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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XLI. — Goldfields Reminiscences

page 291

Chapter XLI.
Goldfields Reminiscences.

The experience of Dr Stuart in the early Goldfield days of Otago is worth recording. The Doctor's power of adapting himself to his surroundings was, we may safely say, unique, and in illustration of this it has been suggested to us that we should publish an account of his reminiscences of the Goldfields, which he furnished in 1892 at the request of friends for the "History of Knox Church." The following is the Doctor's statement, which we feel sure wall be read with interest:—

The Rev. A. B. Todd, of Oamaru, then settled at Tokomairiro, was probably the first of our ministers who visited Gabriel's Gully. In those days ministers and people were alike eager that the diggers should have the glorious Gospel proclaimed to them with some regularity. The Rev. Mr Stobo, of Invercargill, never failed to keep his appointment, though his doing so meant a ride of four days each way on his galloway. Nor must the services of Messrs Bannerman and Will be overlooked.

Among the laymen who rendered notable service in connection with public worship on the diggings, Mr J. L. Gillies ranks first and foremost. He started a fund for meeting in part the expenses of ministers, page 292and took the lead in providing a comfortable tent, which should be the parlour, study, and sleeping apartment of the ministers. Mr Gilbert, now of Lovell's Flat, was always ready to hold service, as was also Mr Le Brun, who, I think, returned to Australia. Other members of Knox Church assisted in this work when business took them thither, as Mr T. B. Gillies (afterwards Mr Justice Gillies), who was so eager in the cause that his horse was at my disposal whenever it was my turn to visit the Goldfields. Nor must I omit mention of the late Mr A. C. Strode, whose position as Warden gave him considerable influence on the Gold-fields, and who ever manifested the warmest interest in the welfare of the diggers, and greatly encouraged and assisted those who sought to convey to them the Gospel message. Mr T. S. Forsaith (now the Rev. Mr Forsaith, of Paramatta, N.S.W.) rendered good service to religion on the Diggings in the early days. He came from Auckland in 1861 to edit the Otago Colonist, in compliance with the dying wish of his old friend, Mr Lambert, the proprietor. He joined Knox Church, and was ready for any service he could render in the interests of religion. Frequent as were my calls on him for preaching, he ever met them, irrespective of the notice, which was often very short. His services in Lawrence, North Taieri, Green Island, Knox Church, and Wakari were much prized. Well educated, widely read, a fluent speaker, with remarkable conversational powers, he was much appreciated. The day a majority of the Presbytery refused to license him, except on the condition that he should page 293devote himself for a time to brush up his Greek and Hebrew, did not show much understanding of the times, or the wants of the Church.

On my way home from Gabriel's Gully on one occasion, I came on a man well up the hill from Waitahuna, in a sitting posture, rocking himself as if in great pain, and groaning audibly. I dismounted, and in reply to my inquiries, he said he was in great agony, and not able to walk. I asked him if he could ride; he said he thought he could. I mounted him on my horse—an arrangement being made that he was to follow the usual track, and if he reached Murray's before me, he was to hitch the horse to the fence, while I took the short track. In due course I got to Murray's, and found my horse covered with perspiration. As I mounted, I took hold of my valise and was struck with its softness. On opening it I found that the man had carried off a dressingcase, which I prized highly, and the notes of my sermons, stuffing their place with tussock grass. It was a mean recompense for my compassion, but I contented myself with a hope that a perusal of the sermons might lead him to change his ways.

It was, as a rule, a pleasure to visit the Diggings, to preach to men brimful of vigour, and many of them well educated. I found them appreciative, respectful, and genial. During my second visit to Gabriel's Gully I preached to a very large congregation, that met on a spur with a gentle declivity. On the ledge of a lower spur adjoining us, and not a hundred feet from where I stood, there was a neat tent, with three men beside it—the latter being page 294engaged in sawing and splitting firewood. While the congregation were singing the 100th Psalm I asked myself how I might shame our three neighbours into decency. I decided to take for the first lesson Exodus, chapter xx. When I came to the Fourth Commandment I gave to the reading of it all the voice I had, which in those days was considerable, and on ending it I added by way of comment, "Mates, if you allow yourselves to break this Divine commandment, which is replete with love to men, I trust you will at least respect your fellow-workers, who have met to worship God." At these words more than five hundred pairs of eyes were directed to them, and, quicker than I can describe it, saw and axe were dropped, and the men retired into the privacy of their tent. I believe that what seemed bravado was sheer thoughtlessness.

