Speech Delivered at the Breakfast by the Early Colonist of Canterbury,
In Honour of Lord Lyttelton and Mr. Selfe,
In the Town Hall, Christchurch, on Feb. 6, 1868.
Christchurch: Printed at the Press Office, Cashel-Street.1868.
(The following speech was delivered by Mr. FitzGerald, at the Breakfast given to Lord Lyttelton and Mr. Selfe, by the Early Colonists of Canterbury, in the Town Hall, Christchurch, on the 6th of February, 1868.)
Ladies and gentlemen—I am now about to propose to you the toast, to drink which we have met together to-day—" the health of our guests from England." My Lord Lyttelton and Mr Selfe were entertained at a banquet last night, which must hare assured them how gladly their visit has been welcomed by all classes in this settlement. Our meeting to-day is of a more special character. It is a sort of return match—a breakfast given by those who partook of the hospitality of his Lordship and the Canterbury Association at the breakfast which was given at Gravesend on the eve of our departure from England. If ever there was a moment in which one might be forgiven a feeling of deepfelt and unaffected emotion, that moment is the present. There are times in every man's life when he is compelled by circumstances to look back upon the past, and ask himself what is the result of his labours, what are the fruits of the years that have passed over his head. Such a time is the present for you, my Lord, and for many of us who are here to-day. For my own part, when I see beside me in this far-off corner of the world, old familiar faces which I never expected to see again in this life, scenes come rushing back upon my memory of those days in the long past, when we laboured together in a spirit of ardent hope and earnest enthusiasm for that object of which we are here to-day to commemorate the great achievement. Dreamers and visionaries we were then called, as men will ever be called who set before themselves higher objects, and indulge in nobler aspirations than the working world around consents to deem practicable; and you, my Lord, had to bear the chief brunt of popular scorn as the arch visionary in our wild and impossible scheme. Seventeen years have rolled away since then, more than half a generation of men have lived, and you see collected around these tables to-day the remains of the forlorn hope of Canterbury. Need I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, whether his Lordship and Mr Selfe have any reason to be ashamed of one of the noblest works of their noble lives. [Cheers.] We are not all here to-day; we are not even all represented here. The doom of dissapointment and unsuccess which is the lot of some of every class, and in every undertaking, have somewhat thinned our ranks. Some, seduced by the very success which they came out to achieve, have turned back—if I may be allowed the expression in such a presence—to the flesh-pots of Egypt, and are seperated from us, I fear for ever, by the breadth of the vast ocean. And some have passed that wider and deeper ocean on whose brink we are all standing, and have entered upon the rest and the reward of their labours. But if Death has taken her toll of the first Colonists of Canterbury, it has not robbed us of the inheritance of their labours, their words, their characters, their examples. These are with us still; may they be enshrined for ever in the community they toiled to found. Hardly had we landed on these shores when we had to deplore the loss of two of the choicest of our party—two of the dearest of our friends—Edward and Henry Ward; a loss which has been so recently revived and embittered by the death of him who came to fill up the gap in our ranks where his brothers fell; the echoes of whose voice, so lately heard, still linger around these walls, and who has died with harness on his back, working for the country which he loved, with those distinguished abilities of which we were all so justly proud. [Hear, hear.] Can I speak of those who have passed from us for ever, nor fail to recall the memory of him who was peculiarly the founder and the leader of this settlement. However I might attempt to convey to those who knew him only at a distance, some faint idea of the character of John Robert Godley, I dare not speak of him in the presence of two of his dearest and most honoured friends, because I know that all language would seem tame and cold in such ears and upon such a theme. For my own part, the longer I live and look page 4 back upon his memory, it seems to me to loom ever larger and larger through the mists of time; the more earnestly and truthfully can I and others of his friends say-Heu! quanto minus est cum reliquis versari quam tui meminisse. One remark only will I make. Those only who know the effects which are produced upon the mind and manners—the public and private life—by the influences which operate upon young and struggling communities, can form any idea of the extent to which the genius and example of that great man influenced, and I believe in a great measure still influences, the life of Canterbury; and not of Canterbury only, but of the whole