Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Town of Wellington, Port Nicholson, from Rai - Warra - Warra Hill (From Samuel Charles Brees, Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, John Williams and Co., London, 1848) Twelve months in Wellington / by John Wood (1843)

Narrative (1)

Contents: preface | introduction | narrative page 2 | chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
In August, 1841, a party of friends, of which I made one, determined to seek a home in the southern hemisphere. We embarked in the ship Mandarin, for New Zealand. Our social circle consisted of three families, or nine individuals, the heads of which had served together many years abroad, and so were knit by ties of no common kind. The occurrences of similar voyages have been so often related, that we shall pass over ours in silence, and while the ship is pursuing her way across the deep, offer a few observations of a general character.

For some months previous to quitting England, the question of emigration had with us been seriously pondered, and every accessible source of information diligently perused. Guides to emigrants, travels, newspapers, missionary reports, and such Parliamentary papers as were accessible were all in turn consulted; but here let us observe how extremely difficult it is to obtain a true account of any one province of our Colonial Empire. If solely guided by the avowed organs of the colony we can never come to a sound conclusion. They colour high the advantages of their respective fields of colonization, but observe a discreet silence on their demerits. Statements from this source are invariably one-sided. Paid advocates may assume the appearance of candour, but this should deceive no one ; "It is their vocation" As far as they do go, we give them credit for sincerity, but it would ill accord with the express object for which they are got up to tell the whole truth. Guide-books owe their compilation to parties similarly interested; and should the smooth current of the emigrant's thoughts he ruffled by a traveller's plain tale, the disagreeable impression is not suffered to continue long. Party organs teem for a time with a host of seeming evidence for the other side, and the voice of the individual is soon hushed amidst their clamour. Or, perhaps, they seize on some weak point, and directing their critical power hither, overturn him in the field of diction, if not of facts. Every now and then a letter from the colonies finds its way into some of our leading journals, and if they breathe, as they too often do, a spirit of disappointment, the Company's agents are at work, and the writers denounced as misanthropes, comfortable nowhere, - agitators busy everywhere, or persons evidently not adapted to an infant colony, and who, consequently, should have staid at home. And thus it happens that by far the great majority of emigrants know little of the defects of their adopted country until they land on its shores. But one by one they unexpectedly make their appearance, and unable longer to delude themselves, confess they have been deceived.

Barrett's hotel, Wellington, from by Samuel Charles Brees, Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, John Williams and Co., London, 1848.
How then, it may be asked, does it happen that so little is heard in England of the discontent existing in the southern colonies, or rather in the first and principal settlement of the New Zealand Company, for it is of this only that we write? Already has one cause been pointed out, and we will briefly mention others. Capitalists have nearly, without exception, bought their land in England. They must make the best of a bad bargain, and those who are on the spot remain silent for the sake of their own interest. Again, the principal landowners are absentees who manage their property by an agent in Wellington. Now it is the interest of this class to keep up the market price of land, but go to the Union Bank of Australia and endeavour to effect a mortgage on your estate, and its manager will tell you that the Company's price is merely nominal. It is not, therefore, from agents that absentees will learn the worthless nature of their purchases, and in making this statement we mean no disparagement to the men employed.

The means of giving expression to his sentiments was long denied the colonist. At the time of our arrival the editor of the New Zealand Gazette, or Wellington Spectator, seemed to think his duty to the settlers consisted in virulent abuse of Auckland and the Governor, combined with a slavish reverence of the New Zealand Company. Its virulent articles on Captain Hobson at length nauseated every man of independent mind in the place. This gave rise to a second paper, The New Zealand Colonist, but before its appearance the editor of the Spectator was appointed the New Zealand Company's agent at Taranaki, or New Plymouth, another of their settlements, having, by his mariner of conducting the Gazette, given indubitable token of fitness for the situation. The origin of the Colonist is explained in the following extract from its first number - "We have selected the title of the New Zealand Colonist, because it was the most significant that we could find. This is emphatically a colonist's paper. It has been established by and for the colonists. It had its origin in the growing perception of the settlers at this place, that the Gazette neither advocated nor expressed the sentiments of the community. Many, we believe that we may say most, of the inhabitants of this place considered - whether justly or not is not our present inquiry - that our contemporary took a narrow and inaccurate view of the position and interests of this place, and that it was intended to advance the cause of a party, in defiance alike of justice and policy. In a numerous, thriving, and intelligent community, it was to be expected that such a feeling would not be long in finding a voice; and that measures would be speedily taken to supply so pressing a want. The sum required to establish another paper was subscribed by upwards of fifty persons, and after an unavoidable delay, occasioned by the entire absence of all the materials for its establishment in this colony, we have the satisfaction of presenting to our readers the result of the efforts of those who directed, and of those who supplied funds for the undertaking. We speak under correction, but we believe that this is the first time that any Company has been projected in this place, the object of which has been carried out. No greater proof of the extent and urgency of the dissatisfaction with our contemporary, to which we have adverted." (Footnote 1)

