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The Women of New Zealand

4 — Social Pleasures

page 117

Social Pleasures

It Would Be reasonable enough to expect that with a population so small and so scattered, whose members were of necessity nearly all working so desperately hard, social life in New Zealand's infant state would be of the simplest type, and that 'society', in the specialised sense, would hardly for some considerable time, if it would ever, find a place. It was, however, a main plank in the platform of the founders of the colony that it should be 'an entire British community, and not merely one formed of British materials,' 'an extension of England with regard to the more refined attributes of civilisation.' A woman who came out as a cabin passenger in one of the first ships wrote to her friends, 'Pray join us, for we feel quite convinced it will very shortly be a second England.' And it was natural enough that those who had come so far, to a country where life was inevitably in many respects so different from anything they had experienced before, should wish to reproduce at page 118least some of the known ways of their old home. There is evidence that all classes brought with them many of the prejudices and conventions of the more complex society in which they had grown up; and although the force of these was probably weakened by the circumstances of the new life, and they have perhaps never since hardened to the condition of fixed principles, nevertheless in this respect the idea of the founders was only too well realised. Thirteen thousand miles of sea could not kill notions innate through many generations; indeed they may very well have given them in many minds a fresh hold upon life. Mrs Godley, wife of the 'founder of Canterbury', who spent the greater part of 1850 in Wellington, remarks in a letter to her mother, 'It is wonderful how the look of anything at all like home and its ways carries it here (and with nearly everyone) above novelty and even actual beauty. In one of our first walks … we almost shed tears of sentimental admiration at coming suddenly in sight of bits of flat, well-macadamized road!' 'Home and its ways'—an unacknowledged, perhaps unconscious, home-sickness very naturally conditioned much of the social life of the early colonists. For, whatever various reasons may have induced those who came to emigrate, whether it was their liberal ideas or a simple desire to escape hunger and an ever sinking standard of life, all had left behind them friends and relations the separation from whom they must page 119necessarily feel. 'That is the sting of emigration,' wrote a woman who was nevertheless 'becoming clearer every day that it is right for me to be here.' And so, although 'the change in every way is so great,' some of the formalities of the old social life were reborn amid the new scenes of this distant land, serving no doubt to give to those who took part a certain sense of confidence and continuity. By 1850, 'We find everything,' Mrs Godley wrote, 'so much more civilised and like home than we had expected, as to society and those matters.'

Although all were working together, performing their various parts in the establishment of the new little world, distinctions were kept. Many of the early settlers remark on the 'independence in bearing and manner' of the servants and the labouring classes generally, and many of them resented it. To a few it was a delight. 'The look and bearing of the immigrants,' wrote a woman, 'appear to alter soon after they reach the colony. Some people object to the independence of their manner, but I do not; on the contrary I like to see the upright gait, the well-fed, healthy look, the decent clothes (even if no one touches his hat to you), instead of the half-starved, depressed appearance, and too often cringing servility of the mass of our English population.' Unfortunately she was one of the minority. Even she had taken only the first step. It is unlikely that many shared the feelings of the woman who page 120found life in New Zealand intolerable owing to the absence of poverty which she might relieve, in the accustomed English way, with soup and flannel petticoats; nevertheless it is as true as any generalisation can be that, although the foundations may be different, the social hierarchies and conventions came out with, and established themselves among, the earliest settlers and have remained in New Zealand to this day. Let anyone who doubts this, especially any woman, try stepping over the social barriers: she will find that her transgression is regarded, as much in New Zealand as it would be in England, as almost if not quite a moral one. There are, here as elsewhere, 'nice' people, 'people like ourselves'—and others; while the Mecca of too many New Zealand women, and perhaps not women alone, is still Buckingham Palace, a royal Garden Party or, more holy occasion still, presentation at Court. It is a curious and melancholy spectacle. The geographical isolation which might have enabled us to cut free from mere tradition has in fact made us hold to it only the more fiercely; and the trouble began in the first years of settlement, when the homesickness, which we surely ought, in this our hundredth year, to have conquered, was natural enough.

