Old Marlborough. or The Story of a Province.
Thy peace thus rudely broken and disturbed,
Struck terror to the heart;
And settlers trembling and perturbed,
Shrunk from the settlers' part;
But Time, the world's great leveller,
Sped in his wondrous course,
Till shortly came the anxious traveller
Through Waitohi's wooded pass.
Fair lands before him stretched,
And beauty's conquering view
The ideal home in fancy sketched,
In 'midst of pastures rich and new.
So far as Marlborough was concerned the work of colonisation remained completely in abeyance for many months after that fatal 17th of June. Then the spirit of adventure amongst the younger members of the Nelson settlement could no longer be restrained, and explorations again began to be made towards the Wairau, in 1845, by Messrs. Fox, Redwood, Ward and Goulter, with a view to finding a shorter route from Waimea than that discovered by Mr. Tuckett, but their labours were not rewarded by the discovery of anything more accessible than the track page 318via Top House, and that for years remained the chief thoroughfare to the east and south. In March of the same year another party of explorers, consisting of Messrs. Fox, Renwick, Jollie and Wells, led by Mr. Stephens, who had succeeded Mr. Tuckett as the Company's chief surveyor, made a journey up Queen Charlotte Sound, through the Waitohi Pass to the Wairau; and overland to Nelson, a tour which occupied seventeen days. All these explorers were deeply impressed with the magnificence of the country, and freely proclaimed its suitability for settlement, but their favourable reports were scarcely an antidote for the rooted prejudice which the colonists harboured against the blood-stained valley. To go down to the Wairau in those days was considered almost as foolhardy a piece of business as Stanley's dive into Darkest Africa, and the following authenticated conversation between a Nelson settler and his son is but typical of the dread with which such a tempting of Providence was regarded:—
"Where be gooing, Garge?" "I be gooing down to the Wairau, Father." "But thee musn't go theer, lad." "But I be gooing, Father." "Then go my boy, and God be wi' thee," exclaimed the old man as he parted page 319from his lad, whom he doubtless gave up for lost.
But still the stream of settlement rippled on, and about the year 1847, a few settlers began to scatter over the lower plain, most of them coming from the bays, where the whaling stations were beginning to break up. In that year Mr. Clifford*, in conjunction with the late Sir Frederick Weld, brought 3,000 sheep from Sydney, and landing them at Port Underwood, took them over to the present Flaxbourne run, these gentlemen being amongst the first to make a systematic effort to stock the pastoral lands of Marlborough. This effort at colonisation was no doubt facilitated by the fact that Governor Grey paid to Rauparaha the sum of £1,600, with a promise of more, in consideration of his tribe's claim upon the lands on both sides of the Strait.
* Afterwards Sir Charles Clifford, Bart, first Speaker of the House of Representatives.
* It is believed that the scab was first introduced into the province from Nelson in 1848. In its early stages it was dressed, by hand, with a solution of bluestone, which was necessarily a slow and expensive process. The first tank dip was made by Mr. Duppa, at Birch Hill, and was called the "Royal George." The dressing then used was a solution of tobacco, every station having a tobacco plantation of its own to grow the raw material for the dip.
† Mr. Coward was afterwards drowned while crossing the Wairau River, at a place ever since called Coward's Island.
* The camp was pitched on "Starvation Point," so-called by Messrs. Ward and Goulter, because while surveying the country they were isolated there for three days without food during a flood in the Waihopai. "Dog Point," a little lower down the plain, derived its name from the fact that one day while Mr. Ward was looking through the theodolite at this particular spot, he saw a wild dog run across the spur, and he straightway named it "Dog Point,"
* The only other visitors of note who came to Mr. Rush's camp were Messrs. John Tinline and John Sharp, who had walked overland together from Nelson. Mr. Tinline was the first white man to walk through the Rai Valley.
* Even at a much later period, when the valley was being fairly well peopled the settlers suffered considerable annoyance from the wild bulls that came down from the runs and took charge of things generally. One of these animals invariably made a scratching pole of Dr. Stewart's whare on Doctor's Flat, and one day while Mr. Bull was arranging his toilet with more than usual energy, the Doctor rushed out with a sword in his hand to drive him away, but seeing the appendage end of the animal projecting past the corner of the building, a sudden inspiration seized him, and with one slash of the weapon he severed the tail in twain, whereupon the bull did not stop to enquire after his property, but made straight for the hills, where he had time to reflect upon the passing mystery by which he lost his fly-switcher. Needless to say the Doctor was not troubled by that bovine again. On another occasion, when Mr. Duppa's bullock puncher was taking his team up the valley, he was accompanied by Captain I——, an Indian officer, who was going on a visit to the station. Amongst the goods on the dray was a large iron boiler in which the tobacco dip for the sheep was prepared. When they were opposite Hillersden they heard Mr. Sweet's bull roaring in the distance, but apparently drawing nearer every moment. Presently they saw him charging along the road in the midst of a cloud of dust, and in a very short time it was perfectly evident that they were in for an adventure, for no sooner had the bull caught up to them than he attacked the more docile working bullocks, and in a few seconds the whole caravan was in a state of chaos. The driver jumped down and began punching the infuriated bull with the handle of his whip, and after considerable effort he succeeded in driving him off, but when he climbed back on to the dray he found the gallant captain coiled up in the bottom of the boiler, from which he emerged when assured there was no longer any danger, at the same time apologising for his apparent want of bravery by explaining that while he would cheerfully face a whole tribe of Sikhs, he stood in mortal dread of a wild bull.
