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Early Wellington

Death of Mr. Betts Hopper

Death of Mr. Betts Hopper.

Another sad fatality occurred, casting a gloom over the settlement, when Mr. Edward Betts-Hopper was drowned in the Hutt river on Thursday, 17th September, 1840. Mr. Hopper, Mr. Petre and some workmen were getting timber and were page 64 descending the river with a boat load, when the boat struck against an unseen snag. Mr. Hopper was standing in the bow of the boat and was thrown into the river. There was reason to believe that he was stunned in falling into the water, as he made no attempt to catch hold of the oars and other things thrown to him. Dr. Stokes was early in attendance as soon as the body was recovered, but Mr. Hopper was beyond all aid. He was one of the earliest and most zealous members of the associations formed to colonise New Zealand, a Director of the Bank, and a large landed proprietor who was universally respected, and his untimely fate was severely felt and deeply regretted.

Mr. Edward Catchpool, a nephew of Mr. Hopper, writing from Britannia to a relative in England, describes the conditions prevailing at the Port on Nov. 6th, 1840, thus:—“It is impossible to describe the delight we experience, even in winter; the sun is then so powerful that it strikes quite warm; while the beauty of the bay, surrounded, or nearly so, on all sides by high hills down to the water's edge, covered with perpetual verdure, the trees and shrubs growing so closely as to render it difficult to ascend, conspire to banish every feeling but that of pleasure from the mind.

“Boats are sailing majestically over the bay, while those anchored off ride proudly on the water. A mighty roar is heard, and you look towards the direction of the entrance of the harbour, whence the sound appears to proceed, and you literally see the wind bending the trees on the mountain sides and tearing up the waves in its strength, while at the same time the water is smooth near you, and not a breath of wind fans your face; but the noise is warning enough. The sails in every boat are taken in with the utmost rapidity and every exertion is made to reach the land as quickly as possible. Sometimes it reaches the boats before they can secure themselves on shore, and they have then to pass through a dangerous surf which threatens to dash the boat in pieces.

“This wind will perhaps last for two or three days, tearing the roof of some of the houses, or, owing to the want of bricks, blowing the flames of the fires to the rush walls, and in a few minutes the building is levelled to the ground.

“There has been one fire (Cornish Row) in which about 14 houses were burnt in the space of twenty minutes.

“We have our fire detached from our dwelling. It was well we took the precaution, as we have had our cooking hut twice burnt down. But experience makes us all the wiser, and we line all round the fireplace with the stiffest clay we can procure, and find that the most effectual remedy.

“We have a few hours more of calm, and the wind as suddenly rises from the N. W. but, as we are partly protected by the thick forest in which we reside, the wind is not so much felt by us. The soil is luxuriant in the extreme, and the denseness of the forest is such that you cannot penetrate it, except by cutting your way through it. We had to pass the winter in only temporary dwellings, and as there was a great deal of rain, and the river overflowed several times, we were up to our knees in water for some hours, and it was not till the Firm* erected a large house they brought out with them and raised it on piles, that we were safe from the floods.

“These floods will eventually be put a stop to when the land is given out, as steps will be taken to bank up the river page 65 where necessary and cut channels, with flood gates to allow the water to pass off.

“The river has one of the most picturesque appearances you can imagine, winding' through the valley, its banks overhanging with shrubs and trees which are evergreen.

“The river is not easily navigable, as, in consequence of the floods, immense trees are lodged in its bed, sometimes reaching entirely across, and thus stopping its course, and after heavy rains forcing the water over the banks. The river abounds with fine eels and other fish. The natives around us do not feel any jealousy at our clearing the ground, but will assist, for a trifle, to raise our houses, and as they have been uniformly treated with kindness by us, neither Ann nor myself can pass by them, even at a distance, without their either running after us to shake hands with us and calling after us in their language, ‘Nuce, nuce kapai wyhena an tarna Catchpool’ (‘Very, very good man Catchpool and his wife’).

“Indeed, such is the faith we have in them that we hesitate not to leave them to take care of our house in our absence for fear the ‘Kakmo Packakas’ (‘bad white man’) may rob us.

“Here is a lesson for us. While we cannot trust our fellow countrymen, we rely with confidence in the good faith of savages, so called, who have, undoubtedly, at one time been cannibals.

“Nearly all the emigrants have treated them well. It is principally from the runaway sailors that they experience any annoyances.

“In consequence of the site of the town (of Britannia) being changed to the opposite side of the bay (Thorndon), owing to the floods, the natives endeavour by all the arguments they can to induce us to remain, and some of the females even cry at the idea of Ann and myself leaving them.

“They promise us ground to cultivate and will give us potatoes and pork if we will but remain. But, at present, I cannot decide, as circumstances must sway me, as you will learn below from the melancholy recital. I have now to inform you that as Uncle Hopper was bringing some sawn timber down the river, the boat struck against a piece of sunken timber, and as he was standing in the bow of the boat, he was thrown forward, and though Mr. Petre and two men were in the boat, and every exertion made to rescue him, it was too late, his body was in the water nearly a quarter of an hour before taken out; though medical assistance and stimulants were applied, his life had fled.

“An inquest was held by the magistrate, Mr. Murphy, who was also requested to inspect Uncle Edward's papers, and after considerable trouble we found a copy of his will, by which Thomas Pilcher and Thos. Turner of Sittingbourne are appointed executors. You may better imagine the loneliness of our situation than I can describe it. We are strangers in the land and have no one to whom we can look for support and consolation; but we must patiently submit to the Divine dispensation. It is most probable the partnership will be dissolved between Mr. Petre and Molesworth, and I am not certain as to what steps I shall have to pursue.

“I have directed the letter to Pilcher to you, as I thought it not improbable that he might have moved.… I sent a letter some time back to Sydney by a person going there, for Abraham Davy, but have had no answer, though vessels are continually arriving from that place.”