It is not possible to consider the social life of New Zealand before 1840, though that there was a certain amount, even so early, in the only settlement of page 121considerable size (in the Bay of Islands) is evident from Mrs Laura Jackson's account of her father, Gilbert Mair's, household in her Annals of a New Zealand Family. It must obviously have been extremely limited. 'Outside the Mission circle,' wrote Mrs Jackson's eldest sister, who was born at Paihia in 1827, 'there were scarcely more than half-a-dozen families who were fitted to take part in social matters.' But she added, 'We were fortunate in having, as British Resident, a man like Mr James Busby. He was travelled and scholarly, and the perfect type of a courteous English gentleman.' Busby and his wife, 'a very dignified and rather exclusive little Scotch lady, but kindly withal,' were of course the leaders of what society there was, whose chief diversion was probably the always very hospitable entertainment of the officers of visiting ships and of distinguished travellers—Allan Cunningham, the botanist, the Chevalier Dillon, Charles Darwin, and Lady Franklin are among those mentioned as visitors to the Mair household.

Government House, following in 1840 on the Residency, was from its earliest days the scene of much hospitality, and 'seldom a week passed without a dinner party' there. The Bay must sorely have missed Hobson and his family when the capital was moved from Russell to Auckland.

Government House showed the way—the rest of society fell joyfully into step, and the pace appears page 122quickly to have become lively. Only ten years after the settlement of Wellington, not yet, nor for fourteen years to come, the capital, a visiting official complained to his wife in Auckland that he was so often asked to dine out that he would 'be glad to get away to escape from it.' The general want of servants, which Mrs Godley called 'one of the great miseries of human life in New Zealand,' was not allowed to interfere with the pleasures of the social round. The women of New Zealand quickly learned to combine the duties of a cook-general with those of hostess; and even 'the greatest people here' discovered capabilities which astonished women of their own social standing in England, finding it quite possible, even without the smallest earlier training, to do everything 'from receiving company down to cooking the dinner they are to eat; and all pleasantly and well, and so as to be very much liked.'

Dinner parties were among the more formal entertainments. They were sometimes very grand affairs, when host and hostess happened to be among the 'great' who had brought out with them heirlooms in the form of silver and gold plate, which must have looked odd and surprising enough in their primitive surroundings. These were of course rather exceptional cases; most people were glad if they were able to supply enough dishes of a more modest kind. It had not been easy in the earliest page 123days to form an idea of what it would be necessary to bring to the colony. Even the Godleys, in their official position, with all his opportunities of learning what would be necessary, found themselves very short; and Mrs Godley deplored by implication the unexpected necessity to 'consider appearance,' which would oblige them to buy for instance a dinner service, 'instead of a few willow pattern plates and dishes'—and at a price rather more than double the English price.

Dinner, and sometimes lunch, parties by no means exhausted the social energies of the first women of New Zealand. In all the records of the early years there is constant mention of 'balls.' Wellington's first anniversary for example was celebrated on 22 January 1841 with a ball at Barrett's Hotel. One woman who 'walked over to Wellington,' apparently from Petone, to attend it, reports that they 'had a splendid attendance, and were much amused. The ball broke up at five-thirty on Saturday morning.' Not any amount of hard work during the day made the women too tired to dance the whole night through; and there were so few of them that there was no rest—more often than not their dances had to be shared among two or even three of the men. This first of Wellington's anniversary balls was probably less formal than similar functions became in later years, both here, for some time the largest 'city,' and in Auckland, the seat of government. Mrs Godley describes page 124with evident amusement a ball given by the Lieutenant-Governor (of New Munster) and his lady, as part of the celebration of the Queen's birthday in 1850. 'We were asked for "Dancing at nine" on a magnificent printed card, and presented ourselves soon after 9.30, when we found everyone arrived and in superb ball-dresses, apparently just unpacked from London…. We were, I think, all surprised at the general effect of the ball, it was so very good. The dancing was in three rooms, communicating with folding doors, the verandah outside … enclosed as a relief to the room for walking about and flirtation when possible; but, as the Brigade-Major's wife, Mrs sarah O'Connell, told me the other day, "there are only six young ladies here and two of them are old", and the married ladies all dance, and as far as I could judge don't flirt.' For this splendid function music was provided by two bands, that of the regiment quartered in Wellington and that of H.M.S.Meander, then in port, which relieved each other.

