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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32

I. Early History of the Province

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I. Early History of the Province.

The portion of the Middle Island of Now Zealand known as the Province of Otago, was, previous to the arrival of the first immigrants, occupied by a few white men engaged in pastoral or whaling pursuits, and by a small number of Natives. In 1840 a missionary from Sydney was located at Waikouaiti, where a small settlement had been established, and his charge extended south to the Clutha, a few individuals being sparsely settled there. Originated as a special settlement the site was selected in 1844 by Mr. Tuckett, an officer appointed by the New Zealand Company, and he states the grounds for his selection were "excellent quality of land and a good port." The selection was approved by Colonel Wakefield, agent for the Company in August of the same year, after he had personally visited and inspected the place. At a meeting held in Glasgow, 16th May, 1845, the Otago Association was formed to found a special settlement for Scotchmen. Arrangements were made with the N.Z. Company for a block of 400,000 acres of land, and the carrying out of the experiment was entrusted to a committee of laymen belonging to, or sympathizing with, the Free Church of Scotland. The association, as the scheme was named, despatched on the 27th November, 1847, the ships "John Wickliff," from London, and "Philip Laing," from Greenock, with the first immigrants, the "Wickliff" arriving on the 23rd of March, and the "Laing"' on the 15th April, 1848. Both vessels made fair passages, Captain Cargill, as agent for the Company and leader of the adventure, arriving in page 2 the first vessel, and Dr Burns in the second. Viewed as a monetary experiment, no great venture was gone into by the Association; but, looked at from the position of the first immigrants, a very serious risk was undertaken. Asked to leave their homes for an unknown country, relying altogether on the testimony of men who had obtained their evidence from others, knowing there were no civilized inhabitants to receive them or provision made for their necessities; on the contrary, that they were asked to go to a country of savages, where they would require to plant and grow the food necessary for the subsistence of themselves and families, it needed faith of more than ordinary strength, a courage peculiar and above the common, and a self-reliance rarely met with, to induce prudent, honest, conscientious men—for such only were selected—to hazard such a step, to take such a leap in the dark. At that early period, the navigation of the south portion of the Colony was considered dangerous, as thoroughly reliable charts did not exist, and the coast was known only to the few whalers on the station. The prospects were not very cheering to those harbingers of the present community, and doubtless the hearts of many failed them while sailing up the harbor on seeing on both sides steep hills densely wooded to their summits, without a patch of open land except the barren sands at the Maori settlement. The discomfort of being conveyed in open boats, along with their household effects, from Port Chalmers and landed on the shores of the town of Dunedin, its surface an entanglement of scrub and flax, without a roof to cover or protect them, or a known face to welcome them, and the dread uncertainty as to how or where provisions could be obtained until they could grow their own, the time of their arrival being near the beginning of winter, must all have tended to damp their enthusiasm. Now-a-days, such doubts and discomforts cannot exist. Accurate charts and splendid lighthouses along the coast assure the mariner's confidence; and on arrival at the Heads, a powerful steamer is ready to tow the immigrant ship up the harbor, both sides of which are now, to the hill tops, studded with snug homes and luxuriant clearings. On the ship berthing at Port Chalmers or the Bluff, the train carries the passengers either to Dunedin or Invercargill, both handsome cities, replete page 3 with comfort, where anxiously-expectant friends, acquaintances, or employers anxious to employ labor, and to whom the news of the arrival of the ship has been flashed by telegraph, are waiting to receive the strangers either with a hearty friendship's welcome or a profitable business engagement.

The pioneers of the settlement were neither daunted nor discouraged by their difficulties. Bracing themselves to suffer hardships, to endure fatigue, to do their duty, they did it nobly and well, a fact attested by the solid foundation on which the institutions of the Province rest, the character the settlers have gained, and the success which has attended their efforts. The hardships endured are now looked back on with pleasant reflection. Once established on the land, the settlers felt they breathed the air of freedom and independence; they felt also that instead of selfishly attending to their own affairs only, there was a community of interest existing, and willingly each lent a helping hand to the other, so that the common interest might be advanced.

