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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 IV

page 85“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 85.

Canto IV.

(1, p. 59.)

So they began to trade and sell
This land, before they could it call
Their own, &c. &c.

It is a remarkable fact, which shows the very unbusiness-like manner of doing, that the land was parcelled out in sections before it was known where such sections were to be had. Nay, even purchasers of the land paid for it before it was bought, or knew where the land lay. It was indeed very imposing to read, in some of the English journals, concerning the drawing of lots, which said, “when a native reserve ticket was drawn great cheering was made;” but this, when viewed through the medium of cool judgment, shows itself only to be a piece of deceit, when considered that such did not belong to them at the time, however much it showed a kind of charitable feeling; but it was only putting fancy in the place of reality, for when ships with emigrants were despatched, and when they arrived in the Straits,* the captains of such vessels had no small difficulty to learn to what port they were to steer, as the Directors of the Company could not give such information when they started, which shows on how much absurdity the formation of the Company rested at the outset.

(2, p. 59.)

But trusting to the toss of chance,
Or an o’erruling Providence, &c. &c.

It was, indeed, a lucky circumstance that the Port Nicholson tribe of natives, being at variance with another tribe whom this one somewhat dreaded, which induced the natives to part with their land to the interest of the New Zealand Company, because they were made to understand that they would then have powerful allies to defend them from the tribes they dreaded. Such considerations, with the goodly variety of warlike weapons along with the other things they received, were powerful inducements, which in themselves go far to confirm how much their success depended, at the time, as it were, on the “toss of chance.”

* Such was the case with the Captain of the Bengal Merchant.

page 86“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 86.
(2, p. 60.)

O’er the fair prospect, some would smile
As being fit to portion off,
A rising family, &c.

In the early part of our Colony’s history, I think the beginning of the second year, the letters received by some land agents from their absentee constituents were, in some respects, rather amusing, as they displayed the great expectations such landowners entertained in reaping almost immediate benefits from their recent purchases of their land orders. One, for instance, writes to his agent, (Mr. Child,) thanking him for the great care he had taken in selecting his land, observing also, that as one section contains a great deal of very valuable timber, and another of an abundance of flax, he hoped that he would see to dispose of them to the best advantage, so that he might be able to realise from them a handsome profit.

(3, p. 63.)

Should he return with fortune bright,
And set all seeming wrongs to right.

No doubt but many who left home, as it were, “on the sly,” so as to escape the consequences of bankruptcy, had, nevertheless, some hopes, or rather a wish, to return and make amends for such seeming misconduct, instances of which has sometimes occurred. One I may here relate. A person belonging to Perth, in Scotland, failed in business, and privately absconded, fearing, through delicacy of disposition, to face his creditors; having eluded their knowledge, he made his way to Sydney, in Australia. There he continued for about seven years, and by active industry amassed a considerable fortune, yielding a handsome yearly income, during which time he was never heard of, and was given up for lost. However he again made his appearance in his native town, in mendicant’s garb, as a very poor man. His appearance had somewhat altered, so that he was scarcely known, until he acknowledged he was indeed the person he so much resembled. In the character of a very poor man he asked assistance from one and another of his former creditors, but was refused, except from one, who gave him a few shillings with the advice to “put it to good use, and not waste it.” Shortly afterwards, he caused a great dinner to be made ready in one of the chief hotels in the place, and invited all his creditors and former friends, who came, and were not a little surprised to see the superb style in which he was dressed, and the dinner that was laid out, to which he warmly page 87“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 87. invited them to partake; saying, he now felt happy to meet them under such circumstances. When the cloth was removed and the bowl of punch set in the midst, he rose and said, “Let us fill our glasses, and so proceed to business.” While the glasses were filling, he pulled a bag of gold from his coat pocket and his pocket book, and laid them on the table. This caused more surprise, when he said, “I mean now to settle all my accounts. Here’s to good fortune!” he cried, raising his glass; “and I hope you will all do the same.” The toast was responded to with all good will. Then he began to inquire how much of a claim each had against him. The amount altogether did not exceed £350, which he paid, with interest; but to the one who helped him with the few shillings and advice he paid with compound interest. “Now,” said he, after he had paid all, “I hope you are all satisfied.” To which all expressed entire satisfaction, and began each to tell him what they thought concerning his long absence, yet all allowed they never dreamed of seeing his face. But hoped that now, as he had again come among them, he would make himself contented to pass the remainder of his time with them. “Na, na!” was the reply; “I would not live in such a place as this is for all you could give me; but, however, let us spend this night in good will, for I must go back to where I came from in a day or two.” But that day or two extended to more than a month, and when he went he took with him as his wife the eldest daughter of the one who bestowed on him the few shillings.

