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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 1.—Otago

page 95

Note 1.—Otago.

Under enactment of the Imperial Parliament, passed in the fifteenth and sixteenth years of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, intituled "An Act to grant Representative Institutions to the Islands of New Zealand," the colony was divided into six political centres—Auckland, New Plymouth, and Wellington in the North; Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago in the South. With the spread of settlement, some of these proved too large, and outlying districts became too remotely situated from their seats of Government. In the year 1857 a new Act was passed, by which a further subdivision took place, and three additional political centres were added to the list. Under that readjustment Otago, in the year 1860, lost that area afterwards known as Southland. Ten years later they were reunited. Each province was worked on the basis of a representative institution; so that when provincialism was at its height nine, if not ten, separate Legislatures were in operation. As things now exist, such political provision would be deemed a superabundance of government—a plethora of legislation. The state of affairs, however, was very different then from now. Little or no provision existed for intercommunication, and what passed in that way between the different centres went, for the most part, by sea in the sailing-craft. Having absolutely no intercommercial relations to provide for, and few or no interests in common, they were as much isolated as if they had been separate kingdoms lying widely apart. Therefore local and quasi-local administrations were rendered, in a measure, imperative. In process of time communication became more perfect. A through system of roads, with postal and telegraphic communication, was provided, and more recently a railway system established. The different centres were thus brought more and more into contact, and less occasion was felt for local administration in its legislative capacity. An Act of the General Assembly of New Zealand passed in 1876 abolished the provinces altogether, and vested legislative control entirely in the hands of the Central Government. Apt as we now are to look upon these Old-World institutions as remnants of the barbarous past, they nevertheless served their day and generation, and did it to good advantage. They planted a class of settlers on the soil who for thrift and enterprise compare favourably with their successors, and otherwise promoted the work of colonisation on a sound and substantial basis.

In 1843 the Otago settlement was first projected. A remnant of the Church of Scotland disruptionists was dissatisfied with the measure of liberty in ecclesiastical affairs secured to them in that memorable event. The idea was that, by founding an entirely new colony, they would be enabled to establish a Church on purely Free Kirk principles. This exclusive policy, however, does not seem to have been insisted upon. A few years later the object was announced to be a careful selection of emigrants, independent altogether of creed, and to provide for their religious and ecclesiastical wants at the outset. That manifesto is dated 30th June, 1851. Meantime, the association became incorporated with the New Zealand Company, a body already in operation at and around Wellington. In furtherance of this joint scheme, an exploring party left Nelson on the 31st March, 1844. Reporting on the land selected, Dr. Monro, one of the explorers, says, inter alia, "The block has a coast-line of page 96from fifty to sixty miles in length, lying between the mouth of Otago Harbour and a headland called the Noggetts [Nuggets], about three miles south-west of the Clutha River. It extends to an average distance inland of seven miles. The southernmost portion is watered by the rivers Puerua, Koan, and Clutha. The two last named are navigable for vessels of considerable tonnage. Connected with one another, and with the Clutha, by navigable streams are the shallow lagoons of Kaitangata and Rangitoto [Tuakitoto], one and six miles long respectively. Their fertile shores will furnish an admirable series of sections, the only drawback to which is the scarcity, not the absence, of wood. The Waihola and Rangitoto are about twelve miles apart. The plain of the Taieri is swampy, but, on the whole, will be a valuable district. The river of the same name flows into the sea about twenty or thirty miles south of Otago. Wild hogs are said to abound in all parts of the district, quail are in abundance all over the grassy plains, and wild-fowl in the rivers and lagoons. Weka, or wood-hen, is also common. In the mineral kingdom, the existence of coal in great profusion is also remarkable. Its appearance on the coast at Coal Point is conspicuous."

The settlement as first projected comprised 144,600 acres, divided into 2,400 properties. Each property consisted of sixty and a quarter acres, divided into three allotments, viz.: town, one-quarter acre; suburban, ten acres; and rural, fifty acres. The appropriation of these was as follows: 2,000 properties, or 120,500 acres, to private individuals; 100 properties, or 6,025 acres, to be purchased by the local municipal government; 100 properties, or 6,025 acres, for religious and educational purposes; and 200 properties, or 12,050 acres, for the New Zealand Company.

