Old Manawatu, or The Wild Days of the West
Chapter V. — The Early Days.…
The Early Days.
Look now abroad—another race has filled
These populous borders—wide the wood recedes,
And towns shoot up, and fertile realms are tilled;
The land is full of harvest and green meads;
Streams numberless, that many a fountain feeds,
Shine, disembowered, and give to sun and breeze,
Their virgin waters; the full region leads
New colonies forth, that toward the western seas
Spread, like a rapid flame, among the autumnal trees.
Although the natives were far from satisfied with the decisions of the Native Land Court referred to in the previous chapter, the manner in which the vast majority of them accepted the situation is a wonderful tribute to their law-abiding spirit. Here and there friction seemed imminent, and at one time it was feared that the provisions of the Disturbed Districts Act would have to be enforced, but beyond the arrest of a chief name Miritana and two of his followers, for refusing to allow the surveys to proceed, and the slaughter of some four hundred sheep page 281belonging to a settler—Mr. Gotty—nothing of any serious moment occurred to jeopardise the peaceful settlement of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block. This was further facilitated by the satisfactory apportionment of the impounded rents (amounting to £4699) amongst the contending tribes. Having failed to arrive at a mutual understanding amongst themselves, they appealed to Dr. Featherston to make such a division as to him seemed fair, pledging themselves severally to abide by his award. After an hour's consideration, the Superintendent decided that the three Ngatiraukawa haþus were entitled to £1600, the Rangitane tribe to £550,* and the Ngatiapa tribe to £2545.
* When Ngatiapa received the £15,000 as their share of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block purchase money, they agreed to satisfy the Rangitane claims; but they did not do so, and £300 of the amount given to Rangitane out of the rents was to recoup them for what they ought to have received out of the purchase money.
* A further supply of arms and ammunition was afterwards brought from Whanganui by Major Edwards and Mr John Kebbell.
The site for this fortification was chosen by Captain Jordan, a gentleman of some military experience, and the position selected was a ridge of sand overlooking the river and contiguous to the Rev. J. Duncan's house. On this hillock an army of willing workers laboured with spades and shovels digging and trenching, while others toiled away in the bush cutting white pine saplings, which were then brought to the scene of operations and set up as the pallisading of the fort, enclosing an area of comparatively small dimensions. This work naturally occupied several days, during which time the whole attention of the settlers had been absorbed in its completion. In fact, so engrossed had they been, that it had never occurred to them to enquire as to the whereabouts of the assailing force; but when the work was finished and they had time to look around them, they realised that the hostile natives had not arrived, nor were they yet in view. A few days longer, and they began to feel that perhaps the natives were not coming at all, and in the meantime page 285the women and children were not removed to the redoubt. When a week had passed, and there was still no sign of the enemy, the opinion began to gain ground that the settlers had been terrified by a false alarm.*
With the gradual restoration of confidence, the possibilities of the situation became much clearer to the less-agitated minds, and it was then seen that had the worst happened, their fortification would have been of but little value to them, for the Maoris needed only to surround it, and wait patiently for thirst to compel the surrender which their fusillades might not have induced. Whatever strategical advantages the position enjoyed, like the great þa which Titokowaru built and abandoned at Turangaika, it lacked the essential of a good water supply, and what was more, there was no possibility of getting water into it, except such moisture as might be extracted from a sand-hill. Fortunately the need to seek its protection did not occur, and as the fear of an attack died away, the settlers one by one began to return to their homes, which in every instance they found unharmed, and as they left them.
* The Rev. Mr. Duncan returned to Foxton from the Rangitikei while the work was in progress, and although he assured the people that there was no sign of a rising in the north they insisted upon going on with the redoubt.
* The meaning of the word Oroua is now completely obscure. It does not come into the nomenclature of Hau, as that tohunga only travelled along the coast, but it probably derives its origin in Maori mythology. The river was called by the surveyors of the New Zealand Company, the "Styx," but this name has never received popular acceptance, and is never heard of in the present day.
* The meaning now ascribed to this name by the Rangitane natives is reminiscent of the time when they were conquering the country. According to them þaþai implies exceedingly good; oea, signifies the beauty which comes upon the water after the dead bodies of the enemy had been soaked in it. Thus it would appear to have been a custom with the Rangitane people to immerse the bodies of their victims in a pond before placing them in the whata, or storehouse, to make them, þaþai, or tender to the tooth, which operation had the effect of lending a halo, or luminous beauty to the water, and as this was a place where the dipping of bodies was practiced it became þaþai-oea.
So soon as the survey of the Ahuaturanga Block — in which the Papaioea flat was situated—was completed, in 1866-67, the sections were thrown open for selection, and were sold at the old Land Office, in Sydney Street, Wellington, the areas of the sections ranging from three acres up to 150, and in one instance even up to 334.*
* Many of these sections were purchased with Volunteer script,
† For all corner sections of 1/4-acre each, on the Square, in Palmerston, the upset price was placed at £50 and £52, and others on the Square at £20 and £30. For ½-acre in Main and Broad streets, the upset price was £10.
D. Rowland, M. Hamilton, R. Reardon, E. Reardon, M. Cullin, G. Mends, L. G. West, H. West, D. Monrad, John Munro, J. Sly, P. Stewart, W. Watson, G. T. McEwen, D. McEwen, H. McEwen, T. McEwen, A. McEwen, G. Brenner, J. Marshall, R. Stanley.
H. Engels, C. Shute, A. Coborough.
J. T. Dalrymple.
G. Richard (senr.), W. Waugh, A. Grammer, W. Cummings.
* This census was taken by Mr. David McEwen.
Amongst those who had purchased a home in the Manawatu at the first land sale was Mr. David McEwen, who had been a settler at the Hutt and for some time a member of the Provincial Council. His section was in the Karere district, and with characteristic energy he at once began the subjugation of the wilderness by felling a small patch of bush, and so making the first clearing between Oroua and Papaioea. Soon, however, other settlers followed his example, and then the need for proper lines of communication between the various homesteads became more and more apparent.
* Immediately after the Rangitikei Line was cut, an enormous growth of thistles sprang up in the roadway. The appearance of thistles is by no means an uncommon occurrence on newly-opened land in New Zealand, but in this case the crop was so phenomenal that it was with difficulty horsemen could force their way through it.
This latter fact, combined with the general discomfort of an insufficient larder, determined Mr. McEwen to be self-reliant at least as far as breadstuff's were concerned. He thereupon decided to put some of his land in wheat, and his labours were blessed with an excellent crop. But the corn having been reaped and stored, there yet remained the important process of grinding, and, as there was, of course, no mill in the district, this involved the additional enterprise of importing one. Accordingly a levy was made upon the resources of Wellington, and a steel mill, driven by hand power, was purchased, and by this humble machine the flour for his own page 292and the neighbouring families was ground until the larger and more modern mill was built at Palmerston by Messrs. Richter and Nannestad.
Reference has already been made to the restricted nature of the people's employments, which, apart from the cultivation of their small plots of land and the rearing of a few cattle, was practically confined to the sawing and selling of timber, which grew in luxuriance on every hand. This latter became a matter not only of profit but of necessity, for the clearing of the land involved the sacrifice of the bush, and the first settler who began its preparation for market in a systematic way was Mr. David Watson, who held a section of several hundred acres at Longburn,* and whose house was the earliest there built. His method, however, was the old-fashioned pit-sawing, which was both slow and laborious, and it was left to Mr. Peter Manson to employ the steam mill, which he introduced in 1871, somewhere near the spot where now stands the railway engine sheds, and which he worked for many years to the mutual advantage of himself and the district.
* This place is supposed to have derived its name from a particularly long burn which took place there when the bush was being cleared.
* This timber was cut on the site of the Princess Hotel.
* The precise origin of this term, which is now applied to a bend in the road near the Oroua Bridge, is involved in some doubt, many people believing that it is simply a short and easy way of pronouncing the native name Ngawhakarau, just as "Jackeytown" has been substituted for Tiakitahuna. I am, however, informed on very good authority, that it arose when the road was being made, from the fact that a black cook, who ran a sort of eating house for the men employed on the work, charged half-a-crown for every meal.—Author,
* As an evidence of the shortness of the Provincial funds at this period, it may be stated that the men who were engaged on the formation of the roads were compelled to accept land in payment of their wages.
† This structure was covered with corrugated iron, and it stood on the section now occupied by Msssrs O'Connor and Tydeman, and G. H. Scott. The materials of which it was built were afterwards employed in the construction of the first Royal Hotel.
* The first white woman to reside in Palmerston was Mrs. Cole, wife of the landlord of the Palmerston Hotel. Mrs. Linton was the second, and her eldest daughter was the first white child. When Mrs. Snelson arrived she landed from a Maori canoe at Hokowhitu, the journey up the river having occupied three days.
† In the same year Lady Bowen's Light Horse was raised. First officers: Captain, Albert Nicholson; Lieutenant, E. Beetham; Cornet, William Evans.
* On one occasion when Major Kemp was being examined before a Royal Commission, he was twitted by one of the opposing lawyers with having been a post boy; whereupon the chief retaliated by saying that he had carried the mails at a time when the lawyer, and the likes of him, would have been afraid to do so.
† As illustrating the paucity of settlers at this time Mr L. G. West relates that the first day he carried the mail there were only thirteen settlers living in the vicinity of Palmerston North.
* Under the arrangement entered into with Mr. Fox, Mr. McEwen, senr., became postmaster at Karere, and Mr. G. M. Snelson subsequently held a similar position at Palmerston. Mr. McEwen continued to act for no less a period than fourteen years, and only relinquished office when the Manawatu Company's Railway came through, for then it was found inconvenient to have the Post Office so far away from the railway terminus, and consequently it was removed to Longburn.
* The piece of road from Foxton to the sea beach was so rough that it was known as the "Bay of Biscay."
To the industries of the district flaxdressing on an extensive scale had now been added, for there were several mills in and around Foxton, one of which kept no less than six strippers at work. The systematic manufacture of what otherwise would have been a waste product of the land not only attracted population by offering a profitable field for labour, but it also meant a valuable increase in the wealth produced. This aspect of the question had not failed to attract the attention of the Provincial authorities, and some estimate may be formed of the value which they set upon it, and of the condition of affairs in the province generally, from the fact that the Provincial Treasurer declared in a speech to the Council that the Manawatu was "the only stay of Wellington."
Up to this period there had been scarcely any political history in the Manawatu, and certainly no political excitement. Provincially it had not possessed sufficient population to claim a special representative, and in colonial politics it had ranked as one of the country districts of Wellington represented by Mr. Brandon. But in the year 1870 its inhabitants had increased to about eight hundred page 302souls, and its growing importance entitled it to some greater consideration. Accordingly a new district called Manawatu was created, for both the Provincial Council and House of Representatives. The honour of being its first representative in the former was conferred upon Mr. E. S. Thynne, and in the election for the latter, Mr. Walter Johnston was successful against Messrs. Thynne and William Osborne, his opponents.
