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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s

Edward Tregear's tribute

Edward Tregear's tribute

In Wellington's Evening Post of 14 January 1886 a description of Taranaki's Mountain Road settlements and a passionate appeal for help for the sufferers in the fires appeared over the name of Edward Tregear. As a surveyor in Taranaki from 1875 to January 1885 Tregear had followed the bush settlements from their infancy. We will conclude our treatment of the bush yeoman enterprise by drawing on his appeal to the hearts and imagination of the Wellington public. He first described how the road had been put through 40 miles of heavy forest ‘traversed by innumerable rivers and streams fed by the snows of Egmont’.

Along this road a chain of settlements was formed, little villages each with its cluster of outlying farms, and with roads leading away into the dense bush. Now the railway passes along the Mountain Road, and countless streams are bridged, but a few years ago … one might see men plunging through mud knee-deep (and even waist-deep) for miles; women with their babies on their backs fording the streams and crossing the rivers on trees felled that the branches might reach the opposite side…. There the first settlers, whether Briton or Dane, emulated each other in a struggle of dire economy and stubborn endurance, getting enough perhaps from the grass seed grown on the rich ashes of their first burn to keep life and soul together against another winter of reeking moisture and mud. The children gathered the edible fungus from the felled logs … that those few pence might help. The women worked side-by-side with the men from dawn to dark in the work of ‘logging up’ the charred and smutty timber, and hewing out the massy stumps. Little by little, year by year, their reward became visible; a cow was bought, poultry increased, a better roof was over their heads; schoolhouses began to be built near improved roads … Their fight with water ended in triumph. This year they have met a new and more insatiate foe—unsparing fire. The earnings of years, the result of heroic self denial, the fruit of their patient courage, lies in ashes, and they must commence life anew.