But this was a standard which could not be reached in the smaller and newer towns, and was probably rarely attained even in Wellington and Auckland. In Christchurch, for instance, at the earliest balls music was the great difficulty—a piano and a cornet perhaps could be managed, and if someone with a violin could also be found the occasion was looked upon as particularly fine. Distance and difficulty of access, like exhausting day-time occupations, made page 125little difference to the women, whose 'wild spirits' enabled them to surmount all obstacles. 'When the distance was not too great,' wrote a Canterbury-woman, and two or three miles was regarded as 'not too great,' 'we would walk, our dresses tucked up, well shawled, and well goloshed.' We may profitably remind ourselves perhaps of the state of such roads as then existed: the main north road from Papanui, for example, was so bad that it was often only with the utmost difficulty that traffic could negotiate it, and there is on record an instance of a bullock-dray's sinking so deeply into the mud that it was found impossible to extricate either it or the poor beasts, and all was lost. Even in the 'city' the goloshes were evidently entirely necessary. One was lost one night, after a ball, 'in a big mud-hole near the old Post Office,' and before it was retrieved a newly arrived and still unread batch of English papers had been sacrificed to provide light by one of the escort. It is pleasant to record that such prompt and generous devotion received its due reward. If the distance were too great for walking, 'a bullock-dray would be called into requisition,' and with seats made of bags filled with straw and covered with red blankets, and plenty of rugs, proved, as one woman, happily reminiscent, protested, 'very comfortable.' Perhaps the more fortunate women were those who had horses; and many rode in from the outlying districts, their dresses strapped to the page 126saddles, to dance for six, seven or eight hours, at a time when dancing was a matter requiring a considerably greater expenditure of energy than it does in our own day. If there were rivers to be crossed, the dancers would have to come in and return by daylight; and tidal rivers demanded a careful calculation of the latest moment at which a crossing might be attempted.

The country districts too, where the homes were not too greatly isolated from one another, had their 'balls.' The little settlement of Karamea, sixty miles to the north of Westport, but in the early days cut off from it by the magnificent bush-covered hills that He between, may well be typical. Here the music for the earliest balls was provided by one of the women, who valiantly hummed the tunes for the dancers. Later she made use of a comb, which as every child knows is a great improvement on the unaided human voice; and later still, of a Jew's harp. Tradition does not say just when, but she was in time relieved by a young man with a concertina; and before long there was a 'band' of several accordions. When a piano was introduced Karamea had grown to a happy maturity.

Among the 'great' in the incipient cities there had from the earliest times been pianos, which seem to have stood remarkably well the unfavourable conditions of the long voyage. Frequent were the 'musical evenings', which as often as not, however, page break
7. A musical evening

7. A musical evening

page 127became impromptu dances before more than an hour or two had passed. It would seem that the men and women of these days could not for long rest inactive. These informal occasions were apparently what the majority most greatly enjoyed. Mrs Godley amusingly describes a Government House party at which 'all the elite of Wellington' were present. 'It was stiff, hot, work, sitting as I did in a very hot room, inventing conversation.' She entered with much more zest into the arrangements for the 'ball' which she and her husband gave in Lyttelton a few weeks after the arrival of 'the first four ships,' 'as a kind of friendly meeting, before the people all separate to go to their selections of land on the plain.' Taking place on 4 February, it must have been work just as 'hot' as the Government House party in November; but it was evidently not as 'stiff.'