In the year 1871 the district received a considerable augmentation to its population as the outcome of a scheme which originated with Dr. Featherston. This was the introduction of a number of Scandinavian families who had been selected by Bishop Monrad, a former resident of the district. The presence of this gentleman in the colony, and more particularly in the wilds of the Manawatu, is only another exemplification of the singular mixture of characters to be met with amongst the pioneers of New Zealand. Prior to his arrival in this Ultima Thule, Bishop Monrad had been a man of European, if not of worldwide reputation. "Mind was stamped upon his brow" is the description given of him by one who saw him here, and the strong intellectual power which was so apparent in his later years was not less manifest in his younger days. Born at Copenhagen, in 1811, he was trained under the guidance of his page 303uncle, who humoured his natural bent for study, and gave him the fullest opportunity of developing his unusually active mind. A brilliant college course marked the beginning of a great career, which may be said to have fairly commenced, when at the age of twentyeight he threw himself with all the ardour of youth into the politics of his native land. At that time the question of demanding a constitution from the new King was the one topic which agitated the Danish mind, and young Monrad's speeches and letters in favour of the movement brought him no little fame amongst the people, and a considerable amount of persecution from the authorities. Still he persevered, writing and lecturing in all parts of Denmark, till 1848, when King Christian VIII. died, and Frederick VII. ascended the throne. Then the Liberal cause triumphed, and Monrad took up his rightful position as one of the first Ministers under the new form of Government. In the following year he was created Bishop of Laaland and Falster, and being a strong man in both Church and State he increased his power with every year, until he was called to the Premiership upon the resignation of the Hall Ministry, of which he had been a member. Some conception of his influence may be formed from the fact that his Ministry page 304was jocularly compared to the sum of 1,000,000, with the Bishop as the figure one and the remaining members of his Cabinet as the six noughts. As the advocate of Liberal principles and the promoter of judicious reform, Bishop Monrad enjoyed considerable popularity for a time, but with him, as with all strong men in the realm of politics, the tide of public opinion—hitherto flowing— began to ebb. His party was overthrown, and the erstwhile Premier, either from compulsion or choice, sought relief in exile in New Zealand. What attraction this colony had for him is unknown—perhaps its name had some charm, perhaps its constitution was the magnet. Howbeit, he refrained from entering our field of politics, and devoted his leisure to his favourite intellectual employment, the translation of the Bible into Oriental languages. In course of time, however, the fortune of political warfare turned again in favour of his party, and he returned to Denmark in 1868, commissioned by Dr. Featherston to select from amongst his countrymen a number of families who, in his opinion, would make suitable settlers, and who would care to exchange the settled conditions at Home for the possibilities of a colonial life.
The first batch of these strangers, to the number of about one hundred and twenty souls, arrived in Wellington early in 1871 by the ship "Hooden." Their coming was openly resented by the labourers of the city, who made a hostile demonstration to prevent them landing, but the Danish Consul, Mr Toxward, boarded the vessel, and assured them that they were in no bodily danger. But men who were so courageous as these were not likely to be intimidated by such opposition, and they followed the Consul in the best of humours to the barracks set apart for them, where they celebrated their safe arrival by unpacking their fiddles and page 306spending the night in dancing. These strangers were composed principally of Norwegians, of whom some twenty families, equivalent to about sixty souls, arrived at Foxton, by the s.s. Luna, on 14th February, 1871, accompanied by Mr Halcombe, the Provincial Secretary, who came to superintend their disembarkation. As soon as all had been got on shore, and children who had lost their parents, and parents who had lost their children, were re-united, the pilgrimage to Palmerston was commenced. The majority of the men walked over the sand dunes and through the bush, while the women and children, together with their boxes and baggage, were taken up the river in canoes. What the feelings of these people were upon entering this new country can hardly be described. The loneliness must have been intensely depressing. The knowledge that they were irrevocably separated from all the associations of the past, the uncertainty of the future, and the long years of arduous toil which they knew would have to be faced, with what result they knew not, possibly gave them a passing pang of regret at having made the venture. But the feeling that they were indeed strangers in a strange land was considerably diminished by the cordiality of the welcome they received from the resident settlers, and the darkening clouds of doubt page 307were soon dispelled by that divinely-sent spirit of hope which "springs eternal in the human breast," and buoyed them up until brighter days appeared.
Their first experience of pioneerdom was a flood which came down while they were trudging slowly along, and delayed them for some time, by making their route more circuitous and travelling more unpleasant. There is a legend that some of them even had to take refuge in the trees and remain there until the waters had subsided, but true or exaggerated as this may be, the journey taxed their patience and their hardihood, but its trials were only a forerunner of the troubles which they were yet to meet.
Upon their arrival at Palmerston they were at once located on a block of land near Awapuni, each family receiving a section of forty acres on a system of purchase equivalent in almost every particular to our present day system of deferred payment. The position chosen for them was by no means a favourable one, as the Awapuni of those days was little better than a dismal swamp, and it certainly needed all the experience and fortitude which they had gained in their native woods to withstand the hardships with which they had to contend during the first year. Floods were frequent, the soil wet and ungenerous, page 308the bush dense and rank, and but for the hospitality of the Maoris, who supplied them with potatoes, their fare would have been as scanty as their prospect was cheerless.
* Transport was at this time (1871) as high as £20 per ton from Foxton, which contributed in no small degree to the cost of living.
* Some four or five years later a colony of Germans was established at Jackson's Bay in the Middle Island, but as the experiment was a disheartening failure, the immigrants removed to Palmerston, where they became valued members of the young community.
* The cutting of the rails for the tramway was the first work performed by Mr. Peter Manson's steam saw-mill.
The effect produced by "The Skunk" upon the natives was very marked, and caused them to marvel greatly at the resources of the pakeha. For a long time they could not be page 312induced to enter the cars, drawn as they were by something which they regarded as half god and half devil, and they contented themselves with running up and down beside the tram as it moved along, shouting and gesticulating in the most excited manner. But bye-and-bye, when some of them had plucked up enough courage to take a ride, and they survived the journey, there was no further trouble on the score of getting them to enter the tram—the difficulty was to keep them out.
This tram continued to be the chief means of communication with Foxton until the progress of the district, stimulated by the growth of the timber industry, justified the Government's utilising, in 1876, the old tramway by turning it into a railway, built upon thoroughly substantial lines.
During these early stages of the settlement, such roads as had been formed were managed and maintained by a self-appointed committee, whose efforts were so far recognised by the Provincial Council that they received a subsidy from that body of £2 for £1 until about the year 1872. Then the task became so great that it required some more direct official power to deal with it, and for this purpose the old Highway Board was called into existence. The responsibilities of this body were greatly increased by the opening page 313up of the new districts now known as the Aorangi and Kairanga. The latter, which was the more important of the two, had always been admired as the future seat of agricultural farming, and but for its wet and swampy condition, together with its forest of white pine, it doubtless would have been one of the first portions of country to be settled. However, towards 1878, when most of the more inviting land had been taken up, its survey was begun, and 8000 acres were laid off in farms which were sold in 1880, and in spite of the formidable difficulties with which the land was loaded, in the shape of a superabundance of wood and water, the sections found ready and energetic purchasers. With creditable alacrity the primary work of draining was commenced, but, owing to the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient outlet, and perhaps a not over-particular observance of the law of levels, many of the drains were of little use beyond providing spoil for making roads, which were now as indispensable as the drains. With these preliminary works in hand the "bush-whacker" took supreme command of the Kairanga for a time. Then the fires followed him, consuming the bush and the mosquitos in their devouring flame, and rendering life in Palmerston almost intolerable through the oppressive heat and page 314blinding, choking clouds of smoke which rolled over the town.
* When originally laid off the township was described as the "Township of Palmerston," but confusion soon began to arise with the town of the same name in Otago, and to distinguish them the word "North" was added. As this was still unsatisfactory, the Government asked the people to suggest another name under the Designation of Districts Act, 1894. A public meeting was held and many suggestions were made, including a proposal to call it Ujiji, after the spot where Sir H. M. Stanley found Dr. Livingston. Finally it was agreed to recommend the name "Manawatu," but to this the postal authorities objected, as being also the name of the neighbouring county. As the Government would not accept the name of "Manawatu," and the Borough Council would not recommend any other name, a deadlock ensued, and the town still remains unpoetic Palmerston North.
The only buildings in the neighbourhood at this time were two manuka whares built by the surveyors on the section now occupied by the Union Bank of Australia, a hut on the Rangitikei Line near the present sale yards, belonging to Robert Menzies, and that apparently indispensable adjunct to civilisation, a "pub," which stood on the land directly opposite the Railway Station, where Host Stanley presided over its barrels and its bottles until he was compelled to relinquish business for the want of customers. What a commentary upon present day conditions? What a tribute to doubtful progress, when we reflect that only thirty-four short years ago Palmerston North failed in its attempt to support one lonely hotel, while to-day it maintains with apparent ease and palatial opulence more than a baker's dozen; but perhaps the page 316high price of grog in those days had something to do with the sobriety of the district as well as the paucity of inhabitants, for twelve shillings was the price asked for a bottle of square gin, and rum was considered to be worth quite as much.
Subsequently the hostelry was re-opened by Mr. Edward Cole, who began business with the modest stock of two gallons of rum, which were brought from Bulls, but better times came when the Public Works were begun in the district, and soon the supply was increased to five gallons. Such a plethora of liquor, however, excited the covetousness and stimulated the drought in the throats of some thirsty souls, for one night they stole silently through the back door of the little building and drained the barrel to the dregs, and thus once more the Upper Manawatu became perforce a prohibition district.*
* Although not excusable on this ground, these depredations were to some extent encouraged by the free and easy manners of the times, for in the absence of a stringent Licensing Act, if the landlord thought it necessary to seek relaxation from the pressure of business, he would, with a sublime disregard for the wants of his customers, shut the place up, and after chalking the legend in large letters on the door, "Gone to Wellington," quietly take his departure for that far-off city, remaining there until the spirit moved him to return.
It was, however, from the simple beginnings page 318which existed in 1868 that Palmerston North may be said to have acquired the power to become the largest inland town in the colony, and if its progress was at first slow this tardiness was soon compensated for by the rapidity with which its secondary stages were passed. The chief cause of this early stagnation was its distance from the port and the entire absence of proper roads. At this time Foxton was the largest settlement between Wellington and Whanganui, and formed the commercial centre for the whole Manawatu, but until the Foxton line had been cut, the site of Palmerston was practically inaccessible, except by poling canoes up the river. For this reason the outer districts were first settled, and it was not until the fine totara which grew at Terrace End could be turned into a marketable product that there was any disposition to build up a municipal rival to Foxton.
The "seventies," however, showed a marked advance upon the "sixties," and one of the chief evidences of this was the need for some better system of conducting the district's legal business. The Manawatu, being a new settlement compared with Wellington and Whanganui, and the regular administration of the law being now established, its residents were never altogether without its protection or beyond the reach page 319of justice. Long before the population had swelled to anything like hundreds, a Justices' Court had been opened at Foxton, over which Captain Robinson presided, but the business was seldom more serious than the fining of an inebriated sailor, or the adjustment of some small commercial transaction. But when Palmerston began to rival Foxton in its municipal importance, and its environs were being fairly well peopled, the settlers found the trouble of travelling to Foxton very irksome, and they took steps to have a Court opened nearer home. The Government were accordingly successfully importuned, and Major Willis, an officer of the 14th Regiment, was appointed to deal out justice in the Manawatu and Rangitikei districts.
* Advantage was taken by Mrs. Snelson of a visit paid to the district by the then Superintendent, Mr. Fitzherbert; Mr. Buckley, Provincial Solicitor; and Mr. Bunny, Provincial Secretary, to point out the need for a school, and at her request the site in Main Street was set apart as an Educational Reserve. The site for the school at Foxton was given by the native chief Ihakara Tukumaru, and the school was first taught by the Rev. Mr. Duncan. The bell for the Palmerston North school was presented by Mr. E. W. Mills, of Wellington.
* Mr. Keeling remained in charge of the school for three years, and then resigned to accept the secretaryship of the Local Board which had been formed to manage the affairs of the town. He was succeeded at the school by Mr. H. W. Waite, who died while in charge of the institution. Mr. Locke, of Whanganui, was then appointed, and he afterwards exchanged with Mr. F. E. Watson, who acted as Head Master until November 1890, when the Palmerston school was closed, and the Campbell street school opened.
* The programmes for the concerts in those days were always written out by the performers, and supplied to the audienee in manuscript. The notices announcing the concerts were stuck up on trees alongside the main roads so that they could be read by passers-by.
* Messrs Richter & Nannestad are now the oldest business men in Palmerston North.
† Taonui Street subsequently lost its prestige, and became known as " Soap Suds Alley."
In the town the men walked about the streets with their pants tucked into their socks, to prevent the ubiquitous fly getting up the leg of those garments. At night it was absolutely essential to keep a fire smouldering in a tin outside the door, to intercept the insects as they swarmed towards the chinks and cracks through which the faintest glimmer of light could be seen. Neglect of this precaution meant that every naked light in the house would be smothered, even if the page 324mosquitos perished in the attempt. A bed without a set of curtains was simply a place of torture; the person who sat down to meals invited the mosquitos to make a meal of him, on " bad days " food often had to be taken as best it could whilst one was pacing up and down the room, and unless the greatest care was exercised, the irrepressible little pests would contrive to get themselves so mixed up with the tea and sugar as to make their separation impossible. Had it been as easy to get out of Palmerston then as it is now, very few would have remained long enough to get inoculated, but with most of the people they were there, and there they had to stay, and when once their systems became accustomed to the insects' poison, they treated them with more or less contempt, the sufferers being confined to the, new-comers.
