The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.
Chapter XV. — The Family Whare
The Family Whare.
“Be it ever so humble
There's no place like home188.”
“When do you think you will have the house ready for me and the lasses, Hugh?” inquired Mrs. Thomson when she and her husband succeeded in getting a quiet moment to themselves that night after returning from the picnic.
“The truth is, Lizzie,” he replied, “we have a lot of hard work to do yet before we have that pleasure.”
“Well, Hugh, I'm tired of this sort of life. The voyage was bad enough, but this dull, cribbed-up life on the ship in the quiet water of the harbour is wearisome. I feel like to jump over and swim ashore some days, just to spend a while among the trees, away from this prison-like state.”
“We'll not lose a day nor an hour in getting you away from the ship. There is not one of us but works his best, but you must try to content yourself as well as you can for a while.”
“But what's to prevent you making your whare—as you call it—a bit bigger, and taking us to it beside you.”
“I'm thinking, Lizzie, that a sight of our whare would be enough to satisfy you that you are better here than you could be up yonder.”
“What it wants, I'm sure, is the hands and head of a woman to make it what it should be.”page 193
“It would be cruel to let you try your hand on such a place, my dear wife. Let us work away at getting the house down, and then your head and hands will find abundance to do in making it homely.”
“I think you should do as I suggest, Hugh. We could not be more miserable than we are here, and there are lots of ways we could all be useful.”
“Patience, my dear lass, patience! Take my word for it you are fifty times better here. It won't be long. I will work late and early to get you beside me in our new home, but I could never forgive myself if I took you to our rude hut and you were to be the worse for it, and perhaps have a sore illness. Remember, Lizzie, you never were accustomed to any kind of rough exposure.”
“Then you must tell me all you can about the place. I think it would have been nice if you had at least taken me to see the place before the house was built.”
“Try to believe, lass, that I have chosen a bonnie place among bonnie places. The Provost used to tell me that I had a good taste, and I have not been careless this time. Now, listen, and I'll tell you all about it.
“One of the finest pieces of ground in the whole place fell to me as my allotment when the ballot was made189. We had all to take what came to us, but I would not have desired any other, though I had never seen it until I went to see what it was like after I got the number of it at the balloting, and when I came to the peg with the number branded on it, and saw the trenches that gave me the lie of it, I was as proud nearly as that day Eric was born.
“The sun shines on it the first thing in the morning as it comes up over the Peninsula hills, and shines on it all day until it sets in the west.”page 194
“I was always fond of the sun, Hugh.”
“I knew that, Lizzie, and that was one cause of my joy when I saw it.”
“There is nothing nicer than to see the sun shining on your bedroom window when you waken in the morning, just like our cottage in Edinburgh.”
“Then there is a lovely stream of bright pure water running across the end of the section, coming from amongst the trees of the glen above, and there is no chance of anyone, for years to come, occupying the places above ours, so that we will enjoy its sweetness maybe as long as we need it.”
“Well, now, we have sunshine and a fine stream of water, what about a view? You have said nothing about that yet. I hope there is no big hill or unmoveable obstruction right in front of our door.”
“No need for alarm there, either, lass. When first you open our door and stand to look out from it your eye will find food for a year's study, both far and near. The boats sailing up and down the harbour, the storms as they raise the water in feathery waves, and the far-away ocean, where its waves constantly beat in an undying roar on the coast, the hills and the valleys and such like things are all before you.”
“And there, Hugh, while you are enjoying all that, I am compelled to stay in this miserable ship and wait for weeks while you build a house. You have made me ever so much more anxious to leave here and come up to share your lot.”
“Just think of how much more happy you will be to come up when all is in good order, to take possession of our new home. It would not be safe for you to venture coming where everything about is damp and wet and cold.”page 195
“Then if you are resolute to keep us in this prison, let me know what the house is like.”
“That will be a more difficult task, for we have no design drawn with architectural exactness.”
“But you have some kind of plan.”
“Very much as I would lay the plan of a garden: four rooms of different sizes with walls round them, or I might say, four walls resembling a fence and the space within divided into four compartments.”
