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Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

The Great Bush Fire. — A Thrilling Incident

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The Great Bush Fire.
A Thrilling Incident.

The Homestead of the Great Puhoi Run was situated upon high table land, commanding a magnificent ponoramic view of all the country to the west and north, right down to the sea, with its manifold bays and estuaries indenting the coast.

Here and there were to be seen the scattered homes of the hardy pioneers of civilization, who, by industry and toil, were carving out of this wilderness of nature comfortable happy homes, and rearing up a brave and enterprising yoemanry which any country might well be proud to possess.

The scattered villages, embowered in ornamental belts of timber or fruit-groves, with the city in the distance, where could be seen many stately buildings, with the spires of its sacred edifices, the tall smokestacks of its manufacturing citizens, and last but not least, its magnificent land-locked harbour, spreading out for miles on all sides, upon whose bosom could repose in peace and security an infinite mercantile marine; all these, in the distance, could be made to appear quite distinct, with the aid of an ordinary field-glass.

Whilst upon the south and south-west it was bounded by a vast undulating expanse of dense forest, the undisputed home of the king of the bush, the wild boar, where he roamed at will, unmolested as yet by the onward march of the sturdy settler, and the spread of civilization.

Upon the south-east and east it was bounded by those almost inaccessible ranges of Pai Rata, Pai Rimu, and Puke Puriri, forming a continuous chain of bold precipitous hills for many miles in extent.

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The natives considering these ranges too inaccessible and difficult of approach or travel, avoided them, locating their villages among the foot-hills, or upon the banks of some of the many beautiful streamlets which debouched from them.

Upon many of these hills and in the gullies the soil was deep and rich, causing a dense vegetation to luxuriate, inviting the hand and skill of the hardy pioneer settler to turn them into beauty spots of comfort and prosperity.

In these densely timbered ranges roamed large numbers of wild cattle, whose range of country also extended into the heavy forest region of the south-west.

These wild cattle were a continual source of annoyance and trouble to the runholders and small out-settlers bounding upon their territory.

Being of no particular breed but a mixture, and that of the very worst sort, they were thus the weeds of the bovine species, and shot down on all and every occasion, by the settlers, whenever opportunity offered.

There were other grave reasons why this was necessary.

Some of the runholders were possessed of valuable prize herds (the Puhoi Proprietary especially), but all were imbued with one desire to keep their herds as free from the contamination of these wild brutes as possible.

To accomplish this desirable object, rewards, varying from one to ten pounds each per head, were offered for the destruction of these wild bulls, the lesser sum for the young bull, but the greater for the "old stagers," who were those that created the greatest trouble to the sursounding districts.

Five of these worthless brutes being well known were specially marked for destruction; but, owing to their remarkable sagacity and shyness, they seemed to possess a charmed life, as they had frequently been fired at at long range, but they had up till then escaped destruction.

These particular animals were in the habit of coming down from the hill country, in the night time, and making their appearance unexpectedly, upon some run or farm of the district, to the consternation of the owner.

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Post and rail fences, no matter how strong or heavy they might be, were no impediment to their onward march, for, where they could not leap them, they simply lowered their heads, and placing their horns beneath the lower rail, then to deliberately walk forward whilst at the same time raising their heads on a level with their bodies, which act not only lifted two posts clear out of the ground but broke or loosened a panel or two of the fence on either side, thereby leaving a wide gap for the cattle to escape by.

After working such destruction as this, and often worse, they would be off back to the hills before daylight, leaving traces of their presence in the havock they had committed, whilst they themselves were nowhere to be seen.

It was futile to follow, for though they might be seen in one locality in the morning, it was quite possible for them to be miles away in the afternoon.

So keen was the scent of these wild cattle, and so dense the undergrowth in that part of the county where they were to be found, that it was an extremely rare occurrence for anyone to get a shot at them within a reasonable distance to be certain of the mark.

Many were the persons who attempted their destruction for the reward, following them for days at a time' encountering extreme hardships in so doing, but frequently with very poor results financially.

Dogs were of no use in hunting, as they only drove them from one range to another, the huntsman often finding it useless or impossible to follow.

It was only during the spring and summer months when these wild cattle would migrate from their almost unapproachable fastnesses in the hills, to graze upon the sweet and luxuriant herbage of the lowlands, that there was any show of success for the stalking huntsman.

But even then they were only to be approached with extreme care, and that on the off side to the wind, for the moment they scented danger they would make away again to the hills, where it was impossible to follow.

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Of all those who attempted to hunt these wild cattle there were none so successful as Old Tate Bowen, a well known and celebrated bushman of the district.

As this celebrated character is to appear in several of my sketches, and he being the hero of this one in particular, it will not be out of place for me here to describe him.