(5, p. 66.)

The labourer came,
But where was the employer?

This is one of the greatest evils connected with the once much lauded Wakefield system of colonization. In fact, it was no system of colonization, but only a credit system of land-jobbing, in so far as the principals were concerned—such as one set of speculators bought land, and paid for it from another set of speculators who sold it, and who yet had the land to find even after it was sold. Such was the mode of setting up the business of the system,—and also sending out labourers, to give their schemes some value in the eyes of land-purchasers; while these, instead of going to take possession of their land when it could be found, remained at home; and, no doubt, in this they displayed a good deal of what may be termed “low common sense.” There were, it is true, a few land-purchasers who came out; but the most of these were in the hopes of obtaining their land, and so begin operations upon it by themselves; so that from them—enterprising though their intentions were—the landless labourer could not hope to derive any benefit in the shape of employment and due remuneration. Some others, who came out expecting to be able to commence operations at once, went away disgusted with the place, when they saw the land could not be had at the time, and knew page 88“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 88. not where it might be, and could not wait till it could be found for them—besides considering the denseness of the forest, and the expense it would cost in clearing. There were others who would have begun operations, but they could not get upon their land on account of it being so far out of the way, and the want of even the form of a road; while the land that was most available and, so to speak, at hand, was owned by absentees, whose agents could give no employment on it, nor in some cases would dispose of it.*

The Company which claimed ownership of the land at the time being did, according to promise, raise some employment for the immigrants, but it was merely of a nominal nature; and even the roads for opening up the Valley of the Hutt, and other districts—if roads they could be called—were not begun to, till after a good deal of delay, and some little grumbling and memorializing of the principal Agent by the resident landowners wishing to get a sight of where their land lay. Though the roads, when they were begun, gave employment for the numerous labourer immigrants that had arrived, yet that did not at all relieve the colony from the curse of absenteeism that brooded over it, and to which may be traced all the trials and grievances to which the colony has been subjected.

(6, p. 66.)

While vauntingly they show’d address,
Fu llless to govern than t’ oppress.

The functionaries of the New Zealand Company, in carrying on their form of self-government, had begun to build a court-house

* When first I bethought myself of obtaining a lease of a piece of land, I called upon a certain land agent, who held his agency in Co. with another. “Well,” said he, before I had time to speak, eyeing me through his glasses and rubbing his hands, “I suppose you have come to pay some rent.” “Rent! No, sir!” said I. “I have come to inquire whether you have any land to let.” “Oh, take a seat,” said he, shuffling some papers aside. Mr.——will shortly be in, and he’ll show you the map.” Mr.——came in, and my errand was made known; then I was taken to Mr.——’s lodgings, with the map; it was shown to me; but when he learned I had no “capital,” the map was rolled up, and I was advised to have nothiug to do with it. Instances of difficulties of a very serious nature, such as getting lost in the bush, arising from the careless snpineness of agents, could be given if space would allow.

At that time several gentlemen landowners, resident then in the colony, among whom was Dr. Evans, offered to assist the principal Agent with the aid of their “purses”—which could be rendered “cash”—in order to open up a road into the Hutt district, on the faith that the Company would return it; but such an offer was declined by the Agent.

page 89“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 89. and council chamber, part of which had been erected, and also notices had been printed and handed round, for the settlers to form themselves into a local volunteer militia, to be under the command of Colonel Wakefield, and to meet for drill and exercise once or twice a week. But in a day or so afterwards, and before the first muster took place, a deputation from the Colonial Government of Sydney came into port, and proceeded with a corporal’s guard to pull down the N. Z. Co’s flag, which had floated in the breeze since the land had been purchased, and raised the union-jack in its place. In a day or two afterwards, the principal Agent and some others were called to account by the magistrate sent from Sydney, who seemed to look upon the colonists in general as a set of runaway rebels, and the gentlemen before him as the ringleaders, setting up a republican government in opposition to the dignity of their lawful sovereign, the Queen. However, after the matter was fully explained to the satisfaction of the bench, the gentlemen at the bar were acquitted, after paying a fine of £5 each. But the matter did not rest here; a proclamation was issued, that no valuable timber in the forest was to be cut down for any purpose, and all timber found at the sawyers’ pits after a certain day was to be forfeited. This was the occasion of a good deal of grumbling among the sawyers and timber-dealers, who set about taking away what timber they had at their pits in good time. After a few days, this grievance was mitigated by another notice, stating that licenses would be granted to sawyers and others for liberty to cut what timber they required.

