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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

Chapter IV. — Nelson Province

page 56

Chapter IV.
Nelson Province.

Whether we regard the New Zealand Company as a high-souled organisation or as an "unprincipled, rapacious body, utterly regardless of the rights and welfare of the natives" (Lord Stanley's description), we cannot but admire its business-like energy and the persistency with which it poured British citizens into New Zealand. Admittedly a business concern, formed for the purpose of utilising capital in colonisation, it did not hide the commercial side of its character, and, viewing the matter after the cooling lapse of eighty-six years, an impartial critic would admit that it was no wonder the company was viewed with some suspicion by the Home Government.

While the company's end was ignominious, the good old John Bull tenacity which characterised its founders won out in the end, and success crowned what the directors in 1839 called "the bold enterprise of planting another scion of the Anglo-Saxon race and of Great Britain in a remote island of the Southern Hemisphere." That the company's methods were questionable is fairly plain, for as a matter of cold hard fact it sold in London 100,000 acres of land before it possessed a title to a single foot. As Rusden put it, "those people who paid money drew lots for unknown sections in land which the company was about to seek."

In considering the story of the settlement of Nelson we see where this loose method of dealing landed the colonists—for the Wairau tragedy was directly traceable to it.

With an energy that is nothing short of astonishing the New Zealand Company had no sooner landed several shiploads of people on the shore of Port Nicholson than it looked round for a spot upon which to plant another settlement. In naming their settlements these company officials were nothing if not British, and having honoured the hero of Waterloo in their first, they naturally thought of the hero of Trafalgar when it came to naming their second child. In and around Nelson you will find many street and place names which perpetuate the memory of incidents in the life of the great sailor.

Oddly enough, Nelson was "all dressed up with nowhere to go" long before its site was selected. Colonel Wakefield, brother of the company's founder, was chief agent of the company at Wellington, and he was anxious that the second settlement should be located on the plains at the back of Bank's Peninsula. Captain Hobson, the Governor, having fixed upon Auckland as the capital of the Colony, wanted the Nelson colonists sent up North, and he page 57 strongly urged that the settlement should be placed on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf—Mahurangi for preference, where he offered a site of 50,000 acres with a promise to negotiate for an additional 150,000 acres. It was a case of pull devil, pull baker, and neither would give way, but in the end Wakefield seems to have made a sort of a compromise and decided upon the shores of Cook Straits.

Survey Party Sent Out.

There was a business-like deliberation and thoroughness about the company's preliminary arrangements for founding Nelson. It might have been thought that the company's agents in Wellington would have been instructed to make all the preliminary arrangements for the Nelson contingent, but that was not the company's way. A separate organisation was set up, and three ships were fitted out to carry the survey expedition to New Zealand—the Whitby, 347 tons, Captain Lacey; the Will Watch, 251 tons, Captain Walker; and the brig Arrow, 212 tons, Captain Geary. On board the Whitby were 59 officials and labourers, under Captain Arthur Wakefield, R.N., who was to be the company's chief agent at Nelson. The Will Watch carried 45 labourers and others in charge of Mr. Frederick Tuckett, chief surveyor, who afterwards selected the site of the Otago settlement. The Arrow carried stores.

It will be noted that the Wakefield brothers figured prominently in the early history of New Zealand—Edward Gibbon Wakefield was the father of the whole colonising scheme, Colonel Wakefield was agent and chief resident officer for the Wellington settlement, and Captain Wakefield was agent and chief resident officer of the Nelson settlement. They were all men "who got things done." Unlike his brothers, the captain had conciliatory manners, and was described as "wise, temperate, and firm; unassuming, with self-confidence, commanding respect when seeming to show it; never for a moment the slave of passion, always the active servant of duty; he was by nature cut out for the founder of a colony, for a leader of men." He was evidently a man of fine character, and his tragic end surrounded his name with something of a halo.

