Letters from Early New Zealand
Wellington. June 20th, 1850
My Dear Mother,
The Louis and Miriam went off yesterday, with twenty-six pages of writing, to you, via Sydney, which, we find, in fact, is much the best mode of communication. There is now in the town news, up to the 6th March, from London, which has come round by that way while we have still no news of the Poictiers which was to sail on the 3rd of February, except that she was spoken, a little this side of the Cape. We have had papers lent to us, with an account of the Queen's Speech, the debate on the Address, Mr. Adderley's motion, etc. You appear, too, to be having a very severe winter, and great floods down the East coast. The Sydney Morning Herald is our informant on all these matters, and it is now six whole months, and ten days, since we have heard anything of home! I sent off my letter on the morning of the Settler's Ball, which, after all, was a very successful one as to weather, moon, champagne, and every other particular. It was kept up from about 9.45 till 4 o'clock, with great spirit, and there was a sit down supper, with speeches. The Governor's and his bride's health drunk, with great cheering, and one or two others. You would have laughed to see one of my partners; a contract butcher not one bit too good for his situation, in manners or appearance; but having succeeded in making about £20,000, he has become the Hudson of Wellington, and it is considered a good joke to ask him now to all balls, etc., and as he is an old bachelor, or rather aspirant, he insists on asking everyone to dance with him, your unworthy daughter amongst the rest, as I had unluckily seen him one day, when he called, on Port Cooper business, on my husband, who insisted on my dancing with him, if I was invited. He is a square, fat, dirty-looking man, with a large grey head; and after asking someone whether a galloppe was difficult, and hearing "no", he came to ask page 58me to dance it with him. I said "no," so he pressed for a quadrille, and not being prepared with an untruth, I was obliged to say I would, and got through it safely, notwithstanding his wonderful evolutions and prancings. Everyone in the room was laughing. He then went to one of the stewards and begged to be introduced to Mrs. Eyre, his great ambition being to dance with her! I danced, besides, with the Governor, Colonel McCleverty, Colonel Gold, and in short everyone dances here; even my husband was very near doing it, to keep himself warm. The Ball was given in the Mechanics Institute, and the Supper in the Inn next door. For music, we had again the band of the 65th. It seems always wonderful to think that it is mid-winter, and indeed to feel it so cold, and still to see about us no signs even of autumn except among a few English plants in the garden. The woods are still lovely, and although the foliage is evergreen, it is not of the sombre colour that our evergreens are at home; there is every variety of verdure, up to the lightest and brightest shade. For drawing, too, they would be beautiful, as the stem of the tree is generally visible, perhaps feathered with some of the small ferns, with very picturesque tufts of something like gigantic blades of grass in the clefts of the branches; or, prettier still, the whole tree almost smothered with a great red myrtle, grown over it like ivy. The leaf is very like our myrtle, with the same bitter taste when you bite it; but the flower is very different, quite scarlet, and growing in bunches together, as large as a small orange. If possible, I shall bring some home, in some shape, but I am afraid it does not like cultivation and white people, for I do not see it in any of the gardens, or where there has been any clearing. I had never seen it growing till two days ago, when by sitting on the horse, with my husband walking, I got further than usual into the bush. In coming back we came upon some Maoris, apparently in the deepest grief. A woman in a blanket was sitting on the ground, with her head on her knees, moaning and groaning most pitifully; while her arm was raised to hold the hand of a man, dressed in coat and trowsers, who was standing by, and crying if possible more bitterly, with the tears pouring down his page 59face and clothes; a few other Maoris, were sitting near, looking rather woe-begone, and one was talking to a white man, whom we spoke to, and asked what it was all about, and expecting to hear of some sad bereavement; but not at all, it was only, he said, a friendly meeting, and not having seen each other for sometime, their delight was so great at having again met, that they took this very peculiar way of shewing their satisfaction.
June 22nd. We have had three shocks of an earthquake in the last twenty-four hours, and one of them very disagreeably severe. The first, I felt in bed, happening to be awake, about twelve o'clock last night; but the worst was at about ten this morning, when with a low rumble the whole house shook, and my husband and I, who were sitting by the fire, sat expecting the things on the chimney piece to fall on our heads. He assured me that I got as "white as a sheet". I will not undertake to say whether it was caused by the boatlike motion, or by a visit from the "pale coward Fear"; but I can say that it is a very awful sensation, and by no means pleasant. The other shock was a very slight one, about two o'clock, and I should not have felt it if I had not been sitting quite still and quiet. But the other was very decided; they say it is the most severe one they had had since the great shocks, nearly two years ago. Arthur did not feel it at all, but then he was out in the garden, and indoors it is always more perceptible. We have a great addition again to the shipping in the harbour. The steamer Acheron, which is stationed here for surveying, has at last returned; one small party from her was left here, completing some work of the kind, and they seemed to have grown rather uneasy about her being so long behind her time appointed for coming into Winter quarters, which was about May 1st. She is quite like a great black tub in the water, and very far inferior to the Meander in appearance, besides that her Captain, I hear, wears a moustache, and cannot therefore be an orthodox sailor.
