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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter X

page 61

Chapter X.

Arrival at Christchurch—The Backbone of New Zealand—Finding Lodgings—Tom's new Friend.

Tom, who had imagined all the road to Christchurch would be equally wild, was very much surprised to find that, after leaving Stoneyhurst, the settlement where they got such good advice, they lost sight of the bush, and travelled through a succession of neat farms, with enclosed fields, farm-houses, and a very tolerable road; indeed, as they approached Christchurch, it became so good that the guides proposed hiring a spring cart, at a farm. In this they jogged merrily along, through rich fields and orchards, past gay gardens, and comfortable dwelling-houses, occasionally meeting a dog-cart, cart, or gentleman or lady on horseback, appearances of civilization that cheered Captain Graham's heart as much as they disappointed Tom's newly born passion for roughing it in the bush.

Approaching the town at last, the view was very beautiful, as Port Lyttelton, or Victoria, as it is called upon some maps, is really one of the prettiest harbours in the world. It is bounded, or rather rounded, on the south and southeast, by Banks’ Peninsula, the high ground of which rises into fair hills, covered with the brightest and richest shades of green you could possibly paint. Far to the west; and as far as the eye can reach, tower the great chain of page 62 mountains which run down the centre of the island, and are sometimes called the backbone of New Zealand. In winter, these mountains are generally capped with snow, and this, joining the belt of evergreen forest, forms a very pretty and striking contrast. These hills are thirty or forty miles inland from Christchurch, and it is the plain between them and the sea-range that is so famous for feeding sheep.

The settlement of Canterbury having, as you know, been first proposed and founded by a company of gentlemen who knew the blessings of education and order, you may believe the first thing they looked to was to start their new country upon the foundation of Church and schools. They first chose a spot for their capital, calling it Christchurch, after the famous college at Oxford, in which several of them had been educated. Here they built a neat church and college, founded by the Bishop of New Zealand, the large building, erected to shelter the first emigrants, being converted into school-houses, and a very few months saw a considerable town laid out; streets were rising every day, and now there are numbers of pretty houses and good shops, while, for miles round, there are capital farms and good roads. Steamers run once a month to Akaroa and the other settlements; besides, the arrival of a regular monthly mail from home, bringing new faces, new fashions, and new papers, keeps up a constant excitement and steady progress.

When Tom and his father drove up to one of the hotels, they could scarcely believe they were out of England. There stood the white-neckclothed waiter, smart chambermaid, and Boots, while, just as they arrived, up drove page 63 the mail car, a small conveyance, running between Christchurch, Lyttelton, and one or two other settlements, further off.

There were two passengers, young men, who had large sheep-runs about forty miles off, and came up to Christchurch once a month, to purchase provisions for their families. One of them told Tom, that while he and his brother were away, they left their younger brother in charge of their sheep, and that during that time, he had sometimes nothing but flour and sugar to eat. *

After taking care to secure a bed at the hotel, and ordering dinner, Captain Graham and Tom sallied forth to look for a lodging, to have ready before the ship arrived at Port Lyttelton; after looking at one or two, they settled to take one in a house with a view of the river—one of the prettiest prospects in the world—kept by the widow of an old sailor, who, as she told Captain Graham, had heard so much of New Zealand from his father, who had been there with Captain Cook, that he never rested till he and his wife got out; he took the command of a steamer going to and from Sydney and Auckland, the capital, as you know, of New Zealand; but hearing of the beautiful country all round the new town of Christchurch, he gave up his seafaring life, and began farming. After he died, his widow bought a house in the town, and made a very comfortable livelihood by letting apart of it as lodgings. She was a Scotchwoman, by birth; and, page 64 though Captain Graham could scarcely claim anything Scotch but his name, it was quite enough to secure the old lady's good opinion, especially when she heard that he had fought in the Crimea in a Scotch regiment; and so anxious was she to find out all that Scotchman had done, that he could only get away upon promising to return next night, and partake of what she called a wholesome supper.

