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

Chapter XVI. — The Landing

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Chapter XVI.
The Landing.

Here is a stone which the feet of the exiles pressed for an instant, and this stone has become famous. It is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic. And what has become of the gateways of a thousand palaces? Who cares for them?—de Toequeville (on Plymouth Rock).

The landing of the Scottish settlers in Otago was not of a kind that readily lends itself to pictorial or dramatic representation like that of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England on Plymouth Rock in the year 1620. The independent arrival of the two ships and the separation of landing places at Port Chalmers and Dunedin caused the disembarkation to be "neither particular nor general," as the Rev. T. D. Nicholson quaintly notes in his journal. Captain Cargill and a small party went in the ship's boat to the head of the harbour, while the other passengers went ashore in parties to spy out the land around Port Chalmers. The young men were soon set to work on the site of the town by the worthy agent of the expedition. When the Philip Laing arrived about three weeks after the John Wickliffe, however, the opportunity was taken to mark the event with suitable thanksgiving to Almighty God. We who have followed the vicissitudes of the Scottish scheme of colonisation from its inception in 1842 to the great event of the arrival of the first settlers in 1848, can enter into the thrilling joy of the reunion of the two parties from Greenock and London as the ships lay side by side in the little cove off Port Chalmers. We can feel the manly force of the first grip of the hands of Cargill and Burns while they looked with moist and shining eyes into each other's faces as they stood together on the deck of the Philip Laing. The passengers were addressed by page 172the superintendent in words that were full of sincere acknowledgment of the blessings of Divine Providence in bringing them to their future home over thousands of miles of the trackless ocean to a goodly and beautiful land. Cargill's words were as full of practical sagacity as of thankful piety. After speaking of the goodness of God and contrasting the propitious nature of their adopted country with the rigorous conditions under which the Pilgrim Fathers of America founded their colony he made a stirring appeal to his fellows in words that echoed in all their hearts:—

My Friends,—It is a fact that the eyes of the British Empire, and I may say of Europe and America, are upon us. The rulers of our great country have struck out a system of colonisation on liberal and enlightened principles, and, small as we now are, we are the precursors of the first settlement which is to put that system to the test. Our individual interests are therefore bound up with a great public cause, and, passing over in this place the higher objects which Free Churchmen must effect, we should just adopt the sentiment of our British race—"England expects that every man will do his duty." Our duties as pioneers may be somewhat arduous, but as compared with all that have gone before us they are light and transitory. We, no doubt, encounter a wilderness, but we do so in a climate equal at least to the South of England, and with appliances altogether new. The cargo of the John Wickliffe is nearly on shore. A storehouse is roofed in, and similar matters are being proceeded with, which give work for all, until the choice of town allotments shall have been made, when all hands will be required and engaged by the owners of these lands to erect their houses and those of their engaged servants ere the approaching winter, such as it is, shall arrive.1

Cargill concluded his address by fixing the wages in the name of the New Zealand Company at 3s per day for labourers and 5s for craftsmen until the growth of contracts and prosperity should permit of an increase, such page 173rates comparing favourably with the pay at the time in Scotland. This declaration regarding wages was not, however, received with much enthusiasm by the steerage passengers of the Philip Laing. For they had heard Mr Burns speak of labour and its rewards in better terms than these during the voyage. Having been familiar with the struggles of the farming population in the Homeland and feeling that strong sympathy with the workers which found such striking poetical expression in his uncle's verses, Burns had intimated his intention of fixing the hours of work at eight hours a day, and the daily remuneration for labourers at 3s 6d. Burns, with several orders for and and work in his possession, as the agent of several friends of the movement in Scotland, was destined to be the largest employer of labour in the settlement for some time to come, and he had made up his mind that he would adopt the hours and rate of pay which he had announced on board the Philip Laing. The force of public opinion compelled the New Zealand Company to follow his lead after an interval.

