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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter I — The Voyage

page 1

Chapter I
The Voyage

In the autumn of 1906 the British Government invited me to go to New Zealand as Special Commissioner, to represent them at the opening of an International Exhibition at Christchurch, New Zealand. The opportunity of revisiting the scenes of early days was too tempting to be resisted. My public life had begun in New Zealand, as Civil Commissioner of the Waikato district under the late Sir George Grey, in the interval between the local insignificant Taranaki War of 1860 and the outbreak of the terrible war of races in 1863.

The administration of law, such as there was, in the Waikato and all other territory outside the British settlements was at that time carried on by the Maories themselves; the Waikato district was very especially under the jurisdiction of the Maori King and his Runanga. They protested from the first with complete unanimity against the intrusion of a British official into their territory; they repudiated his authority; they prohibited Maories from having recourse to the courts, or availing themselves in any way of page 2his Administration; and they made repeated attempts to frighten the officer out of the country and to induce the Government to recall him. The only means of maintaining the position was to invoke a principle of the Maories themselves to which they adhered with logical simplicity. They contended as the defence of their own claim of independence that every man was at liberty to do what he pleased on his own land—the Queen on hers, the Maori on his.

The officer was stationed upon an isolated plot of land, in the midst of native territory that had long ago been alienated to the Crown for the formation of a mission station; and the Maories, who are an extremely logical people, were rooted in the opinion that it was not lawful to drive him by force off Crown land. Besides this, the particular land upon which he was stationed had been before its transfer to the Crown the subject of dispute between two of the most powerful tribes of the Upper Waikato, and the question who had the right to eject the Crown possessor, and to whom the land would then revert, was one of fierce disputation. "It is for us," said Honi Papita, the principal Chief of Rangiaowhia to another tribe which was expelling the officer by force, "to spoil our own piece." The dubious and precarious position of the British officer was finally ended by the great fighting chieftain, Rewi Maniapoto, who led an armed war-party to the scene, and declared that, right or wrong, page 3he would kill the British officer unless he was removed by Sir George Grey. As Rewi was both able and willing to carry out his threat, and as bloodshed in the impending war was on the point of taking place, there was no alternative but to abandon the position. There is little doubt that I owed my life to the forbearance and authority of Rewi. He had been a personal, though never a political, friend. We had partaken of each other's hospitality and he restrained from actual personal violence the wilder natives who were ready to make short work with the Government officer. It was in this way that my earliest public service came to an abrupt and untimely end.

Nothing can present a stronger contrast between the past and the present, than the two voyages which I made to New Zealand. In 1906 it began by a voyage from Liverpool to New York in the Majestic, one of the White Star Liners, a floating hotel, in which every luxury in the way of entertainment is provided, and in which the accommodation is as luxurious as the perpetual motion of the ocean will permit. The railway journey from New York to San Francisco was performed in Pullman cars, with the same luxurious surroundings, and with food as good as the most exacting traveller could desire. The one object that stands out, terrible and impressive, in the recollection of this easy and beautiful journey is the ruin and desolation of San Francisco. It was six months after the page 4earthquake and fire; we were told by the agent in New York that all the hotels were open and there was no necessity even to telegraph for rooms; we arrived just before midnight and were driven to one of the principal hotels through streets bordered by piles of rubbish, with broken ruins of gigantic buildings looming through the darkness; the hotel was set up in temporary wooden buildings in the middle of a square; the civil and obliging clerk told us that there was not a vacant room in the hotel, offered the use of the telephone to make inquiry, if we pleased, all over the city; and finally put us up in cots in the sitting-rooms. Next morning revealed the naked horrors of the ruined city; the summer sea-breeze, one of the attractions of San Francisco, raised clouds of red dust from the ruins which enveloped the place in a murky fog; we were glad to take refuge on the mail steamer Sonoma. Professor David of Sydney, a fellow-passenger on the Sonoma, told us that all the loss of life and property had been caused by a slight shift of one of the sides of an ancient crack in the earth's crust, which ran through California. There had been shifts geological ages ago, and there would be shifts after geological ages in the time to come. He had many photographs to illustrate the truth of this view of the disaster.

