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

Chapter XVIII. — Arrival of the “Blundell.”

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Chapter XVIII.
Arrival of the “Blundell.”

Welcome! friends from ancient Scotia,
Thrice that welcome we repeat!
Here beyond old ocean's billows,
Welcome to a safe retreat!
Share with us this bounteous land;
Treasures wait on our command!

One serious inconvenience in connection with the common dwelling-house of the Dunedin immigrants was that it contained no fire in the kitchen. A furnace erected at the rear of the building in the open had to do service for all kinds of cooking. This became the more unpleasant since, having now left the ship, there was no trained cook on whom the duties of that department should fall, and, by arrangement, two of the women in turn daily took charge of the kitchen. This was not a happy arrangement for some of them, as may be gathered from the following dialogue between Mrs. Dalgliesh and Mrs. Anderson:—

“I would not mind cooking in my own way for my own family; but I am sure I can never set about the work of preparing food for three hundred people, and a lot of them English into the bargain.”

“Well, Mrs. Dalgliesh, I sympathise with you, for I never knew what it was to cook for strangers all my days. But now we are here we had better just try to do our best. If we fail to satisfy our friends, either Scotch or English, we will know we have tried to do it.”

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“But, Mrs. Anderson, it would be different if we had proper things to do it with. I am terrified to go near that great furnace, with its row of pots hanging on chains from a great beam. I am sure I will get fearfully burned.”

“You remember, I should say, how, when you were a little timid lassie, your mother used to encourage you to difficult tasks by saying ‘jist pit a stoot hert tae a staye brae214,’ and you did it and wondered at yourself.”

“Yes, many a time she said that. It's just as you say, when we try we find what we are able to do.”

“I would rather pay a small wage to a woman who can do the work to take my turn, but then everybody would say I was too proud to do it, so I mean just to endure and fight it through.”

And so they both did. And they were not among the least successful when their days came.

It was, however, sometimes a sorry sight during the wet and cold windy days of that dreary winter to see those brave women, under the most trying circumstances, attending like heroines at the post of duty, and performing their task in an uncomplaining and assiduous fashion.

One feature much to their credit was that throughout the time of this sojourn in that uncomfortable dwelling they lived lives of modest self-restraint and neighbourly sympathy. It was a scene of generous co-operation and mutual assistance. Though not an exhibition of all things in common, it was a community where no one lacked what the other could supply. When occasional weaknesses made their appearance the spirit of forbearance, and often of forgiveness, was manifested in a dignified way that banished page 234 scandal and enabled the whole of the inmates to “be at peace with one another.”

“Mr. Thomson,” said Captain Cargill as he entered his office one day, “Mr Kettle215, the surveyor, has prepared plans for the part formation of Princes Street. It will be your duty to have a talk with him over them, so as to understand the work to be done, and then write a notice on a board intimating than ten men who can do road work can be employed on the street.”

“Yes, sir. I suppose you will appoint one to look after the men, as overseer.”

“Well, I thought that you would have no objection to see to that yourself, with the help of Mr. Kettle.

“I shall be glad to do all I can, sir, but you see I have no practical knowledge of road formation.”

“You need have no apprehension on that score. You will be thoroughly coached by Mr. Kettle, and I will never be far away.”

“But will you see the men, sir, and engage them?”

“No, Mr. Thomson, I shall throw that duty entirely on you. I have confidence you will manage it.”

That evening before going home. Eric Thomson fixed up on the corner of the survey office a board with the words, written by a small paint brush, “Wanted ten men who can do road work, apply at the office.”

“Father, I want your advice,” he said, as he sat at tea that evening.

“What about, Eric?”

And then he told him about the notice.

“You will want men who can cut down scrub, men page 235 who can use the spade and the pick, and men who can construct a bridge over the Toitu Creek.”

“Do you know who would be some of the best men? You have seen more of their work than I have.”

“Well, I can't, of course, say who may apply, but Melville and Hill would be good at the bridge; Robertson, Wright, Hair, and Jackson are good all-round men; while Lindsay, Johnston, Bain, and McKechnie are good, especially with the axe. If you can get these men you will have very little trouble with the work.”

As a good many of the men had got their families fitted up in whares of their own by this time, they were anxious for some chance of earning a little cash to help things along, so when the morning came fifteen purpose-like men presented themselves at “the office” in application.

“Is the Captain in?” was the question put by each one as he appeared; and to each the same answer was given—

“No, he will not be down for some time yet; are you applying for the work?”

All the names were registered, and each one was asked to call back at noon when the result would be told them.

The men, however, were desirous of securing the employment, and instead of quietly going off home they hung about to see and interview Captain Cargill, to make sure, if possible.

Thomas Lindsay, who was specially anxious to make sure of this chance of earning some money, made a feint to go home, but instead of doing so he passed round by the beach track to Captain Cargill's dwelling, resolved to secure the first word with him.