Here we see the greatness of Burns as a coloniser and a democratic leader, a pioneer of the great eight hours movement, and the sane and modest champion of the rights of labour to a fair share in the rewards of production and prosperity. As Dr Hoeken said: "The eight hours movement has always been one of interest, and to Mr Burns must be accorded the credit of its introduction to New Zealand.2

Before the arrival of the Philip Laing the first Presbyterian service ever held in these parts was conducted by the Rev. T. D. Nicholson on board the John Wickliffe page 174as she lay at anchor off Port Chalmers, who wrote in his diary:—

Our thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many mercies and His abounding loving kindness shown towards unworthy us during our prosperous voyage. "Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine?"

On Sunday, April 9, the first religions service conducted in Dunedin was held by the same minister. He spent his first night ashore sleeping on the deal floor of the survey office, his pillow being a small travelling bag. On the following day he preached at the immigrants' barracks, which had been hurriedly erected by the new settlers, assisted by the Maoris. The service was held on the date given above at 11 a.m., and the text chosen by Mr Nicholson for his discourse was Acts iv, 12: "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved." On the same afternoon at 3 o'clock he held service on "the small mount adjoining the Wickliffe Pier or landing place." This "small mount" was undoubtedly Church Hill or Bell Hill, as it was subsequently named, which had already been marked as the site of the future church of the settlers, as it is at present (the hill having been reduced) the location of the First Church of Otago. Mr Nicholson's text in the afternoon was Psalm cxix, 9: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word." The service was doubtless held in the open air, after the manner to which the emigrants had accustomed themselves while on board the ship. Mr Nicholson made the following impressive note in his diary:—

The elements were at rest, the air was mild, the waters were without a wave. What a scene for a hallowed Sabbath! Dunedin, may it be said of thee: "Thy tabernacles smile with heavenly holiness: thy present day is a day of small things; page 175when shall we hear of the great things? The answer will depend upon thy remembrance of thy day of grace."

The greeting accorded to the Philip Laing is thus described in Mr Nicholson's diary:—

April 15.—This morning at 9 o'clock we were cheered, by the welcome sight of the long-looked-for Philip Laing off Taiaroa's Head. I was the first to see her. The captain's gig was soon ready, and Captain Daly, Mr Cutten, and myself pushed off and boarded her outside the Heads. The morning was calm and beautiful, and it was delightful to meet with Mr Burns and his friends in this far-off land and to give them a hearty welcome to the shores of their future home.

After the arrival of the vessel on Saturday Burns was determined not to allow the approaching Lord's Day to pass without a service of thanksgiving ashore. Notwithstanding the rush of affairs, he travelled up by boat to Dunedin the same afternoon in order that he might perform this sacred duty. He spent the night at Mr Kettle's house. On Sunday, at 11 o'clock, he preached in the barracks which had been erected for the married people of the John Wickliffe, his text being from Psalm cxxx, 4: "There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared." The reading of the short Psalm with its appropriate opening, "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord," must have been as impressive as it was appropriate to the occasion. Among his auditors was the Rev. Charles Creed, the Wesley an missionary of "Waikouaiti, who had come over with others from the neighbouring settlement to meet the Scottish contingent. At Mr Burns's request Mr Creed took the afternoon service. Writing to Mr Sym, Burns remarked of Mr Creed: "He is an excellent, devoted man. I hope that we shall be able to strengthen each other's hands." There was no sign of intolerance in that declaration by the Scots minister, but it gave evidence of sincere charity and the desire for cooperation.