Prominent amongst these settlers along the shores of Cloudy Bay was Mr. Wynen, who, after the murder of his wife, left his seclusion at Port Underwood and established a combination of store and drinking shanty at the Boulder Bank. At first he had no license to sell liquor there, although if all that is said be true, the paradoxical spectacle of sly grog being sold openly was witnessed every day, but when Lieut.-Governor Eyre was returning from his ascent of Mount Tapuaenuku in 1849 he called at the house, and desiring to purchase liquid refreshments, was told that there was no license to sell. He thereupon gave the necessary permit, under which the Boulder Bank accommodation house became the first licensed premises in the province. This, and similar places, which were opened at a later date, were frequented by a class of men who were doubtless but the product of the period, but whose day and generation has now happily passed away. Rough and uncouth bullock-drivers, boatmen and whalers, who had no moralising influences to put a curb upon their passions, and who, therefore, abandoned themselves to every excess it was possible to perpetrate, and revelled in drunken orgies which are almost past our comprehen-page 329sion in these days of comparative sobriety. That the Boulder Bank was then a centre of interest was due to the fact that shipping from the Wairau was just beginning to be established, and it was a convenient port of call for the bullock-punchers in passing to and from the stations in the Awatere. As yet no road had been made into that district, but the station supplies were carted along the beach and round the Bluff in the good old-fashioned bullock - drays. These journeys were often attended with a good deal of excitement and even danger, for not infrequently huge stones came bounding down the steep face of the cliff, and, striking some members of the team, caused a panic amongst the bullocks, and the driver was extremely fortunate if a capsize was not the result. Then again a driver, impatient of waiting, would sometimes attempt to pass the Bluff before the tide had fully retired, or if the delays of the road caused him to arrive after the tide had commenced to flow, he often punched his bullocks in the surf and chanced the consequences, which were seldom more serious than getting the wool or stores wet. Once an accident happened by which Mr. Kemp, Mr. Newcombe's manager at Starborough, lost his life, and tradition tells of how, on another occasion, a risky journey of this kind was nearly attended by fatal results. On the page 330day in question an unsophisticated son of Erin was enjoying a gentle ride on top of the load, when a wave of more than ordinary proportions came dashing against the dray and swept the unwary passenger off in the backwash. Pat fully believed that his hour had come, and thinking it right that his temporal affairs should cause no trouble after his demise, he shouted his last will and testament to those who were still in the dray, but between gulps of salt water and his frantic efforts to get ashore, all they could hear was this imperative injunction, "I leave all my money to my brother Mike. I leave all my money to my brother Mike." But things had not reached such a desperate crisis, for Pat was soon fished out, and is still in the land of the living, so that brother Mike has not yet come into his inheritance.
Mr. Wynen continued at the Boulder Bank in his dual capacities of publican and storekeeper until 1855, when he sold out to Mr. Samuel Bowler, and came up to the Beaver, now the town of Blenheim, and to facilitate shipping arrangements he opened a raupo-built store on the site of Clouston & Co.'s Bond. These primitive premises were afterwards destroyed by fire, and his second establishment, which was also the second wooden building in the Beaver, has long since been demolished. The principal traders to page 331the port at this time were the schooners "Triumph" and "Old Jack," both of which discharged their cargoes inside the Boulder Bank, the goods being brought to the Beaver in boats towed by horses who were so accustomed to be sworn at, that ultimately any instructions from the driver which were not accompanied by a liberal supply of profanity became perfectly unintelligible to them, and it was in this business of shipping and receiving goods that Mr. Wynen was chiefly engaged. Of those who were employed in transporting the wool and stores up and down the rivers, none were so closely identified with the progress of the Wairau as Captain Samuel Bowler, a man of great industry and upright character, who, with Captain Jackson, had settled on the Marshlands run. He had been a whaler, and for a time managed Captain Dougherty's station, but on retiring from the sea he invested in Mr. Wynen's old store where he acted as agent for the runholders, and he and his partner also owned a fleet of boats wherewith they ferried the wool from Wynen's wharf to the Boulder Bank, where it was afterwards put into barges and taken to Port Underwood, and there deposited in the hold of the ship loading for London.
* The method adopted by these early navigators of the Opawa to intimate to the station-owners that they had arrived with stores, was to light a huge fire on the high knob, where the Blenheim Gas Works now stands.
But before Mr. Stafford's township began to fall into decline the "Tasmanian Maid" ceased to trade to the Wairau, for in 1862 she was purchased by the Government and transformed into the gunboat "Sandfly." Similarly the "Sturt," another paddle boat, was purchased by the Government after she had made her first and only trip up the Opawa in 1863 and turned into a gunboat, and as such she operated during the Maori war under the command of the late Captain Fairchild. But the first steam trader that began to ply regularly up and down the Opawa was the p.s. "Lyttelton," and it was a proud day for the Beaver when Captain Whitwell, in the interests of Mr. John page 335Symons, brought her up to' the wharf. Captain Whitwell did not long remain on the "Lyttelton," for he was soon promoted to the bridge of the "Wallaby," and therefore during the greater part of the time she was trading to the Port she was commanded by Captain Scott, a rough old salt who was wont to declare that many of his trips were made overland, a statement not far from correct, considering the number of shoals and sandbanks which had to be negotiated. But in spite of these difficulties of navigation the "Lyttelton" remained in the trade for many years, during which she was widened, lengthened, and deepened before she finally went the way of all ships. The list of these steam pioneers would not be complete were we to fail in mentioning the little "Osprey." She was not a trader but a tug, employed to bring the larger schooners up the river when the wind failed them; and her construction was as fearful as it was wonderful, for she was simply a barge fitted with a portable engine, and when she was labouring up the stream with a vessel behind her all the Wairau knew it, as her puffing could be heard resounding through every part of the valley, in consequence of which she was better known as "Puffing Billy" than anything else. In 1877 Messrs. Fell Bros. purchased the p.s. "Napier," and she continued to run in the page 336river trade until comparatively recent times, being followed by the fast and furious "Mohaka," the "Waihi," "Neptune" and the popular boats of the present fleet.
