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The Counterfeit Seal: A Tale of Otago's First Settlers.

Chapter VI. — The Emigrants Farewell

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Chapter VI.
The Emigrants Farewell.

Farewell to the land where our fathers are sleeping;
The glens and the mountains so famous in song:
The land where our heroes set foe lands a weeping;
Where Virtue with Justice and Peace march along.
Farewell placid lakes and fast-flowing rivers;
Farewell, bonnie lasses, with love-lit blue eyes;
Farewell stately homes of the bounteous givers;
Farewell thou sweet land of the good and the wise!

The time passed quickly, while the intending emigrants were preparing for embarkation. Spring had repined into Summer, and Summer had declined into Autumn, and now through many towns of Scotland it had become known that two ships were preparing to sail for a country directly at the Antipodes of Britain47, bearing with them between three and four hundred men and women who had resolved to brave all the dangers of the ocean, and inconveniences of pioneers to a new colony.

One ship was loading her cargo at Glasgow, where the passengers were to be also received, and the other was lying at London for the same purposes. Captain Cargill, the Patriarch of the Colony, was to sail in the latter; while the Rev. Mr. Burns was to go in the former.

Eric had now completed his engagement with Mr. Archie Rabb, and was devoting his time to various details for the comfort of the voyage. He had obtained an interview with the Patriarch, and several times had had long chats page 55 with Mr. Burns—both of whom were strongly prepossessed in his favour, and gave him good advice what to provide—both for use on board the ship and after their arrival. He made a note of all, and was diligent in attending to it. To this thoughtfulness and care, many besides his own family had cause to be thankful during the weary time spent on the sea.

Mr. Thomson, sen., thought it wise not to give up his employment until within a week of their departure, being able to consult with Eric nightly on the progress he was making. The women of the family occupied every spare hour of the last two months in sewing, knitting, and other methods of providing things necessary and useful for the immediate future.

Each member of that family gave evidence before they were on board the good ship “Philip Laing48” of their special fitness for the responsibilities of pioneers; and not a family went on board better, if indeed, so well provided with all sorts of articles calculated to blunt the keen edge of trials, and to increase the joys of pleasure.

Among the names of those who were registered as “accepted” applicants for passage accommodation was James Carmichael49, the young man whom Eric had taunted his sister Mary about, when she had teased him for being put out through not having met Kirsty as usual.

James was a decent lad, whose parents were of respectable stock and good character, though, like many others, struggling bravely to bring up their family in virtue and thrift. When James came to know that the Thomsons were bound for New Zealand, his heart was sore over the unhappy prospect of having to bid a sad and hopeless good-bye to his lass, Mary.

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Brooding over matters, he resolved to make an effort to accompany the colonists. His only trouble was how to broach it to his parents, and not seem to be regardless of their happiness, for he knew that, little as he was able to earn, they considered his wages a help of some importance. However he managed to speak, with the ultimate result that he gained permission to seek his passage in the ship his acquaintances were to sail in.

To this there were objections raised where he did not expect to meet any. The Association was not prepared to undertake the responsibility of sending “boys” out to the settlement who were not accompanied by either parents or guardians.

Thrown back in his designs, James was for a few days in a state of hopeless despondency when he chanced to meet Eric, by whose advice he was taken under the guardianship of Mr. Thomson, and so became identified more closely with their interests, to which in after days he proved himself faithful.

Eric had abundant leisure, and naturally was more frequently in the company of his love, and their time together was mostly spent in pleasant rambles, during which they had talked over the future, and had come to understand each other perfectly in reference to what they expected of each other. No man under the circumstances could have felt more happy than he did, and no girl could have felt more contented and even satisfied with her prospects than Kirsty Knox, and she often expressed her girlish confidence in the happy days in store for them.

Not infrequently they were joined in their walks by David Moir, who, notwithstanding that Eric and Kirsty page 57 were acknowledged as engaged to each other by all who knew them, Moir seemed to consider his presence neither imprudent nor undesired. They were all three, it is true, acquaintances since their school days; they all went to the same church, and their parents were on the most intimate social terms, and Eric thought that nothing but generous friendship prompted David to make a trio in many of their evening rambles among the prettiest parts of Edinburgh. Just occasionally he thought that David might have been a little less attentive to Kirsty, but as everything he did was performed with grace and good manners, he could find no direct cause for offence; and so satisfied was he of Kirsty's honest, faithful heart, that it required more than he had yet seen to awaken the spirit of jealousy within him.