Yesterday was the 24th, and Frances must feel very well if good wishes could help her; we never see wine now, but Arthur and I had a tea-party in her honour, in a little old broken set of doll's tea things. I asked him if he knew who page 60it was for, so he said, looking very knowing, "I've an idea it's for Aunt Frances, am I right?" In the evening we went out to tea at Mrs. McCleverty's, and had such a lovely moonlight, for our walk of nearly a mile, that it was almost pleasant, when we had once started; but we are so completely out of the habit of going out at night that it seems a tremendous effort, and my husband's groanings are deep and piteous as the dressing time approaches, though the evening may turn out pleasant enough in the end, as in this instance. For they are really very nice people. Colonel McCleverty has been a good deal in India, and is, moreover, a very pleasant, lively, good-natured person, well up in news and even new books, and knows a good many people that my husband does, and you cannot appreciate the delight of hearing even a name that you know, out here. Mrs. McC. is something like the Colviles, only better looking, and the kindest, gentlest person you ever saw, although very fond of a joke, and even of dancing, or any fun. Her eldest child is just two months older than Arthur, and there is another boy, now nine months, both born here. They live quite out of the town in a very tolerable house, under the hill, which shelters them from a great deal of the wind. The worst of the hill is that it at the same time deprives us of the sun, very early in the afternoon, so that the whole of the town is in shade now by three o'clock, while there is bright sun on the hill opposite, across the harbour, for two hours longer. I shall hope to hear, sometime or other, (ah! when?) that you have seen a Panorama that was exhibiting of Wellington when we came away, and which Mr. Wakefield told me gave a good idea of the place, and then, if you could be inspired to know that we live close on the town side of Government House, you would have a pretty good notion of our whereabouts, only that there are a good many new houses built, in every direction, since that drawing was made. It is a beautiful place, on some days, such as we have had lately in nearly a week of perfectly still weather. The sea like glass and the smoke and mist, or rather haze, which seemed too idle to rise, lying in straight lines of bright blue cloud half-way up the hills.
The gable-ended houses, too, look very well at a distance, page 61and with the yellow cliff that runs forward, and breaks their line here and there, all seen double in the water and, through a lovely atmosphere, make me think of some of Hungerford Pollen's Mediterranean sketches, and make me also more sorry than ever that I cannot draw myself.
On Thursday, we went out again in the evening, to Mr. Fox's, to meet Captain Stokes of the Acheron, and the two judges; that is, Judge Chapman, for this place and Nelson, and Mr. Stephen, the new judge for Otago. The first is at least clever and entertaining, though not very agreeable, but the new one does not seem to have much to recommend him. The Malcontents here are indeed base enough to insinuate that the whole business of his appointment probably arises from his namesake and relation in the Colonial Office, as Otago does not seem to want a judge at all. There are hardly 1,200 people there in all, and the labourers are a singularly well-behaved orderly set of people, while the offences of the upper classes, much as they all quarrel and dislike each other, always stop short of a breach of the peace. They say there are scarcely three cases in the year that the Magistrates cannot dispose of; and now, instead of chartering a ship to bring them up here for trial, a judge is sent down to them, to whom they must pay £800 a year, and £200 more for his staff, out of their small revenue. Captain Stokes is a South Wales man, and I grieve to say very unsailor-like in his appearance and manner; he is not tall, but fat, with grey hair and a black moustache. His ship, or rather steamer, is also rather useful than ornamental, and very inferior to the Meander as to appearance, size, etc. But we hope to go on board some day, and shall then be somewhat better judges of her merits than we can be from our windows. It is a great thing to have a man-of war here at all. We were asked the same evening to Colonel Gold's, for "some music"; the next day again to dine at Government House, where there was music and dancing till two o'clock next morning. Both these were declined on account of our early hours; but you see how gay we might be. I have been again at Mrs. McCleverty's to take Arthur to dine with her little boy, and Arthur's new gun which I had brought out for his page 62birthday, was so real and imposing in its aspect that he (Master McC.) began to cry when he was shot with it, though I need hardly say that it has no loading; but the stock is of polished wood, and the children here are quite unused to any but the very commonest toys. The corner of our sitting-room, where Arthur has his bricks, donkey, maps, and doll's tea-things, is considered quite a show here; all the children who come to call are in wonder at the magnificence and variety of his possessions. One thing is that, being alone, his things last much longer. Another vessel has come in from Taranaki, where the Poictiers (our first ship from home direct) was first to touch, and she was still not there a week ago! The news will be quite old when she does come. It seems to come so much quicker round by Sydney. How I wish we could have known this, or could make you know it rather. Our fine still weather is gone. We had a storm yesterday, and to-day a downpour of rain, with a few breaks, and a little earthquake early in the morning. It is much warmer, but not nearly so agreeable; for three nights we had quite a sharp frost, everything white in the morning, and the washing that was left out, stiff with ice, but then the sun was quite hot till two or three o'clock. It rises, of course, earlier here, at this season, than at home; on their mid-winter day, it shone full out exactly as the Acheron's "seven bells" rang (7.30). We have beautiful sunrises (and of course always see them). It appears just over a blue hill straight up the harbour, and very near a high one, with a very fine outline, that has long been covered with snow.
Yesterday (July 1st) we had a visit early, from Mr. Thomas, bringing with him Captain Mitchell, who is here for a few days after accomplishing what is here considered a great feat; viz. a journey overland from Nelson to Port Cooper, which had never been done before. He had a settler from near Nelson, Mr. Dashwood, with Mm, and an old whaler as a sort of servant, and a horse and mule, which established the important fact of the track being passable for cattle, so the stock for Canterbury can be brought overland, and thereby the great additional expense. saved of bringing them by ship, which always kills a large page 63proportion of those embarked, and added to the high freights here, would make everything of the kind very dear for sometime.