“Now, seriously, what sizes are the rooms, and how many windows and doors are in it?”
“The main walls are to be twenty-five feet long by twenty feet broad; there will be a front door and a back door, and each room will have a window. The walls are to be made of posts and sods, smoothed over inside with yellow clay well puddled to make it stick. The roof will be of rafters cut from the forest, with the bark left on, crossed by wattles190 or battens191, on which rushes are to be tied as thatch. The chimney, like the walls, will be constructed of tall sticks filled in between with sods and faced with clay.”
“I am sure, Hugh, we could be of great use to you in many ways. There are three great girls sitting idle here all day: they might as well be doing something to help forward such urgent work as getting our house ready. They may as well begin at once, for they must begin sometime. Come, say you will take us out of this place to help you.”
“Since you are so persistent, Lizzie, I will ask the boys what they think of it.”
“Dear me, Hugh! Who is master now? I never thought you had to wait for a son's advice about me and page 196 the girls. I mean what I say, Hugh: that where you are working we should all be together; and if you put up a whare in one day to suit three or four men, you could soon either add to it or make one beside it for us four as well.”
In saying this, Mrs. Thomson spoke with energy, proving how thorough was her conviction that her view of affairs was a reasonable and a just one. But just as she had finished speaking her two younger sons came forward.
“James, your mother thinks we should make our whare large enough to take her and your sisters to it.”
“Capital, mother!” exclaimed James. “Splendid! it would just be delightful if you would all come up and live with us.”
“You're tired of cooking, James,” said his father.
“Not so much that, although it is true; but I like to be where mother is. It's home then.”
“Would you like to see your mother struggling about in yon confusion and mud. How long would she be able to make our hut ‘like home’ without turning ill?”
“If mother will come to rough it with us, we will save her from the mud, and as to the confusion, she and the girls would soon overcome that, I am sure.”
“What about room for them?”
“We can build them a two-roomed whare in a day—a bedroom for you and her and a bedroom for the girls, and our whare can do to cook and eat in.”
“Quite easy,” remarked Tom, emphatically.
“Then we'd all be together, you see, father, continued James, “and you would be both more comfortable and more satisfied.”
“And I'm sure sisters would enjoy getting out for a page 197 ramble in the bush with us boys,” interjected the juvenile Thomas, to whom the rambling in the bush was the climax of joy.
It was therefore decided that the first thing done on Monday morning would be to enlarge the rude dwelling accommodation, and as soon as that was done to fetch the whole family up to share the roughest form of colonising life.
While all possible progress was being made in the building of the barracks, as a common home for the homeless immigrants, and its commodious apartments were the scenes of ceaseless activity, that was by no means the only work being pushed forward, for several “heads of families” had determined to bring their households straight from the ship into houses of their own.
There were consequently many little clearings where the ballot had decided the “lot” of the various colonists. So far, fencing had not been thought of. Every section was marked off at each corner by a survey peg, on which was clearly branded the number of the allotment and a T mark cut in the earth, and every man respected his “neighbour's landmark.” There might daily be seen eager men and boys toiling bravely in the sweat of their brows to convert the wilderness into gardens.
Axes, picks, spades, shovels, and grubhoes192 were being used in all directions, removing the scrub or trees, tearing up the roots, and levelling the ground; while from each part smoke was observable ascending from the fire that consumed the rubbish.
Saw-cut timber for house-building was both difficult to get and expensive to purchase when it could be had. The page 198 rudest materials were employed in the construction of the houses, and yet when they were well employed, they made both warm and dry homes for those who who occupied them, while those who went to the cost of saw-cut wood found, after a few months, that they got more fresh air than was desirable in cold windy weather owing to shrinking and warping, and they also not only heard the rain outside, but often saw a portion of it running down the walls.
The Maoris had given it out that the winter just before them was to be one of unusual severity, and already they had experienced the meaning of heavy rain, and everyone was anxious to get his roof on as soon as possible.
