Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A great coloniser : the Rev. Dr. Thomas Burns, pioneer minister of Otago and nephew of the poet

Chapter X. — Difficulties and Delays

page 89

Chapter X.
Difficulties and Delays.

When the streets of high Dunedin
Saw the lance gleam and falchions redden,
And heard the slogan's deadly yell,
Then the chief of Branksome fell.

After the October Assembly had endorsed the Scottish Colony by appointing the minister, the newspapers were full of the subject, and various suggestions were made regarding the name of the future settlement.

Somewhere amid the marshes of Darien there was a ruined village of New Edinburgh, which gave a suggestion of ill-omen to the projected venture. Various proposals were made as to the designation of the Colony: New Reekie, Edina, Burns, Duncantown, Bruce, Ossian, Napiertown, Holyrood, Wallace, and so forth. But a letter from Mr (afterwards Sir) William Chambers to the New Zealand Journal dropped a seed which in due season bore fruit.

Edinburgh, October 30, 1843.


If not finally resolved upon, I should strongly recommend a reconsideration of the name New Edinburgh, and the adoption of another, infinitely superior and yet equally allied to old Edinburgh. I mean the assumption of the name Dunedin, which is the ancient Celtic appellation of Edinburgh, and is now occasionally applied in poetic compositions and otherwise to the northern metropolis. I would, at all events, hope that names of places with the prefix "new" should be sparingly had recourse to. The "news" in North America are an utter abomination, which it has been lately proposed to sweep out of the country. It will be a matter for regret if the New Zealand Company help to carry the nuisance to the territories with which it is concerned.

W. Chambers.

page 90

Although, the name New Edinburgh continued to be used in Scotland for some time, the change to Dunedin gradually came to be accepted, especially after the Port Cooper site was passed over in favour of Otago. It thus appears that Robert Chambers suggested Burns as minister to the Colony, and his brother William suggested Dunedin as the name of the town; which is surely a remarkable coincidence. Both brothers were deeply interested in the fortunes of the expedition. A fine portrait of Sir William Chambers is hung in the Town Hall of Dunedin, near a likeness of Mr George Rennie. Cargill and Burns have claims to stand even nearer to the chair of the chief magistrate of Dunedin, and the present writer expresses the earnest hope that before long the two chief founders of Otago will be worthily represented in the principal hall of the city and province.

The interests of the Colony were supposed to be fostered by a committee of influential men, whose office, under the management of Mr Dowling, a stockbroker and nephew of Mr Rennie1, was at 21 South St. Andrew street. Captain Cargill was the deputy for Mr Rennie, but his business interests were centred in London, where he lived while the scheme was being matured in Scotland. It was really left to Mr Burns to father the undertaking and recruit the labourers for the expedition. As time went on, the burden of the enterprise came to rest more and more heavily upon the minister, who worked unceasingly for its success amid innumerable discouragements and obstacles. This preoccupation with secular and business page 91interests involved him in misunderstandings upon the part of his clerical brethren, especially when failure seemed to be staring the promoters in the face, and the Free Church was crying out for more ministers to man the pulpits of the land.

Burns and Cargill continued to wrestle with the difficulties which had arisen as to the relation of the Free Church to the prospective settlement. Cargill suggested that the Presbyterian communicants should choose the second minister, and that the schools should be Presbyterian in character. To these proposals Burns added that there should be freedom in education to teach according to Free Church standards, and that communicants were to be empowered to decide whether the next minister should be Free or Established. Mr Rennie must not be allowed to exercise the power of veto over such appointments. With these thoughts in mind, Burns withdrew his opposition to the Company's attitude on the subject of the Free Church influence. His object was to avoid sectarian strife, and he felt convinced that the issue need never become acute in the Colony unless some one else raised it. On November 14 he says:—

I have written Mr Rennie acquiescing to Ms proposals and promising to give my best aid in selecting a schoolmaster agreeably to the instructions of the directors, viz., out of the Establishment. It is a matter too nearly affecting the good of the Colony, as well as my own comfort and usefulness there, to admit of any petty standing aloof from resentment at unhandsome treatment. As I have agreed to fulfil my engagement, it would be unworthy in me were I to withdraw my co-operation in the way of promoting the interests of the Colony.

