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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter IV

page 23

Chapter IV.

“I have not seen the place could more surprise,
More beautiful in Nature's varied dyes.”

Ben Jonson.

I will now, dearest mother, give you some idea of New Zealand and our home in Taranaki, as it appeared to me.

“You are aware that I left Point de Galle to pick up the Australian steamer in July last, and had to remain in Melbourne, still not recovered from my wounds after the fall of Lucknow, and the battle of which, as I have in my previous letter, told you of, till I procured a passage in the “Pirate” steamer to Nelson, from thence I went on to Taranaki by the colonial steamer “Airedale,” and landed in that fair country on the 11th instant.

“I need not tell you with what pleasurable feelings, when on board the “Pirate” bound for Nelson, I saw the first land-mark of the Province, Mount Egmont, under whose towering height I well knew lived my uncle and cousins, so oft described to me by them. You can easily judge how, page 24 after so long an absence, I hailed the first glimpse of the land where they dwelt. This object was before us most of our trip across the channel, and as we afterwards approached along the Western coast.

The first view of the country from Wanganui to the Sugar Loaves, a group of high rocks close to the Bay of Taranaki near the shore was pleasing in the extreme, a rich pasture country was before us, known as the Tataramaka Block, and here and there we saw as we steamed along close to the shore, deep ravines and rushing mountain torrents descending from the range of mountains in the interior to the sea. I thought it the most charmingly romantic country I had ever seen, nor has now a nearer and more particular survey of it in anywise altered my opinion. 'Tis really a most romantic country and all seemed charming to us gliding along its shore, with the hills and plains covered with flocks and herds or the rich corn fields in early growth, and the pretty cottages scattered in each nook o'er some deep ravine or by the wooded glen as the very picture of Arcadia, a prosperous and happy country.

“The first objects ere you open the Bay of Taranaki are the two high rocks rising some three to four hundred feet out of the sea, close to the shore: in the centre of this Bay on undulating ground, is the town of New Plymouth. Its appearance was as a scattered township with Marsland hill rising in the centre of it, on the top of this hill are the Barracks, enclosed with a page 25 palisading of rough hewn logs; a long spur of the hill extends at the back some 500 yards, and is levelled as a parade ground. The town consists of only two streets going up and down both ways, crossing each other in the valley, so formed by the hills round, and where two streams from opposite sides converge as they enter the sea; the houses are all of wood and for the most part comfortable-looking, of two stories, with gardens behind, picturesquely extending down each declivity to the rivers, the banks planted with weeping willows.

“There being no wharf, as the Bay is an open roadstead, the landing is always effected by means of strong surf boats, and as the surf is often very high, passengers have to be carried by the boatmen on shore; still so expert and active are these men, that even in the constant landing of goods in rough weather, little or no damage is done, and it is only in very stormy weather that their boats cannot discharge goods and passengers; a strong hawser, some 150 feet, fastened to a buoy and to the shore, enables them to pull the boat ashore and prevents it broaching-to. There are one or two good hotels in the town, and a good supply of meat, fruit, vegetables, &c.

“The interior of the country all throughout possesses the same attractive appearances, narrow glades and successive hills, divided by defiles, some cultivated, others covered with rich grasses and ferns, through which course innumerable streams, which add much, with all their windings, and the glens and valleys they form, to the page 26 natural beauty. As you ride along any road scarce one hundred yards is passed that some lovely dale and pretty sweep or indention in the hill-side does not meet your view: the ground is rich, of fine alluvial soil, easily cultivated, watered as it is by a thousand ever-flowing streams. These were my ideas as I rode to the Retreat, the greater sweep of which is formed in a valley beneath a long jutting range of hills from the more lofty heights of Egmont, which appeared to me like steps, first, the mountain rising grandly to the skies, its peak covered with snow and cloud, then the long range of pine-covered hill stretching towards the sea; next the level plain, beneath the beautiful place and lands of the Mount—Mr. Dickson's place—a belt of bush surrounding it, and then the valley lower down in form of a semicircle with streams coursing round it; lastly, the deep ravine with wooded sides through the village past Glenfairy, where your old acquaintance Mr. Wellman lives, down to the tumbling surf of the bright blue sea.

