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Picturesque Dunedin: or Dunedin and its neighbourhood in 1890


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Picturesque Dunedin! Even in this land of the picturesque the fair city of Dunedin may well claim the title. Few cities are more richly endowed with beauty in their natural surroundings. Whether it be viewed from the heights above the town, whence the scene embraces a wide panorama of partially wooded hills of pleasingly diversified contour encircling the land-locked bay, whose blue waters lave its wharves, or from the opposite shore of the harbour, whence are seen the varied buildings closely packed on the lower ground, with the white houses straggling up the hill sides amid embowering trees, it equally charms the eye, and forms a picture of the rarest beauty. Close though the hills stand to the town, and its lake-like harbour, no oppressive sense of seclusion is awakened in the mind of the spectator, for away to the southward the wide breach in their circling ramparts affords a prospect over the heaving waters of the mighty Pacific. Fair though the surroundings of Dunedin be, and always must be, they owe-little of their beauty to the hand of man, who has rather hitherto played the part of a destroyer. Five and twenty years ago the hills surrounding the harbour were densely clothed from their summits to the water's edge, by an almost unbroken forest, which has largely disappeared before the axe of the hardy settler. Yet, while the bay has thus necessarily lost beauties which can never be restored, it has gained others from the green Pastures and smiling homesteads with which these hills are now studded. The situation of Dunedin is so romantically picturesque, that each of its inhabitants might well bestow upon it the endearing epithet which the residents of the Dunedin of the northern hemisphere never tire of quoting, and call it

"Mine Own Romantic Town."

Yet, though this new Edinburgh is rich in natural attractions, it has as yet none of the romance which adds such a charm to page 6the beauties of the mother town. But who could look for romantic associations in a city whose years do not yet number half a century ? Of the history of Dunedin and its neighborhood before the advent of the white man very little is known. No doubt the giant moa roamed over the flax-clad hills to the southward in days long past, for their remains have been found in close proximity to the present site of the town, and in all probability the huge Harpagornis, a bird of prey which rivalled the fabulous roc of Sinbad, cast the shadow of its mighty wings over the scene as it sailed in circles in the air, watching for some hapless moa chick which had strayed from the protecting care of the mother bird.

Doubtless, also, when the Maori appeared on the scene, these peaceful hills and dales have witnessed many a scene of blood and savage cruelty, relieved, perhaps, by deeds of valour. Little information, however, can now be obtained of those days, but the Maoris tell that the site of Dunedin, or at least its water frontage, was occupied by the Ngatiruahikihiki, the Ngatiaonga, and the Ngatikawariri hapus of the larger sub-tribes of Ngatikuri and Ngatiwairua, which were offshoots from the tribes known as the Naitahu and the Ngatimamoe, and also by the Ngaitepahi, a hapu descended from the same tribes. The native settlement on the site of Dunedin proper, which does not appear to have been very extensive, extended from about where the Post Office now stands, a spot called by the natives Otepoti (beyond which you cannot go), to the Water of Leith (Owheo) embracing in its limits Nga Moana e rua, now the gaol site, and Mataukareao, which was the name for a plot of land lying between the foot of Hanover-street and the Water of Leith. A prominent chief of the district, who lived about one hundred' and fifty years ago, was Poho, a chief of the Ngatiwairua, from whom the creek flowing into Pelichet Bay, by the present rifle range, took its name Opoho, which has since been transferred to the neighbouring district. According to the Maor traditions, however, there must have lived at some distant date in the immediate neighbourhood of Dunedin no inconsiderable number of natives, for they speak of a large pah at Anderson's Bay called Puketai, and of a battle fought at Taputakinoi (near the locality now called Half Way Bush), ages ago, page 7as the Maori narrator phrased it. It is a matter of regret that some of the earliest settlers did not obtain and leave on record some of the Maori traditions connected with Dunedin and its neighbourhood, which might have been procured in the early days of the settlement from the older chiefs, for few of those now alive can give much information, while the younger natives, like young colonials generally, seem to have little love or veneration for antiquity. Beyond the facts already given, only a few of the native names are now obtainable, and it may prove interesting to some readers to know some of them. The Maoris appear to have been great geographers, in that they bestowed names on every locality, even though its natural features would in our eyes be of but trivial importance. For example, a small creek near Mussel burgh they named Kaikarai; the site of the gasworks, where a swampy creek debouched on the bay, was Kaituna; Hillside had the high-sounding name Ko ranga a runga te rangi; Logan's Point was Taurangapipipi; while Mount Cargill or one of the adjacent hills was Whakaari. The latter name has been preserved in Wakari, which is still applied to the further side of the Kaikorai Valley, though it is often mis-spelt Waikari. This misspelling of native names, which is far from uncommon where these have been preserved in our neighbourhood, must often occasion anguish to the soul of the Maori scholar; but even in their garbled form they are generally more euphonious than many of the names bestowed by the European settlers. For instance, Waitati, which should be Waitete, is a prettier name than Blue skin, though the latter name is not devoid of association, for it owes its origin to the fact that the chief of the district, Te Hikutu, who was a chief of the Ngatiwairua and Ngaiterangaamoa hapus, was at the advent of the whalers, an old man very much tatooed, which does not appear to have been at all a universal custom amongst the natives of this district, and from this circumstance the British whalers irreverently dubbed the old gentleman old Blue skin, and the name was subsequently transferred to the locality.

