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A Letter from one of the earliest Settlers in Wanganui

A Letter from one of the earliest Settlers in Wanganui.

Wellington, September, 1841.

Governor Hobson arrives.—Sent immediately for me to attend him at Barratt’s Hotel. Orders given me to proceed immediately to Wanganui as Chief Constable: his last words were, “If you do your duty there as you have done at Wellington, I will not forget you.” In my instructions it was stated that the place was full of runaway convicts and whalers, and other bad characters, which I was to apprehend and bring to justice. I brought with me Mr. Henry Nathan, as my sergeant, who to this day is one of our respected townsmen. I cannot say too much for him; I always found him a faithful friend in the midst of danger, and proud I am to testify that he has brought up a fine family, who are all highly respected.

The Voyage up.—On the first day of September, 1841, we went on board the schooner ‘Surprise,’ bound for Wanganui, Captain John Mc Gregor, master. The ‘Surprise’ was built something like a large tub; the wind was aft from the Wellington Heads, which we left at 6 a.m., and arrived outside the Wanganui Bar at 6 p.m., which I believe was the quickest passage ever known; then we anchored for the night. Passing Kapiti we nearly run over a whale, the wind was so strong the Captain could not stop her; our lady passengers were rather frightened—Mrs. Bell, senior, Mrs. Crosby, then single, and Mrs. Bell’s niece.

The Wellington people gave Mr. Nathan and myself one fortnight to live on our arrival; in the morning, up went the anchor, and our little craft sailed up this beautiful river, passing Putiki. I fired off two brace of pistols, to inform the inhabitants that Government had sent officers to protect them, and also to inform the runaway convicts that I had arrived; instead of those I found four magistrates and a few settlers. We anchored at Major Durie’s Creek, and went on shore; there I met with Mr. Colville, Mr. and Mrs. Stent, and Mrs. John Mc Gregor who was glad to welcome us. The boat was sent to take me across the river. The roadway from the market-place to the head magistrate’s tent was a large pig’s track, plenty of flax, tutu, fern. &c. There was a Maori pah near his tent. I went up to a man digging in the garden; he was poorly dressed, he looked as if he had just arrived from Old Ireland. I said, “Old Chap, where is your master?” He answered, “I have no master.” I said, “I page 330 have a letter from the Governor for S. King, Esq., magistrate.” “I am Samuel King, Esq.” I gave him the letter, and he said he was glad to see me at Wanganui; he gave me his tent until I could build a Ware, and also told me to go into his Ware, and cook myself and Nathan some potatoes and bacon.

I found my way back to the market-place, where was a large building, native fashion; in this lived John Nixon, Esq., and family, who kindly welcomed me to Wanganui; he brought out a bottle of good Port, which was the first I partook of, he treated me with great respect, and told me to call and see him at any time; I will say that I was by that gentleman treated with great civility, and ever since, which are many years, he has always been my friend. Mr. Mathews lives near, he was sent, I believe, as a school-master, he used to make bricks, and Carpenter a little. Near the Commercial lived Peter Wilson, Esq., magistrate, and wife, and their son; the servants were William. Pearson and wife. Opposite the pah stood J. Wakefield’s house, free for all comers, always plenty of grog; Richard Deighton lived with him likewise Thomas Ball and Richard Ball, and Mr. Samuel Deighton lived opposite on the other side of the river. There were rare games carried on by Carrington and Niblet, he went up the river, and was tattoed on the right thigh, high up. Mr. Henry Churton kept a small public-house on the spot were H. I. Jones’s house is now standing, Joseph Lockett was barman. I think these were nearly all the inhabitants at that time, until the ‘Clydeside’ brought Captain Campbell, and Dr. G. Rees and others, settlers for the place.

In December the Jail was begun, which was finished in February. The sawyers, that worked in Colville’s Bush, contributed, instead of the magistrate fining them money, he, according to their transgressions, ordered them to bring 100 feet of timber for the first, and 200 feet for the second, and so on; so the Jail cost nothing for the building, only £12, which was paid to me for my work, and acting as magistrate’s clerk. When completed I had no prisoners to put in, so I bought plenty of potatoes and pumpkins, and filled it, excepting where I slept and had my desk.

After a month or so I was shooting ducks at the Heads, when the ‘Catherine Johnson’ entered the river. I hailed them; they sent their dingey, I went on board; she was far superior to the ‘Surprise,’ I quite admired her. The Captain and Mate looked page 331 like two good men, which they have turned out, for the benefit of this our adopted place. The Captain asked me if I knew the river; I thought I did, and consented to act as pilot. Coming past the Bluff I thought the river ran straight, but, to my surprise, I brought her off the Sand Spit, near the Creek. The Captain said never mind, and so we all got out, and with a large spar we shoved her into deep water, which made my heart glad.

On arrival I introduced the Captain and his Mate to Mr. Greenacre and wife, who cured pork. I also introduced them inside the Jail, to see the potatoes, &c. They agreed with me for six tons and a half of potatoes and seven pumpkins. They sailed for Nelson, and soon returned, when I gave them seven tons of potatoes and eleven pumpkins, these also went to Nelson. I found them honorable men, and I think fairly, that if the truth is told, that John Garner was sent before them by Providence to open a way to their prosperity, and also for the prosperity of the Town of Wanganui.

My dear Sir,

I hope you will forgive me for not doing this before, but this is the first night this week that I could use my pen.

I am, Dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,

John Garner.

To the Rev. R. Taylor.