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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter XVII

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Chapter XVII.

Butchering and Farming—The opening of the Cromwell Bridge—Cromwell's first Race Meeting—My election as first Mayor of Cromwell—A Royal Spree—"A Beggar on Horseback"—I neglect my Business—An Historic Affair—How the Mayor cleared out the Council—Visit of Sir George Grey—An alarming Earthquake—"Johnny Jones"—Another Race Meeting—My appearance as an Amateur Jock—Serious Accident to my Son—I have a Providential Escape from Death—I tire of farming and sell my farm—"Thrice Mayor of Cromwell."

Having now, in the year 1864, got rid of my antagonists, I settled down steadily to the trade, and did an immense amount of business, having the district almost wholly to myself. The connection between Cromwell and the country lower down the River Clutha, was a pack-bridge erected over that river by Mr. Henry Hill. Wagons with stores and goods had to unload, and everything was packed across on horses, but the Provincial Government decided at this time to erect a substantial traffic bridge, which was accomplished in a few months, at a cost of over £30,000.

I have since heard competent judges say that a suitable one could have been erected for half the sum; but the Government of that day did not appear to study economy very match, and at this time large numbers of men were employed throughout the goldfields, constructing roads and tracks, so the up-country districts reaped the benefits of the lavish expenditure.

A number of people, with farming inclinations, began to settle down at this time on the foot-hills of the Mount Pisa range, at the back of the Cromwell Flat. Thinking this might be a good page 157speculation, I took up a section, and commenced farming, with a view of supplying the Cromwell market, but I soon found I was not cut out for an agriculturist. I made money rapidly at the meat trade, but the farm was a gulf which swallowed it up almost immediately. I therefore abandoned the idea of raising corn, and turned my attention to raising pork and curing hams and bacon, and found this to be a much more profitable game.

I introduced a splendid breed of swine, which were much admired, and many of their descendants may now be found in the up-country districts in Otago. Now, at the end of 1864, the Cromwell bridge was finished, and being likely to prove an immense boom to the place, it was deemed fitting to commemorate the occasion, so a general holiday was held, and an immense crowd of people, about 4000, collected at Cromwell. To do my part as a townsman, I roasted a bullock whole, and dispensed it to the multitude, champagne and other less mild liquors flowed freely, speeches were made, and the day wound up uproariously, many of the crowd having "drunk" not wisely, but too well. This bullock-roasting, &c., extended my connection, and I found myself almost famous.

The new bridge enabled me to send my carts across, and I despatched meat and small goods as far as the Dunstan, and largely increased my trade. In this year, 1865, the first annual race meeting was instituted in Cromwell, and a very fair bit of sport was the result. The sporting fraternity showed up from all quarters, and many were the shifts they were put to, the stabling accommodation of the town being quite unequal to the requirements, in fact, it was execrable.

I added a little to my popularity on this occasion, by erecting a temporary grand stand for the public. After the race meeting, a jockey club was formed, which is, I believe, still in existence, and the races have ever since been run on correct principles, the Cromwell annual meeting being deservedly popular with the sporting community to this day.

Up country towns now began to feel the want of local government, and the Municipal Act was brought to bear. Cromwell, with the rest, must of course have a Mayor and Corporation, and I was persuaded to stand for the Municipal chair. I was nominated along with two merchants, residing in Cromwell, and the election came off in August. There was tremendous excitement over the matter, and money freely changed hands as to the result.

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The poll was declared at four o'clock in the day, and I was returned as the first Mayor of Cromwell by an overwhelming majority. My supporters were uproarious over my success, and, procuring a chair, placed me in it, nolens rolens, and carried me shoulder-high round the town. To say that liquor flowed freely is a mild way of describing the saturnalia; the fact is, I believe the whole town, and a considerable crowd from the outlying diggings got most outrageously drunk.

