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The Right Honourable Sir Francis H. D. Bell, P.C., G.C.M.G., K.C.,: His Life and Times

Appendix B. — Early Days In Dunedin

page 312

Appendix B.
Early Days In Dunedin.

In the narrative by Mr. Arthur Bell which has been used in the chapter dealing with school life in Dunedin there occurs a description of the family home at the junction of London Street and Pitt Street. As a matter of historical interest to Dunedin residents I append a fuller extract from Mr. Bell's narrative, as this describes the whole block bounded by the above streets, and also by Elder and Constitution Streets. The residence with alterations was later occupied successively by Dr. Purdie, Dr. Maunsell, and Dr. Fulton.

" Our father took at first on lease and later purchased outright an existing house situate on the rather sharp angle between the lower portions of London Street and Pitt Street where they debouch into lower George Street. This house was a low one-storey one, and the construction of all its walls throughout was in primitive ' wattle-and-dab' with a thatched roof, and being in those materials must have been one of the very earliest residences built in Dunedin. Before the family moved in our father had a large two-storey frontage built on in timber and corrugated iron roofing, in which was provided most of the accommodation required for the family, a new kitchen, and a ' den ' for himself. Otherwise the old wattle-and-dab building, which in spite of its structural material was weather-tight, warm, and comfortable, was fully utilized; our sister's bedroom being at one end and a nursery and sick-room at the other, and in between them the school-room, a store-room, and one or two other small apartments. The ground floor of the additions provided drawing-room, dining-room, entrance hall, principal bedroom, and dressing-room, and bedroom for Harry and Alfred; we younger ones had two bedrooms on the first floor with dormer windows. The additions were so constructed as to leave a wide passage between their back wall and the existing front wall of the old building, which supplied ready and convenient communication between all parts, old and new, of the completed residence. The grounds, large enough in its front for page 313lawns and flower-beds, but restricted to only four or five yards on the line of Pitt Street, terminated in the sharp angle abutting on George Street with a clay slope some 10 feet in height, which was topped by a small dense thicket of native treelets and scrub, in which we boys engineered recesses giving a fine look-out on every-thing passing in George Street—it was from these that we watched H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, then on his cruise round the world in H.M.S. Galatea, pass up George Street in a bedecked carriage drawn by eight gray horses, and escorted by mounted volunteers in full uniform. On the London Street side the grounds extended widely for a very long way, and merged with the back grounds, which contained a large vegetable and small fruit garden, beyond which for some hundreds of yards extended a paddock area as far as the top of the high slope where the street named Heriot Row was many years later formed and built upon. These further back grounds—a very large triangle in shape covering a good many acres —were practically in virgin condition at the time the family came into residence, large portions of it carrying more or less dense thickets of high manuka scrub interspersed with occasional broadleaf and moka and other indigenous bush trees, with glades of open grass land in between, the apex of the triangle being in specially rough condition, a tangle of primeval volcanic rock, in the clefts of which some quite large native trees had inserted their roots and grown to considerable height. Some distance off, at the back of the original wattle-and-dab house, between the large vegetable garden and the triangular block, was a substantial stable and byre, the indispensable accompaniments of an early settler's home—and in these were established two good horses for the family buggy, a sturdy Shetland pony for us younger boys, and two cows, the open glades in the triangular block serving as paddock ground for the animals when turned out to grass. The horses were also used for riding, an art we had never acquired at Hulme Court in Auckland or the cottage by the Leith; and all we boys, at the expense of a good many throws and falls and other mishaps, soon became fairly good riders, Harry in particular proving a fearless horseman with an excellent seat. The thickets and trees in the triangular block were the resort of many native birds; tuis, parakeets, mocking birds, and many other species, which the writer in hid old age is very sorry to say were regarded by us boys as fair game for the ' shanghai,' then much in vogue. Wild strawberries grew here and there in patches among the thickets, and were much appreciated in their season by us boys because of the necessary hunt for them, and preferred to the cultivated plants in the garden. Our father, who page 314was an accomplished artist, alike with brush and palette, as in landscape gardening, laid out lawns and flower-beds and shrubberies in the extensive grounds, and planted in every suitable spot pines and other native and exotic trees, and built a large greenhouse, so that the immediate surroundings of the house became very pretty and attractive. Well up on the high ground we boys had each our own little gardens, which we only attended to rather spasmodically, but in which we occasionally produced quite effective results; and beyond these patches of our gardens we excavated and formed by team-work and really laborious navvying with pick and shovel and barrow a full-sized level croquet-ground, that game being in great vogue in those days. In this house in George Street, Dunedin, the family lived for some eight or nine years. Just half a century later the writer, happening to be on a, short visit to Dunedin, was invited out to an evening party, and found himself, to his no slight surprise and interest, being welcomed by his host and hostess in the drawing-room of the house he had lived in as a youngster."