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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 2.—Otago Harbour

Note 2.—Otago Harbour.

The earliest record we have of Otago Harbour—or, as it was called, Otakou—is highly creditable to Native instincts. It is reported in the Sydney Gazette of 1815. A brig named the "Matilda," hailing from New South Wales, reached the harbour in distress. She was manned by Lascars, many of whom were prostrate from sickness, besides which the vessel had run short of provisions. No sooner did the Native chief, named Papuhi, understand the state of affairs than he collected his people and sent them off on a fishing expedition. In a short time the famishing crew were provided with a large supply of fish. The potato crop at the time was only half-grown, and tapu. Despite that fact, the kindly Papuhi had them dug up for the use of the distressed vessel. Getting partly recruited, the men were set to water the ship. The watering place was at a distance of a mile, and the labour of rolling the casks taxed the still delicate crew beyond their strength. Seeing this, the chief himself immediately set to and rendered assistance. His example being followed by the others, the work was completed with comparatively little fatigue to the crew. Every morning at sunrise Papuhi went on board and saw that a sufficiency of food was provided for the requirements of the day. The long continuance of bad weather encountered by the ship had thrown its gearing out of order, and the running-gear in particular was in a very bad state. Observing this, the chief, without prefatory remark, assisted by the others, both men and women, set about making ropes after the manner of the country. In that way the brig was again made fit for sea; and, on leaving, the Natives, seeing the straitened circumstances of the crew, refused to accept any reward: indeed, the only stipulation they made was that when the captain came that way again he should pay them a visit. The chief was a man standing 6ft. 6in. high, and the greatest respect and attention was paid by the others to everything he said. A finer example of page 99benevolent purpose we are assured could not have been shown by any class of men. It does indeed cover a multitude of sins arising out of the strained relations which too often characterized early European intercourse with the New-Zealander.

In 1833 the harbour was known as one of seven whaling-stations established on the coast. It was owned and worked by G. and E. Weller, a firm of Sydney merchants. In that year, with four boats, 128 tuns of oil was got. Next year, with eight boats, the produce was 310 tuns, which was the largest amount yielded any year during the continuance of the concern. In 1841 the vield had fallen as low as 10 tuns, the enterprise being thereafter abandoned. During the nine years the station was in existence it earned £14,820 for oil alone. In addition there was the value of the whalebone, of which no account appears to have been kept. The European population averaged from seventy-five to eighty. In 1834 an American ship, the "Columbus," visited the harbour, and during its stay—the length of which is not given—it managed to catch whales equal to 200 tuns of oil. During 1843 nineteen vessels visited the harbour, mostly French, for what purpose is not said.

Rough and rowdy as the whaler of these days undoubtedly was, it is now admitted he exercised an important influence upon the civilisation of the place, so much so that it is a question whether he or the missionary rendered most effective service. One thing seems certain: he was, perhaps all unknown to himself, an important coadjutor in the work. He intermarried with the Native tribes, learned something of their language, and picked up a good deal of valuable information as to their manners and customs. On the other hand, the Maori was not slow in perceiving immense personal advantages on the side of the pakeha, as he named the European, and in that way the presence of a pakeha amongst them began to be reckoned a desideratum. He reconciled the Maori mind to the presence of the stranger pakeha, and so paved the way for the advent of the missionary, and eventually the European settler. It is only right these things should be understood, as we have all along been accustomed to treat the memory of the whaler with reproach.

The whale-station stood in much the same relations to the colony now occupied by the port of call. All communication with the outside world passed through it, and it was the sole port of entry for everything in the shape of in-brought stores. Inland tribes were in the habit of paying periodicals visits, and in that way they were brought to see the white man possessed resources which would be of immense advantage to them if they succeeded in making him their ally.

Shortland, Protector of Aborigines, visited the harbour in January, 1844, and he tells us that the Natives navigating the East Coast were in the habit of going inland to the head of Otakou, and, dragging their canoes across the intervening belt of sand, relaunched them into the ocean, continuing their voyage southward. In following that plan they avoided Cape Saunders, which seems then, as now, to have been a spot dreaded by the mariner.

"Entering the heads and crossing the bar," says a writer in a recent review, "you steam up a fine sheet of water to Port Chalmers—the Leith of this second Edinburgh. The banks run up steep on each side; on the left, the gleaming slopes of sand at the Maori Kaik; on the right, grassy or wooded declivities, where soft greens, even in midsummer, must surely be a delightful refreshment to the eyes of thirsty Australians accustomed to the parched and dusty hills and plains of their own continent. The communication between Port Chalmers and Dunedin is so rapid and constant that the port is practically a suburb of Dunedin. Until lately, all large vessels have had to load and unload at the Port, the freight being conveyed from and to Dunedin by a line of rail, which runs along the north side of the bay. Now, however, that the operations of the Harbour Board have been brought to a certain stage of completion, large vessels can sail or steam up the bay and find a berth alongside the Dunedin Wharf. A great deal yet remains to be done before Dunedin is all that can be desired, or all that is possible as a port of call for large vessels; but to the merchant and shipping interest it is a subject of congratulation that large steamers, like those belonging to the Union Steamship Company, are able to bring their freights of cargo and passengers direct to the city wharf."