1852 - Swainson, William. Auckland and its Neighbourhood - CHAPTER IV, p 33-45

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  1852 - Swainson, William. Auckland and its Neighbourhood - CHAPTER IV, p 33-45
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AUCKLAND: Social and Domestic.

THE population of the Borough of Auckland amounts to between seven and eight thousand, of whom about four thousand five hundred occupy the town and its suburbs.

Considering its size, Auckland possesses the elements of a considerable society. The Officers of the Civil Government are themselves a numerous body. Being the head quarters of the Bishoprick of New Zealand and of the Church of Rome, --the centre of the Church Missionary Society's operations in New Zealand, and of the Wesleyan Mission for the South Seas, --Auckland has an advantage over most small colonial communities in the number of its ministers of religion. It is also the head quarters of a Regiment; and has representatives from the Brigade, Commissariat, Artillery, and Engineer Departments. Two battalions of Military Pensioners, enrolled for service in New Zealand, with their officers, are located in the neighbourhood; and a ship of war frequently lies at anchor in the port. A Banking Establishment connected with the Union Bank of Australia has also been established here. The officers and others connected with these various establishments, and their families, with a number of professional and mercantile men, together form materials for a very considerable society. In what may be termed its fashionable phase, the military element predominates.

In many respects, Auckland resembles an English watering-place. Most of the people, for instance, are living in comparatively small and inconvenient houses--many of them being, and feeling themselves to be, but temporary residents in the country. Acquaintances are quickly formed, and frequently suddenly broken by separation. New settlers and others are from time to time arriving. Officers and their families, after being settled for a while, are suddenly sent "on detachment," ordered to "the depot," or go home on leave, and are relieved by strangers. As the naval officers are becoming friends and favourites on the station, their ship is suddenly relieved, and they

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also give place to new faces. As in a watering-place, there is little formal or state visiting; but there is much social intercourse amongst friends, easy, familiar, and without restraint. Although there is no lack of hospitality, there is but little extravagance or vain ostentation; and none of that foolish and expensive rivalry once so ruinously common in our Colonial possessions.

There is, of course, little of the staid formality which characterises the society of an old settled English town. Much more freedom of manner and action; --less uniformity, and more originality. There being few old people--no body of landed gentry, and no old settled families of independent means--no fixed standard of public opinion has yet been established: and society is mainly governed by the good sense and right feeling of its individual members. And, consequently, its usages, if such they may be called, differ considerably-- but, in some respects, by no means disagreeably--from those of an English county or cathedral town.

New comers, especially those who have had no experience of the "tittle-tattle," common, all the world over, in small communities, are struck with the prevalence of "gossip." But finding that it is "neighbour's fare"--that it is no respecter of persons--that its equal pressure in all directions destroys its force--they soon become almost as unconscious of its existence as of the air they breathe.

In one respect, Auckland is happily distinguished from most small colonial communities. Society is not divided by political animosities or religious bickerings. Party spirit is neither violent nor general; and owing to the perfect ventilation afforded by the newspapers, the political atmosphere never becomes surcharged by an accumulation of noxious vapours. In colonies, especially those not having Representative Institutions, a free and independent Press is absolutely essential: and in all our colonies the Press does actually enjoy unbounded freedom of speech; but this very liberty sometimes impairs its real influence; for unchecked freedom of speech tempts to the habitual use of strong language, and what is gained in freedom is lost in weight: for, by constant use, the strongest language is looked upon as but the "common form." Like a piece of music without any piano parts, --pitched throughout on a high key--without modulation--the same air being constantly repeated without variation

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--the tone of the Press in our colonies is sometimes more noisy than effective. In Auckland there are two newspapers, both published twice a week, which afford abundant facilities for those who love to see themselves in print. For real grievances--for wounded vanity--for disappointed ambition--and for injured innocence:--a vacant column is ever ready.