Old in years he certainly was, for considerably over sixty summers had he seen, being of medium height, slight of build, straight as a lath, active as a cat, and eyes as bright and piercing as an eagle's, with sinuous muscles that showed out conspicuously, denoting great muscular strength for one of his slight appearance.

His long and thin white hair falling loosely over his shoulders, with a heavy grey beard covering his ever exposed and naked breast, gave him a most venerable appearance, leading one, at first sight, to think him much older than he really was.

His endurance was wonderful, for he could travel over the roughest country from morning till night, appearing afterwards as fresh as when he commenced his task.

This picture is not a fancy one, for he was a reality.

This extraordinary old man was esteemed and respected by all who had in any way been connected with him, kindly greetings meeting him on all sides.

Of his early history nothing was known other than what he was disposed to tell himself, and that was— "That when but a boy, a paternal government gave him a cheap passage to the colonies for appropriating a pheasant that was not his own;" but more he would not divulge, even to his most intimate friends.

Many stirring tales could he relate of thrilling events enacted upon the goldfields of the early fifties, in which he was often an active participator.

This remarkable man had few, if any, enemies, but his greatest and besetting sin was drink.

This evil had an all-poweful influence over him which he could not withstand, for he would no sooner get possession of a cheque than off he would rush to the nearest public-house, and not leave it again till all was spent.

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He would then return and work hard to accumulate another, after receiving which he would be off again, to repeat the same foolish act, never considering that he was enriching the publican but impoverishing himself both in pocket and health.

This poor old fellow was considered by the Proprietary of Puhoi as such a necessary adjunct to the station, that he was treated altogether different to the rest of the workmen thereon, having quite a rosy time of it in comparison, being allowed to do pretty much as he liked, but which, in justice to him it can be said, was always exerted for the Proprietary's benefit.

His abilities were varied and numerous, for as stockman, bullock driver, or fencer, he had no equal, even amongst younger men; but, as bushman and tracker, he stood out pre-eminently, the man of all men in this peculiar but admirable "scientific art."

But I will illustrate this in another way—

It is on record that, for a heavy wager, he was taken to a strange part of the country, where he was to travel through a forest region from one point to another point, there to receive a letter in waiting, then to return upon his own tracks, and, in the face of witnesses, he emerged again from the bush where he had entered, and this within the time specified.

This was a real feat, indeed, in bush-craft, and one seldom attempted and still less accomplished.

Should any one following Tate's footsteps in a bush imperfectly known to the latter, be a close observer of his movements, he might notice the fingers of both hands of this celebrated bushman moving like clockwork, whilst breaking the small twigs on both sides of him as he proceeded, which was the clue by which he returned, and the secret of his success.

A thorough bushman, before entering a strange bush region, will examine the lay of the country, as well as circumstances will permit, and its bearings with the sun's circuit, for future use whilst within it.

There is always to be found one side of the timbers upon which the moss does not grow, and this is the intelligent bushman's infallable compass; there is also another of nature's indexes to be found within the forest, and that is the lean of the tall forest timbers, which follow page 78the sun's course, and away from the cold blighting southerly winds, these being all perfectly understood and acted upon by the intelligent bushman when not possessed of a pocket-compass.

It was about time the wild cattle might be expected to make their annual migratory expeditions from the hills towards the low country, there to play havoc upon fences and amongst the cultivations of runholders, outsettlers, and Maoris alike, all being laid under contibution by these wild herds of bisons.

Several Maoris who had lately been pig-hunting in the gullies of the lower tiers of the ranges, reported at head-quarters that large mobs of these cattle had been seen, and were then in the neighbourhood of the Tike Pakira (Bald Range), so called from its peculiar features.

The ridge of this range varied from three to six chains in width, but extended in an irregular line for nearly two miles, was bare of vegetation, although the slopes upon either side were covered by a most varied verdure, forming a strange but marked contrast to the other ranges.

What was the origin of this freak of nature, it was exceedingly difficult to say.

Some surmised that it was caused by lightning having first struck the ground, then travelling along the surface soil had blighted it, for blighted it most certainly was, as not a leaf of vegetation could be seen anywhere upon it.

It is possible they were right, for the appearance of the soil upon the ridge with that of the slopes on each side of it, showed no difference to the casual eye, each being a volcanic loam, rich and oily in appearance when squeezed together in the palm of the hand.

This peculiar country afforded unusual advantages for the cattle stalking huntsman, and Old Tate was quick to take advantage of the presence of wild cattle there, as reported by the natives.

Preparations for this important, but, as it turned out to him, exceedingly exciting and critically hazardous adventure, were soon made, his impedimenta being light, consisting of a blanket, a little bread (fleshmeat was always to be had in the bush with the aid of his anti-page 79quated but favourite fowling piece, an unusually long double-barrel flint-lock weapon), the usual powder flask and shot belt, but supplemented with thirty loose bullets, & light axe, knife, and matches, such was the simple warlike equipment of this celebrated bushman.