Notwithstanding this drawback, steady progress was made during the next few years, the town and suburban sections being rapidly taken up. The shops in the Square continued to increase, and an independent post office was established near the present Windsor Buildings, under the charge of Mr. Innes, who took over the duties of postmaster from Mr. Snelson.
An institution known as Ockenden Hall had also sprung into existence. This was page 325scarcely the aristocratic building its name would seem to imply, for it had formerly been a carpenter's workshop, which stood almost on the site of Messrs. G. H. Bennett and Co.'s present place of business, and was named after its original owner. It was here that the assemblies and fashionable balls organised by the little community were afterwards held, but how fashionable they were may be judged by the fact that the ladies whose maternal cares would keep them at home in these days, if they could not transfer them to some one else, brought their offspring with them, and it was not an uncommon thing to see the mazy dance proceeding with undiminished vigour, while a row of chubby babies lay on a bench beside the wall. It must not, however, be supposed that this was the result of any want of affection on the part of the parents, or that mothers of that time were less careful of the health of their children than they are to-day. Rather let it be remembered that the fair sex were then few and far between; in fact, early in 1872, there were only three white women in the town, and it took them all, together with the wives of the country settlers, to make a gathering worthy of Ockenden Hall. Thus, in the absence of nursemaids, the presence of the babies could not be avoided, and it is just possible that this early contact with the light fantastic may account for page 326Its popularity with some of the present generation.
In addition to these European dwellings, about twenty-three in all, there was also a Maori pa at Hokowhitu, famed for its gardens and its peaches. Here, at a subsequent date, a Maori saw-mill was set up, out of which the natives made a good deal of money, and lost it all again at "poker." The indulgence in this and other systems of gambling had, unfortunately, become a perfect passion with a section of the people, and when the landlord played the waiter for the right to sleep on the hearthrug, it is doubtful whether the desire for rest or the love of "a flutter," as it was called, was the predominating motive which suggested this method of settling the point. The game in the parlour was a well-established institution in the hotels, and large sums of money were nightly lost and won on the fall of the dice or the turn of a card. As might be expected, it was not long before the Maoris were swept into the vortex of pakeha vice, and their time, money, and morals were swallowed up in pursuing the fascinations of a game of chance.
But all the natives of Hokowhitu were not gamblers, for some of them were proud to make an open profession of Christian faith. Morning and evening prayers were regularly page 327held at the pa, to which the worshipers were summoned by the ringing of a cow-bell. In many parts of the Middle Island the converted Maoris made church bells out of their gun barrels, and rung them by striking them with stones; but the people of Hokowhitu were much more utilitarian in their methods. They had a favourite cow to whose neck it was of course necessary to attach a bell in order to prevent her getting lost in the bush, and every day, as the hour for service approached, the picaninnies were sent out to fetch the cow in; the bell was then taken from her neck, duly rung, and when all the worshippers had assembled, Strawberry was once more embellished with her tinkler, and turned out to grass.
Nothing could be more striking than the simple yet sincere faith of these natives, but occasionally, as amongst their white brethren, there was a falling from grace, which had its humourous as well as its serious side. A prominent leader in the pa at times allowed his temper to get the better of him, and then he would vent his wrath upon the wife of his bosom. The wife thereupon responded by breaking everything breakable in the house, and wound up by taking her departure for another pa. After the lapse of a few days, the irate husband would begin to realise what a fool he had been, and become very penitent. page 328When he arrived at this stage he was in the habit of going over to the wife of a pakeha neighbour and pouring out his troubles to her. As might be expected, he received more sound advice than sympathy from that quarter, and was pretty severely rated for his conduct. On one occasion he was asked why he was continually creating these domestic jars, when he gave an answer which may have expressed his feelings, but which betrayed as imperfect a knowledge of his anatomy as it did of things spiritual, for instead of attributing the trouble, as he no doubt intended to do, to his evil heart, he declared that it was all due to his "wicked belly."
One would have thought that a native whose hands were so full of family worries would not have ventured upon any course which was likely to increase them. But this gentleman exhibited no timidity on that point, for after the Hokowhitu pa had been broken up, he fell into the toils of some Mormon elders, and became a disciple of Brigham Young. When upbraided by an unbelieving pakeha for thus changing his faith, he waxed eloquent and argumentative upon the merits of Mormonism, and settled the whole question by quoting a precedent which has often been found a difficult nut to crack. " Ha," he said, " You reada the Bible? You know page 329the Kingi Solomon? He the wise man. How many the wahine you think he have? One! No fear. Forty wahine! Kapai the Kingi Solomon, he the wise man!" and he laid such emphasis upon the wisdom of Solomon, that he appeared to have imbibed the idea that with forty wives of his own he would become just as infallible as the builder of the Temple.
Reference may now be fittingly made to another movement which was rapidly approaching fruition, and which tended materially to the furtherance of settlement on the waste lands of the coast. This was the purchase by an English corporation of what is now the Manchester Block, and the establishment of the town of Feilding in the midst of a natural clearing, surrounded by dense bush. When we remember that no later than 1873 the spot whereon Feilding now stands was not far removed from a howling wilderness—an empty place—whose silence was broken only by the cry of some frightened bird, the rustle of the swamp reeds, and the sighing of the wind through the tall and stately forest; when we remember that where broad streets are now laid out, thirty years ago there were only deep and impassable marshes; that where lofty rows of buildings stand there grew in Nature's garden a luxuriant crop of manuka, fern, and page 330toe-toe; when we remember that where cultivated farms now stretch their broad acres, and homesteads nestle in the midst of English trees, there stood little more than a quarter of a century ago the giant pines of the New Zealand bush, knit together by a tangled undergrowth, impenetrable except where an ancient Maori track had pierced the matted jungle;—when we recall all this, and then look out upon the transformation which has been worked in so short a space of time—the triumph of Art over Nature—he must be a dull being indeed to whose cheek the flush of pride does not come at the thought of the British pluck and British enterprise by which the change has been wrought, and who will not say "Well done!" to those hardy pioneers who dared the anxieties, and perhaps the privations, of colonial life, in order to found for themselves a new home in a new land.
The town of Feilding was an integral part of the colonising scheme which originated in London about the year 1870, and which ultimately took the form of the Emigrant and Colonists' Aid Society, of which the Duke of Manchester was chairman. The scheme was nominally one of philanthropy, intended to give the mechanics of England an opportunity of bettering their condition, but, as is page 331often the case with the benefactors of the working man, it was found that under the glamour of benevolence the directors had managed to introduce a substantial element of business, and that its commercial side was every whit as important as its philanthropic aspect.
As the delegate of this society, the Hon. Colonel Feilding came to the colonies in 1871, and after travelling through many parts of Australia in search of a favourable field in which to commence operations, he arrived in New Zealand, where he found a climate eminently suited to the English constitution, a soil abundantly fertile, and above all a Government anxious to foster any reasonable scheme for the settlement of people on its unoccupied lands. He had, therefore, little difficulty in selecting a suitable site, and making fair terms with the Colonial and Provincial Governments. The negotiations resulted in the purchase of an area of 106,000 acres in the heart of what had hitherto been known as the Rangitikei - Manawatu and Ahuaturanga Blocks, for which it was agreed to pay 15s. per acre, payment to be made by bills bearing interest at 5 per cent., and maturing at different intervals over ten years. Yet another condition was imposed upon the society by the Government, and that was that they were to settle 2000 people on the block page 332within six years, the Government, however, agreeing to provide these emigrants with free passages, and to find work for them in the formation of the railway through the corporation's territory, which henceforth was to be known as the Manchester Block. As a further inducement, the Provincial Government made a conditional agreement with Colonel Feilding to spend a sum not exceeding £2000 per annum for five years, to assist in the formation of the by-roads through the district.
The scheme hung fire for a time upon Colonel Feilding's return to England, but in 1873 the necessary capital was subscribed, and the offices of the society at Queen Ann's Gate were being daily visited by intending emigrants, the first batches of whom were despatched in the Ocean Mail, La Hogue, Euterpe, and Salisbury. Within two months of their arrival, early in 1874, there were 250 people on the ground, and Feilding entered upon the first stage of its importance. The emigrants were taken by steamer from Wellington to Foxton, and thence by tramway to what was then described as the "small" town of Palmerston, where they were housed for a few weeks in a depôt built by the corporation at Terrace End. Here they waited until transit to their future home could be found for them, which transit consisted of a journey page 333across country in a bullock-dray. There were then no roads and few tracks, and the shaking and jolting of the dray was well calculated to revive unpleasant memories of the Bay of Biscay. Upon arrival at the spot where it was decided to plant the town of Feilding, these people, who had been accustomed to the towns and cities of England—to the comfort and enjoyment of established homes —were dumped down in the midst of a natural clearing, with only here and there a surveyor's tent to remind them that something human was at hand. A few of them were placed in small wooden cottages, but more of them were temporarily drafted off into weather-boarded V-shaped huts, with rough bunks inside, but no chimney, the cooking being done on fires lighted in the open. These cottages stood on an acre of land valued at £10, and the terms of occupancy were that by paying a rental of 7s. per week for three years the land and the building became the settler's property. Provisions were at first supplied at the corporation store, which stood at the corner of Kimbolton Road and Macarthur Street, but sometimes a shortage of food was experienced, for when the weather was bad the bullocks were unable to travel, and all carting operations had to cease.
At all times the agent of the corporation, Mr. Halcombe, and his sub - agent, Mr. page 334Macarthur, were most solicitous for the welfare, and as far as it could be provided, for the comfort of the colonists, and it says much for their forethought and humanity that so large a measure of both was achieved. Mr. Halcombe did not remain long at the head of the settlement, resigning to promote a similar enterprise in the Auckland district, and his mantle most worthily fell upon Mr. Macarthur,* upon whom the burden of engineering the scheme to success mainly devolved.
The first work on which the emigrants were engaged was, of course, clearing the scrub and fern from off the township site, then the streets were formed, Manchester and Warwick Streets being the most difficult to make for the reason that they were so heavily timbered. There was thus ample work to keep all employed, and so fulfil the corporation's promise to its settlers that it would find them labour on three days a week, and when in 1876 the directors were successful in securing the contract to build the railway from Bunnythorpe to a point about four miles beyond Feilding, there was enough to do to keep the men engaged all the week through.
* Mr. Macarthur afterwards became member for the district in the House of Representatives, and a prominent man in colonial politics,
It is difficult to leave this fascinating subject. We may look back some three months when two or three surveyors' tents were the only evidence of human habitation. We see now some thirty wooden houses already risen out of the flax and grass. We hear the busy hum of human voices, of men, of women, and of children unburthened with the cares of life. The ring of the axe, the echo of the hammer, and the crash of falling timber sound everywhere. The sharp cracks of the drivers' whips attract attention to horse and bullockdrays toiling along the rough flat with luggage, or people, or stores, or timber, or gravel for the newlymade roads. We notice a cloud of steam from the already fired brick-kiln—the earnest of future homely firesides. Dense volumes of smoke appear, denoting a bush clearing made; or the thin spiral columns rise from among the cluster of tents, telling of family dinners in course of preparation. The eye is caught by the long vistas newly cut through the virgin forest, and we note the thin double-line of rails just laid on the fresh-turned earth, the commencement of a snake-like progress which ends only with the utter destruction of the beautiful forest, as one stately tree after another is brought down and submitted to the mighty power represented by the huge unshapely boiler which lies on its side hard by.
