Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.

Chapter XI. — The unbuilt City

page 131

Chapter XI.
The unbuilt City.

Streets there are, but none are seen,
Sites for homes with grass are green;
Bring the pick, the bar, the spade,
Clear the way for peace and trade!
Flax and fern, and rugged earth
Move! A city comes to birth.

“Are you waken, Peter,” said Eric, as he looked into the bunk of young McKechnie about 5 o'clock. “It is time to be moving. Tom, and Bill, and Jack are all on deck, and Brooks has already started to come off with his boat.”

Peter started up without delay, and Eric went on to rouse the others that were to complete their party, which was recognised as “Eric Thomson's band.”

By the time Brooks had got alongside they were all ready.

“Have you all got your hatchets and knives?” asked Eric before they passed down the gangway ladder.

Just as he spoke two girls made their appearance above the entrance to the single women's compartment.

One of them, turning her head, spoke down the stairway to some who had not yet been able to appear.

“Be quick! they are just going off.”

Immediately there was a rush up the stair, and a score of girls, hastily attired, were tripping along the deck to see the boys start on their way for Dunedin, the unbuilt city.

There were fifteen fresh, strong, and vigorous youths, page 132 between 16 and 25 years of age, all seated in the whaleboat of Ben Brooks, now waving good-bye to their sisters and the sisters of their friends, who deeply regretted that their fate was to remain behind while their male friends preceded them to prepare temporary dwellings.

Sally Brooks had a breakfast ready for them, which, in their excitement, now roused to a lively condition, they ate like hungry men preparing for a long walk and a stiff struggle in the bush.

Sally would make no charge for either her trouble in preparing or the food consumed in the breakfast.

“There,” said Tom Wallace, “if you won't charge we must compel you to accept something that will jingle better than thanks after we are gone,” and turning to his companions, he said:

“What shall it be, boys?” at the same time taking off his Glengary cap128, and, dropping a coin into it, he held it out to the others.

“That's right, Tom,” the others responded in chorus, and the contents, without being counted, were emptied into Sally's lap.

She made no attempt to refuse the gift, but, on the contrary, felt doubly proud that in showing her hospitality she had both made friends of the young men and had a better profit on her business than if she had charged for what she had done.

The order to march was given at 6 o'clock, and the pedestrians started, Ben Brooks leading the way through the bush into gullies, over creeks, up ridges, down glens, scrambling through thickets of dense undergrowth, clambering over fallen trees, occasionally being able to look up and page 133 see the sky between the branches of the trees that towered high above them. It was slow progress, but the novelty of the experience gave zest to their efforts. Gradually they ascended the hill, cheered on by the increasing music of the birds.

The feathered tribes were apparently more curious than surprised at the disturbance so strange in their native haunts. The pigeons129 with their beautiful white breasts, blue-grey heads and necks, blue and slatey-coloured bodies, and soft, harmless, large eyes would fly close to them and look quietly from their perches until they could have knocked them over with a stick. The ka ka130 would scream his harsh note and tear the bark off the stem of a tree, or crack a twig in his beak and gaze at the intruders from a respectful distance. The tui131 would flit from bough to bough, whistling his musical note, and passing on in advance the notice of some unusual occurrence. Mokis132, tomtits133, fantails134, robins135, would all visit them at close quarters, and, according to their habits, perform their part in the day's entertainment, and occasionally a woodhen136 could be seen darting across their path, to be lost in a thicker screen of brushwood than that from which it emerged.

After four hours of persevering struggle—no sooner having surmounted one difficulty than another was encountered—they had gained the summit of the hill, and stood for a while to gaze on the panorama of hill, forest, sea, island, and inlet that lay behind them. Lying snugly in Kouputi Bay they could see the two ships they had left in the morning. Seven miles beyond was the entrance to the harbour, and on the opposite side lay the white sandy mounds of Otakau. And, as the eye traversed the scene page 134 upwards, and the islands and lovely bays with which the harbour beneath them was beautified, they stood taking mental photographs of the magnificent sight, which even to-day, though robbed of many natural adornments, is still of surpassing loveliness.

They soon began their descent towards the “city” that was to be, and has become; but then was only a spot of ground of charming aspect without even so much as a footpath or well-beaten track upon its surface. Still, as they came in view of the place chosen for the capital of Otago, and looking down upon it from the heights in the cloudless sunshine, they felt that not only Dunedin but the adjacent country had been well selected as a fit home for them and their dear ones. The wild boldness of the part they had come through gave place to gentle slopes and sunny vales all covered with a luxuriant growth of many sorts of plant, and consequently capable of producing in plenty the necessary plants and serials of human life.