After receiving permission from the Manager of the Station, and also explaining to him his probable line of procedure, the country he expected to travel over, with the length of absence, he departed on his perilous expedition.

Let us now follow the footsteps of Old Tate and see how matters progressed with him during this thrilling cattle-stalking expedition.

This remarkable old man lost no time in undue delay, but made rapid progress towards the scenes of his future adventures, little dreaming of the dangers that were about to encompass him, or the fortunate rescue from a lingering death and peculiar entombment.

Rapid as his movements were, for one of his advanced years, the surmounting of the hills and gullies of this rough and tangled country being a task that would have taxed to the utmost the activity and endurance of much younger men, more than half the first day was consumed in weary travel to the locality of his future operations.

Upon arrival there he found that the day was too far advanced to make anything more than a preliminary examination for "spoor," in which he was fortunate, having discovered indications of their recent presence.

As he could do nothing more that day, it now remained for him to select a suitable camping spot, and this he did in the neighbourhood of a deep pool, where eels might be expected to be found.

Cutting down a Nikau palm, with the spreading fronds of which he quickly extemporised a rough whare (hut) suitable for the occasion, then, from a decayed log close by, he procured some grubbs, as "bait," and with these commenced the important and necessary operation of procuring food from amongst the finny denizens of the pool, from which, in a short time, he had landed more than sufficient for the requirements of both supper and breakfast.

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Having partaken of a hearty meal, afterwards replenishing the fire with heavy logs for the night, he wrapped himself in his blanket, well pleased to be able to secure that repose which nature demanded after so arduous a day's work.

By early dawn he was up and about again, greatly refreshed by his night's rest, and, after partaking of a hearty meal, he set out in quest of the big game.

The early morning, he well knew, was the best time of day to prosecute a successful hunt, as the "spoor" would then be fresh, whilst their attention would also be absorbed in grazing, and less on the alert for danger, all of which facts he was anxious to take advantage of.

So, picking up his "traps," as he intended to camp elsewhere, and proceeding to a spot not very far away, which commanded an extensive view of the ranges in the neighbourhood, he scrutinised them carefully.

Having spent some time in apparently fruitless examination, he was about to leave in disgust, when his gaze was riveted on some object emerging from a gully, some half a mile up the range, being shortly afterwards followed by others, until a considerable number were distinctly in view.

It did not take him long to arrange his future plans, for by moving away from the spot, and by taking a circutous route, he intended to come up whith the quarry, upon the off-side to the wind, for to approach by any other means was impossible.

After some time had been consumed in this task, he was enabled to approach, at last, within a reasonable distance for observation and a shot, but was rather disgusted upon finding that all those within range were either cows or youngsters, therefore comparatively useless for purposes of reward, and that was his principal object in hunting them.

He could easily shoot one for food purposes, but that would frighten the herd, without furthering his object in the least.

Nothing was left him, now, but to keep following them at a respectful distance, trusting for an opportunity to shoot some of the old bulls, but, unfortunately for him, not one was to be seen.

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The herd were by this time gradually crossing the range, and approaching one of peculiar formation, called the Slide Range, but which was well known to Old Tate.

This fact threw the old man into an unusual state of excitement, which was quite apparent from his animated speech when he exclamed—"By gums! if you go there, I will trap you all, big and little!"

After making certain they were heading in that direction, and in furtherance of his intention to trap them, he immediately retired from behind the herd, and, returning upon his own footsteps until he reached the gully at the bottom of the range, he then proceeded along this for some distance when he commenced to cross the range towards the one further up, and upon which the herd was approaching.

The entrance to this range, from the south-west, was approached by a narrow defile, varying from five to twenty-five yards wide, by fifty in length, with high perpendicular, and, in some places, overhanging rocks.

The peculiarity of this range lay in its slopes on either side, where it met the gullies at the bottom.

The gullies on both sides of this range seemed as if they had fallen away bodily from the range, leaving bold precipitous walls, varying from twenty to in some places forty feet high; and this peculiar freak of nature extended unbroken for considerably over a mile on both sides of the range.

How and when this happened, was a problematical question; but it was generally supposed to have had its origin in either some gigantic landslip, or else by volcanic disturbances.

No geologist had as yet penetrated this interesting region, where there was ample scope for the study of his noble science.

The whole of this range was covered, several feet deep, with a rich volcanic loam, which caused a rank and varied vegetation, peculiary its own, to abound.

Upon this range wild pigs were always to be found in numbers, the sweet herbage of which had also an attraction for the herds of wild cattle inhabiting the back ranges.

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Old Tate made his way rapidly to the pass, his intention being to block this up in its narrowest part, so as to cut off escape in that direction.

