Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran
Birth and parentage—Ferozeshah—Luhoogaut—Natural beauties—We leave India for New Zealand—My first duel—Paingatotara—Farm work—Maraekakaho—Gold digging—I become an officer in the Colonial Defence Force.
My name is Frederick John William Gascoyne. I was born at Cawnpore in 1837, my father being Major Charles Manners Gascoyne of the 5th Bengal Light Cavalry, whose uniform, I remember, was light blue and silver braid with scarlet cuffs and scarlet and white feathers. He served throughout the first and second Sutlej campaigns, and was present at the four battles of Moodkee, Aliwal, Sobraon, and Ferozeshah. My mother's maiden name was Campbell; she belonged to the family of Dunstaffnage, being first cousin to Sir John Campbell of Ardnamurchan.
One of my earliest recollections is that of hearing the thunder of the guns at the battle of Ferozeshah, and feeling the ground shaking with the shock of the concussions, while the women of the regiments engaged (including my mother) watched such transport as they had been able to collect in Ludiana. They waited in great anxiety for news from the battlefield, knowing that if the greatly out-numbered British army lost the battle, the only hope for the white women and children lay in being able to escape from the cantonments before the enemy's cavalry, bent on bloodshed and loot, reached them.
Conflicting reports of the progress of the battle were shouted by the excited natives, and many armed and mounted ruffians page 4 were galloping about trying to cause a general panic that would leave them free to plunder.
Our carriage was ready and the horses were held by the syces, when an armed man swaggered into the compound and ordered them to unharness the horses as they were “required by authority.” I was standing under the wide verandah, and of course understood the native language better than I did English. I had my Uncle Archie's sword (about two-thirds as long as myself) unsheathed in my hand, and holding it like a bayonet at the charge, rushed at the badmash. He jumped aside to avoid my thrust; but as I at once began to slash viciously at his naked legs, he bolted back to the gate of the compound, yelling threats and abuse in the vernacular.
Meanwhile my mother and sisters, our governess and a couple of ayahs, sat much frightened in a room with such variables as they could carry in their hands, ready for instant flight. At length, as night was falling, reliable news came that the remnant of the Sikh army had re-crossed the Sutlej, and a troop of our cavalry had arrived to take charge of the cantonment.
I date my determination to be a soldier this incident. When some years afterwards, on our journey down the Ganges, en route for New Zealand, Mr. McNaughton offered me a commission in the cavalry, and my father urged me to refuse it (as he wanted me to be a farmer with him in the colony which he had chosen as his future home), I was much disappointed. It took all the charm of a new country and new hopes to reconcile me to the change of career.
About the year 1850 we left Meerut on long furlough, and settled at a hill station in the Kumaon district named Luhooghaut. We spent three years there among the foothills of the Himalayas, where my father was half inclined to start a tea plantation, as the district was page 5 suitable for the industry. Here we had a charming home and a perfect climate, and I had the joy of owning my first gun and of shooting at a bear, under the wing of Captain John Lockett, a great shikarri, who had started a tea plantation at Raikot.
My recollections of Lohooghaut include many pleasant and exciting incidents. Once a big tiger paid us a call and left his spoor all over the garden. On another occasion I saw a python sneaking across the garden and the alarmed servants killed it. I remember also a severe earthquake that cracked one side of our house. One day two of our kitmagars quarrelled. One, snatching a tulwar hanging on the wall of their room, struck a blow at the other, who, throwing up his arms in defence, received the cut on his wrists and had the flesh of both forearms sliced clean from wrist to elbow. Hearing an outcry, I ran towards the servants' quarters and met the wounded man coming for help. He had about ten inches of blood-spouting flesh hanging from each elbow. Fortunately a doctor was available, who patched up Panchkauri so successfully that in three months he could use his arms fairly well for such work as washing plates and helping the cook.
On several occasions my father had to doctor villagers badly wounded by a bear or a leopard; and once our letter carrier was killed by a tiger when bringing the mail from Petoraghur.
Our surroundings here were very beautiful. Oak and rhododendron forest covered the upper parts of the hills, and when in blossom the bright scarlet of the rhododendrons was well set off by the green of the oaks. In the valleys the tall and graceful deodar was the chief timber tree. Wild violets, of a lighter blue than the garden sort, were plentiful; and so were bushes bearing very large yellow raspberries. While on the subject of the beauties of Luhooghaut, I must mention our long avenue of apricot trees, the trunks of which averaged page 6 from 15 to 18 inches in diameter. The fruit of these, though not so large as those of some of the orchard varieties, was well flavoured and of a deep yellow when ripe. When the yearly crop dropped off the trees, the ground was covered three or four inches deep with the fallen fruit. We had also an avenue of horse-chestnuts which was a beautiful sight when the trees, covered with big sprays of pink and white blossoms, were in flower.
