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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 9.—Queenstown

Note 9.—Queenstown.

An early visitor states that the buildings at the Home station where Queenstown now stands were represented by a futter and a long narrow hut of three rooms, a kitchen, with a small bedroom, and a large room with bunks built like the 'tween-decks of an emigrant ship. The resident population consisted of three men and one woman, who, among other duties, were employed making a vegetable-garden and planting potatoes. The futter was erected on posts, round which sheets of tin were nailed so as to prevent rats climbing up and getting in amongst the stores.

The second or Golden Period affords more graphic history, and reads in many respects like a fairy tale. Without exaggeration, or invocation in the name of the prophet, we behold a wilderness of water, a waste in territorial estate, suddenly quickened into life and activity as if a flash from the fire of Aladdin's wonderful lamp had illuminated these dark places of the earth. When the genie of this magic lamp first appeared to the bewildered gaze of the feckless lad into whose hands its treasure-trove had fallen the astonishment could not have been greater than when the tenants of the futter opened their eyes to the fact of a multitude — variously estimated at 15,000 and 26,000—having congregated around. And then, day by day, as the motley gathering spoke its wonderful experiences, only a very few of which, we may fairly conclude, have been kept in remembrance, the supernatural agencies of the lamp must have been forced home to their minds in the light of a reality. At a distance less than ten miles from the futter, on the site of what is now the Shotover Bridge, long dreaded as the Shotover crossing, one party averaged 24oz. of gold per day from the beach-workings, and numbers admitted having made from 3oz. to 4oz. on beaches conterminous thereto. A dishful of débris at Skipper's panned off 80oz. With the rudest possible appliances half an ounce was estimated a poor day's work. A disputed piece of ground 6ft. long by 5ft. broad had a give-or-take valuation put upon it of £3,000. Fifty parties, engaged diverting the waters of an adjoining creek so as to get at the bed-rock, expended £15,000 in three months. In three days 176oz. were taken out of one claim on the Arrow Flat. Six tin dishfuls, washed consecutively, gave a total of 72oz. Six miners obtained 700oz. in six weeks, and another party of four realised 400oz. in eight weeks. Every stream running into the lake proved highly auriferous, and from the beds of some large fortunes were taken. A Swede with £2,500, two Welshmen with £3,000, a Yankee with £3,500, and an Englishman with a similar sum, left Skipper's Point after a few weeks' work. These men were all known to have been in impecunious circumstances when they arrived, and but for that fact their good fortunes would have attracted no particular notice. These and many other facts of a similar nature gave Wakatipu the name of the richest and most extensive diggings in the world.

Amidst these surroundings the futter, better known as the woolshed, started on the path to civic life. Its first move was characteristic of a desire to share in the spoil rather than provide for the legitimate wants of the populace. Hotels, or rather publichouse bars, sprang up on every side. There were two if not three theatres, besides goldfields dance-rooms in galore. One theatre became a most extensive establishment, with eight or ten liquor-bars, besides a huge bar-entrance. It did a roaring trade; and by way of keeping things going without interruption a reverend gentleman—parson Paul—with a number of aliases to his name, occupied the boards on Sundays. Paul was an ecclesiastical compound that defied competition. He had three or more diets per day. At the one he employed the Book of Common Prayer, at the other he chanted the sacrifice of the Mass, and then, by way of completing the national alliance, had recourse to the Psalms of David in metre. No provision for the spiritual wants of a mixed community could have been more complete. With ten or twelve liquor-bars in front of him, Paul was not expected to enforce strict temperance principles, either by precept or example. No matter how slip-shod Paul may have been, it was a fact he always managed to get through the services with a certain amount of decorum. When the place settled down, business quietened, and eventually the establishment was broken up. Its stage-fittings and painted boardings got page 110distributed over the district, and for years there was hardly a building within miles of Queens town, but sported in its get-up some fragment of dramaturgy.

Queenstown of to-day is one of the most staid respectable towns in the Australian Colonies. No sooner did its goldfields trade slacken than it cultivated a profitable timber trade. That trade was established by a party of diggers—Messrs. J. W. Robertson and Company—who by dint of thrift and good judgment rose to be leading merchants. They built a large steamer—the "Antrim"—erected extensive sawmills, jetties, &c., so that the enterprise was conducted on a sound basis of commercial pursuit. Prior to the "Antrim," a small steamer named the "Nugget," originally an Otago harbour-boat, was carted up from Dunedin by bullock teams. That was the first steam craft that plied on the Wakatipu. It was owned by a company of three, of whom Mr. H. A. Gordon, Inspecting Engineer, New Zealand, was managing partner. It did not prove successful, and was shortly afterwards withdrawn from the trade. A second steamer, named the "Wakatipu," was put on. She was built on the lake, at Pigeon Island, but as a speculation proved still more unfortunate than the "Nugget." Before doing almost anything in the shape of business she sank at her moorings in Queenstown Harbour. The "Antrim" came next on the scene. Unlike her predecessors, she did a profitable trade—in fact, carried on for years the entire traffic. Now, however, a well-appointed steam fleet owned by the Wakatipu Steam Shipping Company has been established, in whose vessels both elegance and speed are combined.

It may be well to record here that the first boat actually built on the lake was built by one Green (see Note 8) to the order of Mr. Rees. There is reason to assume that prior to this Mr. Rees had a whaleboat, although it was not built on the spot. It is believed to have made its way by Southland to the Wakatipu. That was undoubtedly the first boat on the lake; but, on the other hand, it is equally undoubted the first boat built on the lake was the one made by Green. Mr. Rees himself reached the Wakatipu by the Waitaki country. He was accompanied by the well-known New Zealand explorer, Von Haast. They got to the lake over the Crown Range, Cardrona, arriving at the lower end of what is now called Frankton branch. To facilitate their movements they constructed mokihis, on which they paddled along the beach as far as Bob's Cove. The mokihi was merely a bundle of sticks, astride of which the voyageur sat, as if seated on the back of a horse, with his legs hanging down into the water. Propulsion was given by a piece of wood "paddled" first on one side and again on the other. As a modus operandi it must have been quite as primitive and even more exciting than the wooden-horse race so popular in the aquatic sports of our own day.

As a tourists' resort, Queenstown is now cultivating a large steadily-increasing traffic. It is centrally situated for all the great sights of the southern lakes, and, as such, thousands from all parts of the world annually flock to it.