1888 - Duncan, A. H. The Wakatipians [Capper reprint] - CHAPTER I, p 1-8

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  1888 - Duncan, A. H. The Wakatipians [Capper reprint] - CHAPTER I, p 1-8
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First Sight of New Zealand--Dunedin--Up--Country--Travelling with Sheep.

SCARCELY a ripple stirred the waters of the harbour of Port Lyttleton as, on the 16th of March 1860, the good ship "Clontarf" lay off the heads waiting for the pilot to come on board.

Leaning over the stern of the vessel, I gazed upon the features of this new land which I had adopted, and, after 107 days of ocean surroundings, I was fain to regard the strange country with feelings of pleasure, indeed I can still recall the desire which stirred within me to get ashore and to roll on

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the verdant turf, which looked so fresh and lovely after the long voyage--a feeling which I have heard expressed by others who have been for months at sea, deprived of the sight of trees, and grass, and flowers.

A boat put off from the pilot station at last, and, manned by a Maori crew, it seemed to skim over the smooth surface as easily as did the many gulls and sea-fowl which were flying around shrieking their plaintive cries, and quarrelling over any stray morsel that was dropped overboard.

On the quarter-deck and on the forecastle groups of steerage passengers were standing by the bulwarks or hanging on to the rattlings, expressing their opinions on the appearance of the land; and I saw a good many tears shed, as some of them doubtless remembered that they would soon have to part from the good ship which had been their home for so long. Not that the voyage had been one of unalloyed bliss, unmarred by any melancholy event--death had thinned our ranks considerably, thirty-six of our number having been taken away, a circumstance which gained for the "Clontarf" the questionable honour of being mentioned in future New Zealand almanacs, the death rate during the voyage having beaten all previous records.

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Canterbury was not my destination however, so, after waiting for two months, I availed myself of the chance of going on to Otago in a small brig called the "Fanny A. Garrigues," and, after a voyage of five days, we cast anchor in the lovely harbour of Port Chalmers.

Along with two of my shipmates, I walked up to Dunedin along a track cut through the bush, which, however, so far from resembling a road, was a veritable "slough of despond," therefore were we glad when we reached Dunedin, and found that comfortable lodgings could be obtained, in spite of the somewhat unprepossessing appearance of the houses, for in the year 1860 Dunedin was but a small place of a few hundred inhabitants, and the streets were more like muddy swamps than anything else, and to that the city owed the name of Mud-Edin, by which we were wont to call it in these days.

Among other letters of introduction in my possession, I had one to Mr William Gilbert Rees, who had just returned to Dunedin from prospecting for country likely to be suitable for squatting purposes. During his explorations into the interior of Otago, when he was accompanied by a friend, Mr Von Tunzelmann, they succeeded in reaching what at

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that time was a terra incognita, the Wakatipu Lake, and on its shores they found country such as they were in search of, and where they ultimately settled down.

Mr Rees' description of the lake scenery, and the wild life which would be the portion of those who first squatted there, fired with me a desire to make one of the party, so I arranged to join him as a cadet, and under him to gain experience of sheep farming at a cost of ten shillings a week and the "run of my teeth."

About 3000 sheep had been sent over from Australia on account of Mr Rees and his partners, Mr Gammie and Colonel Grant, and, until country was secured to graze them on, the use of the Coal Creek Station, in Shag Valley, had been granted to Mr Rees by the proprietor, Mr Jones, better known as Johnnie Jones, probably the wealthiest man at that time in the colony.

To Coal Creek I was sent, along with George Simpson, who had been a fellow-voyager with me, and there we found several other cadets, some of whom, like ourselves, were there to gain experience, but others, having passed that stage, were now in receipt of a salary.

For some months we resided at Coal Creek, on

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the wintry side of the Kakanui mountains, but as soon as shearing was over, preparations were made for starting to our new home on the shore of the Wakatipu Lake.

Previous to this, however, along with Mr Rees' brother-in-law, John Gilbert, I had gone to the Waitaki district for a mob of sheep, which I had purchased in shares with Mr Rees and his partners, and which I was to have the privilege of grazing, on certain terms, on their station. These sheep were guaranteed not to be in lamb by the seller, Mr Filleul, but as to the correctness of his guarantee I will have to allude later on.

This was my first experience of travelling with stock, and it was of a sufficiently rough nature to give me a good idea of what lay before me in the life which I had chosen. Leaving the Waitaki we brought the sheep past where Oamaru now stands--at that time, however, the city consisted of a shepherd's hut only--when we reached the Otepopo river we struck off the road, and heading South West, prepared to cross the Kakanui range, Gilbert having conceived the idea that he knew of a short cut that way which would enable us to reach Coal Creek in a marvellously short space of time.

We were provided with a piece of salt beef, and

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tea and sugar, but did not lay in a supply of bread, Gilbert having hinted that it would be merely encumbering ourselves unnecessarily as we would probably reach home that night, so confident was he of the shortness of the route which we had adopted. Alas! however, for these prognostications. Towards nightfall we descried a shepherd's hut, and headed the sheep in that direction. The man living there was very kind indeed, insisting on our staying the night, and his wife not only made us far more comfortable than we were accustomed to be, but pressed us to accept a pound of fresh butter to carry away with us next morning. Her husband also accompanied us for some distance on our way, and then left us in a deluge of rain.

All day we toiled on over rough and rocky ground, drenched to the skin with the heavy rain, and unable to see any distance owing to the thick mist which had settled down on the ranges. At last, when it was quite dark, we managed to put the sheep across a stream and on to a spur of the hill beyond, and there we left them to look after themselves.

Having tethered our horses to two huge boulders, we splashed about through the rain and wet grass, trying to find, in the dark, a place

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sufficiently level to spread out our blankets. Presently, I called out to Gilbert that I had discovered a nice hollow that would do, and, rolling our blankets around us, we lay down together, after having partaken of a slice of beef spread with the fresh butter, for it was useless to attempt to light a fire wherewith to boil the "billy," as our clothes and matches were simply soaking with the rain.

We spent a miserable night, and when daylight broke discovered that the nice soft hollow which we had so cheerfully utilized as a camping ground was nothing else than where a wild pig had been digging up fern roots. We found the sheep at the top of the hill opposite our camping ground, and the rain having ceased and the mist having lifted, we were able to guide ourselves better than on the previous day, and succeeded in reaching Coal Creek that afternoon. So rough had the road been, and so trying to our dogs, that Gilbert's collie had refused to work on the last day of our journey, and my one had his feet so badly cut with the sharp stones that when we arrived at the house he at once betook himself to his own quarters, and did not attempt to go to work again for a fortnight.

Now that the time was close at hand for us to start for the Wakatipu, some of those who had been

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keen for taking part in the expedition began to hesitate, and, finding this to be the case, Mr Rees very wisely determined to have a distinct understanding with those who intended to go, and to pay off at once those who were inclined to waver. For my own part, when it came to my turn to speak to him in his office--which was made of half a dozen packed wool bales built one on top of the other, inside the shed, so as to shelter him and his books and papers from the wind--I found things going far more comfortably with me than I had anticipated, for, when I came to settle up for my board and the various goods I had got out of the station store, such as hob-nailed boots, moleskin trousers, &c., Mr Rees very generously waived all claims to the ten shillings a week which I had arranged to pay as board, as he said I had more than earned it by the work I had been doing, and added that if I would make one of the expedition he would give me one pound a week to begin with. I need hardly say that I consented, and left his office well satisfied with myself.

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