colony of which we are a part. I well remember when a gentleman whom you all know and love and respect, I believe, more than any other public man—I mean Mr Weld—was once speaking to me of the difficulties and embarrassments of the colony, over whose Government he then so ably presided, he said to me "I wish Godley were here—I never take a step in public life without thinking what would Godley have done had he been here." A most remarkable illustration, especially in the mouth of a man capable of appreciating kindred goodness and greatness, of bow one "being dead yet speaketh." [Cheers.] My Lord, we have done what poor honour we can to his memory, by that statue which you have seen in the centre of this city; which we have erected, I hope not in a spirit of vain glory, or as an empty ornament, butin the hope that those who come after us aspiring to lead the people of this community in the paths of honour and virtue, may be induced to study the character of one, who, though in a private station, and weighed down with sore disease, nevertheless exercised so large an influence for good on his fellow men; and may at the same time be cheered and stimulated in their task by the feeling that they are working for a community which knows how to do honour to its great dead. [Cheers.] I might recall the names of many of the first colonists who are gone, and whose memories are cherished with respect and affection. But I will rather turn from so sad a topic. I will rather call your attention, my Lord, to the fact that if we have paid our fair tribute to Nature, we have not unsuccesfully evoked the mysterious aid of the goddess to fill up our broken ranks with fresh recruits from the inexhaustible fountains of human life. If you will look around these tables I think you will see some bright eyes and beardless chins, which could hardly have seen so many summers as have passed since you bid us farewell on old England's shores. And you may well believe, my Lord, that there stands behind the scenes, whose youth has prevented them from partaking of our festivities to day, a large infant army in long and bright array, rising up to carry on the work which their fathers commenced. [Cheers.] We were sent out not only to subdue the earth but to people it; and I cannot but think that in whatever else we may have fallen short, we have not been unmindful of our duty in this respect. [Laughter.] Indeed, I think the good work was commenced almost before the shores of England had faded from our view; for I think there are some here to-day who were in such a hurry to colonise their new home that they made their appearance in the world before they arrived on its shores. I think there were names given to some at the font, taken from the ships in which they were born—names which I hope will be handed down to their posterity, to keep alive in successive generations the names of the first four ships which bore Canterbury and its fortunes to the New Zealand shores. [Cheers.] But, my Lord, I do not forget that it was not only to people these magnificent plains, or to acclimatise sheep upon the surrounding hills, that your Lordship and other members of the Canterbury Association gave time and labour and money and influence to found this settlement. You had other objects in view. And forasmuch as Canterbury is to a certain extent an epoch in the history of English colonisation, I beg leave to say one or two words on this point. Colonisation, once an heroic act—a work in which the expiring chivalry of Europe loved to engage, to which men of the highest intellectual capacity, of gentle birth, and refined manners, devoted themselves—had become debased and degraded by the practice of transporting convicts to the plantations. It has passed from the hands of gentlemen adventurers and free men, to those of hired officials and enslaved criminals. England was first awaked to a sense of her error by the powerful waitings of that remarkable man whose likeness looks down upon us from these walls, and whose labours in the colonisation of New Zealand will ever be remembered with respect and gratitude—I mean Mr Edward Gibbon Wakefield. [Hear, hear.] His opinions found a fitting echo in Parliament in the mouth of Mr Charles Buller, whose speech on colonisation should be preserved as a classic in the library of every colonist. In the settlements of South Australia, Wellington, Nelson, and New Plymouth, those principles had been more or less imperfectly enunciated, when the Canterbury Association was founded, at first by Mr Godley, and afterwards under the presidency of Lord Lyttelton, to give them a more complete interpretation. The idea of Canter- page 5 bury may be described in one word—that word which has recently been used with such powerful effect in this colony—self-reliance. [Hear, hear.] That the settlement should be founded and carried on solely by the means of the colonists themselves and by no one else—that it was not necessary that men in founding a new settlement should abandon the civilization in which they had been brought up—that their own means in the form of a land fund, should provide