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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 279


Timaru, Sept. 5th, 1897.

My dear St. John,

Towards the end of 1893 my Father died at Christchurch, where he lived after resignation of his episcopate of thirty-four years; the first Bishop of Christchurch; for some time sharing with Bishop Selwyn the oversight of the whole of New Zealand. He was within a few days of ninety years of age. His memory will long be revered, not only for his work, but his personal influence and character. In Diocesan and General Synod, as Primate of the Church, he shewed true statesmanship in dealing with many problems, especially those of good government in a Church free from State control, in a new country, where so much depends for its future welfare on good foundations, well laid in the first days of its history. Known, also, even in the remotest corners of the diocese, by all sorts and conditions of men, whom he met during his annual visitations, not only for unfailing courtesy and kindliness, but for a certain personal holiness, which touched them with a deep sense of true Christian life.

A stately memorial has been placed in the Cathedral; a recumbent marble figure, the work of Williamson, the Queen's Sculptor; and in the ante-chapel of

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Eton College Chapel a bronze incised tablet has been erected by a number of his old pupils and friends: its inscription, written by the Provost of Eton, records his invaluable services to the College, and his great work in New Zealand; the Committee appointed to carry out the work being: The Rev. J. J. Hornby, D.D., Provost; the Earl of Sandwich; Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt.; Colonel the Hon. G. G. C. Eliot; Bishop Durnford, of Chichester; Bishop Abraham; Goldwin Smith; John Walter, Editor of the Times; the Rev. Edwin F. Dyke; the Rev. John Shephard; the Rev. F. T. Wethered; and Dr. Gerald Harper, M.D.

The winter of 1895 here was exceptionally severe. I had an experience of it that I shall never forget. Early in May, in brilliant frosty weather, I travelled across the Southern Alps by coach to visit Westland. Whilst there the weather changed; heavy snowfalls in the mountain ranges gradually increasing until the whole country was covered from the East to the West Coast. Then bright weather, with intense frost. The only road to Christchurch by the Otira Pass was blocked; coaching impossible. There was little chance of returning by sea, as the coastal steam service was interrupted by stormy weather. The frost continuing, without further snowfall, I took counsel with the driver of the coach, and we determined to make the experiment, as the snow was frozen to a hard surface. With myself as the only passenger, we made a start in a wagonette and four horses, a small mail bag, and my luggage. The first forty miles to the pass was tolerably good going, as there are no steep gradients and the streams which cross the road were frozen so hard that we crossed them without difficulty. Put-page 281ting up for the night at a small inn, generally used as the dining place for the coach, we found the men who are in charge of the pass, and heard their account of it. They had in places cut narrow tracks through deep drifts, which lay across the road in wreaths, and would have been impossible to negotiate either with horses or wheels. Snow had fallen in three successive storms, they thought, fully fifteen feet thick; the top layer in many places soft and treacherous. "You may just get through to the Bealey Hotel"—about twelve miles distant—"but it will be a tough job."

Two of them came with us in the morning for a part of the way, to lend a hand in case of difficulty, bringing long-handled shovels and some rope. On the western side of the pass the road ascends nearly two thousand feet in less than three miles, in sharp zig-zag curves, much of it a mere shelf cut out of precipitous rock, until it reaches a plateau, some six miles in length, intersected by ravines, and then descends by slightly easier gradients into the valley of the Bealey River. Brilliant weather, with keen frost and complete absence of wind, was in our favour. Save for the uncertainty of reaching our goal, and the chance of being hopelessly entangled in the snow, nothing could have been more delightful. The scene was Arctic; a white wilderness of rock and mountain, sparkling under sunshine which, in New Zealand, makes such a difference between its winter climate and that at home. The going was a foot's pace, great care being necessary where snow bridges crossed streams and narrow gulleys in the road. After a long day's work, we reached the hotel, and its warm welcome of a huge fire of logs, and good food; the horses being cared for as well as a stable of corrugated iron, page 282with the thermometer at zero, would allow. Next day, at noon, arriving at Craigieburn, where the coach usually changes horses, the groom informed us that the road ahead was impossible for wheels, and that he had had a message by wire from the driver of the Christchurch coach that he had forced his way on horseback to a hotel about six miles distant, where we might join him and return to Christchurch.