The delightful voyage in summer seas from San Francisco to Auckland was accomplished in the same comfort as the voyage across the Atlantic; page 5there were two calls made during the passage from San Francisco to Auckland, the first at Honolulu in the Hawaian Islands, one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and the second at the romantic harbour of Pango-pango. The Hawaian Islands are a territory of the United States of America, and are being overrun by Japanese, who now constitute nearly half the population of the islands. Pango-pango is being converted into a coaling station for the United States Navy. It forms with other islands the share which the United States obtained in the partition of the Samoan Islands. These were at one time administered under a Convention by Great Britain, Germany, and the United States jointly, and were afterwards partitioned between Germany and the United States. Great Britain obtained no share of the Samoan Islands; but the two nations who had been her partners, as compensation for her withdrawal, recognized her right to islands which form part of her New Zealand Dominion, and to her suzerainty over the King of Tonga Taboo.

My first voyage to New Zealand in 1860 presents a strange contrast to this comfortable and luxurious journey. I possess some old letters written at the time of the former voyage, some extracts from which will give the reader some idea of what a voyage to the Antipodes was like in those days. It was from Liverpool to Auckland in a sailing ship, the Red Jacket, with some 500 page 6emigrants on board. It lasted 111 days, of which ninety-six were spent at sea, and the rest in port at Melbourne.

"The party that came on board to see us off on January 26 (1860) left at three o'clock, the captain and the pilot being in a state of uncertainty as to when we should start. A south-east gale with snow brought them to the decision to lie quietly in the river all night. Next morning the ship got under weigh at some early hour in a dense fog, which cleared as we got out to sea, towed by two steamers. One left us just outside the bar, the other towed as far as Holyhead which we passed about eight o'clock, then having a splendid north-east wind, which was to take us out of channel in sixteen hours, we cast off, but the sea ran too high to communicate with the tug.

"Next morning all our hopes were disappointed by a very light head-wind, and we enjoyed the pleasure of beating out. The wind increased to a strong hurricane from the south-west, which the captain said was one of the heaviest he was ever in. At last the wind went round to the north-east and the ship bowled away towards the south, at twelve or fifteen miles an hour, rolling in the most furious manner. It was a continued struggle with toilet apparatus, books, chairs, plates and food; everything kept coming at you in the most aggressive manner, and you never page 7enjoyed a minute's rest; even in bed it was a struggle to keep from falling out."

"The days are settling down into steady routine. We get up between seven and eight and walk the deck until breakfast, which comes off at an irregular period about nine o'clock. The victuals are very good, and we have even milk every morning from a wretched cow, when she is not sea-sick; she inhabits a horse-box on deck. The poop is a kind of poultry-yard, the fowls and ducks die by dozens at a time, and are said to be thrown overboard, so that poultry is a thing rather to be eschewed. Luncheon rapidly succeeds breakfast; dinner, luncheon; and tea, dinner. The stewards spend their time in nothing else but clearing off one meal, and laying a fresh one. Our fellow-passengers seem quiet and disinclined to quarrel. The stewardess told me that in the last voyage they all began a week after leaving Liverpool and never stopped. Two girls, who slept in the same state-room, never spoke for two months. The captain is a very jolly fellow; he seems careful and cautious. He took the Red Jacket out on her first voyage, and made the passage to Melbourne in sixty-nine days. We are at present one day ahead of this trip, which was a very fast one. We have done nearly 300 miles a day for three days running."

"Last week was spent in variable winds and page 8storms. Monday night brought an awful south-west gale, and all the rest of the week the wind blew in every direction but the right one."

"The days are settling into one unvarying routine, and it is difficult to recollect what has happened. There is no symptom yet of a row in the saloon, but a great war of classes impends over the ship. Card-playing has been put down as immoral and wicked in the steerage, while it goes on every night in the saloon. Steerage passengers are moreover very sore at not being allowed to come whenever they like on the poop, to which place certain favoured ones are admitted.

"The many-headed does not like this and will soon rebel. I made a radical speech to them after the school on Friday, and had a long talk with the democratic leaders afterwards. I really fancy that the intellect and common sense of the ship does not reside in the saloon.