The Governor ordered two cows from Sydney, which arrived a month ago, one of them pretty well, though much out of condition, but the other, though conveyed with care in quite a superior trader, was so much bruised and hurt, by tumbling about in some rough weather, that they had to kill her, a few days after landing; and as to freight, there is a man settled in the Middle Island, about sixty miles from here by sea, and he has lately tried bringing his wool over for sale, and paid for it just as much as he would from New South Wales to London, there being as yet no competition. Captain Mitchell belongs to an Indian regiment, and is here on sick-leave, having taken a great fancy to the country. Exploring seems to be his great delight; he has already been over a great extent of country, and says that if he could have got an extension of leave, he would have spent all next summer in wandering about the Middle Island. He is now obliged to go back to India, where he is always ill, but hopes, in a year more, to be able to settle all his affairs, sell out, and come back to settle in N.Z., perhaps at Canterbury. He gave us really a very interesting account of his journey, in which he had a good many difficulties, and nearly ran short of food, being reduced at last, to very mouldy biscuit, which was wetted and spoiled in crossing one of the rivers, and an occasional bird, shot. The rivers are generally the great difficulty in N.Z. travelling, but on this route he reports only three, at each of which a ferry might easily be established, and plenty of excellent water, springs, etc. throughout. The distance by the route they took was about 200 miles, as nearly as they could judge by their watches. Mr. Thomas is you know Mrs. O. Biddulph's brother, and is Auditor-General here, which is not, I believe, a very arduous office; but he has volunteered, lately, his gratuitous services to carry out a new system of banking, which employs him five hours every day, and is a little financial fancy of Lord Grey's, which the people do not much like. Perhaps they are like me, and do not understand the merits of the case; but it page 64is quite enough that it should come from the authorities to be thoroughly unpopular. There are certainly many reasons for being dissatisfied with things as they are, but we take in the Radical newspaper, The Independent, which puts me always on the side of the officials, and whatever is most opposed to itself, from its very personal way of attacking them all individually; and its quarrels with the Spectator, the Government paper, are conducted, on both sides, exactly in the Eatanswill Gazette style.
July 4th. To-day we have had the excitement of a letter, a real letter with post-marks, the first we have had this year! but it was only from Nelson, and nearly a month old! However we were very glad to hear the news of all our friends that we left in Lady Nugent and of how they were settling themselves. It was from Mr. Lee, one of our fellow passengers, and my husband had made him promise to write to us when he had chosen his own situation, but I fear the details would not amuse you; Mr. Tollemache's two maids had each at least one offer of marriage, and one was graciously accepted. To-day, too, my husband has sent a letter home, by another occasion, to Sydney; but as they often occur, I am waiting until the next. After eleven fine days, our weather broke up on Saturday, and on Monday we had another great south-east storm; the wind almost more violent than it was in the very great one a fortnight ago, and trees and fences are again blown down. It is still very cold and threatening, and is not yet, I think, all over; I think, so far, the weather has been colder than we expected, since the winter set in; about as cold as ordinary winter weather at home; not perhaps by the thermometer, but by personal sensations, chilblains, etc.—but then we must remember that, from the rooms being small, we live with doors and windows much more open than at home, and even when they are shut, the walls are far from airtight, and there is no fireplace in either bedroom or dressing-room. This month, and August, are considered the worst here, and we may have even snow, though it is unusual; last winter they had it on the ground for three mornings, but it never lasts, a whole day. The settlers had never seen it before, here, and Mr. Thomas told me his dog was quite frightened page 65and would not step out into it. How curious it will seem too, to have a very hot Christmas Day, if we live to see it, and the windows ornamented with flowers something like lilac laburnums, (which is here a favourite for the purpose) instead of holly. So many things seem turned upside down; in expounding things to Arthur I often come to a standstill. Sun in the north! etc., it makes our books all wrong. Further, with what face can I now teach him "I hope I may never be tempted to roam, From England, dear England, my own native home" vide "English Boy" Original Poems. His hen has turned out a wonderful creature, and lays two days out of three, and sometimes three running; in short it has appeared so good a speculation that we are to have a second. Eggs have been 4d. a piece, but are now down again to 2d. Milk, too, is 5d. a quart, for the winter, but we get it very good now. All imported goods from England are about double their original price in the shops here; sometimes more. For instance, a piece of chintz I got, though only a little common blue and white stripe, 1s. a yard, and our frightful Axminster carpet 4s. 6d.; crockery and glass the same, with something additional from breakage. We are loudly lamenting that we did not bring more things with us. But people at home seem so little to know how you will really find things here, that even my husband, with all his opportunities, had formed no idea of what are the really useful things to bring out, and as for myself, not having been very available at the busy time, and moreover little disposed to turn my thoughts that way when I could help it, I don't think I at all realized that we should ever reach New Zealand at all, or that. if we did, we could ever aspire to anything beyond the barest necessaries of life, far less ever have to consider appearance; and so we brought a very slender stock of most things; for instance, spoons and forks (of which we have only enough for ourselves) and, except the pianoforte, nothing but our cabin furniture; if a thought of their necessity ever suggested itself so did my husband's usual maxim of "doing without them"; and yet, whenever we go and take up our station at Port Cooper, even he says that we must have a dinner service, instead of a few willow pattern plates and dishes, which we page 66now all use, so as to be able to ask people, at least to dinner, if not to stay in the house, as soon as they land after their long voyage, which will be expected of us. It is, indeed, quite true that that is a moment when any attention or kindness is very highly valued, but between ourselves I must own that I look forward with some fear and trembling to these civilities; as we cannot hope that every individual who lands on the precincts of Canterbury will be invariably and inevitably "pleasant gentlemanlike fellows" (for instance, my exquisite partner of the other night has landed) but, as Mr. Trollope says, basta, and let us hope that our solitude there at first, may prevent our being too particular, and make every new arrival a valuable addition in our eyes.
My husband started this morning (July 9th) on an expedition which is to last (D.V.) about ten days, and which takes him about fifty miles up the coast to the north, for the destruction of teal, ducks, and pukakos innumerable; and is to terminate in a visit to Mr. Hadfield who lives about six miles from the headquarters of the battue. Dr. Lyall, of the Acheron, is one of the party; also Mr. Hutchinson, the engineering officer here, a clever little fat man, who sketches beautifully, and who returned about a month ago from a similar expedition to the same place, and is consequently leader of the band. Mr. Wodehouse goes too, for the sake of the expedition, but' not the sport, as he is too delicate to bear any exposure, and does not even take a gun; and Mr. Bulkeley, who is going to walk there, and started consequently yesterday. It takes them two days to ride. William, too, is gone, which prevents my feeling at all afraid that John should suffer from cold, etc., as he can have everything dry and warm for him, each day, on his return; and as long as this is secured, neither cold nor wet affect him in the least. Indeed he is very much better for his nine weeks of water cure, not only as to his general health, but the throat, too, is comparatively free from uneasiness, and I rather hope, as does the doctor, that this break in the treatment may be of use in making a fresh start. However, I shall be, in more ways than one, very well satisfied to see him get home again. In the meantime, page 67everyone here is very sorry for my loneliness, and civil about asking me to spend time with them. To-morrow, if fine, I am engaged, with Arthur, to spend the day with Mrs. McCleverty again; and to-day came Mr. Petre, with a note from Mrs. Petre, asking me to spend some days with them up the Hutt, and so, if it is fine, I go the next day, alone with Arthur, and Mr. Petre brings in the gig, or pony carriage, to drive us up himself. The road has become so bad from these two last severe storms, that I believe it is almost the only vehicle that ventures along it, but Mr. Petre does not know what it is to be afraid.