The preliminary labor of clearing the land and building houses—some of them as primitive as unskilled hands could make them—being so far effected, moral and intellectual requirements were at once attended to. On the first day of September, 1848, the first public building, to be used as a church and a school, was opened, the average attendance of scholars being forty, although on some days it reached seventy. This was under the auspices of the Association, and connected with the Free Church. A few months later, the first newspaper, the Otago News, was published, bearing the motto, "There's Pippins and Cheese to Come,"—a prediction not only realised in so far as orchards and dairies are concerned, but also in the fact that if Otago is not like the Land of Promise of old, one of corn, and wine, and oil, it is preeminently one of corn, and wool, and beer, products more suited to the requirements of its climate and inhabitants, equally profitable, and in more general demand. In May, 1849, a public library was opened, and following in close succession, building societies were started, and a Mechanics' Institute, which has now grown into the flourishing and highly-valued Athenæum, with its library, reading, and class rooms.

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At the close of the first year of the settlement, the population consisted of—
Males. Females. Total.
Town of Dunedin 240 204 444
Town of Port Chalmers 28 10 38
Country 158 105 263
Total 426 319 745
The Customs Revenue was £1,258 5s. 2d.
Expenditure 953 3s. 7d.

Notwithstanding the visible signs of material progress, and the means for mental improvement which were provided, elements of discord existed in the young community; and, judging from the newspapers and other documents, the strife was a hard and bitter one, the questions in dispute being: "1. Was the settlement to continue a class one? 2. Were the soil and climate suited for agriculture?" The utter impracticability of the first was shown ere it was fairly put in operation, a few months bringing it to a sudden termination. The News took a strong position with reference to the second question, maintaining that Otago was not suited for the growth of cereals—and certainly there was a show of reason for this view, as little was done to test the soil, settlers finding it easier to make a living by stock-raising than by cultivating—and several efforts were made to form a company to import flour. But a decided answer has been given in the affirmative by the fact that to the very places from which it was intended to draw, the supplies of breadstuff's for Otago she now sends out of her abundance. The last ship which sailed to Sydney took a large quantity of flour and oatmeal, the produce and manufacture of the Province.

The Settlement continued slowly but steadily to advance, receiving additions to its population both from the home country and the neighboring colonies. The tardy progress was duo to the limited revenue at command and the neglect to which it was subjected by the Government of the Colony. Instead of receiving a contribution from the coffers of the State to help its infant efforts, the surplus customs revenue, after the salaries of the officials were paid, was quietly sent off to Wellington by H.M.S. "Acheron,"—an act which, when it became known, caused such a strong and decided protest on the part of the residents and the page 5 public functionaries that it was shortly returned, not, however, without being shorn of a considerable portion of its amount. Combined effort enabled the settlers to open up the country by roads and tracks, and had it not been for this "self-reliant policy"—the earliest example set to the Colony—little progress would have been made. A writer of the time says, "The impression became prevalent in Australia that Otago will become not only the greatest cattle district of New Zealand, but of the Pacific generally;" and, it may be added, she is rapidly becoming the granary of the Pacific also. Upon the retirement of the New Zealand Company, in 1850, and the granting of a Constitution to the Colony, in 1853, Otago was erected into a Province, and its original boundaries were so extended as to include all the country south of the Waitaki. During this period, little was done by the Government to facilitate settlement. A small amount had been in-judiciously expended, on seeing which a public meeting was called, at which resolutions were passed, urging on the Governor to have expended on roads and bridges certain votes of the Legislative Council and sums misapplied from the local Treasury.

The meeting of the first Provincial Council, on 30th December, 1853, marks the first epoch in the history of Otago. Prior to this date there was no responsibility for the conduct of public affairs. Now there was a responsible body possessing considerable powers, and a largely-extended estate to administer. In his opening address, the Superintendent said, "A return mail from the seat of Government (Auckland) is just in the same category as a return from England, business in the meanwhile being in a state of abeyance and confusion. Meanwhile, it is our duty to do all that we can for the public good." How was this done? Assembled in a small, unpretending wooden building—the old Mechanics' Institute—described at the time as "one of the most elegant buildings in Dunedin, capable of containing from 80 to 100 people," and "an erection the like of which no other settlement in New Zealand could boast," the Council at once commenced business, and proceeded to set their house in order. The monetary condition was "Treasury grant closed, land fund reduced to nil, and the Province left with two-thirds of the general revenue (£1,480) to do all for themselves, and as they page 6 best can." What they had to do was, provide for expense of government, form roads and build bridges, attract immigration, attend to education, and open up communication with other Provinces and the outer world. To accomplish all these objects with an income of £2,000 a year must have been a pleasing task! Yet a determined start was made, and the Province began, and still continues its onward growth. At a later period it was remarked: "Otago, neglected by the home Government, disapproved of by the Colonial Government (which only acted as a drag on its progress and a drain on its resources, never having expended in it a single farthing of the large Imperial grant, which should have been equally divided over the Colony), moved steadily on." The governing machinery was at first neither extensive nor expensive: it has now assumed considerable pro-portions.

