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


page 194

When Julius Vogel launched his ambitious development programme in the colonial budget of June 1870 there were less than 50 miles of public ailway in the country. By 31 March 1886 there were 1,613 miles. These lines had played a major part in opening up the country, and their impact is well recorded in our national, regional and local histories. But what has gone almost unrecorded as part of our general history is the parallel remarkable expansion of the coastal shipping fleet. The first published statistics for coastal shipping movements are for 1873. They show 1,116,158 tons sailing from the colony's ports; the 1885 figure is 3,523,683 tons sailing. Our maritime historians have published a good body of work on the coastal fleet but one has only to check the indexes of our economic, social and political histories to see that they give pride of place to the railways and virtually ignore the coasters. Both railways and coasters were vital elements of the colony's transport system, but the coasters did many times more work than the railways. The government provision of the railways gave them a prominent place in politics, and their study is facilitated by the comprehensive annual reports to parliament and the excellent official statistics of their traffic. The coasters were provided much more quietly by private enterprise and the statistics of their work are murky, ambiguous and incomplete. This chapter will show how the various forms of transport worked together in the shaping of regional economies, and in furthering the process of knitting the whole colony together into a community of interest. We will begin with the easier railways aspect.