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The gallant Captain, having in his campaign life become accustomed to tent life, had, on his arrival, pitched his tent on a favourable spot, and lived there with his wife and family under canvas, as many a family has done in the country since, comfortable and contented until his wooden house was erected.

When Mr. Lindsay reached the precincts of the White Residence of the Patriarch he saw no one about, and the inconvenience of approaching a dwelling where it was impossible to “knock at the door” made him hesitate some paces off. What could he do to make his presence known? Had there been no Mrs. Cargill or other feminine humanity about he would have gone close up and called out, asking whether the Captain were at home; but how to proceed now puzzled him.

He drew back for a while under the screen of the bushes, which were plentiful, and stood pondering the situation, and latterly withdrew farther from the tent and resolved to await the Captain's appearance.

As he remained there two other men, Mr. Hair and Mr. Jackson, passed him and walked boldly up to the magisterial dwelling, and on coming near to it Hair gave a spasmodic cough for the purpose of calling attention to their presence. It served the purpose of a knock, for in a couple of seconds the venerable figure they were looking for emerged from the doorway.

On observing this Mr. Lindsay followed the others, and soon stood in the presence of the Patriarch along with them.

“Did you apply at the office?” inquired the Captain, when they had made known their purpose.

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“Yes, we left our names, but you were not in, and we were instructed to call at noon for your decision.”

“For my decision?”

“We were told you would not be there until eleven o'clock, and we thought it better to see you, so that we might answer any questions you wanted to know and so just came round,” said Mr. Hair.

“Well, gentlemen, I am sorry you have put yourselves to the trouble of coming round here, for I have left the whole of this business in Mr. Thomson's hands. He will settle the matter and superintend the work.”

The men looked at each other in silence for a moment, but seemed not to appreciate the meaning of what they heard, and still hesitated.

“It will be better just to call at the time appointed by Mr. Thomson. I will not interfere in the matter. But no doubt you are most likely to be put on.”

“Thank you, sir,” they said in concert, and hade him good-day.

“So Eric Thomson is at the head of affairs!” said Lindsay, who was one of the opposition set. “Well I never! But what can that lad know about road-making? Surely some older man might be put into that position.”

“I am not sure but the Captain has done it for the best,” said Mr. Hair. “He is getting two jobs done for one wage, do you not see. Thomson is being paid already as the Captain's clerk, and will get no more for looking after the road work too.”

“But how can a shoemaker lad ‘superintend’ the making of a road? That wants a man that has been at the work himself—a very different thing from mending shoes.”

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“It is all one to me,” replied Mr. Hair; “if I get on the work anyone may be in charge. What I want is work and wages!”

“Well, I suppose that is the main thing,” answered Mr. Lindsay, not a little disappointed, and jealous at missing the chief appointment for himself.

When the Patriarch entered the office, Eric laid the list of names before him, with a pencil mark opposite ten of them. Observing that the three who called on him were among the selected, he said to Eric:

“I have had the honour of a deputation waiting on me this morning, consisting of Messrs. Lindsay, Hair, and Jackson, but as you have ticked them off I need not speak for them.”

“You approve of my selection, sir?” inquired Eric.

“I approve of those three, and for the rest, you will be held responsible for them. Doubtless they will give satisfaction.”

Next morning the work of forming Princes Street, between Church Hill (the Cutting) and the sea, at the foot of Hope Street, where the two streets and the water of the harbour then met, was begun.

First of all the scrub, consisting of many varieties of plants in a rank condition, tutu216, flax, moko moko217, cabbage trees, veronica218, and others intermingled with fern had to be cleared off; then came the cutting of a siding between Stafford Street and the Toitu Creek, which flowed down Maclaggan Street Gully, through High Street (where the Grand Hotel219 stands), and across Princes Street (between the Post Office and the Colonial Bank220) where it joined the sea.

By the banks of this stream the tutu, flax, and fern page 239 grew in luxuriance, where the ground was fairly solid, but on the one side, from the Maclaggan Street end of the Royal Arcade, there was a boggy marsh which was filled mostly with maori-heads221, coarse grass, and some of the finest flax bushes ever seen in the Colony.

Just where it intersected Princes Street the stream had solid earthen banks, and here a strong rustic bridge was thrown across, and easy communication established between the two parts of the little settlement.

“Easy communication” is in this case certainly a mere term of comparison; for before the work of formation of the streets was finished in the rough style of those arcadian times, the clay surface had been worked into a state of excellent puddle, owing to the frequent and heavy rains of the season. In the summer time it dried up, and then travelling was truly easy, for it became hardened like the crust of an oven-fired loaf, but a summer shower made it as slippery as grease.

