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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 18.—Dunedin

Note 18.—Dunedin.

In its incorporate capacity society in these colonies is much more comprehensive than contemporary society in older countries. The constitution of the latter is of more ancient growth, dates back to remote ages, and can only be traced through the side lights thrown upon it by contemporary history. It is the outcome of a state of things in which we had no part; and, even although it may have been recast to suit modern tastes, any attempt to study it as a whole is confronted with the foreign graft, puzzled with the unknown cause. The same obstacles do not present themselves in connection with our relations to the other. Settlements and cities in these parts are all of recent formation. They have grown up within our own ken, and even middle-aged men can recall a time when the large metropolitan centre was neither more nor less than a howling wilderness. Distance no doubt lends enchantment to the view, and what is remote and antique excites curiosity. That, however, is a transitory effect, or, at best, a speculative cause. What has taken root in our midst, grown up from infancy under our own eye, becomes an individual interest—an indisputable fact, the lessons taught by which cannot well be mistaken.

The new Edinburgh—or, as it is called, the City of Dunedin—is a marvellous case in point. The first official, or, rather, quasi-official, record we find of it reads as follows: "At the head of the Upper Harbour an exceptional site for a town presents itself to view. There the character of the country entirely changes. The land lies in long slopes or downs, upon which grows good grass mixed with shrubs, indicative of a strong soil. The aspect of the town will be nearly facing the meridian of the sun, and fronting the harbour. To the west of it some undulating slopes, covered to the water's-edge with beautiful timber and copsewood, offer space for several hundreds of ten-acre sections, semicircling a cove almost dry at low water. To the south, the uplands, which separate the large promontory in which the harbour is found from the level pastoral country of the main, rise gradually as a protection from the cold winds. In the westward is an opening in the chain of hills that belts the coast between the eastern head of Otago and Cape Saunders, across which extends a barrier of recent sandy formation, shutting out the sea, which in former times evidently flowed through what is now the Harbour of Otago. The site abounds in wood and fresh water; the harbour teems with fish of the best sort. The only objection I can name is its distance from the shipping port, but this is greatly palliated by the excellent water communication of the Upper Harbour."

These observations were made by Colonel Wakefield, and embodied in a report dated the 27th April, 1844. Fuller information relative to the settlement is furnished by one who visited the place six months prior. He writes: "On our arrival the only quarters we could procure were two rooms of a weatherboarded house, the other part of which was appropriated as a store for the sale of rum and whalers' slops. The architect had probably been a ship's carpenter, for he had fitted up one of the rooms with tiers of sleeping-places of the form called by sailors, bunks. We had no fireplace, and the daylight was visible through numerous chinks and cracks in our slight walls of boarding, page 122through which the air was freely admitted; and whenever the wind blew it drifted with it a fine white sand from the neighbouring beach, which penetrated everywhere, and was a source of much annoyance. It was a matter of marvel to us that we did not suffer more from being so exposed to the weather, for, except when the wind was south-west, which is a cold quarter, and rushed down the harbour with great violence, we did not feel much inconvenience from the cold. Here we were obliged to remain a month with very little to do but to take our daily exercise, pacing up and down the ocean-beach, admiring the huge skeletons of whales which lay half covered by the tide, or moralising over several deserted and ruinous buildings, being the remains of the whaling-station (see Note 2), the only evidence of former life and activity. Such objects were well calculated to encourage gloomy thoughts and fancies, while the monotonous dreary roar of the breakers sounded in saddening unison."

Forty-five years later (1889) another traveller visited the infant settlement, and from his record we make the following extract:—