As they wended their way downwards, they came upon the fresh rootings of wild pigs, and Ben Brooks prepared them for a hunt.

They made their way quietly under his guidance, and shortly the grunts of a full-grown boar could be heard not far off. Ben's two dogs had been out on several hunting expeditions and were already on the scent, and awaited permission to make the attack, which they were soon granted. Without barking they got beyond the animals, and then gave the signal by uttering a shrill yelp. This was the first intimation the pigs had of their enemies, and in running from the dogs they were driven in upon the men, whom Ben had placed in a semi-circle, or something like the shape page 135 of a large V, through which it was hopeless for the pigs to attempt their way. Three of the men were provided with guns—Ben, Peter, and Eric—the rest were ready with their hatchets and knives.

There was quite a family of fine fleshy pigs. Four of them were mature sized, and six or eight were about four months old.

“Make sure of the young 'uns,” cried Ben. “One of them young 'uns is worth two on the big 'uns.” And with that he fired his musket, and a little pig lay bleeding. The other two shots were equally satisfactory, only that Eric had shot one of the larger, leaving the little 'uns for the men with the hatchets. Six fell victims of the fray, and under the direction of Ben they were quickly bled, disembowelled and cut up, and each man went on his way with a load of wild pig flesh slung on his back.

The rest of the journey was very little less toilsome than the past, although it was mostly down hill, for when they emerged from the forest they had to contend with a brushwood so thick in its growth that frequently their hatchets were brought into use to clear a passage through.

Tall flax137 and tangled fern138 were encountered where the brushwood was avoided; so when at last they reached the Owheo139 (Water of Leith140) they were glad to throw down their loads and rest for half an hour.

“The boats are up before us,” said Ben Brooks as he gained the summit of “Church Hill141,” subsequently called “Bell Hill,” and looked down on the landing place—a brown, sandy beach at the mouth of the “Toitu142,” a creek which ran into the sea by the Water Street side of the present Post Office.

page 136

“There they are, lads, but they are stuck in the mud! They have all had to wade ashore, or be carried on the backs of others.”

“I suppose they are all together somewhere about having a look round,” said Peter, as he looked down on the quiet, but interesting, landscape lying before them.

“Let us stop five minutes, Ben,” said Eric, “till we have a good view of the country; no hurry, is there?”

Once more their burdens were thrown down on the beautiful grass that grew on the top of the hill.

“Tell us something about the pl'ces, Ben,” requested the leader of the band.

“Well, boys, I would rather sit down to a good dinner than commence now to give you a lecture on what ye's are lookin' at. But as ye want the names of some of the places, it'll not take long for me to tell ye all I know on't.”

He pulled his right hand over his eyes and down along his nose, across his mouth, and grasped his chin, and then held firmly by his small goatee-like beard, and shortly after commenced:

“That buildin' over there, just across the creek, is the Survey Office143, and the other house there down near the creek is the surveyor's. Ye won't have no house to sleep in to-night, ye know, lads; ye might as well be on march to the wars, for if ye'v no tent with you ye'll have to sleep out under a tree. But ye won't come to no hurt if ye'v a good blanket below ye, and another over ye, unless it rains. Of course there is Johnnie's store144 and the shanty we calls the 'otel, but their aint no births145 in them for travellers.

page 137

“That there creek is called ‘Toitu,’ its Maori name. No English name has been give it yet, if ever it do get one. The beach where the boats is lyin' is called ‘Otepoti146,’ and means ‘you can go no farther.’ Something in that name; at least, for them boats can't go no farther for the mud, and ye'll know more about it after.

“That bay over the other side is named ‘Puketai147,’ or, I should rather say, the hill between it and the sea has that name. Then away at the other end of the long beach, where you see the ocean breakers coming ashore, the hill is called ‘Whakaherekau148,’ and all that large flat lying between those sandhills, the hills at the back, and the harbour, is a big bog that no man can pass through.”

“Thank you,” said Eric, “but I am afraid those strange names will not be easily remembered,”

“Oh, they come handy enough when you hear them a few times,” said Ben assuringly.

“However, we are in Dunedin,” interjected Peter. “This is the place we have to turn into a town. That will take a long time to accomplish.”

“Rome was not built in a day,” said James Carmichael, “and even one stitch at a time gets to the end of a long seam.”