surveys of the lands and public works to give them value, churches and schools—this was the idea; and it is fair to ask to-day, has it succeeded? Now the first answer I give to this is that answer which was once made by Mr Godley at a public meeting at Lyttelton, when replying to the attacks which had been made upon the Canterbury Association by men high in authority both here and in England. He said—"All I can say is this—that if we colonise badly, you did not colonise at all." But I go further and say that if you ask me to compare the result with the original prospectuses and intention, no doubt there has been a certain amount of failure;—as in what human designs is there not failure? But if you ask me to compare that result with what has been done elsewhere—then I say, it has been a most remarkable success. [Hear, hear.] I say without fear of contradiction, that there were more of the appliances of civilization enjoyed by the settlers of Canterbury during the first two years of its existence, than in any settlement which has ever been formed, so far as my reading extends, in any country or at any time. We may have had few and poor churches, and schools not quite what we hoped for; but I say there were ten times more of the ministrations of religion, and more and better schools, than in any other settlement of the same age which I ever heard of. The churches and schools which are to be seen in every village in this settlement are still its distinguishing characteristic; and the architectural features of those churches, poor as they are, will bear a very favourable comparison with the structures to be seen in any other community of equally limited wealth and population. If we did not reach as high as we aimed, we did reach a much higher point than was ever attained by men who started with lower aims and narrower views. And that this was done without sacrificing the material prosperity of the settlement, the after years can amply testify. I can well conceive that you have experienced much disappointment, my Lord, in walking only on the level foundations of the Cathedral, when you might well have hoped to have worshipped under its roof, and to have heard the old services of our Church echoing through its aisles. I will only say that the Church in this settlement partook of that sanguine spirit which pervaded all classes at a time of unexampled prosperity—a period in which a community is naturally and inevitably tempted to anticipate too largely the actual means at its disposal. If a mistake was made it was a natural, perhaps an unavoidable one. But this we may say of the future, when standing on the level foundations of that great building, that they have been laid broad and deep in the firm faith and full conviction that we, or those who come after us, will one day finish that magnificent building to the highest stone of its lofty spire. [Cheers.] We have seen our College expand itself from the time when my venerable friend the Dean used to hold his classes in the little whitewashed den in the Lyttelton barracks, until it occupies that not unsightly pile which stands at the borders of this town. And I should do a great injustice to our friends of other denominations, if I did not take this opportunity of saying that, although the original endowments of the Canterbury Association were confined to the Episcopal Church, yet the stimulus which was thereby given to education was such, that other denominations were induced to establish much better schools than they would otherwise have had. The Presbyterian schools especially have enjoyed an honourable pre-eminence in this respect, and would have done ample credit to a much larger and wealthier community. [Cheers.] I hope I have not inappropriately made these remarks upon this part of the scheme in which my Lord Lyttelton was mainly interested. But there was another feature which I should notice. It was hoped that the Canterbury scheme would attract a superior class of emigrants; not only of those to do the hard work of founding a new settlement, but of men to lead and guide others in the public life of the new community. Now, when we old colonists speak of ourselves, it becomes us to speak modestly. Still, on such an occasion as this, it is not uninteresting to enquire, how far the first colonists have been able to hold their own in the midst of the large population which followed them. First then, I see my venerable friend Dean Jacobs, for so long a time at the head of our school and college, who might at this moment have been enjoying the highest dignity of the Colonial Church, had he chosen to exchange his cure in Christchurch for a mitre in another settlement. Then there is our respected Resident Magistrate, Mr Charles Bowen, who has risen from post to post in the public service, and who now dispenses justice with the same integrity and ability with which he page 6 formerly dispensed the moneys from the Treasury. There is Mr Harman, who has held so many offices in the public service that I will not delay you by mentioning them, and who now holds a private position of more importance than any of the