Moir was not insensible of the cause he was giving Eric to feel that there might be other objects in his mind than friendship in his conduct, and to blind him to any fear of rivalry he professed deep interest in his welfare, and gave him some very acceptable presents to be kept as mementos of their long years of fellowship when they should be separated by half the circumference of the globe.

On one of these quiet walks, during which Moir had suddenly and unaccountably joined them in a place where they least of all expected to see his face, they chanced to encounter Eric's father on his way home from his daily occupation. Of course the greeting was by all most cordial. David had a genial way of making himself agreeable, and by a very few sentences could allay any aversion to his company, or make his companions feel that his conversational ability made up for any disadvantage his presence might otherwise occasion.

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The more experienced eyes of Mr. Thomson observed one or two trifles which, perhaps owing to love-blindness, Eric took no notice of, and that night when he and Eric were sitting quietly together, the women folk being all engaged in the kitchen, and the other two lads out for a stroll, he said:

“How do you come to have David Moir with you when you go out with Kirsty, Eric?”

“He just happened to meet us about half an hour before we saw you, and we were walking home together,” answered Eric, apparently quite unconcerned.

“I should say it's not the first time he has just ‘happened’ to meet you two in the same way.”

“Well, no; but what of that, father? you know we were lads together, at the same class in school, and the like.”

“What of that? Oh, not much so long as you are pleased, but when I was in your position, lad, an accidental meeting and a few paces together in a friendly way might have been endured, but the behaviour of yon lad would have angered me.”

“Oh, father, you know how kind he has been to me ever since he knew I was going away—what nice things he has given me, as well as to Betty.”

“It's your own business, Eric, not mine, still I would be sorry to see you have cause to rue his acquaintance.”

“There need be little reason to fear anything of that sort. Still I would much rather not have his company, but I cannot tell him so.”

“But if you do not tell him in words, show him by your actions that ‘two are company, three none.’ It's not page 59 fair to Kirsty for you to indulge him as you are doing in her presence. Believe me or not, he has some design in so often encountering you two, and if you would be faithful to your promise, and save her as far as you can from the influence of a rival, you will be very plain with him should he ever cross your path like that again.”

Eric's reply was interrupted by the entrance of some other members of the family, but his mind was not easy. He had a great respect for his father's penetration, and knew that he would never have suggested such a thing without very good reason for it.

It was a new view of things to him. He hoped his father might be mistaken. Could it be possible that David Moir was seeking in that way to find a passage to the affections of Miss Knox? Surely that could not be the true aspect of his actions! David Moir playing the double part of friend and traitor! True enough, he had never until within the last few months been considered Eric's friend. Not until they had met at Knox's on that night when it was decided he should proceed to New Zealand alone had Moir ever in any sense been more than a mere acquaintance. There might be something in what his father had said after all.

It was long after midnight when Eric fell asleep, but before he did so he had come to the conclusion that no matter what happened Kirsty would be true, and he would depend on her constancy in spite of all the powers of David Moir or any other to win her from him.

According to their custom, the lovers had arranged their next walk should be the Leithside50, among the charming villas which stand in lovely situations in its vicinity, page 60 as it passes on towards the historic harbour of the famous capital. Moir had heard them arrange their plan, and Eric remembered this fact, and determined to change his tactics. And instead they went in the opposite direction, and soon found themselves passing the pleasant homes of many of Edinburgh's prosperous merchants, professors, doctors, and others, who were looked upon as “Society” in the metropolis of the Scots.

It was now drawing very near the time for their separation. One week more and the “Philip Laing” would be sailing down the Clyde51 outward bound for New Zealand, and as Eric's heart was ill at case from his father's warning, he determined to be plain and confidential—as indeed he should be with his betrothed.

“Is it not strange,” he said, “that David Moir has met us so often lately?”

“Not very strange,” she answered; “he just happened to be where we were: if he had not we would not have seen him.”

“He has been very friendly with me ever since he knew I was going away.”

“Yes, I have noticed that.”

“He and I were never great friends before. You remember, at school we were on opposite sides.”

“He has likely forgotten all that now: or, if he has not, he wants to prove his goodwill before you leave.”

“Well, I would prefer he should not be so very demonstrative at inconvenient moments. When I come out with you, love, I desire no company but yours, seeing especially that there are so few days now left for us to spend a little while with each other. I want to have only you to speak to, and no one to meddle with us.”

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“Have you not had enough of me lately, Eric?”

“Life itself, Kirsty, will be too short to have enough of you in. I am afraid of myself for the days I must be away from you. These happy wanderings will be a sweet remembrance, and the looking for their return will be as a morning star of hope to my soul.”

