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

Chapter IX. — The New Land

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Chapter IX.
The New Land.

“Strange isle! a moment to poetic gaze
Rise in thy majesty of rocks and bays,
Gems, fountains, caves, that seem not things of earth,
But the wild shapes of some prodigious birth.”

The weary days of wandering over the mighty waste of water were drawing to a close. The good ship had forced her way through storm and sunshine, until now her latitude indicated that the long-sought-for harbour would soon appear before their anxious eyes. The enui80 incidental to such a voyage was already wearing off, and hope, with early expectation, was providing themes for conversation, which beguiled the hours as the days grew fewer, and the distance from the desired haven gradually and surely decreased.

The prospect of soon sighting land created much more animation than had existed among them for a long period. There was also a degree of domestic activity that had been entirely absent for many weeks. Maternal industry had been a characteristic of the whole voyage, but now that land was so soon expected, many duties were found for those willing fingers; and mending, darning, washing, and generally getting things into good order made every mother, no matter how well up in years her children were, full of work, and in some cases of rivalry.

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Even Mrs. Thomson, whose youngest was twelve years old and her eldest nearly twenty-two, was able to find work for her three girls several hours each day. Her ambition was to go ashore as trim and tidy as it was possible for a family to leave a ship, after being so many months cramped within her narrow bulwarks.

One thing which tended to increase her duties was that Eric and James had both found employment for the past three months, two of the seamen having been unfortunately disabled in a storm in the Atlantic. While this had enabled them to earn a little ready cash, which would be found very serviceable after their arrival, it had also soiled and worn out some of their clothing, finding work for their mother and sisters to clean and repair the damaged garments.

Coming on deck one fine morning when a smart westerly wind was blowing, Mr. Burns was accosted by the captain with the remark:

“Well, Mr. Burns, I think I may promise you a sight you have long wished to see before the sun sets to-night. If the wind holds on as we have it now, and the sky keeps clear, some time in the afternoon we shall be able to look on the mountains of New Zealand.”

The rev. gentleman was not of an emotional nature, but this announcement caused an instantaneous glow of relief and thankfulness to spread over his benignant81 face.

“It will, indeed, be a pleasant sight, captain, to more eyes than mine,” and then they fell into a talk about some affairs on the voyage.

But as the captain's information, given in a free and hearty tone of voice, was heard by a lad who was not far page 103 off at the moment, it was soon repeated and passed on till everyone on board knew that they might now be on the look-out for land.

All day the faces of anxious watchers were to be seen in all advantageous positions, and weary eyes were peering over the undulating waves. When occasionally a piece of seaweed, which had been broken away from its rocky bed during the violence of some storm that had dashed its impetuous breakers on a desolate shore, chanced to float past the ship within view there arose a shout of joy at this evidence of the proximity of land.

But the south coast of the country they were approaching is not noted for the clearness of the sky any more than for the steadiness of its wind, so the day passed and darkness closed in around them once more without their eyes being gratified with a sight of the promised land.

The captain was nearing a strange country with no guides for the navigator such as are common in these days of progress and accomplished civilisation. There were no lights or beacons to warn him off points of danger. He was compelled to trust to his charts and his reckoning, and much uncertainty existed, until he should pick up the land, as to his exact position. He therefore, as a wise seaman, took special precaution that his “look-out” was good and his ship preserved from danger.

As the glory of the rising sun brightened the eastern sky next morning, it gradually drove away the hazy clouds that hung over the horizon, to which the experienced mariner was turning his attention in hope of catching sight of the mountain tops. The east was all ablaze with gold, crimson, and purple, in the richest harmony of Nature's page 104 wondrous blending. The centre was like the heart of a glowing furnace, and from that vortex of light the scene shaded off as it spread in almost imperceptably deepening tints, until reaching far to north and south, the beautiful tones roused by the rejoicings of the god of day were lost in the sombre hues of cloud and sky. As this magnificent sheen was casting its indescribable lustre over the everchanging surface of the mighty deep, as if to display around the weary immigrants to this new sphere of human industry, the grandest welcome of sea and sky; then in the midst of it all, imparting a deeper, warmer, brighter tone, the great monarch of planets threw up his fiery crown, and majestically rose from behind the ever-rolling waves of the greatest of oceans, and cast his genial beams upon the face of delighted Nature. As he did so, far away in the west were seen peering through the vanishing clouds, which still hung as a covering over the lower levels, the glittering peaks of everlasting snow, clothing the southern summits of New Zealand's mountains82, now returning the glad and gay welcome to the new arrivals as first their eyes beheld the looked-for country.