Saddling a couple of horses, with another for the baggage, Campbell suggested to me that I might go on, and he would follow: "You know the track as well as I do, and so does the horse, but go slow, and be careful of the sidings." My steed stood over sixteen hands; the saddle with but one girth, and that an old one; a poor chance for me, should we fall and break it, of getting on his back again. So I went warily. It is a curious piece of country, which has been tumbled about, probably in the days when ice-fields covered it, in such a fashion that it was no easy matter to make a coach road through it. The principal stream which drains it has the appropriate name of the "Broken River." In summer, most picturesque, but,—smothered in snow! I left it chiefly to the horse. Feeling his way every step of it; slithering on frozen surfaces; plunging deep in drifts; recovering himself cleverly when almost losing foothold, "Major" carried me bravely. No sign of Campbell following. After nearly five hours of it, from the top of a terrace I saw the hotel below, and some men watching my progress.

"Couldn't make you out; why, it's the Archdeacon! No man ought to travel alone in such weather!"

I explained the situation. Just as it grew dark

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Campbell arrived, having been delayed by one of his horses being bogged in the snow.

In the morning, again, as early a start as possible. Fresh horses; Rowntree, the driver, myself, with a packhorse. Snow had fallen in the night, but the sun was out, with the promise of a fine day. Going carefully, in single file, myself last, suddenly Rowntree fell headlong in a drift, all that was visible of him being a pair of legs. We decided to walk and lead. A bitter wind sprang up, driving frozen particles of snow before it, coating us and the horses with ice. We had but twelve miles before us to the next hotel, but including Porter's Pass, nearly as high as the Otira, though not nearly such rough country. As we neared Lake Lyndon, the highest lake in Canterbury, a fine sheet of water, completely frozen over, we saw in the distance five figures approaching, wading through the the snow, with long-handled shovels testing its depth, T. McKay, who has charge of the pass, keeping it in good order for coach traffic, with four of his men.

"Glad we've found you; there's a lot of fresh snow on the pass; all our tracks filled up again. Hearing by wire you had started, I said to the men, 'Who will volunteer to go and meet them? if they tackle the pass alone they'll leave their bones in the snow.' Twelve came forward, but before we topped the Pass all but these four turned back. We only just managed it, and there's nothing for it but to try and get back; but—'twill be a meracle if we do."

Scarcely encouraging! We started with them, the leader prodding the snow for soft places, often more than knee deep; the labour of lifting one's legs was such that we were sweating within, whilst the outer page 284man was frozen; there was danger of cramp, for it would have been a great risk to carry a disabled man on horseback in such intense cold. We had with us three quarts of strong tea, with egg beaten up in it, invaluable on such an expedition. Ascending the Pass, we encountered deep drifts, through which we had to shove our way, often waist deep; half afraid we might have to leave the horses to their fate, the packhorse especially, till we relieved him of his load, making a cache in the snow of the mails, my lantern, and luggage. On the summit, looking down, no sign of the road which is cut in the hill-side was visible; all was one smooth sheet of snow for the first mile of descent.

"Now, lads," said McKay, "make long reins to lead the horses with; keep some distance from each other; slow's the word. If the snow starts slipping, over we go, and nothing can save us; follow me." It was the most dangerous part of our journey, for the hill-side slopes so abruptly that any displacement of the snow would have swept us off our feet into the ravine beneath, many hundred feet in depth. Halfway down, overhanging rocks sheltered us, and at last the welcome sight of the little hotel, where men were watching our descent. Some of them hung their heads as McKay sung out, "Got through, all hands safe!" In his young days he had been a whaler in the Arctic, and he added, turning round to us, "Come along, boys. I'm a teetotaller, as you know, but after this, we're all going to have a nip of something in our tea. Get your boots and socks off; don't go near the fire; rub your feet till they get warm." Boots, gaiters, and trousers were frozen stiff, and socks, except in my case, for I had thick woollen stockings drawn up page 285over boot and gaiter, a far more effective protection than any sort of sock within the boot.