July 10th, and a pouring wet day, still, with heavy and unceasing dropping. I am rather in pain for my husband, and party, to whom weather will make the whole difference, but I hear that it is very usual for the weather to be perfectly fine, up the coast, when there are storms going on here. You would have laughed to see the start yesterday. William started an hour or two in advance, on a heavy strong cart-horse, in a fustian shooting-jacket and dress to correspond, with the thickest of possible blankets rolled up in front of his saddle, and portly saddle bags behind, and a gun over all. John said they stuck in the door that leads out of our domain, and while they reloaded outside it, he could not help saying "Well, William, how they would laugh, if they could see us now in Portman Square," to which William responded with one of his unwonted bursts of merriment. Powles tells me that he complains to her much of Arthur's absurdities when he is in the room, and says he shall die of his efforts not to laugh. I was glad to hear that he can wish and feel inclined that way, for he is generally as though without comprehension, on the most over-powering occasions. He says he was never better in his life than he has been here, and certainly, so far, we are very much pleased with him.
July 15th. Arthur and I returned this evening from Mr. Petre's, where we found our way very successfully on Thursday last. I had fully intended to be back on Saturday, but the day was too wet for me to persist in it, as I was to be driven in again by either the lady or gentleman of the house. The weather has been a great drawback to page 68our pleasure here, being almost unceasing rain and mist, and the valley with all its new clearing and half-burnt stumps left in the ground, requires sun in the winter to make it look happy; in another way, too, I was sorry not being able when so far on the road, to see a little further into the country. We took a little walk, on Sunday afternoon, with the children, along the road up the valley, which is excellent for some miles, and that was about all we could do. I was rather glad of the opportunity of seeing what the establishment was like, as they are about the greatest people here, and my experience goes to prove strongly the impossibility of getting anything like decent servants here. They have five children and three house servants; two maids, girls who are nurses and housemaids, and a discharged soldier with long black hair, a light shooting jacket (always) and dirty hands, who is everything else. There is great plenty and abundance of good things, excellent milk, cream and butter; but then Mrs. Petre always superintends it all herself, makes up the butter, and is sometime in the kitchen every day. She always washes and dresses all the children, every morning, one a baby of six months old; and she says she very often lights the fire in the nursery herself, and then her two maids walk in as soon as they are ready. It is only fair to say, though, that the children are bad sleepers, and though she is almost like yourself in doing without sleep, perhaps they can't. They were very countrified-looking girls, with rough hair, and no caps, but their manner to the children wonderfully good and gentle. Mrs. Petre, herself, is very young-looking and with wild spirits, and enjoys a ball, or a ride, or a scamper of any kind, and is sometimes very pretty. She is, like her husband, a Roman Catholic and was a Miss Walmsley, and brought up, though an only daughter, at a convent, till nearly sixteen. Then came home Mr. Henry W. Petre, to his Father's, Lord Petre's, the great house of the neighbourhood, from N.Z. in search of a wife. She was sent for from the convent, engaged before she was sixteen, married two months afterwards, (all of which I heard from herself) and after a short bit of London, and other gaieties, came straight out here to settle, eight years ago, and they page 69seem as happy as possible. He is immensely tall and thin and looks like a set of fire irons badly hung together, and on the top a head that would be good-looking enough if the features had not that sort of lengthened look that you may see in your own by consulting the back of a silver spoon. He is very pleasant, though, and good-natured, and quite a gentleman, and seems moreover duly impressed with a high idea of her excellencies; which indeed are manifold, for there is nothing she cannot do, all learnt out here, from receiving company, down to cooking the dinner they are to eat; and all pleasantly and well, and so as to be very much liked. She says that she has been more than once without any servants in house; for a fortnight once, but, luckily for her, there are two old ones of hers now set up for themselves, who, on a pinch, or in case of sickness, come in to help. One came from England as her maid, married to an old servant of Mr. Petre's and stayed some years with her. The children are all ugly, except a very big girl of four, exactly like Memling's Madonnas, that we saw so often in Antwerp, Ghent, etc. There is a chemist here who has lately turned artist, and who has perpetrated a few likenesses, very like, but very bad, and he is making a group of the little Petres, in oils, which is to be sent to England, and copied there, in hopes of the likenesses being preserved, and the drawing rectified. I am afraid though, it will be rather a failure. If it was likely to be tolerable I should so like to have Arthur done, but I am afraid it would be only a disappointment. Mr. Petre's house is quite a grand edifice for this part of the world. There are, in front, three windows and a door, and then a gable with a bow window at each end, with an attic over it, and three windows more down the two wings, one of which makes nurseries, and the other offices. It is built of lath and plaster, in imitation of the Essex farm houses, (their county) and rough-cast, and is raised on wooden, posts two or three feet from the ground, which makes it very cold, as the boards of course do not fit, and the light came through the floor of my room, which gave it a very ethereal look; but in cold damp weather made it far colder even than this house. They have an excellent fruit-garden. page 70that was begun by Mr. Molesworth ten years ago, but he is dead, and they bought the place and built this house, which they have only lived in for about eight months. Their clearings have been very artistically done, and a good deal of bush left, in patches, so that it does not look so bare as most places about, and their grand pride is a lawn in front of the house, now sown with oats, but which is to be real English grass, and which is already nearly free from stumps; at present the great disfigurement of the Hutt, For the bush, there, has been all cleared with fire, so that when trees are cut down, about three feet from the ground, which is as much trouble as they can take here, a black and very unsightly root is left.
