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The Pigeons’ Parliament; a Poem of the Year 1845. In Four Cantos, With Notes. To which is added, Thoughts on the Wairarapa and other Stanzas

Canto I

“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 75.

Canto I.

(1, p. 4.)

Before my cottage, to the right,
There stands a pine of mod’rate height,
Which long has stood the stormy blast,
Not like itsneighb’ring rata cast, &c.

To give the reader, who may be unacquainted with New Zealand bush life, some idea of the scene, allow me to remark, that my cottage, like many others of a like nature, was one of no very imposing appearance. It was built partly of slabs and partly necho leaves,* and, though no way air-tight, yet the surrounding lofty bush sheltered it from the uncomfortable winds which often prevail here, and being water-tight over head by a good thick cover of necho leaves, it served as a good shelter in the rough mode of beginning a bush life. This shelter was about 12 ft. by 14 ft., the ridge of the roof about 10 ft. high, having the door and one small window, about 15 inches square, in the gable end looking toward the west. To the right of the cottage, and about five or page 76“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 76. six paces forward from the door, stood the pine referred to, so that about twelve o’clock the shadow of the tree completely covered the house; this served as a sort of hour-guage. A pig-sty, to which reference is made elsewhere, stood against the root of the pine-tree. Immediately behind my cottage, as if a line drawn from the pine-tree passing through the cottage from the right corner looking west to the right corner looking east, at one time stood a large rata-tree, but had been for some time laid low, lying along eastward, while its roots, carrying with them the clay in which they were enveloped, stood up like a clay wall about fifteen feet high. This is the rata referred to as tossing up its heels. Many, as they passed by, sometimes jokingly remarked of the root,—“See, there’s a good side-wall of a house; I wonder why you did not build your house there.” Such was the scene of the Poem.

(2, p. 5.)

If thou shouldst, I vow
You’ll render mine a grievous lot,
And crush to ruins my poor cot,
Aye, more than when the bucateer
Such havoc made me t’other year.

On entering upon a bush life, many of our colonial pioneers, as well as myself, through inexperience, and not foreseeing the chances of accidents, and so providing against them as prudence might dictate, by having every tree felled where a building was to be erected, and cutting off all communications that might conduct fire from around while burning off fallen bush, &c., from the want of using such-like precautions many were the losses that have been endured from fires and falling of trees upon dwellings, although I am happy to state, so far as I have heard, no lives have been lost. I may be allowed to give an instance as it occurred to myself, as adverted to above. When first I entered upon a piece of land, of which I obtained a lease, I fell upon what I thought a good place on which to fix my warré, or bush cottage, as referred to in Note 1. As the place I fixed upon was but a mere jungle of small bush, and would make what I thought a good opening though cut down with only the bill-hook, and one or two trees cut down with the axe, I then thought this, though no great space, would give me room enough to begin with, and so proceeded with the building in form of a house. Suffice it to say, I had lived in it for nearly eighteen months without any accident, although several page 77“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 77. trees during that time were cut down around my dwelling. However, about the close of the time referred to, in the month of July, upon a Saturday, it came on in the morning to a drizzling sort of rain, which prevented me from going to work elsewhere; and as I stayed at home I thought I might cut down a couple of trees, which I saw shaded the sun from a small patch of wheat growing near the house, judging that if I should get wet I was nigh home, and would get quickly on a dry change. I was fortunate enough in cutting down these, and had cut through a third, which made to fall, but it hung, tied by means of supplejacks and bines to its fellow’s top. The trees were so covered with a kind of parasite plant, called a keekee, having a thick cabbage-like stock, covered with long tendril leaves, about eighteen inches long, hanging down, where from each stock branched out numerous heads, so that there was no judging how the trees were inclined, as in fact they could not be seen. Before I began to the second tree I had got dinner, and my wife had out a dry suit of clothes warming before the fire on the table, ready for me when I would come in wet, as the rain had come on to be heavier than before. As I said before, I had cut one tree which hung to its fellow; and looking at my work before I began, I felt convinced I would get them down all right, as I thought they looked to fall in a contrary direction to the house, so that I felt no concern about the matter. However, to work I went, and in a short time the tree was pretty well cut on both sides the way I thought they would go; and looking up to see what movement might be above, an unlucky puff of wind came, when, crack, crack, went the trees, and with an awful sweep they fell—smash through the roof of the house. “Look out!” I cried, as I saw them swing. I heard a cry, but I could not see where I stood for half a minute. I felt stupified. When I came to myself, I threw my axe down and ran over the trees; my eyes reeled in my head when I saw the havoc. “Where are you?” I cried, in vexation; and glad I felt when my wife answered, “We are all here.” I tried to get in by the door; but that was of no use. I scrambled over the broken boughs of the trees, and tore a hole through the fallen roof; first got a tin basin, which she handed me, and put out the fire, and then got out the two children safe; and she came next, with a sprained ankle and a bruised head. It was well things were not worse, although they were bad enough. It so happened, some time before this I had felled two trees, which lay alongside the house behind the chimney; one of them rested on the root of one that had fallen of itself before I built my house, and the other lay above that again a little crossed, which made somewhat like a low wall about four feet high, upon which the upper part of the trees fell, and prevented them from going to the ground, or else all lives inside the house would have been lost, for the tops of the trees went in over where she was sitting by the fire sewing, and the children by her on the floor playing themselves. She was page 78“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 78. knocked from her seat, and got covered with rubbish, and when crawling to a clear place to a back part of the house opposite to where she had been sitting, she felt her foot held fast, and had to pull it out, but in so doing she somewhat sprained her ankle However, when she got clear, she began to think, what if I were killed myself before I got to her assistance. The weather still seemed to get worse, and when I got them out they were truly a pitiable sight. Our next consideration was, where were we to go. “Leave me,” was her reply, “and take the children with you, and see if you can find some shelter, and I shall wait till you return, for I can’t walk.” So, with the youngest on my back and the other at my foot, I went forth. I asked my nearest neighbour, whose land adjoined to mine, for the use of an old house, whose walls were all away, the roof only remaining supported by only a few posts. It was now a mere useless shed; but for what reason I cannot tell (as I was assured I had done him no harm), my request was denied. As he would not grant it, I proceeded farther, and entered another one’s house, and was frankly received. I set down the children without much farther ado than merely telling what had happened, and so hastened to the scene of desolation. I found my wife upon her knees, lying against a log in a swoon. While coming along I met a friend, who returned with me, and kindly offered his assistance to take her to the place of shelter. She awoke as I touched her, and looked up as in astonishment; but we lost no time in having her removed, as the rain was still increasing. Suffice it to say, we got safe within doors, and another neighbour had come to condole with her misfortunes, and render what assistance she could, for which I felt exceedingly grateful. When going back to bring out my blankets and bedding I found my ungenerous neighbour busy with his axe cutting down the posts which bore up the old roof, as much as to say I should not be there. However, I was made as comfortable as circumstances would allow where I was received, though the accommodation was not large, besides the people having a large family themselves (which bespoke the more for their kindness), until I got my old habitation put to rights. This was no small task; the weather blew cold, and the rain fell constant for about two weeks while engaged at my work, and I had none to assist me. Many a time my hand, through handling the wet stuff about me, felt so cold that I could not put the tips of my fingers and thumb together. The days were short, and I could make but little progress alone, but by perseverance I got on by degrees. Sometimes when I would come in the morning to work, the cat would come crawling out of a spoiled hat-box, and, with a long, serious mew, would seem to say, “I pity your misfortune, but I cannot help you:” which made me oft, even amid such desolations, burst out into a fit of laughter. However, in about a fortnight I was enabled to re-enter my cottage with a thankful heart.