Sitting over the fire at night, Rowntree, a man of very few words, said, "Archdeacon, do you mind that deep drift just before we got to the top of the pass? I said to myself when we were in it, we shall never get out of this." "Very glad," I replied, "you didn't say it at the time, I was half afraid of it myself."

Next day we reached the train, and travelled to Christchurch, snow all the way, frozen hares and rabbits lying by the track,—a desolate winter landscape.

A day or two later I returned to Timaru. By way of a little token of gratitude to McKay and his men for all they had done, I sent him a special present, and some money for the men, and to Rowntree a cigar case well filled. McKay replied, enclosing a round robin of thanks from the men, and adding that two of them were so severely frost-bitten that they were in hospital in Christchurch for treatment.

We have lately made a special effort to reduce the debt on St. Mary's Church and Vicarage, by means of gift Sundays, aided by Bishop Julius' powerful sermons. The offertories on one Sunday alone amounted to £300. St. Mary's Needlework Guild also contributes a considerable annual sum.

I heard lately that, on the very day we were descending Porter's Pass, on the opposite side of the valley, a shepherd, out on the chance of rescuing sheep, was carried down by a snow slide, his body lying undiscovered for many days.

We had a great time in Timaru on the occasion of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Distance in no way diminishes the loyalty of New Zealand. The doctrine page 286of certain folk at home who imagine that the Colonies will soon cut the painter and launch out for themselves finds no echo here. Nor the argument that the only sure bond between the Mother Country and her daughters is self interest and business advantage. New Zealand patriotism is not likely to forget the rock from which it is hewn. The Queen's portrait hangs in every sort of house, the shepherd's hut, miner's shanty, and in the nursery. Should ever the time come when even New Zealand might aid the Mother Country, in case of war, I feel certain she will be in the front to the best of her ability. I say this especially, as being Chaplain to the South Canterbury Battalion of Volunteers, I have opportunities of testing the spirit of the men. At regular intervals we have Military parade Services in the Church, and I know how they welcome words of encouragement to Duty, Service, Loyalty, and the ideal of Imperial, not merely Colonial, responsibility.

I must tell you of another personal adventure. Having arranged, together with Presbyterian Ministers, for meetings in various parts of the country, to promote the cause of the Use of the Bible in State Schools, I went to Geraldine, and was offered a seat in a dogcart to go to Pleasant Point. Turning a corner too closely, the driver capsized the cart; I fell clear, and might have escaped much injury, had he not fallen atop of me,—the result was a deep cut over the eye, a broken nose, and damaged leg for me, but for Mr. Gillies concussion of the brain, though externally unhurt, and at the time able to walk. Driving to Pleasant Point, I was treated by the resident doctor at Mr. Hinson's Vicarage, and the next day returned to Timaru. For the first time, after many spills when page 287riding in rough country, and coaching, I was laid by the heels indoors for three weeks; a mere nothing, however, to the case of Mr. Gillies, which I fear is serious, though he has partly recovered. It is a whole-some discipline, no doubt, "to be still, and commune with oneself." What a narrow line between a slight and fatal accident!

After seven years of continuous work, without a day off by way of holiday, I am again planning a visit to England. I have secured a clergyman at home for my work, who will probably remain in the Diocese, and I am leaving as his colleague my curate, the Rev. W. H. Orbell, a most excellent parish priest. If all goes well, you may expect me again in your Vicarage at Mapledurham.

I am, Yours ever,

H. W. H.