Much talk was occasioned by Thomson's constructing a new whare of larger dimensions than their first. But the expertness which they had now attained in their work enabled them to perform their work both better and quicker than in the first case, and in two days they had a fine whare erected adjoining their original one, and on the Wednesday the whole family took their leave of the ship, and were the first to take possession of their new “city of habitation193,”
When Ben Brooks' boat arrived at the landing with the first four women who had come to Dunedin to stop, nearly every man was there to bid them welcome and to praise their heroism for facing the life of a whare to aid their men folk in the work of putting things in order.
Among those present were the two heads of the colony in things secular and sacred, whose patriarchal congratulations were heartily expressed, and gratefully received.
“You have taken a brave step, Mrs. Thomson,” said Captain Cargill, “in coming to join your husband in this wilderness. I hope you may not be anything the worse for it.”page 199
“It was not good for man to be alone in Eden194, Captain,” said Mr. Burns, with a humourous expression on his face, “and you see Mrs. Thomson thinks the same must be true of Dunedin, and she has come to be a helpmeet195 for her husband.”
“Well, but you see there is a difference between the two situations,” replied the Captain. “Adam was occupying a garden already made when Eve joined him, and there was not another man to speak to him, while Thomson has abundance of company of the man sort, and has yet to prepare, set out, and plant his garden.”
“If it was not good for a man to be alone in a well-furnished garden, much less can it be so in a wilderness,” said Mrs. Thomson.
“And you think it will ‘blossom as the rose196’ all the sooner from your presence and help. You are quite right, Mrs. Thomson. The point in doubt is whether it is good for a woman to expose herself to the dangers of the wilderness before man has made it suitable for her,” answered the Captain.
“A woman is no longer a helpmeet for her husband if she considers herself composed of material so much finer than his that she refuses to risk the dangers he is called on to face,” replied the heroic woman.
“A bit of the true spirit of our historic mothers. You are the right kind of woman, Mrs. Thomson, to accompany the new colonist,” said the Captain approvingly.
“But we must not forget,” remonstrated Mr. Burns, “that it would be death to some women to come ashore and take up their duties in a bush whare. All cannot boast the constitution for such a life.”page 200
“Do not imagine, Mr. Burns,” said Mrs. Thomson, “that I am pretending to speak about, much less censure, my friends who have not left the ship. I speak only for myself. I would let each one answer to her own conscience.”
“Generous and genuine, Mr. Burns,” smiled Captain Cargill. “The best points of all only come out, you see, when put to the test. Have you any objection to our taking a walk to see the arrangement of your new home, Mrs. Thomson?”
“I have not had the pleasure of a sight of it myself yet, Captain,” she replied; “but if you will do me the honour to call to-morrow afternoon you will find me at home.”
According to the spirit of the invitation, the two patriarchal heads of the settlement duly presented themselves at Mrs. Thomson's, where they found her prepared in tidy order awaiting their coming.
It had rained heavily during the night, and all the ground was soft, so that walking along the rude tracks which were the embryo representatives of modern asphalt footpaths, was very difficult, and both gentlemen bore the marks of soil and water through having been compelled to sit down occasionally to adjust their equilibrium.
They both wore heavy hob-nailed boots197, leather gaiters198, and pilot cloth199 overcoats, with great buttons; Mr. Burns being surmounted by his Geneva cap200, and Captain Cargill by his broad crowned Balmoral bonnet201.
They had not long arrived when host Thomson made his appearance, out of respect to his expected visitors. Feeling proud of his wife, and gratified at the visit, he had left his work and come scrambling over the hill to share in the pleasures of the event.page 201
After the ordinary civilities of the day and partaking of a cup of tea and some home-made cake which the good woman had baked on the night of her landing—her first piece of cooking in the whare was declared by all to have been a splendid evidence of her skill—she said:
“Now, gentlemen, my new home is open for your Inspection, if you would like to see what Hugh has done for me.”
In place of carpets the damp earthen floors were covered with mats of rushes laced together with flax; for chairs fixed benches were made by driving sticks into the floor, on top of these were placed strong rails crossed with battens, over which was again laid, as cushions, a thick layer of rushes laced down tightly to the seats.
