" must long continue to be fed from Christchurch and from Nelson, for it is as hard to keep the land clear as it is at the first to clear it.
The profits realised upon ventures from Nelson to the Gold Coast are enormous; nothing less than fifty per cent, will compensate the owners for losses on the bars. The first cattle imported from Nelson to The Buller fetched at the latter place double the price they had cost only two days earlier. One result of this maritime usury that was told me by the steward of the steamer in which I came down from Nelson is worth recording for the benefit of the Economists. They had on board, he
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said, a stock of spirits, sufficient for several trips, but they altered their prices according to locality; from Nelson to The Buller, they charged 6d. a drink, but, once in the river, the price rose to 1s., at which it remained until the ship left port upon her return to Nelson, when it fell again to 6d. A drover coming down in charge of cattle was a great friend of this steward, and the latter confirmed the story which he had told me by waking the drover when we were off The Buller bar: "Say, mister, if you want a drink, you'd better take it. It'll be shilling drinks in five minutes. "
The Hokitikians flatter themselves that their city is the "most rising place" on earth, and it must be confessed that if population alone is to be regarded, the rapidity of its growth has been amazing. At the time of my visit, one year and a half had passed since the settlement was formed by a few diggers, and it already had a permanent population of ten thousand, while no less than sixty thousand diggers and their friends claimed it for their head-quarters. San Francisco itself did not rise so fast, Melbourne not much faster; but Hokitika, it must be remembered, is not only a gold-field port, but itself upon the gold-field. It is San Francisco and Placerville in one--Ballarat and Melbourne.
Inferior in its banks and theatres to Virginia City, or even Austin, there is one point in which Hokitika surpasses every American mining town that I have seen--the goodness, namely, of its roads. Working upon them in the bright morning sun which this day graced "rainy Hokitika" with its presence, were a gang of diggers and sailors, dressed in the clothes which every one must wear in a digging town unless he wishes to be stared at by the passers-by. Even sailors on shore "for a run" here wear cord breeches and high tight-fitting boots, often armed with spurs; though, as there are no horses except those of the Gold-Coast Police, they cannot enjoy much riding. The gang working on the roads were like the people I met about the town--rough, but not ill-looking fellows. To my astonishment, I saw, conspicuous among their red shirts and "jumpers," the blue-and-white uniform of the mounted police; and from the way in which the constables handled their loaded rifles, I came to the conclusion that the road-menders must be a gang of
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prisoners. On inquiry, I found that all the New Zealand "convicts," including under this sweeping title men convicted for mere petty offences, and sentenced to hard labour for a month, are made to do good practical work upon the roads. I was reminded of the Missourian practice of setting prisoners to dig out the stumps that cumber the streets of the younger towns: the sentence on a man for being drunk is said to be that he pull up a black walnut stump; drunk and disorderly, a large buck-eye; assaulting the sheriff, a tough old hickory root, and so on.
The hair and beard of the short-sentence "convicts" in New Zealand is never cut, and there is nothing hang-dog in their looks; but their faces are often bright, and even happy. These cheerful prisoners are for the most part "runners"--sailors who have broken their agreements in order to get upon the diggings, and who bear their punishment philosophically, with the hope of future "finds" before them.
When the great rush to Melbourne occurred in 1848, ships by the hundred were left in the Yarra without a single hand to navigate them. Nuggets in the hand would not tempt sailors away from the hunt after nuggets in the bush. Ships left Hobson's Bay for Chili with half-a-dozen hands; and in one case that came within my knowledge, a captain, his mate, and three Maories took a brig across the Pacific to San Francisco.