* The first shock of this earthquake occurred about one o'clock in the morning, and was so severe that it demolished all the mud whares in the district, and for three weeks afterwards the surface of the ground was in a state of constant movement.
* A notable sheep-worrier in the Wairau was a bull and mastiff dog, which had belonged to Mr. Howard, who was killed at the Massacre. The dog came down with the arresting party, and, after the massacre, hovered about the Tua Marina Hill, living upon native game and anything he could kill; but when the sheep came into the district he crossed over the valley and took to worrying them, and in consequence of his depredations amongst the flocks, he was called by the shepherds "Bloody Jack." The majority of the wild dogs were animals which had wandered from the Maori pahs, or had escaped from the shepherds, and for many years they were so numerous that every station had to keep its gang of wild dog hunters.
A well-known figure in the Lower Awatere in these early days was Mr. William Atkinson, who had migrated, in May 1850, from Waimea with his wife and child, and settled in a very humble way at Burtergill, where he started life by rearing cattle and carting wool for the more well-to-do settlers. But Mr. Atkinson had the real grit of a pioneer in him, and before long he was able to make Burtergill his freehold, and to lease one of the richest spots at the Blind River, where he soon increased his flocks in a most remarkable way. In contradistinction to the ruinous policy generally pursued by the sheep farmers of this date, Mr. Atkinson never believed in sinking his capital in making extensive purchases of land. He was a thorough convert to the wisdom of the leasehold, under which tenure he held extensive areas, all of which were most successfully managed, and when he died at Rangiora a few years ago he was reputed to be an extremely wealthy man. Within six months of Mr. Atkinson's advent to the Awatere there came from Wakefield Mr. and Mrs. Mowat, two of the best-known settlers, who have ever page 341resided in the province. Middlehurst* was their first station, Messrs. Mowat & Cross having secured a license to despasture stock there after Mr. Frederick Trolove left it to take up Woodbank, but for a considerable time Mrs. Mowat lived in the Lower Awatere, which, save for the sheep, was then indeed a desolate place, the only habitations within miles of her being two "cob" whares on Starborough and a rough shed on Richmond Brook. There was then no road to the Upper Awatere, or to any part of the district, and all the station supplies had to be laboriously packed up the bed of the river, while to save the drudgery of packing the wool down, the sheep were made to carry their own fleeces as far as the Reserve, where they were shorn, and from this point the bullock drays transported it to the Boulder Bank, the arrival of every load being the signal for renewed dissipation at the seaside taverns.
* Most of the runs and geographical features of the Upper Awatere were named by Sir Frederick Weld when he passed through the valley in 1850 en route from Lyttelton to Blenheim. The hand of the McRae's is, however, traceable in the Scottish nomenclature of the country with which they were identified, Blairich being so named because of the warm or snug corner in which the house was placed, and Antimarlock after a spot in Caithness where a battle had been fought, and was, in consequence known as Antimarlock, or "the burn of the gravestones."
Of the early Spring Creek farmers Mr. George Dodson is the oldest survivor, having arrived in the district from Waimea in 1854. He was thus the first farmer in Spring Creek, and second only to Mr. Henry Godfrey in the page 345Wairau. At the time of his arrival Dr. Vickerman was just building his farmhouse, but had not as yet commenced agricultural operations, indeed it was some years before agriculture was possible, even had there been a market for the produce, for Spring Creek at this time was as much swamp as dry land. Cattle-raising, therefore, became the chief occupation of the farmers until the Australian diggings broke out, when a sudden demand was created for grain of all kinds. Mr. Dodson at once put the plough into his paddocks, and from that time forward he has never ceased to keep himself abreast of the times in the matter of agricultural machinery and farm implements. He was the first to plough with horses, he owned the second manual reaping machine used on the plain, the first self-delivery, one of the first four wire binders that arrived in Marlborough, and the first traction engine imported into the province. But it was not only in his private business that Mr. Dodson showed an enterprising spirit, for he soon began to take an active interest in provincial politics, and had he chosen he could have been a member of the first Provincial Council. But it was in the work of conserving the rivers and protecting the district from floods to which Mr. Dodson gave the greatest attention, for as the scrub was burned off the plain by the settlers, while page 346clearing their land, the water which previously trickled through the vegetation was allowed to flow freely into the rivers, and consequently floods were becoming more frequent and more disastrous. To avert the general ruin of the farms from this cause, what is known as "Paul's Bank" was started in 1874, and during the whole of the succeeding 25 years Mr. Dodson, as chairman of the Spring Creek Rivers Board, has been at the head and front of all the river protective work carried out in the district, and now has the pleasure of living to see the beneficial effects of his labours. Although by no means the earliest, perhaps the most prominent Spring Creek farmer was Mr. Henry Redwood, who as a sportsman possesses more than a provincial reputation, for in his younger days he was admittedly the best shot with the gun in the Australasian colonies, and as an admirer of horseflesh he has owned and bred some of the fastest steeds that ever ran on New Zealand or Australian courses. Moreover Mr. Redwood's horses were always raced to win, and his eminent uprightness in this respect, as well as his great services as a breeder, has well merited for him the title of "Father of the New Zealand turf." In his capacity as a farmer at Spring Creek Mr. Redwood also displayed great enterprise, and was both an extensive economiser, and employer of labour. He im-page 347ported one of the first steam ploughs into the colony, and almost every new invention in the department of agricultural machinery he brought to the district, and tested it, at the same time freely giving others the benefit of his experience, thus helping to promote the interests of the Wairau, more, perhaps, than his own.
