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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XVII

page 118

Chapter XVII.

A Visit to Auckland—Another Journey—Races at Wellington— Taranakie—Cattle Show in Auckland.

The ground round the house had begun to assume quite a cultivated appearance. There were three small fields neatly railed in, one sown with corn, another planted with potatoes, while a couple of cows and some sheep walked about in the third. Captain Graham had made an arrangement with two of his guests, to meet at Christchurch, and from thence proceed to Auckland, in order to be present at a cattle-show and market which would take place during the following month.

Tom was to accompany him, both he and Mrs. Graham feeling anxious, if possible, to break him from the desire of going to sea, and thinking that, if he saw different parts of the country, and became interested in farming, he might consent to stay with them.

The journey would occupy several weeks; but everything was so home-like and comfortable round the farm, besides the arrival of a new settler within about five miles, that Mrs. Graham readily consented to her husband's journey, particularly as it was to forward their future comfort and prosperity.

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The journey to Christchurch, and thence to Lyttelton, has been already described. Tom saw the agent again, and received such a kind welcome, that his father, laughingly, told him, he thought he would be adopting him next, little thinking how soon the old gentleman was going to do so.

Leaving Lyttelton by the mail steamer, which called at Picton, Wellington, and Taranakie on its way, they were soon upon the broad bosom of the deep, and speeding along under sail and steam.

Picton stands upon a fine open harbour, but, being just newly established, did not look very flourishing, and Tom felt no regret when the mails were brought on board, and they steamed out again without landing.

Two passengers joined them, however, namely, two of the large proprietors on the Wairau plains, and with them six very large sheep they were taking up to show at Auckland. Although Tom had seen lots of beautiful sheep in England, on the Downs, he could not help expressing his astonishment when he saw these; their long soft wool was as white as snow, and felt as soft as silk, while, in point of size, they quite doubled any he had seen before.

The entrance to Wellington harbour was made upon the third day, early in the morning. This was the first settlement founded by the company, to whose exertions, I told you, we owed the colonization of this part of the islands. The first building was erected in 1840; and, if you could see the beautiful houses, wide streets, and gay shops, you could scarcely believe it possible that a few years would make such a difference. The population amounts, at this page 120 time, to six thousand, and, at least, two-thirds of these have immigrated to the place since the year 1840. The country inland is mountainous and thickly-wooded, one part only being very well suited for agriculture: and that is a valley eastward, down which a pretty river, called the Hult Hutt, runs. The village is increasing every day, and is just a pleasant ride from Wellington, being eight miles. The races were going on when the ship arrived, and nothing could have been more delightful to Tom, who was very fond of horses, and had been teasing his papa, ever since they went to the plains, to buy him a pony. The race-course lies close to the shore, and was covered with tents, flags, carts, and a few dogcarts and waggonettes full of ladies, whose bright bonnets and dresses enlivened the scene immensely. There is a detachment of infantry quartered at Wellington, and their red coats gave the course quite a familiar aspect; in fact, if Tom had not, by prying about very closely, discovered a few natives in their national costume, he might easily have forgotten that he was on the opposite side of the globe to Old England.

After the races there was a cricket match; and, as Captain Graham had been a great cricketer when in the service, and had met an old friend in the officer commanding the detachment, Tom had the happiness of seeing his father playing again; and, what was more, by his help, the garrison came off victorious, Captain Graham making the highest score of the day.

Several of the cricketers were officers from the garrison at Auckland, the head-quarters of the New Zealand force; and these took advantage of the mail to go back, so there was quite a large party by the time they left the harbour, page 121 and great fun for Tom, who was never tired listening to the adventures he heard, and descriptions of different parts of the country.

The voyage up to Taranakie was very pretty, as the steamer kept just near enough to let them have a distinct view of the land, the minuter objects being visible with a telescope. Snug farms and whitewashed cottages, surrounded by flowers and fields, became thickly scattered about as they drew nearer the portion of the coast where the capital stands, which, however, they could not approach with the ship, the surf being very heavy, and there being no harbour, so they anchored a mile off land, and sent in a couple of boats for the mail and passengers.

