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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter V

page 30

Chapter V.

“Fair clime where every season smiles,
Benignant o'er those blessed isles.”


Though the settlement of Taranaki was but yet in its infancy, being comprised for the most part of men of capital and of the better class from their native country, chiefly from Devonshire, there was no lack of the refinements of life such as are met with there, and though the Church of England and the Missionaries were devoted exclusively to the education of the Maori population—erroneously, according to the opinion of many,—there was no question as to their zeal and industry in the task. Schools by the settlers themselves and their pastors were formed in each new sprung community and township. Private and more select means of education were also to be found in those places; thus in the village close to Glenfairy two maiden sisters of no ignoble birth and good education resided in a neat cottage near the sea, where they gladly received pupils from the neighbouring families and taught all the polite branches of female acquire- page 31 ments, more especially music, in which they much excelled. (So far indeed had this most agreeable of all sciences advanced in this part of the Colony, that scarce a homestead was to be found amongst the better classes without its piano or harp, and musical parties were quite the rage, not only in New Plymouth, but throughout the settlement.) Thither the Glenfairy sisters were wont to attend as constant pupils of the Misses McQueen, and the cottage being within easy distance of both Glenfairy and the Retreat, Mary St. Pierre was frequently their companion. Thus was the friendship and intimacy increased between them.

The district also boasted of more than one school where boys, as well as young men, attended during the leisure hours of eventide, after the farm work of the day was closed, and an hour or two could be devoted to the improvement of their minds.

It was on the forenoon of the 12th September that, as the sisters were preparing for their usual walk to the cottage, Mary St. Pierre made her appearance and informed them of the arrival of her cousin, Captain St. Pierre, and that now no obstacle would intervene to prevent the contemplated festivities. She also informed them of a visit from the Colonel commanding the troops in New Plymouth, who had been at the Retreat that day, bringing an invitation to all their party to an amateur theatrical performance and ball.

Thus from the foregoing sketch, we see that the Province of Taranaki possessed many advantages, and that considerable progress was being made in its page 32 advacement as a complete and happy settlement. A rich soil repaid one hundredfold the toil and expense of clearing; running streams everywhere abounded; the climate equable and healthy in the highest degree; scenery most diversified and romantic; flowers, fruit and garden produce of every kind easily brought to perfection. These were the advantages common to the Province. On the other hand, there were other drawbacks which, at the time we write of, the settlers had to contend against. They had not a sufficient market for their abundant produce, the roadstead was at times unsafe for shipping, and, in winter especially, vessels whilst loading or unloading their cargoes had to put to sea before half the work was done. Insurances therefore were exorbitant, and freight in consequence inordinately high. It frequently also happened that their exports, such as corn and cattle, had to await the arrival of vessels until injured by the delay, or the market lost. There being no road to any other settlement, the farmers had to depend upon this precarious mode of export.

Though there was no actual poverty in the Province, the want of a market and of a circulating medium was a serious evil to the whole community. No land could be purchased except from the Government, who had allowed a long and tiresome dispute to continue between them and the Natives. This caused a closing of all lands for sale either to the old settler or the new comer, thus preventing the influx of capital which would have saved it from the evils page 33 above alluded to, and consequent upon its isolated position.