To every house was attached a plot of cultivated ground by the time spring had set in. The industry of the settlers was manifested in their indefatigable toil amid many adverse and trying circumstances, the worst of those being the almost incessant rains.

Care had been taken by those thoughtful men who had charge of the arrangements to see that many varieties of seeds suitable for a young colony, and also a large number of fruit trees and plants, were sent with each ship, and as much care was displayed in their wise distribution and prudent planting. So that there was every encouragement for the formation of gardens. Indeed, there was for some time more thought devoted to the reproduction of food than the page 240 perfecting of shelter. The erecting of houses was a slow process.

In the midst of the cold winds and the dreary rains of winter, when August was still soaking with the wet and biting with the winds of a cruel season, while the creeks were all swollen, and the tracks among the bushes were puddles, pools, and bogs, and the original immigrants were just about as low in their personal barometer as could well be, Ben Brooks' big cutter was seen one afternoon coming up the harbour with a Union Jack flying at the fore peak.

Mr. John Jones, who happened to be standing at the door of his shop, as was usual with him, looking for the arrival of any vessel that might heave in sight, was the first to notice the peculiarity.

“Why, Ben has a flag hoisted!” he ejaculated. “What can that mean? Hand me the telescope.”

A large glass was brought out to him, which he placed to his eye with a steady hand, and in a moment called out:

“That is the Union Jack! There is a ship at the heads! Where can she be from? None of my boats back from the cruise in distress, I hope. May be one of them got a cargo already. Well, we shall soon know.”

The Rev. Mr. Burns, who also had been looking at the approaching sail, observed Mr. Jones with the telescope, and came over to the store.

“What is it, Mr. Jones?” he inquired.

“Ben Brooks, flying the Union Jack. There is a ship at the heads.”

“I would not be surprised if that is the ship that was to follow us with immigrants; I hope it is, and that all is well.”

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“It may be, of course; but Ben will be at the landing in ten minutes,” and saying so he stepped away along the uneven pathway that led to the mouth of the creek, and Mr. Burns followed.

When they got there they found quite a crowd had collected, for the sight of the “Jack” had excited curiosity. Among them, of course, were Captain Cargill, Mr. Kettle, Mr. Strode222, and many more whose names were not recorded.

The tide was high flood at the time, and Ben lowered his sail and dropped his anchor about a hundred yards from where the people were standing; but in order to gratify their curiosity as quickly as possible he called in a stentorian voice:

“A ship at the heads!”

A fresh N.E. breeze was blowing, and there was a noisy break of waves, which made hearing difficult, yet the words “ship—heads” were caught.

“Where is it from?” called out a feeble voice from a little man standing near the water's edge.

“Where was that from?” questioned Mr. Jones with a comical turn in his voice, which produced a laugh at the expense of the anxious man.

Ben left his mate to furl the sail while he speedily got into the dingy and came ashore.

“What is she, Ben?” shouted Mr. Jones.

“No whales there, Mr. Jones,” was the reply.

“Did you get her name?”

“Couldn't read it; glass out of repair.”

“How do you know she's not a whaler, then?”

“By the cut of her.”

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“Getting smart in your old days, Ben!”

“Oh, I s'ppose you couldn't tell yerself, Jones.”

Ben spoke with as much freedom to Mr. Jones as if they were still mates before the mast, notwithstanding that the latter was now a man of very large property both on sea and land.

“Where were you, Ben, when you saw her,” inquired Mr. Jones, still hoping it might be a whaler.

“At the Kaik; and when I saw that she must be another immigrant ship, I hoisted sail and came off to give the news, as perhaps some on 'em 'ere 'as friends on board.”

“Will she be up to Port to-night?” inquired Captain Cargill.

“Driver went off, and was aboard when I came away, and both wind and tide suit. I should say 'e will fetch 'er up, but she was still standing off when I came through the islands,” answered Ben.

“Are you returning to Port to-night?” again asked the Captain.

“In 'alf an hour, sir, if any is going with us; we will catch the tide on the ebb, and the wind will be lighter after a while.”

“I will go,” said the little man with the weak voice. “I expect some one is in it for me.”

“If I were sure the ship is in,” said the Captain, “I would go.”

“Driver could never 'ave a better chance to come in. He won't miss it without a good reason,” spoke up the energetic pilot's admirer.

“Then I will be with you in half an hour,” returned the Captain. Mr. Thomson I will be glad if you will go with us.”

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“I shall be here in time, sir.”

Mr. Burns was also a passenger to meet and welcome the newcomers.

They arrived in Port Chalmers after a rough passage of four hours' beating against a stiff N.E. breeze, to find that the ship had not attempted the bar, as the N.E. sea was too rough to risk.

