As in the previous letter, so in this
one, the reader will be struck by the comprehensive and intimate account
of the life of a young settlement in New Zealand as it appeared in 1850—In
the course of a few pages the writer sketches the town of Wellington, the
houses, hotels, shipping, harbour, and climate, as well as the country out
to Porirua and the Hutt, the prices of groceries, a Roman Catholic
funeral, the Scotch Church, a drowning accident, and an earthquake.
On board Poictiers,
Wellington Bay, 24th August, 1850.
Ten days ago I posted my
journal of the voyage, including a sheet for Andrew, together with a
letter for Mr. Paterson, Edinburgh, by a vessel going from this to Sydney
which we hope will go safe. Also posted several newspapers. We have been
disappointed at not getting an earlier opportunity of writing home.
It is three weeks yesterday
since coming into this port, but are now weighing anchor for Otago direct.
We are now very wearied of ship life, as also to get to our journey’s end.
Nevertheless, since coming to the shores of New Zealand our time has
passed by more agreeably in seeing new faces daily— not to mention plenty
of fresh beef and potatoes. As for myself, he has been on, shore for the
most part every day, where I never needed to pay for a meal neither in
town nor country, and never wanted my dinner. Got introduced to a good
many folks, and some of the principal merchants, some of whom kindly
offered to supply me with goods in Otago if I wished. Some of the houses
hold large stocks of goods of all kinds as agents, and the number of
retail shops is great; indeed every door is a shop of some kind for a mile
at least along the beach, yet all are making money. Some are wealthy who
began with little or nothing—numbers of them Scotchmen.
Wellington is a town of
considerable size, containing about 2,000 inhabitants scattered over
nearly two miles extent round the head of the bay, and has a commanding
appearance from the water. The houses are almost wholly of wood and only
one storey, or one and a half. Many of the villas around are very neat,
but the churches and barracks have the most prominent appearance. The
hotels are next and are very numerous for the place, who all pay £30 or
£40 yearly license, and some of them £200 to £300 yearly rent, yet some
have made little fortunes; but it is a trade not to be coveted from the
number of drunken sailors and soldiers constant customers, and I am told
that a great deal of gambling goes on during night by the townspeople. You
will observe from the papers that the shipping here is very considerable,
reminding us of Leith Roads. California is a new market opened up but
recently for Colonial produce, and not a few have emigrated to it. On
entering the heads from Cook Strait, called Port Nicholson, you come into
a large and spacious bay from 20 to 30 miles in circumference, more like a
lake than otherwise, surrounded by high hills all around with only one
entrance and that unseen from the anchorage ground. Here ships can ride in
perfect safety, although it sometimes blows very hard. Indeed, Wellington
is proverbial for wind, its position being in the mouth of the Straits is
like as in a funnel, and it catches it every way from the sea. By the way,
we caught it in right earnest that night before getting in here; it blew a
gale, rained in torrents, and mirk dark, and us locked in the Straits.
Every two hours had to shift stays; was once within ship’s length of the
rocks. Had we struck it would have been all up with us. It was the only
night on which we were afraid, but were mercifully preserved and got in
next morning in safety.
During my stay here I have
had two excursions to the country in company with a Mr. Marshall, a fellow
passenger. The first day we travelled 14 miles to a place called Poririe (Porirua).
The road was through a pass or glen all the way, more romantic and sublime
than anything I ever saw in Scotland. From the bottom of the glen to the
highest summit it was covered with wood. so thick and high that it must
have stood from the flood. Some trees I measured upwards of 30 feet in
circumference. Nevertheless we found people living here and there all
along the road, and several acres cut down. We stopped all night in a Mr.
Brown’s—brother-in-law to Marshall—where we were hospitably entertained.
That is Colonial—abundance to eat and drink.
Another day we went as far
another way to the valley of the Hutt, where we crossed a river in a
native canoe at 6d. each; stayed another night in a bush house with a Mr.
Sinclair, once the head waiter in the Waterloo, Edinburgh. Came here with
a few pounds has now 100 acres of land and plenty of cattle. Everybody
here who seems willing to work gets on well, though in a rough way. Even
steady labourers get good encouragement. Marshall and his wife, newly
married when leaving England, have got engaged at £40 per annum with both
their keep in the house. Another man and wife got a place both to serve at
£50 per annum; £25 to £30 is a common price for a single man, as
stock-keeper or shepherd, but servant maids are most in demand here from
5s. to 7s. per week and board is a common rate; and young chaps like our
boys from 6s. to 10s. per week. I could have sold my herrings here at a
still higher price, especially the reds. Some come here from London in
tins and sell at 3s. to 4s. per dozen. Stoneware is sold in retail at 6d.
for every common article—jug, bowl ; cup and saucer, 1s. I hope there will
be some by the Mariner for me at Otago. Although the retail price
of groceries seems high from the papers, yet you can buy very cheap at the
wholesale stores taking a quantity, viz., tea in a small box at 1s. 6d.;
sugar at 3d. to 4d. in bags; soap at 3 1/2d. in a box, etc., etc., which
is the best way to lay in for a family, of which I have been enabled to do
so here from the proceeds of odds and ends sold at Nelson, etc. (besides
the herring money). I have everything to keep us for nearly six months to
The Roman Catholics have a
firm hold here; they have already one good chapel and are building
another, called a cathedral. Saw the funeral of Captain O’Connell, nephew
of the late Daniel’s. It was done in all the pomp of Romanism, the priests
walking in the procession with their white robes, carrying their prayer
books and candles, and went through some ceremony at the grave and prayers
in Latin. Burnt incense and sprinkled the coffin. The soldiers fired three
rounds of cartridge. The priests are a Jesuitical looking set of men. The
ceremony occupied from 9 a.m. to 1 o’clock. The Sabbath upon the whole was
outwardly tolerably well kept, but religion upon the whole is very formal;
still I met with some good people. The Scotch church is well filled,
though small; is made up of Moderates and Free and other dissenters. They
would have preferred a Free Church minister to Mr. Kirkton, but he
preaches better than I expected. Heard him three Sabbaths. He was very
kind to us, and so were several other Scotch families.
There was a melancholy
accident happened when laying in Wellington. The upsetting of the canoe a
few miles from Wellington when crossing a small bay by a gust of wind; it
contained two Messrs. Drummond and one of their sons and a native, all of
whom were drowned, and that in sight of several on shore. One of them was
a son of Mr. Drummond, banker, Coupar, Fife. The Messrs. D. were both much
regretted. The minister said on Sabbath there were more deaths by accident
in this country than otherwise. There was one slight shock of earthquake
when we were laying at anchor, but it being in the night time I did not
feel it, although several in the ship did, as well as those on shore; but
the people are so used to them now that they do not mind them much. Was
told that the great earthquake did the town a deal of good—it set so many
to work rebuilding churches, warehouses, etc., but now mostly all of wood.