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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

A Trip To Taranaki

page 85

A Trip To Taranaki.

Governor Sir George Grey being about to visit Taranaki in H.M.S. "Inflexible," I was kindly offered a passage by my friend Captain Hoseason of that ship. It was, I think, in the summer of 1847 that we steamed out of Wellington Harbour and up the Straits in the teeth of a strong northwester. As night drew on, the wind increased, and I retired to bed at 10 P.M., leaving Sir George Grey and the Captain in the midst of an argument as to the Governor's power as Vice-Admiral. Long afterwards I awoke and heard the argument still going on, and I believe it lasted, with intermissions, for some years. Reaching Taranaki on the following day, I landed and walked out to the house of Mr. J. G. Cooke, some miles from the town. As we returned on the following day to New Plymouth with Mr. Cooke, we found the whole population streaming into town; they were excited, and seemed determined to have a holiday. The Devonshire type was very perceptible in the population. The girls were comely, and the men wellfavoured. We found Sir George Grey seated in page 86"durbar," receiving a large body of Maori chiefs and listening to their grievances. He was in full uniform, and, like all men who successfully manage barbarous races, showed great patience. These interviews lasted for several days, during which time I occupied myself in visiting the surrounding country, including the Parsonage, near the Waiwakaio, Captain King's beautiful farm, and a lovely small lake some miles to the south of the town. The mountain was a source of never-ending interest: rising in a regular and graceful cone to a height nearly three times that of Vesuvius, and its base covered with a luxuriant and brilliant forest, it gives its character to the province of Taranaki.

The climate is mild and delicious and the soil fertile; one can hardly imagine a more desirable country in which to spend one's days; but, as it has turned out, this is a matter for the future. The turbulence of the large Maori population and the constant insecurity have kept the inhabitants in a state of turmoil, more than once nearly wrecked the settlement, and so delayed the development of the great resources of the district, that they are only now beginning to show themselves. The absence of a port is also a serious drawback. Embarking and disembarking all goods through a heavy surf, by means of an expensive establishment of surf boats, causes heavy outlay and great risk of damage. There are two modes of remedying this difficulty. One is by means of a railway to Whanganui, between which and the district, although the page 87distance is great, the carriage of goods would probably be less than shipping by the surf boats; besides, the delays would be avoided, which are so often caused by ships being blown off the coast. The other plan is to contract an artificial harbour of moderate size, sufficient for steamers, against a time when the resources of the colony may be equal for some bolder venture. In the meantime, however, the railway will be made and will open up a magnificent country.

Sir George Grey having finished his business with the Maoris, we got under weigh and proceeded to Nelson, into which snug port we were piloted by the skilful Captain Cross. It seemed to me at the time rather nervous work taking; a vessel of the size of the "Inflexible" into this port, because the man in the chains, or rather on the paddle-box, was calling out less water than the ship drew, which implied that if the keel of the ship had been where the extremity of the paddle-box was, she would have been aground. However, she glided in all safe. The day was lovely, the population turned out in its best, bright eyes and bright skies greeted us. The sail down Blind Bay, or Tasman's Gulf, on a fine day presents magnificent views: mountains to the westward of great height covered with snow, D'Urville's Island, and other land to the eastward broken and picturesque, whilst Nelson lies snug and sheltered from the cold south, basking in the full blaze of sunshine from the north.

Having landed, I procured a horse and rode out page 88to the house of my friend and relation Dr. (now Sir David) Monro at the Waimea. I reached it at dark, and we passed a jolly evening, Monro not having forgotten his guitar and the German airs which he used to sing in his youth. I rode up the Waimea, and visited the houses of Mr. Dillon, Mr. Duppa, and other well-known settlers. The valley is by no means rich; it contains more gravel than anything else; but the gardens were good, and the fruit trees, particularly the peach, were laden with fruit.

We all started for Nelson next day to assist at a dinner to be given to Sir George Grey. The people of Nelson at that time were not rich, and made a patriotic merit of patronising native produce. The city was then celebrated for its beer; for as wine was expensive, but little of it was imported, and the local beer was the usual beverage. Consequently there was difficulty in supplying the viceregal dinner with a sufficient supply of wine. A few dozens of some compound were, however, found to represent sherry, while Mr. Fox, who was then local agent for the New Zealand Company, produced a few bottles of a better quality for the use of the governor and those immediately surrounding him. Notwithstanding these trifling difficulties, the dinner went off very well, and the speaking was as good as is usual on those occasions.

Dinner over, we had to embark. The wind had gone round to the southward, with rain, and the ship had gone outside to the roadstead, so we had a nasty pull off. In the morning, off port Hardy, we page 89met H.M.S. "Calliope." Captain Stanley came on board and gave us the latest news from Wellington. We steamed painfully down the Straits against the south-easter, and as it was too dark to attempt the harbour that night, we had to "lie to;" and endured some hours of heavy rolling. As day broke on the following morning we steamed into Wellington.