As the morning wore on, I came near seeing something of more serious crime than that for which these "runners" were convicted. "Sticking-up," as highway robbery is called in the colonies, has always been common in Australia and New Zealand, but of late the bushrangers, deserting their old tactics, have commenced to murder as well as rob. In three months of 1866, no less than fifty or sixty murders took place in the South Island of New Zealand, all of them committed, it was believed, by a gang known as "The Thugs." Mr. George Dobson, the Government surveyor, was murdered near Hokitika in May, but it was not till November that the gang was broken up by the police and volunteers. Levy, Kelly, and Burgess, three of the most notorious of the villains, were on their trial at Hokitika while I was there; and Sullivan, also a member of the band, who had been taken at Nelson, had volunteered
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to give evidence against them. Sullivan was to come by steamer from the North, without touching at The Buller or The Grey; and when the ship was signalled, the excitement of the population became considerable, the diggers asserting that Sullivan was not only the basest, but the most guilty of all the gang. As the vessel ran across the bar and into the bay, the police were marched down to the landing-place, and a yelling crowd surrounded them, threatening to lynch the informer. When the steamer came alongside the wharf, Sullivan was not to be seen, and it was soon discovered that he had been landed in a whale-boat upon the outer beach. Off rushed the crowd to intercept the party in the town, but they found the gaol gates already shut and barred.
It was hard to say whether it was for Thuggism or for turning Queen's evidence that Sullivan was to be lynched: crime is looked at here as leniently as it is in Texas. I once met a man who had been a coroner at one of the digging towns, who, talking of "old times," said, quietly enough: "Oh, yes--plenty of work; we used to make a good deal of it. You see, I was paid by fees, so I used generally to manage to hold four or five inquests on each body. Awful rogues my assistants were: I shouldn't like to have some of those men's sins to answer for."
The Gold-Coast Police Force, which has been formed to put a stop to Thuggism and bushranging, is a splendid body of cavalry, about which many good stories are told. One digger said to me: "Seen our policemen? We don't have no younger sons of British peers among 'em." Another account says that none but members of the older English universities are admitted to the force.
There are here, upon the diggings, many military men and university graduates, who generally retain their polish of manner, though, outwardly, they are often the roughest of the rough. Some of them tell strange stories. One Cambridge man, who was acting as a post-office clerk (not at Hokitika), told me that in 1862, shortly after taking his degree, he went out to British Columbia to settle upon land. He soon spent his capital at billiards in Victoria City, and went as a digger to the Frazer River. There he made a "pile," which he gambled
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away on his road back, and he struggled through the winter of 1863-4 by shooting and selling game. In 1864, he was attached as a hunter to the Vancouver's Exploring Expedition, and in 1865 started with a small sum of money for Australia. He was wrecked, lost all he had, and was forced to work his passage down to Melbourne. From there he went into South Australia as the driver of a reaping-machine, and was finally, through the efforts of his friends in England, appointed to a post-office clerkship in New Zealand, which colony he intended to quit for California or Chili. This was not the only man of education whom I myself found upon the diggings, as I met with a Christchurch man, who, however, had left Oxford without a degree, actually working as a digger in a surface mine.
In the outskirts of Hokitika, I came upon a palpable Life-Guardsman, cooking for a roadside station, with his smock worn like a soldier's tunic, and his cap stuck on one ear in Windsor fashion. A "squatter" from near Christchurch, who was at The Buller selling sheep, told me that he had an ex-captain in the Guards at work for weekly wages on his "sheep-run," and that a neighbour had a lieutenant of Lancers rail-splitting at his "station."
Neither the habits nor the morals of this strange community are of the best. You never see a drunken man, but drinking is apparently the chief occupation of that portion of the town population which is not actually employed in digging. The mail-coaches, which run across the island on the great new road, and along the sands to the other mining settlements, have singularly short stages; made so, it would seem, for the benefit of the keepers of the "saloons," for at every halt one or other of the passengers is expected to "shout," or "stand," as it would be called at home, "drinks all round." "What'll yer shout?" is the only question; and want of coined money need be no hindrance, for "gold-dust is taken at the bar." One of the favourite amusements of the diggers at Pakihi, on the days when the store-schooner arrives from Nelson, is to fill a bucket with champagne, and drink till they feel "comfortable." This done, they seat themselves in the road, with their feet on the window-sill of the shanty, and, calling to the first passer, ask him to drink from the bucket. If he consents!--
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good; if not, up they jump, and duck his head in the wine, which remains for the next comer.