The practice of afternoon 'calling' was soon established among the women of New Zealand's earliest 'society.' Tea was already in a fair way to becoming the national drink, and large quantities were consumed, 'a truly colonial and praiseworthy habit,' as one woman described it. An arrival in Christchurch in the sixties says that 'visiting appears to be the business of some people's lives' (and accounts of life in the other 'centres' indicate a similar activity in them); and in her experience the conversation on these occasions was 'almost exclusively practical, even in a morning visit there is no small talk.' 'As page 128for scandal,' she said in a later letter, 'in the ordinary acceptation of the word, it is unknown; gossip there is in plenty, but it generally refers to each other's pecuniary arrangements or trifling peculiarities, and is all harmless enough. I really believe that the life most people lead here is as simple and innocent as can well be imagined.' She deplored, on the other hand, what seemed to her to be the fact that 'the people seem gradually to lose the sense of larger and wider interests; they have little time to keep pace with the general questions of the day, and anything like … intellectual appreciation is very rare.' It was comprehensible if deplorable that the women's conversation showed mainly an absorption, which it has hardly yet outgrown, in the twin subjects of cooking and household management generally, and of the shortage and inefficiency of domestic help.

Picnics were another exceedingly popular feature of social life; and they seem very generally to have been on a rather more elaborate scale than picnics in our own time. For the simpler kind, tea was the recognised stimulant; but the billy of our childhood, to be replaced in its turn by the thermos flask, had not yet come into use, so that a picnic party had to encumber itself with a kettle—no small matter. And, of course, it was of moment that at the place chosen for the meal there should be water. Picnics were generally riding parties; but a waggon sometimes conveyed a certain number of the women and page 129children at least, and was useful too for the hampers or washing-baskets in which the food was often packed. Descriptions of some of these early pleasure parties make curious reading. Table-cloths, plates, knives and forks, seem to have been by some considered merely a matter of course; champagne was set to cool in the streams, potatoes were boiled, poultry, pigeon-pies, a leg of lamb perhaps, were served, and on one occasion at least a roast sucking-pig played an important part before the day was out.

Dinner parties, balls, calling and picnics took place at any time and, with the exception of picnics which were of course a summer-time diversion, all through the year. But 'the slightest provocation,' a woman wrote who was visiting New Zealand a little later, 'is sufficient excuse in this country for getting up all kinds of entertainments.' The Queen's birthday was of course more than a slight provocation; and the practice of making it a whole holiday, with every kind of celebration suitable or possible in the circumstances, seems early to have arisen. In Auckland and in Wellington it was apparently the custom to give a 'feast' to the Maoris; and there was also, as soon as there were troops, a review, with much playing of bands, a royal salute, 'a flourish of trumpets and a discharge of small arms, or as the soldiers here … call it a "few de joy".' The Governor in Auckland, the Lieutenant-Governor in Wellington, held a levée, page 130'band playing and guard of honour,' and in the evening, as we have seen, a specially splendid ball. The infant Christchurch celebrated its first Queen's birthday by holding a regatta in Lyttelton (and this was naturally a favourite form of amusement in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin as well); but the day was so breathlessly still that no sailing races, even with the children's model ships, could be held. For rowing races, however, the weather was perfect; and these were followed by Maori dancing and after lunch by 'a soapy pig, and a greased pole, and a wheel-barrow race.' A tea-party for the children, with a magic-lantern show as soon as it was dark enough, the children greeting 'each new slide with loud shouts of delight,' concluded the celebrations for the majority. But 'there was a very gay party' on one of the ships then in port, 'first dinner and then dancing. There were eight ladies on board, and about forty gentlemen, and as seems always the case, the fewer the lady-partners were, the more anxious were all the gentlemen to dance; in short it was very successful, and everyone thoroughly tired next day.'

