The New Year of 1841 was saluted by the ringing of bells, firing of cannon, and hoisting of flags. One of the attractions that day was an invitation to the general public given by Wade brothers, to journey to Evans Bay and attend a cattle sale at their stock yards. A good many people availed themselves of the opportunity, and partook of the cold collation served up at noon.
It was determined towards the end of the year to celebrate the first arrival of the settlers, on the 22nd January, by an anniversary fete. So favourable was the state of affairs in the settlement, and so bright were prospects for the future, that everybody joined heartily in this idea. The harvest was in progress in the Hutt Valley, consisting chiefly of potatoes, as a good cleaning crop for the newly-cleared land. The samples of wheat and barley produced in some small cleared patches promised an equally good return under a grain crop.
The rapid improvement of the condition of sheep and cattle on the natural pasturage of the hills south and southeast of the town, was no less remarkable. The fern, through which the settlers used to ride up to the knees of the horses, had been trodden down in many places, and grasses had sprung up in its place.
During the year 119 vessels had entered and 112 vessels had left the Port. The white population already amounted to 2,500 persons; and there were nearly 200 houses erected in a town of which the inhabitants had been in possession but four months.
18,000 acres of rural land had been selected by the end of the year. Out of the whole community only 25 men were on the Company's hands, pursuant to their engagement to employ labouring page 76 emigrants until they found service; these were receiving 25/- per week besides their rations, which might fairly be counted as seven shillings more.
The prosperous state of the working-classes did not fail to show itself by their very obstinate, but inoffensive, determination to have a share in the arrangement of the forthcoming festival.
The democracy and aristocracy of the Port could not agree about the persons to be appointed as a committee of management for the celebrations, so, after many days' good-humoured dispute, it was decided to hold two festivals on different days, to be called the “Popular” and the “Select” fete.
The “Selects” gave a subscription ball at Barrett's Hotel on the night of the 22nd; the stormy weather having prevented any out-door amusements. On Saturday, the 23rd, a rowing match took place in the harbour under their auspices, but a sailing match was abandoned in consequence of an accident to Mr. George Duppa's boat.
The “Populars” presented an extensive bill of fare for Monday, the 25th. The weather was fine. A spirited race between two whale boats round the vessels at anchor started the proceedings.
Then came a hurdle race by four horses over some level ground at the back of Te Aro Pa (Taranaki St.) for a purse of fifteen guineas, and the name of “Calmuck Tartar,” ridden by Mr. Henry Petre, deserves to be recorded as the winner of the first race in New Zealand. Other horses running were “Currency Lass” (George Wade), “Black Billy” (Mr. Watt), and “Sulky” (Capt. Hodges). A sailing match, won by Mr. Duppa, followed; the “Sand Fly” entered for this. A rifle match for five pounds and entrances was won by G. Crawford, Pito-one.
Ten entered for this event. Diversions such as jumping in sacks, wheeling barrows blindfolded, climbing a greasy pole, finished the day in a right merry manner.
A “Popular” ball, joined by most of the aristocrats, was given in the evening at one of the large wooden stores being erected on Te Aro beach. Flags waved over many houses and the masts of the shipping, also over houses at the head of the bay, while over the room fitted up for the ball, a large white banner with the words “Popular Fete” was inscribed.
The natives had not been forgotten. An ample feast of rice and sugar, which was a dainty dish with them, had been provided, and a prize in money was held out as an inducement for a canoe race, which did not eventuate.†
† Wakefield's Adventure in N.Z. and N.Z. Gazette.