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This service marks the commencement of Mr Burns's patriarchal ministry in the First Church of Otago, the origin of which is usually dated from the arrival of the first settlers. It would be truer to fact, however, to recognise that the church was formed at Greenock, when the passengers of the Philip Laing gathered for service on board their ship. It is feasible to regard the service held by the Rev. Mr Smith and Dr McFarlan on November 20, 1847, as really originating the congregation over which Mr Burns exercised full pastoral oversight throughout the voyage, and after the landing at Otago. In one of his letters to Cargill, Burns had emphasised the importance of founding a congregation in this way prior to departure, and he had suggested that Cargill himself should be one of the elders. Owing to the separate voyages of the two leaders, however, this proposal was not able to be carried out. It is quite possible that Burns could not find even one ordained elder on board the Philip Laing, otherwise he might have taken steps to form a session, with the powers which he doubtless possessed from the Presbytery of Edinburgh, with which his congregation was in ecclesiastical association.

In the diary of Mr Thomas Ferens, one of the passengers by the John Wickliffe, there is an interesting reference to the impression which the Rev. Thomas Burns made upon his hearers in his first service. Writing on Sunday, April 16, Mr Ferens says:—

This morning the weather was fine and settled. Mr Burns, the minister of the Philip Laing, who had arranged with Mr Creed to preach at the Barracks at 11 a.m., came up last night. Text, Psalm cxxx, 4––a sound, excellent evangelical sermon —apparently a man of talents and of mind, tall, athletic, and well-proportioned, but aged.3

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After walking round the site and looking at the town allotments, which were to be selected on the following Friday, Burns returned to his ship on Tuesday. He then visited the sections round Port Chalmers. The bull, the goat with its kid, and the dog were taken under the care of Arthur Burns in the long boat to Mr Anderson's run on the opposite side of the harbour from Dunedin, where George Turnbull, who acted as Mr Burns's handy man, was left in charge of the precious live stock. Burns had acted as banker to many of the emigrants, and was occupied at this time in paying out part of the money that had been entrusted to his care during the voyage.

On the second Sunday after arrival Burns conducted morning and evening service as usual on board the Philip Laing, which still retained most of the passengers. At the mid-day service the Rev. T. D. Nicholson preached. In the afternoon Mr Burns preached on the John Wickliffe and baptised the infant son of Mr and Mrs Nicholson, who was born to them on April 19 on board the ship. The name of the infant was John Wickliffe M'Whir Daly Nicholson!

The first sale of properties under the terms of purchase was held on Friday, April 21, when the town sections were offered in the order of preference which had been determined by the ballot held prior to the departure of the settlers from the Homeland. Burns had spent the previous Monday in inspecting the town lands, and he made purchases on behalf of the Church Trustees and certain friends in Scotland, such as Rev. E. B. Wallace, Mr P. B. Mure Macredie, Mr William Todd and his brother Gilbert. He also selected two sections for himself. The full particulars of the lands purchased are given in his diary. From the properties which he bought for the Church Trustees on the occasions of the early land sales the bulk page 178of the revenues of the Presbyterian Board of Property have been derived. The churches, manses, and the University which have all received generous assistance from these funds have profited from the practical sagacity which Burns displayed in the administration of the Trust for Religious and Educational Uses. Reference will be made later to the other sources of revenue for these purposes.

Burns and his family continued to live on the ship with most of the emigrants while housing arrangements were slowly progressing ashore. The framework of the manse had been brought out on the John Wickliffe, and was soon in process of erection. He writes on Friday, April 28:—

On Wednesday last (26th) I went up to Dunedin to see about the manse. Monson promised to have two rooms ready by Saturday next. Fixed about a kitchen to be built of mud and the windows made lower. Promised to go up and preach at Dunedin on Sabbath.

The first visitor from the North Island called on Mr Burns at this juncture. He was a merchant from Wellington named Mr George P. Wallace. He brought a letter from the Rev. John Inglis, the Reformed Presbyterian Church missionary at Manawatu, who was then supplying the vacant pulpit of the Presbyterian Church in Wellington. Mr Inglis had been driven from Manawatu by the Maori hostilities, and had proved himself an acceptable minister to the Presbyterians over whom Mr Macfarlane had previously held the pastorate. The Wellington Presbyterian Church had invited Mr Inglis to become their settled minister, but the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland had refused to agree to this proposal, and had ordered Mr Inglis to confine his activities to missionary labours among the Natives. The Rev. James Duncan, his colleague, had already returned to page 179Manawatu, but Mr Inglis renewed his request for permission to minister to the needy Presbyterians of the capital. In his letter to Mr Burns information was sought as to the intentions of the Free Church in regard to Wellington, as his decision would be regulated a good deal by that. Mr Wallace gave a graphic picture of the spiritual destitution which would befall the Wellington Church if it were deprived of the ministrations of Mr Inglis.

