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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part I - The Journal of George Hepburn, 1850 - Chapter IX


This Chapter, a letter to his brother Andrew, describes in vivid and interesting detail the settlements of New Plymouth and Nelson— The keen eye of the merchant takes note of the retail prices charged by the grocers, and he is at once busy buying and selling—But his other main interests (the Church and Sunday School) also occupy a prominent place in his observations—He is impressed by the Colonial hospitality so freely extended to them.

On board the Poictiers, Monday, July 8th, 1850.

By the good providence of God we have at length been brought to the shores of New Zealand. On Sabbath, June 30th, we cast anchor in New Plymouth roadstead, exactly 18 weeks from the Isle of Wight in the English Channel.

Independent of the journal which I have written during the voyage, meant for the perusal of all concerned, I mean now to write you an account of the different settlements that we stop at. It being Sabbath morning, as I said, only one boat came off to us all that day, bringing the resident agent, who stopped only a short time, taking with him on shore the captain and surgeon and mail boxes. The captain and surgeon returned on board in the evening with some fresh provisions.

On Monday William and I went on shore with the first boatful of luggage—a distance of nearly three miles, pulling against a strong head wind—and were landed just on the beach and carried ashore on men’s backs in the old Kircaldy style. They have no other way of landing here, either for goods or gear, having neither harbour nor jetty. Five shillings is charged for each person going on shore and returning—not settlers—being desirous to see the land, as well as put our foot again on terra firma. We paid the expense, and well we were repaid our trouble, for it blew hard all that night and all next day, so that we did not get back to the ship until Wednesday, after which, however, we have had very fine weather, like midsummer.

The town of New Plymouth lies close to the shore, surrounded by several villas and gardens, mostly whitewashed, which have a fine appearance from the sea. The most prominent house is the English Church, a large stone building, besides which there are other three places of worship—the Methodist, Wesleyan, and Independent—with both day and Sabbath schools, besides a Maori mission house built on a rising ground about one mile out of town, and has fine appearance from the sea. They have a missionary of their own and schools. They, the natives, are very strict in their observance of the Sabbath; will not carry a parcel nor go a message for anyone on that day, in proof of which you scarcely saw any person on shore on Sabbath; indeed we wondered what had become of the people even to look at our big ship, which they only see one of in four months. Such would not have been the case, I fear, on our own native shore. The town and surrounding country contain about 1,200 inhabitants, a good proportion of which are natives who still wear the blanket hung loose about the shoulders, the body being naked. Some have a small shirt under, and some have a mat above the blanket. They seem very fond to see newcomers, laugh heartily, and shake hands with you. A good few of the old ones are still tattooed and look rather fierce like, but are very kind and gentle. The settlers say they have no fear of them by night or day; are very fond of tobacco or a shilling or a sovereign. Some of them have good horses and good bullocks which they hire out.

There is a brewery, three flour mills, two good inns, four large stores, two good bakers’ shops, and two surgeons; altogether it is a thriving looking place, and the people both kind and hospitable, and from partiality in favour of their own settlement were desirous that we should go no further, saying theirs was the best ; indeed it is set down as the garden of New Zealand. The ground is clear or fern land for three or four miles back, after which it appears to be the bush or a forest of wood as far as the eye can reach. Mount Egmont stands to the south-east of the town, raising its lofty summit 9,600 feet above the level of the sea, covered with snow a third way down, then heavy wood. One would suppose it only six or seven miles off, but we were told it is 20 miles to it, but unapproachable from the forest and steepness. I called on two of the storekeepers who had well-filled shops of general merchandise. Retail prices of some articles were, viz., tea, 3s. per pound; sugar, 5d. and 6d.; loaf, do.; coffee, 1s. 6d. to 1s. 8d.; soap, 6d.; candles, 8d.; mould, 10d.; oil, 3s. per gallon; bread, 6d. 41b. loaf; beef, 6d.; and mutton, 3d.; good pork, 3d., of which I bought one jigot of ham, 17lbs. for 4s. 3d.; flour at the mill, 13s. per cwt., bag included, of which I bought 1cwt., it being so fine; fowls, 1s. 6d. per pair. I sold the remains of my red herrings at 1s. 6d. per dozen and wanted more; sold also three half barrels of salt ones at 20s. each. Might have got 25s., but the captain had sent ashore six or seven half barrels at 20s. The pilot on board said he would not be afraid at 20s. per barrel. He bought my spyglass for £2.

Shortly after landing, William and I, in company with a Mr. Cullen and a William Smith, fellow passengers who went on shore with us to enquire for a friend who lives in the country, set out together in search of him. After travelling four or five miles over fern land, we came to a public house or inn, where we all dined on ham and egg, bread and sweet butter for 6d. each, and good strong beer at 8d. per quart. Mr. Cullen proceeded on one and a half miles further into the bush to see his friend (who, by the way, had buried his wife just two weeks before). They both returned to us at the inn, but then too late to get back to the town that night. Mr. Cullen and his friend both returned, and Mr. Smith stopped in the inn, the only bed they had, which he got with supper and breakfast, which he got for the whole charge of 6d. William and I went to a neighbouring house, a joiner, where we were kindly treated with supper and breakfast and a good bed for nothing. Besides they gave me a basket of seed potatoes, about half a cwt., also a basket of pumpkins for soup, and some Indian corn—all gratis; and even sent them to town in a cart passing. The joiner has got four acres of good ground of his own, a milk cow and some pigs, a house of his own erection, and plenty employment, has plenty to eat and to spare. The innkeeper came without a shilling—now they have 30 acres of land, two cows, and plenty of pigs and poultry, pays £5 license for beer.