Then Mr. Halcombe becomes boldly prophetic, and one has only to spend a few hours in the Feilding of to-day to realise how completely his prophecy has been fulfilled.page 336
Dropping the curtain over this scene, making use of our experience of the rapid progress made in similar spots, and drawing on the imagination to depict the change which the next ten years will produce, it will not be unreasonable to picture this infant town grown into a vigorous manhood, with bells ringing the little one "unwillingly to school," with the whistle of the locomotive and the hum of factories, with gay shops and busy footpaths, with carts and carriages bowling along well-kept roads, with houses far and near nestling among a younger race of trees, surrounded by weeping willows, the cypress, and the pine in bright contrast to each other, and flanked by apple and peach-loaded orchards, with a steeple here and there, suggesting some degree of thankfulness for so bountiful a return for easy labour; while far back in the landscape the dark, rich, melancholy forest will be dimly seen, waiting its turn for destruction, and seeming to shrink for protection to the very feet of the distant snow-clad range.
Verily, Feilding* has grown to a vigorous manhood, for already the "rich, dark, melancholy forest" has receded to the feet of the Ruahines; already the town has become a borough, with its Mayor and its municipal institutions; itso churches, its school, and its 2300 inhabitants, who are inspired with an unbounded faith in the future of their district.
* The townships of Ashhurst and Halcombe were off-shoots of the main settlement.
Post Office, Palmerston North, 1877.
This Office stood on the Government Reserve next to the Windsor Buildings.
* Now Dr. Elmslie, of St. Paul's, Christchurch.
and they sang it with an earnestness that made the rafters ring and the echoes rever-berate away in the woods. Mr. Elmslie read a portion of Scripture and then offered up a prayer, and there in the midst of the wilderness did they pour forth their thankfulness to God for all the goodness He had shown them, and an earnest petition was made that He who had done so much for them in the past would still continue to shower His blessings upon them, and guide and protect them in the days to come. That beautiful paraphrase,
"All people that on earth do dwell,"
was next sung, and after the Lord's Prayer had been repeated, Mr. Elmslie delivered his sermon. It was short but appropriate, alluding, as it did, to the many trials and temptations of the past, the duties of the page 339present, and the hopes of the future. Then succeeded words of comfort and encouragement, the preacher urging his hearers to continue in the work of colonisation they had so courageously undertaken, and to place their confidence in the Lord of Hosts, who had hitherto bestowed upon them so many favours, and who was still their and their father's God. After singing another psalm the little congregation solemnly joined the pastor in prayer, and were then dismissed with an impressive benediction, which committed them to the care of Him who never slumbers nor sleeps.
"O God of Bethel, by whose hand,"
Such was the first religious service held in Palmerston. Devoid of. ritual, of pomp, and ceremonial, it was nevertheless full of fervent devotion. It was a communion with Invisible Perfection without the aid of high altars, of rich vestments, or long aisles to inspire the mind and stimulate the soul. It was also the pious outpourings of simple hearts, who believed with a simple faith the gracious promise, "Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
From this time onward the settlers were never entirely without the benefit of religious consolation, although for some years their clergy were of the peripatetic order. Occasionally page 340Mr. Duncan would come up from Foxton, or Mr. McGregor, a Presbyterian probationer, would come down from Feilding, but earlier than either of these were the Revs. W. S. Harper and T.F. Reeve, of the Wesleyan Church, who for some time had been holding services at Sandon, Bulls, and other places, Palmerston being amongst the number. In 1874 they were succeeded by the Rev. T. G. Hammond, who was appointed to Marton in that year, and with that little township as his centre, he was in the habit of periodically visiting all the different settlements.
On the second Sunday after his appointment to Rangitikei, Mr. Hammond visited Feilding for the purpose of holding service there, for the Manchester Company's immigrants had just arrived, and were dumped down in the midst of their meagre collection of worldly goods. Mr. Hammond was, however, disappointed in his intention, for he had been preceded by his colleague, the Rev. Mr. Reeve, who preached in the open air to the assembled people from the strangely inopportune text, "Beware of covetousness." On the following Sunday Mr. Hammond held his first service in Feilding, the congregation gathering for it beneath a clump of trees. But the immigrants were not all a church-going, page 341Bible-loving people, for while visiting them after the service, Mr. Hammond came across one settler who was hard at work upon his holding. The reverend gentleman gently reproved him for thus desecrating the Sabbath, whereupon he received the rude and impertinent reply, "I wuked at Home a Sunday, I'll wuk here a Sunday, and if ya say anything to ma I'll sweer at ya."
Just before Mr. Hammond's next visit to Feilding the first adult settler had died, and it was his duty to consign the mortal remains of this pioneer to the grave. The body was taken in a dray over the hill to the present cemetery, where it was buried amidst the mournings of her comrades, each of whom felt that the messenger who had come and called their companion away might soon be knocking at the door for them.*
* The first death which took place in the Feilding settlement was that of a child, and the father made a rude coffin for the body and started off with it for the section which had been set apart as a cemetery. On his way he lost himself in the bush, and thinking it would be easier to extricate himself from his difficulty if relieved of his burden, he buried the coffin roughly, intending to return next day and inter it in the proper burial ground. But he was never able to again find the spot where the coffin lay, and his child has therefore ever since occupied a nameless grave. The first adult to die was Mrs. Allen.
* Considering the infrequency with which Bishops visited Palmerston, it is rather a peculiar coincidence that two of them should have been there on the same day. But it so happened that while Bishop Hadfield was occupying the only private room in the hotel, two clerical-looking gentlemen rode up and asked if they could be accommodated with a private room. They were, however, informed, much to their disappointment, that the only apartment of that nature was occupied, whereupon one of them suggested that perhaps the occupant would not mind sharing it with his companion, as he was the Bishop of Wellington. It never entered the mind of the landlord that there might be more than one Bishop of Wellington, and knowing that he had Bishop Hadfield in the house, he at once jumped to the conclusion that these gentlemen were making unjustified pretensions to a sacred office. In fact, he regarded their story simply as a deep-laid plot to secure the use of his beat room, and he was at no small pains to tell them so. Subsequent explanations, however, elicited the information that the new-comer was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Wellington, and in an incredibly short time the prelates were installed in the parlour and the landlord went outside to kick himself.
Twelve months were thus absorbed in laying down the foundations of their church, by which time the Methodist people had become crystallised into a compact congregation, strong enough to undertake the responsibility of a building of their own. A site was presented to them in Broad Street by Mr. Kibblewhite, of the Wairarapa, and with this for a basis they set to work in 1875, and erected the first portion of the structure, which now does duty as the Methodist Sunday School, and which when first built was capable of seating one hundred and fifty people. Having thus started his people fairly on the way, Mr. Hammond removed to New Plymouth for a year, and in 1878 returned to Palmerston to become the first resident Methodist minister, and after another year in the Manawatu, spent in gathering his flock together, he was removed to take up a new sphere of Christian work amongst the natives of the north, and he was succeeded by the Rev. F. Dewsbury and the long line of clergymen who have since vigorously carried on the work which he so successfully began.
Before Mr. Hammond left, in 1875, an page 345effort was being made to establish an Anglican Church, and the Rev. Henry Bevis had been sent to minister to those who preferred to worship in that communion. Their services were often held in Mr. Snelson's store, and the first communion was celebrated in Mrs. Snelson's drawing-room. These primitive methods, however, could not satisfy a progressive community, and a movement was soon set afoot to raise funds for the erection of a suitable building, and so energetically was the canvass made that the foundation stone of All Saints' Church was laid by Mrs. Snelson on 29th September, 1875, when what was called in the report of the proceedings "the munificent sum of £8 12s," was laid upon the stone* as the offerings of the people towards the purchase of a font.
* The document placed within the stone ran as follows: The foundation block of this Church of England was laid by Mrs. G. M. Snelson, in the presence of the congregation, on September 29th, 1875. The Building Committee are: George Snelson, J. T. Dalrymple, H. S. Palmerson, E. Marsh, Robert Keeling, James Green, Edward Brightwell, the Bishop of the Diocese (Octavius Hadfield), the Incumbent, the Rev. Henry Bevis."
Contemporaneously with the growth of the page 347sister churches, the Presbyterians had been steadily endeavouring to obtain a foothold in the district, although their progress had not been quite so rapid as that of either the Methodists or the Anglicans. As already mentioned, Mr. McGregor had been holding occasional services in the school-house, and this continued for about three years. But in 1878 a gable-ended building, with a miniature bell-tower and Gothic windows, was built in Church Street, and Mr. A. M. Wright came from Waikato West to temporarily fill the charge. So satisfactory did he prove to the congregation, that in the following year he was ordained and inducted as their pastor, and the congregation of St. Andrew's became a living institution in the midst of the little community.
* The site of the office was near Mr. W. Rawlins' plumber's shop.
" Up, rouse ye then, ye merry, merry men, For it is our opening day."
The editor then goes on to remark:—"This is a jubilant day for Palmerston, and a remarkable augur of future prosperity. Three great events occur, clashing simultaneously: The first arrival of the iron horse, Puck's girdle round the world in circuit, and our first issue. Memorabilia."
* The telegraph line at first ran along the beach, and at high tide the poles were often in deep water. When the inland detour was made considerable friction was experienced with the Maoris, who claimed that although they had sold the land they had not sold the right to erect poles on it. The women jumped into the post holes, and other forms of obstruction were indulged in, but with the use of a little tact on the part of the authorities, serious trouble was avoided.
A sub-leader deals with the work of the Parliamentary session just closed, and the complaint is made then, as now, that "Bills of much importance have been shelved or hurriedly passed, without care or consideration," which shows that our earlier legislators had their faults like those of to-day. page 352The Parliamentary news states that Mr. Fitzherbert, in speaking on the defence of the colony, condemned the action of Mr. Vogel regarding the four million loan, the latter being defended by Major Atkinson. This is followed by a recommendation from the Public Accounts Committee " that notice be given to determine the present agreement with the Bank of New Zealand, and that tenders be invited from all the Banks in the colony to take the colonial account," a resolution to that effect being carried on the motion of Mr. Bunny, after being supported by Sir Donald McLean, Sir Edward Stafford, Sir George Grey, and others. The fact is also mentioned that Parliament was prorogued by the Marquis of Normanby, who stated that before next session the colony "would be telegraphically connected with Australia and Great Britain."
One fact which will be impressed upon the mind of the reader of this retrospect is the numerous changes which have taken place in Palmerston since 1875. Of the settlers whose names are mentioned in the foregoing many have since ended their earthly labours, but their good works are to-day in evidence. Palmerston, indeed, owes them a debt of gratitude, for they, in conjunction with the old settlers remaining, laid the foundation of a place which has since become one of the most flourishing centres in New Zealand.
The first editor of the "Times" was Mr. C. J. Pownall, and he was followed by a son of Mark Lemon, the celebrated editor of page 354"Punch," who, however, inherited more of his father's name than his talents, and his stay was therefore brief. The editorial pen was then wielded by the late Mr. Richard Leary, whose graceful style was well known even in quite recent times. Pressure of his own business subsequently compelled Mr. Leary to relinquish his literary work, and until the services of Mr. J. B. Dungan were procured, Mr. J. P. Leary performed the dual offices of editor and publisher himself. Mr. Dungan was a capable and even brilliant writer, and when, owing to failing health, Mr. Leary was compelled to sell the paper, Mr. Dungan was able to acquire it and edit as his own. In the meantime the progress of the district encouraged a certain hope of successful opposition, for on the 29th of November, 1880, Mr. Alexander McMinn published the first issue of "The Manawatu Daily Standard." The paper was printed on the hand-press which printed the first number of the "Wanganui Herald," and afterwards the first number of "The Examiner," at Woodville, and the first copy "pulled" was presented to Mr. Sylvester Coleman, a well-known pioneer and former Borough Councillor. The introductory "leader" was contributed by the late Hon. John Ballance, with whom Mr. McMinn had been associated on the "Herald" away back page 355in the "sixties." The "Standard" was the first daily paper published between Wellington and Whanganui. The "Times" following suit two years afterwards, then the " Rangitikei Advocate," and the "Feilding Star" at a much later date. Considering the size and state of the town, the establishment of a daily paper was a venturesome plunge, and the years of struggle and anxiety which it involved might have killed a dozen less sanguine men than Mr. McMinn, but there were soon troubles to engage the attention of the local newspaper proprietors other than financial worries, for with the advent of a "reptile contemporary" it was not long before there were razors flying through the journalistic air. In their references to each other the papers became anything but too polite, and on looking over old files we see such striking titles to the leading articles as "A Registered Slanderer," "The Trail of the Viper," "Disreputable Journalism," and in one wild effusion we find the following crushing denunciation of a brother journalist which is typical of the period:— "There are spots to be found on the sun, there are scabby sheep in all flocks, and we regret to say that the ranks of colonial journalism has at least one representative who is a disgrace to the order, and a worthy follower of his prototype, Ananias." This page 356pace was, of course, too severe to last, and it led to the natural but rather serious result of one of the editors standing his trial for criminal libel at the sittings of the Supreme Court. After that, wiser counsels prevailed, and a holy calm pervaded the journalistic mind. What outbursts of editorial anger there have been since then are too recent to be revived here, but it is gratifying to know that the journals of the town are now conducted with a much greater regard for the legitimate functions of a newspaper, and the occasions upon which an editor rises in his wrath to smite his contemporary are rare in occurrence, and his chastisements comparatively mild in their severity.