A little more attention to dress, and somewhat more formality of manner, are observable in Auckland than in the other settlements. --The colonial practice of standing idly smoking at the shop doors in broad daylight, and of wearing a bush costume, is more honoured here in the breach than the observance. There is little, in fact, in the dress of the people, to remind a stranger that he is out of England. Black hats and dark cloth coats do not, as in warmer climates, give place to cotton jackets and straw hats. Mouslin-de-laines sometimes do duty for silks and satins; in other respects, ladies dress much the same in Auckland as in England. But, being so far removed from the fountain head, it cannot be surprising if they are now and then, though very unintentionally, a leetle behind the fashion.

In so small a community, much amusement cannot of course be expected. Once a week, during the summer, a Regimental Band plays for a couple of hours on the well-kept lawn in the Government Grounds. With the lovers of music, and with those who are fond of "seeing and being seen," "The Band" is a favorite lounge. Three or four balls in the course of the year--a concert or two--an occasional pic-nic or water party--a visit to the Island of Kawau--a trip to the Waikato, or the Lakes of Roturua-- are among the few amusements which aid in beguiling the lives of the Auckland fashionable world. While dissipation in the milder form of temperance and tea-meetings, school feasts, stitcheries and lectures, suffices for the recreation of the graver portion of the Auckland world. To sportsmen, the place offers few attractions: the Annual Race Meeting is the great event of their year. Of hunting there is none: and wild ducks, pigeons, and curlew, afford but indifferent sport for the gun. Riding, boating, cricket, and bush excursions, are the favorite out-door amusements, Once in the year, nearly the whole of the ball-going portion of the community are brought together at a ball given by the Queen's representative, on the

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anniversary of Her Majesty's birth-day. Invitations are issued to nearly two hundred: each successive Governor taking for his guidance the list of the last preceding reign--making such additions to it as his judgment, taste, or fancy may suggest. As a general rule, strangers are well received, but a false step at starting is not easily recovered; and those who care for social position would do well to provide themselves with a suitable introduction.

A new-comer is immediately recognised. Fresh from the great centre of civilisation, and clad in dress of newest fashion, an air of conscious superiority not unfrequently betrays itself in every look and gesture. But not more surely does a new member find his level in that dread ordeal--the Commons House of Parliament--than a new arrival in this infant capital. In apprehension of character the people are marvellously clear-sighted--quick in detecting it, and just in its appreciation. No one can long pass for what he is not. Mere adventitious advantages, unaccompanied by solid worth, are of small account. Pretension and assumption are quickly seen through, and valued at their worth. Rank, station, fortune, family connection, unless supported by character, ability, public spirit or liberality, receive but small respect: while ready homage is always paid to real merit. The new-arrival, if not distinguished by some useful or agreeable quality, soon finds his level in a modest insignificance. Many who, on landing, move confidently on, with buoyant step and lofty mien, may soon be seen passing modestly along, undistinguished from the common crowd.

Almost the only serious drawback to New Zealand as a place of residence for ladies is the difficulty of finding and keeping good servants--a difficulty by no means greater in New Zealand probably than in other colonies; but not the less felt on that account. The families of the Pensioners have not supplied the demand in the manner and to the extent that was anticipated. And those of the "needle-women" who have proved to be a valuable addition to the community, were too few in number to supply the demand. Good servants, too, brought out from England cannot, of course, be expected long to remain single: and even if they do make promise of perpetual celibacy, they cannot, of course, be expected to observe it. Small girls are the main resource of housekeepers; and a constant succession of them are continually in a course of training; the temper,

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time, and patience expended in the process are not, however, entirely thrown away; for though they may not turn their teaching to account as the staid domestic servant of the settler, they are doubtless better qualified to become true "help-meets" to the "rising generation:" but few are patriotic enough to derive much comfort from this somewhat "bird's-eye" view of the question.