When I left Hokitika, it was by the new road, 170 miles in length, which crosses the Alps and the island, and connects Christchurch, the capital of Canterbury, with the western parts of the province. The bush between the sea and mountains is extremely lovely. The highway is "corduroyed" with trunks of the tree-fern, and, in the swamps, the sleepers have begun to grow at each end, so that a close-set double row of young tree-ferns is rising along portions of the road. The bush is densely matted with an undergrowth of supple-jack and all kind of creepers, but here and there one finds a grove of tree-ferns twenty feet in height, and grown so thickly as to prevent the existence of underwood and ground plants.
The peculiarity which makes the New Zealand west-coast scenery the most beautiful in the world to those who like more green than California has to show, is that here alone can you find semi-tropical vegetation growing close up to the eternal snows. The latitude and the great moisture of the climate bring the long glaciers very low into the valleys; and the absence of all true winter, coupled with the rainfall, causes the growth of palm-like ferns upon the ice-river's very edge. The glaciers of Mount Cook are the longest in the world, except those at the sources of the Indus, but close about them have been found tree-ferns of thirty and forty feet in height. It is not till you enter the mountains that you escape the moisture of the coast, and quit for the scenery of the Alps the scenery of fairy-land.
Bumping and tumbling in the mail-cart through the rushing blue-grey waters of the Taramakau, I found myself within the mountains of the Snowy Range. In the Otira Gorge, also known as Arthur's Pass--from Arthur Dobson, brother to the surveyor murdered by the Thugs--six small glaciers were in sight at once. The Rocky Mountains opposite to Denver are loftier and not less snowy than the New Zealand Alps, but in the Rockies there are no glaciers south of about 50 deg. N.; while in New Zealand--a winterless country--they are common at eight degrees nearer to the line. The varying amount of moisture has doubtless caused this difference.
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As we journeyed through the pass, there was one grand view--and only one: the glimpse of the ravine to the eastward of Mount Rollestone, caught from the desert shore of Lake Misery--a tarn near the "divide" of waters. About its banks there grows a plant, unknown, they say, except at this lonely spot--the Rockwood lily--a bushy plant, with a round, polished, concave leaf, and a cup-shaped flower of virgin white, that seems to take its tint from the encircling snows.*
In the evening, we had a view that for gloomy grandeur cannot well be matched--that from near Bealey township, where we struck the Waimakiriri Valley. The river-bed is half a mile in width, the stream itself not more than ten yards across, but, like all New Zealand rivers, subject to freshets, which fill its bed to a great depth with a surging, foaming flood. Some of the victims of the Waimakiriri are buried alongside the road. Dark evergreen bush shuts in the river-bed, and is topped on the one side by dreary frozen peaks, and on the other by still gloomier mountains of bare rock.
Our road, next morning, from The Cass, where we had spent the night, lay through the eastern foot-hills and down to Canterbury Plains by way of Porter's Pass--a narrow track on the top of a tremendous precipice, but soon to be changed for a road cut along its face. The plains are one great sheep-run, open, almost flat, and upon which you lose all sense of size. At the mountain-foot they are covered with tall, coarse, native grass, and are dry, like the Kansas prairie; about Christchurch, the English clover and English grasses have usurped the soil, and all is fresh and green.
New Zealand is at present divided into nine semi-independent provinces, of which three are large and powerful, and the remainder comparatively small and poor. Six of the nine are true States, having each its history as an independent settlement; the remaining three are creations of the Federal Government or of the Crown.
These are not the only difficulties in the way of New Zealand statesmen, for the provinces themselves are far from being homogeneous units. Two of the wealthiest of all the States, which were settled as colonies with a religious tinge--
* First grown in England in 1873.