Having thus satisfactorily arranged things for his wife, Captain Graham set about making enquiries relative to his proposed journey to look at the “block” or “lot” of ground he had been advised to see. It lay about thirty miles from Christchurch, near the mountains, and rather to the south. Tom stood listening eagerly to the description given by the agent, stretching his ears to hear something about the rivers; at last, no longer able to control his intense curiosity, he burst out with the enquiry,—

“But the river—isn't there a beautiful river for a boat?”

The agent was an old naval officer, and had an idea that the only service in the world worth speaking about was the navy, or, at least, a sailor in some form or other. He had no sons of his own, or they would all have been placed in his favourite profession; and I really believe his greatest sorrow in life was this fact. Tom's open face, and evident anxiety about a boat, caught his attention; and, turning sharp round, he asked,—

“Like boats, young fellow?”

“Yes,” answered Tom; “I want to have a river and a boat.”

“Good boy!” exclaimed the old gentleman; then, page 65 turning to Captain Graham, he continued, “Fine boy, sir. What profession do you intend him for?”

“I wish him to settle down here; he wishes to be a sailor.”

“Quite right too; nothing like the salt water. Very fine boy, sir, remarkably fine boy! Don't bury him him among the sheep; let him put on the blue jacket, and serve his Queen. Want a boat, my boy? You shall have one; come to me at five o'clock, and we'll see what we can do in the sailing line. Now, Captain Graham, we'll go over the merits of the run again; the place is worth seeing, but I've another in my list will suit my young friend better. You'll save land carriage for your exports and imports too.”

Captain Graham, accordingly, after a close examination into the relative merits of the different localities, made up his mind to see both; and, by starting the following morning, he calculated he would see them, and be back at Lyttelton in time to receive his wife. In spite of the temptation of the promised sail with his new friend, Tom declared he would go with his father, rather disappointing the agent, who reminded him of the boat.

“Yes, sir,” said Tom, determinedly, “I remember quite well; but I made up my mind first to go with Papa, so I must stick to it.”

“That's right, my boy, stick to your determination; go and have look at the place, and come back to me; the boat will keep.”

“What a nice old gentleman, Papa,” said Tom, as soon as they got out of the office; “I wonder what kind of a boat he has. I daresay he'll tell me lots of stories about the navy. Oh, I wish I was back again!”

page 66

Captain Graham's visit to the “blocks” ended in his deciding to take the last one he had heard of. How far Tom's influence prevailed I dare not say; but it is certain that his proposition about bringing goods up and down the river had a good deal to do with the determination of his father, who saw many more advantages to be gained by this cheap and easy way of travelling than ever entered Tom's head; and, in imagination, he saw his farm growing into a populous town, the river floating with ships and boats.

When they returned to Christchurch, and went to the agent's office, he welcomed them as if they were old friends, listened to the selection Captain Graham had made with a smile, saying he agreed with him, and hoped he would never regret his choice; the arrangement about the lease, etc., was soon made, and Captain Graham left the office the master of about eight thousand acres of fine open plain, the command of nearly five miles of a splendid river, as large as the Thames at Kingston, and a fine forest, with fuel enough to supply a town like Christchurch for twenty years.

“You'll come back for our boating, my boy?” said the old sailor, laying his hand on Tom's head.

“Yes, sir, I shall be very glad; I've thought of it ever since, and I hope you'll tell me some stories of sea adventures.”

“That I will, with all my heart; but there off you go, and be back again in three hours. Bring your father with you, if he has nothing better to do; we'll show him what we sailors can do. Eh, Tom?”

* Extract from a letter from the author's aunt:—” When we last heard from Willy, he was watching sheep in a wilderness, having only flour and sugar for food, and no one within five miles. He could not leave the sheep for a moment until Justin returned; he had gone for a cartload of provisions.”