Contemporaneously with the coming of the clergy and the journalist, the medical profession had its representative in Dr. Spratt, who started practice under a guarantee from the Government of £200 per annum, in addition to which the sum of 2s 6d per month was deducted from the wages of the men employed on the Government contracts for medicine and attendance when necessary, an arrangement which, together with his other earnings, gave the doctor a very comfortable income. In the same way Dr. Rockstrow was invited, in 1873, by Mr. Fox, the then Premier, to settle in Foxton, and as an page 357inducement he was given a commission to act as medical officer to the natives along the coast, from Horowhenua to Rangitikei. This duty naturally involved a great deal of travelling, at times over roads that were up to the horse's girths in mud, but it gave Dr. Rockstrow a wide circle of acquaintances, and an immense influence with the natives. He knew all the big chiefs intimately, and attended most of them, while in the early days of Foxton he held almost as many offices as the Poo-bah of Japan. Dr. Rockstrow paid his first visit to Palmerston two days after Dr. Spratt had left, and an effort was made to secure his services permanently, but Foxton was a much more convenient centre from which to work his native practice, there being at that time large numbers of Maoris at Horowhenua, Moutoa, and Motuiti, and he therefore determined to remain at the port, which gave every promise of being the more important town of the two. The services of Dr. Marriner were secured instead, and he remained a great favourite with all classes until failing health compelled him to take a sea voyage, which unfortunately did not prove efficacious, for he died at Rio de Janeiro while en route to England. Dr. Marriner's death was keenly felt in the little settlement, where he had been extremely popular, for he was a good friend, a skilful page 358physician, and the embodiment of kindness.
* One of these crossed the Tararuas a little to the south of the Gorge, Starting from the Raukawa pa on the Manawatu side.
The first work put in hand was the felling of the bush along the proposed line of road on the southern bank. This was let to Maori parties, who carried out their contract to the complete satisfaction of Mr. Stewart, with the exception that they showed no appreciation for the time element in contracts, and therefore saw nothing improper in frequently knocking off to attend a native meeting, or for any of the hundred excuses a Maori can always find for saying "taihoa" The leader of the Maoris in this work, and in a good deal of the formation of the road from Palmerston to the entrance of the Gorge, was a native named Te Kooro-te-one, a most intelligent and reliable man, who managed all their money matters. The formation of the road in the Gorge itself was begun in March, 1871, by working parties, who carried the road a short way in, and then the remainder of the work, together with the bridges and culverts, was let in one contract to Mr. Clark Dunn, who satisfactorily completed his undertaking in page 3601872. The building of the Upper Gorge Bridge in 1875 gave coach communication through to Hawke's Bay.* But while the work was in progress, the coach passengers were carried across at a height of some seventy feet above the river in a small cage running on a wire rope, and not without some trepidation occasionally on their part while in mid-air.
With the main avenues of travel now fairly opened up, a serious question had arisen as to how they were to be maintained. The old voluntary body was no longer equal to the task, and a Highway Board was therefore formed, with jurisdiction extending from Horowhenua to the Rangitikei River, including both the townships of Foxton and Palmerston. The first Board consisted of the following gentlemen: —
G. M. Snelson (Chairman) Palmerston J. T. Dalrymple Raukawa A. Farmer Sandon J. McPherson Foxton D. McEwen Karere J. Eagar Otaki R. McKenzie Carnarvon
* The contractor for this large bridge was Mr. Henry McNeil, and it was designed by Mr. Carruthers, then Engineer-in-Chief to the Colony. It is carried on stone piers taken down to the rock foundation. The main span is 162 feet, with five subsidiary spans of 40 feet each, and three spans of 16 feet 6 inches each. The main stone piers are 52 feet in height. The names of the Inspectors on these works will be well remembered by old settlers—Mr. Amos Burr on the early Maori roads, Mr. George Nye at a later date on the road, bridge, and tramway works, and Mr Thomas Patterson on the Gorge Bridge contract. Mr John Young was clerk to Mr J, T. Stewart, the District Engineer.
The first Secretary was Mr. James Linton, at whose private house the meetings were held, and some conception of the condition of the country at that time may be formed from the fact that there were only one hundred names on the roll, and that the rateable value over the whole area was less than £300. This local body continued to administer the affairs of its large district for a number of years, and was in its way a useful institution, but according to the people of Palmerston it expended too much money in the country and not enough in the town. This was not to be lightly borne, for the town wanted its streets cleared of stumps and logs, and the Government was successfully importuned to proclaim a Local Board, which would have power to spend the rates raised in its own area. The first meeting of this new body was held on Saturday evening, the 15th of April, 1876. Its pioneer members were: Messrs. H. S. Palmerson, James Linton, C. R. S. McDonnell, Thomas Walton, and William McDouall, while Mr. R. N. Keeling became its first Secretary.
The Local Board's powers were limited compared with those of a Borough Council, but notwithstanding these hindrances, considerable improvements were effected in the appearance of the town. By this time page 362Palmerston had become an important centre, its population was an active one, and it was not long before Foxton was being left behind in the race of progress. The timber industry had vitalised local affairs, and so poor a thing as a Local Board could not long satisfy so ambitious a people. They had larger visions of local authority and wanted to become a Borough, a wish which was granted to them on 12th July, 1877, when the population numbered only some 800 souls. Into the methods by which this end was accomplished we need not enter too closely, suffice it to say that, in order to comply with the requirements of the Act in the number of buildings, the area which the Local Board had administered was greatly increased, several 40-acre blocks being added. Even then it is said that buildings of all kinds were included in the inventory, whether their use was for stabling horses or as dwellings for their owners. The new Borough was one of the largest in the colony, having an area of 4,595 acres, and the dignity of its government sat comfortably on the shoulders of its inhabitants, who straightaway began to import considerable excitement into the first election of Councillors. Their choice fell upon Messrs. Fritz Jensen, Peter Manson, Thomas Walton, James Gilbert, and George Rowe.
Mr. G. M. Snelson, who had been particularly active in promoting the movement for page 363municipal advancement, was appointed by the Governor to be the first Mayor, and well deserved the honour. Mr. Keeling was promoted from the secretaryship of the Local Board to the Town Clerkship, an office which he still holds after many years of valuable work in the service of the Council.
To inaugurate so important an event as the formation of a municipality, a fashionable ball was held in the Public Hall, of which the town now boasted. The gathering was a bright and brilliant affair, the settlers from far and near having come to celebrate the birth of the Borough. The ball was opened by the Mayor, who danced with Mrs. Macarthur, of Feilding, while Mr. Halcombe followed with the Mayoress as his partner. Mr. Halcombe presided at the supper, and the speeches made were racy and reminiscent of what even then were called "the old days," the Chairman relating, as an instance of the progress made, how in one of his journeys to Palmerston, he had met a woman who seriously assured him that she had not seen one of her own sex for more than two years!
The new Council quickly set to work to apply its energies in the direction of improving the town, not the least of which improvements was the clearing and forming of the principal streets. Although the early Councils had page 364many infelicitous conditions to combat, year by year a better order of things was made to prevail, and Palmerston was prepared for its proud position as the capital of this part of New Zealand, and of one of the richest tracts of country in the whole colony.*
Following on the formation of the main arterial roads in the country districts, larger powers were soon required to control them than had been given to the Highway Board, and an agitation quickly arose to supersede it by something more imposing.
This led to the election, in 1876, of the first County Council, of which the following gentlemen were the members:—
E. S. Thynne Foxton J. W. Liddell Foxton G. M. Snelson Palmerston H. McNeil Palmerston A. F. Halcombe Feilding D. H. Macarthur Kiwitea H. Sanson Oroua J. W. Gower Kawkawa H. Macdonald Horowhenua
* On 31st March, 1878, the population of Palmerston North was 880, of whom 355 were ratepayers. There were 255 buildings in the Borough. The rental value was £9,250, and the capital value £115,625. The revenue was £602, and the overdraft £500. By way of comparison, it is worth noting that on 31st March, 1903, the population was approximately 7,600, of whom 1,300 were ratepayers. There were 1,832 buildings in the Borough. The unimproved rateable value was £331,314, and the capital value was £700,000. The revenue was £13,460, and the overdraft £4.283.
The next important event to mark the everactive spirit of progress was the establishment of railway communication with Foxton. The old wooden tramway was becoming worn and dilapidated, and it was evident that new rails would soon have to be laid down if this means of traffic was to be kept open. It was thereupon decided to reconstruct the line on a much more substantial basis, and iron rails were gradually substituted for the wooden ones already worn out. The year 1876 therefore saw the passing of the tram and the coming of the train. The railway station was at that time in the centre of the Square, and an early morning train connected with the coach which still ran through the Rangitikei to Whanganui. But in less than two years the coach, like the tram, had to give way before the railway, for in May, 1878, the northern line was completed, and travel was made easy to the rich and growing districts of page 367the north, which had previously been accessible only after weary rides and tiresome drives. These new avenues of traffic told heavily in favour of Palmerston, and towards 1877 we find the Square completely formed and faced with a fair array of shops. On what is now a vacant lot near the Windsor Buildings (opposite to the Commercial Hotel) stood the Post Office, a little gable-ended building with a wide verandah. Beside it was Hosking's smithy, and the only other buildings on this section of the Square were a small cottage owned by Mr. Green and Mr. R. Leary's chemist's shop, standing where is now the Provincial Hotel. The Bank of New Zealand, which was recently removed to make room for the present substantial structure, and the old Town Hall, on the opposite corner, were almost the sole occupants of the south-eastern side, while to the northward were Messrs. Walton and King's tea mart, and a small and unpretentious store called Nelson's "Little Wonder," which occupied the site of the present extensive establishment of the U.F.C.A. The railway stationmaster's house stood on the corner of the famous section 662, and on the opposite side of the line the only business house of importance was the shop now occupied by Mr. W. Reed. The north-western side of the Square was then, as now, the most popular business quarter, and we page 368find there a much more formidable row of shops as well as two hotels, the Royal and the Clarendon. At Coleman Place there was a conspicuous wooden pyramid, marking one of the surveyor's trigonometrical stations, while on the south-western side Mr. Snelson's store and auction room was the most imposing structure.
If we picture this sparse and intermittent fringe of shops round a fern-covered flat, in the centre of which stood a small and insignificant railway station, some fair idea of the business portion of Palmerston at this period may be obtained. Behind the Square, but principally towards Terrace End, lay scattered a series of cottages, mostly designed on the lines common to country towns, and behind these again the bush, which everywhere formed an impenetrable background.
The extensive growth which was now taking place in the town was merely the reflection of a similar expansion in the country round about, but unlike many rapidly-rising centres, it owed nothing of its progress to the booming of private individuals. The district had its bad years as well as its good, but they were no more than what all parts of New Zealand have at times experienced. In the latter half of the "seventies" some important industrial developments took place; for with a larger population it was possible to make a more effective attack upon the forest, and scores of clearings began to appear. The land was cultivated and yielded a handsome return, while, as events proved, the rainfall was found to be reliable and ample. But the clearings that were made were very small in proportion to the area of country still under bush, and the surrounding picture was an interesting one. Mile after mile of primeval forest, with here and there evidence of the enterprise of determined pioneers, presenting a view of a rough homestead, cattle or sheep pasturing, and patches of wheat and oats.