Almost everything necessary to comfort and convenience may now be procured in Auckland; but not always of the best quality. Although cheaper than Wellington, Auckland is by no means a cheap place of residence; certainly not more so than an English town of the same size. House-rent and servants' wages are at least double what they are in England. But there are no taxes, rates, or dues of any kind. Clothing of all kinds is also, of course, dearer in New Zealand than in England. But wine, spirits, and groceries are, for the most part, cheaper. Bread and butchers' meat are about the same. The fish caught near Auckland, although of but moderate quality, is plentiful and cheap. Vegetables are also abundant: during the summer of 1852 there were brought to market by the natives, in canoes alone, upwards of eleven hundred kits of onions, (about 20 tons); upwards of four thousand kits of potatoes (more than 100 tons); besides corn, cabbages, and kumeras. Peaches, grown by the natives, and sufficiently good for culinary purposes, are very abundant and cheap. During the present summer upwards of twelve hundred kits were brought into Auckland by canoes alone. Those who cultivate a garden are well supplied with peaches, strawberries, apples, figs, and melons; while plums, pears, gooseberries, and cherries are by no means uncommon, although less abundant than the former.

To those who live in the bush, or at a distance from the town, and who are independent of hired labour, the cost of living in the Northern part of New Zealand is very cheap. A tolerable house can be built of raupo at a cost of about ten pounds. Pigs can be purchased from the natives for less than twopence a pound. Poultry, and turkies in particular, thrive better than in England, and almost find themselves: and wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, &c., can be easily raised, or can be purchased for a trifle from the natives. And, for life in the bush, the most inexpensive clothing is sufficient.

It is no inconsiderable compensation for some of the minor drawbacks

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of a colonial life to those who reside in New Zealand, to feel that they are not surrounded by a population suffering from want or the privation of the necessaries of life. As far as mere food is concerned, the whole European community may he said to live well. Those who have not, or who could not have animal food twice a day would think themselves ill off. A beggar would be looked upon as a curiosity: and those who may be reduced to distress by an accident or sudden bereavement, always meet with the ready and effectual sympathy of their friends and neighbours. And indeed it may with truth be said of the people of Auckland and its neighbourhood that they are ever ready, according to their means, to aid in works of charity and benevolence.

Strange as it may seem, both person and property are more secure in this once dreaded land than in civilized England; for, with the exception of petty pilfering, crime is rare. Fearing, probably, a collision between the colonists and the natives, the founders of some of the more recent Settlements have planted them far away to the southward, and as distant as possible from the native peopled districts. But a different feeling prevails among the Northern colonists: the people of Auckland and its neighbourhood were for several years almost entirely supplied by the natives with animal food, fish, potatoes, corn, and firewood; and, to a considerable extent, with labour. The natives have also been extensive purchasers of horses, flour mills, and coasting craft: large consumers of imported goods--and, by means of their labour, they have also largely augmented the exports of the North. In the absence of the natives but little flax and not a single kauri spar would be exported from New Zealand. Their territorial rights as owners of the soil, too, have always been scrupulously recognised and respected by the settlers in the district; and each party, from the first, has seen the advantage to be derived from the presence of the other; and friendly relations have uniformly been maintained between them. Good-humoured, ever ready to enjoy a joke and a laugh, and always appearing self-satisfied and contented, their presence does much to give life to the Northern District of New Zealand.

In a small community so far removed from the bustle of the world there cannot, of course, be many events of general interest; the consequence is, that a general impression prevails that time passes quickly.

