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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977

A Journey from Riwaka to Nelson 1844

A Journey from Riwaka to Nelson 1844

One hundred years ago William Pratt published his Colonial experiences after he had returned to England. It is obvious that the lapse of more than thirty years had not dimmed his memory and he gives us one of the most vivid accounts of the very early days of the Nelson Settlement. He had been advised to settle in Riwaka,

Footnote. Information from Mrs Morva Borcovsky (nee Bradley), of Murchison indicates that we have relatives of Thomas Alva Edison in the Nelson province. A sister of Edison emigrated to New Zealand, and her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Stillwell, married Peter Drummond, who had emigrated from Scotland to Nelson in the Fifeshire in 1842. Mrs Borcovsky's mother was a Miss Drummond, sister of Bob, and of Clive who was the well known radio announcer.

page 16 "a very pretty valley, with plenty of good land, and nearly all the residents well known to me, they having been fellow passengers in the 'Indus'." They were employed on road work with some time to do their own building and cultivation. On the suggestion of Mr Fox, the Company's Agent, a Co-operative store had been established. One of the settlers was appointed manager, and all went well until his balance sheet showed a deficiency for which he could not account. This led to much recrimination, and a deputation was appointed to set out by boat to inform Mr Fox. The unfortunate storekeeper refused to give up his books as he was sure the error could be found, he determined to travel overland and hoped to arrive in Nelson first and deliver his books to Mr Fox. He asked his friend Pratt to accompany him.

Pratt now takes up the story:—As it was a long distance (about 40 miles) through only partially explored country, and several rivers to cross on the route, he asked me to accompany him which I readily agreed to do.

It was July or mid-winter, and a journey overland at that time of year, with the rivers above their ordinary level, and their extent and the nature of the country to be traversed then unkown, it was no light undertaking, and would have been positively hazardous for one alone. About eighteen months before this, four of the residents made the journey in company in the summer time, and were four days doing it, and suffered great hardships from exposure and want of food. We felt quite confident of reaching Nelson the same evening. We started about 4 a.m., and as we walked over the crisp grass, the white hoar frost glistened in the bright moonlight; as the first half-hour's walk would bring us to the Motueka River, and an immediate plunge into that not being a very cheery process in the early morning, we resolved to make a detour to a deserted Maori pah, near the mouth of the river, where we knew there was an unfinished canoe on the stocks. It had been probably many years in the state we found it, its sides were fairly shaped, but in other respects it was little more than a log of wood, and we had serious misgivings about its answering our purpose; however we resolved to try it. After an hour's great exertions, with the help of rollers and levers we at last succeeded in getting the ungainly thing into the water, when upon stepping into it, to our dismay and disappointment, it revolved like a barrel, and as this part of the river was wide and deep, and the current strong, we were obliged to abandon it, and reluctantly retrace our steps up the river and take the first apparently eligible ford; as having lost so much valuable time, we did not care to go as far as the known ford, at which the river was usually crossed. Fortunately my companion was a few inches taller than myself, and by holding his hand, the passage was safely effected, but at one part, where the water reached my waistcoat pockets, I felt so extremely buoyant in the swift current that I durst not raise my feet, but was obliged to shuffle along or T should have certainly lost my footing, which would probably have resulted in the discomfiture of us both. After page 17taking off our wet clothes, and effecting a mutual wringing out of the surplus water, we resumed our damp attire and the journey. We had travelled about eight miles when another river crossed our route, but this was small compared to the previous one, and the only inconvenience was a fresh wetting just as we were getting comfortably dry.

Shortly after crossing this river, and coming upon a thick bush we were beguiled into taking a surveyor's line that appeared to lead through it, instead of ascending a range of hills that here ran almost parallel with the bush, and by which we would have saved a great deal of time, and avoided much fatigue and difficulty. The line we had chosen was the surveyor's base line through the Moutere valley bush, and base enough we found it; the bush was so dense and thick with supplejack and undergrowth of all kinds, that we could not deviate to either side of the line, and a winding river running through it, that was no sooner crossed with difficulty in one place, than it presented itself unexpectedly again in another short distance, and this occurred so often that we became quite bewildered as to which side of it was our proper one. This river was not more than five or six yards in width, but deep and sluggish, with a great quantity of timber in it, and we effected one crossing by climbing a tree that had been splintered off about fifteen feet from the ground, and descending the broken part, which remained attached to the trunk and extended across the river at an angle of about 45 degrees.

