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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


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Hokitika, New Zealand, Nov. 10th, 1872.

My dear St. John,

Since my last letter events have happened here of much importance to us in Westland from a Church point of view, and I am thankful to say with successful issue. The general trend of politics in matters educational has been in the direction of a purely secular system. Church schools have for some time held their own with difficulty in Canterbury and elsewhere; Government grants are being withdrawn, and soon it will only be possible to maintain such schools in a few centres, and then in an unequal competition with State schools. But as yet this system has not reached Westland, where our communion, together with that of the Roman Catholics, occupy the field. We have come through a crisis; the situation is saved, and you may be interested in hearing how it came about. Not long ago the office of Commissioner of Goldfields, with his Executive, was abolished, Westland becoming a county with a County Council, empowered to draft Bills for its own government, and to send them to the Houses of Legislature for approval. It so happened that a majority in the Council were in favour of secular education, and proceeded to draft a Bill which would have withdrawn all Government aid to Church Schools.

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Much discussion arose, in which I took part by correspondence in the papers, which led to the formation by the Council of a Citizens' Committee, chosen by ballot to decide the question; the Committee to include ministers of all religious denominations. A day was appointed for the ballot, to be followed by discussion. Having prepared amendments to the proposed Bill, which would practically nullify it, I attended the meeting when the ballot was cast. By chance it gave the supporters of the Bill such a majority that their success was a foregone conclusion. So I took a bold step; asserting that the ballot had accidentally defeated all chance of a fairly constituted Committee, I called on all who sided with me to leave the room, and said that on my own responsibility I would call a public meeting, in a fortnight's time, to ascertain the feeling of the whole community on so grave a matter. The Committee protested, but we were numerous enough to cripple their action by our departure; they could not proceed with the business, and found that public opinion generally approved of my action.

Then we went to work. Knowing the value which Roman Catholics set on their schools, and being on good terms with them, as I have always made it my practice to avoid controversy, whilst loyally holding my own position, I went to the resident priest, who welcomed me heartily. "Sure, an' I will send word all over the Coast, an' ye may be certain the boys will roll up to save the Schools."

Meanwhile, by means of our two daily papers, we made known the state of affairs, and such was the interest aroused, that the Chairman of the County Council, the real author of the proposed Bill, agreed page 163to preside at the public meeting, and it was generally understood that its decision should be final. The Town Hall, capable of holding seven hundred, proved all too small for the occasion, hundreds gathered in the main street, unable to gain admittance. My amendments to the Bill were widely distributed in print, and when the time came to move them, I was strongly supported by several speakers.

At last the Chairman called for a vote, bidding all in favour of the Bill go to the right, and those in favour of the amendments to the left. A great turmoil arose, the crowd being so thick that it was no easy matter to move. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by the waist by a big Irishman, and lifted above the heads of the crowd: "Shew yourself, Archdeacon, shew yourself! This side, boys! this side!" Shoving, scuffling, and in a general melée, the great mass of the meeting surged over to our side. The Chairman, who by the way is a Dutchman, in his excitement, to gain a hearing, leapt on to his table, waiving the Bill over his head, and shouted: "De Bill is cooked,—de Bill is cooked."

Great congratulations; the street outside crammed with people making night clamorous with enthusiastic applause; then, escorted by many, I made my way to the parsonage, where, with a few, we talked over the conflict till late at night, only too thankful the Schools were saved.

There can be no doubt of their value, whatever their defects may be. Lately we have been able to build, and now have good accommodation for boys and girls, teachers, and ample playgrounds. The children mostly belong to the Church, but I find no use for a conscience clause. Prayers and religious instruction page 164are attended by all, and I believe form the most attractive hour of the day. In a community like this all sorts and conditions of children attend, and one is able to give some of them instruction in subjects above the usual routine of an ordinary elementary school. We have an excellent Head-mistress, whose influence can hardly be priced. Personally, I do not feel that this daily school work curtails my other work; on the contrary, it aids it, especially in the regulation of time which might otherwise be frittered away, and in its opportunities of acquaintance with children and their parents. It is very largely to the lively interest taken by parents in our school that we owe that night's great success.

Now, from where I am, let me add something about the social side of school work. The schoolroom enables us to have evening entertainments, easily organized, as my experience of a goldfield community is that it always includes a good deal of musical talent; and in the matter of the ordinary school treat we have hit on a thoroughly popular plan. The children's treat, as the central feature, has developed into a Parish Festival, open to all parishioners. It means much planning and a preliminary canvass for ways and means. In the morning a service is held in All Saints, after which the children are marshalled, with their School banner, and headed by a brass band; a march is made to a clearing near the river, in the forest, where there is ample room. Tents, tea apparatus, a running course, and various materials for games, are provided. At noon the children sit down for dinner, sandwiches, buns and tea, after which teachers and helpers have their meal. During the afternoon thousands arrive; no charge is made for admission, page 165or refreshments, and there are games for all, adults and children,—running, wrestling, single sticks, hurdles, weight throwing, quoits, etc. A fine lot of young fellows act as stewards and superintend athletics. Simple prizes, not in money, are given. During the afternoon there is tea for all, and we find that the mixture of adults and children works admirably. The fun goes on till late evening, when the children form up and march in procession, proudly, through some of the principal streets of the town, before dispersing at All Saints' Church, making the evening resound with their songs and cheering.

