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Tales of Banks Peninsula

No. 1.–Le Bon's Bay

page 272

No. 1.–Le Bon's Bay.

There are different tales in explanation of the manner by which Le Bon's came in possession of its name, One is that the whalers in the very early days were accustomed to bring in the whales to the Bay and try them out. In the course of time the beach was covered with whale bone, and the place was called the Bone Bay. Another story tells how Captain Le Bas came in his ship to Le Bon's, mistaking it for Akaroa. He sent a boat's crew ashore, and one of the crew was named Le Bon The Bay was named after him. Captain Le Bas stayed in the Bay for some time. There were a great many whalers of all nations about in those days (during the fifties), but they seldom called into the Peninsula bays by all accounts, generally making Akaroa Harbour their headquarters., Le Bas' ship is supposed by some to be the first ship that was anchored in the Bay.

There was a Maori pah on the beach before white men came into the Bay, but they had all gone before the first settlers arrived. Skeletons are often found in the sand, and some curios, such as greenstone tomahawks, ear rings, etc Traces of the pah still remain, and lead to the conclusion that there was once a number of Maori inhabitants. Abundance of stumps of totaras were found about the page 273Heads. The trees had evidently been cut down for canoes. As in most bays where the Maoris lived, strata of bones of all kinds are found where they had been heaped up after a feast, mixed with fish bones and shells. A close examination proves also that the Natives did not confine themselves to this food. Piles of human bones, which are all separated from one another, and piled up close to the kitchen middens, disclose the fact that cannibalism was a common practice amongst them.

Mr. Cuff, father of Mr. Cuff, of Cuff and Graham, the shipping firm in Lyttelton, was the first settler in Le Bon's. He went there with his family, and lived in a tent for some time, and eventually built the house now on Mr. Henry Barnett's property It has been added to, however, and so much improved that there is little of the old house left. When Mr. Cuff came the Bay was covered in dense bush and heavy timber: that was in 1857, Le Bon's being much later settled than most of the Peninsula bays. Mr. Cuff saw that there was a great deal of valuable timber and started a sawmill on the banks of creek close to his house. Mr. Cuddon, now in Christchurch, brought the engine down, and the vessel was floated up the creek. There was a great difficulty in getting the engine ashore, as it sunk in the mud, and it was some time before the mill was got into working order. It came on to blow severely, and the vessel that brought the engine was detained a month in the Bay. When it did start the mill had plenty of work. The flat was covered with white and black pines as thick as they could stand, and the sides of the valley grew immense totaras and other timber. Mr. Cuff brought cattle with him, and improved the land about his house. The walnut trees still standing were planted by him, and are nearly as old as those on Muter's place in German Bay.

The Maria Ann and Gipsey, ketches, were the first vessels that carried the timber from the Bay to Lyttelton. Messrs Thos. Aldridge and Stephens owned them, being partners They came to Le Bon's about 1860, and soon afterwards went to Laverick's, returning to Le Bon's some years afterwards. Mr. Stephens, it will be re-page 274membered, lost hie life on the brigantine Lizzie Guy. The ketch Maria Ann was sold afterwards in Lyttelton, and the Gipsey, on her way from Lyttelton to Le Bon's, was run down by a steamer off Long Look-out A man well known, a Dutchman, by name Charlie Smith, commanded her at the time. No lives were lost. These two vessels carried an immense amount of timber to Lyttelton. The vessels anchored in the Bay, and punts and rafts were floated down the creek laden with the timber from the mill, which was situated about a mile from the sea.

Some years afterwards, during a great storm, two ves sels were wrecked—the Breeze and the Challenge. The Challenge was sunk at anchor. The Breeze was driven into nor' west Bay and smashed up. The crews managed to get ashore At a quite recent date the Gipsey and Diligence, which replaced them, were also wrecked; and the Hero, well known from her several narrow escapes, met with her fate also in Le Bon's.

Messrs Saxton and Williams took the mill from Mr. Cuff about 1861, but only worked it for six months. Mr. John Cuff, son of the owner, then managed it. Messrs Oldridge and Stephens ran the mill for some time, and after that Mr. Drummond McPherson, well known in Canterbury, bought it. A man named Rouse bought it from him. In 1865 Mr. John Smith took it over. He had a great many men working for him, who are now settlers in the Bay. He also introduced the Danes, who now own among them a good portion of the land in Le Bon's Bay. Mr. John Smith got the contract from the Provincial Council for building the old jetty and the tramway to it from the mill. About £1000 was thrown away on this work. The tramway could never be made to act, and a ship load of timber never went down by it, punting and rafting being resorted to as of old. An attempt once to get a shipment of cheese away by sending it down the tramway to the jetty proved a failure. The tramway was never of any use whatever, and was left to decay. Some portions of it are still to be seen. About this time Mr. Hartstone, in company with a man named Savage, page 275who acted as engineer for Mr. Smith for some time, started a mill on the headland above where the new jetty has been built. Mr. Dalglish, who previously to this had been working, for Mr. Piper in Duvauchelle's Bay, soon afterwards took this mill, and still owns the property. Mr. Dalglish made the mill much larger, and exported a great deal of timber. Mr. Smith, when he bad worked out the timber in the Bay, rented Mr. Dalglish's mill for some years