July 18th. My husband got back safely on Tuesday evening from Mr. Hadfield's at Otaki, 52 miles up the coast; all the better for his expedition, which has turned out well except as to weather, rain, rain, every day, just as we had; which was wretched work for sitting for hours in a canoe, wet to the knees, watching for ducks who wouldn't come, having been driven from those lakes by the great quantity of rain. And one night they spent, after this, in a sort of shed, without a fire-place, and rain coming in at the roof. However he stood it perfectly well, and seems all the better for it; all the game he brought back with him was three brace of ducks of different kinds, and a pukako, something between a grouse and partridge, to eat, but more like a gigantic water-hen, with a bright purple breast and red head, and very long legs; and no one else got even as much as that, solely on account of the weather, as the sport is usually excellent; the difficulty being not how to get the birds, but how to bring them home. After three days of sporting such as it was, they retreated upon Mr. Hadfield at Otaki, which must be a most interesting place to see and is by far the best specimen of Maori life to be seen in New Zealand. He is himself both very good and very judicious, and as the whole village is entirely under his control, and you may say of his own making, it is like one of the communities of Primitive Christians. There are two chiefs living there in comfortable houses, with capital furniture, prints round the rooms, etc. One page 71of them has selected the surname of Thompson for his start in civilized life, and has 3,000 or 4,000 acres of land, and is the same whom we met riding in with his wife for the Governor's Ball. The other is called Martin, and I saw and tried to speak to him when he came in on the same occasion, but they can neither of them talk English. If we are not obliged to go to Port Cooper before the fine weather comes again I am (D.V.) to go up and see it all myself, which I should like very much. We have had a great disappointment about our letters. The Poictiers did arrive at New Plymouth, about three weeks ago, and we heard that they would have been sent on from there by the overland mail which comes down here once every fortnight, so as to avoid the delay of the sojourn there and at Nelson, besides the two passages by sea which may take a month. The mail, however, arrived last night, and you may imagine how blank we looked when there was not a single letter, and now we must wait for the ship. I do not however look forward to it with unmixed pleasure, for it is almost a terrible thing, to get your first letters after so long a gap.
The talk here, just now, is about the behaviour of the Governor-in-Chief, Sir George Grey, to our poor Lieut.- Governor, Mr. Eyre, (whose book on Australia I think you have). He (Mr. Eyre) had ordered a meeting of the Legislative Council on the 1st of August, to consider and legislate on various subjects, one of which was an increase of salary for himself, as he has never yet received as much as was promised him at home by Lord Grey; Sir George having arranged matters here for his arrival, and managed to cut off nearly a tenth of the whole. He remonstrated, but in vain, Sir George insisting that the equivalents he had appointed were as good, or better, than the whole sum down; and now, when the matter was to be laid before the Council, he comes down with a "stopper" on the whole proceedings and forbids the meeting, making poor Mr. Eyre look very foolish, after all the members had been summoned. They say that he has not any right to do it, and that Mr. Eyre has only to persist, and hold the Council in spite of him; but that would amount to an open declaration of war, and is not expected. In the meantime, it is page 72"nuts" to all the anti-Colonial Office Party, who love to see anything go wrong that affects only the Officials. I do not envy Mr. Eyre his position one bit. The feeling amongst all the Colonists is, that everything he does must be wrong, and that they are every bit as good as him. He is not at all popular; even the Petres are quite against him, in spite of being "officials" themselves, because they look upon him as a nobody, sent here to govern them in spite of themselves, and he has only a very faint shadow of any power at all; while his position entails a great many of the restraints and annoyances of real state which are ill-atoned for by being "His Excellency", and the first person wherever he goes. He seems to be a very good sort of person, only rather wanting in tact, and very anxious to do the right thing by everyone. Sir George Grey does not come so well out of this last business; indeed, it is supposed that he now prevents the meeting in order that certain inaccuracies in his statements may not meet the public eye. In the meantime, poor Mrs. Eyre is quite ill from a succession of colds, and a very bad swelled face, which has kept her in her room for ten days. They say the common disease of the place is that sort of thing settling down into a rheumatic pain, almost like "tic", which is not very pleasant hearing for me. You know of old the evil dispositions of my teeth, and all that Rogers did for me at starting, and more too, left me before I had been two months in Lady Nugent, so I must turn dentist myself, and scrape sixpences, in the way he describes to you, for home-made-amalgam. Talking of such things, we were rather amused by Mr. Elliot (our fellow passenger's) description of his making a wedding ring out of a sixpence the other day. He took a whaleboat, and went visiting, from Nelson, the out-lying settlements, native as well as white; and one evening they arrived among some natives when four couples were waiting the next opportunity to be married. Now Mr. Elliot had got a missionary with him, and great was the rejoicing at his appearance, when the aspirants suddenly and sadly remembered that they had no rings! None were to be had nearer than Nelson (some days' journey) and yet, if they let this occasion pass, there was no saying how long they page 73might wait for another missionary visit. So Mr. Elliot and one of the boatmen, both "handy men", sat over the fire, and completed the four rings for the next morning's ceremony out of as many sixpences, first boring a little hole, and then heating it out larger, till the ring fitted and was well rounded. I suppose a fellow-feeling may have helped to make him "wondrous kind". We heard from Mr. Lee that Mr. Elliot's heart was so softened, on the journey, by the charms of one of Mr. Tollemache's maids (a very nice quiet cook or housemaid I don't know which) that he has at last committed himself, proposed and been most graciously accepted! No wonder, for he is evidently very well off, and very good tempered, besides an amount of information, on every conceivable subject, that you rarely meet with, and that she cannot possibly appreciate. But he is so excessively shy, especially with anything like a lady, that he was sure, if he married at all, to take refuge with someone much below him in position. He is here just now on business, but goes back to-morrow to settle at Nelson.