Mr Wallace tells me that nearly half of the population at Wellington are Scotch, and that, whilst the Episcopalian Church is attended by all the Government officials and by the leading English capitalists, and by the military, and whilst the Wesleyans are attended by a number of the young of both sexes, still the Presbyterians at present attending Mr Inglis's ministry contain a larger proportion of the substantial settlers than any other denomination, and are the strongest congregation of the place. They are worshipping at present in the church belonging to the Established Church of Scotland, a mere shell of a house, which is crowded to the door. It is unfinished and out of repair, and built on a Government grant of land and £90 in debt. If they succeed in getting Mr Inglis they will build a new church for themselves. Mr Strang, the Registrar-general, is the great prop of the Established Church; he lately sent Home a requisition for a minister, offering to make up £100 a year; this was signed by some 40 or 50. Besides himself and two other trustees of the church, viz., Harvey and Bethune, and either one or two of the four elders, all the rest are Highlanders, who are very poor, and both unable and unwilling to contribute anything. The names of the elders are Quinn, from Haddington, Villiers, a carpenter, Hood, do., and Mackenzie, an old man. Quinn, Villiers and Hood signed Mr Inglis's call, whilst all of them, trustees and elders, attend his ministry at least occasionally.

Burns was deeply interested in everything affecting the spiritual welfare of his adopted country, and he replied to the letter of Mr Inglis, assuring him of his very high regard, and informing him that the Free Church would probably respond to the requisition from Auckland page 180asking for a minister, but that it was doubtful whether the Free Church would go any further at present in view of the despatch of ministers to Nelson and Otago. Mr Inglis later supplied at Auckland, and in 1852 became the honoured missionary to Aneityam in the New Hebrides, whither he proceeded with his devoted wife in Bishop Selwyn's vessel the Border Maid. A warm friendship grew up between Mr Inglis and the missionary bishop, and with Mr Burns he had also a strong bond of affection. Dr and Mrs Geddie, of the Nova Scotian Mission, were the pioneers on the island of Aneityam, and extended a cordial welcome to Mr and Mrs Inglis on their arrival. This marked the beginning of the interest of New Zealand in the New Hebrides as a missionary field. At a later date the Rev. J. Inglis received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from his University.

The difficulties of communication between Port Chalmers and Dunedin were made apparent by an incident that happened on Saturday, April 29. With the desire of fulfilling his promise to preach in Dunedin on the approaching Sunday, Burns set out from the Philip Laing in the captain's gig at 10 o'clock in the morning. Before half the distance was traversed, however, the wind blew so fiercely from the south that the boat was driven into a little bay. Burns and those who were with him attempted to force their way through the thick bush and up the steep hill, but failed to make any progress. They then tried to find a passage round the shore by walking along the beach, but in this also they were baffled. There was nothing for it but to return to the ship, which they accordingly did. On the Sunday Burns preached as usual on board. In the afternoon he visited the brick house originally built by Tuckett at Port Chalmers, and then used as a hospital. page 181He offered consolation to Alexander Livingston, a passenger by the Philip Laing, who had contracted consumption and was dying, also to Mrs Thomas Cuddie, whose eldest child had died on the previous Friday. The father took the body of the babe up to Dunedin, having received a note from Mr Burns for Captain Cargill asking that the interment might take place in the cemetery. On the same day a daughter was born to the wife of William Winton.