The diggers were anything but remiss in attending to the comfort of the ministers who visited them for the purpose of preaching the Gospel. As I have already mentioned, they provided a comfortable and comparatively roomy tent, which served as study and bedroom. It was lined throughout with woollen stuff. One stormy night I found my way to its comfortable bed. The storm waxed fiercer and fiercer, but it only rocked me to slumber. Towards morning I found the tent prostrate, while the snow was around me and above me. As it fell dry as oatmeal, I soon dressed myself, and returned to the hotel without scar, or cough, or cold. The prostration of the ministers' tent was ascribed more to my carelessness than to the lack of strength in its poles or ropes. page 295Retnrning from a visit to Cromwell, Clyde, and Naseby, by Pigroot, we reached the hostelry there some two hours late, owing to the bad roads. I had the late Mr A. C. Strode for a fellow-traveller. After supper I proposed we should have worship. As travellers going up and down met there, some thirty joined in the worship. At its close a bright digger from the Green Isle said: "Parson, we have obliged you; will you oblige me?" I innocently replied: "I shall have pleasure in doing so." "Landlord," he shouted, "bring in thirty nobblers." The "nobblers" appeared, but I am not going to say how many of the party partook of what was meant as a kindness. Next morning we started at four o'clock, and did not complete a stage of twelve miles till eight. The road was so bad that I was exceedingly sick, and could not look at breakfast. My friend, the digger, perceiving my plight, followed me, before tasting his own breakfast, and found me under the lee of a haystack. He brought me comfort in the form of a spoonful of brandy and hot water, which he pressed me to take, and not without advantage to my distressed stomach.

Having received a pressing invitation from the diggers and settlers at Hamilton to open the little church that had been built there, I decided to accept the invitation, though it was midwinter. In due course I reached my destination, and received most cheerful hospitality from Mr Charles Broad, the Warden of the district. The ride from Hogburn (now named Naseby) to Hamilton on Saturday was pleasant, though the track was dotted with patches of snow. Before I retired to rest snow fell heavily, but page 296towards morning the air cleared somewhat and the stars became visible. The strong south-west wind, however, which followed, excited the fears of Mr Broad respecting the ability of the fabric to withstand its force. About 8 a.m. we went out to survey the scene, and found that while the Presbyterian Zion had survived the gale, the Catholic chapel had become a wreck. The day, however cleared up at 11 a.m., and the church was filled with worshippers, some having come from Hogburn and other distant parts. The collection, for the place and the congregation, was very good—exceeding ten guineas. After the close of the service I was much in request for various purposes, such as baptisms, supply of Bibles, and the discussion of the prospect of securing a minister. The burden of one was his marriage. This matter was to all appearance satisfactorily arranged on his assuring me that he had secured the indispensible certificate of registration. At 2 p.m. on Monday the wedding party arrived on horseback from Hogburn, but on examining the certificate I found it had been issued by a person who, though occupying an official position, was not empowered to act in this matter. I was compelled to inform the expectant bridegroom that if he was bent on completing his happiness, he must see the Registrar at Clyde or Waikouaiti, and I promised to wait till noon of Wednesday to help him over his difficulty. He started at once on horseback for Clyde, and meanwhile the members of the bridal party distributed themselves among the residents. On Wednesday the bridegroom returned with the requisite page 297document, and the marriage was celebrated amid great rejoicings. So pleased were all with the result that on my leaving for home a five-pound note was put into my hand for the good of the Church.