We have most dreadful weather, rain every day but one for a fortnight, and such rain too, and so cold too, often mixed with hail, and frost at night. This morning (July 23rd) the ground was all white, hail down here, but on the hills real snow, and it has been raining or hailing almost all day. Everyone tells us that it is the worst winter that they remember here; this spell of bad weather has lasted so long. The roads, too, have all become so bad that they are almost impassable for carts and consequently no firewood can be brought, so that those people who had a good stock in, are lending barrow-fulls to their distressed neighbours; however, by great interest, we got a cart-full in, this morning, and we have still a little Sydney coal, which we bought when we landed, at £2 5s. a ton, and 4s. more for bringing it up to us. There is none now in the market. We had last night another shock of an earthquake, the most severe that we have felt; the things on the chimney-piece all rattled, but nothing actually fell, and to-night we have been hearing wonderful noises, as loud as distant thunder, but unlike that, or anything else that I ever heard before. Powles, however, who has been near both Vesuvius and page 74Etna, assures me that it is like the "explosions of a volcanic Mountain".
We have had two evenings devoted to society so as to stop our usual writing. (July 27th). One, an evening visit from Mr. Domett, who came and talked literary, etc. over a cup of tea, the other was going out ourselves to tea at Mrs. O'Connell's, the Brigade Major's very-much-better-half. She is not very ladylike, but good-looking, with something very pleasant about her manner, and, as her name may suggest, very Irish. He is always agreeing to whatever you say, as weak as water, afraid to ride on any but one horse, or fast on that, and very fond of a good dinner. He means to leave the service next year, and settle in New Zealand, and last night he imparted to us that they were thinking of Port Cooper and sheep-farming, which at present seems a wonderfully good investment here. It is almost as safe as land, and returns quite an average of 30 per cent. on your money. There is a Mr. Weld here, one of the great Roman Catholic family of that name in England, and we hear a "very nice young man", who retains civilization in the middle of a bush-life, and started with a good capital. He expects, next year, to have 20,000 sheep and to make on them £8,000; £2,000 of which will pay the expenses of his sheep stations, shepherds, etc., leaving him £6,000 clear profit. At present he has not so large a flock, or proportionate return, as the expenses are comparatively much greater on a small flock.
We had, about ten days ago, a pretty strong earthquake in the night; so bad, as to make everything rattle, but to-day we had one rather worse, inasmuch as one thing was actually rolled down from the chimney-piece. It came just as William was bringing in the tea things, and the tray-full did not suffer, but it was a very smart stroke, every board in the room seemed to be pulled a different way and the motion made me feel half sick, but perhaps it was partly fright. Even my husband got quite pale for a minute, and William stared wildly at us. It was the first that Arthur has felt, and he turned quickly round "is that an Earthquake? Oh! Mr. Earthquake had you nothing better to do than to knock Mamma's seal down from the chimney-piece"? Not in page 75the least frightened; and yet if he meeets a spider alone, anywhere, he "leaves the room instantly"!! and he has only just got over a similar antipathy to the black slugs with which the garden swarms! All such things were new and strange to him when he landed.
July 31st. Still looking out for the Poictiers which will not arrive, but on Tuesday last (28 th) we had a great event to us; the first letters. My husband had two from Mr. Godley, inclosing one to me from Mrs. G., and one from "the Association", which was a duplicate of one already started by the Poictiers, but the Fairy Queen, by which they came, had made a quicker passage, and these came down from Auckland, to which she was bound, by a chance vessel. Then to-day, we have received, from the same opportunity, a packet of newspapers, eight Spectators, a Guardian, Morning Post and some Times, etc., more than I can read in a week, which is delightful. I think I must try to do as someone in the town does. When he gets a batch of Sydney papers, he sorts them out, and then reads one at breakfast every morning, as long as they last. John, I need hardly say, has been over head and ears in them, ever since they arrived, and is much delighted with the Colonial debate. I wish Tom Cocks could have seen our delight in spelling over the well-known hand on the covers. I think Sara could, in their pamphlet days, scarcely have rejoiced more in seeing it. Still I have nothing from home! but I hope I may consider it at least negatively certain that you were all pretty well at the beginning of February, or Mr. Godley would know, and mention it, "Hope on, hope ever" is what we must learn now. Fancy poor Mr. Wodehouse getting, by the same opportunity, the first letters he has had from England, which he left more than a year ago. But he has been moving about, and had desired his letters to be sent to "P.O. Auckland", with which place there is, from here, very imperfect communication. On Monday, we went on board the Acheron to see her, and have luncheon (our dinner), in the gun-room; that is, not with Captain, Stokes, but with Captain, or, as he has it on his card, Commander Richards, who seems to be a sort of Captain for the surveying party. He has been at Wellington as page 76long as we have, and we liked very much the little we had seen of him. Indeed, they seem a very nice set on board; including a Mr. Hamilton, who is I believe, the draughtsman, and the Master, a very gentlemanlike Mr. Evans. It was rather a satisfaction to hear from him that he considered the storm (which, I confess, alarmed me not a little) that greeted our arrival at Stewart Island, as the worst he has known in New Zealand, famous for storms. The Acheron was then not in very good anchorage, and he said he was very uneasy about her, and we must have passed, too, within fifty or sixty miles of her, on that terrible 22nd of March. The gun-room, though not considered at all smart, formed a very happy contrast with the cuddie in poor Lady Nugent, in every particular; not forgetting a capital little stove in one corner, with a bright coal fire, and no smoke. The chronometers are a sight to see; there are about two dozen, in a very safe little lock-up, each ticking away according to its own idea of the "time of day", some by Greenwich, and all different; but from the whole, "in a general point of view" they give us the true time every day at noon. Captain Stokes has some very handsome bloodhounds on board, enormous creatures, that nearly knocked Arthur (who was specially invited) over, in their delight at seeing our arrival on deck, and as we were coming away, I wished so that my Father could have been there, to see a figure prepared by the sailors, "forward" and left there, just as Basil Hall describes those things; a large brown-and-white spaniel sitting up "begging" as we used to call it, but looking very woe-begone, and very absurd, with a pipe in his mouth, and a sailor hat with Acheron on it, on his head. Captain Richards took us home again in one of the ship's boats, with a lot of "Examiners" lent to my husband by the gun-room. It is quite characteristic, the way in which he manages somehow to see and read newspapers, and everybody here