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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

Settling Down

Settling Down.

Mr. Horace Fildes, the keen antiquary, tells me the old records show that the emigrant ship Arab, 484 tons, left Gravesend on June 3, 1841, with 208 settlers, most of whom were intended for the Nelson settlement. She arrived at Port Nicholson on October 16, at which time, of course, there was no such place as Nelson. No subsequent mention is made of these settlers, so we must assume that they drifted across the Straits from time to time as occasion offered, after the site of Nelson was chosen, or else they waited for the rest of the people in the Fifeshire and her three companions.

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The Fifeshire's people being the first to arrive had the first call on the limited accommodation available ashore, and when the other ships turned up their passengers had to camp out the best way they could, some of them having to be content with a few sticks supporting a blanket or two. Fortunately the weather was fine, or the travellers might have had a much more disagreeable introduction to colonial life. In a very short while temporary buildings began to dot the site of Nelson town, but owing to the fact that it was fern land and material had to be carried a long way, the work was laborious. Poles were secured from "The Wood," and the plentiful fern growing all about was used for making the walls, until replaced with mud. Roofs were generally thatched with toe-toe, which was supplied by the Maoris in exchange for cast-off clothing. Later there came a time when this discarded wear would have been welcome, for during the "hard times" it was not uncommon to see people in clothes made out of corn-sacks.

But folks who had travelled 12,000 miles in search of a new home were hard to daunt, and the old records tell of many incidents that show how cheerfully they put up with all sorts of discomforts. It was hard on the parents, but the youngsters rather enjoyed the picnic life. All sorts of makeshifts were employed. For instance, Mrs. Cresswell, of Stoke, used to recount how she and her mother built the first oven their house possessed. Getting some flat stones from the river they made a hearth, and borrowing some of the mud the father was using to build the walls of the house, they made the sides of a very rough sort of oven. For the chimney they used a bully-beef tin—one they had saved from the ship they came out on.

At first the native rats were a great nuisance to the Nelsonites on the banks of the Maitai, eating anything even remotely edible, and running all over the sleepers at night. They seemed to thrive on poison and drove out of the house a cat that was brought from Wellington, but when some rat-killing dogs were introduced the rats decamped.

A noticeable feature of the founding of Nelson was the rapidity with which settlement went on. "Within seven months of the arrival of the first immigrant ship," says a writer in the Nelson "Mail" Jubilee Number, "there were 2000 people in the district The New Zealand Company found employment at first for a number of the settlers in making roads and such work till their land should be allotted to them, and before long the settlement began to bear signs of civilisation. The Waimea Plains, spelt "Weimea" in those days, were surveyed by Messrs. Barnicoat and Thompson in 1842. In April of that year practical steps were taken in connection with the Literary and Scientific Institute, and a Benefit Club was also formed. In May Nelson had a gaol and a pair of stocks. On May 25 the first plough was put in the ground, where the Union Bank now stands. Mr. John Kerr operated the plough. Before the settlers could grow anything for themselves the Maoris sold them potatoes and other provisions. Things were sold by the kit, and, as the demand increased, the Maoris decreased the size of the kit. A page 62 list of current prices published in June, 1842, stated:—Mutton, 1/2 per lb; finest beef, 1/ per lb; flour, £21 to £30 per ton; bread, 9d per 21b loaf; milk, 6d per pint; cheese, 1/3 to 1/6 per lb; salt butter, 1/9 per lb; Mauritius sugar, £9 per cwt; refined loaf sugar, 1/ per lb; eggs, 4/ a dozen. The price of ale was 12/ per dozen; and brandy 15/ to 18/ per gallon. Cows were sold at from £20 to £36 a head, and mares from £50 to £60. The ordinary rate of wages was stated to be for mechanics 12/ a day, and for labourers 5/ to 7/."