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In earlier times, doubtless, when the settlers met to train to arms --when the Churches were loopholed--when Pahs were assaulted, and English Settlements were swept away--there were incidents enough of stirring interest. But happily now all that is changed, and the incident of most general interest is the arrival of an "English Mail." The whole community, from the Governor downwards, are on the alert at the prospect of receiving intelligence from England. Houses commanding a view of the Flag-staff are considered to have a decided advantage for the prospect. Some there are of whom it is scarcely too much to say that they keep a constant watch upon the telegraph; and not a few who, morning, noon, and night, turn a keen eye in the same direction. Hour after hour, and sometimes day after day, "that observed of all observers" will "make no sign," but continue to maintain an attitude of provoking and imperturbable composure. Suddenly, however, a "Ball" appears on one of its outstretched arms signifying a "sail in sight," but what may be her rig cannot yet be made out by the signal-man. And now commences speculation. "It may be the William Hyde, from London. She is a fast sailer; and if she sailed at the time appointed, she has been out a hundred days. She will bring us late news." Or, "perhaps it is the Moa, from Sydney: if so, she may bring an English Mail." In the course of an hour, the range of speculation is narrowed. A flag appears at the eastern yard-arm, indicating the coming vessel to be a brig: so it cannot be the William Hyde, for she is a barque. The sanguine expectation of letters direct from England is now considerably abated. But to the initiated--a favored few--the Oracle now speaks plainly. A stream of flags adorns the telegraph, and indicates the "Number"--of the "coming" brig. Those who possess a copy of Marryat's Signals are eagerly consulted, and speedily it is announced to be the brig John Wesley, direct from England. A few minutes after she has dropped her anchor, a boat comes on shore: a number of bags are seen to be landed, and it soon becomes known throughout the town that she has brought "a large English Mail." And now comes a trial of patience.

A large mail is rarely delivered within less than four hours after its arrival. The usual hour for closing the Post Office is four o'clock: it is now two o'clock. Will the letters be delivered to-day? A notice makes its appearance on the door of the Post Office that there will be no delivery until to-morrow morning, at ten o'clock. To-morrow morning comes, and, long before the appointed hour, men,

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women, and children, and people of every degree, begin to collect around the letter-box door, and when the delivery commences there is a rush, a squeeze, and a struggle, like the rush at the pit-door of a theatre on the performance of a new and popular play. It sometimes happens that English letters arrive with less note of eager expectation: by the overland mail, perhaps, from the South: or it may be by some small coaster by way of Manukau; but be it as it may, the arrival of an "English Mail" is an event of lively, never-failing interest. Let those who are accustomed to penny-postage and hourly deliveries, imagine, if they can, the non-delivery of letters for a period of three weeks--they may then form some idea of the eagerness with which letters from England are received by the dwellers in this distant quarter of the world,

To receive English letters on an average about once only in three weeks--letters which, under the most favourable circumstances, are at least four months old--is generally complained of as one of the most serious drawbacks to a residence at so great a distance from home. Bad as it is, however, the evil would be tolerable compared with the aggravation of it to which the public here are subjected in consequence of the ignorance of the Post Office authorities in England of the topography of New Zealand, and of the unfrequent and irregular means of intercommunication between its several Settlements. Instead of sending all Auckland letters either by vessels direct to this port or by way of Sydney, mails for Auckland are not unfrequently despatched by vessels bound for Canterbury, or Nelson, or Wellington, the consequence is that letters and newspapers frequently arrive here six, seven, eight, and nine months old. In the mean while, later dates have been received direct, and the newspapers when they do arrive are put aside unread, having become but records of old news; and private letters are deprived of nearly all their interest. Upon inquiry into the cause of the delay, it is found that the letters in question were sent by a ship bound for Canterbury; that they remained in the Post Office there for a fortnight, waiting an opportunity for Wellington; that after a voyage of several days, they reached Wellington; that after there waiting for the next opportunity to be forwarded, they were despatched in about ten days by the overland mail--and that after an overland journey of a month, they reached Auckland six or eight months after date.

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It would do the Auckland public an essential service to bring the following facts under the notice of the Postmaster-General:-- That about once in six weeks a vessel is despatched from London to Auckland direct--average voyage four months. That on an average one vessel a fortnight arrives here from Sydney--and that English letters by this route are less than five months old. But that if letters for Auckland be sent by a ship to Wellington they would be nearer six than five months old on their arrival here--and for this reason: By sea, there is not an opportunity of forwarding mails from Wellington to Auckland once in three months; and the overland mail is despatched but once a fortnight; and occupies a month to make the journey. To send Auckland letters by a vessel bound for Nelson or Canterbury would still further retard their delivery by at least a fortnight. It should be a rule, then, at the Post Office Department in England, on no occasion to forward letters addressed to Auckland except by vessels bound direct for Auckland or by way of Sydney. The observance of this rule would cost the Department nothing, and would relieve the community here from a serious grievance--the more annoying because it is known to be neither necessary nor irremediable --and naturally irritating, because it appears to originate in the ignorance, negligence, or indifference of a Department distinguished by the attention, vigilance, and despatch with which, in England, its business is conducted. If some such rule be not adopted by the Post Office authorities, every one who would have his letters reach their destination before they are six months old, ought to take the rule for his own guidance, and direct them to be sent by the first vessel bound direct for Auckland; or if no vessel be about to sail for Auckland direct, then direct them to be forwarded "via Sydney."