The principle of subsidizing local efforts for the construction of roads and bridges was adopted at the first meeting of the Council, and has hitherto been continued with the most beneficial results. There is scarcely a district which is not intersected and opened up by local roads, and the main roads formed and kept up by the Government render it safe and pleasant to travel in all directions. Some of the bridges by which the rivers are spanned combine great strength with elegant design. The only possible means of travelling or bringing goods to market in early days was by bullock sledges, accomplishing from ten to fifteen miles a day: wheeled vehicles could not get along. So Well, however, was the forming of roads pushed on that a stage coach began, in 1858, to run between Dunedin and Tokomairiro, a distance of thirty-six miles; and, in a few years later, the same mode of conveyance was established to all parts of the Province.

Immigration received the immediate and careful consideration of the Council. An Ordinance was passed, appointing agencies in Edinburgh and London, to procure emigrants and arrange for their passages. The Edinburgh agency still exists, and has been the means of sending a large number of the inhabitants to this land. In addition to the permanent agencies, special agents were despatched to Australia and Britain, to put the attractions of the place before parties intending to migrate, and the result was a page 7 large influx of suitable and much-needed population. A contract was also entered into with Messrs P. Henderson and Co., of Glasgow, to establish a regular line of ships direct from the Clyde, which resulted in a complete success, and presents a picture of fortunate navigation having few parallels. During the seventeen years this contract has been in operation, about 250 ships have been sent from home, carrying emigrants, and have loaded for home with cargo, every vessel arriving safely at her destination. Of all the passenger fleet trading between Great Britain and Otago since its settlement, only two have not been accounted for.

Intercolonial and Provincial steam navigation soon pressed itself on the attention of the Council, as the produce for export and the requirements for import were becoming extensive; accordingly, a bonus for a steamer was offered, and the "Queen," a locally-owned vessel, which had been plying for a short time, was specially engaged to make the trip monthly between Melbourne and Port Chalmers. Additional steamers were soon obtained, and regular communication established. The produce of wool and grain increased so rapidly that vessels were laid on the berth to load for London direct with wool, and for Melbourne with grain and other products.

The price of money was a serious drawback to the progress of the. Province, interest as high as 20 per cent. being required on loans where ample security for the principal was given. Monetary transactions were conducted through the storekeepers—not a very convenient method—until a branch of the Union Bank was opened in 1858. Now there are six different banks, having branches in all the centres of population, and money is so plentiful as to be obtained on good security at six per cent. A new Bank named the Colonial, with a capital of two millions, was recently projected in Dunedin, has been successfully floated, and is now in full business operation.

While carefully advancing in material prosperity, equal attention was paid to education and religious requirements. As the settlers spread themselves over the country, those in charge of ecclesiastical affairs provided additional churches, and brought out ministers to superintend them. The Council was also forward page 8 in making provision for the teaching of the young, and the education system of Otago, which has succeeded so well and been so deservedly praised, was initiated in the first session of that body.

The advantage of opening up the southern portion of the Province, in which there were large tracts of splendid land both clear and timbered, was early recognized, and sites for the towns of Campbelltown and Invercargill being fixed, the country was surveyed, and very soon a large number of sections were bought, and settlers located thereon. Complaints were made by the inhabitants that this outlying district was not receiving its due share of attention from the authorities; and a memorial was, in terms of "The New Provinces Act, 1858," presented to the Colonial Government, requesting that the district might be detached from Otago and erected into a new Province. This was granted, and in 1861, the Province of Southland was created, with an area of 4,300,000 acres. Embarrassments, however, so accumulated on the little Province, that in 1870, it was found advisable to re-unite it to Otago, which was done, and it now partakes of the general prosperity.

