Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911

Malvern Hills, New Zealand, Oct. 1st., 1863

Malvern Hills, New Zealand, Oct. 1st., 1863.

My Dear St. John,

Since my last winter we have had experience of what winter can be in this Southern Island. Canterbury has an average Latitude of 43°, about that of Spain, but the climate on the whole is as cold as that of the North of France; life would be difficult here in a Latitude corresponding to that of London, as we have no Gulf stream to modify our winter.

I was on one of my usual visits to a station on the flanks of Mt. Torlesse, when snow began to fall; as it continued day and night, I thought it prudent to start at once, and return to my home in the Malvern Hills before it became too deep to travel. Reaching the River Kowai, and descending its steep terrace bank, I found, near a small empty hut, some tents occupied by a surveying party, with Dr. Haast, lately come from Germany to take the post of Government Geologist in Canterbury. They advised me to stay the night with them, as snow was falling heavily and it was unlikely that I could complete my journey before darkness set in. With Dr. Haast I took refuge in the hut, and a rough time we had of it for the next two days; no lack of firewood, but a scanty supply of provisions, and so cold at night that our only re-page 72course was to keep up a big fire, for our beds consisted of wool packs laid on the clay floor, with others in lieu of blankets, the very roughest sort of bed clothes I have yet experienced. Nevertheless we fared fairly well, for Dr. Haast was excellent company, full of anecdote, and, having a rich, baritone voice, kept us alive with his songs. A very keen frost set in as the snow ceased, and the next morning I made a start, finding that the snow, two feet in depth, was sufficiently frozen to bear my horse. After a few miles, however, the snow lay deeper, and in places so drifted that the going became dangerous, and I determined to make tracks for a shepherd's hut, lying rather out of my way, some distance up a valley. I had travelled only at a foot's pace, and made but little way; soon I found myself in difficulties and, noticing a clump of black birch trees which might shelter my horse for the night, I unsaddled him and provided him with some oats I had in my saddlebags, and left him there. Then on foot towards the hut, only a mile distant, but it took me more than an hour to reach it, as I had to cross snow bridges formed over streams and gullies, on which I crawled on all fours, afraid of sinking through the snow, and when at last I reached the hut, my leather overalls were frozen so that they stood upright by themselves. It was a veritable haven of refuge, in which I was made welcome by the shepherd and his family, and there I spent the next day. Fine weather came, and hard frost, and we managed to rescue the horse and get him into shelter, and then I was able to travel homewards on the hard frozen snow. For a fortnight or so after this such travelling as I was able to accomplish was of the same kind, and, to give you some idea of what a winter can be page 73here in the hill country, I may tell you that I frequently led my horse over frozen streams and small lakes, where the ice was at least eight inches thick.

A few days ago, in the early spring, on a visit to Christchurch, I went with the Bishop and others to Kaiapoi, north of Christchurch, where there is a native "Pah," once rather an important Maori centre, with some two hundred inhabitants, originally refugees driven by other tribes from the North Island, and settling in the South. The Natives are well-to-do, as the Government has reserved ample land for their use; they are all Christians, and have a good school for their children, comfortable wooden houses, and a small church. The occasion of our visit was to receive the annual report of the School Examination. Maoris are proverbially given to hospitality, and need no instruction in the art of receiving notable guests with all due respect, having an innate sense of the dignity of high office and responsible authority. Nature's gentlemen they are, and, whilst living much in their old ways of tribal democracy, each individual having his due share and voice in matters that concern the tribe, yet they have deep respect for what they consider is the privilege of good birth, and specially that of Chieftainship, or the authority which belongs to the priest, the teacher, or head of the family.

So it was a great occasion. The "Pihopa," i.e. Bishop, was to preside; the School Inspector would deliver his report; Mr. Stack, one of our clergy, who has an intimate knowledge of the Maoris and their language, would interpret; and many of the "Rangitiras," i.e. gentlefolk, of Christchurch would be present to see and hear.

Seats were arranged for the guests on the brow of page 74a mound of grass, beneath which the Maoris, with their wives and children included, were squatting in Maori fashion, for no Maori really prefers a chair. The report was read in Maori and English, and was very favourable in all subjects,—knowledge of the Bible, Church teaching, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Bible and Prayerbook have both been translated into Maori, and are practically their only literature, which they study constantly. If you get into an argument with a native on the Bible, you must be prepared with a thorough knowledge of the subject, or you will find yourself posed. Then the Bishop spoke, in English, Mr. Stack interpreting in Maori, every two or three sentences. After clue praise of the school work, he said, "Now, I want you to consider one thing seriously: your children have great advantages; their teachers do all they can for them, not only duty, but as a labour of love; well, I look round at this assembly and see much evidence of prosperity; your crops, horses, cows, pigs, and such good and expensive dress which you can afford for your wives and children; yes, you are indeed well off, and yet I'm told that you only pay sixpence a week for each child's schooling; surely you can afford a shilling, and not have to ask the 'Pakeha' (i.e. the white man) to help you in maintaining your school."