During this visit I had much conversation with the people of Hamilton and Naseby about the procuring of a minister or missionary for the district. They were confident that the occupiers of the runs would join them in supporting a good man. I assured them that the Church would do her best to assist them. On my return to Dunedin I followed my usual custom, and on Sabbath morning gave an account of my up-country visit, and mentioned the great desire of the people for the means of grace being placed within their reach. I added that the Church Extension Committee had at that time neither funds nor minister available for the purpose. The short address awakened sympathy in the soul of Mr Mackerras, with the result that in the course of a few days the merchants in Dunedin doing business with Naseby and neighbouring localities contributed the sum of £50 for the purpose of aiding in bringing out from Home a minister for the district. The Church Extension Committee took immediate action, and in due course the Rev. James McCosh Smith, M.A., B.D., was settled near the foot of Mount Ida, where he has laboured for nigh twenty years with a cheerful contentedness which has elicited the admiration of the Church. In a review of his ministry recently published, he has borne emphatic testimony to the faithfulness with which his parishioners have supported him, and the unfailing respect and kind-page 298ness which he and his family have received at their hands. He also emphasises his strong belief in the reliableness of the people in maintaining Gospel ordinances when kindly and believingly administered.

The following winter I was persuaded to visit St. Bathans for the purpose of opening the iron church which the people had erected there. On my arrival the weather showed signs of storm. As the guest of Mr A. D. Harvey, at that time clerk of the Warden's Court, I received the most hospitable attention, The accommodation was limited, and my hosts insisted on my occupying their own sleeping room. Becoming aware that the offer meant that I was to have the one bed of the house while they were to shift as best they could, I firmly declined their offer, and resolved to sleep in the sitting-room, which served as kitchen as well as parlour. When bed-time arrived I wrapped myself in a heavy blanket and my own Border plaid, lay down beside the stove, and slept as sound as a top in spite of the storm without, which swept furiously down from the neighbouring terraces. In the morning the ground was white with snow; but what was worse, the weather showed no sign of improvement. At the appointed hour we met in the church where a goodly company had assembled, and proceeded with the service. It was decided not to have evening worship in the church; we met, however, for the celebration of baptism in a store, where some fifteen persons all told found accommodation. The sacred ordinance was followed by a feast, at which the principal joint was a large tin dish containing, I believe, over a hundred hard boiled eggs, page 299which all vanished under the united action of the assembled friends. Among other good things, I must not omit to mention an earnest talk about the church and school, and a request by more than one that I should not be long in coming back again. At night the storm did not prevent "tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep," from visiting my humble bed and recruiting my strength. Before I was dressed next morning my host brought me the distressing news that the church had been prostrated by the tempest, and lay a wreck. The fact was that so eager were the friends to open the church that they did not take time to fasten the windows securely, and, the storm displacing them, the building made a complete somersault, and lay warped and crushed.

On returning to Dunedin I waited on the Hon. Thomas Dick, who held a Provincial portfolio, and represented to him the poor accommodation of the Goldfields officer at St. Bathans, with the result that my sympathising friend promised to look into the matter, and I soon had the pleasure of learning that an order for the addition of two rooms to the "whare" had been issued.

About this time, the Synod, after a discussion on the spiritual necessities of the Goldfields, resolved, on the motion of the Rev. A. H. Stobo, to send to the Home Country for an ordained minister to exercise what we called a vagum ministerium (roving or itinerating ministry). In due course a gentleman arrived with certificates, showing that he was a man of learning as well as a man of character. It was resolved to locate him at Clyde. I was told off to page 300introduce him, but owing to circumstances I was unable to accompany him to his destination. He left Dunedin with introductions to local friends, who were eager for his arrival. The ways of a Goldfield in its first stage shocked the worthy man; the kindhearted storekeeper who undertook to entertain him sold bread, butter, and other necessaries on the Sabbath, while others washed their clothes and baked on the sacred day—and so, instead of being stirred up by such practices to preach the Gospel which has power to cast such spirits out of the heart and life, and even worse ones, he contented himself with ascending a neighbouring hill, and giving expression to his feelings in prayer. The outcome was that I was asked by the Church Extension Committee to visit Clyde, and help to put matters right. I did so, and arrived at the conclusion that my friend, though learned and good, had not the smeddum nor the faith for the efficient discharge of the office of vagum ministerium. He returned with me to Dunedin, and became seriously ill. Mrs Sutherland, of the Highland Home, nursed him back to health, when he transferred himself and his ministry to another field. I entertained great respect for him, but could not help seeing that he was not the man nor the minister for a young settlement.