page 79“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 79.
(3, p. 7.)

As if they could no longer dine
On flesh of grov’ling brutes called swine.

When Captain Hobson became Governor over New Zealand he fixed his seat at first at the Bay of Islands, and he let a considerable time pass before he paid Port Nicholson a visit. But when he came it appeared the good folks in this district had little else to set before his Excellency for dinner but pork, which, according to the gossip of the day, he did not well relish; accordingly shooters were sent abroad to procure pigeons, to make a variety on the dinner table. However, as he paid the people of Port Nicholson no more of his visits, the Newspaper authors of the day began to grumble about his absence, and at last they began to surmise a reason—namely, because he could have nothing when last here but “pork.”

(4, p. 7.)

Unlike the kakas’ noisy fits,
Unlike the thievish paroquets.

The kaka is a kind of parrot, of a reddish grey colour, and is easily tamed when taken young. When numbers meet round a tree-top, as they generally fly pretty high, they make a loud, harsh, disagreeable noise; but sometimes that kaw-ing noise is relieved by a call-like whistle—as calling some mate. The paroquet is what may be called a small parrot, about the size of a starling or measlethrush found in Scotland, nearly wholly of a pea-green colour, and having a red (nearly approaching to scarlet) ring round the upper part of its bill. Its habits are of a thievish and destructive nature, especially where grain is growing. They will assemble in great flocks at the edge of the clearing when the wheat is out in ear, and behead almost every stalk for at least a couple of yards round the wheat-patch border, sometimes nipping off the head and letting it fall, as well as taking others into the bush with them. But as they destroy more than they eat, they are the cause of a great deal of loss of crop, unless they are constantly watched and shot at to frighten them away—which seemed to form the reason, with the speaker, why the pigeons more than those referred to, should be allowed the enjoyment of peace.

(5, p. 8.)

When quite without that missive thunder,
Which works us death, though erst our wonder.

When we first landed in the Hutt District of Port Nicholson’ at the commencement of this colony, many who went out a pigeon-shooting were quite amused at the seeming tameness of the birds, which seemed to take no notice of their pursuers, but sat upon the lower berry trees feeding while the muzzle of the fowling-piece or musket (such as it happened to be) was almost touching them, so seldom were they ever troubled before.

(6, p. 10.)

But strange the while,
In hunting us with no small toil,
To time they show but small respect,
And other great concerns neglect.

There certainly has been, from the first of the colony, no small portion of time lost in pigeon-shooting. I have seen several men who seemed to have more pleasure in going about with their guns than in preparing their ground for receiving their seed, so much taken up with the novelty of the game in looking for “good marks,” though, as Franklin would say, they only proved bad ones.

* The necho, or neko, is a large tree-like plant known elsewhere as the mountain cabbage, and grows here to a considerable height. Its leaves extend from six to ten feet in length, and consist of a thick stem tapering off to a point, with a groove running up the centre; along each side branch out bayonet-shaped leaves, from two to three inches apart and from two to three feet long, and which may look much like a peacock’s feather. These, when placed closely together, with the side leaves interwoven, form, under another layer of leaves, a good covering for a rough bush cottage.