Here and there, too, the traveller would come upon a sawmill, still the chief source of local wealth, for the timber industry, together with the Public Works policy of the Vogel Government, were the two things page 371which gave the district the impetus so much required. Within the ten years following upon 1870, much of the country in the northern and western portions of the Province of Wellington was settled. Indeed, the development at that time within the Wellington boundaries was remarkable, although small, perhaps, compared with that of the past decade. But those were substantially the years of sowing; these last the years of harvesting.
The period intervening between 1879 and 1889 was one of severe commercial depression throughout New Zealand, and of course this community had its share of hard times, but again, as with all the colony, it was only the much-advertised darkness that precedes the dawn.
The cosmopolitan people who had made Palmerston and its environs their home were pioneers of the best type. The Britishers, the Scandinavians, the Danes, and the Germans had all by this time brought a certain amount of ordered cultivation out of the apparently impenetrable bush around them. There were several farms in the immediate neighbourhood of the Borough, and even in the Borough itself, which were giving excellent results; but the market was far away, transport difficult, and the prices so incommensurate with the page 372toil involved in raising the crop, that there were many disheartening features associated with the position.
The "eighties" were therefore not years of plenty for the Manawatu but they are notable for the fact that it was then that the foundations were laid of the two industries which have regenerated the North Island, if not the whole of New Zealand. These were the meat freezing and butter industries. The whole of the West Coast was found to be eminently suited for grazing purposes, and the farmers began to increase their flocks and herds while they extended their cultivations. But although the meat freezing industry was not brought to a successful financial issue until late in the decade, it provided the opportunity for getting stock to unlimited markets. Its development led to the opening up of much new country, and all the advantages that attended thereon. At first freezing works were established at Hawke's Bay and Wellington, to which the local stock was sent, and realised prices never hoped for a few years previously. As a result, land rose in value as much as stock, and an era of progress commenced which brought about so great a transformation that one might well have believed some giant magician had waved his wand over the district. Encouraged by the page 373prospects before the trade, the settlers were self-reliant enough to believe that they should have their own freezing works, instead of sending all their stock to Napier or Wellington, and a Company was formed to establish a factory at Longburn. Owing to the enterprise being started with insufficient capital, and to other mistakes incidental to ventures of this kind, the Company can scarcely be described as a financial success, and after struggling on for a time against the keen competition of their rivals, the concern passed into the hands of the National Mortgage and Agency Company, who now manage it to their own profit and the benefit of the district.
* The first dairy factory in what might be considered the Manawatu district was established by Mr. Corpe, at Rongotea, but the largest concern of the kind is the Dairy Union, which was founded in 1893 with a subscribed capital of £4665, and a nominal capital of £50,000, in 20,000 shares of £2 10s each. To-day the Union has factories and creameries scattered over the Manawatu, Wairarapa, and Hawke's Bay districts.
The effect of what was happening in the country was soon apparent in the town, for by 1886 the population of the Borough had risen to 2,595, and the number of dwellings to 496. There were then 645 ratepayers, and 1,256 rateable properties, of which the rental value was estimated at £19,566. This was considered such satisfactory progress that the then Councillors deemed it advisable to obtain a regular and sufficient water supply, so that the residents would not be dependent upon the cumbrous and haphazard system of wells and tanks, and in February, 1888, the gravitation service from the Tiritea Stream was completed at a cost of £18,500.
As the inland districts forged ahead, increased vitality became evident at the port of Foxton. The opening of the railway from Palmerston made it possible for the sawn timber to be exported, and there was soon a considerable increase in the shipping of the port. The old steamer "Napier" was page 375replaced by the "Jane Douglas," a smart little vessel, commanded by the popular Captain Fraser, and for years the bulk of the passengers from Wellington to Manawatu were conveyed as far as Foxton by this steamer. The Foxtonians about this time became anxious to have a journal to keep pace with their nearest rival, Palmerston, and accordingly on 27th August, 1878, the first number of "The Manawatu Herald" was issued by Messrs. G. W. and J. R. Russell, who conducted the paper with fair success for several years, and the journal (now under the proprietorship of Mr. E. S. Thynne) has always been a valued exponent of the wants of the town. At this time, too, a Customs House was opened at the port, and there were indications that the place was going to be a flourishing centre. A contract involving a considerable sum was let to Mr. J. Saunders for a new station yard and the alteration of the railway from the main street to the present line, in anticipation of the Wellington railway junctioning at the port. The opening of the Manawatu Railway, with its terminus at Longburn, however, gave the town a strong "set-back," and for some years, until the revival of the flax industry in 1888, the prospects were not encouraging. The flax industry has now made the place one of the soundest and most prosperous in the whole colony. page 376The town was made a Borough on 18th April, 1888, when the population was about 700.
In close proximity to Foxton there was still a large area of vacant land, which had caught the eye of a number of intending settlers, who made application to the Government to have it cut up into small blocks, offering to pay as much as £2 per acre for it. Much of the land was swamp, and as the Government did not see their way to expend the money necessary to drain it, they could only have sold the dry parts. This they considered would be sacrificing it, and they preferred to sell the whole block to a Mr. Douglas, an Otago squatter, at a figure which did not exceed 15s. per acre. Although Mr. Douglas is supposed to have been the representative of a syndicate, which contained many of the leading men in the colony, the transaction was conducted in his name, and the block became known as the Douglas Block. Amongst the conditions under which the land was sold, it was stipulated that a main drain was to be cut through the swamp, and that at least seventy families were to be settled in a township at the Kopani, in which the roads and streets were to be laid out and formed by the Company. At a subsequent stage it was discovered that the native eeling grounds, which the Government had no right to sell, had been included page 377in the purchase, and on the natives objecting, considerable litigation followed, resulting in Mr. Douglas receiving compensation, which reduced the price of the land to something like 5s. per acre. During this unsettled period Mr. Douglas, or the syndicate, sold their interest in the block to the Hon. Robert Campbell, another Otago squatter, and it was under his auspices that the present town of Rongotea was established. As part of the compensation awarded for the loss of the eeling grounds, the proprietor had obtained the concession of shifting the township from the Kopani, which was all rich land, and it was therefore laid out on the old terrace of the Oroua River, and called Campbelltown.* By some means the proprietor also managed to avoid the condition imposed in connection with the Kopani township of laying out and forming the streets, and this important and expensive, work had to be undertaken by the County Council. Still the township was formed, and is a prosperous settlement in the midst of the finest dairying district in the colony. The name Rongotea was suggested to the settlers by the Rev. T. G. Hammond, and signifies "Bright news." Close beside Rongotea was the Featherston Block, which was presented to Dr. Featherston by the Province, and after his death it was cut up and sold.
* In 1894 the name was changed from Campbelltown to Rongotea under the "Designation of Districts Act." Rongotea was the name of Turi's hapu.
But although the pall of depression hung heavily over the Manawatu during the early "eighties," those years must be regarded as memorable for the reason that this was the period in which was commenced the agitation to complete what is now known as the Manawatu Railway. In a colony such as this, where our institutions are fashioned in the mould of democracy, it would neither be right nor politic to countenance a wide extension of private ownership of railways, but whether we look upon this line with a favourable or hostile eye because it is privately owned, there can be no contravening the fact that it is to its existence that the Manawatu largely owes the prosperous and influential position which it holds to-day. It is not contended that without the railway the Manawatu would still have remained in a state of nature, for there will always be an element of progress wherever a section of the British race has established itself, but it is no exaggeration of the facts to say that but for the building of this line there would neither have been the same degree of rapidity in the development of the district, nor would that development have been accomplished with the same amount of profit to the settlers. For this reason no niggardly spirit should actuate the Government in any future negotiations for page 379the purchase of the railway by the Crown, but its worth as a colonising agent should be borne in mind, and some allowance made to the Company for the part it has played in turning the wilderness into a garden—a service to the country that can scarcely be expressed in a money value. If the Manawatu Railway has not been the salvation of the district, it has at least been the royal road to that end, and as such the story of its inception and construction must find a place in the pages of our history.
This work, strangely enough, was not embraced in the great Public Works scheme initiated by Sir Julius Vogel in 1871, for at that time, and for ten years later, there existed a fixed idea that the results would not justify the expense. Towards 1878, however, there began to grow a glimmering in the mind of Mr. James Macandrew, who was then Minister for Public Works under Sir George Grey, that possibly the dictum of the past was wrong, and that there were in the Manawatu latent qualities which only waited for some such work to vitalise them. He accordingly instituted enquiries and had careful surveys made between Wellington and Foxton, and as no great engineering difficulties were encountered, the construction of the line was sanctioned, with its northern terminus at page 380Foxton, where it was to connect with the branch already laid to Palmerston. A start was accordingly made, and before disaster overtook the Grey Government, a sum of something like £33,000 was spent, principally upon the tunnels and heavy cuttings in the vicinity of Paikakariki. On the 8th October, 1879, Sir George Grey and his colleagues went out of office, and as these were days when the colony was in reality " galloping to a deficit," a relentless curb was put upon all public expenditure by Mr. Hall,* who succeeded to the Premiership. This mandate of retrenchment was of course extended to the work on the West Coast line, and the stagnation which followed the sudden stoppage of colonial enterprise was experienced as bitterly in the Manawatu as elsewhere.
* Now Sir John Hall.
"This line, "said the Commissioners, "would be in direct competition with that which we recommend should be constructed by way of the Manawatu Gorge. But, apart from that fact; we consider that the proposal is premature, on the ground that a large part of the country it would open up is still in the hands of native owners; and inexpedient on the ground that the value of the land which the line would serve has been greatly overrated, and that the undertaking would be an unprofitable one, which the colony would not be justified in entering upon. We advise that the expenditure now going on at the Wellington end of the line be at once stopped, and the labour employed thereon transferred to the Masterton and Mauriceville section."
The report was generally regarded by Parliament as the result of hurried and imperfect enquiry into the position, and it was not taken seriously, most of its recommendations being ignored as against the claims of party and other political considerations. But in those days the representation along the West Coast was not powerful, and as there was no compact combination of members to champion the cause of the Manawatu line, its suspension was about the only part of the Commission's page 382report to which the slightest regard was paid. For more than a year the project thus rested in abeyance, and the tunnels and cuttings lay wind-swept and unused, except, perhaps, as a sheltering place for some weary swagger. But all this time there had been a feeling of impatience generating amongst some of Wellington's most enterprising men at the delay which separated them from the day when the city would be connected by railway with its richest stretch of back country.
The need for this railway had long taken definite form in the minds of a few progressive spirits, such as John Plimmer, James Wallace, and the late W. T. L. Travers, but the Government were powerless or unwilling to help. The policy of the day was against further borrowing, and the revenue of the colony did not permit of so gigantic a work being carried on out of surplus funds. The Ministry was repeatedly approached, but the invariable reply was a plea that the railway would not pay, and that there was no money to build it even if its financial success was assured. In this position there was no alternative left for its advocates but to rely on their own resources, and on 30th September, 1880, a public meeting was called in Wellington by Mr. W. T. L. Travers, at which there were some thirty gentlemen present, " to consider what action, if any, should be taken towards page 383the construction of the West Coast Railway." The Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Jonas Woodward, presided, and Mr. Travers, after explaining his reason for calling the meeting, is credited by a contemporary* report with saying:
There were two or three things we must look upon as postulate. The Government would not construct the line—first, because they would not; secondly, because they said they would not; thirdly, because they had no money—and he believed they had no money. There was another mode of constructing the line—viz., the District Railways Act, but personally he had little faith in that Act, and he would not take any part in any suggestion to construct the line under it. Such a proposal would be completely impracticable, and he would resist any attempt to fasten upon the people of Wellington the charge for the guarantee under the Act. He knew of no other means of carrying out the work than by private capital being brought to bear, and he saw no possibility of getting" it done by private capital unless the Government gave a guarantee, as people would not take it up as a matter of speculation. He had sketched out a few resolutions with a view to adopting this last method. It would be necessary, before asking capitalists to aid them, to place themselves in possession of the fullest information regarding the probable cost of the work. He believed the scheme was feasible, and if they went to the London money market with a guarantee from the Government of 4 or 4½ per cent., there would be no difficulty in getting the work carried out. Mr. Travers then moved—
(1) That it was essential to the interests of the city and the districts lying between it and Whanganui, that a line of railway should bepage 384constructed without delay between Wellington and Manawatu.