This he commenced to do by felling the timber growing upon the sides or top and letting them fall into the pass.

After working hard for two hours in felling the timber and giving the finishing touches here and there by looping the branches and making it more solid, he had formed such a barrier that a rat only could pass through.

He now sat down so as to secure that rest which was necessary after such severe exertion, and enjoy a meal at the same time

Having refreshed himself by his rest and food, although the day was far advanced, he again departed to take up his station in watching the herd, and arrived there just as it was getting dark.

No preparation of camping for the night did this veteran bushman think of for a minute, but to wrap himself in his blanket and lie quietly on the ground, with gun by side, silent, but with ears on the alert and watchful of events.

So the night wore on and passed, without anything unusual having happened.

With the early dawn he was astir, afterwards partaking of a breakfast composed of dry bread and fish, washed down with a flask of water, for there was no certainty of where the next meal was to be obtained should he be compelled to follow up the herd closely

After this he commenced to stalk in upon them closer, for observation purposes, but had to exercise great caution in so doing for fear of alarming them.

The herd was grazing quite contentedly upon the sweet herbage of the range, unsuspicious of danger or of the deadly foe, creeping like a cat, in their wake.

He found that they were too far up the range to be caught between the perpendicular walls, but, as they were heading in that direction, it was only a matter of time, so he had to repress his impatience, and follow cautiously at a distance.

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This gave him time to carefully examine the composition of the herd, and one thing he did notice, with great satisfaction, that it was accompanied by three old bulls, one of which he was determined to secure at all hazard, being one of five specially marked for destruction.

The wind, which up to then had been light, commenced to freshen as the morning advanced, but blowing up the range, and favourable for the hunt.

The herd had by this time progressed a considerable distance down the range, and well within the walls of the landslip, this being what Old Tate had waited so patiently for and why he had expended so much labour in closing up the pass.

Once more did Tate throw himself upon the ground, to stalk the herd warily, worming himself in and out the scrub like a snake, but careful not to show himself as yet, nevertheless making rapid progress notwithstanding the obstacles in his path or the awkwardness of his position.

Every now and then he would lift his head to carefully reconnoitre, but would drop down again quickly, to commence again.

In this manner had he progressed until he found himself well within gunshot, whereupon he rose carefully, but unseen by the quarry.

What was now his surprise and joy may be better understood than described upon beholding a couple of old bulls, right and left, within fifty yards of him, and offering spendid marks.

Raising his double-barrel gun to the shoulder, he took deliberate aim at one of them and fired, the animal being startled, tossed his head backwards, coughed up a stream of blood, shook perceptibly for a few seconds, and then fell all-of-a-heap.

His mate, surprised at the sound of fire-arms and the wreath of smoke ascending from the discharged weapon, wheeled round sharply, to ascertain the cause, thereby dangerously exposing his left fore-quarter to the unseen marksman, who was quick to take advantage of it.

Instantly his weapon was again levelled with unerring precision upon the exposed shoulder of the surprised beast, and fired, with the result that the animal leaped upwards, then fell, and, with a few heavy sighs, accompanied with streams of blood, lay motionless.

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The herd, now thoroughly frightened, dashed off down the range towards the pass, whilst Tate commenced to carefully reload his weapon, feeling confident that so long as he remained at the upper end they were hardly likely to come up again to face him, whilst the outlet by the pass was closed, forming a kind of cul de sac, and by this means he had them, to a certain extent, entrapped.

He had just finished the loading of his gun, and was about to proceed after the herd, when he noticed approaching, a big heavy beast that had evidently separated itself from the rest of the mob, and making rapid progress up the range.

To intercept this animal, he moved to the centre of the range, where there was to be found a well defined track, formed by the constant passage of wild cattle and pigs, along which the animal was moving rapidly.

Hiding himself in a thicket of scrub, he waited until the animal was well within view, being greatly surprised and pleased to find that it was the bull he had specially marked for destruction.

This animal had now approached within fifty yards, and was rapidly drawing nearer.

Tate, excited as he was at his good fortune that day, but afraid that the animal might scent him and dash off in another direction before he could secure a good mark upon him, instantly made up his mind to take advantage of the present, but had to be content, this time, with firing at the bull's forehead, he being face on, and offering no better mark.

His intention, in so doing, was to stun him first, by one shot, then to run forward whilst the animal was down, and finish him with the other.

Taking steady aim as the bull came on, he fired, whereupon the animal fell forward heavily.

Tate, considering the animal badly stunned, dashed forward rapidly, but scarcelly had he covered half the distance when the bull leaped to his feet, shook himself, but that instant espying his most deadly foe, lowered his head, and, whilst giving utterance to a terrific roar, charged down upon the exposed but plucky bushman.