"To any one sailing up the bay on a fine day towards Dunedin the picture of the town is exceedingly charming. At only one point is it possible to see the whole city and its suburbs at a glance, but from the deck of a vessel in mid-channel may be had, perhaps, the most extensive view which it is possible to have. Sweeping the eye along the Northern Cemetery, one of the most beautifully-situated God's-acres in this hemisphere, you see curved round in a sort of amphitheatre the various quarters and suburbs of the city, till you reach the left arm of the crescent in the suburbs of St. Kilda, Kensington, and South Dunedin, with their background of sand-dunes and ocean. Of this amphitheatre the spectator occupies the middle point in the proscenium. The architecture of colonial dwelling-houses and ordinary places of business is not such as to produce a picturesque effect in the mass. But from this point the zinc roofs and wooden or brick walls are seen from below, and at such an angle as to conceal much of their ugliness. In front, occupying the orchestra and pit of the theatre, is the business part of the city, traversed along its whole width by Princes Street and its continuation George Street, these being again divided into blocks by streets intersecting them at right angles. The immediate foreground—the orchestra—consists chiefly of ground reclaimed from the bay in course of the Harbour Board's operations, or of ground which, at the foundation of the city, was an impassable bog. The ground reclaimed from the bay is, next to Princes Street, the most valuable ground in the city, and is occupied by railway and wharf buildings, and by imposing houses of business. Behind the city the ground rises with a steep ascent to a long ridge, which forms the background of the city, and which is crowned atop by the three hill-suburbs—Mornington, Roslyn, and Maori Hill. The side of this declivity is thickly covered with handsome residences, each snugly embedded in flowers and trees—for it must be remarked, in passing, that Dunedin abounds in flourishing flower-gardens and shrubberies. Between the city itself and the suburbs on the hill-top lies the Town Belt, a strip of ground some 400 acres in extent, reserved as a place of recreation for the citizens, and running the whole length of the city and suburbs. In some places it is densely wooded with native trees; in others it rises and falls in undulating downs, with occasional plateaux, which are utilised for football and cricket. The Queen's Drive, a metalled carriage-road, runs almost the whole length of the Belt, forming, in fine weather, such a drive or walk as few cities can boast of. The surroundings—the fresh green bush and ferns, and the exquisite views which present themselves at every bend of the road—are such as could hardly be improved upon. In spring, when festoons of white clematis float from the tree-tops, and when the birds are in full song, the Town Belt makes a delightful morning or evening walk. Besides the native song-birds, the tui and mold, English birds—blackbirds, thrushes, and chaffinches—flood the air with their music."

Against our Dunedin traveller's (him of the "forties") report of the whaler's slop and rum store, in which he was glad to find shelter without a fire, let as place the testimony of a traveller of recent date, as to the class of accommo-page 123dation to be found on what is understood to be the spot originally occupied by the store: "As to the hotel accommodation, we met with no hotel in the City of Melbourne that would bear comparison, as to its architecture, with the 'Grand.' It was built by an Italian architect, with an Italian richness of design not to be surpassed by any establishment of the kind in the Southern Hemisphere." Then, again, as if speaking in irony of the poor, fireless, shivering, shanty of 1843, the "Grand" tells us it is the only fireproof establishment of its kind in the colonies. Does it not strike one that we have here a sad significancy, and that at least some of the guests of the slightly-weatherboarded house for the sale of ram and slops would now be only too glad if they could get back again to their old quarters under its fireless auspices. The subject, however, is too sad to be pursued, so we will pass on to a further exposition of Dunedin as it is. The Colonial Bank, we are told, is a fine, somewhat florid limestone building, with a lofty clock-tower; the Bank of New Zealand, also of Oamaru stone with Aberdeen granite pillars, would not shame Lombard Street. On reaching the Octagon, one comes in front of an Oamaru limestone building with a disproportionately high tower, to which attention is called every quarter of an hour by a clang of bells, whose effect varies with the state of the nerves. This is the Town Hall. On the opposite side is the Mechanics' Institute and Athenæum. Dunedin, of course, participates in the general scheme of education in operation throughout the colony. The town is provided with sis State schools, having an average daily attendance of something over four thousand pupils. In addition to these there are the educational institutions possible only in towns of some size—a Normal School, Boys' High School, Girls' High School, and University. In connection with each high school there is a boarding-house, under control of the Board of Governors. The University was founded in 1869 by ordinance of the Provincial Council, and in 1874 became affiliated to the University of New Zealand. It contains a Faculty of Arts, with seven professors and two lecturers; a Faculty of Medicine, with two professors and five lecturers; a School of Law, with one professor and one lecturer; and a School of Mines, with four professors. There is a library, containing five thousand volumes, selected chiefly as works of reference for the use of students. Altogether, Dunedin must be looked upon as a young city of great promise, whose future will always measure the future of the colony. If there is a prosperous future in store for the colony, Dunedin, owing to its position and climate, must continue to be one of its representative cities. The large tracts of fertile land in the interior of the province offer infinite possibilities of settlement; and, so long as such settlement goes on steadily, so long will Dunedin go on steadily increasing in size and prosperity.

The city is now subdivided into eight muncipalities, whose united values are given as—Improved, £3,426,393; unimproved, £2,953,670. They are as follows: Dunedin, £4,438,695; Caversham, £443,575; Roslyn, £381,949; Mornington, £321,624; North-east Valley, £298,951; South Dunedin, 211,309; Maori Hill, £157,327; St. Kilda, £126,633: total value of city, £6,380,063.

The Meteorological Observatory of Dunedin was situated until lately on the Town Belt, near Roslyn, at an altitude of 550ft. above sea-level, and at that elevation the following is the result of seventeen years' climatic observations: Mean temperature, 50·72°, the difference between the coldest and the warmest months being 15·30°. The registered rainfall was 32·019in.