Expressing the hope that the present theoretic differences with Mr Rennie would disappear in the practical work of the settlement at the Antipodes, he writes:—

I received the Colonial Gazette announcing the day for balloting for choice of land in New Edinburgh. From this I page 92conclude that you are all resolved fairly to start in March. I am willing to go. I have also stated that my official connection with the Free Church will officially terminate in a few weeks' time by the ordination of my successor at Monkton. … I say farewell in December. I have asked Mr Rennie to get my appointment completed and a bond made for New Edinburgh.

Again he is forced to touch on the financial position in his letter of December 6:—

I wrote to Mr R. and stated that as my income from the Free Church would cease, I wished that my appointment to New Edinburgh might be completed. He replies that the directors "will be quite disposed to make me (sic) such compensation as the case seems to demand, founded on the value of my present endowment, for the loss of stipend pending the interval between the cessation of my present duties and my appointment to my new charge."

On December 17 Burns said farewell to his faithful and devoted people of the Free Church congregation of Monkton, whose minister he had been in the former and present ecclesiastical connection for the period of nearly fourteen years. It was indeed a touching occasion when the ties which had been hallowed by service and sacrifice were finally severed. On the 24th he introduced his successor, the Rev. John M'Farlan 2to the people of the charge. Thus he cast himself adrift upon the tides of migratory enterprise, trusting in the guarantees of the New Zealand Company, authenticated in his selection by the Free Church Assembly, to be the spiritual leader of the band of settlers, who then numbered about forty heads of families. If he had known what was in store for him in making his decision, and the plight in which he would soon find himself, without any means of support, committed to a scheme which seemed to be following the will-of-the wisp, it is extremely doubtful whether he would have thus cut page 93himself off from his beloved work in his church, notwithstanding his strong missionary and patriotic zeal for the colonial mission in the southern seas. But if it had been given to him to look through all these experiences of disillusionment to the ultimate settlement in the far country of his dreams, who can doubt that he would have acted as he did, knowing the upright and determined character of the man?

Burns continued to live in his home at New Prestwick for seventeen months after resigning his charge. His home became the base of his operations on behalf of the New Edinburgh scheme and the Free Church. His duties as pulpit supply or locum tenens in various parishes involved him in constant travel, which provided him with the opportunity of presenting the case for the colony to congregations, committees, deacons' courts, and interested persons. This work of propaganda was so valuable to the scheme that it is difficult to imagine that the subsequent settlement could ever have taken place without his untiring labours. He began services in Maybole early in the year 1844. He writes of the interest of many in Ayrshire. He tells how he met with Robert Cargill in Edinburgh, and adds that "he is off from our party." Names are constantly cropping up in his letters which indicate how Burns dealt with all known individuals who even nibbled at the literature circulated on behalf of the Colony. Like an angler, he frequently notes that many fish will nibble but not bite. On February 17 he announces a journey to his old home at Haddington. He publishes many articles in the local newspapers, including the Witness and the Scottish Guardian. Many of Cargill's letters to him might be rescued from Ayrshire papers of the period, for he published such when he had the writer's permission and when he thought that they would help on the cause. page 94He speaks of Doctors Williamson, of Perth, and Graham as possible members of the party. His relations with the Deans family of Riccarton, Kilmarnock, names of pioneers in Canterbury—as we now know it—tempt one to give long extracts from his letters:—

I went to Kilmarnock, where I saw several fanners who were a good deal interested in our Colony, among the rest old Mr Deans, who is a writer in the town, and one of his sons, who read to me several extracts from letters lately received from Port Cooper, of a very satisfactory nature. The Port Cooper Deans mentions another Scotchman, the son-in-law of a farmer near Kilmamoek whom I also saw (Mr Orr), who has squatted at Pigeon Bay—his name is Hay.

Here was a case of mutual attraction, for the Deans family at Riccarton near Port Cooper were hoping that the Scotch colony would be settled near their farm; and Burns, knowing that Port Cooper was the then chosen site, expected soon to be in the neighbourhood of this friendly Presbyterian home. Many interesting references to the Deans family occur in the correspondence of the ensuing years.

