The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (April 21, 1927)
A Rememberance of the Past
Some of our recent settlers seem a little discontented with their outlook in New Zealand. In such circumstances would it be inadvisable to recall some of the difficulties our early settlers had to encounter?
In four weeks it will be sixty-three years since I landed at the Bluff. Otago and Southland were prosperous—gold diggings were in force. The miners required supplies and they could pay for their needs. Some of the newcomers had not pleasant passages. Our good vessel took 128 days from East India Docks, London, to the Bluff. We had encountered numerous gales—indeed from the Cape of Good Hope to the Bluff our main deck was never dry. The noise of the swish of the sea was ever with us. At one time we had three feet of water in the hold and pumps had to be kept going without intermission for three days. At another time our cargo shifted, which led to much injury to drain stone ware pipes which formed part of the cargo. We had a hurricane off Madeira and towards its end only one seaman-out of our complement of twelve-was all that was fit to work. Our passengers, however, did not grumble at having to man the pumps and to set and to take in sail, and do all that sailors could do. One of the greatest compliments paid to me in my life, I thought, was that, when in the midst of the great storm when I had, with another passenger, taken in the mizzen royals, the captain asked me how long I had been to sea. He would not credit it that it was my first sea voyage in a ship. When our cargo shifted there was no difficulty in getting passengers—though there were few on board—to go into the hold to see what could be done. The gale off Madeira moderated on the third day at about 7 at night. The wind then came from the north east-a fair breeze. I was near the wheel about 9 p. m. when the captain called the second mate. The first and third mates were both off duty. On duty there were only the second mate, the bos'n and one seaman (Bob Moffat). The captain said to Thompson (the second mate) that nothing was to be done but just to keep her going with her present sails. “Do not call any of the crew to set sail,” he said. “They are all exhausted. Some of the passengers have offered to stay up all night with you. Call me at six in the morning. I am going to have a sleep at last.” The captain had not been to bed for two nights. I took my turn at the wheel as I had been accustomed to sail-boats—and in rough weather too. After a little time the second mate said to me, “We'll make a long voyage of it. It is a pity we had not the sails set.” I replied, “why not set the sails? The passengers could do it.” He said, “Do you think they would?” I replied, “Of course they would, but I'll go and see.” I went and found the younger passengers were eager to help. The result was that soon all sails were set.
I was on deck at 6 a. m. when the captain was called. He came on deck and seeing the vessel clad—even stunsails set, he called the second mate and said, “Thompson, did I not tell you not to call the men?” The mate replied, “Yes sir, I did not call the men.” The captain retorted, “then……how did you get the sails set?” the mate replied to him that the passengers had done it. The captain [gap — reason: water damage]page 11
before.” One of our passengers had been in an American man-o-war, but the others were all landsmen. The strongest and happiest man that all liked was a County Down farmer. He did well and was a lovable man. When we got to the Bluff our crew struck and all the AB's were arrested and sent to prison. Several of the passengers undertook to work the ship. Some of us left by the “Phoebe” for Dunedin and I landed there on the 8th April, 1864. The passengers who remained by the vessel, discharged her. And what did the passengers do afterwards? Let me say what my friend from County Down did. He had been on his father's farm. He applied to Wright and Stephenson for employment. The firm said a constituent of theirs wanted fencing done and my friend at once volunteered. He told me he had not before done the kind of fencing required, but that he would soon learn. After some months spent in Central Otago he had saved many pounds. His employer liked him and valued his help. In fact, he was over anxious to help and serve. He became a farmer and on his death he had a small fortune to leave his family.
The trip in the “Phoebe” from the Bluff to Port Chalmers would now be considered to be most leisurely done. We left the Bluff in the morning and reached Otago Heads about 6 p.m. The steamer anchored off the Heads and lay there till early next morning when we proceeded to Port Chalmers, went on board the “Peninsula” and by her reached the jetty at Dunedin. The “Phoebe” was full of passengers. Miners who had been at Fox's rush on the “Arrow” were on board and the berths were few. Most of us got accommodation in the hold and we did not complain. The food was plain and there was no variety. There were beef steak, potatoes, bread and butter and tea at all the meals.
The one thing that impressed me was the hopefulness of all the passengers. The “good time” was coming and there was no grumbling.
What a difference there is between the surroundings and conveniences of life now and those experienced then! In Dunedin there were no railways, trams, or buses. About half a dozen cabs of a Melbourne variety ran between “The Water of Leith” and the Bank of New Zealand corner. They were the only public conveyances [gap — reason: water damage] horses. Almost all the people walked and in wet weather the roads were muddy. Very few footpaths were paved and even few had metal and in winter almost all wayfarers wore “leggings.” Few streets were metalled. In everything there has been an advance—in food, clothing, in amusements—the change has been great. Wages were about half of what they are now—indeed in some employments they were a third of the present rates. The hours of employment were longer, and even eight hours a day were only the limit in some employments. The era of Labour Unions came only after 1878, for it was in that year the New Zealand Trade Union Act was passed (on my motion) making such Unions lawful. Many lived in tents. Houses were scarce. The settlers then had, to use an expressive phrase, “to rough it.” If there were feelings of dissatisfaction they were not expressed. I remember one “new chum” saying that he could not get the amusements he had in London, and the reply given was, “What did you come here for? You are in a new country and you have got to make it fit for life.” So far as I know all these fellow passengers of mine who had on board ship attained the age of 21 years have passed away. One little boy of those early days is my colleague in the Legislative Council, the Hon. Mr. Fleming. Most of the passengers did well. Some had to meet misfortune. One of our best died through an accident a day or two after his marriage. The descendants of most, if not all, have proved good colonists. We were from all the three kingdoms. The Scots, however, predominated. We had no disputes on board and all lived happily and worked when work was required in union and good fellowship.