The Clyde people being still anxious for a minister, we were able to send them a young man who had come across from Victoria. This was Mr Charles Stuart Ross, who, coming under powerful religious influences, demitted his situation in a Victorian bank, went to Scotland, and passed through page 301the undergraduate course at Aberdeen. He returned to Victoria for his theological course, and had the advantage of studying under the Rev. Dr Dykes, then in Australia, but now Principal of the Theological College of the English Presbyterian Church. Mr Ross brought roe a remarkable certificate from Dr Dykes, and, on my reporting his arrival, Dr Copland, then minister at Lawrence, strongly urged his being sent to Clyde, and promised to take him there. He was licensed in due course, and was ordained minister of Clyde and Alexandra. He took no notice of the ways of the diggers, but set himself to preach the Gospel, with the result that to a large extent the Sunday trading vanished like the mist of the morning. Mr Ross did noble work in connection with the Church of Otago at Clyde and outfield, at Riverton outfield, and at Anderson's Bay. He has found time to write the "Chronicles of the Otago Church and Settlement," "Education and Educationists in Otago," and a very able book on the "Early Colonisation of Victoria." A tendency to bronchial affection induced him some years ago to transfer his able ministry to that land of the sun; and at Skipton he exercises it with the success which marked his ministerial labours in Otago and Southland.

Many years ago I had occasion to visit Lake Wakatipu district when the means of conveyance from Winton to Kingston, at the southern end of the Lake, was by a two-horse coach whose springs were noted more for their strength than for their elasticity. During the journey snow fell at intervals. On my arrival at Kingston, about 8 p.m., Mrs Anderson, of page 302the hostelry told me that Mr Ross, the minister of Queenstown, had come by the steamer that day, and was holding a prayer-meeting in the schoolhouse. Knowing he would be pleased to have some assistance, I made my way to the meeting. Knocking at the door, and getting no response, I raised the latch and stood at the entrance for a few moments. Mr Ross then turned his eyes towards me, his brow becoming furrowed with many wrinkles. He suddenly rose from his seat, exclaiming, "Dr Stuart!" and then with a hop, step, and leap, he reached me, and with Highland ardour, welcomed me to Kingston. His failure to recognise me at first was not surprising, as I stood in the doorway with my plaid hanging loosely from my shoulders, and partly covered with snow. I took my seat with the five lads—all who had assembled that evening for prayer. Mr Ross wisely employed part of the hour in explaining some striking illustrations contained in a copy of the British Workman. He had come all the way from Queenstown to meet the scattered families of the place, and all that met him were the five boys I have mentioned, but he threw as much earnestness and energy into the work as if the little schoolroom had been crowded. Mr Ross urged me to preach there next Sabbath, and as I was anxious to have a decent audience, I became my own bellman and beadle. I made known far and near that I should preach in the schoolhouse. The Sabbath proved calm and bright, and considering the locality, a goodly company had assembled by 11 o'clock. Mr Blair, the well-known contractor for the construction of the Kingston section of the railway, page 303and a number of his men, swelled the audience. The school forms were so few that three-fourths of the congregation had to stand. At the close of the service I announced for the next evening a lecture on "England's First Colony," and a collection to provide a parish Bible and additional seating. I asked Mr Blair to patronise the venture. He replied, "Come up to the camp in person, and invite my men." I accepted the invitation, but towards the Monday evening a drizzling rain set in and damped my hopes. Before dusk, I said to my host I must leave, as I could not make my way in the darkness that was fast gathering. He replied, "Have patience; tea will soon be ready, and the sky may clear when the hour of starting has come." Hill and vale were full of mist and drizzling rain, but on going out I found to my surprise a guard of honour ready to conduct me—each man having in his hand an old brandy-bottle with a short lighted candle stuck in it. My guard and guides formed no inconsiderable part of my audience. The lecture met with some acceptance, and the collection amounted to £4, which I laid out in the purchase of a good-sized Bible, hymn-books, and additional seats. When I recall my Kingston visit— as I often do—I see the minister of Queenstown sitting in the lonely Schoolhouse with five boys around him, praying with them, and showing them pictorial illustrations of good men and wisdom in action; and I see also Mr Blair's men with their Colonial lanterns guiding me to the Lecture-room, and honouring me by standing a whole hour while I told them as vividly as I could the Story of the page 304Colonisation of Virginia. I bless the Lord for the pioneer ministers and the pioneer settlers, and for their anxiety to secure for themselves and their children the beneficent institutions of Education and Religion. Great is our indebtedness to them.