Captain Hobson was appointed Lieutenant-Governor over New Zealand, under the Government of Sir G. Gipps, of New South Wales. When he came to New Zealand he set up his seat of Government at the Bay of Islands, and there issued a proclamation, claiming all lands in this Colony as the property of the British Crown, granting only a circle round Port Nicholson of twelve miles radius, centreing at the Post Office, which stood on Thorndon Flat, for the use of the Company. This was another sad vexation to many who had chosen land beyond that boundary, as being obliged to give it up, and make another and inferior choice elsewhere, and to others who had expectations of getting sections beyond such bounds; but the most clamorous of disappointed owners of land orders were some agents of absentees. Great credit, however, is due to the exertions of the principal Agent, who went to the seat of Government (Bay of Islands) to negotiate affairs with the Lieutenant-Governor, though without effect, and also to Dr. S. Evans, Mr. Hanson, and others, who next went to Sydney on a like errand, and who, though they were untiring in their efforts at the Government offices in pushing the case of the colonists and the Company’s claims, yet after all their endeavours they could get no satisfaction, and had to come away as it were with a sad disappointment, and which spread a darker gloom over the already shaded aspect of colonial affairs. But, page 90“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 90. still further; the magisterial authority which prevailed in the settlement was that which belonged to a penal Government. The police, though of the Company’s immigrants, were, it was reported, armed with pistols, and carried with them short batons, and had their pockets well stored with hand-cuffs, and, as I have heard it affirmed, that they were expected to bring up as many culprits as would pay their wages, or be at the risk of being dismissed the service, and which served as a means to excite them sometimes to provoke a reason for dragging one up to judgment. In going along the beach of Wellington, which was nothing of a smooth road, if one only knocked his foot against a stone in his haste so as to make him stammer along a few steps, he was suspected for being drunk, and consequently taken up and fined 5s., or have a few hours in the stocks if the fine would not be paid; or if one happened to go home from a social meeting of friends, quietly but rather late, he stood in great danger of being obliged to pass the remainder of the night in an uncomfortable and cold lock-up. Things went on in this way, though several remonstrances were made against such tyranny, till one morning Mr. Murphy, the then acting R.P.M., was rather surprised on seeing Dr. Evans, J.P., enter the bench and sit down alongside of him. After exchanging looks of unutterable things, Mr. Murphy asked what business he had there. The Doctor replied, looking hard at him through his spectacles, “I am come to see that justice is done in court.” After some further conversation pro. and con. concerning the Doctor’s intrusion, and finding him firm to his purpose, Mr. Murphy lifted his hat and walked out of court, leaving the “worthy Doctor” to transact the business of the day. This proved a great check to the then existing “rigours of the law.”

(7, p. 66.)

Let the result,
Of all bad management the fault,
Now find its place.

The speaker here makes a sudden transition from the government of Captain Hobson, to near the close of that of Captain Fitzroy’s career. The mismanagement here referred to is that of not fully securing the co-operation and sanction of the Home Government before proceeding with such precipitancy in the forming of a new Colony, which looked like the elopement of an unruly daughter with her lover, more than an honourable departure from her mother’s house with the blessing of her parents—and consequently reaping the fruits of her imprudence.

page 91“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 91.
(8, p. 67.)

And see his roads,
Through which, pack-beast like, he his loads
Must bear, &c.

Some time after the company had got repossessed of the lands they formerly laid claim to, they commenced to open up the country by cutting lines of roads through the bush. They were only lines, but through the softness of the ground, and the closeness of the high bush on each side keeping the road from the influence of sun and air, and by the heavy rains which fell in winter, with also the treading of cattle to and fro, the roads soon became a complete puddle, insomuch one was scarce able to pass along dry-shod, even with waterproof boots. Such was the state of the road leading from the Hutt Bridge to the Taitai; and when one had to carry on his back any of his luggage or provisions from market, as horses and carts or even bullocks were rare, and the owners were loath to risk them upon such roads, it was certainly no easy task. Yet I have known several who located themselves about the Taitai, and had to receive their supplies, such as potatoes and flour, as payment for work done, and had to carry them home (a distance of three and a half miles) through such roads. Yet, strange to say, that bad although the roads were, no endeavours were ever made to improve them, or put them in any sort of repair, during the time of the reigning Government of that period.