who gets any sends them to him, and he reads all, and longs for more. He has now plenty of time for reading, except, indeed, that eating, bathing, and then walking, take up a good many hours of the day. In the evening, we had a visit at tea from Mr. Wodehouse, and Mr. Weld, whom I mentioned before, and who is now page 77in Wellington for a few days. He is, I find, only partner, and holding the smallest share, with Mr. Clifford, another R.C. who is now 'at home', England. First came, of course, a discourse on sheep, and colonial matters in general, and then we got to books, of which he seems passionately fond; we were able to lend him all Tennyson and Ruskin, whom he knew only in reviews, and he went off very happy with that. Mr. Wodehouse is from Norfolk, and quite a smart young gentleman (I don't know whether I told you before) out here for his health, and for bringing, I believe, a younger brother, quite young and good-looking, and I fear consumptive. He is not one of the Wodehouses related to the Holbechs, but cousin to Lord Wodehouse. However we have found out one mutual acquaintance, Mrs. H. Liddell, whom he knew, before her marriage, as a very outrée beauty-flirt, and will not even admire. I told him how much we thought her improved. He is only staying here with different people (now Mr. Domett) till he makes up his mind where to settle. The next evening we went out ourselves, to our Doctor's house; Mrs. Fitzgerald sings very well, and we went to hear her. However, they asked a "few people" to meet us, which rather took off from our enjoyment, as only one could play, and two sing, badly; and yet for civility they must all be pressed to perform, so we did not get so many songs as we had hoped from her. She has a most beaming, good-natured face, besides being very good-looking only figure, hands, etc., unsuccessful. Her brogue very strong but the pleasantest I ever heard and her 'tay boy' made us think of "Paddiana"; but we like both her and her husband very much. Captain Stokes was there and went, unbeknown'st, sobbing out of the room at some of her pathetic songs. It seems he lost his wife, who was very beautiful and charming, on his way out. She died at the Cape, and there are sounds and songs which are still too much for him.
August 5th, and now comes our grand news; the Poictiers at last, on the 2nd, appeared round the head of the harbour, with a light wind, soon after breakfast, and in about two hours, she had anchored. I did little all the morning, as you may imagine, but stand at the window to watch her, page 78and then go and poke the fire, and back to watch again. We could not get our letters till late in the afternoon, but then they were indeed worth waiting so long for, and I hardly know how to be thankful or happy enough, and so excellent of little Sara to have saved her distance as she did. As I ran over my letters I saw one in her hand, dated February 5th and one in Tom's 6th, and then I knew it must be all there. It was very charming of him to write to me himself, and then follow it up with another good account (by Mr. Pollard) next day, and then most fortunately Charles' letter dated "XV" was in time to meet the ship at Ryde, with " Sara doing as well as possible" which I conclude includes—Cocks Esqre Junr., No. 2. Happily for myself, I cannot help almost unconsciously fancying that the news of you all extends till much later than is really the case, in short till a reasonable time for letters to be on the road to anywhere, and then I don't know how to thank you all enough for all the letters which however troublesome to write, as I know a long foreign letter always is (if only in anticipation), were at least most thankfully received and duly appreciated. From one or two "parties" came little hints about postage such as "as a parcel is going I write, etc." Now I must answer this, once for all, by the remark that money is no object whatever; compared, that is, to the smallest fraction of news; and the postage out here is nothing. We were at first rather frightened about our parcel "forwarded by—Perceval Esqre"; who, it appeared was no longer in the ship on its arrival here, having fallen a victim, on the voyage, to a Miss Gates, going to Taranaki (N. Plymouth), and there he had also stayed; and like Whittington's fortunate captain, in the story you gave Arthur, "would no further trip"; so that a long letter from his father in the "Biographical sketch", with other préparatifs for our "friendly intercourse", all fall to the ground (N.B. Between ourselves we regret this the less as we hear that he was very unpopular in the ship and made himself very disagreeable). But then there were many chances to one against a gentleman in his predicament remembering "a parcel" at all, and we suffered great anxiety of mind as to whether it might be still on board and page 79not forthcoming, till next morning when it happily appeared. I leave you to Imagine the pleasure of opening it, and of finding every letter we had hoped for, and some besides, and then the books too! Arthur's earnest excitement in opening the parcels directed to him! I have still one from Uncle Tom in reserve, for when he got Uncle Robert's most beautiful one, he could think of nothing else, and knows It already by heart half through (from my reading not his own), in spite of all the forbearance he could muster not to, as he said, "exturb me" reading my letters. He is planning letters to you all, and was wonderfully pleased with Frances' messages to 'Arthurkin'. The purse, my husband will thank you for. I think you must not write quite so much always, you know how much I dislike it for you when it keeps you up, or in, and you have always so much of it to do. You must get Louisa to write the historical parts, and only do yourself those that you only can say. Laura's was a most valuable dispatch, and I hereby do thank her most heartily for it, and for the accompanying letter. How I wish I could write to you all individually, also to Heneage; I am so sorry about the letter that went at Plymouth to the D.L. Of. I wish he had sent it though by the Poictiers. I wanted to have written to him, too, from Antonie, but was too busy, sorry and sick to write one more than I did. Also William, I am very glad he likes Cambridge pretty well, and please thank him very much for his letter. I am very sorry about poor Mrs. Dilke; and I am also very sorry too about your not going to town—and only try to console myself with hoping that it may have its good side in point of health. This mail was so long on its road that we are already hoping, every day, to hear of the arrival of the April ship at Otago; we shall be then in great anxiety to see whether our letters sent via Buenos Ayres, on the voyage, had reached you or not. We reckoned that they might by the middle of March, and I hope you may get them before the last letters are finished. However, I am afraid it was rather a doleful account of ourselves, (though I know that I passed lightly over all our first horrors). But still any letter would be something. I am so afraid of your exertions on our behalf relaxing, and indeed of our appearing so ungrateful, as time passes on, page 80and still no word from us. But you must remember that the largest number of ships ever known, to go home, direct from here, is three (which took wool this year); one had sailed when we arrived, and by the two others, Woodstock and Cornelia we wrote soon after we landed, and once since, by Sydney. I have three letters from that excellent little Charlotte Pollen. In all, we had thirty-five private ones, and have still the face to be longing for the next ship.