"You will hardly care to hear how many sheep and pigs are left, or how long the fresh beef lasted. Our eyes were gratified by a distant sight of the Canaries last week; we have got into the Trades at last, and the weather is delicious—hot, but not grievously so. I am subject to constant persecution from hosts of children, led on by the captain's boy, an aggressive youth of seven, who has contracted an unpleasant liking for me, and takes it out in bullying on every occasion."

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"The Trades are very pleasant—the sea calm, and the ship gliding along without pitching or rolling. Weather warm and sunny with a delicious cool wind. Last Tuesday we ran against a whale, which gave the ship a good shake and then cleared off. There is a terrible storm brewing on board. The ungodly passengers, both saloon and steerage, recreated themselves with dancing to a cracked fiddle on Thursday, and the display of the pomps and vanities of the world called down the censure of the higher powers. I'm sorry to say saloon, steerage, and intermediate took offence, and as the hot weather is imminent, a row seems inevitable. I tried a speech in mediation in the steerage this morning on liberty of opinion, and the duty of toleration, but without much effect, as the great unsoaped is bent on hostility. Our doctor has been sea-sick ever since we started. I do duty as amateur doctor's mate, and go the rounds, when he is too bad. I have not killed anybody yet, and trust to reach Auckland without a case of manslaughter. The practice is very interesting and instructive; most of the cases are from over-eating. We are fast getting amongst the marine curiosities of the tropics, whales and dolphins in the day, and such superb luminous creatures at night. The wake of the ship shows a gorgeous glittering band for about a hundred yards."

"There is a homeward-bound ship on the page 10horizon, so I shall write a few more lines in hope of a communication. We have seen a great deal of ship society lately. On Saturday we exchanged signals with the Challenger, bound for China, and yesterday there was quite a congregation of ships. The Challenger, which is still in company and three homeward-bound ships, one the Robert Starrit, bound for Liverpool with East India troops, signaled us, but the captain, as there happened to be a light breeze, said he would not lower a boat for the Queen of England. The wind is now very light, nearly a dead calm, and he may be more accommodating. The heat is becoming insufferable and even an open window close to your face gives very little relief at night. We enjoy the luxury of bathing every morning by having the hose of the fire engine turned on to us on deck, and the women undergo the same operation in the deck-house; their screams are most heart-rending and disturb the whole ship. Even the cow has the unsparing engine turned upon her, so that at six in the morning the ship and everything on it is dripping wet. The voyage is very dull, for our passengers are not socially a lively lot, and every kind of amusement except reading and 'the wagging tongue' is denounced and discouraged."

"Yesterday morning the south-east Trades sprang up. We are now away again at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour. We have beaten the page 11Challenger hollow and lost sight of her this morning. We crossed the line at ten last night—there were no sports on board (for we are a very serious ship) except some fine 'all fours' races on the poop, which were much complained of this morning by those who had previously gone to bed."

"We are getting cooler and a little more jovial. We've started evening concerts twice a week. Of course, among 500 people we got some good singing; all our music is vocal, and our programme improves every time.

"The concerts are productive of harmony in more senses than one. The jolliest of all the fellows connected with the ship is the chief mate; he is a tall and thin man with a long nose, and has not his equal at chaffing, nautical or otherwise, on whatever subject you choose to assail him. He generally stands on his watch at the end of the poop, with a crowd of children, big and little, round him, some getting ships rigged and others teasing him. Of course this is in the Trades where you can sail all day without stirring a brace. He is altogether a kind of nautical Mark Tapley.

"There was a great fight on Sunday between the crew and some foreigners, whom the crew amuse themselves by teasing. The chief mate knocked a sailor down in the most refreshing manner and then conveyed him aft, and put him in irons to cool. A German had his nose broken, and another sailor had his head cut open with an page 12iron hook, and after a great deal of explanation and jabbering of English, German, and Italian the affair was healed up pro tem., but the storm will break out afresh."

"We are miserably becalmed and the heat is tremendous though the midday sun is 15° off being vertical. The day is passed in literally gasping for breath, but the nights are delicious, cool, with bright moonlight, and nothing but the vulgar necessity for sleep prevents your spending the night on deck. Yesterday we had a boat out and rowed round the ship, but the intense heat greatly interfered with the pleasure."