Horse-racing, as one might expect, was among the first of public amusements in New Zealand. The women did not, of course, take part in the actual official races; but one of them describes the fun and excitement there was in the early days of the Riccarton meetings, when the course was simply 'a vast grassy plain,' and she among the other spectators page 131would ride to see the start of a race and then dash across 'full gallop to the winning post to see the finish.' Country race meetings long retained at least something of this jolly, picnicking atmosphere; but it is doubtful whether any are now quite so pleasantly care-free as this sounds. You cannot have everything: our comforts are incalculably increased with our years, but the freshness and elasticity are gone with the informality.

Some of the towns very quickly boasted their theatres: there was for instance a repertory company formed in Wellington in 1843, which for some time at any rate gave two performances every week. Musical societies too were established, both choral and instrumental. In all these activities, as in the more serious business of the colony's foundation, women took their part beside their husbands, brothers and fathers. And other of the more intellectual interests were not neglected. Public libraries and reading-rooms were established well within a year of the first settlements. How much use the women could, or did, make of these there is no means of knowing; but many were genuinely well educated, so that it is not unreasonable to imagine that they would welcome such social amenities as gladly as the men. We do know that numbers of them were as ready, with petticoats looped up and with Wellington boots over their own lighter footwear, to plunge through the muddy streets to listen to a lecture, as page 132they were to face similar difficulties for the sake of a ball.

The various churches were from the outset centres of social life in New Zealand. Their charity work, apart that is from the work of the mission churches among the Maoris, was for long directed mainly towards causes outside this country. Even as late as 1890, we find a group of women in Christchurch meeting once a week at the house of a friend to work for the Kilburn Orphanage in England. This may, however, have been an object in addition to others nearer home; for the woman who tells of this Christchurch group speaks of the community as being interested in 'many philanthropic movements.' It was no doubt a labour of love; but it was admittedly also a pastime for the winter months, when entertainments were few. 'There are no picture-galleries,' she writes, 'few concerts, and good companies at the theatre are very rare.' The cinema had not yet arrived to fill all gaps. These women formed themselves into small committees, 'each one in turn providing entertainment; readings, recitations, music, acting, and the like, helping to relieve the monotony of the work.'

A kind of charity-work-cum-entertainment which very early raised its head in New Zealand, and is still rather scotched than killed, was the bazaar. We hear of a fund-raising function of this kind, by which a sum of £600 was realised, as early as 1857 in Auckland; page 133and it was evidently not the first of its kind. Nor is it likely that Auckland held a monopoly. Many churches and other organisations had for a long time their annual bazaars. In the early days these were largely the affair of Society in particular; but the net was flung gradually wider. Most girls' schools were drawn in, and during some months of each year every spare moment of the children's time was occupied in the making of articles, some of them beautiful, and some useful, but many which were saleable surely only on the score of charity. After the months of preparation came the one, two or three days, occasionally in later years as much as a week, of the actual sale, when the women stood for long hours in their 'stalls,' in a hall noisy, generally hot and stuffy in spite of its draughts, and before long unattractively dirty. There can be very few New Zealand women between the ages of about forty-five and eighty who have not at some time been through this gruelling experience. The heyday of the bazaar was the middle period of New Zealand's history, and coincident with the time when the problem of domestic help was at its least acute. But although by its means large amounts of money were raised, the system became burdensome to a degree altogether incommensurate with its financial worth, and may be said in the main to have broken under its own weight. Other ways have been found to fulfil the same end; and, except apparently in some page 134country districts, the way of direct giving is now very generally seen to be the wiser one.

Thus far all that has been said of early social life in New Zealand has concerned mainly the towns. 'Balls,' as we have seen, were possible in some at least of the country districts where a number of families had settled fairly near to one another. In such little settlements, as soon as homes of a kind had been made, one of the first cares of the settlers was to provide a school for their children, and the schoolroom was always a centre of community life, serving besides its primary purpose another as a place where church services, dances and concerts might be held. In some of the smaller districts too more democratic forms of amusement were established. A large fire would be built on fine nights, the settlers brought contributions of food, and all joined in a community meal round the fire, spending the evening afterwards in singing and dancing, talking, discussing their common concerns, and playing round games. In Akaroa it was the custom for many years for every family to give a dinner annually to all the rest.