The sailors were the first to recognise the scene, which was every moment increasing in its splendour as the vapoury clouds melted before the rising sun, and the snow-clad mountains grew freer, clearer, and bolder to the view. Such a sight could not long remain unnoticed by the most inexperienced persons. It required but for a seaman to indicate it, and in quick succession the word was passed from friend to friend, and then a shout was issued from the throats of the immigrants, such as they would have believed themselves incapable of uttering. But the ecstacy of their page 105 joy was irrepressible at the sight of the hills they had so long spoken about, and of which they had sometimes even dreamed of.

In but a few minutes every man, woman, and child was on deck, although the hour was carly, but the news that land was in view electrified the dullest of them, and the scantiest of clothing, within the lines of modesty, was accepted as sufficient to warrant an appearance on deck to get an early glimpse of the happy prospect. Then, when all were thus congregated on deck and had in very truth beheld the towers and turrets of the land to which they were hastening, a lusty voice called for three cheers. It was Eric, who, standing on the ratlines some feet above the bulwarks, had for about ten minutes been feasting his eyes and stimulating his imagination on the mysterious appearances of cloud, mountain, and sky, and now summoned the whole gathering to give vent to their enraptured feelings, and cap in hand he led off the cheer which was joined in vigorously by the entire number, when probably the British “Hip, hip, hurrah!” repeated three times in succession, was sent reverberating through the air of heaven, then for the first time in such far away southern regions.

On over her course sped the good ship before a favouring breeze, and the hearts of her people were light and gay. On faces that seemed never to have been able to free themselves from the traces of fear and care, now shone the smiles of hope and confidence. Tongues that had spoken little, as if afraid to speak their fears or to tell their for-bodings, now were loosened and spoke happy speeches so long as the sun continued to shine, while the water went groaning and hissing from the trusty ship's bows.

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The day which had opened so auspiciously upon them, and had revived the spirits of those inclined to despondency, and had fairly sent wild with delight the young and ardent among them, was not destined to bear out that character until night. The wind grew stronger, the waves became rougher, and indications of a dirty night set in. Sail was shortened, but the ship was still running fast. Having made sure of his position, the captain laid his course a safe distance from the coast, and held on his way with good cheer, and gradually drew near his destination.

It was on Saturday morning, the 15th April, 1848, that Captain Elles83 brought his ship round Poatiri headland84 (Cape Saunders85) and shortly afterwards hove86 her to off Pukekura87 (Taiaroa's Head), which stands out a bold bluff on the eastern side of the harbour entrance, and sheltering it from the violence of all prevailing winds except the northerly.

The first sign of active human life observed by the living freight on board the “Philip Laing” was the appearance of the pilot boat88 coming off to her assistance, six stalwart89 Maoris rowing and the pilot, Dick Driver90, steering. The large whaleboat used for this purpose was laid alongside the ship in a smart fashion that would have done credit to a first-class crew of a British man-of-war. The Maoris handled their oars with able dexterity, and their master guided his boat by the long steer oar with a precision that could not be excelled. Driver was a man of experience, who took great pride in doing things neatly and with effect. In former years he had been coxwain91 in a whaling crew, and there learned to steer his boat just as he desired, displaying a perfect knowledge of those wonderful page 107 boats; and many a time by his skill the harpooner had been able to secure his prize, when the least misadventure would have lost it.

He now sprang out of the boat and bounded up the ladder like a cat up a tree to escape the chase of a mischievous dog, and stood before Captain Elles with all the self-possession of one who refuses to recognise any man as his superior. He was a tall, straight-up man, as thin as a cabbage tree92, with light uncontrollable hair on his head and a few of still less pigmentary value scattered about his cheeks and chin, while his skin lay in deep wrinkles and was purely innocent of complexion. It would be doing his memory an injustice to speak of him as a handsome man, yet he had the appearance of one born to command. Quite as inappropriate would it be to call him either gentle or polite.

Dick Driver was in every respect a brave man and a skilful pilot, and on many an occasion he proved his ability and daring in weather that rendered his calling most perilous. He knew every good quality he possessed, and was never tired of educating others to his own standard in this branch of knowledge. He was never at case in anyone's company until he had fully instructed him in the inestimable value of the chief pilot, and many a tall story he told to enforce the lesson. Nor was he ever at a loss for a “yarn” to fill up a vacant hour, or of an anecdote to cause a laugh or produce a wonder.

To him it was of little importance whether his yarns were facts or fictions, probable or even possible; credible or incredible, Dick was beyond the influence of common trifles. To say something wonderful—something that no page 108 one else could parallel—was the point he aimed at, and this he usually succeeded in doing in a fearful and wonderful manner.