On another occasion I spent ten days at Kinloch, at the upper end of Lake Wakatipu. As I was to be there over the Sabbath, I agreed, at the request of the settlers, to hold Divine service, mine host offering his dining-room for our accommodation. The weather was exceedingly fine. A young man, some ten days previously, was riding along close to the side of the Lake near the Sawmill, when the horse suddenly swerved towards the water, and in a minute man and horse disappeared, and were never seen again. The young man had left a widowed mother, whom he supported in part. His personal property consisted of two horses and their harness; and the neighbours, with the view of selling these to the best advantage for the benefit of the poor mother, decided to dispose of them by raffle. The event came off on the evening of the Saturday I spent at Kinloch. About 8 o'clock the neighbours and acquaintances from far and near mustered in force. As they gathered, some squatted on the shingle, and others sat on great logs that were waiting to be transferred to the Sawmill. When the evening fairly set in, a candle was lighted, and a maiden of pleasant appearance was selected to shake the dice, while two smart young fellows counted and recorded the numbers turned up. During this process the appeals to the young woman to be sure and send good luck, and the smart banter going on, occasioned page 305much hilarity. When the results had been ascertained and the names of the winners announced, a dance followed, but I cannot state the hour when the company dispersed—having left at the close of the proceedings. It was the common opinion that the hilarity and the late hours reduced considerably the expected attendance at the Sabbath services. Before I began, a resident introduced himself to me as the Schoolmaster and the local Reporter for the Queens-town newspaper, and he assured me that I might rely on a good and full report. He also invited me to visit the school. In due course a favourable report of preacher and sermon appeared. I visited the school, which had on that day an attendance of nine pupils. I was told that the harvest interfered with the regularity of the scholars' appearance at school. I saw no evidence of literature—beyond that of the school-books—except an American Almanac and the local newspaper.

Some years ago I was sent to Cromwell to preach and to recommend earnest action, with the view of having a man of God settled in the district. I had a meeting with the people, and, at the close of the service, I proceeded to ascertain their minds on the matter of getting a minister for Cromwell and its outfield. When all were apparently on the point of deciding in favour of procuring a minister, the Mayor—who was also chairman of a committee appointed to get a weekly newspaper established for the town and district—came on the scene. As soon as he had ascertained the subject under discussion and the general unanimity with which it was regarded, he page 306began a great speech, in which he spoke eulogistically of the value of Christian ordinances, but said that, as there was every probability of the Cromwell Argus being started without delay, he would move that the question of obtaining a minister for Cromwell be postponed till the people should have an opportunity of discussing it in the pages of the forthcoming newspaper. The motion was seconded, and was carried by acclamation. I felt somewhat humiliated that a seemingly united people could be so readily turned round to approve of a proposition so contrary to my expectations. It is but fair to state that the people of Cromwell subsequently built a commodious church, paid their way, and took the Gospel to a very scattered outfield. It is their desire, and that of the Church, that Wanaka may soon have a settled ministry, and the Christian ordinances administered in faith, love, and simplicity. I ought also to state that the Rev. Charles Connor, when minister of Oamaru, once and again visited the Cromwell district by way of Waitaki and the Lindis Pass, and did good service to Church extension.