The beds were made in the same manner, but on top of the rushes was laid a quantity of well dried fern covered with coarse sacking; upon this was laid the mattress and other bedding.
A rustic table was built out of some slabs that Eric had sent up from the saw-pit at Sawyer's Bay, and fashioned into a very serviceable, if rough, piece of furniture.
In the fireplace a bright fire was heating a large camp-oven, over the lid of which was laid a quantity of hot cinders, baking the loaf of bread within.
To prevent their feet from becoming wet, or cutting up into mud or puddle the ground adjacent to the door of the whare, large quantities of brushwood had been securely tied with split native vines into mats about three inches thick and laid all round and for some yards away from the entrance.page 202
Rude as it was, there was an evidence of industry, cleanliness, and comparative comfort, which utterly banished the idea of privation and misery.
When they had seen it all they could only find words of commendation to use in reference to it, particularly to the industry and care manifested. Mrs Thomson naively asked:
“Now gentlemen, do you not consider I am better off here than our good friends still in the “Philip Laing?”
“Undoubtedly you are!” answered the gallant Captain. “But there are few men who could by their ingenuity and patience have so thoroughly overcome the difficulties of the situation, and made even their hindrances contribute to comfort as your husband has done.”
“I must not accept your very kind words,” said Thomson, “without some explanation, for mostly all this work was done by the boys.”
“Then, sir, you are blessed with boys who are a credit to you, and will yet become worthy settlers among us,” said the Captain, looking round as if to see whether they were about, that he might congratulate them on their work.
“Where are your sons?” asked the minister.
“Over at the house, sir,” answered Thomson.
“And your lasses?” inquired the Captain.
“Helping them, Captain.”
“What, set to work already?”
“Oh yes, taking their first lessons at cutting thatch.”
“That beats all!” shouted the Captain, laughing heartily.
Returning into the whare, the minister, following the good old custom of his native land, took off his cap and, page 203 taking a bible from his pocket, read a short lesson and then prayred for the Almighty's blessing on the family and all their friends far and near; then rising, they quietly bade them good-bye and departed, leaving the happy couple in the best spirit of gratification at the visit of the Captain and the minister.
When the story of the visit was told by the Captain on board the “John Wickliffe,” and by the minister on board the “Philip Laing,” many of the matrons felt envious of the good fortune of Mrs Thomson, whose departure from their company only a few days before they had looked upon as an act of sheer madness. And now they began to feel unhappy with their lot, and some complained that if, instead of building barracks for the whole crowd, each husband had just followed Thomson's example, they might now all have been ashore enjoying their liberty. In this they were ignorant of the part Mrs Thomson had herself played, and how far they had been from possessing her determined resolve to get out of the ship “to help her husband.”
188 “Home, Sweet Home.” Clari, or the Maid of Milan, John Howard Payne.
189 Once a settler had bought land a ballot was used to determine who had priority of choice in selecting the location of their purchase.
190 Rods or stakes, interlaced with twigs or branches of trees, used to form fences and the walls and roofs of buildings.
191 A piece of square timber, used as roof support.
192 Correctly “grub-hoe,” it is an implement used to uncover roots, stumps, shrubs etc.
193 The Bible: King James Version with The Apocrypha, Psalm 107. 7.
194 New Zealand was often mythologized by settlers as being the new Garden of Eden, partially due to its fertile countryside.
195 A fitting or suitable helper, usually applied to a spouse.
196 The Bible: King James Version with The Apocrypha, Isa. 35. 1.
197 Heavy boots or shoes with nails driven into the sole to protect them from wearing out.
198 A covering for the ankle and lower leg.
199 A thick, blue, woolen cloth from which sailors’ coats are made.
200 Correctly a Geneva Bonnet, which is the graduating cap of Edinburgh University and is rumoured to have been crafted from the pants of John Knox; the Rev. Thomas Burns studied for the Ministry of the Established Church of Scotland at the university.
201 A type of Scottish cap, which Captain Cargill became known for wearing around the Otago settlement