Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911
My dear St. John,
Thlings are changing here; many have left for other fields in Australia, and the population, which once ran into tens of thousands, is rapidly diminishing. This seems to be the story of all goldfields, as the production of alluvial gold declines, and deep sinking or quartz mining takes its place. Capital is needed; companies employ labour; individual enterprise disappears, and, for a time at any rate, the yield of gold is small.
Moreover, this country of forest and soil, like the primary formations of Scotland or Wales, gives little promise of successful agriculture. Coal, which is found here of excellent quality, and timber, will in future be largely exploited, but at present they are only used for local needs.
You will understand my reluctance to leave a place and people of such unique character as this; nine years of experience that few can have had; a sphere of work that promised so little, yet has yielded such results. "Going there?" said an old Missionary in London, who had heard a good deal of the wilderness of forest in Westland, and its rainfall; "Take an old hand's advice, don't be discouraged, and if it rains, let it rain." "Have you any idea," said another, "of the sort of parishioners you'll find on a goldfield?" and he insisted on presenting me with a pair of pocket pistols! Another expressed his opinion to a mutual friend that an Eton and Oxford man was not the sort for gold diggers. For some time after coming here, the problem was always haunting me how to influence such men as I had to deal with, and to lead them to higher things than the love of gold, adventure, and the joy of full-blooded strong life; men of independent habits of life and thought, who had travelled, seen the big world, rough and ready for any enterprise; amongst them all sorts and conditions, meeting you with a sense of the common equality of manhood,—so different to the inherited subserviency of men who labour with their hands in the old country. Was it right, as I often asked myself, to let the man come first, and the parson second? I may have been wrong, but I found myself instinctively in that attitude. I am tempted to tell you something in illustration of this:
Meeting a friend who had lately come by coach across the hills from Christchurch, he remarked that, on the top of the coach my name had been mentioned, page 188and he thought I might like to hear what was said; "your character was freely discussed."
"Do you know the Archdeacon? I hear him so well spoken of." "Yes," said another, "he's a good man, but I doubt,—I don't think he's a converted man."
"Converted man!" said a miner, "I don't know much about your converted men; I take a man as I find him, and with us chaps the Archdeacon comes and goes, as if he were one of us, and he's always welcome. 'What do you say of him?'" addressing the driver.
"Yes," he said, "I agree with you; I take a man as I find him; he's been with me, often, on the coach, helping me with the brakes, and in some tight places, too, and when there's any trouble, I'd as soon have him with me as any man."
This set me thinking; perhaps it amounts to not much more than a natural aptitude for human fellowship which opens the door to men's hearts; perhaps only that, without any further entrance to the inner sanctuary. And yet; now and then there is something by the way, a chance word of encouragement, such as met me not long ago from a visitor to Westland. "I am glad to meet you. I've been here a short time, and am much interested in the place. I'm no Churchman, and not much of a Church goer; but I believe in all that makes for bettering the world. How is it? I find that the Church is a regular Institution here; how do you manage it? How do you do it?" It is this sort of message which makes me slow to leave a place, where, with all that has been left undone, and the best so imperfectly done, the work, in God's good providence, for which I was sent, has prospered so well.
Now for my last few months in Westland, a very busy and somewhat trying time, occupied in visiting every church centre, and taking farewell of the people and the congregations. This meant special services and social Meetings, and the personal visitation of scores of families; business meetings with churchwardens and vestries, so that everything connected with Church finance should be in good order for my successor. It is a great satisfaction to me to be able to leave everything for him, so that he will have churches and buildings almost entirely free of debt, and parochial work well organized.
All this business of farewell culminated in Hokitika; special services in All Saints on my last Sunday; with a great gathering of school children, teachers, and parents, in the afternoon. Valuable gifts were presented by the Day and Sunday School, and an address from them, of which I am tempted to quote a few of its simple and touching words: "We assure you we love our Church and School, and shall never forget your kindliness and patience in teaching us the Word of Truth, and the happy hours you have spent with us in our amusements and pleasures." On Monday evening the church was crowded for an informal service, followed by a farewell, every church in the district having sent a deputation from its congregation, to present an address. Amongst them there were nine Maories from the Church of St. Paul at Arahura, whose address in Maori was translated, for those present, by Mr. Greenwood, the native Commissioner, as I give it;page 190
"Go forth in the ways of the Gospel, and in Peace.
Thou who was't called to take the oversight of the Pakehas and Maories in Westland.
Although thou art going afar off to another place, thou wilt not be forgotten by us.
For thou hast gone in and out amongst us for so long.
And now abideth Faith, Hope and Charity;
But the greatest of these is Charity."
Then came the presentation of an illuminated address, containing signatures of the church officers of every church in the Archdeaconry, and amongst many words of kindest sympathy, some which I can never forget, such as: "our deep sense of the value of your efforts for the religious education of our children; … you have won the attachment of the young, the love of the poor, and the affection and respect of all." After the meeting an adjournment was made to the Town Hall, which was crowded to the doors. The Mayor of Hokitika was in the chair; an address from the citizens of Hokitika, and on behalf of the whole district of Westland, was presented, with especial reference to work done in the Hospital, and for the Benevolent and Literary Societies. Together with these there was a large sum of money, part of it to be expended in silver plate. You can understand my difficulty in replying, and bidding them good-bye.
That night, as a very early start by coach in the morning was necessary, my choir boys came to the house, to sleep on the floor as best they could, so as to be ready at 5 a.m. to convoy me and my luggage to the coach. There were many people in the street; a lovely spring morning, and as I got up on to the box seat, their farewell cheers startled the horses and page 191sent them off at a furious gallop. At the outskirts of the town the driver steadied his team, and, seeing a man running towards us by a side track, through the trees, said: "I will pull them up; that's Bill—he wants to say good-bye; he couldn't be there last night." He came up, gripped my hand, and, with scant breath, said, "God be with you; I've been praying for you at the Throne of Grace." "He means that," was the driver's comment.
I have been in Christchurch, resting, and preparing for my new work in South Canterbury, probably quite unlike my past experience. "How do you feel about it?" said a friend. "You've had a great time of it over there," pointing to the mountain ranges. "Somehow," I replied, "as if the romance of life was past."
H. W. H.