In the year 1852 there came to the Wairau rather a remarkable man in the person of Mr. James Sinclair. He was one of those clearheaded, strong-minded Scotchmen, who, when they have once determined on a certain course will allow nothing to divert them from their purpose, and by his dominating personality and magnificent energy he became known as the "King of the Beaver," and as such he influenced the early settlement in a marked degree, but whether for weal or for woe will perhaps be the subject of divided opinion. But whatever differences may have arisen as to the wisdom of Mr. Sinclair's political views and actions, none will withhold from him and his amiable wife the virtue of unbounded hospitality during the early stages of the little settlement. No stranger came to the district who was not most cordially received into their house, the door of which was ever as open to the poor as the rich, and there are many men living in the Wairau to-day who still retain the most page 348pleasant recollections of the welcome they received at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair when they first went down to seek their fortunes in the wild and swampy Beaver. Upon their arrival from Nelson Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair landed at the Boulder Bank, and remained there for a few weeks, but the drunken, dissolute habits of Wynen's grog shop patrons so terrified Mrs. Sinclair that she begged her husband to remove her to the Beaver, where she preferred to take her chance with the benighted Maoris, rather than be subjected to the indignity of living amongst the rough and lawless Europeans. At this time the land where Blenheim is now built was owned by Messrs. Fell and Seymour, of Nelson, who had acquired it as original purchasers under the New Zealand Company, and in the year 1857 they instructed Mr. Alfred Dobson to lay it off as the site for a township. Mr. Sinclair had by this time started business as a merchant in a small building on the Opawa River bank, near where the present railway goods shed is situated, and with the ordinary functions of a storekeeper he combined those of a land agent. He was, therefore, entrusted by Messrs. Fell and Seymour with the sale of these town sections, which were to be bought for £10 per quarter acre. The selection of the site has since proved to be unfortunate, page 349and it is now easy to see how something better might have been done, but in justice to those who were responsible for the choice it must be remembered that the conditions of forty-three years ago are not the conditions of to-day, and that at the time the spot was chosen no better site was available. In locating Blenheim where it now is there were a number of controlling influences operating upon the minds of Mr. Sinclair and his principals in Nelson, the first of which was that in order to ensure the success of the town it was still advisable to keep as far away from the Maoris as possible, and to have gone to Spring Creek, where most people now think the town should have been, would, in the face of public prejudice, simply have courted failure. Moreover Spring Creek was at that time a district heavily flooded, whereas until the bursting of the Opawa Breach in 1862 the Beaver was a comparatively dry spot, so that before any measure of censure is dealt out to the founders of Blenheim, due allowance must be made for the reversed positions which the actions of nature and man have brought about. But there was also another circumstance, quite as potent in its influence as either the natives or the floods, and that was the convenience of the sheep-farmers and the shipping. As already explained, during the "fifties" all the wool page 350from the upper valley was carted along the foot of the Vernon Hills to the Boulder Bank, but after the navigation of the Opawa River had been so far improved as to permit of small cutters coming up for several miles, the sheep farmers naturally sought the nearest point at which they could ship their wool. This spot was found at what is now the foot of High Street, and necessitated the establishment of a store to receive the wool. Further, where there were bullock-drays there must be a blacksmith's shop, and where there were bullock-drivers there must be a "pub," and so to supply these public wants there sprang up Wynen's store, Taylor's blacksmith shop, and the old "Gin Palace" which was built by Mr. Wynen, largely out of the remains of gin cases, the red paint upon the boards acting as a beacon to guide the thirsty souls to its Bacchanalian revels. This famous "palace" stood on what is now the site of Messrs. Clouston & Co.'s coal-yard, in Wynen Street, and was officially known as the Beaver Hotel, Mr. Andrew Lang being its first landlord. But "the Beaver" was not the initial house of its kind established in the miniature community, for Mr. Sinclair had already erected the Victoria Hotel on the banks of the Opawa River, and had placed Mr. Richard Reid in charge of it. The "Victoria" stood almost page 351where Mr. W. B. Parker's grain store now stands, and when a few years ago it was deemed prudent to pull it down it still remained in the service of the public, a picturesque though dilapitated old structure.
Mr. Joseph Taylor, "the village blacksmith," came to the Beaver in 1855, and was induced to start business in High Street, part of his shop being occupied by Mr. William Wrigley, the village shoemaker. In the following year Mr. James Tucker Robinson came down and opened the first wheelwright's establishment next door to them, while over in Wynen Street Mr. Richard Kenny was the proprietor of a general store, his rival in trade being Mr. William Simmons, who catered for stray customers in a little building close to Mr. Alfred Rogers' office, and from these simple beginnings the ancient Beaver and the modern Blenheim took their rise.
