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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter I The Voyage Out

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Chapter I The Voyage Out

The farewell banquet which my friends had arranged in my honour began in the afternoon of February 6, 1877, and they did their best with song, music, and speechifying to cheer my last hours at home.

I left Vienna next morning, saying a fond goodbye to my wife. The country was in the depths of winter. When I caught sight of the dark sea before me, I was seized with the spirit of adventure. I was three days in Trieste before we sailed, and was travelling second-class as far as Suez on the Castor, a Lloyd steamer of 3000 tons.

After passing the lighthouse of Brindisi we struck the worst storm which — so our officers said — had been experienced in the Mediterranean for twenty years. I got such a bad attack of sea-sickness that I spat blood; and at Suez, where I left the Castor, which was going on to Bombay, the doctor advised me to give up the voyage if I started vomiting blood again.

After a day in the town I went on board the screw-steamer Nepaul, which was taking me to Ceylon. I nearly missed the ship through dining with an acquaintance, and had to hurry off on the back of a mule, followed by a Bedouin boy, who every now and then tickled the animal under the loins with his stick as he ran panting beside.

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Our officers were English, with a crew of Singalese, Chinese, mulattoes, and niggers. The boat was overcrowded and the heat was unbearable, so that we could neither eat nor sleep. I began to learn English. In the evening I would sit in a corner of the deck watching the marvellous colours of the sunset and playing on my mouth-organ, till one evening somebody invited me to play in the saloon. I played for an hour, until finally a gentleman, who evidently thought I was to be pitied on account of my homely clothes, made a collection for me. This I divided among the sailors.

The niggers on board entertained us one evening to a dance. They shook their heads and feet and struck their hands on their thighs, wailing a mournful ditty, and sometimes banged their heads together, until finally they were exhausted.

At Ceylon I left the ship, and had three days ashore before boarding the Bungalore, which was to take me to Australia.

The Bungalore was not fitted up in the comfortable fashion of a Lloyd or a British East India liner. Rats infested the fore-deck; when we were eating they would come and sit around, watching us curiously. Often at night they would play hide-and-seek over our bodies, and in the morning clothing and shoes would be gnawed. It was excessively hot, but the red ants seemed to thrive on it.

By March 14, half the people on board were in quarantine. An epidemic of small-pox had broken out. The patients lay on the poop, while the rest of the passengers were penned together in a very limited page 15space. In such a small and dirty ship an epidemic like this was really dangerous, but there was nowhere to go to escape, and our wretched condition was unavoidable.

One evening, when passing the Kokos or Keeling Islands, we ran into a thunderstorm. It was terribly sultry, and in the motionless air we could hear nothing but the soft stir of the water in the wake of the boat. Suddenly a bright flash lit up the ship, followed by peal upon peal of thunder. Most of the passengers crouched anxiously in their cabins, sicker than ever, but this time I escaped that misery and stopped on deck, struck by the fury of the elements.

The bad weather lasted a week, till on March 23 we greeted with joy the lighthouse of King George Sound, near Albany, on the south coast of Australia. Our sick were now taken to the quarantine hospital, and the rest of us were glad enough to get on land, and escape from the pestilential atmosphere. The yellow flag waved over us as we ran into the harbour; no pilot boarded us, and we berthed alone, remaining isolated until the 26th, when we put to sea.

In stormy weather we sailed along the Australian coast to Melbourne, where we anchored, again in quarantine.

April 1 brought beautiful weather, and the harbour was like an immense lake. It was Easter Sunday. Pleasure steamers with bands on board passed to and fro, but kept well clear at sight of our yellow flag. It was no festival for us, and we longingly gazed across from the infected ship to land. Our food was wretched — page 16the last crumbs from the storeroom. As a fitting conclusion to a sorrowful Easter, we had to submit to general vaccination by the ship's doctor.

Two days later I went ashore. I followed the path leading to the graveyard of the quarantine station, a peaceful scene of humble crosses. The hill was overgrown with wild flowers, and bright-coloured butterflies fluttered past the graves of those unfortunates who had died on the way from Motherland to Land of Promise. I sat down under a tree near the grave of a German, took out my mouth-organ, and played the songs of home. The feathered inhabitants of Australia fascinated me.

On April 8 we went to Williamstown, and thence by rail to Melbourne, where I stayed until the 11th. This modern town, only thirty-five years old, already numbered 300,000 inhabitants. The progressive spirit of the colonial was remarkable. At the station I took leave of many of my companions of the Bungalore. The rats had played havoc with the possessions of some. One had nearly all the uppers of his only pair of shoes chewed away, while another had holes gnawed through his one and only hat. The day we reached Melbourne being Sunday, all the shops were closed, so we had to stay indoors.