I was not a little amused at our last Festival by the remarks of a visitor, brought to it by a friend: "Why, this is what in old Berkshire days we called a 'Veast,' a regular Parish 'Yeast.' What made you think of it?"

"Well, I come from Berkshire myself, but I dare say you noticed a difference to-day; no beer, no broken heads, no scrimmaging, and no drunkenness."

Our Bishop has been here again; always heartily welcomed, for he makes a stay of several weeks, visiting every centre in Westland, preaching, and attending social evenings got up in his honour. He is known everywhere, and takes special delight in rambling amongst the gold diggings and talking to the men at work. He had a great reception at Hokitika, at an evening gathering in a large drill shed, which was furnished with everything for a substantial meal, and a concert to follow. Although the tickets were five shillings, the place was rushed, and, with a committee of stalwart men, I had hard work to regulate the crowd at the doors, who came in in relays for the meal, and then settled down to listen, every possible seat being filled.

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At Kanieri a similar function took place, after some hours had been spent by the Bishop and myself in the claims where the men were at work. In one of them, giving him a long handled shovel, they invited him to dig some wash-dirt, and then wash it in a cradle. There was quite a nice little lot of gold, and, seeing the Bishop smile as the glittering scales shone out in the pan, one of them whispered to me: "It wouldn't do to disappoint the old man, so we've just 'salted' it a bit!" Needless to say, I didn't give them away.

Then we went to Ross by a new route, worth seeing. Into the southern side of the river Hokitika, near the sea, flows a tributary stream from Lake Mahinapua, with a course of some eight miles. In most parts the water is deep, with very slight fall, winding its way through primæval forest, its banks fringed with luxuriant growth of fern and flax. Being entirely sheltered from wind, its surface is like a mirror, in which the reflection of fern and foliage is so vivid and clear-cut that, looking down, you might fancy yourself on your back, gazing up at a vista of forest into the blue sky above. I have never elsewhere seen anything to compare with it. We started early, a lovely morning, with my boat and man, the Bishop steering, and reached the lake, some miles in breadth, enclosed by wooded ranges which form the foreground of snowy mountains. It is here that I take my choir boys for an annual outing, and I doubt if any boys ever have a jollier time of it, in three boats, a long happy day, from early morning till late at night. At the further end of the lake a narrow stream leads to a landing, from whence some miles of road have been made to Ross.

An entertainment of welcome to the Bishop had page 167been arranged, and what with concert, speeches, and supper, we were not free to accept the hospitality of the Warden of the Goldfield till long after midnight. A Welshman with his harp played so well that he roused the enthusiasm of the audience, a pianist accompanying him, and to my astonishment he told me that he played entirely by ear. Just before the concert began the conductor came to me with a man who was to be the comic singer of the evening, well worth hearing. "I thought, Archdeacon, as the Bishop's here, you'd like to see the words of the song; will it do?" "Well," I said, "Very well, but I think he had better omit that verse." "Now mind, Jack," he said, "you drop that verse about Cain and Abel."

Ross by night is as full of work as by day, the deep sinking claims being worked by shifts all through the twenty-four hours, the whole place lit up with flare lamps, and the rattle of the engines never ceases.

The work here, owing to the nature of the ground is dangerous; accidents are frequent, two having lately occurred of such a strange kind that you may like to have some account of them.

In the upper part of the valley which forms the principal field, the gold lies at no great depth and, instead of sinking shafts, a considerable excavation is made, called a paddock, stones and soil being hauled up to the surface, until the wash-dirt is laid bare, leaving a wide shallow pit, with steep sides, and a quantity of stuff in heaps about the edges. In one of these places a party of men were at work, all of whom at the dinner hour had come up to go to their homes, except one who remained below to fix some timber work. Suddenly a slip took place in one of the heaps page 168of dirt above, and a small avalanche of loose stones came down with a run, right upon him as he stood in an angle of the paddock. Caught by the feet, and held fast by the stones which poured upon him until they almost covered his head, he must have perished, had not one of his mates providentially returned, having noticed the fall of the stuff. With great care they succeeded in extricating him, no bones broken, but the life nearly crushed out of him. He is slowly recovering.