That is what is known as the Otago purchase. The original deed of sale, as between the Native owners and the Government, bears date the 31st July, 1844, the purchase-price being £2,400. It comprised a total of 400,000 acres, being all that area extending from the mouth of Otago Harbour to the Mataura River and inland to the Maungaatua (Maungatua) and Kaihiku Ranges. Of this 150,000 acres were reserved for the Otago settlement. Seven years later Captain Stokes, R.N., commissioned by the Imperial Government to make a survey of the coast, reported in his despatch to the then Governor, now Sir George Grey, "The Maoris, both in Foveaux Strait and at Otago, express a desire to sell all the land from Otago to the western coast, and probably £2,000 would be accepted as purchase-money." That despatch is dated 1st September, 1850. The next heard of the affair is that a gentleman—the Hon. Mr. Mantell—is appointed Commissioner to treat for the purchase. Mr. Mantell's negotiations were brought to a close on the 17th August, 1853, when a deed of conveyance was executed by the Native owners of all that vast territory, extending from Milford Sound to the Mataura, including adjacent islands, except the Ruapuke Group, together with all lands, anchorages, landing-places, rivers, lakes, woods, and bush, the purchase-price, as Captain Stokes surmised, being £2,000. Stewart Island, which at this date seems to have been treated as part of the Ruapuke Group, exempted from the previous sale, came under offer during Governor Gore Browne's term of office. John Topi, one of the island chiefs, offers by letter to sell that portion of land westward of the 68th degree of longitude. The proposal was relegated to the Superintendent of Southland, by whom the purchase of the entire island was effected in 1864, the price being £6,000. Meantime what is known as the Ngaitahu Block was brought under negotiation, and, by deed dated 12th June, 1848, its sale was accomplished, the price paid being £2,000. The area is described as comprising all that Native territorial possession lying along the shores of the sea, commencing at Kaiapoi (Canterbury); thence to Otakou (Otago), and on till it joins the boundary of the Otago purchase; running from thence to the Kaihiku Mountains, and onwards till it reaches the sea at Whakatipu Waitai (Milford Sound). From thence, as defined on the plan annexed to the deed, by the sea along the west coast to a point corresponding in a direct line with the mouth of the Kaiapoi River on the east coast. The effect of that sale was to cede possession of the remainder of the land now forming the Provincial District of Otago in favour of the Crown, besides disposing of a large page 97tract of the adjoining Province of Canterbury. Writing to the Home authorities, the Governor, Sir G. Grey, remarks that it would be a source of satisfaction to find that so large an extent of country of the most fertile description had been unrestrictedly opened to British enterprise without the possibility of any of those embarrassing questions arising in relation to it which had been the source of so much perplexity to the settlers of the North Island.

The entire price expended upon these purchases amounted to £12,400. Deducting £1,000, which we may fairly estimate as the value of the Canterbury lands included in the Ngaitahu purchase, we have the balance (£11,400) paid for the Provincial District of Otago, including Stewart Island. After the lapse of forty years (1888) we find these lands valued for assessment purposes at a sum in excess of twenty-three millions and three-quarters sterling—namely, eight millions improved and fifteen millions and three-quarters unimproved values. The area of the district, in round numbers, is 16,000,000 acres, so that these lands, originally obtained for little more than half a farthing per acre, have now acquired a uniform average value of £1. Both in character and situation some of these are choice pieces of property. In business parts of Dunedin they sell at from £50 to £100 per foot, or from £13,000 to £26,000 per acre, so that a building-site now may be worth double what was originally paid for the entire provincial district. In less populous places like Invercargill the highest estimated value is set down at £50 per foot; and in third-rate business centres such as Queenstown, Lawrence, Palmerston South, &c., £10 per foot. We have here a record which practically defies competition. Independent of the fact that eighteen millions sterling, being half the amount of the national debt of New Zealand, was taken out of these lands in the shape of gold, their acquired value during the period named bears favourable comparison with the most successful colonising schemes. Indeed, it rivals the enormous values acquired within the last forty or fifty years by property in many of the seaport towns of Old England, and proves beyond doubt that, although mistakes may have occurred in the administration of affairs, the policy of New Zealand as a whole has been one of enlightenment and progression.