(9, p. 67.)

I’ve known him glad to fare
On meanest substitutes.

Many were the privations and discomforts to which various of the labouring classes were subjected, during these times, through the scarcity of employment; while the overreaching and fraudulent dealings of some who pretended to be employers—of which several instances could be given—added not a little to the sorrows of the day. In order to eke out a scanty meal, not a few have been obliged to search the bush sometimes for necho, to obtain their hearts, to make up by a little art in cooking what might be termed a meal, and on which to do a hard day’s work.* I have even heard one mother relate to another, by way of recommenda-

* This, and many other facts of a like nature, which might be mentioned if required, I felt pleased to hear confirmed at some of our political discussions in the Hutt, but I hope the above will suffice at present to show what many of the early settlers have endured.

page 92“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 92.tion
, how she has taken young sowthistle, and boiled it up with a little salt, to satisfy the hunger of her children, when she had nothing else to give them, because her husband’s master would not serve him that day with a little flour, even though it was due.
(10, p. 67.)

How much of enterprise I’ve seen
In fruitless labour lost, &c.

Many were the efforts of the colonists to raise something marketable, both to prevent the necessity of importing what we could make, so as to keep the cash in the colony, and to raise something of an export, to serve as an exchange for the necessaries we required. A little oil and a little wool, raised in the neighbouring districts, were the only articles of export then extant, but very limited. In order to increase such trade, one of the Provincial Papers pointed out the fact of the abundance of edible fish in the bay and round our shores, and advised that a company be formed to begin a fishing and curing establishment, and showing where a ready market could be found, &c. But in this case the spirit of enterprise was not to be found in the community. But still there were private endeavours made in other ways, and which endeavours, aiming at something good, deserve credit, but which, like the half-blown flower frost-bitten reaches not to full bloom, so they, blasted in their energies, could not complete what their intentions had begun. Some of our merchants made a praise-worthy exertion to do something by way of collecting different kinds of hard timber and what may be termed fancy woods, and different kinds of barks for tanning, dyeing, &c., to try and raise an export trade for such things homeward; but that was soon crushed, and with it many an ephemeral hope; and for a long time afterward could be seen many a log prepared “to order,” lying along the beach as a thing neither required nor looked after, which told its own tale of fruitless labour. A few individuals (a Mr. Sprat, and others) formed themselves into a party to commence a rope-making establishment, they themselves preparing the raw flax for their own use. They had fixed on the opposite side of the bay, near Olonggolong, as the scene of their operations to obtain a livelihood. But in crossing in a boat with their apparatus, through some accident the boat upset, and all perished. Others, and I myself among the rest,* have spent much time and expense in endeavouring to bring the flax into a marketable commodity. But the works, as they stood seemingly deserted, in themselves declared the disappointment, as if they cried, “Alas! alas!” I have seen a neatly

* I may here say that I have still my hopes of seeing this affair brought into practical use at no great distant date if nothing hinders.

page 93“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 93. built lime-kiln, on the face of the hill near Kai-warra, where some burning of shells had been accomplished; but that, too, was deserted. Other instances might be mentioned, would my space allow. In fact, every active man’s mind, through the exegencies of the time, seemed to be more or less unhinged; and instances are known of some, through a state of despondency, who have laid rash hands upon themselves, or wandered away, and were no more heard of, until, after the lapse of some time, their remains were found in the bush. In the country very little was doing in the shape of cultivation, unless it were merely a small patch for one’s own use, by any who had got as much bush cleared away. And whatever payments were made for labour by some employers, who tried to supply the market (and employers were few), were mostly in the shape of barter—such as in provisions reckoned at the highest rate.* Money was so scarce, and by those who happened to have it, it was held so sacred, that it could not be seen, as the chief money then in circulation were Government debentures from £1. to 5s., and dealers’ (so-called) “shin-plasters,” varying from 1s. to 1 ½d, so that by some even the size of a sixpence was almost forgot. The business of sawing timber, which brought at one time from 20s. to 25s. per 100 feet, was now reduced to 5s. or 6s. per 100 feet, and that to be delivered where a boat (as carts or drays were not in vogue) could get it, by rafting it down the rivers—for which only goods to the amount could be obtained from timber dealers, and even that was looked on as a kind of favour. The mind of every one who had seen better were put quite on the rack what to do for the best. Some, for lack of other employment whereby to earn a crust, betook to the cleaning of flax after the fashion of the natives, and sold it to the merchants at about 1 ½d. per lb., thereby earning from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. per day. Such was the state of the times during the last eighteen months of Captain Fitzroy’s government.
(11, p. 69.)