No traditions of any incidents which occurred in the immediate neighbourhood of Dunedin are now obtainable, but as showing what manner of men were the original inhabitants of page 8the site of this now fair city, the story of the fight of Purakanui may be cited, and we may feel assured that similar scenes were enacted where many a peaceful home now stands. Very trivial grounds were sufficient to give rise to a bloody fight, and though the Maori proverb says that "land and women are the causes of all evil," yet even childish differences at times gave rise to bloodshed. This was the case at Katiki (now called Kartigi), near Moeraki, where a bloody battle arose from a boy belonging to one hapu being bullied at play by a boy belonging to another family. Neither were these feuds confined to those who were aliens and natural enemies to one another; for at Purakanui the contestants were brothers, in the Maori language, which probably signified cousins more or less remote. Sir John Lubbock, in his "Origin of Civilization," tells us that it was no uncommon thing for savage races to have no distinctive word for the relationship we now call cousin, and he says that, "Among Aryan races the Romans and Germans alone developed a term for cousin, and we ourselves have, even now, no word for a cousin's son." However, the connection was not ignored, but those standing in such relationship to one another were called brothers. This was the case with the Maoris, so that close investigation must often be necessary before the exact relationship between different individuals can be satisfactorily elucidated.

The victor of Purakanui, a chief named Taonga, came from the north on a friendly visit to his younger brothers, Te Wera and Patuki, who may really have been older men than their visitor, for among the Maoris the issue of elder sons were deemed the elder brothers of the children of a younger son, even though they were younger in years. Be this as it may, in the present instance, Taonga adopted a very domineering tone towards his relatives, whose pride was therefore offended to such an extent that Te Wera killed a woman belonging to Taonga's party. After having murdered his victim, Te Wera put to sea with a number of his tribe, and paddling close to the shore whereon Taonga was camped, he showed the latter the body, and after taunting him in Maori fashion, shaped his course to Oamaru, where many of Taonga's people lay. There Te Wera landed, and falling suddenly on Taonga's tribe, took them by surprise, page 9and after slaughtering several of them he returned to Purakanui. Taonga retired to his home, resolved on vengeance, and shortly after he returned to Purakanui at the head of a large party, all eager to wipe out the insult in the blood of the foe. Near Purakanui Bay a small peninsula juts into the sea, beneath the overhanging cliffs round which the railway now winds to Blue skin. At this time the peninsula, which now looks merely picturesque and peaceful was occupied by a strongly fortified pah, called Mapoutahi. Thither Te Wera and Patuki had retired with their followers, no doubt dreaming themselves secure behind the strong palisading which crossed the neck of the peninsula. The attacking party lay a short distance away, and some days passed without active hostilities, for the pa was carefully guarded from within, and its position rendered it well nigh impregnable. But the man of vengeance waited, and his opportunity came. The season was winter, and one wild night, when the snow was falling, Taonga sent one of his men to reconnoitre the movements of the enemy. The scout returned with the report that notwithstanding the inclement weather, the palisade was still guarded, and that he had seen the sentry on the watch moving backwards and forwards. Taonga was so greatly surprised at the intelligence that he proceeded to verify it for himself. As he cautiously approached the pa he at first thought his scout's report was really a correct one, but still he crept closer, and watching keenly he at length perceived that the supposed sentry was nothing but a lay figure made up for the occasion, suspended from a support, so that the wind swayed it to and fro, whereby the appearance of life and movement was imparted. Hastily summoning his men, Taonga led them to the palisade, which they quickly and quietly scaled, and thus gained the interior of the fortress of their foe. A few moments and they were distributed throughout the pa, and the alarm given. Te Wera's party rushed from their huts dazed by sleep and darkness, and fell an easy prey to Taonga and his warriors, who ruthlessly slaughtered nearly every inhabitant of the ill-fated pa, only a few escaping in the confusion by leaping into the sea. When morning broke, the slain, among whom was numbered Te Wera, lay around in heaps, and the victors bestowed the name of Purakanui (heaped up) on the locality, in memory of their page 10glorious victory. This bloody event must have happened about one hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago, for its hero, Taonga, was the direct ancestor of Te Onetopi (Toby), the chief of Ruapuki, who is still alive, an old man of about eighty years of age, and the narrator named four chiefs between Taonga and Te Onetopi, which places the occurrence six generations back. What was the number of the slain cannot now be determined, though the tradition indicates a large one, but it was probably a hundred or two at the most.