* The "Evening Post."
(2) That the Government being unable to undertake the work, steps should be taken to construct it by private capital, the Government being asked to guarantee a reasonable rate of interest. (3) That a Provisional Company be formed, and that £5000 be raised to meet the preliminary expenses. (4) That the title be the Wellington and West Coast Railway Company, the capital to be sufficient to complete the work and provide rolling stock; and that Provisional Directors be appointed to take the necessary steps for arranging preliminaries and to issue certificates to all subscribers towards preliminary expenses, entitling them to £3 in shares for every £1 so subscribed. (5) That the co-operation of the outlying districts and the members representing them and the city be invited.
Mr. John Plimmer seconded the motion, believing it would be the life of Wellington to have this railway. If the line was not constructed, he saw nothing but disaster ahead. He knew they could save some hundreds of thousands of pounds per year in what could be produced in the district if the West Coast line was completed. If the thing was put in proper form, he would be willing to take up £1000 worth of shares, and there were many who could as well afford to take up £5000 as he could £1000. If he lost that £1000 and the railway was made, he would gain £5000; if the railway was not made he would lose £5000; was it not better to sacrifice a little for a great good—to lose £1000 than to keep on losing?The Hon. Dr. Grace supported the motion, but page break page break page 385objected to the scheme as impracticable, as the Legislature would not guarantee this scheme alone; and any scheme which failed would involve great mischief to the project. The Legislature would doubtless be of opinion that the Otago Central would be as much entitled to a guarantee as this one. In his place in the Legislative Council he would most decidedly resist any wide-spread system of guaranteeing loans for the purpose of constructing lines in this colony. He would be willing, in this instance, to incur his portion of the responsibility in supporting a guarantee, but he felt, in the present state of parties, such a guarantee to one place would be impossible. There was another, and not too remote way of getting the line constructed, to urge upon the Government the purchase of the native land lying between Paikakariki and the Manawatu River; a purchase which he believed could be easily effected. This being done, he thought the colony would be quite willing to construct the line out of the proceeds of the land. He pointed out the great loss Wellington was put to by want of proper communication with the West Coast. Criticising the scheme sketched by Mr. Travers, Dr. Grace took exception to the part proposing to give £3 in shares for every £1 subscribed, and pointed out that if the Government purchased the line it would be at prime cost. He moved as an amendment—
That this meeting deputes its Chairman, and the following members (to be chosen) to wait in deputation upon the Government, and urge the completion of the purchase of the native land lying between Paikakariki and the Manawatu River.
The Chairman pointed out that this was scarcely an amendment upon the motion before the meeting, which was the consideration of the first resolution moved by Mr. Travers, as it referred more to the other resolutions page 386sketched by Mr. Travers. It was therefore decided to postpone it for a time.
Mr. Travers explained that the guarantee was to come out of the land fund arising within the district. As to the amendment, it merely proposed to urge upon the Government to do what was already being done, they having appointed an agent to procure the land. If exception was taken to the £3 being given for £1 subscribed, that portion could be eliminated, but it was necessary to raise money for preliminary expenses, and the plan suggested was that in vogue in England.
The resolution was then put and carried unanimously.
Dr. Grace's resolution was then put and seconded by Mr. George Allen.
Mr. John Plimmer moved as an amendment—
That in the opinion of this meeting a preliminary Committee be at once appointed to make the necessary enquiries, and take steps to form a company to be called the " North Island West Coast Railway Company," and to report to another meeting as early as practicable preparatory to bringing the whole subject before the public.
Mr. Wallace seconded the amendment, which he thought supported Mr. Travers' views.
Mr. A. de B. Brandon thought the resolution the most practical solution.
Mr. W. Johnston thought the Government could not object to provide £4000 for the completion of surveys, especially as the work had been authorised for the last two years. A deputation might be appointed to ask the Government to make the surveys.
Dr. Grace then withdrew his motion and Mr. Plimmer's amendment became the substantive motion.page 387
Mr. W. Johnston then moved as an amendment—
That a deputation be appointed by this meeting to wait on the Government, urging that a survey line be made at once, with an estimate of the probable cost of the work.
Mr. Levin thought that if Mr. Johnston's amendment was carried, it would simply mean putting the matter off again. They had sufficient data to go upon to form a tolerable estimate of the cost. It would be better to leave Mr. Plimmer's resolution as it was, and let the Committee obtain what information it could. Before doing anything, however, he hoped the Committee would see that there was a reasonable prospect of something like £50,000 being obtained in Wellington and the district.
The Hon. P. Buckley spoke strongly against going to the Government for anything, they having broken faith so often; when they were prepared to subscribe the money they might go to the Government for information with a prospect of obtaining it.
Mr. W. S. Moorhouse, M.H.R., thought it necessary to treat with the Government for a guarantee, as unless there was some guarantee they could not treat with the English capitalist. The best way to bring about the desired result was to get an understanding from the Government that the whole of the land acquired from the natives should be set aside for the construction of the line.
It being understood that the Committee should do all that was required by Mr. Johnston's amendment, that gentleman withdrew it.
Mr. Plimmer's resolution was unanimously carried, and the following gentlemen were appointed as a Committee:— Messrs. Travers, Levin, W. Johnston, Moorhouse, J. Wallace, Grace, Buckley, Shannon, Brandon, page 388Hutchison, George, Greenfield, Woodward, A. Young, Plimmer, Lewis, and J. H. Wallace, with power to add to their number.
Mr. J. H. Wallace volunteered to act as Secretary to the Committee.
It was moved by Mr. Levin, seconded by Mr. Plimmer—
That the cordial thanks of the meeting be presented to Mr. Travers for the great trouble he has taken with a view to carrying out the West Coast Railway.
The motion was carried unanimously, and a vote of thanks to the Chairman terminated the proceedings.
* This sum was afterwards increased to £850,000, of which £170,000 is paid up.and debentures have been issued for £680,000 at 5 per cent.
† This land was valued by Messrs, James McKerrow, Surveyor-General; James Linton, and T. K. Macdonald.
The first contract for construction was signed in September, 1882, and the work was pushed on so vigorously from both ends that the whole line was completed by November, 1886. On the 3rd of that month there was performed, at Otaihanga, the historic ceremony of driving the last spike at the spot where the northern and southern sections connected. Over this finishing point a triumphal arch, built of nikau palms and fern fronds, was stretched, underneath which a train from Wellington, bearing some seven hundred excursionists, steamed, just as a sister train from Palmerston came in sight with over three hundred passengers, bent upon witnessing the interesting ceremony. The day was beautifully fine, and scarcely could a more picturesque spot have been chosen, or one in which the richness of its historic associations so completely marked the parting of the old order from the new. Under the shade of the hill the people page 391gathered in a motley group, while His Excellency the Governor, Lady Jervois, Sir Robert Stout, the Premier, and several of his Ministers were conducted by Mr. J. E. Nathan, the Chairman of Directors, to the spot where the last spike was to be driven. Here Mr. Nathan delivered an address, in which he reviewed at length the history of the railway, the story of its troubles and its triumphs, in the following terms: —
Your Excellency,—Permit me, on behalf of the shareholders of the Company, to tender you our thanks for your presence here to-day, and for your kindness in consenting to drive the last spike, thus putting the finishing stroke that completes the line of railway between Wellington and New Plymouth. My Board ventured to ask you to perform this ceremony, because they felt that although this work had been, and is still being carried out by a Joint Stock Company, the work they have accomplished is of no ordinary character. They venture to esteem this work as of a colonial character, originally undertaken at a time when the colony, as a whole, was suffering from severe depression —at a time when the Government of the colony practically said to the citizens of Wellington, " However much we recognise the need of such a work being performed, it is beyond the power of the Executive Government of the colony to undertake it." There was then aroused in the hearts of the citizens of Wellington, and the settlers of the province, that feeling of self-reliance and thorough earnestness which, when directed towards a good purpose, invariably leads to success. We claim that not only have we built a railway that will benefit the whole colony, but that we have set such an example to our fellow colonists, of united action for the common good, page 392that it will for ever afterwards serve as a monument of well-directed energy and perseverance. It may not be inappropriate on this occasion to place on record a short history of our proceedings. When the Public Works Act was first announced, the Northern Main Trunk Line was laid down on the present Napier route, passing over the Rimutaka. Many Wellington citizens saw at once that such was a vital mistake, that without provision for connection of the city with the West Coast, Wellington, for all practical purposes as a commercial centre, was completely isolated and cut off from the largest and most valuable portion of the province as represented by the rich lands stretching from where we now stand, as far as New Plymouth on the one side, and the centre of the Island and Napier on the other. Despite strong representations by prominent representatives in Parliament, no attempt was made to rectify the mistake, or to recognise the claim of Wellington to have a shorter, cheaper, and safer railway connection with the north than by the Rimutaka. It is to the Government under Sir George Grey that Wellington is indebted for this railway. Mr. Macandrew, who was Minister for Public Works under Sir George Grey, was the first to recognise the necessity of providing a Northern Trunk Line that would give quick and easy travelling, and yield profitable returns. In 1878 and 1879 Mr. Macandrew had extensive surveys made, which demonstrated that by adopting a West Coast Line to Palmerston a saving of a third of the distance would be made, beside having a railway built on a much-improved grade. Mr. Macandrew had such faith in the prospects of a West Coast Line that he commenced the work without delay. Unfortunately, after an expenditure of over £33,000, a change of Ministry having taken place, the work was stopped, and the line reported against by a Royal Commission. In the face of such report there were those who, nevertheless, had faith in the line, and were page 393prepared to risk their capital and spend their time in promoting the undertaking. Foremost amongst those who took a very energetic part about this line, I should mention Mr. Travers, also Mr. Wallace, our able manager. Deputations waited on the Cabinet, representing all the advantages that would accrue to the colony by the carrying out of this work. When Sir John Hall, then Premier, pointed out that the Government had not the means to continue the good work already commenced by Mr. Macandrew, he said that if the citizens were so confident of the result of such a railway being built they would invest their own capital, then his Government were prepared to make certain concessions, if a Joint Stock Company was formed for carrying on the work; and he would introduce a Bill into Parliament to give due effect to the proposal. In a few months such a Joint Stock Company was formed, with a capital of £500,000, and the shares were taken up by the citizens of Wellington and the settlers in and around Palmerston, to the extent of £50,000. It was represented to intending shareholders at the time, that they were not invited to take shares in this Company as an ordinary Joint Stock undertaking, but they were asked to subscribe such sums as they could, according to their several positions, afford without the expectation of any return, the intention being that the £50,000 might be placed at the disposal of the promoters to ensure the work being carried out. However, the £50,000 was subscribed, and the Company was registered in 1881. The Land and Railway Construction Act was passed in the same year. A contract was immediately concluded between the Government and the Company, and was signed on the 22nd of March, 1882. In the course of the negotiations with the Government, and with those with whom it was deemed desirable to be in sympathy with the undertaking, so much was learned of the country through which the proposed line was to run, that those who had entered into the undertaking as page 394colonists for the good of the colony as a whole, and for the Wellington city and province in particular, saw it would prove a pecuniary success. Invitations were sent to eighteen gentlemen to meet at the Chamber of Commerce, of whom thirteen attended. The contract with the Government and the prospects of the Company were explained to these gentlemen, and they were asked to subscribe for the maximum shares allotted to be held by the Articles of Association, viz., 2,000. It is a great pleasure to place on record the fact that each gentleman present, either for himself or for the firm he represented at once signed this paper. Here it is, signed by thirteen, viz., J. E. Nathan, John Plimmer, Travers and Cave, James Lockie, N. Reid, W. R. Williams, Thompson and Shannon, James Bull, T. G. Macarthy, F. and C. Ollivier, J. B. Harcourt, James Smith, and D. Anderson, junr., thus at once increasing the subscribed capital to £130,000. The work done on that day by thirteen citizens of Wellington must be esteemed the most important that was ever concluded in one day in the annals of Wellington, and this particular document will be mounted and preserved, as so important a document deserves to be. Within a few days of this meeting (March 23rd, 1882) the subscribed capital amounted to £300,000. Other citizens followed the worthy example set them by the thirteen subscribers of this document. Most of the gentlemen who formed the first directorate are still members of it, and it is due to the efforts of these, supported most loyally by the shareholders of the Company, that the railway is completed to-day. I must not forget to mention that the Company is indebted to Sir Julius Vogel, who so ably acted as the first agent of the Company in London, to whom was entrusted the important function of floating the first debentures, amounting to £400,000, and appointing the first London Board. These important matters were carried out by Sir Julius at a time, and under circumstances that it is page 395believed no one else could have succeeded as he did. Our first London Board consisted of Sir Penrose Julyan, Sir Edward Stafford, and the Hon. Mr. Mundella. It is to Sir Julius Vogel and these gentlemen that the shareholders are indebted for the successful floating of the Company's debentures, now amounting to £560,000, the capital of the Company having been increased in 1885 by the issue of further shares, so that to-day it is £700,000 in £5 shares, £75,000 being subscribed for in Wellington and other parts of the colony, and £65,000 in London. In September, 1882, the first contract was commenced, and to-day, 3rd November, 1886, or in four years and two months, the last contract has been finished, and the works may be said to be completed. On the railway itself, for formation and rolling stock, over £700,000 has been expended in completing and equipping 84 miles. As to the importance of this railway as a main link in the chain of the Trunk Line, it may be stated that by using the Company's Line when the inland portion from Marton to Te Awamutu is completed, it will be possible to run at express speed from Auckland to Wellington in sixteen or seventeen hours. Even now, with a fast line of steamers running between Taranaki and Auckland, we hope to see a service between Auckland and Wellington of twenty-four hours. The importance of this line as a link in the development of settlement of those vast and fertile lands between the two great and fine ports of the colony, cannot be over-estimated. Wellington and Auckland may be said to possess the only two harbours in the North Island. There is lying between them a vast extent of the finest land awaiting settlement, the one essential being rapid and easy communication to and from these fine lands to these two harbours, easy of access to ocean-going steamers and sailing ships. But the line that would divide this traffic, as between the two ports, as far as cheap transit is concerned, cuts across the Island at the points which gives the largest area of page 396land suitable for settlement, by fourfold to Wellington, and through this so described land we have the New Plymouth Line running a distance of 166 miles; the inland Trunk Line, 150 miles, when finished; the Napier, when completed to Palmerston, 130 miles; all centreing at Longburn, the junction of the Manawatu Railway. The total area of this country so served by this line as the main trunk leading to Wellington harbour, is 5,000,000 acres, little more than one-fifth of which can be said to be occupied, the balance awaits development. In this view, which is the correct one, Wellington, so far as settlement and development is concerned, is but in its infancy. All other parts of the colony have been opened up, occupied, and settled. The back country proper of Wellington has only been touched at its threshold. The Manawatu Railway is the royal road to its development. No part of New Zealand is equal to that portion which this railway will serve for cattle raising or as an agricultural country, because of its salubrity, shelter, and the quality of its soil. For all these reasons we esteem our work one of colonial importance, and thank you for consenting to take part in this day's proceedings. Allow me now to hand you the last spike, with which I will ask you to complete the link that will unite Auckland, Napier, and Taranaki with Wellington.