One of the first causes of the delay to the fruition of the scheme was the news of the massacre at Wairau, Cloudy Bay, in which Captain Wakefield and twenty-one other Europeans fell before an onslaught of Maoris under two chiefs from the North Island, on June 17, 1843. The effect of the tidings of this affray in the north of the Middle Island was detrimental to the progress of the Scotch emigration scheme. Hitherto the Middle Island had been regarded as free from such Native troubles, and considerations of invading tribes and exceptional circumstances in connection with the tragedy failed to remove the alarm from the minds of some intending settlers at New Edinburgh.

page 95

The second great cause of embarrassment to the scheme came through the difficulties in which the New Zealand Company found itself in the year 1844. To begin with, the pioneer settlements of the Company in New Zealand were meeting with hardships of various kinds—the trough of the wave of colonisation which recurs with monotonous regularity in all new plantations. The disputes about land purchases from the Maoris complicated the problems of settlement. A certain vagueness in the terms of the Government's commission to select a site for New Edinburgh led to long correspondence between New Zealand and London, and consequent delay in the selection of a site for the Colony. Friction between the New Zealand Company and the Government grew more intense in the Colony, and also at the Colonial Office. Lord Stanley (afterwards Prime Minister, as the Earl of Derby), of whom Bulwer Lytton wrote:—

"The brilliant chief, irregularly great,
Frank, haughty, rash—the Rupert of debate"

opposed the Company from the commencement of his term as Colonial Secretary in 1841. In the Under-secretary, James Stephen, Stanley had a stout ally in this campaign. 3The war was waged largely by correspondence between the Company and the Colonial Office, with brilliant sallies particularly on the side of the Company, descending, however, not infrequently, to vituperation and abuse. 4Native policy, the Governor's indiscretions, the tension between the new capital at Auckland and the Company's settlements in Cook Strait, failure on the part of the Government to requite the Company for its expenses in regard to emigration, the Company's titles to lands for which sporadic Maori claims to ownership arose from time to time—these were among the chief subjects in dispute.

page 96

In March, 1844, however, the desperate state of the Company 's finances forced the directors to apply to Stanley for a loan of £100,000. Receiving a reply that £40,000 was the utmost accommodation that could be granted, the Company decided to appeal to Parliament, and thus ventilate the issue of the colonisation of New Zealand in the public arena. A select committee was demanded in the House of Commons, and granted in April. The report, which ran into over 1000 printed pages, was submitted in July, and on the whole it admitted the reasonableness of the claims of the Company. The effect was to bring the subject of New Zealand into prominence throughout the United Kingdom. Stanley's attitude, however, remained much the same as before, and in consequence the critical state of the affairs of the Company continued for about two years.

The Scottish scheme felt the full impact of the collision between the Company and the Colonial Office. Burns read the news in the column of the London correspondent to the Scotsman in the middle of March, and found confirmation of the turn of events in Cargill's letters from the metropolis. Burns writes on March 19, 1844:—

I presume from the tenor of your two letters that above is correct enough, and if the Company's ultimatum is refused by the Government our enterprise is knocked on the head— as it ought to be. Is Rennie in London? I understand that there is no chance of Macfarlane, 5 of Wellington, coming out into the Free Church.

Again on April 1:—

What is the security of our scheme? I have begun to entertain some doubts as to the stability of our projected enterprise. If its well-being depends on the Company, it seems to be on the brink of ruin. On the whole, I should imagine that our expedition must unavoidably be delayed beyond the proposed period.

page 97

Notwithstanding the situation, Barns continued to try to find a schoolmaster, but he found himself up against two difficulties. One was Rennie's intention to fill the appointment with a man after his own heart, and he favoured men whom Burns dubbed, in Dr Guthrie 's phrase, "rusty razors," that is, men who had been laid aside as useless and now came out as applicants for positions rendered vacant by the Disruption. The other problem was to induce high-minded men to go to New Edinburgh when they knew that a ban was being placed upon religious instruction in the schools. Rennie had a candidate named Telfer in view, whom Burns did not estimate very highly. Burns desired to call upon a suitable teacher named Kay, and took coach to Girvan for the purpose. He says:—

I spent the evening with Mr Kay and so won upon his wife that it was resolved that Mr Kay should proceed to Edinburgh this week and try and make a bargain with Mr Rennie. I told him from Mr Rennie that … the teacher is to bind himself that under no circumstances are secular and religious instruction to be blended. When I mentioned this to him he was greatly staggered, and said he would be no party to anything of the kind, that it was the religious branch of his teaching that enabled him to get on as he did with his 200 pupils.