The Whitby and the Will Watch sailed from Gravesend on Sunday afternoon, May 2, 1841, after a service on board the Will Watch. They went down the Thames to the accompaniment of a salute of twenty-one guns, for those were the days when we did picturesque things in a picturesque manner. Nowadays we are too busy, and leave the docks with three hoots from a steamer's siren. The Arrow did not get away until May 21, but she beat the other vessels of the expedition and arrived at Port Nicholson on August 28. Next to arrive was the Will Watch, which dropped anchor on September 8, and she was followed ten days later by the Whitby.

Hobson was in Wellington, and the expeditionary ships remained at anchor while he and Colonel Wakefield fought out the question of site. Hobson was emphatic in refusing to approve of going to Akaroa; he said he had instructions to place a church settlement there—evidently the germ of Canterbury—and he went page 58 off to Auckland again with apparently nothing definitely settled as to where Nelson was to be located.

As soon as his Excellency had left Port Nicholson Colonel Wakefield went aboard the Whitby and told his brother to go and see the leading chief at Kapiti (Rauparata) about getting some good land reported to be located about Blind Bay. The expedition accordingly set out on October 2. Captain Wakefield had a satisfactory interview with the chief, and the expedition went across the straits to Astrolabe Roads to spy out the land. Boats were sent off every day to explore. Encouraging reports were made, and it was practically decided to fix the site of the settlement at Kaiteretere, but Wakefield was not satisfied, and ordered further investigations to be made in the south-east corner of the bay, which resulted in the discovery of Nelson harbour, or Wakatu, to use its Maori name.

Nelson Harbour.

It was on Monday, November 1, 1841, that the Arrow entered the narrow channel at the end of the Boulder Bank, and dropped anchor inside. "Fired a gun and gave three cheers, being the first vessel of any description which had entered a port which is anything but contemptible, but being in the neighbourhood of a very valuable district becomes of considerable importance," wrote Captain Wakefield in his diary. The same evening Wakefield left again for the Astrolabe Roads, where he had left the two other vessels, and came over with them, the Will Watch entering the harbour on the 4th, and the Whitby on the 5th. The two first vessels safely negotiated the narrow entrance, but the Whitby went aground when trying to get in on the 4th, and did not float off until the following morning's tide.

One of the first things the party did was to cut down a sapling and rig up a flagpole on top of the hill overlooking the entrance, and in a very short while there floated in the breeze the Union flag which Captain Wakefield had brought out from England carefully done up in a leather case.

It had been agreed that the workmen should be paid as soon as the expedition reached its destination, or rather upon landing. The first week was taken up with making snug the shore quarters, but the following Sunday (November 14), after prayers, Captain Wakefield carried out the arrangement. Instead of money he paid the men with orders on the company. This caused a good deal of discontent, but soon after the expedition had got settled down, an enterprising man named John Orr came over from Wellington, pitched a tent in which he sold spirits and beer, and as he was quite willing to take the orders, most of the grumbling ceased.

Captain Wakefield's diary entry for this particular Sunday throws an interesting light on the hours of labour. "Established the hours of work from seven in the morning," he wrote, "until five in the evening, taking an hour to dinner from 12 to 1, except Saturday, when it will be from 7 to 12. This arrangement gives an hour or two more work in the week than is the custom at Port page 59 Nicholson for the surveyors, but upon the whole more beneficial to the labourers by giving them a certain number of hours together. Two or three of the people made objections to being paid in paper, but they were told there was no other means and they received pay in cheques, with the exception of one man."

Laying Off The Township.

As soon as the Wakatu had been selected as the site of the Nelson settlement word was promptly sent over to Wellington by the schooner Elizabeth, and communication began between the two places, one of the earliest cargoes being a consignment of pigs and sheep which was brought over in the Eliza.

Ashore at Nelson the expeditionary party had a busy time. The store and shed of the company, brought out from London in sections, was soon run up, and then the work of getting ready to receive the immigrants went on steadily, the surveyors laying off the place, and the workmen erecting sheds and other shelters.

There were 22 officials of the company, and 73 workmen in this expeditionary party. The workmen were all specially selected, being of good physique and character, and many of them rose to very good positions in the community. Some of them started with next to nothing at all; in fact, one man who had a sixpence in his pocket—the last he possessed—did actually land without a cent, as he threw the coin overboard before going ashore, just for luck, apparently. This man afterwards became a very rich settler with herds and flocks of his own.

