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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 8 (November 1, 1935)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

page 31

Pictures Of New Zealand Life

Pioneer Days.

As the year of New Zealand's Centenary as a British Colony approaches, interest in the records of the country's many-coloured story will increase. There are still with us many old people who can tell a tale of adventure in the breaking-in period and the days of the Maori War. The older generation of Maoris, too, in the Waikato, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty could, if they liked, add their stories to those already put on record. But all the old chiefs have gone; the men who were the leaders of their tribes in the numerous campaigns repose in the soil for which they fought. Fortunately their stories have not gone unrecorded; their side of the long struggle is in print.

But the pioneering period within the recollection of most of the old New Zealanders is narrowing in. We must now include many who came here after the close of the Maori Wars, and who still found a vast amount of adventure and hard-faring in the task of making homes for themselves in unbroken country. The end of the period of the pioneer settlers must be fixed approximately, I think, as corresponding to the end of the sailing-ship passenger period. After 1880 few British and other immigrants came to New Zealand in a “wind-ship.” The beautiful clippers and semi-clippers of the New Zealand Shipping Co. and the Shaw Savill and Albion Co., carried in their day many thousands of new settlers out to the new country. One of the last to bring passengers was the Lady Jocelyn, a splendid old three-skysail-yarder, troopship of the Crimean War and Maori War days, whose last important immigrant voyage was with the second party of North of Ireland settlers for Katikati in 1878. The Lady Jocelyn, wonder of the merchant navy, is still afloat on the Thames, her moorings down for good.

Those pioneers of Katikati, 1875–78, found no militia duty to complicate their efforts at home-making, but it was sufficiently rough and wild without that. They had no roads at first, the only access to their scrub and fern sections was by the harbour and creeks of Tauranga. They lived in raupo whares at first; it was a bewildering place to the farmers and men of various professions from well - settled secure Ulster. But they buckled in with success, a quicker success than that which came to the bush pioneers of North and South Auckland, where the great forests of tall timber had to be attacked. Katikati, which celebrated last month (September) the sixtieth anniversary of its founding, had a comparatively easy victory over untrimmed nature, albeit they had many reverses of prosperity. But the ups were more than the downs.

The Bell Block.

Many people no doubt have been a trifle puzzled by that name, the site of the Taranaki aerodrome where thousands have waited to greet trans-Tasman fliers from Australia. Bell Block has nothing to do with a city block. There is a story of pioneer pluck and Maori war-thrill in the name. This pleasant rural spot, with its small farms and its aircraft ground, eight miles from New Plymouth, was a battleground in the fighting Sixties, when the English settlers who had been located there, refused to abandon it, and built a stockade to defend it. The Maori name is Hua. The English name is accounted for by the fact that this block of land was bought from the Taranaki Maoris by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Dillon Bell, father of the present Right Hon. Sir Francis Dillon Bell. He was the New Zealand Company's agent in New Plymouth, 1847–1848.

Originally consisting of .1,500 acres, the Bell Block was enlarged by further purchases, and in 1860 when the first Taranaki war began there were about seventy Englishmen and their sons of fighting age in the settlement. These sturdy sons of Devon and Cornwall soon had a hundred bullock-cart loads of timber on the spot selected for their fort, a leveltopped hill overlooking the little village.

Sketches of that day, by an artist settler, Frank Arden, show a stout stockade, a blockhouse and flanking towers. This compact little fort was occupied for several years as a useful half-way post between New Plymouth and Waitara. In 1860–61 it was customary to send a column of two hundred soldiers, with a howitzer (drawn by bullocks) to escort the provisions and ammunition carts from New Plymouth to Bell Block, along the rough Devon Road, the main thoroughfare northward, where hundreds of motorcars now speed daily along a smooth highway. Not a trace now remains of that hill-fort; the farmers' dairy cows graze on the rich grass where the palisades bristled and field-guns sent shot and shell over the fields at the Maori raiders on the bush-edge.

The Return of the Horse.

Dr. Heber, our recent visitor from Monte Video, Uruguay, in his travels through New Zealand viewing the land and the products thereof, has expressed pleasure at the increasing use of the horse on the farms of the country. Machinery for some time displaced the horse-power throughout the land, and those who liked to see a good horse grieved to contemplate its gradual disappearance. But the horse is coming back; the tractor is being discarded by many a farmer.

It has been noted, too, that there is a decided tendency to return to the horse in America. In England, Scotland, and Ireland, of course, the horse has never been displaced so largely as in New Zealand; the strong hold the saddle- and the plough-horse and carthorse have in the Old Land will never be shaken loose by mechanical contrivances.

Motor highways prevent the horse coming back for roadster use; but in a pastoral country like this there will always be great use for the saddle-horse. A good horse is excellent company; I do not think any motorist has ever felt disposed to pat his shining radiator on the neck or address kindly soothing words to the magneto or the carburetter.