On the 21st of December the Mandarin made the New Zealand coast. Its appearance, as seen from Cook's Straits, was not very promising, but we were elated with hope, and easily persuaded that though frowning mountains fringed the shores, there might be open country beyond them. A strong and favourable wind soon carried us inside the heads of Port Nicholson. The passengers were all on deck straining their eyes to catch a glimpse of civilization. Little was said, though disappointment was visible on the countenance of every one. In whatever direction the eye fell it was on mountains, rising in the blue distance, ridge above ridge, in continued succession. As the vessel shot up the harbour, a few cattle browsing on the lower slopes of a fern-clad hill were hailed as a favourable omen, and our hearts gladdened as we counted them over to each other. At length on rounding Point Halswell the settlement came in view, and its picturesque appearance prolonged the cheerful impression which the last sight imparted. A canvas cantonment was what most of us had anticipated; but here the beach was lined with wooden buildings, while along the sides of the hills were dotted neat cottages, the smoke from which, rising among the trees, sent many a heart back to the happy firesides of similar structures in our own country. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon the Mandarin cast anchor in Lambton Bay, abreast of the settlement. After landing we proceeded to the surveyor-general's office to register our sections of country land, and there learned, to our astonishment and mortification, that these were to be given out 112 miles from Wellington. A second emigration was thus rendered necessary and a fortnight after the Mandarin's arrival, one of her steerage passengers paid £60 for the conveyance of himself and family by sea from Port Nicholson to Wanganui. Before returning to the ship we paid our respects to the Company's agent, who, as might have been expected, spoke great things of the settlements; but while we sat with him we were compelled to listen to a settler's opinion on this subject. Mr. Mason, from the river Hutt, complained of native aggression in no measured language, and requested the interference or protection of the Company's agent. Colonel Wakefield confessed himself without power, and referred the complainant to the police magistrate. The man retired, but not before he had said enough to open our eyes to the true state of this question, rendering more than doubtful the quiet possession of our land guaranteed by the honour of the Company. When the gale which set in on the night of our arrival ceased, our luggage was landed; and after seeing it housed, we proceeded to receive from a surveyor possession of our town acres. One of these crowned a ridge rising immediately from the beach, called Wellington Terrace, which comparatively was a good situation. The other was distant three miles from the inhabited part of the town. In search of the latter we were accompanied by two gentlemen who had been some time resident in the colony, but who had not hitherto seen some town acres belonging to absentees, for which they were agents. In looking for the latter in a swamp, the surveyor could not find firm footing, at which the gravity of the party gave way, and they were fain to rest content with a general indication of the locality of the acres, without endangering their lives by a search in the morass.

This excursion proved to us that, save Britannia Flat, at the north end of Wellington, and a swampy valley named Te-Aro, near its southern extremity, there was not a level acre in the township.

We now pitched our tents on the acre upon Wellington Terrace. Mine was a sad failure, and stood only a night, while those of my friends being smaller, weathered the gale for months to the surprise of many in Wellington. The best tent in the lot was made on the outward voyage by Captain Sharp and Mr. Robinson. I succeeded in purchasing a small wooden house upon the beach, and by the aid of a cradle and a train of bullocks, drew it to the top of the Terrace. The very first night we slept in this little building it blew a gale from the south, and about midnight we were awoke by its rocking to and fro. Fearful of being precipitated down hill, we were not slack in ballasting the house with heavy trunks, boxes, etc., and when morning broke it was more effectually secured.

The suburban land attached to the acre upon Wellington Terrace had been given out, and selected in Tukapu, and to this district we now accompanied a surveyor to take possession.