The legend regarding the origin of the term "Beaver," as applied to this early settlement, is that while the land was being surveyed one of the periodical south-east floods occurred, and the survey camp, which was pitched on the banks of the Omaka, in common with the whole plain, was inundated. For some time the surveyors were compelled to roost up in their bunks out of reach of the water, and in describing their misfortunes Mr. Joseph Ward page 352afterwards declared that they "sat there like a lot of beavers in a dam." An attempt was subsequently made to give the township the more euphonious name of Beaverton, but the locality was always popularly known amongst the "old hands" as "the Beaver."
* At first the postal department was unofficially under the charge of Mr. John Bagge, upon whom the appointment of postmaster was conferred in 1862, and the mails were brought overland from Nelson by Mr. Blick, and Mr. Joseph Taylor carried them through to Picton on foot. At a later period Mr. Lewis Lewis ran a well remembered mail coach through the Waitohi Valley and many strange stories are told by passengers of their experiences with Peter and Paddy, the faithful coach horses, whose harness was so profusely patched with flax and string that it was sometimes difficult to tell where the fibre ended and the leather began. Some conception of Mr. Lewis' methods may be obtained from his original idea of how to secure a change of horses. About half way through the valley he had a rough stable, which constituted a stopping place, and when he reached this stage in his journey he would take the horses out and reverse their positions by putting Peter on the side where Paddy had been, and then continue his journey as well satisfied as if he had the freshest team in the world. Before the southern coach road was made the mails to Kaikoura were carried by Mr. Blick, and afterwards by Mr. H. Lovel. The Wairau Valley mails were carried by an equally well known character whom everyone called "Old" Ockley. Telegraphic communication was first established in Marlborough prior to 1864, and the first message received in Blenheim was sent from Nelson to Mr. Varley, the electrician, as follows:—1.10 p.m. "You were not long in opening communication. Mr. Sheath arrived here yesterday, he is quite well, weather colder a little, showery yesterday, and last three days rather dull. Are there any persons in the office? I suppose they are quite proud now the office is opened as well as Picton. I hope they will make good use of it."
The following is the first message which passed over the wires between Blenheim and Picton:—"I am glad to speak with Blenheim by wire."
White's Bay was made the transmitting station on 16th August, 1866, and on 12th October, 1873, Blenheim became the transmitting station.
* The chief branch of this bank was opened in Picton in 1860 by Mr. Bridges and the Blenheim branch was simply an agency until 1865, when the chief branch followed the removal of the provincial offices. Up to this time the Blenheim branch had been under the control of Messrs Arthur Knowles, C. F. Allen, and T. M. Wright as agents and in 1865 Mr. William McDonald arrived to take charge as manager. As illustrating the primitive ideas some of the settlers had regarding finance, a story is told of a tradesman who, when the Bank opened, purchased a cheque book and wrote out a big cheque in his own behalf. On presenting it at the Bank payment was of course refused, as there was "no account," whereupon he indignantly enquired "what the deuce is the good of a bank if it is not to help poor people?" Just about the last thing a bank was ever started for.
† The first members of the Board were Messrs. George Henderson, William Collie, Caleb Davies, William Nosworthy, and James Sinclair (Chairman). The first meeting was held on July 25, 1864. Messrs. William Nosworthy and George Henderson were its subsequent chairmen, and the last meeting was held on July 9th, 1868. Mr. John Bagge was Clerk to the Board.
The year after the Royal Oak appeared Mr. Litchfield left the employ of Mr. John Symons, and built a general store of his own on the spot occupied by Messrs. Miller & McKay, this being the first shop in what is now the well formed macadamised Market Place, but which in those days was simply a wilderness of flax and toe-toe. His enterprise was rewarded with an extensive connection, and before long he was able to import direct from England.
* On the principle that "the hope of reward sweetens labour," it was the custom of the sawyers to place a bottle of gin on the end of the log, and as soon as they had cut the full length of the slab, and the saw came into contact with the bottle, they duly refreshed themselves with its contents.
Within a month of Mr. Nicholson leaving Nelson the Ven. Archdeacon Butt resigned his cure there, and came down to the Wairau. In the absence of a church the Anglicans joined the Presbyterians in the use of the small building, erected by Mr. Sinclair as a courthouse, but within a year the Archdeacon page 359had built the first Church of the Nativity, partly by subscriptions from the members of his communion, and partly by a grant from the Diocesan Board. Here regular services were held, but neither flood, nor trackless waste prevented the good Archdeacon from visiting the scattered settlers, in sickness and in health, and until the day of his death no figure was so well known, and none so universally welcome in all parts of the province as that of Pastor Butt.
Although the Wairau has always been thickly peopled with adherents of the Latin faith, it was not for some time that they had either a consecrated church or a permanent priest. But this does not mean that they were neglected, for at intervals the Rev. Father Garin used to ride over from Nelson and hold services in the dwelling-house of some member of his flock. Then came the Rev. Father Tressallet, who remained for six months, living and holding services under the roof of the late Mr. John Fitzgerald, who then resided in the Maxwell Road in a house which is still partially extant. Father Tressallet was followed by Father Seauzeau, a French priest of very genial disposition, whose Christianity was a pleasure to himself and to everyone with whom he came in contact, for he bore the spirit of the "Gentle Nazarene" wherever he went. His genuine good humour page 360and homely ways made him as great a favourite amongst other denominations as with his own people, and when he left the district to labour in other fields, he took with him the good wishes of Catholics and Protestants alike. Under his administration the first church, now used as a portion of the Convent School, was built in 1866, and he remained long enough to see the congregation increase to such an extent that the present handsome church, which was built in 1878, became an imperative necessity.
