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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Chapter XV A Painful Parting

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Chapter XV A Painful Parting

In March 1884 I went back from Auckland to the South Island. The coast steamer stopped at all the larger places, and I had time to watch the coasts and mountains slipping by me with which I had become so familiar during recent years. I lived those years over again in my imagination.

My preliminary goal was Wellington. Afterwards I entertained the more ambitious plan of exploring the fjords of the West Coast, which even at that time were still for the most part virgin country, uninhabited and unexplored by white man or Maori, where I expected to make some interesting ornithological finds. The islands of the South also attracted me — those bird-inhabited isles lying towards the Antarctic.

Until I reached Wellington, however, these schemes were but castles in the air. For their realisation much more money than I could raise seemed necessary.

There was, however, one power in Wellington that could fulfil my wishes, so on my arrival I went to see Sir James Hector, Director of the Colonial Museum, and in him I found a true friend and patron. He had heard of my earlier work, and had been kind enough to refer to my undertakings in public lectures and papers. Thanks largely to him, there were already some signs of public interest in the work that was being done for the museums of the country.

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It was Sir James I had to thank for turning my dream into reality. Through him the New Zealand Government consented to let me travel on one of its two steamers — either the Stella or the Hinemoa — which was told to dump me and my stores at any place I might suggest, and to fetch me again. These Government steamers were manned by experienced officers and men, better qualified to help me than any other.

I had a look at the fine town of Wellington, and visited a few well-known men. Mr. Kirk, the Director to the Botanical Garden, took me to see the Parliament Buildings, where I was astonished at the up-to-dateness of the accommodation.

Dobson was with me. He was anxious not to be left behind, and I valued him as a real friend, always ready to partake of my joys and sorrows, so I was quite ready to put up with his many whims.

At Napier on the way down he had disappeared, and I saw no sign of him on the ship all the way to Wellington. A few days after our arrival, however, when I went aboard the Wairarapa again, the crew told me that he had been seen on deck, and was looking for me. While I was speaking to one of them, Dobson came up to me, covered with soot. I gave him a hand with tidying up, and then we took our things ashore. Next day, as he seemed to be suffering from melancholia, I persuaded him to take a trip round the town, which seemed to cheer him up.

On the 25th I went to see the Marine Minister, Leod, who was most kind, and told me that I could leave with the Stella three days later.

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It was here that I met the great ornithologist, Sir Walter L. Buller, who took me to his home, where I saw his wonderful ornithological collection (among them a number of rare New Zealand birds which I had sent him myself) and his unique ethnographical collection. The clubs and mats were among the finest anywhere to be found.

After dinner we had a long talk about our journeyings and observations of New Zealand birds. One immediate result of our talk was that I became his permanent correspondent. He was then at work on the production of his great book on the birds of New Zealand, and a great number of my own observations are included in that work.

It was late that night before I left his hospitable roof. Next morning Dobson and I visited the Botanical Garden and Mount Victoria. We enjoyed a magnificent view over the town and harbour, which thoroughly delighted my friend. Afterwards we went to Lake Wairarapa, where we saw innumerable waterfowl; and I was sorry I could not stay any longer among such pleasant surroundings.

The Stella left soon after midday on March 28, and by evening had reached Cape Campbell, where there is a lighthouse. It was too rough to land, however, so we steamed on to Cloudy Bay.

The Wairau Plain extended before us. Not far away lay the pretty little town of Blenheim, ringed round by hilly farms and scattered sheep-stations.

The weather bettered on the 29th, and we were able to land at Cape Campbell, to leave petrol and stores.

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Our second station, Cape Flaxbourne, lay 9 miles to the south. Only ships of small tonnage are able to anchor among these rocks. The neighbourhood is mountainous. Twenty-three miles southwards we came to the mouth of the Waiautoa River, which flows through good pasture-land. Fishing stations lay along the coast. The snow-capped Kaikouras came in sight, and we soon approached East Head and the town of Kaikoura, which captivated me. Sheep were grazing on the grassy foothills, and the snow range loomed behind. Still farther south was Amuri Bluff and the Wairau River, then the Hurunui and the rapid Waimakariri, whose glacier-fed source I had visited during the first year of my stay in New Zealand. Here, at its mouth, it was a broad and sluggish stream. Finally we passed the flourishing town of Kaiopoi, the peaceful, almost European landscape of which gave little credence to the fact that it had once been the scene of vicious cannibalism.

The Maoris told me how in earlier times the North Island tribes used to come down here to get punamu (greenstone). Their search often led to fights which sometimes resulted in annihilation of whole tribes. On one occasion the pa here had been suddenly attacked, and most of the inhabitants killed and eaten.

The sight of the coast brought back memories of my first days in New Zealand. The nearer we came to Christchurch the more my heart beat for joy, as though I were returning to my native home. When we got to Lyttelton the sun was just rising, and gradually the curtain of mist lifted. By degrees the town I loved so page 233well revealed her well-known features — town of my early labours, starting-point of my first expeditions, she greeted me smilingly now in the radiant light of dawn!

Mr. Sparkes, my former assistant, opened his eyes wide when I knocked at his house in Ferry Road at 6.30 that morning. After breakfast we went to the Museum, where I found my system still working. Sir Julius von Haast seemed pleased to see me;' he took me along to dinner, and promised to let me have a dinornis (moa) skeleton in exchange for other things.

Time passed so quickly with visits and calls that I clean forgot the hour of departure, and found the Stella had left without me. I was obliged to follow by train to Dunedin. The capital of Otago, which now numbered 45,000 inhabitants, began to grow in the 'sixties, when, gold was discovered in Gabriel's Gully. Now she had a university, theatre, library, fine hotels, water-works, paper-works, mills, etc.

At Port Chalmers I found the Stella, but was sorry to hear Dobson was unwell. The captain and officers told me they had had a lot of trouble with him, as he had refused to eat anything, and wanted to jump overboard, and they declared they would no longer be responsible for him. Two days later, when I returned, I found he had disappeared.

They had tried to get him to eat, which had annoyed him so much that he left the boat. After a long search, I found him sitting on a load of timber; but he would not tell me why he had gone ashore, so I brought him aboard again, and left him in the cabin. He did not page 234seem at all well, and I suggested he should stay in Port Chalmers until we could find a boat to take him back to Auckland. He stuck with me, however.

We sailed along the coast past Cape Saunders, to the lighthouse on Nugget Point, where we unloaded stores, and then made for Waipapa Point, where landing proved impracticable on account of high seas, so we ran for shelter to Port Bluff, to wait for better weather.

Here I met a Mr. Dougherty, the owner of some west coast coal-mines, whose custom it was to spend summer in the Sounds and winter in Dunedin. He offered me the use of his hut in Dusky Sound as my headquarters, and also introduced me to Mr. Bertram, the finance administrator in this part of the world, who pressed me warmly to be his guest as long as I remained at the Bluff — an invitation I was only too willing to accept. This being the last civilised place I should see for some time, I sent off letters and wires. In the afternoon the Stella returned, and I was pleased to find Dobson much better. Next morning, however, he was so unwell that I had to telegraph his brother-in-law in Auckland to come and fetch him. In the meantime I put him under the care of a local doctor.

It was a difficult matter to part from the companion of so many of my wanderings. Dobson, too, wanted very badly to come with me; but I talked things over with him, and finally he admitted that he had better remain behind. I promised him that when he was better we would undertake further expeditions together. When at length we grasped each other's hand page 235to say good-bye, Dobson was so overcome that he turned his back on me and sobbed. I thought my heart would break to hear the friend, who had faced so many difficulties and hardships with me, in such a state. I should never forget that parting for the rest of my days.