The ship had four hours to wait for the tide before she could take the bar. After a conference with the captain, Dick found his way among the passengers, and soon became the central figure of a large group of inquiring men and women, into whose ears he was pouring stories of the most amazing character—entertaining, perhaps, but about as nearly related to Nature as the romances of the Arabian Nights93. Yet even among that group of hard-headed Scotchmen he found a few who were accepting his statements with the reverence due to a sermon. Perceiving this, he grew still more wonderful for the mere sake of increasing their wonder and dismay.

At length an elderly lady, satisfied of the spurious narratives of New Zealand life he was relating, in a very calm way said:

“Y'er no a bad story-teller, but we hae left better anes behind us. Could ye no tell us something that's mair likely to be true?”

“Whisht94! Mrs. Watson,” said her neighbour, “dinna be rude to the gentleman.”

“Now, ladies,” said Driver, “don't disagree on that subject, in case it should come to a quarrel, for in that case I have a most unpleasant duty to perform. I am under an obligation to the greatest Maori Chief of the Country to give information of any quarrelsome persons I meet with, and depend upon it, he will have his eye on the plumpest one for his next feast. He is a grim, greedy, and wily fellow, and I am compelled to keep his friendship by these page 109 reports to prevent him from making a dinner for himself and his friends of me some day.”

“Weel,” replied Mrs. Watson, against whom his remark was evidently made, being the plumper of the two, without any doubt, “he'll be a weary man the day he fills himsell wi' pickin' flesh off your banes.”

“He has a magnificient set of teeth,” rejoined Dick.

“The best o' teeth canna tak' meat off bare banes,” came glibly from his antagonist, whom Dick eyed keenly and said:

“It's time I returned to Captain Elles,” and at once turned away discomfited, a rare occurrence, perhaps owing to his opponent being a woman, against whom he would not resort to his usual method of overthrow.

While lying “off and on” waiting for the tide, an event of great interest to all, and of special importance to those immediately concerned in it, took place in a cabin which had been arranged a few days before by the doctor's orders, in anticipation of coming events. It was a happy omen of the prosperity to accompany those who were contemplating the country which was in future to be their home, and bespeaking for them all that is to be found in that much loved word.

The vessel, whose living freight were to be the seed-stock of the country's subsequent population, was that afternoon the birthplace of the first fruits of the people, in the person of an infant girl, who, on the day of her appearance in the world, was safely borne into the peaceful and beautiful harbour of her country. Mrs. Hair and her husband were the most warmly congratulated persons who that evening rested quietly on the still waters of Kouputi Bay95.

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During this time the passengers had an opportunity to look on the face of the country, so far as it lay open to them from their position. It was a scene fitted to excite sentiments of pleasure, as in the beautiful weather of that autumn day they gazed ashore upon rocky headlands, wooded hills and glens, and far-reaching ridges, intersected with lovely valleys, picturesque in configuration, fertile in appearance, and possessing such general features as combine to make a country desirable for habitation.

On the left uprose in abrupt massive boldness the range of hills from Pukekura to Poatiri (the Heads to Cape Saunders), with their high precipitous cliffs, at whose base the black and grey rocks were covered with ever-moving seaweed, and the waves of the great Pacific with ceaseless roar broke, and, dashing high upon the impregnable barrier, fell back in foam and spray into their liquid bed.

On the right, stretching from Waitete Bay96 (Blueskin) to Moeraki, lay the gently rising hills and green flats and valleys, running far back among the ranges, where there mingled in a grand panorama dark gorges, grey glens, undulating hills, and mountain peaks shooting up as if to penetrate the sky.

In front of them were the magnificent bastions and spurs of the towering rock-topped summit of Mihiwaka97, dividing the valley of Waitete from Otakou harbour, while all over this aspect of hill and dale the landscape was covered with a noble forest, in its never-failing green, while here and there the pine trees raised their stately heads far above their neighbours, giving a delightful variety page 111 of shade and shape to the forest growth. Up through the broad harbour, lying between hills overgrown with forest from the edge of the water to their highest points, they were pointed to the highway from the ocean to the future scene of their lives.

It was a charming prospect, inviting to the eye, and suggestive to the imagination. Already, on the shore of Waikouaiti98, could be discerned the houses of a few whalers, and the headquarters of the Wesleyan Mission99; while in the background was the residence of Mr. John Jones100, who had been a successful whaling adventurer, and had purchased a large block of land from the Maoris, on which he had erected his dwelling, Then near to the water were the whares of the Maori village, also visible when the ship had stood in some distance in that direction. These gave life to the scene, to some extent removing an impression on the minds of some, that they had come to a country devoid of human beings, with the exception of a few—very few—natives recently recovered from the wildest form of barbarism.