After breakfast we set out in search of Mr. Cullen. A Mr. Law from Edinburgh showed us the way through a forest of wood— the thickest I ever saw. The green under growth was so close that we could not see many yards before us. The main wood so thick in girth that I measured several at five, six, and seven fathoms round. I went inside of one which had been burnt down, leaving the rind only standing. It would have held other 20 more such. Mr. C’s friend had 120 acres of such bush land with about 50 acres of it cleared. They just set fire to it and burn it right down, leaving the trunk standing, then throw in the wheat round the trunks, and there it grows without plow or harrows. Some put in grass seeds, and then pasture it for four or five years, after which the roots are easily pulled up by a rope and a pair of bullocks. Bullocks are all the go, both in carts and plows, and boys generally driving. Was told I could easily get 8s. to 10s. a week for each of our three oldest without meat. Labourers are not to be had here at any price. Everyone gets on the best way he can without servants of any kind. Then the land is so easily wrought, everywhere as free as a garden after the first breaking up. It is the finest soil everywhere I ever saw. The wooded land the best, plenty of water everywhere, but not a drain is required anywhere, only a fence to keep out stray cattle.

After reaching Mr. Cullen, where we got a drink of fine milk, and wandering through the wood, we all returned to the inn and had only two pots of beer. Were again treated with pumpkin tarts, bread and cream and sugar gratis, and then we returned to town. But from the high wind there was no boat, so we set out in different course to see a Captain King’s grounds, a very pretty place. Fields of as fine wheat newly brairdes as ever I saw at home; also fine grass fields with plenty of fine sheep. His land steward saw us crossing the field and made up to us, asking if we were from the ship, and kindly asked any two of us to go in with him all night. William and I being both very weary, we soon accepted the invitation, and had a good bed, supper, and breakfast free; also plenty of dahlias and iris roots, cuttings of ivy, honeysuckle, briar, etc., etc., as I could carry from his garden, with lots of information as to the settlement; said he would not return to England for money. Got all safe back to the ship by midday, laden with spoil. Everyone that had been to land here were delighted with the country. Having from 30 to 40 tons of goods to put on shore, and many of them very bulky, all in small boats and so far off, it was Saturday night until all was cleared, and it was Sabbath evening before we took up the anchor. There being no wind, we did not sail ten miles until Monday evening. Since then we had a beautiful run down to Nelson on Tuesday afternoon, where we expect shortly to cast anchor; 3 o’clock p.m. and all well.

Monday, 15th.—We cast anchor in Blind Bay on Tuesday last at 4 o’clock. It is well named Blind Bay for even in a fine clear day you can see nothing but hill upon hill all round for twenty miles or more, the farthest off being snow-capped all the year through. But that night we arrived was so hazy that we only saw land on one side, although only four or five miles off. However, by constant sounding we cast anchor in seven fathoms water by guess, quite in a safe place. It rained heavy and blew hard. We fired off two guns but got no reply. Next morning still very wet; fired other two guns, saw no land, but off came a pilot in a boat, said we were all right, and that he could not take us into the harbour ere the next morning. Next morning was dry and calm, so we made for the harbour at an early hour, but as we drew near the shore a more forbidding appearance for human habitation we could scarcely conceive. The town of Nelson being entirely hid from our view, nothing to be seen but hill upon hill, or rather mountain upon mountain, rising from the water’s edge, and hid with fern or brush wood, with scarcely a vestige of cultivation to be seen, only a few goats seen wandering among the fern.

The entrance to the harbour, or rather inner anchorage ground, is only at stream tides for large vessels, and is entered closely by the water edge, and requires considerable experience on the part of the pilot, who really is here a very efficient person. Once entered all is right, being as safe as in London Docks. A very singular natural breakwater called Boulder Bank runs across the head of the bay; it is very much like that forming to protect Granton, but you can suppose it reaching from Leith Pier to where it begins, for they say that the bank is ten miles long, and is a very pretty place. We cast anchor a short way within the entrance, and only about twice the ship’s length from shore, and the watermen charge 6d. for each person each way. Then you have about two miles to walk up to the town, which is built on a low flat of alluvial land or even a marsh at the foot of a glen or ravine, and it having rained ever since our arrival we have seen it at a disadvantage.