Appearances began to indicate that we were nearing the boundary of the bush. We were just congratulating ourselves upon having overcome all the difficulties of this route when we found ourselves hemmed in by bull-rush swamp.

It deepened as we advanced, so we deemed it prudent to climb a tree to reconnoitre. We found it to be of considerable extent, the centre part being clear of rushes indicated deep water, and as unfortunately, neither of us could swim, we were obliged to wend our weary way back again for some distance to where we had noticed a steep hill abutting close to the bush, to ascend the bill, and descend again into the valley beyond the limits of the swamp.

This was the area where some German settlers had arrived the previous year.

After crossing this open land, and passing through another portion of the same bush, but skirting the hills, evening began to close in, so we thought it advisable to seek temporary rest and shelter in one of the huts near at hand, until the moon rose, when we proposed continuing our journey as the remainder of the route appeared to be open country.

We had only provided sufficient food for one meal when starting, supposing Nelson would be reached the same evening, and as this had been disposed of about mid-day, we were quite prepared to do justice to a good supper, had it been in the power of our entertainer to have provided such a luxury. Unfortunately lie had nothing but a few cobs of Indian corn and some very small potatoes on the premises; we accepted a place by the fire and a page 18cob of core, and amused ourselves during the evening in munching the very hard fare.

The hut was built of young birch trees about six inches in diameter: it might be called a log house, with the logs ranged vertically, and being let into the ground about a couple of feet, gave stability to the structure. The space inside was about 8 feet by 12, with a thatched roof; and at one end a fireplace formed with logs the same as the sides, but not so high and lined inside with clay.

(The author recounts how the hut was finally occupied by five men who "stretched themselves on the hard clay floor", and were soon snoring, which "effectually relieved us from all apprehension of ourselves falling asleep, which from very weariness we might have done, and thereby missed the opportunity of resuming our journey as soon as the moon should rise.")

At last we could distinguish the moon's silver light above the glare of the roaring fire we had been instructed to keep up, but legs and arms were so inextricably mingled on the floor that exit by the door seemed next to impossible without treading upon or disturbing one or more sleepers; so finding escape by the chimney practicable, we were soon once more on the road, and as there was a well-defined track and open country over the range of hills to the Waimea plain there was no fear of our mistaking the road. Just at daylight we were descending the hills into the Waimea Plain, the winding course of the Wairoa River distant about two miles, clearly defined by a line of white mist, its wintry veil, which was being slowly stirred into fantastic shapes by the morning breeze. We were prosaic enough to think that a boat or a "bridge by which we should have been saved the necessity of wading through the river, would have been a more charming sight than any amount of picturesque scenery that cold morning.

I glanced at my companion and noticed that his whiskers were while with rime; I instinctively felt my own and found them quite crisp with the frost. I suggested the advantage of taking off our socks before wading the river, as it would be so comfortable to have them dry to walk in afterwards, but on attempting to unlace my boots for this purpose, I found my fingers quite powerless from the cold, although I was not sensible of any sensation of coldness in them; my companion was in the same predicament, so we were obliged to let them remain.

We reached Kite's hostelry at Richmond about nine o'clock, and as we had not broken our fast since noon of the preceding day, and had undergone a considerable amount of wear and tear in the interval, we were tolerably hungry, and watched with some interest and impatience the preparations for breakfast.

Mrs K. with true womanly instinct divined our conditions and thoughts, and asked us if we would like a snack to begin with, while the chops were frying, to which we cordially assented, and a pork pie, made in an oval pie dish, the long diameter of which was about ten inches, was set before us, the complete consumption of which was so nicely timed that the last particle of it had just disappeared as the chops were served up, upon which we proceeded page 19to make an ordinary breakfast. We arrived in Nelson about midday, and found the Riwaka boat had only preceded us by an hour; the deputation had waited on Mr Fox and reported the state of affairs and the refusal of the storekeeper to give up the books, when that much abused individual appeared on the scene, to the great astonishment of the deputation, as our departure had been kept secret.

(Mr Fox allowed the Company's storekeeper to examine the books, and he soon discovered an omission that explained the discrepancy. Mr Fox was satisfied but not the deputation who appeared to have made up their minds and were not prepared to alter their conclusions.)

The author adds: The following year, having to make the same journey just described, having visited Nelson and missed my passage by the return boat, I did it easily in twelve hours, but took the precaution of keeping on the range of hills between the Waimea and Moutere plains, carefully avoiding the wooded valley; but some years later, when a coach road was opened through it, thereby lessening the distance some few miles, I have frequently walked it in less time and with less fatigue.