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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

First Settlement at Wellington

page 42

First Settlement at Wellington.

When I arrived, I found Colonel Wakefield and Mr. Hanson (late Chief Justice of South Australia) discussing matters under the shelter of a break-wind. Some of the emigrant ships had arrived and were anchored near Somes' Island. The surveyors, under Captain Smith, were busy laying out a township at Pitone, and in the meantime the new settlers were putting up shanties of all kinds on the Pitone beach. I proceeded to the scene of these operations, and as there were no hotels or lodging-houses, I got Tom Wilson to contract with some Maoris of Te Mamuku's tribe to put me up a bark hut, which they did in a very short time.

It was most interesting to watch the arrival of the emigrant ships and the landing of the settlers on the beach. Some persons had brought out Manning's wooden houses, which were quickly erected; others dwelt in tents; and others again contracted with the Maoris to run up houses, generally of wattle and daub, the wall being constructed of kareau, daubed with clay, and the roof page 43of sheets of bark. The Maoris were astonished and excited, and the wonder is that they did not take the opportunity of killing and eating all the settlers up. Had Te Rauparaha, or some other of his class, been the head of the tribe at Pitone, that consummation might probably have happened; and the security of the settlers was most likely due to the fact that the good and peaceable Te Puni was at the time chief of Ngatiawa.

Among first arrivals were Francis Molesworth, brother of the late Sir William Molesworth, a young man of rare promise and energy, and a general favourite; Mr. Dudley Sinclair, a former naval friend of mine; Mr. Walter Mantell, whose services to the cause of science have been such, that we have only to regret they have not been greater; Mr. Alfred de Bathe Brandon, who for so long a time conducted the chief legal business of the settlement, and is still a venerable member of the House of Representatives for the Wellington country district; Mr. George Duppa, long since retired upon a large fortune; Dr. Evans and his family; Mr. Robert Park, brother of the well-known sculptor; Patrick Park, afterwards chief surveyor of the Wellington Province; the Hon. Henry Petre, a bold rider and a skilful breeder of horses; others I might mention, but the above will suffice. Many have passed from the scene, but others are in full heart and vigour, and likely to live for a long time to come.

Various alarms took place. On one occasion a boat landing at night returned to one of the vessels, page 44and the crew reported that the Maoris were about to massacre them. A great excitement arose among the squadron of ships, which could not be allayed until Colonel Wakefield was appealed to. He, with the coolness which characterised him, after inquiring into the case, told the people that they were a pack of frightened geese and that they must go to bed. The panic, if I remember right, arose from some Maoris rushing into the surf to help the boat on to the beach.

A serious matter did happen, however. An old chief called Puakawa had gone to dig in his garden (about the Waiwetu), where he shortly afterwards was found with his head sundered from his body. On investigation, traces of Ngatikahungunu from the Wairarapa were discovered. There was great howling and excitement, and a tremendous tangi and discussion as to what was to be done. Shortly afterwards a taua (war party) proceeded to the Wairarapa to exact revenge, and it was absent for some weeks. On its return valiant deeds of arms were recounted, but whether true or false, I cannot say.

The alluvial land on the banks of the Hutt was at this time covered by a dense forest, many of the trees being of gigantic size. Boats could ascend the river to the locality of the present bridge, and the sight of the foliage on the banks at this point, with the white clematis hanging in graceful folds from the lofty branches, was superb. The river being much narrower than it is now, while the valley was under forest, the flood waters page 45would necessarily be held back, and the scour and rush of gravel and sand that has since contributed to widen it did not then prevail to nearly the same extent. When the surveyors under Captain Mein Smith were busy surveying the chief township at Pitone beach, much dissatisfaction arose in connection with the situation. It was perceived that the proper site for the city was where Wellington now stands, and rumours were afloat that holders of the earlier choices were ready to take up this site as country land and then cut it up into a township. A heavy flood in the Hutt river occurring at this time added force to the opposition, as it was seen that the proposed township at Pitone would be liable to frequent submergence. Colonel Wakefield, however, was a man not easily turned from his purpose, and as he had decided to place the chief town at Pitone, nothing would move him, until the arrival of Dr. Evans, who immediately took up the cause of the opposition. He called a public meeting, which he addressed in his well-known stentorian tones, and worked up public feeling to such an extent that Colonel Wakefield was forced to give way. The survey at Pitone was abandoned, and the surveyors transferred to what was then called Thorndon, now Wellington.