Whose chief persists
To stick to stingy interest’s laws,
As in discounts he makes a pause
Akin to—No!

Our Wellington merchants felt the pressure of the times in some degree analogous to that felt by the working man, although in some respects of a different kind. For instance, the working man or labourer felt the scarcity of remunerative employment so as to meet the daily wants of a young family, while the merchant felt a scarcity of cash to enable him to make such purchases whereby he

* For instance—flour was in market at the time referred to varying from 15s. to 20s. per 100 lb., and was doled out to workmen with “great care” at 4 ½d. per lb.—other things at a like rate.

page 94“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 94. could realise a sure return with profits as the source of his livelihood, unless the Manager of the Bank would advance the means. At this time of difficulty the Manager gained to himself the cognomen of “Johnny Box,” because of his stinginess; and it was said of him, in one of the letters which sometimes figure in the columns of the Wellington Independent Newspaper, that he believed in nothing but oil, wool, and flax—showing that only on such things he would grant discounts on bills. Besides, I heard a merchant say, that when he wanted to get a bill discounted he had only to draw a piece of flax under Johnny’s nose, which was to him a powerful charm in softening his heart.
(12, p. 71.)

And sway’d by faithlessness intense,
In an overruling Providence,
They’ve pack’d their baggage and have gone.

There were a few gentlemen who might have done something in the way of clearing their land, and so giving employment even to the men they brought with them. But it appears they only came for a different purpose—namely, only to watch the chances of the land market, and realise the highest price possible, and so be gone. About the time of the disturbances arising at the Bay of Islands several, having sold their lands at good profit, now thought it high time to be off, lest they should be overtaken by the threatening storm.

(13, p. 73.)

Him she appoints to govern right
Has a compound of blue and white,
Which mixture, I’m inform’d, isGrey.”

Solomon says, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country;” and such seemed to be the experience of the colonists, when they heard of the appointment of Sir G. Grey as Governor-in-Chief over New Zealand. We heard with heartfelt satisfaction of the benefits derived from his administration over South Australia, and of his unwearied exertions for the welfare of the community at large. We felt heart sick of the circumstances in which we were one and all of us placed, and the prospect of having soon such a man amongst us quite revived our spirits with the hope that, what whatever good he effected in the one place, he would surely do the same in this. Nay, we even felt as confident of it as if such things were accomplished. Such were the expectations and hopes with which we looked forward to the future while labouring amid the deep waters of adversity. Nor have we (when I say we I mean chiefly the labouring classes, although that little word may include all) been in the least disappointed.

page 95“Pigeons’ Parliament”: Page 95.
(14, p. 73.)

To many prove the rise to wealth,
And much restore the public health
Now sunk so low.

In former Notes I have given some illustrations of the depressed state of the times before Sir G. Grey was appointed Governor over New Zealand; but time and appearances now loudly declare the great alterations that have occurred in people’s circumstances; for instance, many who once could scarce get a shoe to their foot can now ride upon their own horses; and many who sometimes did not know where or how to obtain a meal’s victuals, can now boast of their many broad acres of land and of the number of their cattle. Look also at the improvements which show themselves now everywhere compared with what before they were. Through him chiefly the working man found employment, through which channel benefits more or less have flowed to all. In other respects industry has been roused to greater activity—money, the great stimulus of society has got into circulation, so that every one now, comparatively speaking, enjoys a happiness which can be read in their faces, and which they once little expected ever to experience. Nay, the bitterest of our Governor’s enemies, whatever shade of politics they may profess, must also acknowledge, even at the slightest retrospect, that times with him have indeed wonderfully improved.

(15, p. 73.)

When man in peace shall till the soil,
Nor longer care our joys to spoil.

Pigeon shooting seemed to be the rage of the day, instead of other ordinary labours; so that it appears the pigeons seemed to feel the effects of the times referred to above. But the speaker seemed to show that other times were coming, when man would derive more profit in cultivating the lands he would acquire under the Governorship of Sir G. Grey, than in seeking their lives—so allowing them the enjoyment of their ancient privileges; and I believe such is now generally the case!

end of the notes