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Tales of Banks Peninsula

No. 10.—A Lady Colonist's Experiences

page 125

No. 10.—A Lady Colonist's Experiences.

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Brown left Glasgow in October, 1839, in the ship Bengal Merchant, bound to Port Nicholson with immigrants, under the New Zealand Association. The Bengal Merchant was commanded by Captain Emery, and had on board about a hundred passengers. She was the first emigrant ship that ever left Scotland for New Zealand. The passage was a fine weather one, and the passengers were all well during the voyaga. The events were few and far between, consisting of the birth of one child, a marriage, and the death by sunstroke of a boy. No land was touched at till Port Hardy was reached, when a few hours' stoppage took place, and the Maoris were seen for the first time by the new colonists, who were astonished at their primitive costume, one red shirt being the only European clothing amongst the whole hapu. Port Nicholson was reached early in February, 1840, and the new comers landed on the Petone beach. There were very few Europeans living in the place, only one lot of immigrants having landed previously, some fortnight before. The immigrants were not by any means delighted at the appearance of their adopted home. There were no houses, those on shore living in tents or small makeshift whares of the most wretched description. Such a thing as sawn timber was unknown, and all the fittings of the ship were landed and made into three buildings, one for a hospital, another for the company's stores, and a third for the ammunition. There were a good many Natives about, and they were of course utterly uncivilised, much shocking the new comers, who were frightened with their wild dances in honour of the arrival of the pakebas. There were no licenses at this time, and the consequence was that every one who could buy a gallon of grog started a small hotel on their own account. The Natives were in consequence often much excited by the drink, and used to lose control over their actions.

Mrs Brown and most of those who came by the Bengal Merchant went to the Hutt Valley, and took possession of page 126some land close to the river. The river was an excellent one for washing clothes after the long voyage, and it can be imagined how gladly they seized the opportunity. Whilst thus employed an adventure occurred. They were in the habit of drawing the water with a bucket and a rope attached to it. Unfortunately, one day the rope slipped from Mrs. Gilbert's hand, the bucket sinking to the bottom of the river. Seeing a Native paddling his canoe on the river, Mrs Brown made signs to him to hook it up with his paddle. Instantly he threw off his mat, and, jumping into the river, he seized the bucket, refusing to give it up without "utu." Not being able to understand his language, they could not find out what he wanted. They offered him food, but he refused. Mrs. Brown then seized the bucket, and ran off with it, but turning round saw the Maori following her quite naked, with his tomahawk raised in his hand. She threw the bucket from her, telling him she would tell "Wideawake," the Maori name for Colonel Wakefield. He kept the bucket in his hand till at last they came to terms for a flannel shirt. Being rather alarmed at this, tbey left this lonely place and came to live at Petone. A few months afterwards the Maori made his appearance there, and laughing heartily at the story, told Mrs. Brown's husband how he had frightened her.

Mr. Hay (father of the present Pigeon Bay family), who was a passenger, also settled at Petone, and so did Dr. Logan, the ship's doctor. The arrangements made by the Association for settling the new comers were exceedingly bad. They had been told on leaving Scotland that they were going to a land flowing with milk and honey, but discovered that there were neither of these commodities; in fact, the Bengal Merchant had on board the first cow ever landed in Wellington. Those purchasing one hun-hundred acres in England had been given a cabin passage, but when they asked for their land it could not be given to them, as it was not yet surveyed The British Government, too, objected to Crown grants being given till it was shown that the Natives had been paid five page break
Mrs. Peter Brown.

Mrs. Peter Brown.

page 127shillings an acre for the land. The consequence of this was that everyone squatted where they liked, with the pleasant knowledge that they might be turned off at any moment. The surveyors, amongst whom were Mr. Deans, who afterwards went to Riccarton, were commeneing operations. They laid out the town first, and each purchaser of one hundred acres rural land got his town section of an acre, but for the rest of the purchase they had to wait till the claims of the Natives had been adjusted. The result of this unsatisfactory state of things drove many away. For instance, Messrs. Hay and Sinclair left, and settled in Pigeon Bay, and others scattered far and wide.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown and the others who had squatted on the banks of the river Hutt, soon found out their mistake in going to live so near to that treacherous river. On the 1st of June, 1840, Mrs Brown's first son was born, and that same night heavy rain set in; and the following morning the river had overflowed its banks, and the flood was over two feet high inside the house. The bed in which Mrs. Brown was lying began to float, and as it was impossible to move her, it was proposed to suspend the mattress to the rafters of the house. As this latter, however, was a temporary erection, made of small scrub in its rough state, tied togother with flax and daubed over with mud, Mrs. Brown objected, fearing the whole structure would give away and she would be drowned. Her entreaties were at last listened to, and she was left where she was. Fortunately, when the tide turned the river began to fall gradually, so the suspension was never carried out. This flood destroyed many goods, and utterly disheartened the colonists. During that day and the following no fires could be kept alight to dry anything, and altogether misery was the order of the day.