“Why, Eric, you will have many other things to take up your mind with when you reach your paradise in Otago. From morning until night you will be so full of work and the prospects of getting on in the world that you will just find short, odd moments to send your thoughts back across the sea to ‘Scotland and me.’”

“That speech is not from your heart, Kirsty; I know it came no farther than from the teeth. When I'm away, Kirsty, will you think so little of me as those words pretend you imagine I will think of you.”

“Eric, you press me hard with that question. We women are supposed to keep our thoughts to ourselves—to think and dream, to hope and pray, and at the same time hold a mantle over our minds that others may be unable to observe us, even if we grow so weary as to have sore hearts with struggling to preserve our confidence, while others suggest a loss of fidelity in those we love.”

“May you ever be preserved from such a state of mind, my own sweet one; I will at least never give occasion for it. I will think of how I should feel were your conduct—but, Kirsty, forgive the bare mention of it by way of illustration—to give me the least suspicion of your loss of confidence in me. I'll not believe it, but oh! if only the fear of it were suggested, I would not be able to rest, and page 62 yet I would never credit such a story. As I see the dismalness of the picture, God forbid that I may give the least colour of cause for it to be yours.”

“It is a pity we have spoken of the mere possibility of ever doubting each other. There will be plenty time for others to make those suggestions.”

“No, no, Kirsty; we have in the past avoided looking on the cloudy side of the life just before us. Now that the dismal bank of possible trouble is before our eyes, we can speak of it calmly, and if it should from any reason be thrust up before us by the doings of others, we will know that we have together arranged how it is to be baffled; for in my confidence in you I will remain happy, and strive with all the vigour I possess to hasten the day which is to end our separation, and in your confidence in my fidelity you will be able to live on until the happy sun shall rise on our united hopes.”

As he spoke he stooped and plucked from the bank of the stream which gurgled past them, a beautiful blue bell52 and handed it to her.

She gazed at it for a moment or two, then stuck it in her bosom, and reaching down she pulled a sprig of sorrel53 from a shady spot, and turning to him put it in his buttonhole, and said:

“Keep that as my answer.”

All the packing was completed; the boxes “not wanted on the voyage” were all labelled and sent off to the ship at Glasgow, and the family were to start in the morning. Their last night in Edinburgh had come; their house was empty, and they had invitations from various friends to spend the night with them.

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Mr. and Mrs. Knox had prepared a farewell party, to which their most intimate acquaintances were asked. Among those present were Mr. Wishart54, their minister, and his wife, and three elders of the church.

When they were all assembled in the largest room in Mr. Knox's house to the number of about twenty-live the host rose and delivered the following speech:—

“We are about to bid farewell to one of the staunchest members and officers of our church. Mr. Thomson has been true to our free church reform ever since it was first taken in hand. All of us here have had the honour of his personal friendship these fifteen, and some of us these twenty-five, years, and more, and for all that time we have witnessed his consistent Christian character and conversation, and I feel proud to have him under my roof the last night he is to stay in Edinburgh. But at the same time I am very sorry to see our old friend taking his departure from a country I think he should never leave. While I wish him and all his family God's blessing wherever he may be, I am constrained to say freely before his face, as I have said often where he was not present, I think he is making a great mistake to quit the country of his birth, the land of a glorious past, and destined to have a yet more glorious future. However, I hope and trust that he may do well where he is going, and if he is spared to come back again I can assure him that in me, his old friend Knox, he will ever find a warm heart.”

He then signalled to the minister to say something, and the Rev. G. Wishart said:

“My dear friends it is never pleasant to say good-bye to an old and respected friend, more especially is that the page 64 case in circumstances such as those which have brought us together to-night, when in saying farewell it means that we shall never meet those we say it to on this side of the grave. My best wishes go with him, and my prayer is God bless him and his whole family in time and eternity.

“Mr. Thomson and his good wife have been exemplary members of the church, and their family promise well to follow in their steps. I regret when such a family as this is called away from our midst. We will not only miss their faces in the church on the Sabbath, where they have been as regular in their attendance as the first day of the week has been in its return—it is many a long day since I noticed the seat of any one of the family vacant—but we will miss them in their influence in everything connected with our church and their influence on ourselves, for I am free to admit, indeed, I would be saying less than the truth if I did not assert that such a family cannot live amongst us without affecting those who know them, and that power must be for good, and I would be blind to my interest in our church if I did not recognise the gap such a removal must leave.