Writing on April 26 Burns is still anticipating an early departure, for the enterprise has not yet been officially postponed:—

I presume that the former arrangement will still hold as to sailing from Glasgow in Glasgow ships. I would like to know what cabin we are to have and see about furniture for it. Mrs Burns has been considering if we shall be troubled with mosquitoes in New Edinburgh, as if not she is disposed to take our French beds with no curtains; but if there are mosquitoes we are told that mosquito curtains are indispensable. Mr Kettle when I saw him in Edinburgh told me there are no grates in Wellington, yet he admitted that even on a summer evening people have no objection to a bit of fire in their sitting room.

page 98

The silent partner in the correspondence deserves our hearty sympathy. She had her family to consider, and her view of the future would be full of questionings. With the shadow of uncertainty resting over the whole undertaking she must have been the prey to contending emotions of suspense and misgiving. Throughout the course of the proceedings in Scotland, on board ship, and in the new settlement Mrs Burns stands out as a brave and refined lady, a true wife and mother, worthy of the highest admiration.

The reference to the meeting of Mr Burns and Mr Kettle in Edinburgh is interesting, as the twain were to be neighbours and co-workers in Dunedin at a later date. Mr Kettle was born in Kent, in England, in 1820, and at the age of 19 migrated to Port Nicholson. He took part in surveying the rivers in the vicinity of the settlement, and in 1842 did some valuable pioneering work in the Wairarapa and Manawatu districts. He returned to England in the following year, and visited Edinburgh with Mr Rennie, gaining knowledge of the Scottish capital with a view to incorporating the main features of the streets and topography in the proposed town of New Edinburgh. He eventually received an appointment to prosecute the surveys, and arrived at Koputai (Port Chalmers) on February 23, 1846. His work there and subsequent career do not concern us at this juncture.

On May 2 Mr Rennie issued an address to the intending colonists of New Edinburgh, 6in which he apologetically reviewed the events which had transpired since he addressed the Scotch farmers nearly a year before. He intimated that the directors of the New Zealand Company had practically suspended operations on behalf of the Scotch Colony in the meantime. He then proceeded page 99to narrate his communications and interviews with Lord Stanley, in which his lordship had informed Mr Rennie at first that he was not disposed to concede the principle of the new settlement; but later he gave a rather grudging consent to it, disallowing, however, any government support to the provision for minister or schoolmaster. Rennie says: "I found myself after four weeks' negotiation with the Colonial Office exactly where I commenced." Postponement was inevitable, at least until the site for the settlement should be definitely determined. In view of the hardship involved in this unavoidable delay, the Company undertook to repay the deposits of purchasers who did not wish to wait. At the end of the address Rennie struck an optimistic note, which, however, had rather a hollow ring about it.

In the interviews to which reference was made in the address, the claims of the members of the party who were preparing to embark, 40 heads of families, or to the number of about 200 in all, were brought before Lord Stanley by Mr Rennie. He pointed out the hardship which would befall them if the scheme was abandoned. He instanced the case of the Rev. Mr Burns, who had relinquished his living, and who, with his wife and five children, was waiting to embark; of farmers who had given up their leases, tradesmen their businesses, and others who had thrown up their situations without prospect of reinstating themselves. 7 Little result accrued from these representations to the Colonial Office. As a matter of fact Rennie's action in going to Lord Stanley without consulting the directors of the New Zealand Company, in addition to other evidences of alleged insubordination to his superiors, formed part of the ground of his subsequent removal from his position as leader of the New Edinburgh scheme.

1 Dowling street, Dunedin, is named after him. The committee was: The Lord Provost (Sir James Forrest), chairman, Col. R. Anderson, Jas. Aitchison, I. Bayley, Rev. Thomas Burns, Wm. Cargill, Robert Cargill, W. Gibson-Craig, P. S. Fraser, John Leadbitter, Right Hon. Fox Maule, M.P., R. Scott Moncrieff, Robert Paul, H. Rose, A. Rutherford, M.P., Geo. Rennie, Dr Smyttan, P. M. Stewart, M.P., J. Gibson Thomson, and Rev. Dr. D. Welsh. This committee did very little save to prepare the way for the Lay Association of later date.

2 See Chapter VIII, supra.

3 See chap. VI, supra.

4 Marais, Colonisation of New Zealand, p. 179ff.

5 The Rev. John Macfarlane, Presbyterian minister, of Wellington, New Zealand.

6 New Zealand Journal, May 25, 1844.

7 Hocken's Early History, p. 29.