At Petone and the Hutt the people from each vessel were in the habit of making a separate settlement, as it were. Of these one was known as the Cornish Row, being at the Hutt. One of the people in these whares set his house on fire, and, as they were all built close together,page 128the whole row was burnt, and one ship's immigrants left homeless. To add to their discomfort, on that same night, the colonists experienced their first earthquake, It was a very severe one, and terrified the new comers exceedingly, bat luckily no one was hurt In fact, the houses were of such a frail description that, if they had fallen bodily on any one, he or she would have been none the worse, The only food was the Company's rations, eked out with an occasional piece of fresh pork from the Natives. There were no vegetables but some wretched Maori potatoes and Maori cabbage.

Mr. Peter Brown was a baker, and soon after he went to Petone, where he was baking for a Mr. Duncan, a fellow passenger. Shortly after this the settlement was shifted some seven miles round the beach from Petone to Thorndon, and the old [unclear: hues] were abandoned, and more substantial buildings erected The road from Petone to Thorndon was very wild, there being a few Maori settlements scattered along it. At one of these, named Wharepouri, Mrs. Brown had another Maori adventure. She was coming from town to Petone rather late, and, when she came to Wharepouri, found the tide was in, and asked the Maoris to carry her across the creek. For some reason they would not do so, though she offered them all the cash she had. They kept asking her for more, and pointed out the night was fast approaching. She told them her child was at Petone, and she must go on, but they only mocked her. At last, finding all her entreaties useless, she leaped in her herself, and, though the water was up to her waist, scrambled through. This dreadfully disgusted the Maoris, who by this action lost their "utu" altogether, and the whole pa came out and shrieked and yelled at her, telling her the "typo would sieze her by the legs." It can be imagined what an uncomfortable walk home Mrs. Brown had in her wet clothes.

After three years, Mr Brown got an offer from Mr. Connell to take charge of a bakery at Akaroa, where there were then a good many residents. He accepted the offer, and he and Mrs. Brown left Wellington in 1843, and page 129sailed for Akaroa in the schooner Scotia. On [unclear: board] the vessel were Mrs. Knight and child. Mrs. Knight was afterwards named Mrs. Webb, and settled in Laverick's Bay, and the child is the present Mr. Knight, now residing at 1 averick's. The trip took a long time—over a fortnight—for a head wind forced the vessel to lay for a time in Cloudy Bay. However, all went well, and they landed in Akaroa in May, 1843, the first person to welcome them ashore being Mr. Bruce, the proprietor of Bruce's Hotel. Akaroa was then a dense bush down to the Bruce Hotel, [unclear: large] pines and totaras standing nearly to the water's edge, and Mrs. Brown was delighted at the extreme beauty of the place, which was then in its primeval loveliness. There were of course a few clearings here and there, where the French people had squatted, but they were small as each family had only five acres allotted to them. The great majority of the population were French and German, there being only five or six families of English, Irish and Scotch. There were, however, three hotels at this early date. The principal was of course Bruce's Hotel, and there was another on Mr. L. J. Vangioni's section, Jolie street, called the French Hotel, kept by a Mr. Francois. The third one was at Green Point, being the oldest established of them all. The town, however, growing towards German Bay, Mr. Green found he was out of the world at Green Point, and built a new hotel on the site of Taylor's Buildings; in fact, the existing buildings are the old hotel.