After the expeditionary ships had been dispatched from London the officers of the company lost no time in organising the first band of settlers, and in October, 1841, four ships were sent away. The first to sail was a small brig named the Lloyds (Captain Green), which had been specially selected to take out the wives and children of the men who had gone out in the expeditionary ships. The other vessels were the Lord Auckland, 600 tons, Captain Jardine; the Fifeshire, 551 tons, Captain Arnold; and the barque Mary Ann, 600 tons, Captain Bolton, which all sailed from the Downs on the same day, October 2.

As the site of Nelson was unknown when the ships left London, they were instructed to call at Port Nicholson for instructions. The Fifeshire arrived there on January 19, 1842, the Mary Ann on January 27, and the Lord Auckland on February 7. The Fifeshire anchored in Nelson Harbour on February 1, the Lloyds and the Mary Ann on February 9, and the Lord Auckland on February 27. These four ships brought 764 people into Nelson. The date of arrival of the Fifeshire with the first immigrants has ever since been celebrated as the anniversary of the province.

A very sad story was told when the Lloyds came to an anchor. Some accounts say she was a very good ship, selected with the greatest care, and that the directors took every precaution to carry out their promise to the men of the expeditionary fleet to bring the page 60 wives and children out safely. Other accounts describe her as a very small brig, overcrowded, and state that during bad weather the passengers had to spend many days cooped up in stuffy cabins with the head-lights closed, in pitch darkness, except for the light from some ill-smelling lamps. Whichever account is correct, there must have been something radically wrong, for 65 children died on the voyage, and the women told of a terrible time. Matters had been shockingly managed. The captain was blamed for having set a bad moral example, and it was said did not even try to enforce rules for the preservation of ordinary decency. The doctor was also censured, and Captain Wakefield refused to sign the certificate, without which neither captain nor doctor could claim his pay. Whoever was to blame, it was the last experiment in sending out a shipload of women and children without the protection of the husbands.

Fifeshire Wrecked.

The Fifeshire was an unlucky boat from the start. During the voyage fever broke out, and seventeen passengers died, their bodies being buried at sea. Until the scourge began to abate, the passengers were in a most melancholy state, as they did not know where it was going to end. When navigating Cook Straits the ship nearly came to grief. The pilot took her between Stephen's Island and the mainland, and the wind failing at a critical moment, it looked as though she would go ashore, but Captain Arnold sent away a boat with a kedge, which dropped in the nick of time, and the ship hauled off into safety. After disembarking passengers and discharging cargo, the ship cleared for China.

On the morning of February 27, in charge of a pilot, she got under way. The wind was very light, so that she did not reach the entrance until the tide had been ebbing some time. She had, however, nearly passed through the narrow entrance, when the wind failed, and the tide carried her on to the Arrow Reef, named after the brig of the expeditionary fleet. Strenuous efforts were made to get her off, but it was useless. She lay right across the reef, being nearly dry fore and aft at dead low water. Her hull could not stand the strain, and her back was badly broken. She was condemned, and sold for breaking up. Mr. Poynter, afterwards a magistrate, was the purchaser, and he is said to have done very well out of the venture.

Settling Down.

Mr. Horace Fildes, the keen antiquary, tells me the old records show that the emigrant ship Arab, 484 tons, left Gravesend on June 3, 1841, with 208 settlers, most of whom were intended for the Nelson settlement. She arrived at Port Nicholson on October 16, at which time, of course, there was no such place as Nelson. No subsequent mention is made of these settlers, so we must assume that they drifted across the Straits from time to time as occasion offered, after the site of Nelson was chosen, or else they waited for the rest of the people in the Fifeshire and her three companions.

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The Fifeshire's people being the first to arrive had the first call on the limited accommodation available ashore, and when the other ships turned up their passengers had to camp out the best way they could, some of them having to be content with a few sticks supporting a blanket or two. Fortunately the weather was fine, or the travellers might have had a much more disagreeable introduction to colonial life. In a very short while temporary buildings began to dot the site of Nelson town, but owing to the fact that it was fern land and material had to be carried a long way, the work was laborious. Poles were secured from "The Wood," and the plentiful fern growing all about was used for making the walls, until replaced with mud. Roofs were generally thatched with toe-toe, which was supplied by the Maoris in exchange for cast-off clothing. Later there came a time when this discarded wear would have been welcome, for during the "hard times" it was not uncommon to see people in clothes made out of corn-sacks.

