Station Life in New Zealand
Letter VII. A Young Colonist.—The Town and its Neighbourhood
Letter VII. A Young Colonist.—The Town and its Neighbourhood.
I must begin my letter this mail with a piece of domestic news, and tell you of the appearance of your small nephew, now three weeks old. The youth seems inclined to adapt himself to circumstances, and to be as sturdy and independent as colonial children generally are. All my new friends and neighbours proved most kind and friendly, and were full of good offices. Once I happened to say that I did not like the food as it was cooked at the boarding-house; and the next day, and for many days after, all sorts of dainties were sent to me, prepared by hands which were as skilful on the piano, or with a pencil, as they were in handling a saucepan. New books were lent to me, and I was never allowed to be without a beautiful bouquet. One young lady used constantly to walk in to town, some two or three miles along a hot and dusty road, laden with flowers for me, just because she saw how thoroughly I enjoyed her roses and carnations. Was it not good of her?page 47
Christchurch has relapsed into the quietude, to call it by no harsher name. The shearing is finished all over the country, and the “squatters” (as owners of sheep-stations are called) have returned to their stations to vegetate, or work, as their tastes and circumstances may dictate. Very few people live in the town except the tradespeople; the professional men prefer little villas two or three miles off. These houses stand in grounds of their own, and form a very pretty approach to Christchurch, extending a few miles on all sides: There are large trees bordering most of the streets, which give a very necessary shade in summer; they are nearly all English sorts, and have only been planted within a few years. Poplars, willows, and the blue gum grow quickest, are least affected by the high winds, and are therefore the most popular. The banks of the pretty little river Avon, upon which Christchurch is built, are thickly fringed with weeping willows, interspersed with a few other trees, and with clumps of tohi, which is exactly like the Pampas grass you know so well in English shrubberies. I don’t think I have ever told you that it has been found necessary here to legislate against water-cress. It was introduced a few years since, and has spread so rapidly as to become a perfect nuisance, choking every ditch in the neighbourhood of Christchurch, blocking up mill-streams, causing meadows to be flooded, and doing all kinds of mischief.
Towards Riccarton, about four miles out of town, page 48 the Avon shows like a slender stream a few inches wide, moving sluggishly between thick beds of water-cress, which at this time of year are a mass of white blossom. It looks so perfectly solid that whenever I am at Ilam, an insane desire to step on it comes over me, much to F——’s alarm, who says he is afraid to let me out of his sight, lest I should attempt to do so. I have only seen one native “bush” or forest yet, and that is at Riccarton. This patch of tall, gaunt pines serves as a landmark for miles. Riccarton is one of the oldest farms in the colony, and I am told it possesses a beautiful garden. I can only see the gable-end of a house peeping out from among the trees as I pass. This bush is most carefully preserved, but I believe that every high wind injures it.
Christchurch is very prettily situated; for although it stands on a perfectly flat plain, towards the sea there are the Port Hills, and the town itself is picturesque, owing to the quantities of trees and the irregular form of the wooden houses; and as a background we have the most magnificent chain of mountains—the back-bone of the island—running from north to south, the highest peaks nearly always covered with snow, even after such a hot summer as this has been. The climate is now delicious, answering in time of year to your September; but we have far more enjoyable weather than your autumns can boast of. If the atmosphere were no older than the date of the settlement of the colony, it could not feel more youthful, it is so light page 49 and bright, and exhilarating! The one drawback, and the only one, is the north-west wind; and the worst of it is, that it blows very often from this point. However, I am assured that I have not yet seen either a “howling nor’-wester,” nor its exact antithesis, “a sutherly buster.”
We have lately been deprived of the amusement of going to see our house during the process of cutting it out, as it has passed that stage, and has been packed on drays and sent to the station, with two or three men to put it up. It was preceded by two dray-loads of small rough-hewn stone piles, which are first let into the ground six or eight feet apart: the foundation joists rest on these, so as just to keep the flooring from touching the earth. I did not like this plan (which is the usual one) at all, as it seemed to me so insecure for the house to rest only on these stones. I told the builder that I feared a strong “nor’-wester” (and I hear they are particularly strong in the Malvern Hills) would blow the whole affair away. He did not scout the idea as much as I could have wished, but held out hopes to me that the roof would “kep it down.” I shall never dare to trust the baby out of my sight, lest he should be blown away; and I have a plan for securing his cradle, by putting large heavy stones in it, somewhere out of his way, so that he need not be hurt by them. Some of the houses are built of “cob,” especially those erected in the very early days, when sawn timber was rare and valuable: this material is simply wet clay page 50 with chopped tussocks stamped in. It makes very thick walls, and they possess the great advantage of being cool in summer and warm in winter. Whilst the house is new nothing can be nicer; but, in a few years, the hot winds dry up the clay so much, that it becomes quite pulverized; and a lady who lives in one of these houses told me, that during a high wind she had often seen the dust from the walls blowing in clouds about the rooms, despite of the canvas and paper, and with all the windows carefully closed.
Next week F—— is going up to the station, to unpack and arrange a little, and baby and I are going to be taken care of at Ilam, the most charming place I have yet seen. I am looking forward to my visit there with great pleasure.