The Maoris appear to have been somewhat of a migratory habit, wandering over the country as the search for food supplies or the lust of bloodshed led them. Tribe after tribe came from the north looking for fresh fields of conquest, and the last of these were the Ngitahu, from whom with a small admixture of the Ngatimamoa, their immediate predecessors, the present remnant of the natives of Otago are descended. As to what led to the withdrawal of the original inhabitants of the site of Dunedin from its neighbourhood tradition is silent. But that they did so is undoubted, for the old whalers tell us that there were no natives living here when they first visited the Otago Heads. It is possible that the advent of the whalers themselves upon the scene may have led to the withdrawal of the last of the Maori residents of Dunedin, by attracting them to the various points along the coast where whaling stations were located. The allurements of the many luxuries brought by the pakehas in the shape of iron tools, blankets, and tobacco, must have proved a strong magnet to draw the vagrant Maori, and one of sufficient potency to lead them even to sink their intertribal differences. According to Mr. Haber field, a hale and intelligent old man, now resident at Moeraki, whose reminiscences would doubtless form an interesting chapter of our early history, there was a population of between two and three thousand natives at Otago Heads in the early part of 1836, when he first arrived there, but there were none of them who resided up the harbour. Round the coast at Purakanui there was another settlement, numbering some 500 souls; and Mr. Haberfield says he has seen as many as a dozen large double canoes at one time off Otago Heads. Contact with the white man quickly proved disastrous to the Maori, who succumbed to the influences of incipient page 11civilization and the diseases which followed in its train. Measles proved the most deadly scourge, and carried off the natives by hundreds. It must have been a stirring life that of these old whalers, full of excitement and adventure. A mere handful of white men surrounded by a large population of such stalwart and warlike savages as the Maoris then were, must have had plenty of food for anxiety, if at all of an anxious turn of mind. But no doubt this latent danger, as well as the actual perils of their calling, merely added a zest to the enjoyment of life by those young sea-dogs. It was not the chance of making money that was the attraction, for even with a good take their money remuneration would not amount to a large sum in a season. The "lay" might appear a fair one, but as it was calculated on the value of the oil at the station, and not on the market value at Sydney, the owners fared much better in the distribution of the proceeds than did the whalers who risked their lives in their procurement of them. In order to lessen their dangers from the natives, who might have been tempted to kill the goose for the sake of its golden egg, and rifle the store-house of its treasures, it was the practice to enlist a number of the most important young men in their enterprise; at least three out of each boat's crew, who put off in pursuit of the giant cetacean were Moaris of blue blood. The young chiefs took kindly to the exciting sport, and proved expert boatmen in the chase of the sea monsters, and were, without their knowledge, hostages for the good conduct of their kindred on shore. For the cooper and carpenter, and those of the pakehas who were left ashore, could communicate with their comrades at sea by hoisting a signal of distress on their flagstaff, if any indication appeared of an intention on the part of the natives ashore to take advantage of the absence of the majority of the whites to resort to violence.

Mr. Haber field says that at the time of his residence at Otago Heads, the only residents at the head of the bay, where Dunedin now stands, were wild pigs, descendants from those turned loose by the illustrious navigator Captain Cook. But shortly before the advent of the pilgrim fathers of the Province of Otago at Dunedin, whose doings and history are recounted later on, one or two white settlers were attracted to the scene page 12from, other parts of the Colony by reports of the proposed settlement, but they were so few and their occupation of the locality before the arrival of the first shipment of old identities was so brief, that one may say that these sturdy pioneers really formed their homes in an un peopled wilderness. High though the hopes of these early settlers were, not one of them can have been so sanguine as to imagine that little more than forty years would reveal such a city as the Dunedin of to-day. The history of the settlement, and also an account of some of the most interesting features of Dunedin and its neighbourhood, will be found in the following pages; but it may not be out of place to take a cursory glance at the fair city which has arisen in the few short years which have elapsed since the foundation of the settlement. When one looks along the well formed streets, with their substantial buildings, filled with shops replete with all the requirements and luxuries of civilized life, and notes the evidences on every side of the energy of the Anglo-Saxon race, it is hard to realise that its site has so recently been wrested from the wilderness. The telephone wires forming a network overhead, the cable trams conveying their loaded cars up the steepest gradients, and other recent triumphs of human ingenuity, all speak of the activity and capacity of its inhabitants. Nor are there lacking evidences of other than material progress. Churches abound, of all denominations, some of them of no mean order of beauty. "We see from the spacious district schools dotted over the city, the picturesquely situated Boys' High School and substantial University buildings, that education is not neglected. Our Art Society, with its annual exhibitions, Our Flower Shows, our Athenæum, our musical societies, and our scientific and literary institute, all tell that opportunities of culture and refinement are not wholly lacking. Facilities for mutual assistance and friendly intercourse abound in our Masonic lodges, Friendly Societies, and other institutions. In short, we possess all that could be looked for in a community of some 40,000 souls, situated much nearer to the world's great centres of life and civilization, and Dunedinites have no need to be ashamed of their town, or to apologise for its youth, while of its beauty of situation they may justly be prond. In conclusion, we would ask if so much has been accomplished in less than fifty page 13years, what may not be expected when Dunedin attains its hundredth anniversary ? If the next generation of Dunedinites inherit the spirit of our fathers, we may safely answer, a city as great as it is now beautiful.