In some parts, however, farm homesteads were separated by many miles, by hills, by heavy bush, swamps or dangerous rivers. For the women living in such circumstances, social life consisted largely in the hospitality which they offered to chance travellers. It was a hospitality which almost literally knew no bounds. In the complete absence, or page 135prolonged scarcity, of accommodation houses, the little houses 'up country' seemed sometimes to have walls of some substance more elastic than cob or than slabs of timber. As many as seven or eight young men might turn up at one time, more rarely there might be a woman in one party of travellers; and they came nearly always unexpectedly—necessarily, when no regular means of communication existed. The difficulties and trouble of accommodating such numbers, though they might be great, were cheerfully accepted by the women, being more than compensated by the pleasure of fresh companionship after it might be months of comparative isolation. If there were maids, they were as much pleased as their mistresses with the sight of new faces. Space was as a rule the main problem, but one which seems never to have been found insoluble; except in rarely unfortunate instances, the food supply presented no difficulty. It was only if stores happened to be drawing to an end, and the weather made the procuring of fresh supplies impossible, that hardship of this sort was occasioned by, and for, the travellers; and Lady Barker's classic experience in 'the great snow-storm' of 1867 was happily most unusual.

Sometimes, of course, these travellers, who might be weatherbound at a station for three or four days or longer, were friends, or at least acquaintances, of the host and hostess. Often, however, they might be complete strangers. This appears to have made no page 136difference to the hospitality offered; letters of introduction were not required; one's necessity was enough to open doors and ensure a welcome. In the earliest days of the Canterbury settlement the Deans home at Riccarton was especially noted for its generous hospitality. Ten or twelve people to lunch, some of whose names even might be unknown, was no unusual thing, and on occasion these numbers were doubled and even trebled. 'You just walked in,' said a Canterbury woman, 'and were treated with warm hospitality.' As years went on, and hotels and accommodation houses were built, the need for this tax on the earlier settlers, and on the men and women of the back country farms and stations, though so willingly and freely paid, was reduced. But the habit of mind long persisted. In 1891 a visiting Englishwoman spoke of hospitality as 'almost a ruling passion in New Zealand.' Long after the more urgent necessity had ceased to exist, women in the country were still liable to be called upon without notice to provide bed and breakfast, at the least, for the wayfarer. The habit of 'turning up' unannounced, even in places where every facility exists by which due warning may be given, the New Zealander has never entirely outgrown; and he, or she, is apt by it sorely to disconcert his English cousins when fortune takes him overseas.

While chance 'parlour' visitors came in diminishing numbers, others, who at least in early days had been page 137received almost as warmly, increased to the proportions of a small army; and by the last decade of the century swaggers, at any rate in Canterbury, had become a serious problem. 'The custom of the country,' wrote the wife of a station holder of the sixties, 'demanded that you should ask no questions, but simply tell any travellers who claimed your hospitality where they were to sleep, and send them in large supplies of mutton, flour and tea.' By the nineties it had become necessary on all the larger stations to employ a man to cook and care for them. 'The owner of a small property told me,' says a woman who was visiting Canterbury, 'that one night when only he and his sister were at their lonely homestead eighty of these uninvited guests made their appearance.' Even supposing this, as we perhaps may, to have been an exceptionally large invasion, it is obvious that 'the custom of the country' was one which placed a heavy load on the shoulders of even the prosperous farmer. One hears less of this kind of visitor in the North Island. There, however, the women had long to reckon with being called upon by parties of wandering Maoris; and until they became accustomed to this, and learnt that the intentions of their visitors were almost never harmful, they very naturally found it alarming. Some of them had been through the years of trouble between the two races; all of them had at least heard stories of those times; and they were often alone, save for page 138the younger children, during the greater part of the day, and sometimes, if the men were employed on bush-falling or road-making work at a distance, they were without their protection except at the week-ends.