Amongst the hotelkeepers the most celebrated person was Captain Bruce, He was a sailor man, having been the captain of a large merchant vessel called the Elizabeth, owned by Johnny Jones. He had a cutter of his own called the Brothers, which used to collect whalebone and oil on the coast between Akaroa and Dunedin. One day, as he was coming into the Akaroa Heads, the cutter capsized in a squall, and left poor Captain Bruce destitute. He was, however, a man of resources and soon started Bruce's Hotel, which he made a great success, his excessive geniality and knowledge of the sea attracting all the page 130sailors from the whalers. He was a capital townsman, being the life and soul of the place, and might be seen almost any day with his glass in his hand, looking out seaward for the arrival of fresh vessels.

The whaling vessels used always to come in for supplies about Christmas time, and it was no uncommon thing to see a dozen in harbour together at that time, and, as will easily be imagined,. a brisk trade was done with the residents for fresh provisions of all kinds. During the rest of the year, however, the arrivals were few and far between, and there was often great scarcity of certain stores, and the arrival of a small vessel from Wellington, which was really a depôt for everything from England was quite an event. There being no outside trade, with the exception of the occasional traffic with the whalers, the residents really depended on their gardens for their existence. There were no butchers, but everybody kept pigs, and when one person killed, it was divided all round, the compliment being returned. There were also great herds of goats running on the hills. These were owned by a great many people, and used to be got in at intervals, when the different owners would mark the kids with their own marks, and some would be killed for the general use. The pigs were an intolerable nuisance, as they were not kept shut up, but wandered where they liked, doing a great deal of damage. When Governor Grey visited the place in 1847, the inhabitants petitioned him to put a stop to this indiscriminate pig keeping in the streets. He granted the petition, ordaining that all pigs in the town of Akaroa should be kept in confinement. Finding this was rather expensive, many of the residents took to the hills with their pigs and their cattle, where they could run them undisturbed. Mr McKinnon and Mr Lucas got Mrs Brown to ask Governor Grey whether they might be allowed to squat on the hills, and he replied in the affirmative, saying they had better go there and "breed children and cattle as fast as they could." This permission was taken abundant advantage. At that time there was no settler on the south side of the harbour, though Mr George

page 131

Rhodes had stations at Long Bay and Flea Bay. Mr McKinnon went to Island Bay, and Mr Lucas went to Land's End, and, as they did well, many others were encouraged to follow them. Mr Wright went to Whakamoa next, and Hempleman was living at Piraki on a whaling station, Job Price at Ikeraki, and Mr Wood, better known as "Paddy Wood," at Oauhau. These latter were all whaling, and kept little stock for their own use. There were great droves of wild pigs on the hills, and in the whaling season these used to come down in hundreds to feed on the blubber.

Mr. Connell went to Nelson, and left Mr and Mrs Brown out of employment. Mr Wood persuaded Mr Brown to go as cook and baker to Oauhau, but they had no idea how rough it was. They went round in a whale boat. There was a great swell on outside, though the weather was fine in Akaroa. Not a word was spoken the whole way, and when they got in Mr Wood said he had never been in a worse sea. The place was terribly rough, and as there was no firewood the food had to be cooked with whales' blubber. They ran short of provisions, and the men got discontented, and the station was left a month before the usual time, much to the gratification of Mr and Mrs Brown, who had spent a very wretched three months there.

Of course, at this time there were no surveys and no Crown grants, and Hemplemen asserted that nearly the whole of the Peninsula was his, so that anyone lived rent free. There were no very large Maori settlements. Little River and Taumutu were the principal pas, but a good many were living in Pigeon Bay and Port Levy. The Akaroa Natives were at Tikao Bay and Onuku, and were very friendly with the Europeans. Tuhau was the leading chief, and one of his two wives lived to a great age, and Tikao was chief of the Tikao Maoris.

It will thus be seen that year by year, though by slow degrees, the settlement of the Peninsula was proceeding and the population spreading from the town itself to the adjacent hills. The French and Germans got Crown page 132grants of the land they had been originally given on their taking out letters of naturalisation, and thus a great many new subjects were gained to Her Majesty.

Bishop Selwyn used to come round periodically and visit the settlers and the Maoris. The first Presbyterian service was held by the Rev. C. Fraser in Mrs Brown's house in Akaroa, but it was long afterwards before they had the first resident minister, who was the Rev. Mr. Grant, who afterwards went to Christchurch, and as many of our readers will remember was subsequently lost in the Matoaka.