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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)

The Old and the New

page 6

The Old and the New

Do we recognise the great changes that have taken place in our social life in New Zealand during sixty years? Even if we cast our eyes or memories no further back than fifty years, what a revolution we must record in our surroundings! We are now a wealthy people. Then, we were comparatively poor. The deposits in our Savings Banks is one test of our well being. In 1925–26 there were about 48 millions of pounds to the credit of depositors in the Government Postal Savings Banks. In private Savings Banks depositors had £6,264,383. Then our mortgages of land transactions are numerous and large. For the twelve months ending September, 1926, mortgages securing £31,613,913 were discharged and new mortgages securing £43,269,759 were registered. Most of the mortgages were for monies lent by resident New Zealanders—either persons or companies.

Then there were in the same period £50,010,386 deposited in our Banks of Issue and £6,485,630 was the value of our Note issue. These figures are surely a big record of wealth for a community that numbers only 1,409,854 people! That money was not plentiful in olden days may be learned from the rate of interest paid for loans on mortgage. The rate in the early ‘sixties was as high as seventeen and a half per cent. It fell to fifteen per cent, about 1865 and 12 1/2 per cent, was a common rate in 1868; but not till the ‘seventies did it reach ten per cent, and now 6 1/2 and 7 per cent, are common.

If we consider the life our people now lead, their food, clothing, housing and amusements and how the residents of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties lived we will see a great change. In a statement made in 1865 our Colonial Treasurer said silk dresses were rare amongst our women folk. One for a life-time had, up to then, been deemed sufficient, but fashions were changing, and silk dresses were coming into vegue. Even since 1914, notwithstanding our great war with its consequent waste, and our restricted finance, the money spent in clothing and boots has increased from an index number of 687 to one of 1117. And amusements have not decreased. The cost of living is higher, housing is better, living in tents is almost unknown, and our accommodation for the lieges excels the dreams of the early settlers.

In our locomotion the change is perhaps greatest of all. Walking in the early days was the main means used in getting from place to place. Horses were few and “traps,” as horse conveyances were called, were rare. There were few metalled roads and no bridges of importance till the middle of the ‘sixties and even then the number could be counted on the fingers of one hand. When the Otago members of Parliament left their homes to attend the first session in 1854, they went first to Sydney in a small sailing vessel and from there by the same means reached Auckland! Now we have steamers every-where—from Europe, America, Australia, and Asia. The crossing of our rivers was so dangerous that drownings of travellers were common, one eminent politician saying in the ‘sixties that the most prevalent “disease”—he called it was that of drowning. But now we have “sealed” roads, even concrete roads, and bridges everywhere.

Can our youths of to-day realise what their fathers and grandfathers had to endure in moving about our country? May one or two instances of travel in the early ‘seventies be recalled?

I had to attend a Warden's Court at Marewhenua—a river that runs into the Waitaki. Marewhenua was a small mining township. You took a coach from Dunedin to Oamaru and from that “white city” you travelled on horseback or in a “buggy” to the mining township. I went page 7 there in the beginning of winter. The coach started at 6 a.m.—Cobb's coach. The road to Palmerston South was fairly metalled, and the Waikouaiti River was bridged. None of the rivers beyond Palmerston South were bridged and after crossing the river at Maheno the rain was heavy and the road almost impassable. The travellers in the coach had to walk most of the way to Oamaru and the coach did not reach Oamaru till 10 p.m. As the Court was to sit next day at 10 a.m., a buggy had to be hired and Mr. Howe, one of the parties in the suit, and myself left Oamaru about half past ten. On parts of the road we could not travel faster than at a walking pace. After midnight we stopped at Madam Fricker's Accommodation House to rest and to feed our horses. After staying there about an hour we proceeded on our way and had to cross a swollen river. We reached the township at 9 a.m.

After breakfast the Court met and the Mining Dispute was heard by Warden Robinson, but the case was not concluded till about 9 p.m. After getting some refreshment I left alone for Oamaru. The rain had continued and progress was slow. The lights on the buggy went out after I had travelled a few miles and by taking a new-made road the buggy nearly came to grief. In places the water on the road was nearly up to the axle, and it was certainly the most uncomfortable drive I have ever experienced. I did not reach Oamaru till four a.m. I had not stopped at any place on the way as I was anxious to catch the coach leaving Oamaru at 6 a.m. At Oamaru the Star and Garter's front door was locked and I did not know of the back entrance. I ran the buggy up into a right-of-way and with a tarpaulin covered the horses and went in search of someone who could inform me where Patterson's stables were. I met a wayfarer and found the stables and after rousing the person in charge, I went back to the hotel got admission and breakfast and then proceeded to the coach which left at 6 a.m. The coach proceeded and followed a different road from that by which we entered and crossed the river by a bridge near the Boiling Down Works. We proceeded to the next crossing which was near where the “Skew” bridge now is. We found several “traps” waiting to cross, but not caring to risk doing so as the Otepopo River was high. We crossed, but nearly missed doing so as one of the leaders stumbled. We reached Dunedin about half past six in the evening. After tea I went to the Provincial Council that was then sitting and my fellow members asked how I had got there as they had been informed I was at Marewhenua Court.

I made in the early ‘seventies many journeys to Mining Courts at Naseby and elsewhere in Central Otago. In one journey two buggies left Dunedin with four travellers each, besides the driver. The first buggy stuck in crossing the Upper Taieri and it was with difficulty those on board the buggy were saved. Such journeys were often long and uncomfortable. One day I had been in the district Court at Naseby all day, the presiding judge being His Honour District Judge Wilson Gray. The Court finished about 11 p.m. and I left at midnight, one of the witnesses accompanying me. We had two changes of horses, one at Pigroot, and another at Palmerston. My fellow traveller left me at the junction opposite Mt. Cargill for Port Chalmers and I reached Dunedin at midnight.

Travelling in the North Island was more on horseback than in Otago. In 1885 I travelled on foot and horse from the northern end of Lake Taupo to Taumarunui, mainly through the bush. It took us six days. From Wellington to Wanganui was a common and an interesting journey. The drive on the sand from Paekaka-riki to Foxton was, when the tide was out, very delightful. One trip I had as companions amongst others Sir Walter Buller and Renata Kawepo, one of Hawke's Bay's most noted Maori chiefs. We had fine weather till we reached Waikanae. Then there came a thunder burst and rain continued with us till we reached Foxton. When we came near to the Manawatu we had to turn in towards the Ferry. The rain was heavy and our candles were done and it was pitch dark being then about 9 p.m. Sir Walter Buller and myself had to get out of the coach and walk ahead to show the way to the driver. This delayed us so much that we did not reach Foxton till about 11 p.m.—wet to the skin of course.

The first part of the journey was, however, very pleasant, for the Maori chief and Sir Walter Buller discussed the Maori names of the places from Wanganui to Wellington.

Regarding them, Renata had an explanation for most of these names. About some, however, all he could say was “Our fathers called it so.” There was in all this travelling in the old days little grumbling about roads and delays. To have thought that the time would soon come when we could go from Invercargill to Auckland in about two days would not have been believed. Now we can leave Invercargill at 6 a.m. on Monday and have breakfast at 8 a.m. on Wednesday in Auckland.[gap — reason: illegible]