The other case is even more extraordinary. Near the shafts of deep-sinking claims there are usually heaps of dry tailings which have been hauled up from below. Some times a shaft is deserted, its mouth covered with thick wooden slabs. In this case a heap of tailings had accumulated on the top of the slabs, and a miner, finding it a nice dry place, built his one-roomed hut thereon, using the stones as its floor, over which he laid some loose boards. Returned from the work of the afternoon shift, he was busy with his frying-pan, preparing supper, when suddenly he felt the floor beneath him collapse; the slabs had given way, and the mass of tailings upon them poured down the shaft. He was sucked down with them, the shaft being completely filled up. The accident was seen, and men flocked to the rescue. Apparently there was no hope for the unfortunate man, but miners never lose a chance of helping their mates and, like sailors, are full of resource. All that evening, and well into the night, they worked in relays, hauling up the dry stones, and at last, some fifty feet below, came upon an entrance to a drive, and there found the man, who had been shot into it, bruised, but little injured, sufficient air penetrating through the loose stones to page break
West Coast Road.

West Coast Road.

page 169enable him to breathe. In his sudden descent he had clutched at the blanket on his bunk, and they found him with it, and the frying-pan, which he had also stuck to, little the worse for his marvellous adventure.

Nothing can exceed the self-sacrificing efforts of these miners hi attempting rescue, nor do they ever seem to look for applause or reward, taking it all in the day's work. My own experience is that I could never wish for a finer lot of men to work amongst, and wherever I go in future I shall never regret these days spent among them.

On our return journey heavy rain set in, and our passage across the lake and river was rough. It did not matter so much to me and my boatman, as, although completely drenched, we had a two hours' row, which kept us warm, but the Bishop in the stern sheets fared badly, and was laid up for some days with a severe cold. He is wonderfully vigorous for his age, and with his cheerful temperament makes light of hardships which would disconcert many a younger man.

I remember hearing the driver of the overland coach speaking of him, as he was returning to Christchurch after one of his visits to Westland. Shepherd was a character, a New Jersey American, a splendid whip, a man of very few words, but much to the point. "When we reached the Otira Pass, Archdeacon, I had the Bishop with me, and several young men, two of them globe-trotters, who had been talking big of what they could do; snow began to fall, and was drifting in places atop of the pass, the horses getting their feet balled. Says the Bishop, 'Mr. Shepherd, I'm going to walk, to save the horses till we get out of these drifts,' and he gets down and plods on in fine page 170style; so I says to the young fellows, 'Ain't you going to walk too? 'Not a bit of it' says they, 'we've paid our fare to be carried'; so I just let out a little, and they gets out and follows the Bishop. In a mile or two they come back and says they're dead beat and can't walk further. I says to them: 'Look at the old man there, old enough to be your grandfather, ain't you ashamed of yourselves?' So they walked on till we came to the downhill grade, and when the Bishop come back to get up again on to the coach, he says, as mild as you please, 'I'm all the better for the walk, Shepherd, 'and he goes and pats the horses, and, turning round to the young chaps, says, 'We always try to save the horses as much as we can on this pass; didn't you enjoy your walk?' The Bishop's the man for me, Archdeacon, there ain't a man on the Coast as doesn't respect him. I hope he didn't hear what I said to the young fellows, but I think he guessed it."

I have been thinking lately of the difference between my work here and yours, or that of any hard-worked man in a town parish at home. One is sometimes tempted to compare the life at home, in touch with all that modern civilization can give, and the life here, to its disadvantage. Now and then Home-sickness is strong, and life here seems like exile. The monthly mail, letters, papers, magazines, are like messengers from another world. "Got your mail? "said a friend to me the other day. "Look at mine, such a pile! Oh yes, my work is here," said he, "but I 'live' the other side of the world." And then, with Robinson Crusoe, I cast up a credit and debit account: a primitive life; few refinements of society; one's talk chiefly of gold and dirt; new rushes, quartz and page 171flumes, saw-mills and bush work; children growing up who have never seen growing corn, or even a green field, whose horizon is bounded on the east by un-trodden forest, and above it the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps, on the west by the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean; with this the daily "small-beer," palatable, but scarcely exhilarating, of domestic story, trivial pleasures, inevitable troubles; life lived in primitive wooden houses and tents, with its daily round and common task.

Then, per contra, climate, general character of the people, food, water, work, blessed work, all of the best; no grinding poverty, slums, or submerged classes; no social envyings; almost no crime; some sickness and poor health, but a mere nothing as compared with the record of an old country; a community young and hopeful, and a life in which, barring accident and misfortune, anyone may rise, and hope to see Ms children rise higher than himself. The credit side tots up bravely as one makes these entries. Then afterwards I go for a long tramp, and think of the parson's round in the mean streets of East London, or even the lanes of a country parish, and am well content.