Such, then, is a brief outline of the process by which the fee-simple of this remarkable land was first obtained for European occupation—a land with soil so fertile that it has justly been described as the granary of the south. It is a land largely peopled by the North Briton, and if, as the body of the narrative would have us believe, he brought certain of his national prejudices with him, he likewise brought much of that sturdy stubborn independence by which the primeval wilderness alone can be subdued. So much are the conditions of this, his adopted country, in harmony with the land of his birth that he has become quite as attached to the one as ever he was to the other; and, in its rising generation, Otago is securing for itself a population as enthusiastically indigenous to the soil as ever stood fire on the field of Falkirk, or handled the dirk on Culloden Moor.

In the matter of rivers Otago has a choice system. It is not possible to place even an approximate estimate upon all the streams and rivulets with which it is provided. Those of greatest importance are—Clutha, 200 miles in length [see Note 15]; Taieri, 150 miles; Mataura, 120 miles; Oreti, 130 miles; Waiau, 140 miles. The majority of these are fed by upland snowfields and glaciers. When the rigours of winter cease, and hot weather sets in, their snows melt, and the snow-water comes down in great profusion. In that way the rivers are kept perennially flowing. Indeed, the summer, if at all hot, is frequently their highest season, and the cold snow-water, even after it has flowed miles and miles, diffuses cooling effects in proportion to the heat of the weather. To this alone the climate of Otago is indebted for one of its regulating measures, and that a more important one than is generally understood.

The first census enumeration made of the province was in the year 1854. The population then numbered 2,557. Twelve months afterwards it amounted to (including 505 half-castes) 4,939. Thirty-six years later these numbers had increased to a total of 160,897, of whom 86,258 were males and 74,639 were females.

The acreage under crop in 1854 was 3,168. In 1889 the land held from the page 98Crown for pastoral purposes was 5,645,838 acres; held for other than pastoral purposes, 293,441 acres; rented from Natives, 8,030 acres; rented from public bodies, 540,600 acres; and rented from private individuals, 430,413 acres: making a total of 9,645,782 acres so disposed of. The extent of land fenced in was 5,978,958 acres; held freehold, 2,727,460 acres. In point of productiveness, we have these lands yielding as follows: Wheat, 28·03 bushels to the acre; oats, 33·20 bushels; barley, 38·93 bushels; rye and bere, 18·35 bushels; peas, 19·83 bushels; beans, 18 bushels; hay, 1·61 tons; potatoes, 4·16 tons. Its areas under staple cultivations in 1891 were—Wheat, 391,460 acres; oats, 346,224 acres; barley, 32,740 acres; potatoes, 32,691 acres; which yielded as follows: 5,723,610, 9,947,036, 758,833 bushels respectively, and 178,121 tons.

To the end of December, 1890, 133½ tons of gold were mined in Otago, of the money-value of £18,886,928, which, over and above representing one-half the national debt of the colony, left a balance of £379,110 to the good. The yield of gold from the colony as a whole to that period was 329¾ tons, valued at £46,425,629, which, besides being equivalent to the colonial indebtedness, leaves the surplus of £9,030,882.

The coal-measures, to the date mentioned, gave an output of 2,054,112 tons; the produce for the year being 176,428 tons, showing an increase of 25,967 tons over the previous year. The entire output of the colony to 1890 was 6,456,674 tons; that for the year being 637,397, or 50,952 tons in excess of the output for 1889.

In live-stock the Provincial District numbered in 1891 50,206 horses, 152,003 cattle, 4,287,860 sheep, 38,027 pigs, and 443,059 poultry.

Its dairy produce during the same year included 2,864,869lb. of butter and 3,566,150lb. of cheese.

Clearing, fencing, draining, and other improvements in rural properties is represented by £3,493,826, and unimproved properties at £11,023,182. Crown and Native lands unoccupied are valued at £814,192.

There are, in all, thirty-seven boroughs in Otago, with an improvement value of £4,519,898, and an unimproved value of £4,725,953.