But cool as a cucumber and ever ready in emergency, just as the bull turned to charge him, which act dangerously exposed the animal's side, instantly the page 85bushman's gun was at the shoulder, and belched forth its leaden messenger of death with fatal effect, fetching the animal down, but its onward impetus was such that the body shot for a few yards past Tate, and there remained.

This was extraordinary luck, indeed, for often had Tate hunted these cattle before, but never had he succeeded in shooting three bulls in one day, but this he had now accomplished, and that in less than a quater [sic] of an hour.

The wind, which had hitherto been steady from the west, now chopped round, and commenced to blow from the east, and as this was nearly parallel with the range, Tate was quick to note the fact.

The old man, elated beyond measure at seeing this opportunity for the destruction of the whole herd, determined to take advantage of it forthwith, now commenced to put in practice those plans he had laid so well beforehand.

Gathering an armful of dry fern, he tied it up tight, torch shaped, then, having lit the end of it, proceeded to fire the dry vegetation, from right to left, across the range.

Being all absorbed in this, to him, important occupation, he had not noticed, at first, how chopping and uncertain the wind had become, sometimes blowing from one quarter and then from another, with occasional whirlwind gusts, which imperilled his own life in that wild waste of inflammable country

By the erratic movements of the wind, some of the burning embers had been scattered far and wide up the range, setting it in a blaze, which placed poor Tate in a most dangerous position between two raging furaces [sic: furnaces].

This peril was too imminent to be neglected for an instant, it being quite apparent that he was now almost surrounded by a cordon of fire.

All avenues of escape being now cut off, he quickly resolved to make his way back with all speed to the spot where the dead animals lay, flay them, and use their green hides as wrappers for his body against the devouring elements so rapidly approaching.

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For once Old Tate's calculations were at fault, for he found that the fire had travelled faster and approached him sooner than he had anticipated, leaving him little or no time for the accomplishment of his purpose.

So he made a desperate race for this his only goal of escape from certain destruction, through the heated winds from the fiery furnace surrounding him, which scorched his clothes and frizzled his long venerable white hair, with the glare of the raging fire scarcely a hundred yards away, all of which urged him to increased exertion in the battle for life.

The heat and smoke through which he ran was insufferable, compelling him to gather up and keep a handful of his jumper applied to his mouth and nostrils to prevent suffocation, scarcely knowing the moment that he might rush into the midst of the fire.

Still on he dashed, not knowing where, through all that stifling smoke and withering heat, being guided by instinct, buoyed up with hope, and prompted by nature, to fight to the last, in life's furious battle.

Perhaps the only heartfelt prayer those venerable lips had uttered for many years was now given utterance to, when he cried aloud, in the agony of his soul—

"Mother, mother! O! dearest mother! Little did'st thou think, when I, a babe, at your breast, would end my days in being roasted like a shoulder of mutton upon a spit! Oh! Heaven help me now, for it is all over with Old Tate!"

Let us now return to the Home Station, and see what they were proposing to do.

The fourth day from the departure of the old bushman was well advanced, yet there had been no appearance of his return as promised.

The night preceding it, heavy bush fires were noticed in the neighbourhood of the Bald and Slide Ranges, which were now noticed to have greatly extended their devastating area, many other ranges being enveloped in a conopy of smoke and flame, which caused great uneasiness to be felt for the safety of poor Old Tate.

Often had the ranges been swept that day by powerful field-glasses, for indications of the missing one, but all to no purpose, and the Manager was about to page 87order a general muster of all hands for the purpose of forming search parties, to proceed to the locality of the fires, and search for the missing man.

But now, as if to bring matters to a climax, and hurry on the Manager in his humane efforts, a party of Maori pig-hunters arrived at the station, with wild pork for sale, who reported the extent of the conflagration, which they stated was still spreading, and that nothing could stay its devastating course.

All hands that could be spared were ordered to get ready, each man to take one day's food supply with him, whilst another small party was to follow next day with extra stores.

The Maoris were requested to join in the search, and, upon being informed that they would be paid for every day upon which they were absent, readily consented.

The men assembled with alacrity, as Old Tate was a. general favourite, one and all being desirous to afford him prompt succour, if the poor old fellow was still in the land of the living, bnt, if not, to secure his body for Christian burial.

But none amongst all those assembled was so voluble in expressions of sympathy and attachment to the old bushman as Mr. Michael Mullen, a late importation from the bogs of Connemara, who declared in a loud voice—

"That nothin wud affurd him greater plishur thin to fallaw pour Auld Tate to his grave. The Lord rist his soul in pace, pour ould boy, for he ulways had a koindly wurd fur wan. He wud fallow him to the ind af the wurld, an Moike Mullen wud be the furst to foind him."

The truth of which prophecy, and how it was fulfilled, is to appear hereafter.