I was much struck by the universal use of the horse. The postman galloped from house to house and whistled for people to come and take their letters, travellers rode round with samples in their saddlebags, butcher-boys with giant baskets called out from horseback the magic word 'Meat' until their customers page 17came to lighten their load, and so also baker-boys, lamplighters, and even chimney-sweeps with their brushes.

I visited Consul Thoenemann, who did his best for me, and found somebody to guide me about, bought a ticket to Tasmania, and then went to the Botanical Gardens to see Baron Miller,1 the director. In twenty-five years this distinguished man had done much valuable work for Australian botany. He was most kind, and invited me to dinner; and when I took leave of him, he gave me a book about the plant world of Australia.

Back at the hotel I found a letter waiting for me from Dr. Julius von Haast, begging me to start work at Christchurch as soon as possible; so I shipped next day in rough weather on the little steamer Tangaroa, bound first of all for Hobart.

One night, passing along the coast, we watched a great bush fire, which lit up the horizon like a mighty torch. The weather was still wretched. One or two missionaries were on deck, holding a prayer-meeting with a congregation of women and girls. Suddenly the ship gave a lurch, and a big wave swept them all against the rail. Wet through, they were not long in making for their bunks. Truly Tangaroa, the Maori sea-god, listens to no prayers!

On the 18th we saw land again, little islands backed by a grand chain of snow-covered peaks. It was the south coast of the South Island of New Zealand. page 18By one o'clock we had rounded the lighthouse of Port Bluff.

Natives had come over from Ruapuke Island to barter fish; they were the first Maoris I ever saw. When they heard I had come to have a look at their country, they wanted me to go straightway with them to their island. The chief, who spoke in broken English, told me they had a German missionary there with whom they got on well, so I sent him greetings on a card.

On April 20, we reached Port Chalmers, where I found von Menderhausen (the German Consul) awaiting me; also Professor Hutton, who accompanied me by rail to Dunedin, gave me lunch, and showed me the Museum.

Next day twelve cannon-shot from the fort announced the arrival of the Governor, in whose honour festivities had been arranged; and the day following I found myself bound for Lyttelton, where my future chief, Dr. Julius von Haast, was waiting for me. As it was Sunday, all shops were closed, and we had to prove we were bona fide travellers before they would give us lunch at the hotel. In sparkling champagne we drank to success in my new home.

At Christchurch we went straight to the Museum, the new wing of which was still empty. Case upon case of raw skins and crude skeletons in the storerooms showed me that I should have my work cut out. After a hurried inspection we went to Dr. von Haast's house, where I was introduced to his wife and children. Mrs. von Haast kindly put me up for the night, and page 19next day I went off hunting for an inexpensive room. I found one for £8 a month, with service.

I started work at the Museum on the 24th. The opening ceremony was to take place on June 10, and by then Sir Julius wanted to have the best groups ready, so I set to on two of the largest. In the first, I placed three grizzly bears before a cave, clawing at a dead antelope, while from a rock above a lynx and a condor looked greedily down on this vanishing prey. The second group showed two chamois springing away frightened at sight of an eagle's eyrie, while, against a mountainous background of snow, white hares were playing and little marmots squatting among the rocks. A mountain cock was perched on the branch of a tree, beneath which the hens were strutting in a group. Both groups were ready by June 5, when the Governor came to see the work, and congratulated me.

The opening ceremony went off very well. All the town officials were gathered to receive the Governor. A band played the National Anthem, the choir sang songs, and the banquet which terminated the proceedings lasted until midnight. On our way home, Dr. von Haast got alarmed about burglars, especially as he had forgotten to warn the constables to be on the look-out. So I fetched a revolver and stood guard in the corridor. Sure enough, I had not been there more than half an hour when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and voices whispering under the window. I crept softly to the side door and tried to open it, but the lock grated and warned the intruders. Rushing page 20out into the garden, I was only in time to see them running away.

Next morning the papers were full of the new Museum, and for several days after the opening, it was filled to overflowing. I was now able to take a little more leisure, and had time for a number of small outings. On one of these occasions I spent some days in the neighbourhood of Little River, where I was enchanted by my first experience of the New Zealand bush.

On September 11, three days after leaving Christchurch, we met a Maori who took us along to his pa, or Maori fortress, where I was soon surrounded by a circle of men, women, and children, who were surprised to find I was not English. They examined my clothing, gun, and sheath-knife, inquired curiously about the country I came from, and then gave us a meal of pork and potatoes. They also looked at my photographs, and when we went away gave me a greenstone axe.

By the middle of December I was beginning to think of a much longer trip than had hitherto been possible. Choosing the best part of the year, the summer, I wanted to cross the South Island from east to west, hoping thereby to gain my first real experience of the New Zealand bush and mountains. It was nothing out of the ordinary to undertake, but once I had chosen a horse and bought tent and tucker, I was seized with impatient longing to be off.

1 Sir Frederick Miller was knighted for his twenty years' service to Australian botany.—Ed.