The greatest event that ever occurred in Le Bon's was the tidal wave of 1868. It came at one o'clock, and caused much terror. Mr. Bailey's house was carried bodily up the Bay, and deposited on the tops of the trees on the flat There was three feet of water in Mr. Smith's house on the flat, and all day the waves kept coming up. A whaleboat was carried out of the river and placed on a bridge. The bridge was loosened and carried out to sea, and again the boat and bridge were brought back

Following on this was the renowned gold fever It appears Miss Gladstone, the sister of Mrs. Smith, found a piece of quartz well impregnated with gold close to the house, which, it was supposed, had been washed up by the tidal wave, The news spread like wild fire, and became known in Christchurch. A company was formed there, and two men were sent down to examine the Bays. These men prospected Waikerakikari and Le Bon's, and found no signs in the latter, but there were traces of gold in the former. The men belonging to the mills were all the time in a great state of excitement, and shovels and dishes, and all the articles appertaining to gold getting were in great demand. It is generally supposed that some man wished to play a lark, and placed the quartz there. No result came at any rate from the discovery of the one piece of quartz, and the men gradually settled down to their work again at the mills, after every gully and bank in the Bay had been thoroughly examined.

As may be supposed, there were many strange characters in the Bays in those days. Sailors were continually deserting the vessels, and kept in hiding in the bush page 276until they bad gone. Men of ail classes and description worked together, and some of them were men of no mean ability.

The bush was so dense that a trip to Akaroa was quite an expedition, Very often parties lost themselves for several days, which can hardly be eredited now. The first track was cut by Mr. Cuff, for which he got £100 It can still be traced, running along the ridge on the south side of the Bay across the ranges to German Bay, where it ran almost in the same place as the present road lies, About 1864 the Okain's, Little Akaloa and Le Bon's Road Board came into existence. Mr. Henry Barnett was the first representative for Le Bon's, and Mr. George Hall acted as Clerk to the Board. In 1870 72 the present road to the Akaroa side was formed. Harry Head fixed the grading. He also laid ont the read to Nor' west Bay. Harry Head never lived in Le Bon's for any time, although he was passing through and staying at the settlers' houses. Few were as well acquainted with the bush as he. As most of our readers know, he lived in Waikerakikari and Gough's, then almost inaccessible.

Butcher's meat was a luxury little known to the early people in the Bay. Wild pigeons abounded, however, also ka kas. The creek swarmed with eals of great size, and monsters of 40lbs. and 50lbs. were quite common. The general plan was for the men to go out on Sunday, and in an hour or so shoot enough game to last tho rest of the week As the bush disappeared, the land was sown down, and cattle introduced The destruction of the bush was also the destruction of the game.

Messrs Piper, Duvauchelle and Howland came early to the Bay, and worked in the mill. Mr. Bailey arrived in 1861. The Barnetts came in 1863, Mr. G. Hall in 1860, and Mr. D. Wright, now in Okain's, in 1862. There were, of course, heavy bush fires, but the inhabitants lived on the flat, which was first cleared, so little damage was done to property. Mr. Bailey was once burnt out, but he was the solitary exception.

The first dairy was started by the Messrs Barnett. Mr. page 277Thos. Aldridge soon followed suit, and was still carrying it on in 1893 Messrs Hardstone, Leonardo and others soon afterwards began making cheese, but it is only during the last thirty years that dairying has become general. Mr H. Barnett first introduced sheep into Le Bon's to stock his fine property.

The present church was built in 1869. Before that the preacher delivered his address from a timber stack. Mr. Smith had a school for the children in the Bay. Miss Pauer was the first Mistress Mr. Tom Berry, a well-known character on the Peninsula, was master afterwards. The present school was built some twenty-six years ago.

Some years ago a man named Norris started in a boat for Okain's. It came on bo blow, the boat was capsized and Norris drowned, Another accident occurred not long ago The late Mr Dalglish shot his timber down a shoot into the Bay for a number of years. A man named Neilson was at the bottom of the shoot when the timber was being let down, and kept in check by a chain. The chain broke and came down on Neilson, killing him.

With the exception of a few occurrences of this sort, the Bay has had a very quiet history. It is the old story of men building up a settlement isolated from the rest of the world. The Bay prospers from year to year, and grass seed and cheese have become its chief exports.