But folks who had travelled 12,000 miles in search of a new home were hard to daunt, and the old records tell of many incidents that show how cheerfully they put up with all sorts of discomforts. It was hard on the parents, but the youngsters rather enjoyed the picnic life. All sorts of makeshifts were employed. For instance, Mrs. Cresswell, of Stoke, used to recount how she and her mother built the first oven their house possessed. Getting some flat stones from the river they made a hearth, and borrowing some of the mud the father was using to build the walls of the house, they made the sides of a very rough sort of oven. For the chimney they used a bully-beef tin—one they had saved from the ship they came out on.

At first the native rats were a great nuisance to the Nelsonites on the banks of the Maitai, eating anything even remotely edible, and running all over the sleepers at night. They seemed to thrive on poison and drove out of the house a cat that was brought from Wellington, but when some rat-killing dogs were introduced the rats decamped.

A noticeable feature of the founding of Nelson was the rapidity with which settlement went on. "Within seven months of the arrival of the first immigrant ship," says a writer in the Nelson "Mail" Jubilee Number, "there were 2000 people in the district The New Zealand Company found employment at first for a number of the settlers in making roads and such work till their land should be allotted to them, and before long the settlement began to bear signs of civilisation. The Waimea Plains, spelt "Weimea" in those days, were surveyed by Messrs. Barnicoat and Thompson in 1842. In April of that year practical steps were taken in connection with the Literary and Scientific Institute, and a Benefit Club was also formed. In May Nelson had a gaol and a pair of stocks. On May 25 the first plough was put in the ground, where the Union Bank now stands. Mr. John Kerr operated the plough. Before the settlers could grow anything for themselves the Maoris sold them potatoes and other provisions. Things were sold by the kit, and, as the demand increased, the Maoris decreased the size of the kit. A page 62 list of current prices published in June, 1842, stated:—Mutton, 1/2 per lb; finest beef, 1/ per lb; flour, £21 to £30 per ton; bread, 9d per 21b loaf; milk, 6d per pint; cheese, 1/3 to 1/6 per lb; salt butter, 1/9 per lb; Mauritius sugar, £9 per cwt; refined loaf sugar, 1/ per lb; eggs, 4/ a dozen. The price of ale was 12/ per dozen; and brandy 15/ to 18/ per gallon. Cows were sold at from £20 to £36 a head, and mares from £50 to £60. The ordinary rate of wages was stated to be for mechanics 12/ a day, and for labourers 5/ to 7/."

The Ships Of '42 And '43.

After the Lord Auckland, the next boat to arrive was the barque Brougham, Captain Robinson, which anchored in Nelson on March 6. She took the narrow passage known as the French Pass, and had the misfortune to run on a reef. Fortunately she was got off again after a delay of some eight hours, and though she damaged her forefoot so severely that she would not answer her helm, she was brought safely into port by the aid of the Deal boats and those of the Fifeshire. These Deal boats, of which there were two, had been brought out in the expeditionary ships, and very useful they proved. Deal boatmen were renowned wherever the name of sailor was known, and their handy boats were ideal for knocking about the little-known waters of the New Zealand coast. Mr. J. S. Cross and Mr. W. Claringbold, both of Deal, came out with the expedition as pilots, and the former was harbourmaster and pilot at Nelson from a short while after his arrival until he died in 1882.