About 1852 my father decided to go to New Zealand, and on our ponies and in dhandies we marched to the foot of the hills, and from there the elephants of the Commissioner Sahib took us to Allahabad. There we boarded budgerows for the long voyage down the Ganges to Calcutta, and eventually took passage on the Marlborough, Captain Young, a sailing ship of 1,600 tons, bound for Melbourne. She had a crew of about a hundred lascars, but with the exception of the native tindals, the petty officers and midshipmen were Europeans.
On the voyage I successfully fought my first duel. My antagonist was a midshipman named Quirll; our weapons were two of the captain's swords that had been taken forward to be cleaned. The condition was that the first man wounded should be declared vanquished. Some of the troopers of our regiment had given me lessons in swordsmanship, and I was easily able to lock my opponent's blade and slightly wound his sword-hand. We managed to keep the affair secret, only the sailmaker and two of the other middies being witnesses of the encounter.
We reached Williamstown, the port of Melbourne, in the height of the gold fever, and the diggings seemed to be the only topic of interest. Here my father was fortunate in meeting Mr. John Tinline from New Zealand, who was about to return to Nelson by the barque Belle Creole of 300 tons. She was sailing in three weeks, and by Mr. page 7 Tinline's advice we secured passages in her to Nelson, where we landed. We then crossed Blind Bay to Motueka, and lived for six months in a house at Moutere that belonged to a Mr. Dashwood, awaiting the completion of a dwelling on a very pretty property, known as the Paingatotara valley, on the right bank of the Motueka River, which my father had purchased.
From the time we took possession of our new home I had plenty of hard work in assisting to fence, plough and crop the land. I became fairly expert at farm work in a couple of years; learning to milk cows, drive a bullock team, split and erect fencing, to reap, thresh, sow and mow, and use an axe. My brother Charles helped me as much as his strength would allow. He was only eight years of age when we started farm life, but at twelve he could do as much work as an average man, and was particularly expert with an axe.
About 1855 we experienced the most severe earthquake that I can ever remember. It pushed up the town of Wellington eight or nine feet above the then level, and caused much damage to buildings and some loss of life.
Shortly after this earthquake I left home to find my way to Hawkes Bay in the North Island, where the late Sir Donald McLean had a sheep run. Sir Donald was a cousin of my mother's, and I wished to be employed on the run as a cadet in order to learn something about sheep-farming. I crossed the strait to Wellington and stayed for a week or ten days with Mr. Strang (Sir Donald's father-in-law), and then decided to walk up the east coast to Hawkes Bay, a distance of over two hundred miles. The journey took me a fortnight, as I was compelled to rest for two or three days at Akatio, much walking on soft sand along the beach having blistered my feet. I had to sleep out twice on the track because it was necessary to wait for low tide to cross some page 8 of the rivers; but I usually reached an out-station or a shepherd's whare before dark, and was always welcome to a meal and the loan of an empty wool-pack to spread on the earthen floor by way of bed, with my plaid and small swag for pillow and covering.
When I reached Clive I met Mr. Alec McLean, Sir Donald's brother and the manager of his station, who lent me a horse and rode up to Maraekakaho with me. We became great friends and I worked on the station for three years, breaking in horses and draught bullocks, ploughing and shearing, carting wool and fencing timber, until a change in the management made me want a holiday, and I returned to Nelson to spend nine months in a saw-mill belonging to my brother-in-law, John Greenwood.
From there I went to the Wairau to assist Jim Hodson to drive a huge mob of cattle down to the Otago district, a job that occupied several months and made me acquainted with a considerable portion of the east side of the Middle Island, including some of the Lake country.
Then, with my cousin, Fred Gascoyne, I put in a couple of years gold digging about Collingwood and the Upper Motueka River. The work was hard and usually very wet, and though we got some gold, it was not enough to pay for the hard work and incidental exposure. On a stormy night of the midwinter of 1863, just after a heavy flood in the Baton River had destroyed our dam and swept away most of our sluice boxes, together with all the gold of six days' sluicing in them, Fred and I were discussing our bad luck, when a neighbouring digger called in to hand me an official letter, offering me a lieutenant's commission in the newly-raised Colonial Defence Force.
In consideration of the discouraging state of our gold-digging interests, I decided to accept the commission, and to report myself as page 9 soon as possible at the squadron's headquarters in Hawkes Bay. Fred at the same time made up his mind to join the recently raised 3rd Regiment of Waikato Militia, in which he was offered an ensigncy.