From the very first the cause of Methodism had been strong in the Nelson settlement, and it was only natural that a proportion of its disciples should find their way down to the Wairau amongst the earliest of the pioneers, every one of whom carried their faith into the wilderness with them. The Davies, Tatleys, Jacksons, Hewitts, Dodsons, Giffords, Hammonds and Hoopers laid the foundation of Wesley's creed in the Wairau, but it was some years before they were able to organise themselves into a church communion. In the meantime their spiritual needs were ministered to by devout local preachers, and in 1859 they were encouraged by a visit from the Rev. Mr. Warren, who was the first clergyman to conduct a Methodist service at the Beaver. The meeting-place of the little congregation at this early stage was Mrs.page 361
Reid's cottage, which stood where the Victoria Hall now stands, and with the exception of the stores and public-houses along the river-bank it was the only building in the town. Subsequently the services were held in the schoolhouse, and by 1864 their prospects were such that they felt justified in proceeding with the erection of a church and the invitation of a minister. Within six months both these ends were achieved, for the Rev. J. W. Wallis arrived in November, and had the intense satisfaction of opening the new church, which was erected at the lower end of Grove Road, for divine worship on April 9th, 1865. After labouring for two years amongst the Marlborough Methodists, Mr. Wallis volunteered for mission work in the Friendly Islands, and he was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Lee, who soon found that the building was neither large enough nor favourably situated. The population seemed to be centreing around the Market Place, and so it was decided to enlarge and shift the church to where it would be more convenient to the majority of the worshippers. Accordingly it was brought to where the railway station is now located, and there fulfilled the duties of a sacred edifice until the march of progress again made its removal imperative, when it was purchased by the Government and transported back to Grove Road to provide scope for page 362railway purposes. A new church was accordingly started in High Street, but it was burnt to the ground on March 25th, 1881, when almost completed, and it was not until March 19th of the following year that the present church was opened by the Rev. Mr. Carr, the proceeds of the day's services being £76 0s. 6d.
In the wake of the church came the school, for, as the population was ever on the increase, there was in the natural course of events a little army of juveniles growing up whose mental training had to be attended to, and so the elder ones put their heads together and made application to the Nelson Education Board for the services of a teacher, and late in September of 1859 Mr. James White came down to take charge of the new school. The little schoolhouse stood in the midst of high fern and tussocks where the Borough School now stands, and was by no means an imposing structure. Neither were the scholars very numerous or their educational equipment very complete, for it did occasionally happen that when their stock of penholders ran out they were compelled to use the stem of the "dock" weed as a substitute. The first children entered upon the school register were the three sons of Mr. James Sinclair, and most of the other "boys" of those days have since developed into well-known residents of the district. At its inception the school was, of course, con-page 363trolled from Nelson, but after separation all this was changed, and on August 1st 1860 the Provincial Council appointed the superintendent (Mr. Adams), Dr. Muller and Mr. James Sinclair a committee of management, giving them a vote of £300 to spend in the best interests of the school, which has had a long and useful career under the mastership of many able teachers. At first the school was maintained by a household tax of £1 per annum, and the secular nature of the instruction imparted, even at this time, came sharply into conflict with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, some of its members refusing to pay the tax as a protest against the undenominational and irreligious character of the teaching, and as a consequence their goods were sometimes seized and sold to satisfy the claim. A well remembered instance of this kind occurred when a constable was sent to capture a bullock belonging to Mr. Con. Murphy, whose religious scruples would not permit him to contribute towards a system of education in which he did not believe. The bullock evidently entered into the spirit of his master's objection, and refused to be taken, and being of an athletic temperament he kept the man in blue chasing him for hours up and down, through flax and swamps, until the "bobbie," blown, beaten, and thoroughly exasperated exclaimed, "Confound the blanky page 364bullock, I'll pay the fine myself." And pay it he did, and thus the difficulty was overcome to the satisfaction of all parties. Shortly afterwards the Road Boards were constituted Boards of Education, with power to levy a rate and impose attendance fees for educational purposes, and on this basis the schools were maintained until they were re-organised under the present national system of education.
As already pointed out, the medical profession was well represented amongst the first land-holders in the province, but with the exceptions of Drs. Allison and Vickerman, none of them ever practised in the district. Even these gentlemen were not in regular practice, but lent their services to their fellowsettlers as occasion required while they were engaged in their pastoral pursuits. The first actual practitioner was Dr. Stewart, who lived in a whare, belonging to Mr. Eyes at the Fairhall, on what is still known as "Doctor's Flat." He, however, did not remain long, and was followed by Dr. L. K. Home, who, with Mrs. Home, arrived in the Beaver in 1857 and took up their residence on the banks of the Opawa River, from which point the good Doctor for many years prescribed for the real and fancied ailments of his patients, who were sometimes scattered far and wide over the plains and sheep stations, and many a weary ride he had at every hour of the day page 365and night to be present at the bedside of some unfortunate sufferer. The devotion of Dr. Horne to his patients won for him the affection of all classes of the community; his bluff, straightforward manner was the foundation of many a good story, while his simple habits and unassuming demeanour created such a wide respect for him that most of the pioneers felt they had lost a personal friend when it was known that he had perished in the disastrous fire, which originated in the Criterion Hotel on June 30th, 1886. The purchase of a farm in the Lower Wairau, and the active prosecution of agriculture by Dr. Horne, opened the way for other medical men, and many came and went, but none ever filled the place in the heart of the community that Dr. Cleghorn enjoyed. The peer of the rich, the friend of the poor, he was as kind as he was skilful, and on the day of his departure from Blenheim he deservedly received the most flattering sendoff ever accorded to anyone by the people of Marlborough.