The next few days were spent in transacting business in connection with the land which had been purchased for friends at home, and in exploring the many beautiful coves on both sides of the harbour. Sawyers' Bay was visited by Mr Burns, his wife and family, and a party in the ship's boats on Tuesday afternoon, May 2. On the following day they went to "the Native clearing, a town reserve above the watering place" (the present Maori Kaik), when a heavy thunderstorm interrupted the pleasure of the outing. On Friday, May 5, a visit was paid to "the remarkable rock above Port Chalmers" (near the present monument to the late Captain Scott, of Antarctic fame). Transport by boat continued to cause difficulty.

Arthur went up to Dunedin with the second cargo of our luggage (the first cargo went up on Wednesday last). The boat could not get up; came down again on Saturday, but could not reach ship, and was carried by the tide down two or three miles, where she still lies with her cargo in her. I fear the articles may be wet with the rain, which fell so heavily.

Sabbath, May 7.—Worship three times as usual. I baptised William Winton's child by the name of Ann. Weather cold and boisterous.

Monday, May 8.—Angus Cameron came down by Captain Cargill's orders to show the sawyers, the two Fergusons and Christie, a place opposite to, but some way above, Port Chalmers; they came back in the afternoon satisfied with the place. Mr Macdonald went down to Otago (Otakou) to kill two bullocks, James Killock (Kelloch) with him. Arthur went up page 182to Dunedin in the afternoon with luggage—was kindly put up by Mr Jeffreys; got the things all into the house, the study table a little twisted in one of the castors. I went along with Mr Blackie and Mr Carnegie to Otago to search for Mr C.'s boat that had gone adrift from the John Wickliffe, by one of whose men she was picked up as she was drifting past. We sailed into Deborah Bay—Otakeiti—and I was much struck with the beauty of the scenery. A man in a boat told us that Mr C.'s boat was found at Otago (Otakou on the Peninsula). We went down and brought her up. Two of Driver's (the pilot's) Maoris offered their services to pull me in the lifeboat, which they did. I am much interested in them.

Tuesday, 9th.—Went with Mr Blackie and two boys in the lifeboat round by the islands to Portobello Bay and house, accompanied by Mr Carnegie in his own boat and two boys. Beautiful scenery. Walked over the ridge behind the house and saw the Pacific Ocean. As we came home we met the boats going up to Dunedin with luggage—some of mine. Arthur, who did not come down, sent a message for the lifeboat to go up to help and discharge the cargo, but we were in the boat returning home when we met the long boat and the Company's boat going up. Francis M'Diarmid showed me a specimen of the freestone rock opposite to Dunedin—where the bull is going— which John Brown, the builder, says is admirable stone. He says the proper test is to put a piece of it in a solution of sulphate of soda and Glauber's salts for 24 hours, and if after that, when exposed to the air it does not yield to the weather, it will certainly stand. With Dr Ramsay's aid we have one piece in a solution of soda—the result will be learned in a day or two.

Burns diligently laboured to find whether good stone could be procured around Dunedin, and his experiments did not produce very promising results. He was intent upon finding shell deposits from which lime might be made for building purposes. He was to find out by bitter experience that the stone from the opposite side of the harbour (Anderson's Bay) was not really durable.

On Monday evening, May 8, Alexander Livingston succumbed to his illness, and Mr Blackie accompanied the page 183body in a boat bound for Dunedin, where it was interred. The child of Mr Cuddie and Mr Livingston were the first two burials after the arrival of the Scottish settlers. On May 14 Burns baptised Thomas Cuddie's newly-born and surviving child by the name of Alexander Thomas Burns.

Wet weather came in early in May and caused considerable discomfort to the pioneers. For eight days heavy rain fell constantly. After a break of a day or two the rain commenced once more. On Friday, May 19, Burns describes the day as one of "the calmest beauty, the most enchanting serenity," and he records that his party sailed in the captain's gig to Port Chalmers and down into all the nooks and bays. But again wet weather supervened. On Sunday, 21st, the morning was foggy, with rain later on, but calm. The birds were singing in myriads in the woods. The usual services were held on the ship, and Burns baptised the child of James Hare and his wife Margaret Spiers by the name of Emma Sarah Carnegie, born May 16.

