The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 3 (July 1, 1933)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
“I'm off to that golden location,
The Wakamarina for me.”
That was the chorus of an old-time diggers' song, when hundreds of gold-fossickers crossed Cook Strait and went tramping up through the bush to the rich alluvial field, and hundreds more came from the West Coast diggings when the first hectic years of big yields had passed. Seventy years ago the Wakamarina drew many of the down-on-their-luck citizens of Wellington. A few of those “golden locations” would solve our unemployed problems.
Still, though the wonderful days of tons of gold have passed, the Wakamarina (Wakamarino) is not by any means played out yet; and in many auriferous areas in the south the periodical clean-up yields a tidy parcel of gold. Okarito, where the big dredge is combing the heavy beach sand, far down the West Coast, heads them all. The exact whence of that coast sand deposit has not yet been fixed by our mining geologists. Old diggers say that after a strong westerly gale when the sand is piled up afresh on the long beaches, the gold is washed up, and the largest returns were then obtained. But the original source of the gold is believed to be high up inland, at the sources of the short, swift rivers, and there always was a firm faith in the digging fraternity that the greatest finds of all would be made some day right up in the Southern Alps.
The Rock of Her Salvation.
Talking of the great digging days, a stray memory brings up the story of an old-time clipper ship, as told by a sailor and gold-hunter of the roaring Sixties. When the rush to the Otago alluvial fields began, thousands of diggers flocked across the Tasman Sea from the Bendigo and Ballarat fields, and sailing ships and steamers came in through Otago Heads crowded with men. One of the ships was a famous Blackball liner, a three-skysail-yarder, a flyer of the seas. In thick weather at the Heads she struck a rock, but got off apparently undamaged; landed her passengers, and sailed again for Australia, and in due course reached London with a cargo of wool. She did not leak any more than usual—all those wooden clippers leaked a bit—but she steered badly all the voyage to England; would not always answer her helm.
At London the ship was examined in dock. A large lump of rock was found firmly wedged in her bow, below the water-line, and part of the rock protruded; it was this that had caused the erratic steering. It was this rock also that had saved the ship. When she struck the reef at Otago Heads, the section of New Zealand that she broke off was so tightly wedged in her bow-timbers that the old ship decided to take it along with her round the world. Had it dropped out in mid-ocean there might not have been any tale to tell.
The Missionary and the Prophet.
Lately I narrated in this section of the Magazine a story of the mingled shrewdness and courage of the Rev. Samuel Williams, second son of that splendid figure in early New Zealand history, the pioneer missionary, Henry Williams. Sam Williams (afterwards Archdeacon), was the hero of another story, the scene of which was Omahu, about nine miles inland from Napier. There was a large palisaded village there in those days, the middle Sixties. Williams was asked by the Governor, Sir George Grey, to combat the Hauhau rebel propaganda on the East Coast. After visiting Poverty Bay on his mission, he landed at Napier from the page 52 Government steamer “Sturt.” The Hauhau apostles were at work among the Ngati-Kahungunu. He went out to Omahu, and found the large meeting-house there filled with people. The old chief of the place, Mr. Williams' friend Te Hapuku, was sitting outside the house with his blanket over his head, a token of resignation to some dread fate.
“Oh. Hapuku,” asked the missionary, “what are you doing here, and what is going on?”
The chief replied: “They have been be-witched and have become mad. I am awaiting my death.”
Mr. Williams went inside, followed by Te Hapuku. At the far end of the crowded house a Hauhau prophet was holding forth and uttering all kinds of gibberish incantations; he professed to speak all the languages of the world.
“Stop!” said Mr. Williams. “You are talking foolishness to this ignorant crowd. Let us two talk in the Hebrew tongue, for that is the language of the gods.”
“I do not know the Hebrew tongue,” said the prophet.
“What? You profess to be a prophet of the gods and do not know the sacred language? Who are you? You must be of this earth, and very low down in it, too!”
And with inimitable skill of language he thoroughly frightened the Hauhau orator. The apostle of rebellion crouched down among his sympathisers at the end of the house; he cut a hole in the raupo wall and slipped out into the darkness and off.
By this time Te Hapuku had come up to Mr. Williams, the blanket off his head and down over his shoulders, and he was rejoicing at the changed situation.
Later, when the Hauhau war party from Te Haroto, on the Napier-Taupo track, came down to the plains in order to attack Napier, it was Mr. Williams who gave timely information about the raiders' intentions, and Sir Donald Maclean acted so promptly, in conjunction with Colonel Whitmore, that the rebels' strength was completely smashed and Napier town was saved from invasion. This was the battle of Omarunui, in 1866. A memorial to the fight stands on the farm of Mr. W. Kinross White.
Early Days and Primitive Ways.
From a tattered old copy of the Wellington “Independent,” one of our earliest newspapers, I take two advertisements which are in their way a reflection of the social manners and business customs of the infant town. The advertising columns of those long-ago times are really worth reading just as much as the news, for they give intimate glimpses of the days of our beginnings and enable us to reconstruct pictures of the past. One of the business notices appears to indicate prudent economy in the use of water on the human frame, at any rate in the winter:
J. Masters begs leave to inform the Inhabitants of Wellington, that he intends to have on hand a quantity of Bathing Tubs for Sale, or to let for the season, on very moderate terms.
Lambton Quay, Sept. 28, 1847.
The open season for an all-over wash perhaps coincided with our present run of trout-fishing months.
First Department Store.
You got your fruit and frilleries in the same store in the good old days:
Oranges! Fine Oranges!!
On Sale, Ex Frolic,
1,400 Dozen Oranges,
A very superior assortment of Ladies' Shawls, Turnovers, Ginghams, &c.
Also a well selected assortment of Hosiery, consisting of articles best adapted for the Spring and Summer.
A choice selection of Ribbons.
Wellington, October 1, 1847.
However, one has seen in these modern days camp-ovens, jew's-harps, saddles, and chemises in the one big room in a backblocks store, in the King Country and up the East Coast. The convenient old Johnny-all-sorts warehouse still serves our needs here and there.