“True,” answered Peter, “everything must have its beginning, yet it does seem droll to speak of this place growing into a town or a city. Was ever a place so wild as this transformed into a well-built city, with good straight streets and comfortable footpaths?”

“As to streets,” said Ben Brooks, “there have been men laying the whole of it off into streets and quarter-acre sections. See, there is one of the pegs, and heading away page 138 from it you can trace the line they have cut in the scrub, right away along down the hill-side, through that gully and up the other side.”

“What will that line represent?” asked Peter.

“No doubt that is the street line, and the sections run off it,” answered Eric.

“Quite right,” said Ben, “the street runs straight from where we are standing down there into that hole, and straight up that hill-face opposite.”

“That beats Edinburgh!” cried Tom Wallace; “might as well make a street up the face of Arthur's seat!”

“Talk of country roads! why the worst I ever saw in Scotland would never be half so bad as that,” resumed Peter. “With streets running through such places, we may well say our new home will never compare with a city in Scotland.”

“When I was last in Princes Street, Edinburgh,” said James, “I was looking at a marble statue; so beautiful and smooth, and excellently polished, was every part of that great piece of stone, that it was a delight to look at it; yet before the artist commenced to work on it, it was a coarse, irregular, unpleasing block.”

“Well, what follows from that? Oblige us by drawing the conclusion, in case we should make fools of ourselves in attempting it,” retorted Peter, who saw all it meant.

“The roughest block of marble, in the hands of a skilful artist, may give forth the finest specimen of statuary. So, possibly, in the hands of a capable engineer, this rough site may develop into a picturesque city,” was James's philosophic reply.

page 139

“There's no tellin', no tellin',” said Ben. “Anyway, there'll be work for a sight o' labourers. But we had better be gettin' on.”

They shouldered their swags149 and made their way down to the stream, over which a large log had been thrown to do service as a bridge. Crossing this, Ben led his comrades to the open space in front of the Survey Office, where they found about fifty who had come up the harbour in the boats.

They were in the act of partaking of their first repast, at the extreme end of their long journey in search of a new home. It was a rudely prepared meal, yet of substantial character, and the fifteen pedestrians were at once invited to join them.

The first thing they had now to consider was the erection of some kind of temporary shelter for themselves, while they constructed accommodation for their families.

The male passengers by the “John Wickliffe” had already put up a few huts of long poles covered with grass, besides some tents. To follow their example was now the duty of the newly arrived Scotchmen.

There was abundance of room, an endless supply of grass, rushes, and flax. The poles had to be brought some distance out of the bush.

They were eager for their work, and once they had selected their temporary sites, they busied themselves in removing the fern, tussock150, or brushwood, and levelling down the inequalities of the ground.

While one or two of each party were doing this portion of the work, the others tried their hands in the bush, cutting page 140 poles and pickets for a frame-work on which to tie the covering of rushes or grass.

Now the real work of civilisation had commenced. The pilgrim fathers of Otago were at last together, the men who formed the backbone of character in the province, were at length upon the face of the wilderness they had come sixteen thousand miles to transform into a garden of fertility and a centre of commerce.

Before them lay the teeming face of nature, producing nothing but a growth of useless and noxious plants, from a soil rich in possibilities for the full satisfaction of human wants. But only to be brought into service by resolute and persevering labour. Months of hard and wearying toil must be given before any return could be expected; but everything gave evidence of the soundest reason for hope. The very rankness of the most useless plants, and the coarseness of the grass, were unmistakeable signs of a certain reward for honest work.

Some of them sought out snugly sheltered spots, under the protection of overhanging trees, behind a steep bank, or in the midst of a thicket of brushwood, where the wind would have the least chance of disturbing them. Others with less animal instinct selected open spaces, because of the evenness of the surface, and the facilities for getting about, regardless of wind and weather, trusting to the efficiency of the work of their own hands to form a shelter from the cold and storm.

It was a busy scene, in which all selfishness was absent, and generous help extended as circumstances required. Every man was his neighbour's brother, and rendered a page 141 brotherly assistance. Yet they worked in their own parties or families.

There were five active pairs of hands in the Thomson's number, and, having chosen a spot where most advantages offered, and where the requisite material could with least difficulty be procured, their hut soon took shape. Mr. Thomson was an expert with the spade and the hatchet, and his two younger sons were almost his equals, while Eric and James Carmichael were handy at many little jobs, such as carrying poles, cutting and bringing forward the rushes for thatch. So in the course of a few hours their hut was finished, the first of that day's building.

