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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970

Making Your Way in Nelson — (Before the five-day, 40-hour week)

Making Your Way in Nelson
(Before the five-day, 40-hour week)

The writer of these private notes was born in Cornwall in 1836 and educated at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Entering the Navy as midshipman, he later transferred to the Merchant Service as a cadet on the ship "John Taylor" which arrived in Lyttelton in 1853. After working on a Canterbury sheep station, he managed a timber estate near Wellington for Edward Jerningham Wakefield and joined the Nelson (Aorere) gold rush of 1857–60. He was latterly a senior officer in the Crown Lands Department.

"I stayed with Mr Wakefield until the diggings broke out in Nelson (Aorere, 1857–60) when I went over to try my luck. Mr Wakefield gave me several letters of introduction to friends of his in Nelson, one was a Mr Songer at Stoke. The Nelson goldfields were not a great success, although some storekeepers made a lot of money. I also fell in with some nice men from Australia with whom I worked for some time, but seeing there was little money to be made at gold digging I left for Nelson. It was then the letters I had received from Mr Wakefield were of value as directly I presented the one to Mr….he drove me into Nelson and called on Mr Symons who had a large store there. I was engaged at once, and soon got to learn my duties, which in those days were not very light. We had the store open every morning at 7 and were more or less at work till nearly 12 every night, as after closing time, 8 p.m., we had the books to enter up and keep. Mr Symons was a great worker, never idle a minute. When I joined him he was a bachelor and had a young person as housekeeper, whom he shortly afterwards married. On looking back there is no doubt that I made a great mistake in leaving him. I should have remained at the business and might have been like Mr Symons was, soon independent, but just at this page 31time a Mr Wilson came to Nelson to open a warehouse on behalf of Synongton & Co. of Sydney and offered me a good appointment which I accepted, mainly I think on account of the much shorter hours. I got on very well there for a time, until a Mr Roberts came from the Sydney firm; he was rather an upstart and I could not get on with him at all, so I left.

I had several pounds in the bank, as I had always been saving and just at this time I made the acquaintance of a Captain Deck who had been in command of the Government Steamer, but had retired and had some money. He suggested we should take up land at the Croixelles, get a timber license and cut and export piles to Nelson, there being a great demand for them. We were Joined by a Mr Ranger. We got our license from the Crown Lands Department, all necessary stores, tents and tools together with a letter to Mr McLaren who resided at the Croixelles, had married a native chief's daughter and was monarch of all he surveyed. We chartered a small schooner and got down there safely. After unloading we arranged with the Skipper to come back in three weeks, and bring certain stores in the shape of flour, tea, sugar, etc. By that time we hoped to have a load of piles for him to take back.

"The place we selected after a consultation with Mr McLaren, was some Crown Lands opposite his residence, on the shore side of the bay. He was very pleased to see us, Capt. Deck being well known to everyone on the coast, and promised to come over on the following Sunday morning for us to go back and spend the day with him. We selected a very pretty spot for our tent and pitched it. It was roomy inside, with a clear running stream of pure water close by. The following day we surveyed the land and found we had a splendid supply of trees close to the water. We decided to make ourselves comfortable and set to work to build a log-cabin. This, when finished, was very nice, and we were able to have a fire going night and day.

"We had plenty of sport, we could go under the trees and shoot pigeons to any extent, fish were in abundance. Every now and again we went into the bush pig hunting, and generally had a very exciting time. Capt. Deck had a good dog, and he was not afraid to tackle a huge boar, but on one occasion he found his match and got badly hurt.

"Long before the end of the three weeks we had far more piles to go back than the schooner could carry. We had received instructions before leaving Nelson of the best lengths and size to send, these we now sent and got a good price for them. On Sunday morning page 32Mr McLaren came for us with his nalive crew. We went with him after he had looked round what we had done and complimented us for our work. We landed just below his pretty and large residence. Being Sunday he would not allow any work to be done except what was absolutely necessary. He introduced us to his wife who was not there on our first visit. I noticed he had a number of little native girls at his beck and call. When we got inside the house one brought him his slippers, another took his cap and hung it up, a third brought him his pipe and tobacco, all tried to make him happy. He was a good old man with quaint sayings, he appeared to take a fancy for me from the first, and was always impressing me to study comfort. 'In all walks of life old man, in all walks of life, study comfort. I have done so, and see where I am today.' He could without doubt arise in the morning and say 'I am monarch of all I survey'.

"The Croixelles had been the scene of what was supposed to be a great copper mining country. Many people lost money over it and no one gained much. We had a real good outing there and did fairly well. Capt. Deck, however, became unwell and we thought it best not to winter there. On the return of the schooner we shipped all the piles, took our things, said goodbye to old McLaren and his wife and left for Nelson, where we arrived in due course. As Capt. Deck did not get better we decided to break up our party and sold all the things we brought back and divided the proceeds. We had done very well at the Croixelles and certainly had a very happy time. I was in the best of health and after thinking things over, came to the conclusion that Christchurch was the best place to go to."