“Of the wisdom of their going, I am not competent to judge. If they are going at the call of Providence, then there is a Divine guidance in the matter, and the blessing of the Almighty will go with them. That the hand of God is in this movement I would fain believe, for no other power could induce so many devout men who are well known for their God-fearing character in the Free Church of Scotland, to become so deeply interested in bringing this colonising scheme to a successful issue.

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“I am also satisfied that no other settlement of people under the British flag was ever projected on wiser, or even on such wise and godly lines as this one under the banner of the Free Church Association. Religious matters, and schooling for the children are well provided for, and if those who take up their dwellings under such favourable circumstances in that respect, are true to themselves there can be no doubt of the result being to the glory of God, and the welfare of man.

“And now, in saying good-bye to our friends, let me close my remarks in these words: ‘Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen55.’”

Mr. Thomson made a suitable reply thanking them for all the kind things they had said. He was full of confidence in the wisdom of the course he was taking. He expected to have some hardships to contend against, but he was prepared to work. He had not lost all his vigour; having been used to outdoor work all his life, he was not afraid of a few years more, even in a strange land. Now that his family were all growing up, he was pleased that such a chance had opened out for them. They would yet hear from them such news as would prove the wisdom of his words. He was only sorry that some friends with families very similar to his could not be prevailed upon to join them in taking possession of a new country in the name of their church and country.

They then sang the second paraphrase56, and after Mr. Wishart had offered up an earnest prayer for the protection page 66 of Divine Providence over the friends then leaving them on a perilous journey, the company separated, with many expressions of goodwill.

The last to part that night were Eric and Kirsty. The next sunrise would be the last they should both witness in Edinburgh, the city of their birth, for many a weary day, perhaps for ever. They would then, it was true, be able to bid each other their last good-bye, but it would be necessarily in the presence of others, where the most proper behaviour would be called for. This was the last hour in which they could whisper in each other's ears love's sweet hopes and confidences, and yet, strange to say, they had little to speak of they had not said before. But the pain of parting grew more keen as the minutes flew away.

They had never until now realised what it meant to utter such a good-bye. Never before had they, for nearly three years, been more than one short week without being able to speak together for a little while. Now an indefinite period of weeks, months—perhaps years—must pass ere they should see each other's faces, and grasp each other's hands in the warmth of blissful affection. This great gulf of time was just within view; it presented to them a gloomy vista; it was peopled with phantoms, some hideous, some grotesque, others shapeless and monstrous; and they must pass by them, live among them, and mayhap57 contend with them, all single-handed; and as they contemplated the vague uncertainty of the future, each thought more of the other's dangers and struggles than their own.

Several times they resolved to part, and when the words of loving farewell were partly spoken they faded into silence, and their arms held them closer than before, as if to page 67 separate were the most difficult of all operations. There was an agony of rapture in their clasp; Kirsty was a strong-hearted girl, but she never knew how thoroughly the strength of her heart had run its tendrils into the affection of her lover. She knew from what she had read of others that a lover's parting was a sore wrench; but now she was experiencing how much moral power was required to give the last kind word, the last loving glance of the eye, and submit to the last kiss of love, for a long, dull period of indefinite duration.

Nor did Eric know, when he promised to leave his love behind, until he should go out into the unknown world and make a home for her, what that promise would cost him before he had begun his journey. Now he was feeling how realistic are the lines of Burns—

Wi' monie a vow and locke'd embrace,
Our parting was fu' tender,
And pledging oft to meet again,
We tore oursels asunder.58

Modesty and self-respect, however, demanded that Kirsty should return within her mother's door, and as far as possible assume an air of unconcern. Eric led her to the step, and there putting a little “keepsake” in her hand, he said:

“You are cold, my love, and your mother is wondering where we have gone; many a time we have parted here, but never before as we must part now. Take this little remembrancer59; it is only a locket, in which I have placed our miniature pictures, and, if you will, wear it for my sake. Now, I must go. Try, my dear, to feel that my heart is true, and my love for you as unchangeable as the page 68 granite rocks in the mountains. I shall write to you by every opportunity, and trust I may expect you to do the same to me.”

“I have also a little thing for you here, Eric. It is a little pebble seal, with a rose engraved in it; hang it to your watch chain for me, and when you write to me seal your letters with it so long as your love is as warm as it is to-night; when you cease to use it I will know the meaning.”

“But if by some cruel fate I should lose it? If I meet with a misfortune which deprives me of it you must temper your judgment accordingly.”

“Eric, while you are away I shall wear your locket with our pictures; I shall preserve it as I would preserve my heart. I expect you will never lose that little seal, unless your heart ceases to value it.”

