1908 - Webster, John. Reminiscences of an Old Settler in Australia and New Zealand [Selected chapter - [Front Matter]

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  1908 - Webster, John. Reminiscences of an Old Settler in Australia and New Zealand [Selected chapter - [Front Matter]
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Mr. Webster has kindly asked me to preface with a few words the interesting reminiscences now before the reader.

He finds that the ninety years which have crowded round him have brought with them the accompaniments of failing memory and difficulty in adding anything to his previous literary work.

These reminiscences appear at the earnest wish of Mr. Webster's family and numerous friends who rightly consider that incidents not only eventful but of an historical kind should not be allowed to perish. Amongst these must be counted his two journeys of 1839 and 1840 across the desert wastes of Australia when driving cattle from Sydney to Adelaide seventy years ago. Here he is enrolled amongst those earliest pioneers and discoverers who were then distinguished by the appellation of "overlanders."

The journey was of 2,000 miles and of four months' duration performed in the face of incessant hardship and danger. Most of these overlanders were gentlemen filled with the spirit of adventure. Travel-stained though they might be they yet essayed to enter the infant

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city of Adelaide, then but three or four years old, with some dash and some remnants of that finery in which they had originally started--boots and tops and sombrero hats decorated with feathers. For the dangers they had passed and the stories they could tell they were received with acclamation by the small society, and were made welcome at Government House and to the entertainments given in their honour.

Part of Mr. Webster's last track seems to have been an entirely new one, and it would be interesting to plot it out on the map and see if his name-giving remains and if he is not thus entitled to the role of discoverer as well as that of pioneer.

Another incident is that of his connection with Hone Heke's war as a volunteer in company with his friend Maning and under Tamati Waka Nene, the friendly ally of the English soldiers. His account discloses some new points and gives further information.

Here, unfortunately, his reminiscences close with now no power to add to them. No one regrets this more than Mr. Webster himself, and that the present duty was not undertaken five and twenty years ago together with the reproduction of some of those pen and ink sketches which so adorn his note-books.

Soon after Heke's war Mr. Webster opened a trade with the natives, acting as agent for the firm of Messrs. Brown and Campbell, of Auckland, the latter of whom as Sir John

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Logan Campbell, still remains with us. Trade becoming depressed throughout the colony, he repaired to California, there remaining for eighteen months. He then sailed from the "Golden Gates" of San Francisco in June 1851 for the South Sea Islands with his friend Captain Benjamin Boyd, owner of the ill-fated yacht schooner The Wanderer of 240 tons.

The voyage extended over five months, and many of its stirring incidents Mr. Webster has reproduced in those beautiful water colours which now hang as treasured possessions on his walls at Opononi. On reaching Guadalcanar, one of the Solomon Islands, Captain Boyd proceeded on shore alone, and, as he did not return, a search party was despatched only to discover proofs of his having been murdered and dragged into the bush by the natives. His body was not found and the distressed voyagers at once sailed for Australia, where additional calamity befel them. The weather was bad, and whilst endeavouring to enter Macquarie Harbour, the schooner was totally wrecked. Mr. Webster published at Sydney in 1858 an account of this disastrous voyage in a small volume now sufficiently rare, entitled "The Last Cruise of the Wanderer."

After trying his luck for a time as a gold-digger in the newly-discovered goldfields of Australia, he visited the Home Country, and finally returned to New Zealand in 1855, permanently settling on the Hokianga, where

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for many years he was engaged in the timber trade.

Here he married the daughter of Mr. G. F. Russell, one of the oldest settlers on the river. This lady died many years ago, leaving several sons and daughters who are chiefly settled with or near their father.

His hospitable home, filled with the various collections of a long life, has always been the resort of successive governors and of other distinguished people who were attracted to the district. His constant friend and near neighbour was F. E. Maning, author of "Old New Zealand," who was his senior by but seven years.

Such is a slight sketch of Mr. Webster's long and interesting career, and it but remains for his friends to express the sincere hope that some years yet remain before him to be filled with the agreeable retrospect of a well-spent life and the continued respect and admiration of his numerous well-wishers.


Dunedin, July, 1908.

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