The arrival of "a box from England" is an event which creates still more lively and exciting pleasure; but it is an event of rare occurrence, and confined in its interest comparatively to a few. The degree of pleasure enjoyed by the receiver of "the box" may be imagined when it is known that it is quite worth while to be but present at the opening of a box received by another, for the sake of the reflected pleasure to be enjoyed from witnessing the animated delight of the happy recipient, as she draws out, and unfolds to view, one by one, its various contents. Let those who have a fair friend in New Zealand, whose exile they would cheer by some-

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thing more than a momentary pleasure, try the experiment by sending her a Box, and they shall not be disappointed. What shall be its contents must depend upon the taste of the absent friend for whom it is intended--A little new music, good drawing pencils and paper, boots and shoes, of good quality, well made, and of fitting shape, ditto gloves, the "book of the season," novel, travels, or biography, &c., according to taste. A piece of crochet-work of the last new pattern, the last new paletot or a chambord cloak, of the newest style, a Talbottype miniature, an assortment of wools, and a ball-dress of colour and material, suited to the figure and complexion of the intended wearer. These, and a few nic-nacs to fill up the box, will secure for the gift a ready acceptance, and for the giver a grateful remembrance. There would be no objection to its being known in the neighbourhood that "a Box" was about to be made up, in order that friends and neighbours might have an opportunity of contributing their mite. But no letters should be admitted. Sent by post, letters will be received within a few hours after the arrival of the ship; but it sent in a box, they will probably remain for a week at least in the vessel before they shall have been disinterred from the depths of her hold.

But perhaps no picture of the business and amusements of a people can be given so faithful and lifelike as may be gathered from the pages of their local newspapers. Take as an illustration the New Zealander, for Wednesday, the 21st of January, 1852. The New Zealander is published at Auckland, twice a-week; the number referred to, chronicles the sayings and doings of the Auckland public for the four preceding days. The Shipping Intelligence informs us that, during that time ten small coasting vessels had arrived from the neighbouring ports, with their various cargoes of pork, apples, onions, pigs, peaches, maize, flax, and firewood. That on the 15th there were at Monganui twenty-seven whalers, chiefly American. That H. M. S. Calliope had arrived at that port, and sailed again for Wellington. That H. M. brigantine Pandora and schooner Bramble, had also touched at Monganui. The Governor Wynyard steamer is advertised to sail between Auckland and Otahuhu (on the Tamaki). Another advertisement informs the public that "this new steamer is open for engagement for excursions, pic-nics, &c., on reasonable terms." The brig Emma is advertised to sail for Sydney, the schooner