Now came the task of transferring families with their goods and chattels from Pitone to Thorndon. There was no road, the sea washed up to the foot of the hills, and the forest overhung the waters of the harbour. Foot passengers could hardly pass page 46along dry except at low water, and there were the Ngahauranga and Kaiwharawhara streams to ford, over which, however, those who wished to keep dry could be carried by Maoris at a charge of sixpence each. These streams were then much larger than they are now; for since the destruction of the forest the rain runs off with great rapidity, and the average volume of the water has shrunk to a fraction of what it was. The valleys of these streams were then also extremely picturesque with their Maori villages and small cultivations cut out of the forest, though as much cannot be said for them now. The chief mode of transit therefore was by boat, generally whale boats, and many a hard pull I had between the two places, for we assisted each other in manning the boats.

The survey of the town commenced, and then began troubles and delays. At one time the Maoris, at another some of the white men also, put in prior claims, and there arose disputes which were not settled for years, and that not without the intervention of governors and commissioners. In spite of these drawbacks the surveys got on after a fashion, and the selections were made.

About this time an affair occurred which materially affected the political situation. As the British Government had declined to take possession of New Zealand, or even recognise the settlements of the New Zealand Company, it was necessary that the settlers should adopt some means for protection of life and property. A voluntary agreement, there-page 47fore, was come to in England by the emigrants, and a council appointed and despatched with powers to acquire the necessary authority from the Maori chiefs or "kings" of the district. A carefully drawn-up legal document having been duly signed and sealed, at least I suppose so, the council then proceeded to appoint a magistrate, and selected for this office Major Baker, late of the British Legion in Spain. Soon afterwards a barque arrived in port commanded by one Captain Pearson, and some dispute having arisen between him and the charterer of the ship, he was summoned to appear before the magistrate. The captain having treated the summons with contempt, the magistrate ordered the issue of a warrant for his arrest, and he was in consequence apprehended. I happened to pass by at the time and well remember the anger of the unfortunate captain.

The result was that he was committed, on what charge I do not remember, when the question arose where he was to be incarcerated. It was decided that he was to be sent for safe custody on board the New Zealand Company's ship "Tory," and there accordingly he was sent. Captain Chaffers of the "Tory" was naturally not a little puzzled how to act. He was master of an English ship, and a prisoner was sent to his charge at the instance of an authority who had no jurisdiction over him. Of course, under any circumstances, he was not a gaoler. The question was soon solved, however. Captain Pearson's boat came alongside, into which page 48he quickly got and made off to his own ship; he then got under weigh and sailed for the Bay of Islands to report the affair to Governor Hobson. This produced exactly the result which was desired, viz., the establishment of British sovereignty. Governor Hobson was irate, instantly ordered his colonial secretary, Lieutenant Shortland, R.N., to proceed to Wellington with Captain Smart of the mounted police force, to hoist the British flag and assume authority. Messrs. Shortland and Smart arrived, landed some troopers, and proceeded to haul down some New Zealand flags hoisted in front of the public buildings. The British flag was run up instead, and a police magistrate installed. I was not in Wellington at the time, having gone to Sydney, but on my return I found that we were under an established government.

It is absurd to laugh, however, at the proceedings of the first council at Wellington. If the British Government had persisted in refusing to take possession of New Zealand, the council must have constituted itself the nucleus of an independent government, which would probably have developed into a republic; otherwise, either the enterprise of colonisation must have been abandoned, or what is more probable, the islands would have fallen into the possession of France, and a political blunder of the gravest and most disastrous kind have been committed.