“Put your two best men to the wheel, captain,” said the pilot at last, “and we will go in.”

The two of them were standing together on the poop101, the pilot, Driver, now having taken command. Two strong and intelligent seamen relieved the man who had been in charge of the wheel for the past two hours, and the ship's head was turned as if to run straight upon the long, low-lying bank of sand which shuts off all view of the harbour beyond it.

“How does she answer the helm102?” asked the pilot.

“She is very free,” answered the captain.

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“So much the better. Those men are quick at their work, I hope.”

“You can depend on them to an instant.”

“It's a tough piece of work to take a boat of this size over the bar, I tell you, captain, and a delay of a second may put us ashore.”

“Your orders will be promptly attended to.”

“Well, the wind promises to favour us. Better if it were a pound or two heavier for a sea like this, but if we do not find a white-top as we go over all will be right.”

“There is little risk of her refusing her helm with this speed.”

“We shall have a little more sail on, captain, set the fore-topsail, at least, the wind is rather light. It is an awkward corner, and the tide will be running in its full force now.”

To all on board but the pilot, it appeared that the ship was being driven on to certain destruction, for no opening could be seen between the spit and the rugged rocks. The wind was coming from the N.E., so that nothing could be more favourable, but to timorous hearts, the sight of their good ship sailing full tilt upon a sandy beach, where the waves were breaking with great noise, was more alarming than half a gale at sea.

Now the rocks seemed to be but a boat's length from them, they were hugging close to the eastern side of the course, but still no open way was visible; and some of them could scarcely believe that they were not, after braving so successfully the dangers of the ocean, to end it in reckless disaster. It was madness to give control of the trusty ship to a stranger, who was careless page 113 of their lives and property. But they were nevertheless in good hands. Turning to the men at the wheel, Dick called, “be ready boys, hold steady!” Not far aft was rolling after them a green-topped wave, threatening to take her under the port quarter and cant her head in towards the rocks.

“Hard a starboard?” he called.

And the men drove the wheel round until the chains were tight. As they did so her stern rose upon the wave, but she was held steady, and only forged a-head, dipping her nose as she did so.

“Port!” again called Dick.

The wheel was instantaneously released and driven round to prevent her going off as the wave passed forward. Again she was caught and held to her position, and Dick looked with a smile of self-satisfaction as he noticed how well he had succeeded, and then said:

“Steady! Starboard a little! Easy!”

Then came rolling another green-top of less threatening aspect than its forerunner; this was mastered in the same fashion, and the bar was crossed.

The ship was now in smooth water, after nearly five months battling with the waves, tossing and rolling night and day, at last she stood upright, and her passengers missed the rythme of the sea, which had by this time become so common to them.

“Port!” cried the pilot, and the ship's head was brought round from the sand spit to follow up the tortuous winding of the channel, and as she swung round the entrance was observed winding past the end of the spit, close in to the native village of Otakau, where the ruggedness page 114 of the rocky precipitous wall had discontinued and given place to a rising bank of sand, with gently receding hills behind.

As they approached the little settlement the whole population gathered on the beach to look at the Pakeha103 ship, with her tall masts and spreading sails, winding her way up the channel that only a few years previous had never borne anything heavier than a native canoe.

Some came off in their boats, others stood on the margin of the tide, while others were on the higher sand mounds, and when the ship had turned round Hayward's Point they gave vent to native cheers:

“Ka pai104!” “Ka pai!”

“Pai rawa atu105!”

Which if done into English would read, “Very good!” “Well done!” How excellent!”

Then there was an amount of coroberie106 and much gesticulation as the noble vessel passed on, and in reply from the deck was sent a vigorous volley of greeting from tongues that could not return the Maori salute, but made the hills re-echo the sound of the “Hip, hip, hurrah!”

The natives responded with evident delight:

“Tena koe107!” “Ka pai! “Anana! Anana108!”

But the vigour of the Pakeha's greeting could not be equalled by the nature of the native form of expression. There is no other shout of any nation that can be sent from the lungs and lips with such a violent percussion and sustained volume as that which is common to the British, and as it was repeated from the deck of the receding ship the Maoris listened in surprise at the wild roll of the Pakeha's voice, as it recoiled from hill and rock and died page 115 away in the fading sounds of echo; and when again all was still their great chief spoke to his followers with consternation on his face.