Dry fern was gathered in armfuls and spread on each side of the floor, as a substitute for beds. The fireplace was made of sods151, close to a clay bank that stood almost level with the roof at the rear. The light was admitted by a piece of calico152 fastened above the doorway, and by the door when it could be kept open. The door itself consisted of a flour sack ripped open, and stretched on four pieces of wood nailed together at the corners and braced with a diagonal spar153. It was swung on hinges made from hog's hide.

When their hut was ready for occupation they next proceeded to the boats to bring up their bedding and other necessary things. A large box served for a table, and stools were made by nailing some sticks together; and at length they were advanced far enough to feel certain that they were safe from the effects of wind or rain until something better could be procured. And they went to give a helping hand to those who had not got so well forward.

Peter McKechnie and his father had got well on, considering only the two of them were working together. Mr. page 142 McKechnie had only the one son and four daughters. They had chosen a site adjacent to the Thomsons, and being next door neighbours, even if no other friendly relations had existed between them, they very naturally gave them the first help.

It was found that seven men were more than was necessary to complete the hut, and besides, they were to some extent in one another's way, owing to the small compass of the space cleared to work on; and as Mr. Stewart and his son Tom had been very friendly during the voyage, and had also chosen a spot not far off, Mr. Thomson and James Carmichael went over to lend them a hand.

And so the work went on. Most of the men had stripped off all clothes but pants and undershirts, and were even in that condition perspiring freely. But none thought he had a right to rest until all his neighbours were safely housed for the night. And, to tell the truth, a few of them seemed to possess very little idea of what they had to do, and it was only after they saw how the others were proceeding they managed to make a start. It was late when these were finished, and even then they had made poor work with the first part of the framework, and no art or aid could make a good job of the finish. However, they were at last under shelter, by the time it was necessary to light candles to see by, although some had to carry their trappings from the beach after dusk, and in doing so many a nasty fall was suffered, resulting in scratches, bruises, and ugly cuts.

The worst mishap of the day occurred to Andrew Melville154, who with Jack McKay was in the bush cutting some battens for a friend, who had not got on well with his page 143 operations. Andrew was cutting the stick in an insecure position, when his foot slipped and his hatchet missed and cut a deep wound in his leg, from which the blood came freely. Jack bound up the wound as he best could, in a rough and ready manner, and the two of them made their way to where the rest were. By that time Andrew was faint from pain and loss of blood.

The doctor had remained on board the ship, and there were none who had much skill in the dressing of wounds, so far as most were aware, and there was great fear the young man would bleed to death.

“Send off a boat for the doctor,” cried one.

“That will take hours; he could not arrive before midnight,” responded another.

“Send up to the survey camp. The surveyor will know what to do, perhaps,” cried a third; but none either sent or went for the much required aid; each seemed anxious to remain a witness of what others would do.

Just as about a dozen were standing in a circle round the unfortunate youth, Mr. Thomson and Eric came over to learn what the gathering together of the crowd could mean.

No sooner were they apprised of the nature of the accident than Eric darted off, without saying a word, and in a few minutes was back, carrying in his hand a long strip of cotton he had torn from the sheet he was to lie on, and with a scarf he first made a torniquet and stopped the bleeding, and then wound the bandage round the leg neatly as if he had been accustomed to the work. The older men stood and simply looked on, yielding place to Eric, as if he were a practical surgeon. When he had finished, Eric said:

“We had better get him on board a boat at once, and page 144 take him back to the ship, where the doctor can see him, as soon as possible.”

“There are only two Maori boats at the beach now,” said Tom Stewart. “I will go and arrange for the loan of one if some of you will carry Andrew down”; and he was off without waiting for ceremony.

“I can walk now,” said Andrew, making an effort to rise.

“Not to-night, Andy; you must submit to orders now,” was Eric's authoritative answer

“No, no! let me walk,” repeated Andrew; “I don't feel the pain much now.”

“To walk a hundred yards might cost your life,” and we are not going to risk that, Andy,” retorted Eric.

He gave a smile, drew a deep breath, and said: “Then have your own way. I suppose I am an invalid on the first day of our arrival. Where is father?”

His father had gone down to the beach for something for a neighbour, and had not yet heard of Andrew's hurt.

“Come, Peter, you and I can carry him down to the boats; we will see his father there,” said Eric, taking full control of affairs.

A strong hand-and-arm chair was at once formed, and Andrew was sitting in this friendly ambulance on his way to the beach when his father came up to them.