The party was made up of a dozen gentlemen, going out on a similar errand. The district is distant twelve miles from Wellington, and is approached within four miles by the Porirua foot-path. A surveyor's line has been run through this last portion, and along this cutting we scrambled over its hilly surface, as often using our hands to climb as our feet to walk. Darkness overtook us, and we spent a very comfortable night in the bush, undisturbed by the fear of venomous reptiles or beasts of prey. At daylight next morning we continued our toilsome march, and arrived abreast of the section early in the forenoon. To examine it very minutely was not possible. In whatever direction we turned, a net-work of strong pliant creepers repelled all advance, while the circle of vision was limited to a few yards by the heavy foliage of majestic trees and the uneven character of the ground they stood upon. At this spot we left the party and struck down a surveyor's cutting for Porirua harbour. The line had been badly cut, and we lost the direction ; but after floundering on for some hours we came upon the bed of a rivulet, by following which we reached the sea. There was no passage under the cliffs, hut through a mangrove swamp that lined the shore ; this we got safely through, though often above the middle in water, and between nine and ten at night reached Wellington, considerably fatigued by the exertions of the day.

Of Tukapu we had seen enough: it is a fine timber district, and if there were a ready conveyance, the wood might be valuable. Like the rest of the country it is well watered. The nature and capabilities of the soil remain to be determined. Hitherto none of the settlers have been fool-hardy enough to bury themselves in a wilderness barely accessible upon hands and knees through a surveyor's "cutting." Convinced that nothing profitable could be done with the section in Tukapu, early in April we proceeded to visit the rivers Manawatu and Wanganui. Following the footpath through Porirua forest, a walk of fourteen miles brought us to the harbour of that name. This inlet being crossed we slept the night at Thom's Whaling Station, on the further side of the harbour. The country here about is claimed by the Polynesian Company of Sydney, who have an agent in Wellington and a herd of cattle here. After an early breakfast we continued our journey. Quitting the Whaling Station we followed the beach for a mile or more, and then diverging to the right hand ascended hills overlooking the shore, and again entered the primeval forest. For eight or nine miles we followed a native path through the wilderness, and then came in the sea coast at Bukarui. The country we had just passed through is hilly, heavily, timbered, and well watered. Descending the wooded hills above Bukarui, we again found ourselves on the sea-shore, with high barren mountains rising immediately from the beach on the right hand. Along the base of these mountains we proceeded in a northerly direction for some miles over heavy sand to Pari-pari. The sand is now succeeded by rocks, the road over which, though rough, is practicable for cattle. It continues of this nature for five miles, or perhaps more, when the rocks give place to a smooth sandy beach, extending all the way to Manawatu. At night-fall we reached the Wykani river. Where the rocky beach of Pari-pari ends, the mountain-chain begins to fall back from the sea-shore, increasing in distance from the coast line as it runs north. The mountains are now succeeded by a belt of low sandy hills, commencing at high-water mark, and widening as the mountains fall back, till at the Manawatu the sandy belt is nine miles broad. This belt is pierced between Pari-pari and Manawatu by several streams which drain the inland country. At Wykani, the first of these, there is a large extent of rich alluvial soil, inhabited by a comparatively dense native population. The inhabitants of the Pah or native village would not ferry us across the stream but upon their own conditions; and not content with dictating their own terms, upset the canoe and gave us a complete drenching. These are trifles to men, but when females are liable to similar treatment, it is time that the Company's agent, if he has the power, should establish regular ferries upon streams requiring them from Port Nicholson to Taranaki. Our next stage was along the sea-beach to the Otaki river. Here, as at Wykani, the natives are numerous, and the cultivable ground very considerable. Hence, still following the shore, we came upon the Ohou stream, in passing which we had again to submit to native insolence and extortion. Not many miles beyond this a small rivulet discharges the surplus waters of the Orewunua lake. Following up the stream through the sand belt before mentioned, a walk of nine miles brought us to the borders of the lake. Here we slept the night, and early in the forenoon of the following clay arrived on the left bank of the Manawatu. We paddled up the river in a canoe to Kerikeri, the head-quarters of the Manawatu surveying staff, and the site of a steam saw-mill then in course of erection by the Messrs. Kebbel, our fellow passengers in the Mandarin. Here we learned that the natives had deserted their Pah on the Rangatiki, and as this river is not fordable, we were obliged to return to Wellington without seeing our country land at Wanganui, the object of our journey. Narrative continued....

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