“Ko wai i mahara ki tena?”

(Who would have suspected anything like that109?).

This little episode caused great commotion and pleasure to the strangers, as they sailed in between the hills of the new and strange country. The greeting was a most hearty one, and produced its effect upon those who received it. It helped to drive away the inevitable feeling of the loneliness of such circumstances.

Immediately after the ship had passed the Otakou village110, half-a-dozen boats hoisted their lug-sails and followed her, completing the generous welcome by the convoy over this last stage of their long journey.

Pilot Driver succeeded in guiding his charge—the most important that had ever been in his hands—safely to her anchorage off Kouputi, near where the “John Wickliffe” had been lying for nearly three weeks, having made a better passage than her neighbour; and when the splash of the anchor and the rattle of the cable had ceased, every soul on board felt the relief of a great undertaking at length completed.

79 “Iceland,” James Montgomery.

80 Correctly spelt ennui; the French term for “the feeling of mental weariness and dissatisfaction produced by want of occupation, or by lack of interest in present surroundings or employments” (OED Online).

81 Cherishing or exhibiting kindly feeling towards inferiors or dependants.

82 New Zealand’s Southern Alps mountain range, which runs approximately 500-km down the centre of the country’s South Island.

83 Captain A. J. Elles (1816 - 1886) captained the Philip Laing on its voyage to Otago, New Zealand, which lasted from November 27th, 1847, to the 15th April, 1848.

84 The Māori name for Mt Charles, the highest summit (408-metres) on the Otago Peninsula.

85 The eastern extremity of the Otago Peninsula, named so by Captain Cook in 1770.

86 To come or go, floating or soaring.

87 Taiaroa Head overlooks Otago Harbour at the end of the Otago Peninsula, and was named for Te Matenga Taiaroa, a 19th century Māori chief of the Ngai Tahu iwi. Pukekura was a Māori pā located on the headland, resulting in both names being used relatively interchangeably in reference to the area. It is now the site of the only mainland colony of albatross in the Southern Hemisphere.

88 A boat used by a pilot to meet incoming vessels.

89 Strongly and stoutly built, sturdy, robust.

90 Richard Henry Driver (1812 – 1897) came to New Zealand on the American whaler John Edwards in 1838, and was Otago Harbour’s first pilot.

91 Correctly coxswain; the person on board ship having permanent charge of a boat and its crew, of which he has command unless a superior officer is present.

92 The cabbage tree (or tī kōuka, in Māori) is a native New Zealand plant, which can reach up to 20-metres in height and often grow in wet, open areas like swamps.

93 An alternative name for a collection of mostly Middle Eastern and Indian stories, commonly known as The Thousand and One Nights.

94 An utterance to enjoin silence.

95 There does not appear to be any records of a Kouputi Bay ever existing, but the name is most probably an early term for Port Chalmers, Dunedin, where the Philip Laing and John Wickliffe docked on their respective arrivals in New Zealand.

96 Now called Waitati, Waitete was known as Blueskin in the early days of European settlement (supposedly so-called after a Māori named Te Hikututu, who was nicknamed Blueskin). Waitati now sits on Blueskin Bay, 20-km north of Dunedin.

97 A volcanic dome located four-km north-west of Port Chalmers; early settlers used the peak as a vantage-point.

98 Known as the birthplace of Otago and located 45-km north of Dunedin, whaler Johnny Jones began a colonist influx to the long-standing Māori settlement in 1837.

99 Rev. James Watkin and his wife Hannah, working on behalf of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, established the first Otago Christian mission in 1839 at Waikouaiti, dubbed the Wesleyan Missionary Society.

100 John Jones (1808/9 – 1869) bought a whaling station and a quantity of land near Waikouaiti 1838, and later in the same year bought large sections of land (which later became known as South Otago and Southland) from Ngai Tahu leader Tuhawaiki.

101 The aftermost and highest deck often forming (esp. in a wooden ship) the roof of a cabin in the stern.

102 i.e. Does the ship obey the directions of the helmsman?

103 A foreigner; not one of Māori descent.

104 Very good.

105 Roughly translates to “that’s excellent!”

106 Correctly corroboree; usually used in reference to a native dance of Indigenous Australians, but here used to denote a generally celebratory dance.

107 Hello! (speaking to one person), thank you.

108 An exclamation expressing admiration or surprise, usually followed by an explanation about the subject of the admiration.

109 The translation given is roughly correct.

110 A Māori pa near the entrance of the Otago Harbour, which served as the basis for the name Otago.