The passengers for this place were mostly landed on Friday, and I went on shore on Saturday with Mr. Wallace, the minister’s son, from near Thorn Hill, who had a letter from Mr. Nicholson, the Free Church minister, here. We called on him together with it, who entertained us very kindly, kept us to dinner, showed us about the place. His present house being situated on the face of a hill overlooking the town, he is building a new manse at his own expense on a still more elevated spot, and a more delightful view of romantic scenery is seldom to be met with. He grows grapes in his garden in great abundance, even in cwts. Gave me a basket full of carrots and greens for our use. His church is the largest building in the town ; is whitewashed, and commands a fine appearance; holds about 400, and what of it that is finished is in first-rate style of fine native wood polished up like light mahogany or satin wood; has a good congregation, there being a good proportion of Scotchmen settlers here, although the most are English, who have a church and two ministers, and are at present building another larger house. There is also a very good Wesleyan church and a small Roman Catholic house and priest.

Tuesday, July 30th.—Since writing last we have been enjoying ourselves all the time at Nelson. When the ship gets into port they seem in no hurry to get out again. Besides landing the passengers and goods, the captain seems to do a good deal of business at each port he calls at. Here we have not only put out a good many tons of goods, but have again taken on new cargo of wood in deals, flour, and potatoes, also 15 new passengers for Port Cooper. We left only last night and are now on our way to Wellington. The first week we were at Nelson was very wet, some mornings hard frost, and once snow on a neighbouring hill which the settlers say has been the worst winter they have had for seven years. But the past ten days have been the finest weather we could desire even in summer, having been on shore almost every day, and walked from five to ten miles each way from the town; have had a good opportunity of seeing the country and talking with the settlers. Met a good many Scotchmen, all very kind, amongst them was Mr. Simpson’s family from Kinross, who has got 15 acres of land about a mile out of town. Has got a good house, and some three or four acres turned over with the spade. One acre of wheat above grass, besides peas. They are all in good health and seemingly soon to be very comfortable. Was twice out there drinking tea, and Ma with me.

William and I were also out in the country seeing Mr. McHardy, for whom I had a letter from the Rev. Mr. Black of Kircaldy. He first went to Otago but did not like the place, and so came up to Nelson, and is about nine miles out of the town. He is a gentleman from Aberdeen with whom Mr. Andrew Inglis was tutor, but he now lives in a very humble mud cottage, like the poorest cotter or collier house at home, and no servant. They were very kind; gave us dinner and tea, but could not keep us all night, though it rained heavily, at which they were sorry, for they all slept on the floor. They gave a poor account of Otago; said that Mr. Craig from Kinghorn had died, and his property disposed of, which I was sorry to hear; but his friends will have heard of it long before this reaches home.

We put up in an inn about one and a half miles off, where we met other three shipmates, and spent a happy evening with the landlord who is an old traveller for a Glasgow house; has now land, horses and cattle in abundance; pays £30 license for the inn, and charges moderate—bed 1s., breakfast 1s. The farm servants that came out with us have all got places at £25 per annum, bed, board, and washing, but expect £30 next year. Plenty of employment to be had for all classes, and good wages with moderate living. Bread 8d., beef 6d., mutton 3d., pork 4d., butter 1s. 4d. but in summer only 8d., eggs 1s. but in summer only 6d., candles 10d. a pound, all from Sydney. What an opening for John Brown! He and his family would soon make a fortune here. Tallow cheap and candles dear, and no duty and no rival. It would be an act of charity not only to himself but to the Colony to send him. Oil is not to be had at present here. Linseed oil from 5s. to 8s. per gallon, carbonate of soda 1s. 6d. per pound—had the offer of 1s. for it in casks—washing soda 4d. a pound retail but 20s. per cwt., soap 6d. Could have sold three or four crates of stoneware at any price. Did sell a few remains of Wymss stock old ribbons at 3d. to 6d. a yard, worsted napkins at 4s. to 8s., stockings 1s. 6d. a pair, old bone moulds 10d. per gross, and other sorts for braces much wanted, so is everything woollen. Could have made a good deal of money if I had had a stock; also sold all my white herring at high prices and could have sold more, but had no reds which was most wanted. Shall write to Mr. Ireland for more as soon as I get forward. They were all in good condition. Have promised to send more to Nelson when I get them. Got introduced to all the principal merchants, who began as poor as I, and without the same knowledge, but are now all wealthy in five or six years. Dined and drank tea with them in turn, and it was interesting to hear their history. Are to send me flour and other goods when settled.

Mr. Campbell has the flour mills here, and a large store; exports flour both to Wellington and Otago; is the founder of Sunday Schools here; built one at his own expense; and supports others in the country. They are always in in the afternoon and no sermon. I visited his twice and had the honour to address the children last Sabbath at Mr. C’s request; about 100 present. Ten teachers as active and vigilant as at home; they muster 500 to 600 scholars at their annual meeting. Was asked to go to the country six miles to a soiree at a village examination, but it was wet and did not go, but went with the minister on Sabbath afternoon eight days ago, where he preaches monthly to a few settlers ; walked all the way, and he preached at home at 6 o’clock in the evening. Mr. Nicholson is a hard working man, has two or three stations to supply besides home, which he does in the afternoon. Besides his morning school at 10, and teaches in the evening.

Altogether Nelson is a fine place; could like it well; the people all prosperous, and every privilege as at home; plenty of room for hundreds more from home if they could just get out. Vines grow here in tons; peaches and plums by the thousands, and every other thing in great abundance.


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