The public accommodation of Port Chalmer was of the most limited and crude nature, but the best that could be provided was given to the guests of Ben Brooks that night. Sally somehow managed to supply bedding to keep them warm as they lay in twos and threes together, but they were not reluctant to seek the fresh air as soon as dawn threw out its grey light.

It was about midday when from the hill-top above the east point of Koputai Bay, the ship was seen standing in for the bar, and about an hour later she had let go her anchor in the smooth water under the shelter of Port Chalmers hills.

The “Blundell” was at once boarded by the contingent which had been waiting for her all night, and who gave a warm welcome to their new friends.

The ship was in splendid order, and her passengers were in good health.

“I congratulate you, captain, on the state I find your ship in,” said the Patriarch, looking most benignantly at the master of the vessel.

“Thank you, sir; it is gratifying to receive your kind words of approval; but I must say a good word for the passengers, for they have been in all things most exemplary; I have had no trouble. It has indeed been a pleasure to have charge of such an orderly lot.”

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“I am. proud to hear your report, captain, but I expected no less. They desire to get away from you, however, as quickly as possible, I suppose, so as to set their feet on firm land.”

“Indeed, some of them were vexed they were notable to get in yesterday, and most of them now have already bundled up ready to go ashore.”

“There will be some difficulty about boats; we have seven miles to go still further up the harbour, and it will take a good few boats to carry all this crowd.”

“They will be disappointed if they cannot get away to-night.”

By this time half a dozen Maori whaleboats were alongside, and their crews were scrambling on board, and other four were following up. Ben Brooks and two other old whalers had their fleet in readiness, and all these, together with four ship's boats, were arranged with, and in the course of a short time after their arrival a fleet of eighteen boats were making their way to Dunedin full of immigrants and luggage.

The wind was light, but with a fair tide and the breeze they had they made pleasant progress until the wind died off to a calm and the process of rowing was more tedious, but at length the fleet, one after another, reached the landing.

The whole of Dunedin's population seemed to be congregated on the beach and along the adjacent bank awaiting to receive the new addition to their number.

Prominent among them were certain men whose garments had failed to stand the constant contact with “lawyers” and other clothes-destroying influences of city page 245 life, where the streets were thickly grown over with the wild products of Nature.

One of these gentlemen—afterwards a very prominent citizen—got on to a rock jutting out into the water in order to be the first who might hail the boats as they came up. When the first one came he raised his hands to his mouth and called:

“Is there a tailor on board?”

“Not in this boat; he's coming behind,” responded some one, who passed on to attend to his own affairs.

The next boat was hailed in the same way, and so on, until the sought-for tradesman was found, and he was at once engaged to commence operations for the benefit of the ragged and tattered miserables, to whom making and mending clothes was a vexing operation.

No landing stage had yet been erected, and the boats were simply run as far on the sandy beach as possible, and then commenced the process of carrying the passengers ashore. At this work the Maoris—men and women—were the most energetic. They seemed to regard it as an honour to have a pakeha clasped in their arms or astride their backs while they struggled through the water making every effort to avoid letting them get wet.

When the people were all safely landed then came the discharging of the luggage and boxes of other important cargo required for immediate use.

The hour was late, and it was impossible to wait until the tide had left the boats dry, so the work of “humping223” was at once commenced. It was a busy scene; as load after load was brought ashore they were shouldered by those page 246 waiting for them, irrespective of who the owner might be, and carried off to the barracks, and there piled up in a great stack.

For a full hour almost every man in the settlement was busy rendering help to those just arrived, actuated by the spirit of sympathy sprung from recent experiences.

214 Refer to note 201.

215 Charles Henry Kettle (1821 – 1862) worked with Thomas Burns and George Rennie to promote the Otago colony in Scotland, and was appointed to head the survey of the settlement in 1845. Differences of temperament between Kettle and Captain William Cargill – which were exacerbated by the New Zealand Company’s end in 1850 – led to Kettle being appointed surveyor of Otago in 1852.

216 The tutu is a poisonous native New Zealand tree, which has been known to cause death in both animals and people.

217 Correctly makomako, but also known as the wineberry; a Native New Zealand plant that was valued by both European settlers and Māori for its sweet berries.

218 A native New Zealand alpine plant, formerly known as ‘hebe,’ which became popular in British gardens.

219 Architect Louis Boldini was commissioned to design the Grand Hotel by James and John Watson in 1882, with the project costing just over £40,000 to build.

220 The Colonial Bank of New Zealand was a locally established Otago bank which operated from 1874 to 1895, at which point it was absorbed by the Bank of New Zealand.

221 The colonial name for raupō or bulrush, a native New Zealand reed that grows abundantly in wetlands.

222 Alfred Rowland Chetham Strode (1823 – 1890) arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, aboard the Harrington in 1845 where he remained until 1848, at which point he was sent to Otago as head of a detachment of police.

223 The shifting or carrying of heavy object.