"The calm ended yesterday morning and we had a jolly fresh breeze all day. The row on board has come at last with a vengeance, and in a more atrocious manner than I anticipated. Last night about eleven, I took a turn down the starboard gangway, just to look at the main deck, before turning in, and at the corner came upon a terrible row. The same sailor who was in irons for fighting the Germans had just been engaged at fisticuffs with another victim, and the captain, second mate and boatswain were trying to drag him aft from a crowd of sailors. After narrowly escaping braining by the legs of the passing madman, who was knocked on the head in time by the mate, we held the gangway against his comrades with the greatest difficulty. On the monkey page 13poop the prisoner, who was deliriously drunk, behaved with frantic violence, but was at once securely ironed and tied down; they got another sailor aft and ironed him, then cutlasses, bayonets and revolvers were produced and twenty passengers were armed. The critical moment was twelve o'clock, when the next watch was called and the captain intended to secure two more of the crew, who were ringleaders of the mutiny. The watch came on the main deck and the captain and two mates, accompanied by five of us unarmed passengers, went down and ordered the men aft. They went quietly, but one made a most desperate resistance to being ironed and screamed to his comrades for help. They rushed up the port gangway, but were met by bayonets. The chief mate thrust at the foremost man and would probably have killed him but the captain parried the blow, and the weapon only went about four inches into the woodwork of the poop. The crew were beaten back and the gangways and front of poop manned by armed men. Then there was an awful pause, while the captain went down to load his revolver. You can have no idea how ludicrous the whole affair appeared to us, though the officers all thought it serious. I saw the doctor, who is a very meek man, armed with a cutlass, which he used as a walking-stick, making holes in the deck, and the chief officer took him in the wind, to our intense delight, as he passed. When the pistols were loaded the captain went down page 14and ordered the watch to haul taut the main brace to test their obedience, and it was done. We kept watch and watch all night in the gangway with fixed bayonets, and there are four men in irons garnishing the monkey poop. To-day every arrangement is being made to keep armed watch. Indeed, this is necessary for our own safety and that of the ship."

"The ship is getting into an orderly and secure state again. We had a meeting of passengers in the saloon yesterday and a document was drawn up and signed, reciting that in consequence of the mutinous conduct of the crew the captain had requested the passengers to form an armed watch to guard the poop, where the four prisoners were confined and agreeing to certain rules for our government. We have three watches of about twelve men each, which are on duty in rotation; it is very jolly fun now in fine weather, but will be anything but pleasant in the gales of the South Seas. The sentries are mounted in each of the gangways, armed with cutlasses and pistols, and two on the poop with revolvers during the night; the rest of the watch dispose themselves about the poop, quite ready to come if necessary. There is not much likelihood of a rescue being attempted on the bright nights we now enjoy—if it is tried at all, it will be on some squally night in the South Sea, but with the present precautions nothing is to be feared. The prisoners are always handcuffed; page 15they are chained in pairs on the monkey poop all day, and sleep below the monkey poop where our luggage used to be, with their legs in a handsome pair of stocks all night. Yesterday we passed a homeward-bound American ship so close as to shake all his sails. He was, I am sorry to say, so exasperated as to use his speaking trumpet to swear at us through. The winds continue so light and weather so sultry, it is an exertion to write."

"The light winds ended last Saturday week, in a very stormy breeze, but alas! from the east, and so dead in our teeth. Our position was unpleasant, as the wind drove us southward towards Tristan d'Acunha. We were all night under short sail, with sharp look-outs, and on Sunday morning, just as the captain and mate had made up their minds that we were well to leeward of the island, the summit of a great big black mountain suddenly loomed out of the rain and cloud, about seven miles ahead of us, and right in our course. Tristan is really the dry summit of a submarine mountain, the ocean being unfathomed in the neighbourhood of the island. It is about 4,000 feet above the sea, and looked wild and bleak enough, in the midst of the white stormy sea and black rain clouds. After passing Tristan the ship was kept away to sight a huge precipitous rock called "Inaccessible Island," a terrible-looking place; a fearful shipwreck occurred here a few page 16years ago. There were two cases of small-pox broke out soon after we left Liverpool, but both have long recovered, and the disease has not spread. The wind hauled round to the north last week, and became a fair wind, and we made a magnificent run doing nearly 1,000 knots in three days. We are now running just as fast before a south-west wind and have great hopes of reaching Melbourne in time for the homeward mail. Perfect cordiality and tranquillity now reign on board."