Other ships that arrived in 1842 were the Martha Ridgway, Captain Webb, arrived April 2; Clifford, Captain Stapp, May 11; Sir Charles Forbes, 363 tons, Captain Bacon, August 22, with 187 passengers, including Mr. Alfred Domett, the poet; Thomas Harrison, 370 tons, Captain T. Harrison, October 25, with 187 passengers; Olympia, 500 tons, Captain Whyte, October 25, with 138 passengers; New Zealand, 445 tons, Captain Worth, November 4, with 137 passengers; George Fyfe, 460 tons, Captain Pyke, December 12; Bombay, 400 tons, Captain Moore, December 14, after a tedious passage of 135 days, with 165 passengers; Prince of Wales, 582 tons, Captain Alexander, December 22, with 203 passengers. All these vessels came from London with the exception of the Martha Ridgway, which sailed from Liverpool. The Clifford, Captain Sharp, after leaving New Zealand for China, was wrecked on a reef at Nissan, or Sir Charles Hardy Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, in August, 1842.

Arrivals during 1843 were the Indus, 420 tons, Captain McKenzie, February 5; Phoebe, 471 tons, Captain Dale, March 29, she being the first vessel bringing immigrants at a reduced passage rate; and the St. Pauli, June 14. The St. Pauli is interesting from the fact that she brought out the first batch of German immigrants. She had a somewhat adventurous passage of 148 days from Hamburg. Three weeks after sailing smallpox broke out, and the vessel put into Bahia, where she remained three weeks, but the page 63 passengers must have been well looked after, as only four deaths occurred—four children. In the following year the Skiold brought a further 140 German immigrants.

The Price Of Nelson.

Wakefield's system of settlement was designed with the idea of attracting men with capital enough to buy land at a price fixed too high to make it a profitable investment to purchase largely as a speculation, without intending to cultivate, and also too high to allow of the labour market being emptied by making every labourer a landowner without capital. In short, Wakefield aimed at getting enough capitalists to purchase land and enough labourers to work it. Unfortunately the company had overlooked the difficulty there might be in inducing the Maoris to part with their birthright, so some of the settlers had to wait long months, and even years, before they could get land. This meant that there was no work for the labourers, and so there was much hardship and distress in early Nelson.

At this stage it is interesting to recall the astonishingly varied collection of goods which the company gave the Maoris in payment for Nelson and the surrouding areas. We start with 10 blankets, 2 axes, 1cwt of tobacco, 300 pipes, 1 keg of powder, 1 double-barrel gun, 1 pair of shoes, 1cwt biscuits, of the total value of £24 19/3, which were handed over for Wakatu, the Maori name of the site of the town of Nelson. Then at various times goods were given to other chiefs, the last being a cask of wine and a bag of sugar to Rauparaha. The total value of the goods given for the whole of the Nelson settlement, including the Waimeas, Motueka, Takaka, and the Aorere district was £980 15/, which must be accounted a pretty good bargain.

When the company could not supply land it had contracted to sell, the settlers began to voice their complaints, and the company's officials saw that unless they could throw open the Wairau they would be inundated with claims for compensation. The company very unwisely decided to go ahead and survey the Wairau, and this was the first step that led to the tragedy that shocked the young colony and had an echo in Europe, because even in Paris there was talk of getting up subscriptions to enable the unfortunate colonists to return to England.

Rauparaha and Rangihaeata warned the pakehas not to meddle with the Wairau lands, but the company sent survey parties and the work was begun. Rauparaha and Rangihaeata followed with a band of Maoris and proceeded to demolish the three survey stations that had been set up. Their methods were similar in each instance, and are worth recalling, for whatever else the crafty Rauparaha and his bloodthirsty lieutenant may have been, they certainly went about this business in a way that reminds us of some haughty seigneur of mediaeval days.

Carefully avoiding doing any injury to the things that obviously were the personal property of the surveyors, they destroyed every-page 64thing that had been taken from the land. For instance, they burnt the tent pegs, the poles, the framework of the sheds, the raupo and fern bedding, and so on, but carefully removed the canvas covering of the sheds, and the sail-cover used as a roof on one of the temporary whares. All the instruments and other things were carefully placed in canoes and taken to the pa at the entrance of the Wairau. The Maoris carefully refrained from doing any injury to what actually belonged to the pakehas; all they burned had come from the land, and as the land was theirs they could do what they liked with it. "Do not be angry," said Rangihaeata. "This toe-toe belongs to me; it grew on my land. You might be angry if your house, which I shall burn, was built of boards that came from England, but as this toe-toe is mine, it is right that I should burn it. All the things belonging to you Europeans have been taken out of the house, and I am acting in accordance with a just law; it is for you to commit some evil act."