Picnics and occasional house-parties were possible for some of the up-country women, though there were long spells of loneliness between. But for many the only taste of social life they could get was in meeting travellers. Until their numbers grew so unwieldy, one can imagine that the swaggers would be really very welcome on outlying stations. They might bring news of the outside world, they would at least have had experiences different from those of their hosts, and some of them would make interesting and amusing companions at any rate for a brief evening. Of the genuineness of the welcome accorded to travellers who came with more immediately recognisable and more personal credentials, there is no question. In the years when roads were few and poor it very seldom happened that a woman was among these. In the middle of the sixties a party of five or six men set out from Nelson in an attempt to find a bridle path to the West Coast. After a terribly strenuous journey of several weeks, they arrived at a sheep station on the Grey river, where they were reclothed and fed by the owner and his wife, 'who had not seen any other woman for seven years.' We have no means of knowing how many more were to page break
8. A Taranaki home

8. A Taranaki home

page 139pass before she might meet one. Such isolation was comparatively rare; but there must have been many women who lived in places where there could be no certainty of their meeting another for long periods. Lady Barker describes the pathetic eagerness of the welcome she received from the wife of a sawyer at the head of Lake Wanaka. During her visit this woman, so starved for companionship, would hardly let her guest out of her sight. 'All she required of me,' says Lady Barker, 'in exchange for her incessant toil on my behalf was "news". It did not matter of what kind, every scrap of intelligence was welcome to her, and she refused to tell me to what date her "latest advices" extended. During the three days of our stay … I gave my hostess a complete abridgment of the history of England—political, social and moral, beginning from my earliest recollections. Then we ran over contemporary foreign affairs, dwelt minutely on every scrap of colonial news, and finally wound up with a full, true, and particular account of myself, and all my relations and friends. When I paused for breath she would cease her washing and cooking on my behalf, and say entreatingly, "Go on now, do!" until I felt quite desperate.'

The accounts of Lady Barker and of others of the difficulties of travelling in New Zealand, make it clear that a holiday jaunt was for many years not a matter to be undertaken lightly by any woman. Perhaps the simplest way of travel, when it was page 140possible, was by sea; but the discomfort, let alone the danger, of such journeys was unimaginable. Mrs Stack, who before her marriage made several expeditions from Auckland, to the Waikato, to the Bay of Plenty and inland from there through the lake district, and to Poverty Bay, kept a journal which is full of interest and instruction. In 1858 she went to Tauranga, a journey which in favourable weather occupied about twenty-four hours, but on this occasion in a twelve-ton cutter took ten days. The cabin which she shared with two other women and two little girls was about six feet square, and 'hardly high enough to stand up in.' There were three bunks along the walls, and in the middle a two-foot wide table with a bench on each side, while a narrow shelf above the bunks held the provisions which the passengers themselves had to provide. The man of the party had to sleep, with 'two dogs and some poultry,' in the hold, 'where he was provided with an old sail for bedding, which he had to spread on the cargo of potatoes, which served him for both mattress and pillow.' The cabin was separated from the hold only by battens two inches apart. Twice the little vessel had to run for shelter, and they spent a most miserable forty-eight hours at anchor, pitching and tossing, though on the lee side of Mayor Island, in a south-east gale. 'No one can imagine,' Miss Jones (Mrs Stack) recorded, 'what the combination of sickening smells was like on board page 141that little craft, or what misery we endured from the foulness of the air … when shut down for the night in the little cabin. The vitiated air of such a confined space, in which so many persons were breathing, would have been bad enough, but when added to that was the smell caused by the flaring wick of the fish-oil lamp swinging over our heads, and the warm sickly odours wafted in from the cargo, mingled with whiffs from the dog kennels and poultry-pens in the hold, and, worst of all, the foul gases rising from the "bilge" … which was being incessantly churned up by the motion of the waves, it is a wonder that we were not suffocated or poisoned by it.'

