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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 270


Timaru, 1894. July 1st.

My dear St. John,

During my visit to England my Father's resignation of the Diocese took place, Archdeacon Julius of Ballarat being elected by Synod as Bishop; an able man, full of energy, and with London and Australian experience.

I am no longer single-handed in my work, having an excellent curate, the Rev. P. J. Cocks, who does credit to the education in Christ's College, Christchurch, and our Theological College. Several Lay-readers also help us to overtake the work, which is daily increasing, as we have four places where services are held, in addition to St. Mary's. Our Diocese owes much to the founders of the Canterbury Settlement in the establishment of Christ's College on the lines of an English Public School, and its upper Department for Theological training. The latter has a fair building for its students, and includes amongst them university students who need a home, as the New Zealand University is only a teaching body, providing class-rooms, but no accommodation for undergraduates.

The State system of Education in New Zealand practically covers the whole field, with elementary, secondary, and university teaching. Here and there page 271small private schools exist, a few of our own, and a fair number maintained by the Roman Church. In many ways this National system is excellent, but its defects are serious. It is entirely secular; no religious teaching permitted within school hours. It seems to have been thought by its promoters that the only way to avoid religious controversy was to shut the door of all schools, excluding even the simplest use of the Bible. It seems incredible that, in pursuance of this plan, the Senate of the University, in a young country which prides itself on providing liberal opportunities to the rising generation of all that education really means, should actually exclude from its course of study the teaching of History, ancient or modern. Yet so it is. Surely, at some future date all this will be found to be a grave mistake.

At the same time I have always done all I could in the cause of education, and of late have accepted the post of Chairman of the Board of Governors of our High School in Timaru, for South Canterbury. The Board possesses a good deal of land, which provides a good income. This means much business in addition to the ordinary affairs of the school, which includes girls as well as boys. My task has not always been an easy one; not, perhaps, an unusual experience in the management of any school; ructions have been frequent, but we have managed to straighten out things, and the School is prospering.

As a recreation, I have for some time time past dabbled in astronomy, physical astronomy, I should say, as I am no mathematician. I began it in Westland with a small telescope, about the time of the Transit of Venus in 1874. With the help of an old friend there, J. O'Connor, a clever Engineer and Sur-page 272veyor, we tackled the general facts of the problem, and planned to observe the transit of the planet across the sun, which occurs once in a hundred years, and eight years later again takes place. It offers the best known means of ascertaining the sun's distance from the earth, and from that the relative distances of all the planets in our system can be deduced with fair accuracy. For this purpose simultaneous observations must be taken at stations distant as far as possible from each other, as, for example, Great Britain and New Zealand. The British Government sent to New Zealand a well-equipped expedition, consisting of Major Palmer, well known for his work in Palestine, Lieutenant Darwin, and a staff of subordinates from Greenwich, with all necessary instruments. Major Palmer established himself in two places, at Burnham, near Christchurch, and in Otago. Knowing, as we did in Westland, that in December it constantly happened that the skies were clear whilst overcast in Canterbury, and that so much depended on this, we suggested to Major Palmer that he should send us competent observers and instruments, in view of failure in Canterbury. Unable to do this, he gave us full directions, and, as we had some good chronometers, instructed us how to rate them with his sidereal clock at Burnham, so that he might know the exact time of any observations we might make.

The day was cloudless: our task was to observe the moment of the planet's ingress on the sun's disc, and of its egress on the other side,—this to half a second. On the beach we had erected an iron observatory shed, O'Connor at the telescope, myself and three others ready, at his call, to note the exact time of it; two calls, the first at the moment when Venus just touches page 273the Sun's edge, and a little black spot appears to join them; the second when the spot vanishes and the disc of the planet touches the bright rim of the Sun. Each chronometer was at a different hour, minutes and second. Our task was to take on each the exact interval between the two calls. Our telescope was too small for complete accuracy, but the results of our observations showed that we all agreed on the length of the interval between the calls to half a second. As the planet slowly moved across the sky from 1.30 p.m. to about five, it looked like a black bullet.

Presently there came a telegram from Palmer,—clouds, no observation; failure; and the same to a great extent in Otago. Soon afterwards he and Darwin came to Hokitika. He was full of regret: "Months of the stiffest work by way of preparation thrown away." We had drawn up as good a report as we could of what we had done, which he was glad to have, but it was of comparatively little value as our glass was so small.

Soon after this, I received, as an Easter offering, a hundred guineas, and, sending to London, obtained a good, equatorially mounted telescope, with an object glass of four and a half inch diameter, with circles, its focal length five feet. In my garden at Timaru I erected it, with an Observatory shed. It has been a great source of pleasure to me and to many others. This Southern Hemisphere is richer in stars of first magnitude than the Northern, and in its constellations, though it lacks the Great Bear, and has no Polar star.