“You know, dearest mother, how romantically inclined I am, and how amused you have ever been at my glowing description of the wild bush and jungle forest whilst on my hunting trips in Northern India; you may fancy then how I have wandered over the quiet glens of this sweet land, where no savage beasts or noxious reptiles of any kind are ever found; and though I love the wild excitement and the danger of the extensive jungle, I love no less to wander over those hills and dales, many of which were now my own.

page 27

“My uncle's grounds are most beautiful, and his sheep farms well cleared and fenced, whilst also he pays much attention to agricultural work, which one of my cousins entirely superintends. The house of two stories, all of wood, is extensive and most comfortable, lately furnished, from England in costly style; a deep verandah surrounds the main part of the house, and is covered over with rose trees, clematis and other kinds of creepers—for this is the land of creepers, and almost every tree in the forest and bush has got its parasite, which makes the bush so difficult to walk through, as they constantly extend along the ground, and up from tree to tree. A very pretty flower garden, with many of England's rarest shrubs and flowers, extends from the house front towards the edge of the ravine, which has been laid out in shady walks, and a miniature lake, formed by the river in a little valley, is full of aquatic plants, water lilies, &c.; this valley is called the “Labyrinth,” and is really so; but rustic seats are here and there built under some over-shadowing tree, where the weary may rest when tired, or bewildered, as I at first was, in pursuing all the tortuous paths through it. I need not tell you how pleased I was with my reception here, and how glad I was to renew my good uncle's and cousins' acquaintance; they are so kind, and seem so happy, that I cannot pourtray them in as good and true a light as they deserve. My uncle looks very little older than when we met nine years ago, and is in much better health and spirits. He page 28 takes great interest in his place, and farms, or clearings, as he calls them up in the bush. Each of his sons has had a selection of 50 acres, and he has added 100 more to each, of purchased land, besides his own purchase and grant around the Retreat. I have not seen mine yet, but am told they are of the same style of country as round here, which to my taste is very fine. You are aware that William, my eldest cousin, has a sheep station about 100 miles from Otago, and is doing well; George is employed in the same office as young Wellman, of whom I will speak again; his family are our nearest neighbours, as I said before, and my uncle is following the same plan as the elder Mr. Wellman, of having one son always with him, assisting in the farming: thus Charles is the great farmer of the family, and the only one now at home: he is a fine strong fellow, cheerful and hearty, a fearless rider, and a crack shot; he met me with my uncle at the beach on landing, and I am afraid the contrast of his handsome ruddy face, and my poor sallow one, was sadly to my disparagement; such, however did not seem to appear to any one, save myself, for all were most kind and attentive. Mary, whom I saw last, I speak of last, she is now grown into a young woman, though not tall, very pale looking, with very fair hair as of old, and as gay and wild at eighteen as she was at nine. Aunt Dorothy who rules the interior economy of the house, keeps her in order, though she evidently idolizes her.

“The first evening of our acquaintance we became the page 29 greatest of friends, the formal captain was dropped in a short time and Herbert substituted unless when strangers were by and Aunt Dorothy looking; and then it was quite musing to hear her faltering voice from the suppressed smile, call me “Captain St. Pierre.” She told me of all her friends and of one in particular that she calls her angel friend, and whom she says, I must fall in love with, the moment I see her—Miss Wellman. I am to be introduced as soon as possible to all the folks in this neighbourhood; but I hope I will be left alone for a few days to see all the beauties of this country first, and to make some trips with Charles into the bush land and see my own romantic glens and vales. There is only a mail from this once a month, so I will write to you each time, of all I do, as usual.”