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Old Marlborough. or The Story of a Province.



Waitohi Bay was selected as the site for a town in the year 1848, by the settlers under the New Zealand Company, who decided to call it Newton, and as such it appears on the early maps of the colony. This settlement arose out of the necessity of the company to compensate its emigrants to the extent of £50,000 for the failure to supply town sections as agreed upon before they left England, and as the company was either unwilling or unable to pay the recompense in cash they agreed to allow the settlers to select the site for another town in which their sections would be surveyed for them. The spot chosen under this arrangement was Waitohi Bay, and on the 28th December Sir George Grey and Mr. Dillon Bell proceeded to the head of Queen Charlotte Sound in H.M.S "Fly," and two days later were able to complete the purchase of the necessary land from the natives, who agreed to remove to Waikawa, where a new village similar to Otaki was to be laid out. In addition to the payment of £100 in cash the page 379company agreed to plough up a similar area of land at Waikawa to that which the natives already had under cultivation at Waitohi, they were to find seed wheat for the first crop, and to build a wooden church in the centre of the new pah, "as a place of prayer to our Saviour."

Although thus early established, Picton did not acquire any degree of importance in the province until 1861, when it became the seat of the Provincial Government. It also received an immense impetus during the "boom" of the Wakamarina diggings, when it is estimated that it had a permanent and a floating population of fully 3000 people. The exhaustion of this goldfield, and of the timber in the Waitohi Valley, together with the removal of the Government offices, so undermined the prosperity of Picton that now it has to look to its reputation as a truly beautiful seaside resort, and the prospect of its becoming the Dover of the South by one day being made the northern terminus of the Main Trunk Railway through the South Island, as the two things that will bring it into colonial importance. On two occasions Picton has just missed achieving more than this distinction, once when Mr. Stafford had almost persuaded Parliament to make it the seat of government on account of its central position and easily defensible harbour, and page 380again during the Wakamarina rush, when the discovery of coal was made at Shakespeare Bay by some diggers, who were prospecting for gold amongst the neighbouring hills. Little attention was paid to the find at the time, as it was considered that the mineral had been left there by some passing steamer, but in 1883 Messrs. Williams, Nichols and Renfrew took the matter up and started prospecting on the hill between Picton and Shakespeare Bay, and while sitting down to lunch one day they discovered a huge lump of coal of several tons weight. This led to the formation of the Picton Coal Company, but after a few hundred tons had been taken out of the shaft, the company suspended operations. Shortly afterwards Mr. Pugh made another discovery of coal on the peninsula, but when about thirty tons had been obtained, the cost of working the drive became too great for the return, and again operations were suspended. Subsequently Messrs. Hunt and Swanwick made spasmodic efforts to develop the deposits, but so little coal was found that their work was neither profitable to themselves or particularly beneficial to the community.* The failure of these coal deposits was a serious blow to Picton, for no harbour in New Zealand is so well adapted for the business of a coal port, and had the page 381mineral been as easily obtained as on the West Coast, her shipping would have been unrivalled in the colony, instead of being confined to a few wool ships in the year and the usual visits of the Union Company's steamers.

To Mr. John Holmes, of Wellington, is due the honour of being the father of direct shipping from Picton. In 1884 he was one of Blenheim's most influential merchants, and being a keen business man with large ideas and an abundance of energy to carry them out, he saw that to let the produce of the district filter through the hands of a host of middle men, was a pecuniary detriment to the farmer, and a loss of prestige to the province. With such a splendid harbour as Picton at their very doors, he considered it a suicidal policy to consign wool and hemp via Wellington, and so, amidst considerable opposition both in New Zealand and in London, he promulgated the doctrine of direct shipping, and to demonstrate the sincerity of his convictions and the soundness of his conclusions, he chartered the sailing ship "Lyttelton" on April 22nd, 1884. She arrived in Picton on June 17th, and sailed on August 21st with a full cargo of frozen meat, thereby inaugurating the frozen meat trade of the province by taking 10,184 sheep and lambs for the Home market, as well as wool, hemp and tallow. In a series of addresses delivered throughout the district at the page 382time, Mr. Holmes predicted that New Zealand would be able to ship upward of 2,000,000 sheep annually, but he was met on all sides by keen opposition. Authorities were quoted to show that if we shipped annually 40,000 sheep out of New Zealand, it would ruin the country. Mr. Holmes has, however, lived to see the full realisation of his hopes, for this colony is annually shipping now upwards of 3,000,000 carcases of frozen sheep and lambs, while at the same time we are increasing our flocks. The "Lyttelton" was followed in quick succession by other ships, and in subsequent years the development became so pronounced that Mr. Holmes introduced the large oceangoing steamer "Maori" to Picton, which has since been followed by the famous ocean liners "Gothic," "Ionic" and "Waimate."

The town of Picton was constituted a Borough on August 11th, 1876, and Mr. T. Williams was its first Mayor, with the following gentlemen as his Council:—Messrs. James Smith, George James, Thomas Phil-potts, James Heins, William Dart, Donald McCormick, John Godfrey, and Alexander Duncan. The first Town Clerk was Mr. James Alexander.

* Altogether, in the various enterprises, some 375 tons were hewn out, at a cost of £7000.