The eight years' interval over, there came the chance again of seeing the Transit of Venus, the last for the next hundred years. Major Tupman, a well-known astronomer, with Lieutenant Coke, came out for it, page 274and established himself at Burnham. Inspecting my teleseope, and well satisfied with it, he gave me full instructions, being anxious to take advantage of all operations subsidiary to his own. Inviting me to Burnham, he tested my quickness of observation by means of a clever instrument for the purpose, as it is found that this varies much in individuals, and for the sake of accuracy in calculation, it is necessary to know what is termed the "personal equation" of the observer. I obtained a good chronometer from Mr. Bower, a Scotch watchmaker in Timaru, and enlisted him and a young fellow as my assistants. It was again in December—midsummer here—and the night previous to the Transit, which was due at 7.30 a.m., was brilliant, a blue-black sky, sparkling with stars. We went to bed early to be sure of good eyesight and readiness for the work, but, alas, for the plans of men and mice, in the morning a sea-fog, thick as cotton wool, and not the ghost of a Sun visible! Breakfast ready at 6.30 a.m. "Go and tell Mr. Bower to come," I said to young Tate, "he's in the garden." "He says he couldna even eat porridge, it's too sad," was the reply. By mid-day the sun was glorious, but the chance was gone. However, at Burnham, Major Tupman was quite successful. He tells me that the computations needed to arrive at the result of observations made in various parts of the world will probably occupy the astronomers at Home some two years at least.

My ordinary parish work finds a pleasant change in a monthly visit to Christchurch, for the Standing Committee, which, with the Bishop, administers the Diocese. I often on these occasions take duty in the Cathedral.

page 275

My late holiday furnished me with ample material for Lectures, specially with the aid of a good lantern and slides I procured in London. In a new land like this there is no lack of intellectual curiosity about the old world, and I find a Timaru audience keen to appreciate what I have seen in my travels, and my account of it all. The lantern is invaluable for this. We have also established an Art Society here, of which I am President, and have had several successful exhibitions of local talent, and pictures lent for the purpose.

I must tell you something of a visit from the Bishop of Melanesia. Every third year he comes to attend the General Synod and report on his work. On this occasion he brought his Mission yacht with him, with a number of his "boys," and came as far as our port. The boys are young men who have been educated at Norfolk Island, the headquarters of the Mission, and in due time returned to their Islands, to act as teachers, in some cases, and to be generally the means of Christianising and civilising their fellow islanders. The results of the Mission are very encouraging. It has established a footing on many islands, so that peace and order, and wholesome work, have superseded a state of savagery and perpetual warfare. The work is arduous, often dangerous; too much credit cannot be given to the self-sacrificing labours of the Bishop and his fellow workers.

The yacht is navigated by English officers and seamen, but the native boys, who are born boatmen, can always, if needed, lend a hand. As the Bishop made a stay of several days with us, we did our best to entertain his boys. They are great cricketers. A match was arranged between them and the High

page 276

School. They held their own easily. One of their bowlers was a terror; barefooted, hands and feet whirling like a wheel, he sent down the ball at a great pace. Meanwhile the field, also barefooted, when a wicket fell, or a catch was made, stood on their heads, clapping their feet together. On Sunday, in Church, as they know the run of the Service in their own language, they were most devout, and in the afternoon they themselves, after an address from the Bishop, entertained a great gathering of children and teachers, with hymns sung in their own language, accompanied by a barefooted organist on the harmonium.

An incident which then occurred will illustrate one of the minor hardships of a Missionary's life. I had given up my study to the Bishop for rest and preparation for the evening service and, coming in to see if he had all he needed, I found several of his boys there, some sprawling on the floor, some lounging in chairs. I promptly turned them out. "Ah," said the Bishop, "that's one of our great problems; they have no idea of our need of privacy; they will creep in and lie about, like dogs, simply to be with you."

"Why not turn them out?" I said.

"Well, you see, we wish to make them feel quite at home with us; it is part of our plan of leading them to realize what is meant by Christian fellowship and brotherhood." This seems to me a counsel of perfection open to argument.

The Mission is well supported in New Zealand, both by subscription and regular offertories.

We have now a system of Diocesan inspection of Sunday Schools, greatly to their advantage. The Inspector visits every school annually, examines, advises the staff, and, by sermons and addresses, stirs page 277up general interest in the work. In Timaru we have three Schools and, in order to do them justice, the Inspector remains with us over two Sundays, the State School authorities permitting the children to go for examination during the week time. The results of the annual examination are laid before the Diocesan Synod, and are discussed there. A course of teaching, extending over several years, has been sanctioned by the Standing Committee. We are doing all we can to obtain from Government the opportunity of giving religious teaching in the State Schools within school hours, and in this we have the Presbyterians with us, who are numerous in New Zealand.

The distance of New Zealand from England accounts for the fact that so little seems to be known of it at home in comparison with other colonies. Increased and quicker communication, both by steamer and cable, is changing this; tourists are discovering the beauty of New Zealand scenery, its great glaciers, and mountain peaks, its hot and medicinal springs in the North Island, and especially its trout fishing, probably the finest in the world. A few years ago there was neither fish in the rivers, nor any sort of game, besides a few wild pigs. Acclimatisation Societies have been at work, and to-day trout abound, often reaching five and six pounds in weight, and, with a general licence for fishing, all water is free; but as yet the attempt to acclimatise salmon has failed. There is excellent sport to be had with harriers, the imported hares being larger and stronger than at home, and often running as straight as a fox. In the mountain country red deer have been successfully introduced. The stalking rivals that in Scotland, more difficult because of less cover, and the clearness page 278of the atmosphere in which things are seen at a great distance. All this brings visitors to the country.

Lately, travelling by rail from Christchurch to Timaru, I met two who were greatly taken with the prosperous appearance of the country. I told them that fifty years ago the place was a mere lonely wilderness of grass, and that all they saw,—farms, houses roads, villages, townships, was the work of a handful of people, who to-day do not number 30,000 in South Canterbury. "Difficult to believe" was the response, "they must be a grand lot of workers." Machinery accounts for much, but the fact remains that here men do more than at home; wages are higher, there is always the chance for all of making money and rising in the social scale.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.