The oily glib tongue of this versatile "Gintlemin from Oireland," always on the wag, was a fruitful source of amusement to the station hands, whilst be was a great favourite with all.

It was now late in the day, but as the men had all partaken o a hearty evening meal, they were ordered to proceed, it being the Manager's intention to travel to the scene of conflagration by night, so as to commence the search by daylight.

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The Maoris were directed to lead the way, they being more familiar with the country and its beaten tracks.

After a few hours of fatiguing march, they at last arrived in the neighbourhood of the intended search, but as it would be some hours yet before daylight, it was decided to camp, and secure some rest before the arduous duties of the day commenced.

Being up early, refreshed by their short night's rest, and having partaken of a hearty morning's meal, a start was at once made for the scene of operations, whereupon parties were appointed to take each range in its turn.

Two men were to proceed along the valleys on each side of the range whilst another was to take the centre of the range itself, with three or more on each side of him, according to the extent of ground to be covered, but in all cases where possible, were to be within sight and call of each other; proceeding from the foot of one range to its top, and from there across to the next, then down to the bottom, and so on all through the search.

In this manner were the burnt ranges to be thoroughly examined.

Several had thus been traversed, and amongst them the Bald Range, yet no appearance or indication of the missing bushman was to be found; but the search parties were not, on that account, deterred or disheartened, as several more of the ranges had yet to be examined, whilst the day was only half spent.

The search parties had now approached and were about to examine the Slide Range, the important station of centre picket being deputed to our old friend Mick Mullen, the examination commencing from the top of the range and to progress downwards.

The search had carried them more than half way down the range before anything unusual had occurred, but just then Mick's attention was attracted by observing an unusual object lying upon the ground, a little way ahead, where the debris and ashes of the fire lay thick around.

Upon proceeding to the spot he was surprised upon beholding a beast lying dead, its cascase being terribly roasted, a silent witness to the fury of the devastating element that had so lately swept over the range.

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Mick now leisurely proceeded to examine the carcase for any marks or brands of identification, which, under the circumstances, was a very difficult matter, seeing the way in which it had been roasted and burnt, but having made the discovery that it had been an old bull, immediately commenced a more critical scrutiny of the body.

He noticed also two other objects of a similar description, but lying some distance apart.

Proceeding to the nearest of these, and examining it carefully, he found that it also had been a bull, and from the strong resemblance in appearance to the first, concluded that they had been wild cattle.

Moving over to the third of these objects, and proceeding to examine it with care, he was struck with the remarkable appearance of the animal, upon whose head one horn was standing upright, whilst the other grew downwards, by the side of the jaw, which was the distinguishing feature of one of the wild bulls so long sought after, that he immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had found something remarkably good, whereupon he commence to soliloquize aloud thus:—

"Thim ded bastes wud make a hivy purse fur poor Quid Tate, if he wur here, fur that wan alone, wid the ugly hurn wud fitch £15, if a pinny!"

"Who is that speaking? Come here quick, and let me out!"

"Holy Mother! Phat's that?" cried Mick in great fright.

"Cease that foolery man! Come here at once, and extricate me from this hole!"

Poor Mick instantly leaped backwards in alarm, which caused him to gasp for breath as if from the effect of a heavy blow; but again did the poor fellow give utterance to his thoughts in saying—

"The Lord be betwixt us an harum, but shure the baste did spake!" whilst reverently crossing himself.

"Come here, I tell you, whoever you are, and let me out; but be quick about it, for I am nearly smothered!"

This was the last straw, indeed, for poor Mick's superstitious fears had now the mastery of him completely.

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With wildly staring eyes and ashen face he rushed frantically from the spot, whilst shouting at the top of his voice—

"Ogh! Murther, murther, murther! Sure the baste spake agin, it did. Ogh! the outlandish country! Only to think af me comin to this land af hathans and nagurs. Oil give notis this vary day, Oi wull, an sale wid the furst shape, boick to Ould Oireland! Oh! bad cess to me fur lavin it! Only to think af a ded baste spakin loike a, Christan. Ogh! the Lord save us all ontirely, fur its dridful to think af. May the Saints run away wid me soul ef Oi stap another day in the bewiched cunthry."

Mick's loud and excited vociferation attracted the attention of some of the search party, who, running up to him, demanded to know the cause of his excitement and fear, which was only too palpable m his pale and haggard appearance, great drops of perspiration trickling down his forehead and face, whilst trembling all the time with fright.

It was with the greatest difficulty that he could be restrained from rushing off again, whilst every now and then he would look up towards the hill and point, whilst saying—

"It was up thir, it wur! Och, bad cess to the enchanted baste!"

The only answer they could get from him to their oft-repeated questions, of "what was the matter, and. what had he seen, to frighten him so? "was—

"Ogh! Murther, murther! It spake, it did! The baste, it spake loike a Christan! The Saints presarve us all from harum! Ogh hone, ogh hone!"