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Julia, for Canterbury, the clipper schooner Cicely, for Taranaki, and the Baltimore clipper schooner Falmouth, for San Francisco. The Master of the "Auckland Academy" intimates that his Academy will be re-opened on Monday next. "Branches taught--English Reading and Grammar, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, Mathematics, Latin, Greek, &c." The public are also informed that the Grammar-school, Victoria Cottage, will also re-open on Monday, January 26th. Tenders for the annual army contracts are called for by the Commissariat Office; and under the head of "Onions" we are informed that "the undersigned are purchasers of Onions in quantities of one ton and upwards." The announcement of £100 reward next attracts the eye. Under this title we find that "£100 has been subscribed as a Reward to any one who shall first discover an available Gold Field in the Province of New Ulster (New Zealand)." A column and a half is occupied with a list of books to be sold by Auction. And an advertiser makes it known that "25 Tons good potatoes are wanted by Saturday next." A goodly portion of space is taken up with a report of the proceedings of the Auckland Municipal Council-- of motions made and withdrawn, amendments proposed, reports presented, and of matters referred to select committees. So much for business. Now, for amusement. Under the title of "Cricket," we find that the concluding and decisive match was played on Friday, when the Aucklanders proved victorious over the Military; "The Auckland Club winning with three wickets to go down." "The band of the 66th Regiment will perform in the grounds in front of the old Government House, to-morrow (Thursday) afternoon, from four till six o'clock," is the next announcement. Then follows the "Programme," containing a selection from the music of Donizetti, Strauss, Jullien, Balfe, &c. The sporting world are informed that "Mr. J. Codlin's bay gelding Jack is open to run any horse, mare, or gelding in the country, &c., for £100 aside;" and the "Auckland Regatta" is announced to take place on Thursday, the 29th. Eleven prizes are offered to be contested for by boats of every description, of shapes, names, and size. "For small Canoes, not to be manned by more than twelve natives," and for "Canoes manned by an unlimited number of natives." The literary world too makes sign of life--"Now published, price one shilling, Two Lectures on the Aborigines of New Zealand, &c.," and "Just published, price one shilling, WHY AND BECAUSE, an essay on the strange infatuation

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that stimulates individuals to the practice of Intemperance." Nor are the wants of the epicure overlooked: various advertisements inform him where Burgundy, Claret, Champagne, White Hermitage, Hock and Moselle, Yarmouth. Bloaters, Kippered Salmon, Pickled Oysters, Hare Soup, &c., can be procured at a moment's notice. Of some forty other advertisements one may be cited for the purpose of piquing the reader's curiosity--"On sale, Three bales of Gunny Bags!" The editorial column is occupied with the great event of the preceding day, --"The launching, and now the actual plying," says the Editor, "upon our waters, of a steam vessel, in all its parts constructed by the skill and industry of Auckland artificers, as well as owned by Auckland proprietors, 1 may without exaggeration be regarded, as an event in the history of our settlement and colony." We are then told that the ceremony of naming was performed in the usual manner by the Mayor; that after receiving the name of The Governor Wynyard, she proceeded on her trip, gallantly buffetting wind and waves, and that all things considered, this, her first excursion, passed off in as satisfactory a manner as could have been anticipated. Thus, from the pages of a single newspaper, is to be gathered a picture of the business, occupations, and amusements of the community more truthful and lifelike than could in any other manner have been pourtrayed for the benefit of the distant spectator.

Such, then, "little extenuating, and setting down nought in malice," is a faithful picture of Auckland, social, and domestic. To the frequenters of Almack's, the Opera, Ascot, and the Highlands, it will probably appear surprising that people can be found capable of surviving a lengthened residence in this half-barbarous distant land. But on the other hand, it may be doubted whether those who have been accustomed to the easy freedom of society in New Zealand, would gain much addition to their enjoyment, by exchanging it for the chilling atmosphere, and the stiff, cold, formal usages of English fashionable life. For fine ladies, whose happiness depends on the luxuries, refinements, and thousand trifles which are thought essential in highly civilised life, and to the mere idle man of pleasure, without occupation

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and without an object, a small community in a newly settled country, can have no attractions; but those who are occupied with the ordinary business of life make no complaint of the dullness of existence; while those who are advancing the outposts, and acting as the pioneers of civilisation, those who are gallantly leading the all but forlorn hope of preserving and maintaining an aboriginal native race, and those who are actively engaged, whether in Church o State, in laying the foundations, and rough-hewing the Institutions of a future Empire, instead of lamenting that their lot has been cast in the stony places of a dark and distant land, appear rather, in its very remoteness, in the depth of its darkness, and in the rugged character of the country and its people, to find in New Zealand its principal charm.

1   It ought to be recorded, to the credit of their enterprising spirit, that Messrs. STONE, GARDINER, and LANGFORD, of Auckland, were the projectors, builders, and owners of the first Steam Vessel that was launched on the waters of New Zealand.

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