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Otago, Presbyterian; and Canterbury, Episcopalian--have been blessed or cursed with the presence of a vast horde of diggers, of no particular religion, and free from any reverence for things established. Canterbury Province is not only politically divided against itself, but geographically split in twain by the Snowy Range, and the diggers hold the west-coast bush, the old settlers the east-coast plain. East and west, each cries out that the other side is robbing it. The Christchurch people say that their money is being spent on Westland, and the Westland diggers cry out against the foppery and aristocratic pretence of Christchurch. A division of the province seems inevitable, unless, indeed, the "Centralists" gain the day, and bring about either a closer union of the whole of the provinces, coupled with a grant of local self-government to their sub-divisions, or else the entire destruction of the provincial system.
The division into provinces was at one time necessary, from the fact that the settlements were historically distinct, and physically cut off from each other by the impenetrability of the bush and the absence of all roads; but the barriers are now surmounted, and no sufficient reason can be found for keeping up ten cabinets and ten legislatures for a population of only 200,000 souls. Such is the costliness of the provincial system and of Maori wars, that the taxation of the New Zealanders is nine times as heavy as that of their brother colonists in Canada.
It is not probable that so costly and so inefficient a system of government as that which now obtains in New Zealand can long continue to exist. It is not only dear and bad, but dangerous in addition; and during my visit to Port Chalmers, the province of Otago was loudly threatening secession. Like all other federal constitutions, that of New Zealand fails to provide a sufficiently strong central power to meet a divergence of interests between the several States. The system which failed in Greece, which failed in Germany, which failed in America, has failed here in the antipodes; and it may be said that, in these days of improved communications, wherever federation is possible, a still closer union is at least as likely to prove lasting.
New Zealand suffers, not only by the artificial division into
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provinces, but also by the physical division of the country into two great islands, too far apart to be ever thoroughly homogeneous, too near together to be wholly independent of each other. The difficulty has been hitherto increased by the existence in the North of a powerful and warlike native race, all but extinct in the South Island. Not only have the Southern people no native wars, but they have no native claimants from whom every acre for the settler must be bought, and they naturally decline to submit to ruinous taxation to purchase Parewanui from, or to defend Taranaki against, the Maories. Having been thwarted by the Home Government in the agitation for the "separation" of the islands, the Southern people now aim at "Ultra-Provincialism," declaring for a system under which the provinces would virtually be independent colonies, connected only by a confederation of the loosest kind.
The jealousies of the great towns, here as in Italy, have much bearing upon the political situation. Auckland is for separation, because in that event it would of necessity become the seat of the government of the North Island. In the South, Christchurch and Dunedin have similar claims; and each of them, ignoring the other, begs for separation in the hope of becoming the Southern capital. Wellington and Nelson alone are for the continuance of the federation--Wellington because it is already the capital, and Nelson because it is intriguing to supplant its neighbour. Although the difficulties of the moment mainly arise out of the war expenditure, and will terminate with the extinction of the Maori race, her geographical shape almost forbids us to hope that New Zealand will ever form a single country under a strong central government.
To obtain an adequate idea of the difficulty of his task, a new governor, on landing in New Zealand, could not do better than cross the Southern Island. On the west side of the mountains, he would find a restless digger-democracy, likely to be succeeded in the future by small manufacturers, and spade-farmers growing root-crops upon small holdings of fertile loam; on the east, gentlemen sheep-farmers, holding their twenty thousand acres each: supporters by their position of the existing state of things, or of an aristocratic republic, in which men of their own caste would rule.
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Christchurch--Episcopalian, dignified--the first settlement in the province, and still the capital, affects to despise Hokitika, already more wealthy and more populous. Christchurch imports English rooks to caw in the elm-trees of her cathedral-close; Hokitika imports men. Christchurch has not fallen away from her traditions; every street is named from an English bishopric, and the society is that of an English country town.
Returning northward, along the cost, in the shade of the cold and gloomy mountains of the Kaikoura Range, I found at Wellington two invitations awaiting me to be present at great gatherings of the native tribes.
The next day, I started for the Manawatu River and Parewanui Pah.