"What spoke? What beast? Where was the beast?" were the questions next put, but Mick seemed not to hear them, nevertheless he kept looking up the range as if expecting to see the dreaded apparation at any moment.

The hubbub created by Mick had, by this time, attracted others of the search party, and amongst them the Manager of the Station, with the Maori contingent of the searchers.

The Maoris, upon beholding the appearance of poor Mick, concluded that he had become demented, and showed the respect or rather fear they had for such, by keeping at a respectful distance, but at the same time page 91uttering in their deep gutteral language,—"Te Pakeha hoki riro hurangi, rawakore hoa," meaning, "The white man has gone insane, poor fellow."

The Manager coming forward, demanded in sharp authoritative tones "what was the matter?" and upon being told, ordered Mick to "lead the way to the spot where he had been so frightened."

To this Mick said, point blank—

"That he wudn't take all the wurld an put his phut near the enchanted spot, Sor!"

"Where is the place, then?" was the next question, the Manager respecting his superstitious fears in not pressing for his company.

"Up beyant thir, Sor," said Mick, whilst pointed with his finger up the range.

The Manager ordered several of the search party to form a chain across the range, and then to proceed upwards, but impressed upon them all the necessity of noting carefully anything unusual, and to summon help, if required, whilst Mick was left in charge of two men who were to look after his safety.

They had proceeded about half a mile in their search when one of the party came suddenly upon the carcase of a dead beast, and thinking that this must have been what had frightened Mick so much, burst out into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, but called to others, meanwhile, "that he had at last found Mick's ghost," which immediately brought several to the spot.

But a surprise was in store for them as great as that which had shocked poor Michael's superstitious fears.

Whilst the search party was closing up, in response to the call of the first discoverer, two other carcasses of dead beasts were seen, and these were each, in their turn, to be thoroughly examined.

It was, whilst approaching the third and furthest off carcase, that the party discussing, in loud tones, the subject of Mick's singular fright and its cause, were petrified with amazement and surprise, and some with fear, by hearing a human voice, proceeding from the apparently inanimate body, and saying—

"Help, help, for Heaven sake! Come here quick? and let me out, for I am being slowly suffocated!"

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The surprise of all was great indeed, robbing them of immediate action, whilst some, whose hair rose on end, felt disposed to follow Mick's example, but were restrained from doing so by the presence of the Manager and fear of being laughed at for their superstitious cowardice, whilst those few of the Maoris who were near, but not under the same restraint, displayed their terror by leaping backwards several yards, and who, at the same time, gave utterance to their surprise, as follows:—

"Rere! Hoki mai! Kite nga, kapakapa hoki makutu! meaning "Behold! Come back! See, the beast is bewitched!"

The Manager dashing forward, and, with other willing hands of the party, quickly responded to the call, so piteously uttered.

In an instant it was seen that the beast had been disembowelled and that some one had got within, but who that person was, none as yet suspected.

With no little trouble and labour the carcase was torn asunder, but not before sharp knives were brought into requisition, the tough hide and flesh being dried to the consistency of sole leather by the fire, which greatly retarded the endeavours to extricate the peculiary entombed one.

When an opening sufficiently large to pull out the person within had been effected, their surprise and joy can be better understood than described upon beholding poor Old Tate. "more dead than alive," after his more than thirty hours of horrible imprisonment.

A most piteous and melancholy spectacle did he present, as he lay helpless upon the ground, but willing and kindly hands were there to minister to his wants, and all was bustle now in attention to him.

His clothes were stripped off, or rather the remnants of what had been such, and others substituted from amongst those present, all vieing with each other for who could do most to assuage his sufferings.

Water was brought and he was bathed, his wounds, which were many, were seen to, a stimulent was also administered, preparatory to nourishing food being given, which was soon prepared.

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His limbs being cramped, after long confinement in so small a space, were carefully and tenderly chafed with oil, the poor old fellow being the recipient of the tenderest care at the hands of these rough but kindly men.

Great was the change in the appearance of Tate. His long venerable flowing beard was all gone, whilst blisters were seen everywhere covering his face and body.

When poor Tate had recovered sufficiently to give an intelligent account of himself, he told them that—

"When nearly suffocated by the dense smoke, scorched and burnt by the heated atmosphere and flying embers, being just on the point of falling, from extreme exhaustion and despair, that my mother's vision shone in my mental eyes, which encouraged me on to make one more desperate struggle for life.

"It was then that I stumbled, unexpectedly, upon the carcase of one of the bulls I had shot, which inspired me with fresh hopes of self-preservation (for I could call it by no other term), that I immediately set about disembowelling is, in the face of certain death, for the flames were licking up the clothes off my back, burning and blistering my flesh, before I had quite accomplished my task.