"Just off the Cape, with our usual luck, an east-north-east wind set in, and has compelled us to go down to the south into cold and disagreeable weather, and what is worse, among islands and icebergs; so there is nothing to tempt us on deck in the evenings, and we are very hard up for employment.

"Bear-fighting has become very popular with both sexes (separately, I don't mean together), but a boy fell down the companion stairs off the poop, and would have broken his back, had he not been a 'boy; ' a little girl bear-fought herself down the hold and was nearly killed; and two ladies in the next berth to ours, while engaged in hot strife, came crash through into ours, so the ardour for this pursuit has been a little cooled. Yesterday one of the remaining prisoners was let out, on promise of future good behaviour: the author of all the mischief now remains alone, and page 17as nobody wishes him to be released, the keeping guard is to be discontinued. The crew are perfectly obedient and well affected, and have addressed a letter to the captain, promising to be on their best behaviour. To-day we sighted Prince Edward's Islands, indeed, on the route we are taking we pass several rather dangerous islands, not very exactly laid down in the charts, which makes the navigation rather difficult, but until the wind shifts go south we must."

"The wind is steady and strong from north-north-east, and we are running splendidly close-hauled at fourteen or fifteen knots an hour. Nobody on board ever experienced such winds or weather in these latitudes before. The wind forced us down as low as 48° 30' south. On Saturday we were roused up at seven in the morning to see an ice-berg; it was not a large one, and seemed much worn by the sea beating over it. It presented a beautiful ghostly appearance, with the same blue light you see in glacier crevasses. We passed about a mile to leeward: the sea was strewed with smaller pieces of ice, that had been broken off from it, any one of which would have sunk the ship. After this, we had a dense fog for two or three days, and you may imagine our position was not pleasant, for though there were four hands on the look-out, their combined eyes could not penetrate at times more than 300 yards, and that is a page 18short distance in which to stop a clipper going twelve knots an hour.

"On Sunday last our magnificent breeze died away, and with it all our hopes of reaching Melbourne in time for the mail. We are now only 1,800 miles from Melbourne, which could be done in six days of decent sailing. Everybody is getting very tired of everybody else, and we shall begin to dislike each other if this lasts much longer."

"Still at sea, the breeze is very fine just now. (I always write when it blows fresh, one's spirits are so much better), but nobody by past experience can depend on its lasting. We have just had the mizzen top-sail carried away for the third time this voyage; and as this nautical phenomenon is followed by the descent of the halyard, a great heavy chain, crash upon the poop, you may imagine the incident is neither safe nor pleasant to the persons walking thereon. It is a great shame sending such rotten chains to sea, to endanger lives and limbs. We are now about 400 miles from Port Philip, so the voyage is nearly over. Sea-life is very reducing to the intellect, most of the passengers behaving more like big children than men; and we play promiscuously, children and men, on the poop."

"We have arrived at Port Philip Heads at last page 19after a passage of eighty-four days, and are welcomed to Australian shores after so long a voyage by being put in quarantine. Land was made yesterday morning at about ten o'clock; at sunset we were off Cape Otway, with the prospect of a long beat up to the Heads, the wind being foul. About an hour after the wind suddenly changed, and the captain had just time to cry out 'hard-a-port' when all the sails were taken flat aback. We then ran before a jolly fair wind all night. I was on deck about half-past five, and the bright light of the pilot boat was seen about a mile ahead. He was soon on board, and brought two interesting items of news; firstly that the mail, owing to an accident at Sydney, had not yet gone; secondly, that a war with the natives had broken out in New Zealand. From what could be made out from a Melbourne paper, the row was confined to New Plymouth and almost terminated. No ship had come into Port Philip for a fortnight; so we have beaten every vessel that sailed with us from England. We soon arrived in the narrow entrance of the Port, and saw the strange and welcome sight of green fields and trees, till our delight was suddenly damped by being put into quarantine, pilot and all, for those wretched cases of small-pox that had broken out soon after we left Liverpool. The sick man was carefully isolated; every one on board was vaccinated; the disease did not spread; and we had indeed forgotten all about it. The Victorian Government, page 20however, sent down orders that everybody must be re-vaccinated and fumigated, and washed, so here we may lie within forty miles of Melbourne for the next month, if it so please the wisdom of the Colonial medical officers. I was employed this afternoon in preparing a petition, signed by every person on board, setting forth the facts, and praying for release, but I have little hope of its success."

