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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 29.—Southland

Note 29.—Southland.

When the New Provinces Act was passed in August, 1858 (see Note 1), steps were taken to cause the district south of the Mataura River to be proclaimed a new province; but it was not till the 31st March, 1861, this was accomplished. The first sitting of the first session of the Provincial Council of Southland was held on the 3rd August, 1861, and the Hon. Dr. Menzies, M.L.C., was elected the first Superintendent.

Before the railway was made between Invercargill and Bluff, the exports and imports of Southland passed through the New River Harbour, and in 1863 it was no uncommon sight to see twenty to fifty vessels of 600 and 700 tons capacity lying at anchor at the Lower and Upper Pools, as the two chief anchorages are named, or alongside the jetty at Invercargill. The ill-fated steamship "City of Dunedin," lost in Cook Strait on the 20th May, 1865, had been an occasional visitor to Invercargill.

The New River Harbour at high water shows such a magnificent expanse of seaway that the desire of the citizens to have the intercolonial vessels discharging directly at the western end of Invercargill is, we are told, not a mere visionary aspiration, but one that will no doubt be accomplished sooner or later. Sir John Coode and Mr. J. T. Thomson, C.E., both expressed the opinion that it was possible to deepen the channel at the heads to a depth of 20ft. at low-water spring tides at a moderate cost: the latter said for £65,000, and this because the bar is inside the entrance of the harbour, and can be improved at a low cost by training-walls built of stone, brought from the hill across the harbour by endless wire-ropes.

In the matter of education Southland of to-day stands out a striking contrast to Southland of the past, and brings out in bold relief the progress achieved by this flourishing district. In a report made by the Inspector of Schools for the year 1862-63 it is stated: The educational history of Southland for the past year has been one of much progress; twelve months previously there was only one school in the province, and now there are six, with an ordinary attendance of 165. These schools were located in Invercargill, South Riverton, Riverton, Waianiwa, and Longbush. In next report (1863-64) reference is made to the further progress, Invercargill school then having seventy pupils on its roll. A girls' school had also been established, with an attendance of twenty-one, the limit of capacity of the schoolroom. The attendance at the River ton school was thirty-one, Mr. Tarlton, the Inspector, adding that, Riverton being an old settled district, the children were more numerous, and that it would be page 135seen that there were in all eight schools in the province, with an average attendance of 219. Then, again, from a subsequent report we learn the Education Board's grant was £50 per annum, the teacher receiving school fees, and the Board expresses a hope local Committees would not fail to guarantee that the fees would equal that amount. Further, it is "humbly hoped" the establishment of a central school at Invercargill would provide for uncertificated applicants qualifying themselves for appointments. Against these modest facts and figures, the educational programme of to-day gives Southland 115 schools, with an average attendance of 8,580. Exclusive of its suburbs, the attendance at Invercargill alone amounts to 2,800, not reckoning attendances at two Roman Catholic schools and seven fairly well attended private schools. In the matter of higher education the district has been provided with a girls' and a boys' high schools. The latter, although recently established, has, we are assured, produced students quite able to hold their own in examination with competitors for university degrees and scholarships. Further, we are told, churches of all denominations bear reasonable proportion to the population, the premier position being occupied by the Presbyterian body, whose first pastors, the Rev. Alexander Bethune (1857) and A. H. Stobo (1860), are still resident in Southland. The Rev. W. P. Tanner (1861), the first incumbent of St. John's Anglican Church, died in 1882. The First Presbyterian, St. John's Presbyterian, St. John's Anglican, the Catholic, the Wesleyan, and Primitive Methodist churches are all handsome buildings, excedingly creditable to a town that thirty years ago was the primæval wilderness. Southland area, for which Invercargill, Bluff Harbour, and the seaport town of Riverton are natural outlets, extends to over eight million acres, of which about six hundred thousand have been cultivated, and includes forests in the hands of the Crown of vast extent and immense value. Some of the bush areas, within a radius of thirty miles of Invercargill, supplied the sawmiller last year with 31,313,000ft. of timber, and in estimating the limits of the trade there falls to be added a large but unascertained quantity cut on private freeholds. This industry, carried on with great spirit and enterprise, may be said to have been a mainstay of the working-man in Southland for many years past, and continues to be of the greatest promise for the future.