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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911

Timaru, January 15th, 1884

Timaru, January 15th, 1884.

My dear St. John,

Says the wise man: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider; God also hath set the one over against the other." I am considering, for the fat years have been followed by leanness, in other words, the price of wool has fallen, high values given for land have led to failure; there is a dearth of money, and our noble subscription list for the Church must be largely discounted. Its walls, nearly to their full height, are at a standstill, and there is no prospect of any immediate progress. Meanwhile the inevitable croakers are ready with their encouraging comments: "I always said you were attempting too much; look at the result,—a picturesque ruin! "So I preach patience, and reply that the loyalty which I know St. Mary's people have to the Church is not going to fail, even if we have to wait some time before it is fit for use. We have paid our way so far, with the exception of the debt incurred for the vicarage and its site, and, by way of easing the finances of the parish, as the Vestry deal with me most liberally in the matter of stipend, I am paying the interest due on debentures, by way of rent.

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I have again been to Westland. During my stay there I had an interesting time with the Maories. At Arahura there is a Native School, attended also by a few European children. The Master and Mistress are well qualified for their work, being conversant with the Native language. Owing to some trouble which had arisen with regard to discipline and teaching, I was commissioned by the Bishop, at the request of the Government, to make inquiry, and report. The school is a State school, receiving a considerable subsidy, in addition to small fees paid by the children. Knowing the deliberate fashion of all Native discussion, I gave a whole long day to the inquiry. The committee, consisting of Native chiefs, with one European representative, assembled early in the morning to take evidence from the parents, and Master and Mistress. The real source of the trouble soon appeared. One of the committee, a Maori Chief who had lately come from Christchurch, bringing several children, had taken dislike to the Master and Mistress, and brought charges of mismanagement against them, which broke down completely. He had persuaded one other of the committee to join him in complaining to the Government, and asking for the removal of the Master and Mistress. Late in the afternoon I summed up the evidence, and gave my decision, completely exonerating the Master and Mistress; and, having drawn up a statement of the case to be forwarded to the Government, I invited the members of committee to sign it. With much deliberation, one by one did so, until it came to the turn of the malcontent Chief. The others looked at him with inquiring eyes, as he approached the table and took up the pen. "No," said he, "I will not page 215sign." Then I remembered advice given me by a man of much experience with the Natives: "You'll find that when they are in the wrong, but unwilling to give in, a little strong language, with some show of contempt, will be more effective than any appeal to reason." Knowing practically nothing of the language, which can be very picturesque on occasion, I fell back on English, which is sufficiently understood. "You refuse, do you? You, who have made false statements, proved to be false! They tell me you pride yourself on being a Rangitira, a man of high birth and character! You are, in my opinion, no better than a sulky schoolboy; you don't know how to behave as a man; I'm ashamed of you! "Up he got, came to the table again, took the pen, and signed the document. Then a look of satisfaction beamed on every face, including his own; the meeting ended, and we went to an evening meal, everyone apparently much relieved by the conclusion of the day's work.

I arranged with them that in the morning two of the committee should meet me in Hokitika, at the Telegraph Office, to sign a message to the Bishop, and inform him of the settlement of the case. They came and did so, and then, from their manner, I saw that there was something still to be done. "Would I come with them into the town? "They took me to a jeweller's shop, and bought a valuable little green-stone ornament. "But," said I, "I've only done my duty, which is part of my regular work for you." "Yes, we know that, but duty isn't everything; we want you to take this, because of our affection for you." So I asked them why did ——— give in at last and sign, did he really mean it? "Yes, page 216he meant it, and he said, your Mana was too strong, he had to own he was wrong." That untranslatable Maori word, which means a something of personal influence and rightful authority.

On my return journey, rain and flood delayed the coach at the foot of the Otira Pass, where we had to remain for the night, in a rough shanty, which leaked like a sieve, but provided us with plenty of food and fire. Several weather-bound miners were there, and conversation took place about a fatal accident which had befallen some prospectors in the neighbourhood, who were camped in a deep ravine, which cuts through the flanks of the Wilberforce ranges. One night a furious flood came down upon them, sweeping away tents and men as they slept. Two escaped, the third was discovered some days later, smothered in sand and shingle, and, said the narrator, "the curious thing was that the poor chap had his blanket still round him, and, gripped fast in one hand, a chess board, like a small backgammon board, closed, with the men inside held in their places with pegs; the other chaps told us that John Davies used to play chess by himself in his tent, at night, after he had turned in."

Have you never noticed, St. John, that, now and then, there are happenings which seem providentially meant for yourself, bringing messages which are of encouragement or warning, from those whom you once knew in life? The man's story meant much to me. Had I not been by chance detained on my journey, I might never have heard again of my old friend, John Davies. "I can tell you something of him," I said. "Some years ago, before I left the Coast, I made friends with him at Ross. He had been page 217a sailor, a miner in California, and was mining in Westland. A bad accident laid him up in the Hokitika Hospital for eighteen months, and there, when I visited him, he asked me to teach him chess. I happened to have a small closed board, fitted with men, which I gave him; I taught him the moves, and he took to trying to solve the problems which appear in the Illustrated News. Just before I left Westland he had recovered sufficiently to be about the ward, and, when I was taking leave of him and others, he said, 'You've been a good friend to me, Archdeacon, I'm a different man now; perhaps we shall never meet again, but be sure if anything happens, wherever I am picked up, this chess board will be found on John Davies.'"

"And he said that, did he? Well now, who'd have thought it would come true?" "Yes," I said, "if you hadn't been here to tell, I should never have known it, and, do you know, I feel sure that John Davies is glad that I know it." They sat in silence some time, smoking, over the fire. "Well, good night, all," said one, "I didn't know him, but his mates spoke well of him, though he did keep a bit to himself; it's a rough life, and many a good chap goes under; glad I met you."

A brilliant morning followed the rain; at an early hour we were atop of the pass, looking down at the glacial torrent in the Otira Gorge, a branch of the same stream which overwhelmed John Davies; rock and snowy peaks bathed in glorious sunshine. "His wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in His pleasure is life: Heaviness may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." May it be so with my old friend.