Having got their religious, educational, and judicial institutions fairly established, it is clear that the little community was making appreciable progress. But there was one serious drawback which greatly retarded the social and commercial interests of the people. This arose from the intersection of the town-page 366ship by the Omaka River, and the absence of proper facilities for crossing it. The first contrivance was a box, appropriately named the "Execution dock," on account of one man having been drowned while attempting to ferry his way over in it. This box was attached by chains to either bank, and by this means the travelling public pulled themselves across; but as the "dock" invariably had from two to three inches of dirty water in it, and had also acquired an unpleasant habit of sinking in the middle of the stream, and soundly ducking its confiding passengers, it can be easily understood that this unseaworthy craft was used more from necessity than from choice. In course of time, however, it was discarded for a more permanent structure called the "Crinoline" bridge, which was by no means free from its drawbacks. This was a narrow footway thrown across the river at the site of the present Alfred Street traffic bridge, but it was so narrow that no lady who dressed in the fashion of the time could cross it, for in those days it was considered the correct thing for the ladies fair to wear crinolines, and the problem the maids and matrons of Blenheim had to solve in the year of grace 1860 was how to get a three-foot hoop through a two foot bridge; hence the name "Crinoline" Bridge*.
* The first traffic bridge was built over the Omaka River at Alfred Street in 1862, in substitution for the old ford, which was higher up the river, behind the Presbyterian Church,
But whatever their drawbacks may have been, the days of the Crinoline Bridge were happy times. Then the little community was simply like one large family, entering readily into each other's joys and sorrows, and living a life largely Bohemian in its character. There were no luxuries, but a plentiful supply of substantial necessaries, the vagaries of fashion in dress gave little concern to the women, and so long as the men got plenty of work, meat and drink, it did not trouble them whether consols were up or down. The restrictions which hedge around the life of the people in larger centres had not begun to cramp the conduct of the individual, and a freedom of action was indulged in which nowadays would be considered shocking breaches of etiquette. Thus if the ladies wished to have a little picnic on their own account they would sometimes borrow Dr. Muller's cart and send it round to all the houses to collect the week's washing, which would then be taken up to the Taylor River, where a general washing day would be celebrated with considerable jollity, and no small amount of skylarking, a proceeding which it is not possible to conceive in these straight-laced times, but in those days no one was the worse for the outing. Due respect was always paid to those in authority, but there were few social distinctions, Jack was generally as good page 368as his master, and frequently told him so; neither were there any false notions about dignity, for almost everyone went to church in a bullock dray, and it was by no means an unusual thing to see the first official of the place carrying home the family dinner, in the shape of a leg of mutton, slung on a stick across his shoulder. The butcher, by the way, was a tradesman who worked upon safe lines, for before he would kill a sheep he rode round to the various housewives and acquainted them of his intentions, but if he did not secure sufficient orders to dispose of the whole carcass he simply waited until he did, and then proceeded to the slaughter. Of amusements there was no lack, shooting, riding, and horse racing furnished outdoor sport, while amateur theatricals supplied the place of the professionals, and often provided a good deal of entertainment that was not in the programme. "These were thy charms sweet village; but all these charms are fled," for the march of progress has banished the old order, and ushered in the new, under which social distinctions have become more marked, manners more formal, and the workers' life a struggle for existence rather than the good old "go as you please" of forty years ago.