Taranakie, which has lately been rendered famous by the war, was another of the Company's settlements; but, though founded by them, was scarcely taken possession of until several years later, when a number of gentlemen in Devonshire planned to join and go out together. Thus they called the province New Plymouth; and it is very curious to hear nothing but Devonshire names and dialects so far away from England.

The shore near Mount Egmont had a curious dark and glistening appearance, which attracted great attention, but when inquired into, was only grumbled at by the settlers, who said that when the wind blew the sand up, they could do nothing, as it cut their faces, and if it got into their eyes, which it was pretty sure to do, caused dreadful pain. How little do people think of what may be done with the very commonest things around them. This very sand has been found to melt and manufacture into beautiful steel, is now known as the Taranakie steel-sand, and is being page 122 manufactured into bars to be sent home, to undergo the proper working before its tempered and polished steel can be produced.

After leaving Taranakie, the Captain, fearing rough weather, stood pretty far out to sea, so had almost a straight run into the famous harbour upon which Auckland is situated. I say one—as, if you look at the map, you will see the town is built upon a neck of land, on the east of which is the harbour of Manakau, on the west that of Waitemata, and it was having the command of these two harbours that led Captain Hobson, the first governor, to select it as the capital. The harbour of Waitemata is landlocked, studded with islands, and as quiet and peaceful as an English lake.

Running in, wharves, quays, and docks, backed by handsome streets, met the eye. Ships of all nations and flags lay at anchor; boats passing to and fro continually, hailing each other, some of them with bands on board, and some covered with gay-coloured awnings. But what attracted Tom's attention directly was a frigate, with the whip floating out from the mast head. His cheeks flushed, his heart beat, as he leant over the side, gazing with glistening eyes. All his old longing to be a sailor came back, and Captain Graham, who saw his son's eager expression, felt that, after all, the journey to Auckland was not likely to cure Tom of his seafaring wishes.

As soon as they landed, they went to an hotel, where they had a capital dinner, and having engaged rooms, went out to see the town before dark. The first place they went to was the church, which occupies a command- page 123 ing position, and overlooks the principal parts of the city. From a hill in the neighbourhood, they looked down upon the town and harbours, the fields and gardens; and certainly neither of them could have looked upon a prettier or brighter sight.

The show which was held next day was crowded. The Governor, Bishop, military commander, and every person holding a public or private position, was present, while the dinner was one of the largest yet witnessed.

Captain Graham saw enough to convince him that he had done both wisely and well in embarking his little fortune in New Zealand, and made several purchases to carry back with him.

The day after the show was over, he took Tom to see Government House, next the barracks, churches, houses of Parliament, and lastly the gaols. None of these are built for appearance’ sake, but simply to answer the purpose for which they are intended; thus a much better and more suitable building is erected than if the money was thrown away in making pinnacles and turrets in every direction.

The amusements in Auckland are much the same as those in an English watering-place. The military band plays on certain days; balls are held now and then; numbers of picnics and boating parties take place; and as nearly every one who can afford it rides, riding parties are the most common and most agreeable, for the forest rides are really beautiful, and the paths quite good enough to be free from any danger.

The entrance of one of Her Majesty's ships always causes a stir. Everybody calls upon the officers, and a great number of parties are immediately planned.

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While Tom and his father were there, a picnic took place, to which they were invited. All the naval officers were present, and Tom struck up an immediate acquaintance with one of the midshipmen (he looked upon the cadets as little boys, forgetting he would have to be one if he entered the navy), and from him heard a wonderful account of his travels in the Pacific. To all his stories Tom listened with the most eager attention, never thinking that they were quite impossible, nor did he find it out until some one who was listening asked the sailor how long he had been in the Pacific, when it came out he had only just passed through on his voyage to New Zealand. Tom was slightly disgusted, though by no means disheartened. He thought what a jolly thing to talk as that fellow did, and not to blush and feel ashamed, when no one else was speaking. Then to be able to say he had seen so many strange people, and describe their appearance and dress; besides the adventures on the deep, and the dreadful storms they had passed.

The consequence of all this was, that Tom returned home more strongly determined in favour of the sea than ever.