The discovery of the gold fields in 1861, may be considered the next epoch in this history. Rumours of the existence of gold had before this date been freely circulated; but until the discovery, by Gabriel Read, of the gully which bears his name, no payable workings had been opened up. The extraordinary richness of this gold field, together with the ease with which the gold was obtained, at first hardly obtained belief; but as specimens of the precious metal arrived in town day after day by trustworthy messengers, who were in hot haste to get back again, the fever became general, and every man, tradesman and storekeeper, left his occupation and was "off to the diggings." The report of this really rich gold field soon reached the adjacent Provinces and Colonies, and a great "rush" was the consequence—thousands arriving in a single day. For a time, other occupations were forgotten, but the excitement gradually subsided; the lucky digger having a good many pounds to his credit, and high prices ruling for every article that could be raised, soon induced many to return to their legitimate industries, and leave the more precarious trade page 9 of gold finding to men who followed it as their profession. The discovery of the Tuapeka gold field was followed, in 1862, by the Dunstan, the Lakes, Nokomai, and several others, which have proved to be very valuable, and afford employment to a large number of men. The portion of the Province in which the gold fields are situate had hitherto been an almost unknown country, and to the energy and enterprise of the gold seeker the credit is due of opening it up much sooner than it would otherwise have been. The risk these hardy men undertook deserved reward, as the result of their efforts has been of incalculable advantage to Otago. The quantity of gold exported from the Province up to March 31, 1875, was 3,377,734 oz., and its value, £13,249,460.

A short summary of the social condition of the Province will form an appropriate finish to this chapter. Taking the labour and cost of living questions first, it is found that from the earliest days of the settlement the working men insisted on the eight hours' system, carried their point, and have been able to maintain it up to the present time. When extra hours are worked, extra pay must follow. The table in the appendix will show the comparative rates of pay and prices of provisions.

Dwelling-houses were always scarce and commanded high rents. To overcome this difficulty, and enable every man to become his own landlord, the first building society was started in 1850, and has fulfilled in every respect the expectations of its promoters, and done an immense amount of good. These societies have continued to multiply and increase, and have been of incalculable benefit.

To make life as pleasant as possible in the small community, holidays were kept; clubs to promote horse racing, cricket, and other healthful games were formed; many enjoyable evenings were spent at balls and music parties; and lectures were regularly delivered by the leading men, in addition to the advantages of a Public Library and Mechanics' Institute.

The first newspaper, the "News," terminated its career on the issue of its ninety-first number, at the end of 1850, and immediately thereafter the "Otago Witness" sprung into existence, and has been continued without interruption as a weekly paper. In 1856, the "Colonist" was started, first as a weekly, then tri- page 10 weekly, latterly a daily, until its wind up in 1862. Other newspapers of smaller importance made their appearance both in town and country, but the paper which took the lead and made itself known as the leading paper of the Province, and perhaps of the Colony, was the "Daily Times," the first number of which appeared in 1861.

A gaol was one of the institutions the early settlers found provided for them on their arrival, although its utility was very doubtful for a specially-selected community; and in 1850, a Judge of the Supreme Court for Otago was appointed at a salary of £800 a-year. Time seemed to hang heavy on the hands of His Honor Judge Stephen. Charged with an idle man's offence, he assaulted his accuser, for which assault he appeared before a Bench of Justices, and Only escaped punishment by the skin of his teeth. His celebrated speech, in defence, is well remembered: "He would not wait for the slow and tardy process of the law," but take it in his own hands. It is a curious fact that the first number of the "New Zealand Gazette," published 14th January, 1858, by Mr. E. W. Stafford, Colonial Secretary, is solely devoted to the announcement of Chief Justice Stephen's death, and the arrangements for his funeral. The "Gazette" is worth re-print here:—

"Colonial Secretary's Office, "Auckland,

"His Honor Chief Justice Stephen died at Auckland yesterday, at 10 o'clock, a.m.

"The ceremony of the funeral will take place on Friday, the 15th instant, when the presence of public functionaries of the Colonial Government is required, and the attendance of all other persons, who may be desirous of testifying their respect, is requested.

"The funeral will leave the residence of the late Judge, in Albert Street, at 5 o'clock, p.m.

"The public offices will be closed on the day of the funeral."

Almost all the prisoners confined in the gaol up till the period of the gold discovery, were either runaway sailors or persons committed for trivial offences; and the honest old gaoler had the duties of a father to perform, rather than those of an officer of justice. Even since the golden era, crimes of great enormity have been extremely page 11 few, considering the promiscuous character of the new arrivals. No doubt daring offences were perpetrated, but the number was comparatively small. The natural features of the country did undoubtedly contribute to this result, as the possibility of concealment or escape was a slender one; but the principal preventive of crime was the thoroughly efficient police force which was organised immediately on the gold fields being declared. This force has elicited the highest praise from the Supreme Court Judges, as well as from the neighboring Provinces; and, it is gratifying to add that it still continues to merit the same character for steadiness, carefulness, discipline, and moderation.