It was a sore shock to Mr. Melville, but being assured by Andrew that it was “more nasty than serious,” and that friends were making more fuss in their kindness than he thought was called for, he went with them.

Tom Stewart had found the Maori boat just on the point of starting, and as they were going to the Kaik at page 145 Otakau, they were generous enough to refuse any pay for their services.

A comfortable position was prepared for the wounded man on the top of some sacks spread on the bottom of the boat and Maori mats on the top of them. There he lay, and was as carefully tended as if he were a delicate woman.

His father and Eric accompanied him, and there being a fine breeze blowing from the south, they reached the “Philip Laing” in a little under an hour, and there he was soon put in good order by the skill and care of the doctor, and was left to be nursed by his mother for the next three weeks.

128 A kind of man's cap of Highland origin, now chiefly worn by persons dressed in Highland costume.

129 Kererū, also known as native New Zealand wood pigeons, were an important game bird to the Māori, as they were plentiful and provided succulent meat. The species has been under protection since 1922 due to their decreasing population.

130 The kākā is a noisy and rather sociable native New Zealand bird, though the South Island sub-species is slightly larger and differently coloured from its North Island cousin. Although the bird used to be widespread throughout New Zealand, there is now estimated to be fewer than 10,000 left in the country.

131 The tūī is a native New Zealand bird which possesses an impressive vocal range, and is able to imitate sounds in its environment, such as the calls of other birds. Māori sometimes trained tūī to talk, and would trim the bird’s tongue in order to help it speak more clearly.

132 While the term ‘moki’ now refers to a type of fish, it appears to have originally been used in reference to the bellbird - a close cousin of the tui through the honeyeater family. Although a similarly beautiful singer, bellbirds differ from the tui in their olive and brown colouring, as opposed to blue/black.

133 Tomtits are a native New Zealand bird, of which there are five subspecies - one on each of the North, South, Chatham, Snares and Auckland islands.

134 Fantails are a native New Zealand bird - though they also exist in Australia - known for the fan-like shape of their tails.

135 Robins are from the same family as the tomtit, though they have longer legs and are slightly larger in size. There are three subspecies; the North Island robin, the South Island robin and the Black robin.

136 The term initially used by European settlers in reference to a native New Zealand bird now known as the weka. There are four subspecies; the North Island weka, the western weka, the Stewart Island weta and the buff weka.

137 One of New Zealand’s most distinctive native plants, used by Māori women to weave a number of different items, such as baskets, mats, fishing nets and ropes.

138 A dominant native New Zealand plant, used by Māori for food and medicine. It has since become culturally symbolic to the country, used in commercial logos and on sports team jerseys.

139 The Māori name for the Water of Leith river, though it has gone largely out of use since the colonial period.

140 Named after a stream in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Water of Leith river runs through Leith Valley in Dunedin.

141 A hill that existed between the heart of Otago and the harbour; it was demolished during the late nineteenth-century to ease the passage of traffic on Princes Street.

142 A small stream which fed into Otago Harbour at the original landing place of the John Wickliffe and Philip Laing. The reclamation of land in order to expand the settlement resulted in the stream being diverted underground.

143 In the early settlement of Otago, a chief surveyor (aka. Commissioner of Crown Lands) was stationed at every provincial district. They, and a staff of district surveyors, were tasked with carrying out “the work of major and minor triangulation, topographical surveys, rural and suburban section surveys, town sections, surveys for the Native Land Court, surveys of mining leases, and miscellaneous surveys and inspection” (The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, 181).

144 John Jones [see note 120] established a small trading store in anticipation of the Otago Association’s 1848 arrival, eventually becoming the chief supplier of foodstuffs for the settlement.

145 Also berth; a sleeping-place of the same kind in a railway carriage or elsewhere.

146 The Māori name for Dunedin.

147 The Māori name for Andersons Bay, Dunedin.

148 The Māori name for the area now known as St Clair.

149 A bulgy bag.

150 Native New Zealand grasslands are dominated by tussocks.

151 Pieces of turf used for fuel; a peat.

152 Refers chiefly to plain white unprinted cotton cloth, bleached or unbleached (called in Scotland and U.S. cotton).

153 One of the common rafters on a roof.

154 A probable allusion to Andrew Melville (1545 – 1622) was a religious reformer who succeeded John Knox as leader of the Scottish Reformed Church. Melville helped create the modern Presbyterian church structure by replacing bishops with local presbyteries.