offices ho has filled. Mr Calvert has only recently, to the regret of all, resigned the post of Registrar of the Supremo Court, which he filled for so many years. There sits Mr Tancred, who has formed a part of so many Governments both in the colony and in the province, and who has recently presided so ably over our Education Board. And then I think I see my old friend and enemy Mr Duncan, who, as Provincial Solicitor framed our laws during the celebrated period of the Duncaniad. And there sits the much-abused Provincial Engineer, Mr Dobson, who seems to grow all the more cheery and well-liking the more he is abused, and who has left traces of his voracity for work and his omnipresent energy upon every part of the province from Lyttelton to Hokitika, and from the borders of Nelson to Otago; and who will I fear have much more work before him arising out of the calamity which has just happened. Mr Davie presides over our surveys, having taken the place of one of the oldest and most valued public servants now in England—Mr Caes. [Cheers.] By the way, Mr Davie is an extraordinary man, for he came out in the first four ships; but but whereas the shortest voyage made by any ship was ninety-eight days, Mr Davie performed the voyage in ninety-seven days. [Laughter.] I leave your Lordship to solve the problem; but it is a fact; and surely there can be no fitter man to preside over our surveys. Then Mr Guise Brittan, whose illness I deeply regret to say has prevented his attendance here to-day, still, as the Chief Land Commissioner, retails the land to which value has been given by Mr Davie's surveys and Mr Dobson's public works. I do not know whether Mr Mount fort is here, who has made his own reputation and conferred a lasting benefit on the community by his buildings, chiefly by that magnificent Council chamber, which will go down to successive generations as a witness, that the early settlers in Canterbury, whilst engaged in subduing the earth, had not forgotten or ceased to love those arts which mainly distinguish the civilised man from the savage. I might point to numbers who occupy prominent positions amongst us—such as Mr Wilson, who though not himself one of the first colonists is one of the first four ships by marriage. Dr Barker and Mr Anderson. Time would fail were I to enumerate all those amongst us who have taken a part as members of the Provincial Council in passing the local laws under which we have lived. But when naming the Provincial Council, I cannot but allude to the memory of one who so long led that body, and who has recently left us—I mean Mr Joseph Brittan. I cannot but take this opportunity of expressing my deep regret for the loss of one to whom I was so largely indebted, and to whom the colony was so largely indebted, for his unremitting labours in the public service, during the time when I was incapacitated by illness when Superintendent. Nor must I fail to mention the father of our respected Resident Magistrate, Mr Bowen, now I am sorry to say in England—and I am sometimes malicious enough to wish that a touch of his old complaint would send him back to us again—who presided for so many years over the Provincial Council, with a mingled courtesy, urbanity, and firmness, which maintained a degree of good feeling and a courteous tone in the debates which I believe has never been surpassed in any legislative assembly in the world. [Cheers.] I have made these remarks not, I hope, in a vainglorious and unbecoming spirit, and above all, not desiring to draw individious comparisons between the first settlers and those who came after them. I gratefully acknowledge the impetus which Canterbury received from the Australians who joined us, and I well remember how gladly Mr Godley welcomed their arrival. But I have spoken thus rather in answer to an old prophecy which you well remember was common in England as well as here;—these pilgrims, with their sentimental fancies, will soon be pushed out, and then the country will be opened up for more energetic and practical men from Australia and elsewhere. It is then a matter upon which we may fairly congratulate one another and the Association, that the men who were sent out to lay the foundations of Canterbury were not men who could be so easily pushed from their stools as was at one time thought. There is one other feature to which I must allude even at the risk of wearying you, especially in the company by which I am surrounded. In no settlement that ever sailed from England were there so large a number of women and of children. [Hear, hear.] I well remember standing at the gates of the East India docks as the ships went out, and being struck with amazement, not to say alarm, at the sight of some of their decks; especially those of the Cressy. And I could not help asking myself—as Immigration Agent—what is to become of all those women and children? But it was the key to the success of Canterbury. [Loud cheers.] For we went out not as wanderers and vagabonds, but as the nations of old, page 7 taking our household gods with us. And I believe that when the goldfields broke out in Australia some few