Imagine the contrast. Along the beach for a mile or so, then up a forest track inland, some deep gullies to be crossed by means of a tree trunk, fallen, and adzed to a flat foothold, over which, I own, I often sit, and straddle my way to the other side. Then down into a valley where men are washing down a cliff side with a powerful jet of water, and an invitation from one of them, when they knock off work, to come to his house for tea. In this case my host is an elderly man, with stalwart sons, well to do, and generally page 172held to be a "warm" man, with money laid by. He was a sailor, who, with his wife and children, emigrated to the Australian Goldfields, and from thence found his way to New Zealand. His homely wife had an excellent meal ready, and, says my host, "I don't hold with strong drink, but nothing but tea isn't good," and then, from under a settee, he produced some bottled porter. "And now I've some thing to show you; my Father was in the Navy, and collected things." Amongst these he produced a very fine miniature on ivory of Oliver Cromwell, which he said belonged to his Grandfather; it had also the well-known wart that appears in contemporary pictures of Cromwell. As he was thinking of a holiday trip to England, leaving his boys to work the claim, I advised him to take the miniature, and get an expert opinion of it. Well, thought I, as I walked homeward, that's an experience one would scarcely expect to meet in a digger's hut. My host had given me a miner's lantern, much needed in this forest country at night, where the tall trees shut out even the moonlight. It is made of a clear glass bottle, the bottom of which is cut off by means of a worsted thread, soaked in paraffin oil, tied round it, and set alight. In the neck of the bottle, inside, a piece of candle is lit, the bottle carried by its neck upright, and, provided there is no ram, no lantern is more effective, and, if needs be, it can be stuck upright by the neck in the ground.

It is interesting in the dark nights to see, here and there, by the side of the tracks, under tree roots, and in damp soil, brilliant little lights, which have been often taken for glow-worms, but which are phosphorescent wood in a state of decay, giving out quite a strong illumination. In the open glades a full moon page 173just topped the pine trees, leaving all else in dense shadow. Here hi this country, where animal life scarcely exists of any native sort, no sounds at night strike the ear, no rustling of rabbit or hare, or fox, or, indeed, any small creature; all is silence, save the occasional dropping of twig or leaf, the murmur of running streams, and sometimes the hooting of a native owl, "Morepork" by name, which exactly reproduces the shrill far-reaching sound of its cry.

The next morning came one of those clouds which darken the sunshine of the life of this vigorous young community. Summoned to the hospital, I crossed the river, and found a man brought in last night, evidently with but a few hours to live, a miner who had injured his spine by falling down a shaft. He was one of those men occasionally found here, roughly clad, handling pick and shovel, but unmistakably a gentleman. He was sensible, but very weak, and, noticing my prayerbook, said, "Don't, till I tell you; I've no right to listen to its words; you see what I am. Yes, well born, was in business in the city; wife and children; churchwarden; I embezzled money, had to disappear, and deserted them. They don't know where I am; came here, and worked hard, but daren't write, and now, … you will write, will you not?—my brothers—" I stayed with him a long time, and left, promising to return in the evening, and then found, on entering the ward, an empty bed, whilst the warder, for there are no women nurses in that ward, said: "The poor chap went off an hour or two ago. I think you may like to know, I was with him, and he died saying the Lord's Prayer." His mates came to the funeral, but none of them knew his story. Amongst these men true comradeship im-page 174plies no questions asked, no gossiping curiosity about their friend's past; they take a man as they find him.

I must not finish this letter without brief allusion to a session of General Synod in Dunedin, which I attended. At it for the first time the Bishop of Christchurch, H. J. C. Harper, presided as Primate of New Zealand. Dr. Cowie, who had succeeded Bishop Selwyn in the Diocese of Auckland, was present. As an army chaplain in India, he had been through the Mutiny, and the Afghan campaign. Two important measures were passed, one which provided for the due appointment of Bishops; the nomination of a Bishop to be made by one of the clergy and seconded by one of the lay representatives in Diocesan Synod; voting to be by ballot; an absolute majority of the votes of each order required for an election; an election to be confirmed by General Synod, or, if not in session, by the Standing Committees of the several Dioceses. The other measure dealt with modification of services. Synod affirmed the expediency of a certain discretion being exercised by the Bishops in sanctioning divisions and modifications of Prayerbook services as may be deemed necessary. This has given much satisfaction to the clergy and laity in New Zealand.

After the Session of General Synod, all necessary arrangements having been made for the separation of the Southern portion of the South Island from the Diocese of Christchurch, and the constitution of a separate Diocese of Dunedin, the appointment of Dr. S. T. Nevill was duly made, as first Bishop of Dunedin.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.