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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Across the Straits and Back

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Across the Straits and Back.

One morning we weighed anchor and sailed across the Straits. A nor'wester was blowing, and we found ourselves unable to beat up the entrance of Port Nicholson. We therefore drove into Palliser Bay, where we anchored to our great peril; but on the following day we succeeded in getting into the harbour. Here Wharepouri came on board with a mob of Maoris; unfortunately he fell in with some rum, got drunk and noisy, and even dangerous, flourishing his tomahawk, and going on like a maniac; and it was only after great difficulty we cleared the vessel of him and his mob. By this time I found several of my fellow-passengers in the "Success" established about Thorndon Flat. Mr. Tod had put up a store somewhere about Pipitea Point, and Dr. Taylor and Mr. Rea had a house on the rise of the hill above Tiakiwai. We took on board what stores and supplies we required, and again set sail, intending to go to "Wakatu," the Maori name for Nelson.

We had by this time found out that the "Harriett" was a regular tub, making nearly as page 36much leeway as headway. As we could not weather Wellington Head, we bore up for Tory Channel, but here again we were baulked and driven to leeward of the entrance. However, we anchored for the night, which was fine, and next morning, taking advantage of a tow from a whale-boat and of a favourable tide, we got at last into Teawaiti Bay. After the Maoris had replenished their stock of potatoes, we sailed through the Sound, passing out of the north entrance, and proceeded to a bay on the east side of D'Urville's Island, where there was a large settlement of Ngatiraukawa, I think, under a chief called Te Whenu.

On approaching the anchorage E. Tupe became somewhat anxious as to his reception, as the natives here were friends of Te Rauparaha, with whom Ngatiawa had so lately been fighting. He begged to have the muskets kept in readiness. Though I did not much fancy the idea of a free fight upon the deck of the "Harriett," I had the muskets ready all the same, but of course out of sight. About dusk Te Whenu came on board with some followers. E. Tupe and his mob were squatted on deck with their mats and blankets around them. Te Whenu seemed to look upon the visit as an unexpected pleasure. He behaved with due gravity, advanced to E. Tupe, rubbed noses and then squatted opposite. A "tangi" commenced, which lasted for an hour or two; then food was eaten and speeches made, and the festivities were continued to a late hour. On the following day a page 37return feed of a ceremonious character was given on shore. After landing and strolling about, enjoying the picturesqueness of the scene, we weighed again and proceeded to the westward, round Stephen's Island, as it happened, under a fresh breeze. I had gone below soon after starting, when suddenly I heard a crash, and rushing on deck found that the mast had gone by the board. The chain-plates being thoroughly corroded had given way, and the unsupported mast had snapped like a carrot. After some time we succeeded in clearing away the wreck and rigging a jury mast, with which we managed to return to our former anchorage.

Here we selected and cut a spar for a new mast, and rigged it up as well as we could with the means at our disposal. It was evident, however, that we could not further prosecute our voyage in the "Harriett," and I wished from the bottom of my heart to see her safely anchored again at Teawaiti. But before retracing our course I resolved to explore farther west in the small boat. For this purpose we sailed to Admiralty Bay, where we found excellent anchorage and a plentiful supply of fish. During the evening we were surprised by the sound of oars. A boat came alongside, and a Scotch captain stepped on board. He informed me that he had been exploring New Zealand, and he had come to the conclusion that it was all a mass of precipitous hills, without any land available for cultivation. His last excursion had been up the Pelorus Sound. I forget the skipper's name, page 38but I think it was Bissett, and he appeared to be an Aberdonian. After an hour's conversation he returned to his ship.

We started in the small boat for the French Pass. It was a very small boat with only two oars. The French Pass was a curiosity then, although now it is traversed regularly by steamers. It is a narrow channel between D'Urville's Island and the mainland, so narrow that at certain turns of the tide the rush becomes a waterfall. It is passed easily enough at or near slack water. All hands, except two, were landed from the small boat, and she made a rush at the pass with a favouring tide. She rapidly shot through, and being caught by an eddy swept round to the south, when she pulled in and we re-embarked. We proceeded onwards to a bay on the mainland, of which I forget the name. Here the weather threatening to change, we hauled up the boat and took possession of a Maori hut near the shore, which literally swarmed with fleas. Means were taken to reduce their number, but notwithstanding our efforts, our success was small, for the sufferings I, for one, endured in it were such as I shall always remember. During the night a southerly wind set in with heavy rain, and we were detained for three or four days.

It had become evident that our boat was too small to be safe to proceed in further west; so after the rain was over we returned to the "Harriett;" and we made it our first endeavour to get the old tub safely back to Queen Charlotte's page 39Sound. Accordingly we sailed early one morning with a fine north-west breeze, and fully expected to clear Jackson's Head and get safely inside the Sound. However, just as we got near the head it became evident that we could not clear it, and we were obliged to run down a short distance to leeward, and anchor. Here, as our situation was precarious if it came on to blow hard, I was landed to procure assistance in company with a Maori guide. We ascended a hill of so steep a character that it was like going up a ladder, for it required the use of both hands and feet. Arrived at the summit, we looked down on Queen Charlotte's Sound, and descended to the Bay of Anahou, where I found I should have to go as far as Teawaiti for help. The Maori procured a small canoe, in which we paddled to a bay on the island of Arapaoa, from which I walked to Teawaiti and sent off assistance at once. The "Harriett" was now towed into the Sound and anchored safely again at Teawaiti, from which place it is to be hoped she never ventured forth again to pass the smooth waters of that inland sea.

I now found myself the denizen of a whaling station for a longer time than I had any fancy for. I was obliged to remain for about a week at Teawaiti, and the time passed in an irksome manner. As this station was so repulsive to me, I wandered about the hills during the day, and passed my evenings and nights in Mr. Elmslie's house. The population were generally more or less drunk, the page 40smell of arrack throughout the village was unbear-able, and rows and fights were of constant occurrence. Toms kept as good order as in the circumstances could be expected; but it was his business to make as much profit as he could out of his rum, so that it was not his interest to enforce sobriety. His object always was to keep the "hands" well in his debt, so that at the end of the whaling season there was little to pay in cash.

There was a very good story afterwards told about Toms. A Wellington merchant asked him how he managed to make a cask of rum go so far. "Why," said Toms, "when I takes out a glass of rum, I puts in a glass of water; when it gets too strong of water, I puts in turps, and when it gets too strong of the turps, I puts in bluestone."

At length a crew was ready to go over to Port Nicholson in a whale boat. It being the season of nor'westers, which blow hardest in the middle of the day, we pulled in the evening outside Tory Channel and hauled the boat up in a bay to the northward, where we camped, ready to make a start very early in the morning.

The next day broke calm and fine, and we got well over before the nor'wester began; but at last we saw the "white horses" and the flying clouds, and before we landed on the North Island, which we did after dark, we had a long and stiff pull for it. I worked the steer oar and was very glad when the job was over, for it is not altogether safe passing the tide rips of the Straits in an open boat.

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We landed somewhere about Island Bay, hauled the boat up, gathered some fern and other plants for bedding, cooked our food and retired to rest. On the following day the nor'wester had increased, so that we had great difficulty in pulling into the harbour. I landed I think about the present pilot station, and walked into the place where Wellington now stands.