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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

The Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers.

The colony was established, but there were yet many vicissitudes, many difficulties to be surmounted, many hardships to be undergone by the dwellers in the infant settlements. It should be noted that from the first moment of its being proposed as a British colony, New Zealand was expressly guaranteed an exemption from convicts, and so escaped the infliction of this curse of Australian colonisation. Emigrants chose it from its first establishment in preference to Australia or Van Dieman's Land for this page 7 reason. Lord Normanby, in a despatch to Captain Hobson, dated 14th August, 1839, says:—"The character of a penal settlement shall not be extended to New Zealand. Every motive concurs in forbidding this, and it is to be understood as a fundamental principle of the new colony that no convict is ever to be sent there to undergo his punishment."

Taken as a whole, the early reports of the infant settlement were cheerful and hopeful. Pork and potatoes, we are told, was the staple dietary for all classes of the community. Complaints are to be heard of the price of clothing, but—happy days! we read that "there are no taxes in New Zealand, nor any rates nor dues;" and, moreover, money can be safely invested in real security at the rate of 10 per cent, per annum. The main complaints are about communications. The town of Auckland was a morass overgrown with small tea-tree; beyond that again, for about a mile and a half, was a dense thicket, so dense in fact, that in order to find one's way through it, it was necessary to take the bearings of some of the loftier trees. Some four years after the foundation of this settlement, the main road leading out of Auckland was hardly passable in the winter season for the distance of a mile. Epsom consisted of three tents; the land beyond, stretching across the isthmus, was a treeless open country, clothed with a sombre covering of brown fern. Onehunga was unoccupied save by the small remnant of a neighbouring native tribe, and the Bay of Manukau was a lone expanse of unfrequented water. In those days of "the streets before they were made"—as Swainson calls them after the old distich—when the infant capital was built of reeds and rushes, when drays were abandoned for weeks together in the principal street, buried axle-deep in mire and clay, and when a native whare did duty for a police court six days in the week, and tor a place of worship on the seventh, locomotion by night was difficult, and in the winter season decidedly uncomfortable along these streets which existed only on paper. But then, as now, dancing was enjoyed with great zest, and though to attend a ball-on a dark, wet night was, indeed, the pursuit of dancing under difficulties, yet, in the worst weather, its votaries were never daunted—the ladies gallantly wading through mire and water—their "twinkling feet" and "light fantastic toes," as the old chronicler we have before us gallantly terms them, encased in men's jack boots; their would-be partners—for life or for the dance—being carried high and dry on the back of some friendly Maori. From the very earliest period of the settlement lovers of dancing had an opportunity of gratifying their taste at a ball given by the Queen's representative on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday. In these, the dark ages of the colony, a piano, played by the gracious hostess, the wife of the Governor, with a violoncello accompaniment, vamped with all due gravity by the Queen's Attorney-General, formed the modest orchestra at Government House, reminding us of the days of simplicity recorded in Gray's "Long Story," when—

'My grave Lord-keeper led the brawls,
The seal and maces danced before him."

Yet the balls in those olden days of the colony were said to have been probably as enjoyable, and certainly as much enjoyed, as the Gubernatorial Birthday Ball of to-day, with all its state and ceremony.