But the exigencies of party politics demanded that the Wairau should also have an advocate, and a medium through which its grievances could be ventilated, and so on November 2nd, 1864, Mr. Coward brought out the Wairau Record from what had formerly been the Press office. Mr. Elijah Tucker filled the editorial chair of the new journal for two years, during which it kept Blenheim in touch with the outside world in an erratic page 370and uncertain sort of way, for although Tuesday was its nominal day of publication, no one could ever tell to a day or two when it would appear, and so it twinkled on for a time, until it twinkled out altogether. Mr. Millington then came through from Picton, and started the Marlborough News, the literary columns of which were frequently illumined by articles written by Mr. Collie. This gentleman was a member of the advanced school of politicians, and he used his position to advocate the claims of the Liberal party, and to promulgate socialistic doctrines, frequently causing a flutter in the Conservative camp by the radical nature of his views, and the forcible and fearless language in which he expressed them. In educational and municipal matters he was also very active, particularly in the agitation to have the name of the township changed from Beaverton to Blenheim, and when Governor Gore Browne paid the first vice-regal visit to the new province in 1859 Mr. Collie presented the citizens' petition praying that the nomenclature of the town might be brought into harmony with that of the province, a request which was gracefully and immediately complied with. The Press and the News were thus supplying the journalistic wants of the province when the Johnson Brothers arrived in Blenheim, and announced their intention page 371of starting a new weekly journal, which, according to the prospectus issued on April 21st, 1866, was calculated to fill "a long felt want in the district." The measure of support accorded to the new paper seemed to justify the truth of this assumption, for its regular appearance, its copious and accurate reports, at once secured for it a wide circulation, and aided by a monopoly of Government advertising, it was quite evident before long that the Marlborough Express had come to stay. At first it was published from a little office at the lower end of Grove Road, later on in Alfred Street, and subsequently, about 1879, it was removed to its present place of publication. Editorially it was controlled by Mr. Samuel Johnson, who had come to the colony as one of the Albertland settlers, and in provincial politics it supported the Eyes party. Of colonial politics it took but little notice, so long as the provinces lasted, but upon their abolition Mr. Johnson followed the natural bent of his mind, and took up the cause of Sir George Grey, and the "unborn millions." At this time the burning question in the province was to have the railway, which terminated at the Opawa River, brought into the centre of the town. The Express facetiously styled it the Picton to —— Railway, and in season and out of season hammered at the member for the page 372district to get the missing link filled in. Mr. Seymour was then in opposition to the Grey Government, and it seemed hopeless to expect the Government to do anything for the district while the district did nothing for the Government. An effort was therefore made to induce Mr. Seymour to change his views, but that gentleman took up no parochial attitude in politics, and politely declined to leave the party he had worked with for so many years, for the sake of one and a-half miles of railway. The Railway League of those days, headed by Mr. Johnson, then changed their tactics and went direct to the fountain head; they invited Sir George Grey to visit Blenheim, and when he came he conquered. From the platform of Ewart's Hall he delivered one of those eloquent and emotional speeches in which he laid the foundation of New Zealand liberalism. During his remarks he promised Blenheim its railway, and gave the populace a lesson in democracy they have never forgotten, and the result of which has been seen at every general election since. The policy of the Express in seeking to change the politics of the people from ultra - conservatism to liberalism did not escape the notice of the dominant party, and as a result of the election of 1879 Mr. Johnson was threatened with no less than five libel actions. Under these circumstances page 373he concluded that life was too short to live in a place like Blenheim, and as his health was failing under the strain of the bitter party feeling which had sprung up, he sold his paper, and shook the dust of the Wairau from his feet. Up to May 12th, 1874, the News had continued as the provincial and political opponent of the Express, but on that date it was purchased from Mr. Millington by a company of local politicians, and run as the organ of the anti-Eyes party, Mr. Millington continuing to manage it, and Mr. H. C. Pirani acting as its editor until its demise. For about a year no Times was published, but then another journal of that name, owned by Mr. John Tait, arose, phoenix-like, from its ashes, and has since been continuously published under many different auspices.
From 1864 until July 9th, 1868, the local government of Blenheim had been managed by the Town Board set up by the Provincial Council, but in the latter year there began an agitation to have the township raised to the dignity of a Borough. On this question Messrs. Henry Dodson and James Sinclair, who had fought so many provincial battles together, were ranged against each other, but finally Mr. Dodson's party carried the day, Blenheim being constituted a Borough on March 6th, 1869, and on May 15th Dr. Muller held the first election for Borough Coun-page 374cillors, when the following gentlemen were returned in the order named:—Messrs James Tucker Robinson, Frederic John Litchfield, Henry Dodson, William Nosworthy, William Collie, John Mack Hutcheson, James Sinclair, Elijah Bythell, and James Edmund Hodson.
Under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1867 the right of electing the Mayor rested with the Councillors and not with the ratepayers, and therefore, when the newly-elected Council met for the first time there was considerable speculation as to who would have the honour conferred upon him of being Blenheim's first Mayor. If one of the two strongest men in the Council was to be chosen then either Cr. Sinclair or Cr. Dodson would be elected, but their supporters were evidently so evenly divided that neither of them cared to put himself in nomination, and so a compromise was arranged by which a neutral councillor was proposed, and on Cr. Sinclair's motion Mr. F. J. Litchfield was elected to the Mayoral chair without opposition. At the adjourned meeting Mr. John Tucker Robinson was elected to be the first Town Clerk. The following year the Council elected Mr. Henry Dodson to the position of Chief Magistrate, but the mode of his election was not at all in keeping with his notions of representative institutions. His contention was that the Mayor should derive his authority from a page 375wider constituency than the eight men sitting round the council table, and so he proposed that the Mayor of the Borough should be elected by the ratepayers. To this the City Fathers agreed, but as there was no legal provision for such a course it was arranged, at Mr. Dodson's suggestion, that a poll of the burgesses should be taken, and that the Council should pledge itself to elect the candidate to whom the ratepayers gave the greatest number of votes. Thus for several years the Mayors of Blenheim were unofficially chosen by the people, and so favourably was the innovation regarded that a Bill was introduced into Parliament in 1875 intituled "The Blenheim Mayors' Bill," giving to the ratepayers of the town the right to elect the head of their Council directly at the ballotbox. The Bill never became law, but the Government were so impressed with the idea that they included the provision in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1876, and so the measure of reform which Blenheim asked for itself was given to the whole colony.
It will be needless to follow in detail the more modern growth of Blenheim, or to trace its fortunes through flood and fire. Three times it has been consumed by flame, and more times than one can tell it has been submerged by flood. Still it has flourished steadily, if slowly, and after each conflagra-page 376tion it has been re-built upon more substantial lines, until to-day it resembles nothing so much as a miniature Christchurch.