The old story of "placing a beggar on horseback," &c., was well illustrated in my case. The honour was too much for me I tried, ineffectually of course, to do the grand seigneur, and came to grief. I neglected my business, and everything went to the dogs. I had got into a position for which I was unfitted, hence the result. However, I do not much regret it; I had a pleasant, if a busy time of it. I purchased a buggy, a pair of bays, and did a deal of driving about to the entire neglect of my own affairs. There was much municipal work to do, and as I was "a willing horse," the public, with their usual generosity in such cases, allowed me to do it. By-laws had to be passed, streets to be formed, and a variety of other matters to be attended to, and I have, at any rate, the satisfaction, if a barren one, of pointing to the now important town of Cromwell, and saying, "I helped to make it."

The following year, nothwithstanding my experience of these vanities, I allowed myself to be over-persuaded, and again taking office I found it no sinecure. The councillors were generally very disagreeable, quarrelled among themselves, making my position anything but a bed of roses. It led eventually to a scene which is, I suppose, unequalled in the history of the doings of any deliberative body in the colonies or elsewhere.

I had private business in Dunedin at this time, and having appointed a temporary chairman to act in my absence, I left for town. I had been in Dunedin a fortnight, when, on taking up a Cromwell paper, I found, in the report of the doings of the Council in my absence, they had passed a vote of censure upon me, the mayor.

It appears some of the councillors reported that I had received a letter from the superintendent of the province on municipal business, which I had suppressed. I certainly had received a letter from that gentleman, but it was entirely private. It was not at all necessary to show it to my colleagues—at least I page 159thought so—and fully made up my mind to put them right on the subject as soon as I returned.

I finished the business which brought me to Dunedin, and, with the "pair of bays" aforesaid, I reached Cromwell in two days. On my arrival at the bridge I was met by some of the townspeople, who immediately adverted to the vote of censure, and regretted that such a course had been adopted by the Council. I told them that I had hurried back from town on receipt of the news, and they could safely leave the matter in my hands, as I fully intended to see to the bottom of it.

That evening I called a meeting of the Council in the Town Hall. Our deliberations being generally in public, the ratepayers mustered that night in great force, expecting some fun, and they were not disappointed. I called upon the town clerk to read the minutes of the three meetings which had been held in my absence. The book was then handed to me to sign, and to confirm the said minutes. I took it in my hand, and said, "Gentlemen, before signing my own condemnation, I should like to know what this vote of censure upon my conduct was passed for. I consider it a most cowardly proceeding. I am sorry that courtesy compels me to address you as gentlemen, for had there been one such among you, this action of the Council would never have been permitted. The vote was most uncalled for." On this a great sensation was visible, and some of the councillors commenced wrangling. I called them several times to order, and finding I could not restore peace, I ordered the public to leave the hall, and told the clerk to lock the door and hand me the key. He refused to do so, and I locked it myself, and put the key in my pocket.

The row among the councillors still continued, so I told the clerk to clear away the furniture and "we would have it out." At this stage two of the councillors fell to fisticuffs, one of them crying out if there was any fighting to be done he was about. Seeing that this was the man who had proposed the vote of censure, I stepped up, and at once knocked him down. Two of the other councillors leaped through the window. Finding matters had gone beyond my control, I opened the door, and the rest appeared glad to retreat.

Next day I was charged by my opponent before Mr. Stratford, the magistrate, with an assault, and fined; and this ended the farce. But, after all, considering the turbulent times, and the page 160unruly people one had to deal with, I still think I took the proper course, if a forcible one, of putting my councillors straight.

Shortly after this, Sir George Grey, the Governor of New Zealand, who was making a tour of inspection of the Otago goldfields, arrived at Cromwell. An address was read to him by the Town Clerk, on behalf of the Mayor and Corporation, to which he replied in suitable terms. I then conducted Sir George and his suite, consisting of Captain Hope, Major Richardson, and several other gentlemen over the town, the bridge, and all places of any interest, and I also got some of the diggers to show samples of the gold obtained round about.

His Excellency expressed himself highly pleased with all he saw, and we had a long and interesting conversation upon early Colonial history, as I happened to have seen Sir George when he was Governor of South Australia many years before, when we were both much younger men. He seemed to like to meet an "old Colonial" like myself, and was kind enough to offer to serve me in any way which might lie in his power.

