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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

Social Conditions

page 54

Social Conditions.

The conditions of life were very different in the early settlement to anything we have experience of to-day. In the country the absence of roads was the chief drawback. The old settler would probably leave Dan. Munn's Royal Hotel to go inland, crossing the Waitangi at Mr Colenso's residence, whence a Maori track led over the Kohineraku hill. Afterwards you had to find your way as well as you could. On the sheep runs the settlers were reduced for years to grinding their own wheat. Even visitors when stopping at a station were expected to grind a hopper for their own consumption, the hopper being fastened to a post at the door. Milk and butter were not known. Damper, with tea and mutton, formed the staple of breakfast, dinner or supper. Even in the town there was no bakery in 1857, and, although the bush was so close at hand, firewood, the only fuel available, was sometimes hard to get. The inhabitants wore dependent on food supplied from the outside. Potatoes from the Chatham Islands were sold at £6 or £7 a ton, and flour from Auckland at £24 per ton. Amusements were scanty. The first races recorded were held in honour of the separation of the province on March 19th, 1859, when Air J. D. Ormond was prominent as an owner of racing horses and the Hawke's Bay Stakes of the value of £50 was won by Mr C. J. Nairn's Charlie Napier. An earlier meeting was held at Waipureku in 1856, where an excellent course was laid out by Messrs Fitzgerald and Tanner, as stewards. Cricket was played in those days on the site of the present post-office, and it was usual to make the losers on such occasions stand treat for the wining team As is usual in sue ii communities a good deal of liquor was consumed. The whalers would page 55 broach a keg of ruin in the streets and invite everyone to participate, and wild scenes often ensued. The young bloods in their cupe would paint the town red, cheerfully paying for the damage done, so that nobody was disposed to regard their pranks .seriously If the perpetrators found themselves before the Magistrate that genial personage would probably inflict a fine with a private hint that it need not be paid.

There were two features of the life of fifty years back that were striking. One was the natives, who were numerically much stronger than the whites and who were inclined to be turbulent. The quarrel between Moananui and Te Hapuku led to bloodshed on several occasions in 1857 and 1858, and was only terminated when Mr Donald McLean persuaded the latter to burn his pa and retire to Poukawa. So great was the anxiety caused by the attitude of the natives that a detachment of the 56th Regiment under Colonel Wyatt was despatched to Napier, arriving about August, 1857, and camping in the present Botanical Gardens. The soldiers were a distinct feature in the life of the infant settlements.