As this was interpreted, a smile stole round the assembly, especially on the faces of the women, for Maoris love a telling point in debate, and a pause ensued, with that sort of unspoken admiration which meant that Pihopa had "scored." Maoris in assembly always maintain a dignified reluctance to answer in haste. Presently a fine young native stood up; Maori page 75orators stand and walk about whilst their audience sit on the ground; they know nothing of the difficulty of thinking on one's legs; keen critics of argument, and quick at repartee: "Pihopa, we welcome you; it is a great honour you do us by being here; your words about our children and their work are good, like the sunshine on the young springing grass; we are proud of our school and Church; and that word of yours about the shilling, it is good. But,—there is my wife; yes! so well dressed! Her dress costs much! Pihopa, I wish I could help it."

Down he sat, and as Mr. Stack interpreted his speech to the Bishop and the company of Pakehas present, a grin spread slowly over every native face, as much as to say, that is a Roland for the Bishop's Oliver. Then followed dinner, served al fresco in Maori style; fish, potatoes and cabbage, perfectly cooked, all steamed in Maori ovens. The Maori scoops out a hole in the ground, lines it with flat stones, kindles a fire on the stones, and covers up the embers for a time with ferns and grass; then opening it, he inserts the food wrapped up in flax bags, covers it up with grass and earth, and after due time the result is excellent. Cake they also provided and tea, and they then offered us, by way of desert, a luxury they are very fond of. The inner substance of the Ti-ti palm, which is long and fibrous, contains a good deal of sugar, it is steamed in ovens, and then sucked like sugar-cane. The natives sat in pairs, opposite each other, each with one end of a yard of fibre in his mouth, which they diligently sucked till their mouths almost met.

Things are changing here; a good deal of land on the plains has been purchased, and is under cultivation; fences are appearing, and people are settling page 76where hitherto sheep roamed at will, tended by a few shepherds. I have succeeded in collecting enough money to build the first church on the plains, south of Christchurch, At Burnham; a simple, wooden structure, with open, high-pitched roof, shingled outside, and with a tiny apse for sanctuary; the design was mine, and with the aid of a very capable carpenter, the building has been erected. Great was the day of its consecration and first services, with a congregation over one hundred, and after morning service, a general picnic, as many had brought supplies to aid the generous hospitality of the principal landowner, who has done much to forward Church work in the district. After nearly five years of worship in woolsheds and houses, one cannot help feeling deeply grateful for the achievement of a building, well furnished, and dedicated to the Glory of God.

Another change has affected me personally. The Bishop and Standing Committee, who are the Executive of the Diocesan Synod, finding that the time has come for the division of my vast district, and the formation of three other districts, have commissioned me to organize them for clergy, by obtaining certain guarantees for stipend and, if possible, for passage money from Home. This done, they wish me to return to England and look up suitable men. The work of organization will take at least six months, and will involve much travelling, and all the powers of persuasion I can muster, to secure the necessary funds. If I succeed, I hope to leave New Zealand homewards about the middle of next year.

Another happening, indicative of a new era of things throughout the Colony. In the Province of Otago rich gold discoveries have been made, and diggers are page 77arriving from Australia and California in great numbers, and here in Canterbury there is no small exodus of all sorts and conditions of men to the Southern gold fields. It means for Canterbury some slackness of prosperity for a time, followed by purchase of land, and settlement. Certainly, the powerful attraction of gold, which brings people from all parts of the world, in God's Providence, seems to induce the development of country which otherwise would remain for many a long decade a mere sheep-walk.

There is, naturally, some little jealousy here at the good fortune which has fallen to the lot of our Southern neighbours in this respect, and I am tempted to give an amusing instance of it. A night or so ago I was in an accommodation house, in the one living-room, and heard the following argument, after supper: "Why isn't gold discovered in Canterbury," said an Irishman, "as well as in Otago? Haven't we got a Government Geologist? Sure, an' I don't see the use of havin' Dr. Haast if he can't find gold here." I tried to explain that Dr. Haast had reported that the geology of Canterbury, so far as he knew it, shewed no symptoms of any gold deposit. But he stuck to his point, and added: "Thin, why does he get such a good salary? "This gold mania is a veritable fever, and is increased by the news that in Otago gold is literally being got in handfuls, in very shallow ground. But it costs its full value, for there has been much privation and hardship on the goldfields during the late severe winter.