It is very good of Aunt Charlotte to think of us and our seeds; those she has sent will be most valuable; also the idea for a speculation in mulberry trees, but I am not sure that the plants are to be had here. It is, I suppose, rather characteristic, in an English colony, that the gardens here are full of English plants and trees. We have in this garden (e.g.) quantities of fuchsias, roses (which don't seem to do very well), sweetbriar, pinks, honeysuckle, daffodils (just now coming into, flower) and so on and, besides the acacias, very few native things except one, very like an evergreen privet, and a low bush, like yew but covered with berries. There are grapes too, figs, nut bushes, and one oak, about eight feet high. Mr. Simeon, too, has sent us the seeds of some quick growing creepers from his old house, Colbourne, which will be invaluable in making the house at Port Cooper, if we ever get there, look a little green and verdant. There was not a blade of anything about it, when we were there, and I am sure it will be very hot in the summer. Already the sun has become again extremely powerful, quite unlike our warmest February days at home, though the nights are frosty and cold enough, and the winds piercing; but with shelter and sun, you may now sit out-of-doors all the morning with a parasol. I am much afraid, from what the Spectator says, that the Panorama of Wellington did not do it justice, but I hope you saw It. It does look quite lovely on these fine mornings, and Arthur and I often go down to the beach to pick up shells, (which are not good here) and build houses in the sand, soon after breakfast. The only drawback is the wind which is, on the finest days, as violent as in a very good storm at home, so that it is really difficult to walk against it; but if you can find a sheltered place, you want parasols and summer clothes directly. page 81The wind seems to rise with the sun, and to blow from it as hard as it can, all day long, and in the evening it is generally quite still again, and this is the way here, they all say, through the whole summer, which is much more windy than the winter, and rather trying to the temper of ordinary mortals, for it is a ferocious and a dusty wind. And still it has its good side; for the fact of there being any dust to fly presupposes a tolerably dry road, a consummation most ardently to be desired, as without wind to dry them, the roads about here are always ankle deep in mud, to the great detriment of petticoats and boots, which wear out and look shabby terribly soon.
August 12th!! How much, and how often, I have been wondering to-day what you are all doing? who is at Voelas? how many brace? Though indeed it is rather early to speculate on that, seeing that with you it is only about 8.30 a.m.; perhaps the ponies just gone from the door, and the breakfast things left in the hall! Perhaps too, it is raining, as it will sometimes, even on the 12th August. Is Sara there? and is Heneage? It is all very well for people to say that when you cannot live at home, or within a week of it, you may practically as well be in N. Zealand! but only let them try being always four months, and generally six behindhand, in the most important news of their own people, and. see whether they still think so. We turned out early to-day, to see the parade, and hear the band play, on 'Thornden Flat' (did you see it in the Panorama?) When the weather permits, there is one every Monday, but they had ceased lately. Captain Stokes brought Mrs. Eyre there, and there were several gentlemen, quite a "good park". It is a great treat to hear the band, and then the soldiers look like home, and like civilization; perhaps I have too, a little of poor Taylor's love for a red coat. I am sure I shall miss them, very much at Port Cooper. Mr. Bulkeley has got leave of absence to go up and see his possessions at New Plymouth, and he says if he likes the place he shall sell out and stay there, I mean settle!! We hear that Mr. Tollemache has decided on a very good way of disposing of his whole property here, and that is, giving it over, with certain conditions in favour of Maoris, entirely page 82to the Church; and it amounts altogether to about £20,000 in value. As far as the colonists, bodily, are to benefit by it, I cannot help thinking that it is a great deal more than they deserve; they seem so entirely without any idea of making the smallest exertions for themselves. There are, of course, no tithes here; and both Churches were built, and clergy have hitherto been maintained, by funds from home, (charity), and some from Government. I believe literally nothing had been contributed to those ends, until six months ago, when the open seats on one side of the Church were appropriated to such parties as wished to have seats of their own, and they have paid their first quarter, which does not however amount to the sum required for the repairs just completed in the Church at our end of the town, which had got very shaky. Both the Churches here are built of the universal weatherboard (the only thing that successfully stands through earthquakes), and then lined with very handsome wood of the country, and the seats are all open and of the same, so that when your eye gets accustomed to the wooden buildings, they look very well. I say when, because at first they look very paltry. I must in great haste shut up, as the Lady Clarke goes off suddenly to-day, but another opportunity is to come directly, when I hope to send some more thanks specially to Charley, Hennie and Seymour for their letters, and please thank Uncle R. so much for the beautiful book, and Aunt C. for the seeds, and love to Aunt Anne. I have only time to say Goodbye, and God bless you all, always
Your very affectionate,
Please thank Louisa for her letter and Frances for hers, her leaf was quite sweet. Regards to Miss Sigel.1
1 Her sister's governess.