At the conclusion of Mr. Nathan's speech, Sir William jervois drove the last spike, apologising for his awkwardness in doing so by explaining that he was not an experienced navvy. At the same time he expressed his pleasure at being present on such an occasion, which was a red-letter day not only for Wellington but for the whole colony. In his opinion it was impossible to exaggerate the value of the work carried out by the Company, a work page 397 which he predicted would open up a vast area of country for occupation by prosperous settlers.
Mr. Nathan then, on behalf of the Directors, presented His Excellency with a gold spike, enclosed in a handsome case inlaid with New Zealand woods, and amidst the ringing cheers of the people and the strains of the National Anthem, the greatest enterprise which had up to that time been attempted in the Province, was consummated. An adjournment was then made to a large marquee, where luncheon was laid and speeches of a congratulatory nature were made, the one note of regret being sounded by Sir Robert Stout, who expressed his disappointment that the line had not been made by the colony instead of by the Company.
On November 29th of the same year high holiday was kept in Palmerston, for on that day the first train, consisting of ten carriages, ran through from Wellington to the Manawatu, and signalised by its advent the actual opening of the railway. Many of the five hundred passengers who came by that train had never before passed beyond the confines of the city, and the amazement with which they beheld a town of Palmerston's magnitude set in the heart of the bush was equalled only by the enthusiasm with which they contemplated the magnificent stretch of rich though page 398undeveloped country through which they had passed. In commemoration of the occasion, a great banquet was held in the Theatre Royal, at which the Mayor of the town, Mr. A. Ferguson, presided, being supported on his right and left by Messrs. J. E. Nathan* and James Smith, prominent pioneers of the line, while the vice-chairs were occupied by Messrs. Linton† and West, ex-Mayors of the Borough.
As is natural on such an occasion, generous eulogium was passed upon the enterprise of those who had promoted the railway, and the fancy of the orators was allowed to fly into the realm of prophecy; but great as the expectations were in those days, they were not half so great as the realisation has been in these, for the success of the railway has far exceeded the brightest hopes of its builders, and as an aid to the development of the country it has played a part which must command as much respect from the Democrat, who believes in State-owned railways, as from the Conservative who pins his faith to private enterprise.
* In the course of his speech, Mr. J. E. Nathan, Chairman of Directors, drew attention to the difference in treatment which the Company had received from the Maoris and from the European settlers, in proof of which he stated that out of the 84 miles of railway which they had constructed, the natives had granted them running rights over 31½ miles of land, while they had only obtained a similar concession over three miles from Europeans, and as an instance of how some of them seemed to consider the Company "fair game" to be exploited, he mentioned that one settler claimed £4,700 as compensation, but the Court was satisfied that he was entitled to no more than £300.
† Several of the small townships along the line were called after prominent Directors of the Company. Thus it was that Linton, Shannon, Levin, and Plimmerton received their names.
* This arduous and difficult piece of railway construction was carried out under the Public Works Department, by the contractors, Messrs. Jones and Peters, and with its completion, the quiet stillness of this picturesque mountain passage, formerly broken only by the waiatas from a passing Maori canoe, was gone for ever.
† Bunnythorpe is a Government township laid out on the opposite side of the railway to Mugby Junction. When the diversion to Palmerston took place, a great fall occurred in Mugby sections, many of which were bought for £100 and sold for £5.
But it would be impossible to trace in consecutive detail the various steps by which Palmerston North has risen to this importance. It undoubtedly owes much to the richness of the surrounding country, its fortunate position as a railway junction and commercial centre; and its citizens, recognising that they must make the most of these advantages, are ever ready to accept the responsibilities which they involve. So far as its municipal management is concerned, its streets are broad and well kept. In many of them there are avenues of trees, and at night they are lighted, in most instances by large incandescent arc lamps. Seven of these powerful illuminators are situated at different points of the Square, their lofty and ornamental pedestals being as beautifying by day as their rays are useful by night. In the centre of the Square stands a stately band rotunda, set in the midst of a green lawn and surrounded by pretty plantations of trees and shrubs, while near it rises a Gothic monument to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII. The Council has also provided a splendid recreation ground and picturesque park for outdoor amusements, as well as a Public Library and Reading Room for intellectual entertainment. An excellent hospital, page 402founded in 1887* as a memorial of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, graces the summit of one of the neighbouring eminences, receiving into its wards the sick and maimed from a wide district. In sanitary matters Palmerston North is equally up to modern requirements, for water and sewerage services are now extended, or on the point of being extended, to almost every part of the Borough, and every year these conveniences are becoming more complete.
In municipal progress Palmerston North also possesses the distinction of being the first town in the world to adopt the principle of rating on the unimproved value of its land, and although in times gone by there were dark days in the Borough finance, so much so that all new works and even maintenance had to be suspended, the revenue of the town is now well assured, and the burden of taxation is not excessive.
* Prior to this time all cases of accident from the Palmerston district were sent to the Whanganui Hospital, and as there was a great deal of bush-felling in and around the town, these misadventures were of very frequent occurrence. Mr James Grace, who was then a guard on the railway, saw many cases of intense agony caused by the train journey, and when a public meeting was held in Palmerston to consider how the late Queen's Jubilee might be best commemorated, it was decided on his suggestion to build an hospital, " as a fitting work by which the completion of the Victorian half century should be marked." A site was purchased for £300, and from various sources a sum of £540 was available for building purposes, amongst them being the proceeds from an Industrial Exhibition, which was opened in the goods-shed (in the Square) on December 28th, 1887, and realised a profit of £241 7s.
No barometer so faithfully records the progress made by this part of the North Island as the rapid strides towards metropolitan fame page 404achieved by the Manawatu and West Coast Agricultural and Pastoral Association. Seventeen years ago this institution began a humble existence in a stump-covered paddock in a little bush township, with a total entry of 290 exhibits, of which sheep alone comprised fully one-third. But the days when there were only 73 horses and 45 cattle brought to the Manawatu Show have long since passed away,* and with them the little bush township; indeed, so rapid has been the transformation, and so great the change, that it would be almost incredible to any one not acquainted with the facts, who now visited the grounds on show day, to conceive that so primitive a condition of affairs could have once existed. But it must not be supposed that the development of our bush lands has alone been responsible for the enormous congregation of products pertaining to the agricultural and pastoral industries gathered together in Palmerston, for the Association, under whose auspices these shows are held, has always had a committee who have presided over its affairs with a patient enthusiasm that has never failed to seize the favourable opportunity of pressing forward the claims of the Society.
* At the inception of the Association, almost every animal exhibited at the show belonged to the district immediately around Palmerston North, but now the pick of the flocks and herds are brought from far and near to compete. At the 1902 show the total entry in all classes was 6,297.
In their solicitations for support they have ever been loyally aided by the people of the town, and both working harmoniously together have built up a show which now commands respect as the leading exhibition of its kind in the colony. This annual event is attended by upwards of 20,000 people, who flock from all parts of the North Island and some parts of the South to swell the crowd at the Farmers' Festival. The arrangements made for the accommodation of this multitude are invariably the most complete, and reflect the greatest credit upon the committee, who take as much pride in their work as the public take pleasure in patronising the show, which is unrivalled in the North and not surpassed in the South.
Another interesting feature of the business life of Palmerston North is its weekly stock sales, at which thousands of sheep and hundreds of cattle are brought under the hammer of the auctioneer. To these sales buyers come from far and near, and on a "sale day" the town assumes quite an animated appearance, this being regarded by the shopkeepers as their natural opportunity for reaping the weekly harvest.
From an architectural point of view Palmerston North is not yet very impressive, as there are few buildings of massive proportions or page 406imposing appearance. Perhaps the best of them are the Court-house and Public Library, while St. Patrick's Church, with its lofty steeple rising out of a Norman tower, and its tuneful peal of bells, is the most striking of the twelve ecclesiastical buildings which fulfil the religious requirements of the people. The education of the young is attended to in eight schools, both public and private. At one of the former—the Technical School—which is associated with the District High School, art in many of its branches is taught.
Owing to its central position, its splendid means of communication, and the constant influx of strangers Palmerston North has become an extremely cosmopolitan town. It has escaped the narrowness of thought and action which is begotten of isolation, and the newcomer who desires to cast in his lot with its inhabitants, will find them willing to extend to him a hearty welcome and a fair field for his energies. So long as this generous attitude is maintained people will be attracted to the town and district, and as an increase of population means an increase of business, the future of Palmerston North need give its residents no concern. It has a position which stands pre-eminent. Thes unrounding district is rich and fertile, and with one or two exceptions it is settled to the best advantage. page 407The one thing it requires is a large industrial development, and this but needs the provision of some cheap power which perhaps is stored in the streams of the district, waiting to be harnessed by the ingenuity of man, who can apply the electrical energy thus obtained to the factory and the workshop. If these great natural assets are only utilised and developed by an energetic and industrious people, Palmerston North will yet become what it ought to be—the large and populous manufacturing centre of a district which by virtue of its traditions and historical associations may justly claim to be regarded amongst the richest of New Zealand's classic spots.