"This I did accomplish in an incredibly short space of time, and, crawling within the disembowelled animal, permitted the flap to fall over, with just sufficient space kept open to allow myself air to breathe.

"During this, my most desperate strait, the fire being then upon me, I had omitted carrying my knife with me, hence my ineffectual attempts to get out again after the fire had swept past, the heat and flames having dried the flesh and scorched the hide to the consistency of sole leather, which defied my puny efforts with both tooth and nail, to form an exit.

"The agony I suffered, both in body and mind, was intense, the cramped space not permitting of relief in turning, whilst the foul gases engendered by decomposition compelled me to keep my mouth continually at the opening to secure fresh air to breathe, and with the agony of doubt ever on my mind whether relief would come in time, if at all, to save me from this second death.

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"What my joy was, upon hearing Mick apostrophising the carcase, only one situated as I had been could understand, but alas, that joy was short-lived, for I could plainly perceive that the man was frightened by the supernatural appearance of things, he (Mick) not dreaming for a moment that it was a mortal voice he heard and not a ghostly one.

"I distinctly heard him rush off, vociferating loudly, which plainly informed me, imprisoned as I was, of being once more left to my fate.

"Still hope did not entirely forsake me in this emergency, as I surmised that Mick woud not have been there, or indeed in that part of the country, if a search were not proceeding.

"Whilst again I was buoyed up with the hope that Mick's violent outcry would attract others to the spot, so I resigned myself, hopefully, to fate, with the result as seen."

The news of the finding of Old Tate was conveyed to Mick and his companions, whilst the groundlessness of his (Mick's) alarm was also explained to him, whereupon he rushed off immediately, with Celtic impetuosity, to congratulate Tate upon his rescue from a lingering death.

Upon his arrival Mick rushed up to Tate, throwing borth arms around his neck, and actually hugging him for joy, whilst saying—

"Shure Oi said Oi wud go to your funral, but dear ould boy, it gives me greater plisure ontirely to see you live and kikin this minit! Bad cess to me fur being such an ass as not to no it wur you that wus spakin to me whin Oi foind you thin! Be dad now, an Oil git a bottil af tha crathur, in yer honor, this noight, Oi wull, an all tha boys wul hive a drap to, wid a cead mille fealthe!"

Having accomplished the object of the expedition, which had turned out more successful than the most sanguine had anticipated, and being somewhat fatigued after their long and arduous day's hill-climbing, and all being anxious to return, a litter was quickly made, upon which Old Tate was to be conveyed home, in which office Mick demanded that he should be one of the carriers, sayin that—

"Oi wur tha furst to foind him, an Oil be tha last to lave him, poor ould soul!"

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Which determination he carried out throughout the whole march homewards, not leaving the litter for one minute.

At Tate's request, the route lay down the range and through the pass (that road being as good a route as anyother, and just as short), he being anxious to witness the result of his desperate enterprise, which was the direct cause of his own narrow escape from death,

At the bottom of the range a ghastly spectacle was to be witnessed, dead bodies of wild cattle, of all sizes and ages, lay scattered about, some being in heaps whilst others lay singly, but all, from their positions, testifying to the agony which they must have endured in the fiery furnace that overwhelmed them.

Here the Manager ordered a temporary halt so that the carcases could be examined to ascertain if any bore brands of identification, with the result that none were to be found, but twenty-seven carcases in all were counted, lying in various positions, a silent witness to the ghastly sacrifice caused by the devastating elements; but how many, if any of the cattle escaped, none could tell.

Upon arrival at the station, Tate received all the attention that skill and sympathy could devise, but several days elapsed before he was able to be about again.

His terrible experiences had a peculiar and lasting effect upon him, for he became steady, gave up his drunken habits, and became altogether a reformed man.

The reward of ten pounds each for two, and fifteen for the third bull, was paid, but to this could also be added a further sum of twelve pounds, raised by subscription from amongst the neighbouring runholders and farmers of the surrounding districts, being equivalent to nearly ten shillings per head for all the other wild cattle destroyed.

The Proprietary of Puhoi also presented him with a purse of money and a valuable breech-loading gun, in lieu of the old one which was destroyed in the fire.

The old man after this became careful and saving, by which means, in the course of a few years, he had accumulated sufficient capital to purchase a small improved farm, upon which he settled and cultivated, and where he ultimately died, leaving all his property to an orphan charitable institution.

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Once or twice Mick's companions attempted to chaff him upon his terror of the dead beast, but he adroitly turned the tables upon them by declaring that—

"Thir wus some amangst ye boys whose gills wur as yalar as moine, an who wud have sliddered jist as quick, but fur tha prisince af tha Mastar an fare af bein laught at afterwurds!"

Which effectually stopped all reference to the matter, and restored peace.