months afterwards, had it not been that we had cast out so many anchors into the ground that we could not get them home again, I believe that Canterbury would, for a time at least, have been deserted. [Hear, bear.] It would indeed bo ungracious in the presence of so many who shared our labours and cheered and lightened our toil, if I did not now assure your Lordship that one great cause of the success of Canterbury was owing to the fact that the powerful though gentle spell of woman's influence was shed over its early struggles. [Applause.] And now I will say a few words—I will make them few, for I know that Lord Lyttelton would prefer that they should be few—but I feel bound to say a few words on the part Lord Lyttelton personally took in the founding of Canterbury. [Hear, hear.] I well remember soon after I first joined the Canterbury Association, and when we were falling into all kinds of difficulties, when we had no money to pay our agent's expenses in the colony, when bills were coming due and we had no funds to meet them, and when in fact there began to be every appearance of an awful failure—I well remember, after a long conversation with Mr Gibbon Wakefield, going down to consult Lord Lyttelton, and appearing before him suddenly at eleven o'clock at night at Brighton. The result was that; his Lordship came up at once to London and took charge of the affairs of the Canterbury Association; and from that time, for a long time afterwards, laboured in those affairs as few men ever did labour in any public office. Without the smallest prospect of remuneration, he advanced thousand after thousand of pounds to keep the settlement going till the time should come when its own funds would be available. The very roads on which some of you may have worked were made out of funds supplied out of the pockets of two or three members of the Canterbury Association, of whom Lord Lyttelton was the foremost. [Loud cheers.] It is a fact of which Canterbury may be justly proud—nay, without which none of us could dare to show our faces here to-day—that the debt thus incurred has been repaid; but though the money has been repaid we can never forget the feeling with which it was advanced, nor cease to remember how much we owe to the generous self-sacrificing spirit which carried the colony in safety through the difficulties that beset the first year of its existence. I have also to include in the toast I am about to propose another valued friend, to whom also the settlement is deeply indebted—I mean Mr Selfe. [Cheers.] The other day at Wellington, when I went on board the steamer from England, I found on board a very agreeable lady and her daughter, who were apparently acquainted with the fact that Mr Selfe expected to meet his son in Canterbury, and the lady did me the honour to ask if I was his son. [Laughter.] When some of my young friends come, as I have come, within a few days of fifty years old, they will be able to appreciate this compliment; but the curious thing is that, as far as Canterbury is concerned, the case is just the reverse, for I am not Mr Selfe's son but Mr Selfe is mine. [Laughter.] Now I have never before claimed any gratitude from Canterbury for any services it has been in my power to render it, but I do now claim the highest amount of gratitude from Canterbury for having introduced Mr Selfe to it. I think I am entitled to the very highest credit for that transaction. Mr Selfe has now been connected with the colony for a long while, and what an invaluable friend he has proved to us you all know right well. [Cheers.] So incessant have been his labours on behalf of this province that I really believe Mr Selfe knows more of Canterbury than a great many of you whom I am addressing. As an instance I may mention a story I have heard since I entered this room, of a lady in England who, after a long conversation with Mr Selfe on a variety of matters relating to the colony, ended by saying, "I suppose, Mr Selfe, you will be very glad to get back to your friends in Canterbury." [Cheers and laughter.] I really do not know how to find words which will properly express or describe all that Canterbury owes to Mr Selfe. And now, ladies and gentlemen, in proposing the health of our guests from England, you will allow me on your part to express to them our most cordial and grateful thanks for their visit to Canterbury. We well know, my Lord, what ties and cares surround men in high station, which might well have deterred you from so long a voyage. We only hope that you may be in some measure repaid by witnessing the realisation of your early labours, and by the sight of so much prosperity and happiness to which you have so largely contributed. We wish you by the blessing of God a happy and prosperous voyage home, and that you may long live to look back upon your visit to Canterbury as not the least pleasing of your recollections of the past—[Loud cheers.]—in the assurance that your visit has cheered many a heart with the conviction that we are not forgotten in that old country which still claims our deepest affection and most devoted loyalty.
—The Press, Feb. 7.