“Then let us close our bargain; but, remember, yours is voluntary, mine is imposed. If I lose this keepsake I lose you—is that what you mean?”

“Oh, Eric, no—not that! But as you would not lose me, so would I that you lose not that little gift.”

“You do not mean, then, that if by some cause over which I cannot exercise control I should lose this carved pebble I need no longer look for your love.”

“Your care over that piece of cut stone, Eric, will be merely a representation of your care of her who gave it. I should have cause to fear if you carelessly lost the last little gift from me.”

“Life, then, my love, shall not be preserved with more solicitude, unless it is removed from me by fraud.”

“Let me tell you, Eric, before you get possession of it, that I have a private mark upon it, which will be seen page 69 on every Impression it makes, yet no one but myself and the one who cut it would recognise it; so that if you should use another I will know it.” And with those words she slipped it into his hand. As she did so he grasped her hand gracefully, and, bending over it, imprinted upon it a gentle kiss in token of his acceptance of the conditions.

Then raising his head, their young arms encircled each other for the last time for unknown months, and, with hearts too full to permit of speech, they held themselves together a minute, then relaxed, parted—she to return to the shelter and security of her home, he to retire to face the world and battle for fortune, each one of them to enjoy and suffer: as only those who love, but cannot commune, can experience those sensations of exquisite pleasure or pain.

Thus closed the 25th of November, 1847; and on the 27th the gallant ship “Philip Laing” was ready at Greenock, having received her precious freight of 236 pioneers60, to start upon her voyage, so fraught with importance, not only to those on board, but to future history and generations for centuries to follow.

How characteristic of the people was the last event which took place on the deck of that ship just before her “lines were let go,” and she moved away from the land of heroic adherence to the God of their “national covenant.”

It was before the days when everything was done by hurry-skurry, push, and passion. Fifty years ago men had time even outside their own homes, or of the church, to think of the omniscience and omnipresence of One who rules over all, and even ships were constrained to wait for Him. Men and women, youths and children, were page 70 assembled on the broad expanse of the vessel's deck, and there several ministers of the church they loved so well spoke to them words of generous sympathy and good advice, reminding them in stirring language of their duty to one another, their country, and their God; and, lastly, in sincere and devout prayer, some of those men, who so recently had proved by an enormous personal sacrifice how thorough was their confidence in the power of Divine Providence, commended the pioneer settlers of Otago to Him who rules over sea and land. Then, wishing them all an affectionate farewell, they stepped ashore, and the ship was released from her moorings, while handkerchiefs waved and fond good-byes were called amid tears and the strange feelings of such a parting.

The same day the “John Wickliffe” sailed from London with 90 English emigrants61 for the same port.

47 Places on the surfaces of the earth directly opposite to each other, especially the region directly opposite to one's own.

48 The Philip Laing and the John Wickliffe were the first immigrant ships to set sail for Otago, departing from Greenock, Scotland and London on the 27rd and 24th of November, 1847, respectively. Captain Cargill and the Rev. Burns accompanied these pioneering ships to New Zealand.

49 A James “Jimmy” Carmichael arrived in Otago, New Zealand onboard the Pladda ship in 1861; he purchased Emmerton and Co.’s Express line of Royal Mail Coaches in December, 1865 – becoming well-known for his efficient operation – before being bought out by Cobb and Co. several months later.

50 Leith was known as the Port of Edinburgh, and was the hub of the shipbuilding industry during the 19th century. It was officially merged with the city of Edinburgh in 1920.

51 A 170-km long river in Scotland, which discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.

52 Also known as the harebell, the bluebell of Scotland is a plant with delicate blue bell-like flowers.

53 A common wild species of plant, usually with small white flowers.

54 A possible reference to George Wishart (1513 – 1546), who was an early martyr of the Reformation in Scotland. His death was one of the catalysts leading to the victory of Protestantism in Scotland.

55 The Bible: King James Version with Apocrypha, 2 Cor. 13. 11-14.

56 Most probably the second paraphrase of the Scottish Psalter: “O God of Bethel! by whose hand thy people still are fed…” (Porter, MacDonald and MacDonald, 56).

57 Perhaps, possibly.

58 “Highland Mary,” Robert Burns.

59 Something that serves to remind a person; a reminder; a memento, souvenir.

60 The Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand has it recorded that 247 Scottish emigrants sailed on the Philip Laing.

61 The Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand has it recorded that 97 Scottish emigrants sailed on the John Wickliffe.