I thanked him, and told him I was satisfied with my present prospects, but if ever I should require his aid I would not hesitate to apply. In the evening we had a grand banquet, at which Sir George Grey and his party were entertained right royally. I had the honour of addressing the guests, and I rather fancy my style of oratory amused them somewhat. They all laughed heartily at the stories of my early Colonial life. The town was full of people from all quarters, and a very jolly time was spent by all.

The Governor was kind enough to ask me to drive down with him to Clyde, and introduce him to my brother Mayor of that town. I got my buggy ready and followed Sir George's coach. About half way to Clyde an immense crowd on foot and horseback, accompanied by the Mayor of Clyde, met us. I got out and introduced the Mayor to the Governor, whereupon the crowd gave three cheers for Sir George Grey, and then three more for the Mayor of Cromwell, and we drove on to Clyde.

A grand ball was given there in honour of the distinguished guest, and a pleasant night was spent by all. The Governor and myself had a very long yarn about old times, and on parting with him he was pleased to say that in all his travels through the goldfields "he had never been entertained by any one as the Mayor of Cromwell entertained him."

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I returned to Cromwell and settled clown steadily to business. I shortly required another mob of cattle, and having heard that there were some for sale at the Messrs. Boyes' station, on the Karawau River, near Lake Wakatipu, I went there, taking my son with me. We arrived all right at the homestead, which is very prettily situated at the embouchure of the Karawau River from Lake Wakatipu, at the foot of the Remarkable Mountains. This range can be seen from very many points in Otago, and is covered by perpetual snow.

I purchased the cattle I wanted, and got them yarded. Just when this was completed a terrific subterranean rumbling was heard, unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life. The cattle were very much frightened, and nearly stampeded from the yards. Presently another and louder rumbling noise occurred, and the earth heaved and rolled like the sea. We knew then that it was an earthquake, and being quite unused to these tremors I felt as if sea-sick, and the men around generally did not seem much better. In fact it must have frightened one of the brothers Boyes very much, for he shortly sold out his interest in the station and left for home.

The cattle in the yard, upon the occurrence of the second stroke, became so quiet that one could have gone amongst them without danger, although they were at first very wild. This earthquake was about the most severe one felt in Otago.

I imagine considerable damage was done in Queenstown and the neighbourhood by the cracking of houses and falling chimneys. Next morning I left with the cattle for Cromwell, and had not proceeded far when one of the bullocks turned and charged the horse I was riding. Before I could get out of the way he drove his horns into the poor beast, and killed him almost immediately. The mob then broke away, and made back to the station. We had to muster and yard them before I could make another start. The station-holder did not seem to like being troubled in this way very often, so found horses and men to send me and the cattle clear of his run. I afterwards got on well with the mob, and got them safely yarded in my yards at Cromwell, and was enabled to show a good supply of beef to my customers.

Having business in Dunedin, I put things in proper train again, appointed a chairman to represent me in the Council, and went to town. One day, when walking through the cutting in Princes page 162Street, I met my old friend Mr. Jones, better known as "Johnny Jones," whom I think I have before alluded to as an old acquaintance in my whaling days. The old gentleman was delighted to see me. He had been one of the successful ones, and was now one of the wealthiest men in Otago, owning town land in Dunedin, and farms and sheep stations in various parts of the province. He was following whaling at Twofold Bay when I was there as overseer for Dr. Imlay, at which time we became very intimate friends. I went down to his office with him and had a few hours' talk over old times, and what we had each done since.

He said he had often heard of Barry, Mayor of Cromwell, and his doings in that capacity, but it had never occurred to him that it could be his old chum of years ago, and he again congratulated me. He asked me to go down to where his family resided on a large estate he had acquired there.

The carriage was brought round, a grand turn-out, and, doubtless, many people who saw us start wondered who I was. All the way down my old friend continued chatting about the old times, and tried hard to persuade me to bring my family down to settle near him. He would take care to make my path easy, but, as things were looking" pretty well with me in Cromwell, I declined his offers, which I have many times since regretted.