When news of this outrage reached Nelson Captain Wakefield organised a party headed by the police magistrate, several other officials, two constables, and twelve special constables. Together with boatmen and the men engaged on the surveys the party numbered 48. Except the officials, the party was composed of a nondescript body of labouring men, who were armed with unreliable muskets and rusty bayonets and cutlasses. Upon arrival at Wairau there was a parley with the Maoris and an attempt was made to execute warrants for the arrest of Rauparaha and Rangihaeata. Both chiefs were called upon, but they indignantly refused to surrender themselves, and words ran high. The chief police magistrate then gave the order for the armed men to advance, they having previously been kept out of sight and told not to fire unless they got orders.

The Massacre.

The parties were on opposite sides of the Tuamarina Stream. When the order was given to the armed men the Maoris disappeared in the shelter of the bushes. As the pakehas were advancing to cross the stream, a shot was fired, quite accidentally, it is said. The Maoris at once returned it with a volley. There were several casualties among the Europeans, who then fell back, and there was some hot shooting on both sides. Then among the Europeans began a general movement up the hill that rose from the rivulet, the men retreating without order. Efforts were made to rally them, but in vain. Seeing that the position was hopeless the Europeans called for peace and displayed a white handkerchief.

As the Maoris came up some of the Europeans continued their retreat, but Wakefield and several of the other officials stood their ground, and throwing down their arms waited for the natives. Having shaken hands with the prisoners the Maoris sat down in a half circle before them. Gold was offered them as a ransom, but this they refused. Two Maoris then approached Wakefield, and attempted to strip off his coat. Flushing up, Wakefield apparently page 65 attempted to draw a pistol, and in course of time this was followed by the massacre.

Rauparaha was apparently inclined to be lenient, but Rangihaeata shouted, "Give no quarter; they have killed your daughter Te Rongo!" It seems that the first accidental shot fired by one of the Europeans had killed this unfortunate woman, Rauparaha's daughter, who was Rangihaeata's wife.

It would be too harrowing even at this late date to dwell on the details of the massacre. Among the officials massacred or killed were Mr. Thompson (police magistrate and county judge), Captain Wakefield, Captain England, Mr. Richardson (Crown Prosecutor), Mr. Patchett (land agent), Mr. Howard (company's storekeeper), Mr. Cotterell (surveyor). Of the 48 in the party 21 lost their lives, and the rest escaped, five being wounded.

This shocking event, which happened on June 17, 1843, gave a great set-back to the settlement, and caused much uneasiness right through the young colony. The natives immediately afterwards forsook that part of the coast and retired to Otaki. "Gradually the excitement passed off, but the young settlement had received a shock from which it did not readily recover. Many people left the place, and all property became depreciated in value," says Broad's very valuable "Jubilee History of Nelson," from which I have largely drawn.

Early in 1844, just when the Nelson people were fairly recovering from the effects or the Wairau massacre, and some progress was being made, the settlement got another set-back, from which it suffered severely. When the English mail arrived with the news that the New Zealand Company had suspended operations there was something like consternation. The Union Bank undertook to pay the wages of the company's employees for the current week, after which nine-tenths of the wage-earning population were out of work and no prospect of finding an employer. The succeeding months were Nelson's darkest period, and the settlers proved their quality by the heroic way they conquered all difficulties and held on until better and happier days came round. "Never before nor since did I see men and women endure so much real privation with so little complaint, or work so hard, or live upon so little," wrote the late Mr. Alfred Saunders in reference to those dark days. "Until the growing potatoes were fit for food the struggle was a stern one, and many a mother went hungry to bed to feed her children."

Such is the story of the founding of Nelson, a story which makes one proud of the race from which we have sprung. Mistakes were made, and some things we could have wished otherwise, but through the whole story runs the same thread of courage and steady perseverance in the face of unheard-of difficulties, that we read of in all the accounts of the wonderful colonisation efforts of the British people of those stirring and virile days.