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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 21.—Rev. Dr. Burns

Note 21.—Rev. Dr. Burns.

The names of two men notable for their primogeniture were present, and took part, in the foundation of the Otago settlement. The one was William Cargill, to whose ancestral virtues allusion is made in Note 27 of this series. The story of the other is briefly as follows: One cold, boisterous, Old-World winter's day in the month of January, 1759, a peasant lad was ushered into existence, with no shelter overhead but that afforded by a rude clay cabin. Poor and inadequate as the provision was, it did not serve the purpose long. One blast more treacherous than the others carried away the roof, leaving the unfortunate child and its parent exposed to the ruthless storm. Life in the peasant Scot and their offspring—for such their nationality was—does not readily succumb to the inclemency of the weather, and accordingly the little stranger and his mother survived the mishap. In his progress towards man's estate the lad evinced aptitudes, but these afforded no clue to his after-achievements. Socially speaking he was a perfect admixture. One moment he was sad and pensive, the next gay, giddy, and boisterous. In this the child was father to the man, a prefiguration of that versatile talent which breathed forth the plaintive melody, "Man was made to mourn," and anon piped the bacchanalian chant, "Robin was a roving boy; ranting roving Robin." Morally, too, he was a natural phenomenon—a perfect puzzle. We instinctively recoil from the man who vauntingly subscribes himself "The ranting dog, the daddy o't;" and then, again, our just resentments are softened and sanctified in the music of that heavenly charm,—

…. Mary, dear departed shade,
Where is thy place of blissful rest?
See'st thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hearest thou the groans that rend his breast?

Robert Burns, the immortal bard, is the man referred to, and it maybe added, no destiny so amplified could be made to apply to one less gifted. Thomas Burns, mentioned in the body of the narrative as the Rev. Dr. Burns, was nephew to the poet, and he, together with William Cargill, represented the two names referred to—the one was the Moses, the other the Aaron, of Otago.

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Captain Cargill reached New Zealand in the ship "John Wickliffe." He was appointed Otago agent for the New Zealand Company, and a Magistrate of the colony. He was elected first Superintendent of the province, and was otherwise intimately associated with the affairs of the infant settlement. His coadjutor—Dr. Burns—reached Otago in the ship "Philip Laing," both vessels arriving within a few days of each other. The "Philip Laing" sailed out of the Clyde, and I quote from the Greenock Advertiser of the day, which, after mentioning the relationship to the poet, goes on to say, "This connection can scarcely fail to form a constant and a pleasant tie between the new settlement and the land to which one section of its population cannot fail to look back with feelings of affectionate interest. We have no doubt the Rev. Mr. Burns will be found not only an able and wise instructor, but a judicious adviser, and a friend, the energy of whose character and example will render his counsels doubly welcome." Dr. Burns fully justified the forecast. He was a most sagacious, far-seeing man, a real statesman, and one whose influence in giving form and stability to the institutions of Otago was paramount in the earlier years of the settlement. A monument is now being erected in the Octagon, Dunedin, in honour of his memory.