"We are still lying in a state of great misery; they left us until yesterday afternoon, without taking the slightest notice of us, and then the quarantine doctor came off, and directed all the bedding and clothes to be sent on shore to be disinfected, and to-morrow all are to be vaccinated. The Melbourne people believe we have small-pox actually on board."

"The wretched people have all come from shore, in a most unhappy condition; their clothes and bedding were just put into boiling water, and returned undried, and as they were drenched to the skin, in going and returning in the small boats, many on board have not a dry thread of clothes to put on, or a dry bed to lie down on. This is one of the most original plans I ever heard of for improving the health of a ship. Our letters are to be all sent off to-morrow, so I must here conclude."

"We fell in with a glorious breeze so soon as page 21we left Port Philip, and had a most remarkably quick passage through the straits. There is a chain of very small islands, extending from Cape Wilson, the south-easterly point of Australia, to Tasmania, with several passages, all very narrow, through which ships can safely go. We passed to the northward within sight of the lighthouse on Cape Wilson and close under a high conical island called Rodondo, and were clear of everything by ten o'clock at night. Then away we went before the strong west wind, tumbling and rolling about in the most eccentric manner. I thought after the experience of the Bay of Biscay that everything was safe in our berth, but in the middle of Sunday night I was awakened by a loud crash, and there was a great rain of boxes, books, and boots on the floor. We got a light and found everything movable had gone over to leeward; all Mainwaring's tobacco boxes had been smashed and the tobacco was spread like a brown door-mat on the floor. Meals were great fun; we got through soup without any serious disaster, but while everybody had his soup plate in hand a leg of mutton took the opportunity of making a jump to leeward, carried the pewter dish cover away with a loud clatter, hit the opposite wall of the saloon, and then fell helpless with a heavy thud on deck. When only 600 miles from Auckland the wind left us and here we are lying nearly becalmed."

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"Yesterday we came down upon the New Zealand coast near the Bay of Islands; all last night we were baffled by the light and shifting wind in a very awkward position between the mainland and some rocky islands called the "Poor Knights." It was as dark as pitch and the wind very unsteady. I was up nearly all the night with the captain helping him to take bearings and make out where we were; once we passed the whole length of the islands close to leeward when a very slight shift of wind would have put us into great danger. It was not till this morning that we got a chance of running into Auckland. The passage is one of the most beautiful I ever saw, leading through many islands, some high barren rocks with most fantastic shapes, some bright and green with their cliffs covered with bushes and creepers. At last you enter a narrow passage round the base of a high volcanic-looking mountain, and after about two miles a sudden turn to the right brings you in sight of Auckland. We went up without a pilot and were close to our anchorage when the one sole Auckland pilot condescended to come on board. The town is very picturesque-looking, dotted about among green hills, and the scenery all round the harbour is most enchanting. I can't say much for the interior, to judge by a fruitless excursion to the post-office to-night. It was impossible to see much, for the town is lighted by a few dim oil-lamps, but the first thing I stumbled upon was a page 23burnt flour-mill, the ruins whereof choked up the entire street; the whole street seemed full of pitfalls, whether caused by an attempt to lay down gas-pipes or not I cannot tell. The post-office, a shabby wooden thing, was shut and the people gone to bed, so with disgust strong in me I have returned on board to mine."

Such were my two journeys to New Zealand; and notwithstanding the discomfort and tediousness of the earlier voyage, its memory possesses a sweetness and pathos to which the later and more luxurious journey can never attain.