His offers were, I am sure, dictated by a pure spirit of friendship, and it would have entailed no disgrace or obligation to have accepted them. He introduced me to his sons, John and William. The latter I had nursed often when he was a boy in Sydney. "Johnny Jones" had a splendid property, called Bigood Station, but I am afraid the boys were of a different stamp from the sire; they were, in fact, rather wild, and my poor old friend told me that it was quite likely these sons would eventually break his heart. He has now gone to his last home, and whether his forebodings were prophetic we shall never know.

At this time an advertisement from the Government appeared in the papers, calling for applications from persons fitted to fill the position of Chief Inspector of Stock for Otago, and Mr. Jones insisted upon my applying for it. He got one of his clerks to draw up the application, signed his own name as a recommendation, sent it to the Otago Club and other places, and obtained sixty-three signatures of gentlemen interested in pastoral pursuits.

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I forwarded the application, and shortly after found that a gentleman who had filled the position four years before had applied, and was again appointed, his previous experience, doubtless, causing his preferment over me. Mr. Jones was very much vexed at this, and again tried to persuade me to relinguish life at Cromwell and settle in Dunedin, but I was blind and could not see the propriety of the step. Wishing him good-bye, I returned home in a buggy which I had purchased. These vehicles were always saleable up-country, and I could generally make a small profit out of them when I had done with them. I was doing pretty well at this time, and was almost as well known as the proverbial town clock, rather too much so at times. I began to find if any poor devil was hard up, or some tradesman in difficulties, W. Jackson Barry seemed to be the man to apply to.

If I found them really in want, or that they were men of good principle, they never applied in vain; and it is now some consolation to reflect that I possibly did some little good in this way in the days of my prosperity.

A rush had now set in to the West Coast of New Zealand, and a great many diggers were daily leaving Otago. Those coming through Cromwell mostly had horses, but preferred to take the coach from this point, selling their horses. I went into the business, buying their animals almost at my own prices. I then started a livery stable, got a large connection, and made money by the venture for some time. Although things were looking well all over the district, and lots of gold was being obtained, the diggers would persist in rushing away to the New Eldorado; and this proved a considerable drawback to me, as many of them, on leaving, owed me pretty heavy bills for meat, which they neglected to pay when departing.

However, this used to be unavoidable, to a certain extent in a goldfield business of whatever nature, and provoked little comment. If the men were lucky they paid honourably, if not, why, it did not much matter; at least, that was my creed.

Settlement in the up-country districts now seemed to have fairly been determined on. Wives and families were pouring in, and many new institutions sprang up; amongst others, that of horse-racing becoming quite a furore. Every little town had its meeting. This year in Cromwell, we had £800 to be run for, which brought a number of good horses from other places to page 164compete, and resulted in one of the best up-country meetings I have ever seen. I had four or five horses myself, and succeeded in pulling off two events.

I rode in one race called the "Hurry-scurry" myself, the distance being one mile and a half. There were 18 horses in the race, and I was mounted on a very fast mare called Nelly Gray. Before starting, a Mr. Taggart, who was riding an animal, called Limerick Lass, supposed to be the fastest one-mile horse of the clay, came up and said "Barry, this race will lie between your horse and mine; let us agree to divide the stakes," and I agreed.

The flag fell, and off we went, Taggart and I leading. We had not gone far when one of my stirrups gave way, and over I went; all the ruck immediately behind passed over me. A lot of horsemen rode up, making sure I was killed, but I jumped up, shook myself clear of the dust, and seizing a riderless black horse close at hand, I rode across the course and took up the straight running alongside Taggart, and nearly beat him on the post. When we pulled up he could not understand the joke. He said, "You started on a grey filly, and here you are on a black gelding." I said, "The race was a hurry-scurry, and I have hurried all the way, having had to use two horses to do the distance in."

Every one laughed at the feat of riding a mile-and-a-half race on two horses, and coming in second after all; but probably they did not see me cutting across the course to save time. Anyhow Taggart's forethought saved me the stakes, and I was thankful. At forty-eight years of age it was not a bad feat.