At this juncture the John Wickliffe, carrying letters from Mr Burns and the settlers, left Otago Harbour (May 19) conveying some passengers, including the Rev. T. D. Nicholson, to the north. The John Wickliffe had a quick run to Port Nicholson, which was reached within four days. Here Mr Nicholson left the ship which had brought him thus far on his way, and after spending three weeks in Wellington, where the Rev. John Inglis was preaching, he went on to his destination at Nelson, and arrived there on June 18. He laboured at Nelson until 1857, when he was succeeded by the Rev. P. Calder, Mr Nicholson accepting the charge of Wairau Plains, now known as Blenheim.

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On Wednesday, May 24, Burns went up to Dunedin and looked over the manse, which he described as being (in the phrase of an old friend of the family) "in a most gla-arious condition!" As he spent the day in sorting things out, the inference is that confusion reigned supreme.

Saturday, 27.—Left the Philip Laing with a view to public worship at Dunedin to-morrow in the Company's boat, Bentley, master, at 5 p.m. with James Brown and wife, Robert Stewart, wife and child, Robert Gillies, wife and child; but owing to want of activity did not reach Dunedin till 11 p.m.— fine evening, fortunately. Slept in the manse.

This was the first occasion on which Burns occupied the manse. On the following day he preached in Mr Cutten's (previously Mr Garrick's) house.4The audience was not large, he tells us; with a gleam of his whimsical humour he adds, "but very select." Later in the day he preached in the young men's barracks, a grass whare on the beach. The attendance was small, and the place was very dark and uncomfortable. Captain Cargill, Mr Kettle, and Mr Macdonald were present among others. Burns ate and slept in the manse. On the following day he accompanied Messrs Kettle, Lee, and John Cargill to the "flat swamp at the head of the harbour," where levels were taken for draining the area where Kensington and Musselburgh now stand. On Tuesday he returned to the ship.

The landing of the Burns family in Dunedin took place—more or less officially—on the following Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3. The incident might have had a very serious aftermath. Burns describes it in his diary and also in a letter to the Rev. John Sym, dated June 12, from which the narrative may be quoted. 5

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On Friday I brought my family here finally from the Philip Laing. The servant maid, with the three youngest children, including the baby (Agnes) were in the luggage boat; there was not room for them in the captain's gig. In the morning when we started there was as lovely weather as ever shone, but suddenly the sky became overcast and the wind blew right in our teeth. The gig pulled through in good style, but the luggage boat could make no headway against it. The consequence was that poor baby, Fanny, and Annie, with the maid, slept all night in the bush, the boat having put into a little bay about three miles down the harbour. Cold, cold it was, snow and frost—by far the coldest night we have had; ice as thick as a shilling was seen next morning, though ice and snow were both gone soon after breakfast. My poor wife was most miserable all night. Next morning about 11 o'clock we were delighted to see two sailors with Fanny and Annie on their backs, and Jane Patullo, the maid servant (with the babe in her arms), all walking up to the manse door. The children were not a whit the worse of it. One of the features of this singular climate is, no matter how much you may be exposed to it you take no injury.

In his diary Burns adds that "the boat, with all our things, remained another night under the rain." Such was the manner of the entry of the minister of the Scotch Colony of Otago with his wife and family into their new home!

1 Otago Journal, No. III, p. 38.

2 Hocken's Early History, p. 103.

3 Early Settlers' Library, Dunedin.

4 Mr Garrick, a solicitor, who, with his family, travelled out on the John Wickliffe, selected the site of the present Bank of New Zealand at the first sale of town sections.

5 Otago Journal, No. Ill, p. 41.