This was sea-travel in the fifties and sixties. Yet undeterred by such an experience, this young woman was off again in the following year to Poverty Bay. The cabin this time, she said, was 'very superior in size and fittings' to the one she had occupied in the little cutter. But it appears to have been hardly less lacking in privacy, since it was shared by the three other passengers and by the captain, the berths being separated only by curtains, and was also the common sitting and dining room. 'We never thought of undressing at night, and took any favourable time during the day for making any necessary changes in our dress, etc.'

Very shortly, of course, steamers were running between the main ports; but although they were page 142rather less at the mercy of the weather, the general opinion seems to have been that the days of sail had been pleasanter and more comfortable. The steamers at first were small, noisy, and 'miserably weak' against a head wind. Nor were passengers certain, on New Zealand's rough coast, of being able to make the desired port. On one of Miss Jones's journeys, from Wellington to Auckland, via Nelson and New Plymouth, she had as a fellow-passenger a woman who had been carried past her home at Taranaki, owing to bad weather and the impossibility of landing her, and all round the island; and on this occasion too had to be taken on, 'doomed to another weary voyage.' And her experience was said to be 'not uncommon.'

The miseries and discomforts of land-travel were different: they were not less. The actual travelling was bad enough, and full of dangers, whether it was undertaken on horseback, by dray or, in favoured districts, by stage coach. In many parts the roads were barely formed, little more than tracks— through heavy bush, across swamps and unbridged rivers. Travellers were sometimes held up for days and even for weeks by flooded rivers, camping as they might, and sometimes short of food, until the waters subsided. When accommodation houses began to be built on the main routes they were of the most primitive kind, frequently consisting quite simply of two rooms, one for men and another, page 143opening out of it and with no other door, for women. Beds were provided, but no other furniture of any kind. Many of them were infested with fleas and overrun with rats and mice. On some of the less travelled roads huts were put up in which camp could be made for the night. In these the fleas were if possible even more numerous and lively and of better appetite than in the occupied accommodation houses and inns. Sandflies and mosquitoes provided further torments. Miss Jones describes a night spent near Matamata, on her journey from Tauranga to the Waikato. Her tent was put up inside an empty roadside hut. 'To protect myself,' she says, 'from the venomous bites of the mosquitoes, I had borrowed on leaving Tauranga, a starched sun-bonnet…. Over this I fastened a thick veil tightly down. I covered my hands with gauntlet gloves, and fastened my sleeves carefully over them at the wrists. But nothing availed to keep the venomous insects from biting me. I was soon in such a fever that I lay tossing about all night, beating the sides of the tent with my hands in the vain effort to drive away my tormentors.'

Necessity sometimes dictated such journeys, but they were occasionally undertaken for pleasure. The energy, endurance and adventurousness of most women was satisfied by the conditions of their daily lives. As the little towns grew, however, and comforts increased, there were always a few whose circumstances enabled them, and whose tastes page 144inclined them, to travel. The earliest travellers were no doubt carried through the difficulties by a pride in doing something that no white woman had ever done before, and in penetrating to places in which no other white woman had ever set foot—a sort of extension of their pioneering activities. It was long before travel became in any way easy; the women of the first and even of the second generation born in New Zealand might well hesitate before undertaking a journey of any great distance. Only within the last thirty or forty years has it been possible to travel with anything like reasonable comfort in New Zealand; and even now there are possibilities sufficient to satisfy the normal woman's appetite for adventure. The New Zealand woman of to-day can, however, make a journey in as many hours as the same distance took her grandmother days, and in some instances weeks, to cover; and she can make her plans beforehand with a reasonable certainty of being able, with all the regular and frequent services by road, rail, sea and air, to carry them out.

Her isolation is dispelled. In the towns she has only an embarrassment of possible diversions and distractions; and even the backblocks woman can keep in touch—if she does not see her friends as often as she would like, yet she can speak to them, as a rule, by telephone; and the news, not only of the colony but of the whole world, may be hers for the turning of a switch.