Cromwell was greatly crowded during the three days of the race meeting, and the insufficient accommodation at the hotels produced many laughable incidents. People had to sleep anywhere—billiard-tables were utilised on top and underneath, and hundreds slept on doorsteps. A few days after, this was repeated at Cldye. My son William, who rode a race at the meeting for a gentleman named Glassford, met with a terrible accident, which nearly sent me out of my mind. Coming up the straight the horse fell and rolled over him, injuring his spine. We all thought he was killed. He was at once removed to the local hospital and attended to. He was two years under medical treatment, and is now deformed for life.

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This accident caused me to lose a large sum of money, and decided me to give up racing for some time. My men were down at the Clyde races, having driven down in one of my spring carts. They had got on the spree, and I thought it would be a safer plan to drive it home myself. All my friends tried to dissuade me from starting so late in the evening, but I was obstinate and would go. An old friend of the name of Whetter, a Cromwell resident, was with me. We had two horses in the cart, one running in what is called an "outrigger," and a large board or sort of tray nearly covered the top of the cart.

The road from Clyde to Cromwell, thirteen miles, follows the River Clutha all the way. It is at no time very safe, but is particularly dangerous on a dark night, such as this was. Driving round a turn where the road wound round a gully we were capsized. Whetter was thrown down the gully about 100 feet, and landed under a big rock, the large board following him and covering up his head. I went with the vehicle, and was found under it. The horse that was in the outrigger got loose, and the shafts were broken off. A man happened, fortunately, to be passing at the moment of the accident, and ran to a house half a mile away for assistance, which soon arrived, and we were extricated from our perilous position. Whetter was nearly killed, and I was very much bruised and cut about the head. We were carried to the house already mentioned, and the doctors were sent for. The report that Barry and Whetter were killed reached Cromwell, and a lot of people came down, with my wife and. Whetter's family, to view the remains. My wife was in a terrible state, but, thank God, it was not so bad as death. We were removed to Cromwell, where we were laid up for some time, but got all right at last.

It is miraculous how we escaped being killed. I have often looked at the place since, while passing in daylight, with a shudder, and felt thankful to Providence that it was no worse. Shortly afterwards, my son not getting on very well, I took him down to the Dunedin hospital for better attendance. It seemed to me at this time as if I had fallen in with one of my periodical streaks of ill-luck. While in Dunedin this time, a Mr. Haggitt, a solicitor, spoke to me one day in the street, and told me to call at his office, as he had something of importance to tell me. After lunch I went to see him. He told me that a friend of page 166his, lately arrived from New South Wales, had mentioned that there was a probability of my claims to the property, of which I have spoken some pages back, being shortly recognised, and it was likely I would at any moment be sent for to be identified as the owner thereof.

I thanked him, and asked him to communicate with me if anything further cropped up, which he promised to do. I learned that my boy was very bad, and went and stopped that night in the hospital with him. Next day he was much better, and the doctors assuring me that he was now out of danger and in good hands, I thought I would take a look at home.

I took the coach and arrived at Cromwell, where further disaster awaited me. There had been a very heavy rain-storm, and some water-races on the hillside, at the back of my farm, used for carrying water for mining purposes, had broken away, torn up and carried off the soil with five acres of potatoes, destroyed all the fences, and drowned a lot of my pigs.

I was so cut up over this matter, that I determined to get rid of the property. I was heartily sick of farming. It had cost me over £2000, and I sold out to one Mr. Towan for £300, farm, buildings, and all. He is there yet, and has done well, but he understands the business and I did not.

About this time, the election for Mayor was again about to come round, and I was asked to stand once more. As I had already found the title of Mayor but an empty honour; and, in fact, personally a dead loss to me, I declined, but was persuaded to sign the nomination paper, little thinking I should be elected, as I never took the slightest interest in the election, which was a contested one.

I was away from home on the polling day, and on my return I found myself, by a large majority, in Whittington's position, "Thrice Lord Mayor," not of London but of Cromwell. There was no help for it. I had "greatness thrust upon me," and I accepted the position.