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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - Early Difficulties in Dunedin - Chapter II


Banking and exchange, shortage of labour, saleable and unsaleable goods, and the demand for land are some of the topics discussed in these letters of 1854-55.

September, 1854.

At present there is some difficulty in getting bills on home; so many have been getting out goods that everyone is asking for bills to send home, and the balance is at present against our house, there being so many goods always coming; the wool season generally turns the scale, which comes on in January. Besides, we expect to get a bank established very shortly, which will facilitate business very much; but I know you home gentlemen can have no idea of the difficulty we labour under for want of means of transit or postal communication, being, as I have often stated, whole months—two, three, or four at a time—without a single arrival. However, the ship Nelson, now in this country, will relieve us a little.

The carpenters here are all thrang, and have no doubt are making money at 7s. per day of eight hours. [The "Eight Hour Day" was introduced to Otago by the Rev. Thomas Burns, who promised the Philip Laing immigrants to use his influence to fix an eight-hour day at 3s. 6d. to 4s. a day.—(Hocken, p. 103.)] Sawn timber has advanced from 12s. to 20s. per hundred feet and other materials in proportion. Trades men and labourers of all kinds are not to be had (when wanted) even at any price. It is quite a favour to get one to do a job. We have much need of more labourers being sent. This is one good sign of our prosperity— plenty of employment and plenty of money to pay for it, if men could be had.

The house carpenters are all doing well, but scarcely one of them do it by contract— all by day’s wages. Every year the style of new houses is superior to the former, and quite in your way, most of them being all wood together. At present there are plans and estimates wanted for three or four new churches and manses. The English folks are to build one . . . and one or two each for our last two ministers. We in Dunedin must have a new one in one or two years at furthest. Then there are new courthouses and public buildings to go up, besides private cottages constantly going on, so there is no want of employment if you could only make up your mind to make the change.

March 12th, 1855.

I received enclosed invoice of the crockery which I hope will arrive in safety. They seem to be a fine assortment. I have no doubt but the ploughs will also be of the right sort, and should bring all the price you mention. The corn bags will also be very acceptable, even although they had been 500. There is now a great deal of oats shipped off from this which consumes the bags.

The boots, I fear, are too high priced from your market, besides our market here is stocked with them; but I must thank you very kindly for the pair you have sent for my own wear. They are just what I was in need of. There is now plenty of ryegrass grown here, but only the freight on it will be very little if anything. The writer expects to have the crop of three acres to cut next year. It looks well at present. The box you refer to as being suitable for our threshing floor must be applied to another purpose, as I am glad to say our barn was laid with 1 1/2 inch boards at the first. Besides we have a large threshing board also. But thanks for your good intentions.

May 14th, 1855.

I again take the opportunity of sending you a few lines advising you of the safe arrival of the goods you sent by the Simlah. The long delay she had at Wellington made us very weary before she reached this. Since then we have been very busy storing and unpacking, but before the Simlah was discharged the Sea Snake arrived with a very great quantity of goods for this place, but no papers for us—chiefly for Mr. Jones. As she is to sail from Wellington in a day or two I send this by her. The brig Amherst is also in port from Melbourne, taking in produce. By her our house is shipping 50 tons potatoes at £8 per ton. and about 2,000 bushels of oats at 6s. per bushel; but the captain will take nothing on freight, so I have no chance of sending any for Mr. Douglas, but we have been uncommon thrang. Every day eight or ten drays are coming in loaded with potatoes or oats, which are all to weigh and store, then to recart and ship, so all our boats and barges have been in full requisition. Last week we gave out 120 gunny bags for potatoes alone, so it is a fair potato harvest in the country and in the finest dry weather. All the season through our weather has been excellent and crops abundant, and the prices I have just quoted are a fair return, even at the high rate of wages.

But I am forgetting what I intended to speak about first, namely, the goods you sent. First, the very large box containing the plows was fully one half larger than any other containing the same number, because yours being all the length, others are jointed at the mould board, which makes them pack in far less room. But they seem just the thing and please well. I have kept one and sold the other two at all you said—£12 each— and could have sold half a dozen more if I had had them. People are only now beginning to use the plow generally, and every year will be more so since the cheap land has been selling so freely. It was a good idea to send the cross-trees, but there are generally two socks and a hammer for each. If the price pays, you may send other three; also one or two sets of harrow tines and mounting with a dozen spare cleeks or esses. The cleeks cost 3s. 6d. per pair here. Also two or three pairs hames. You need not send any more ryegrass seed as we now grow more than is wanted. We exported 140 bushels with the last steamer. When you have any spare room or small corner to fill do it with corks. Neither send any more boots, your price was far too high for yielding you any return. Fine London made Wellington boots can be bought here wholesale at 20s., and the other day I bought good strong watertights at 11s. 6d. at a sale. But 15s. to 16s. is the wholesale price. The place is full of them at present. But I must not forget to thank you kindly for the pair sent for my own use; they fit beautifully, and I was much in need of them. The flowerpots came pretty safe, only a few were broken. But regret to say that the crate containing the milk dishes had six dozen of them broken. This being the winter season there is little demand, but even if summer was come again I fear that they won’t sell well; they are far too shallow and too small. I am sure that neither you nor Mr. Methven ever saw such milk plates before. If they were made to order, they must have misapprehended me. They are so very extremely shallow, but we must now do our best with them. Tell Mr. Goodall not to send any more gingerbread. The half nearly of the last case by the Clutha is still on hand.

I have forgotten to mention that there had been an oil cask leaking in the ship, and had run down on a large case, so that all the boots were wet with oil. Some of the lead caked together, and all the newspapers were so destroyed that we did not get a word of them read. We pulled up the captain for it and had damages at £3, but were only allowed 30s., which we accepted. We had only eleven barrels of good dry seed.

You will likely hear of the new era in the sale of land here since His Honour the Superintendent of the Council fixed the price to be only 10s. per acre for all sorts, both rural and suburban. One month’s notice was given before beginning to sell at that price. On the first day that the office opened for that purpose, applications were put in for 4,000 acres and upwards, all by present settlers. Dunedin was like a market day with country folks. A good many neighbours put in for the same spot, but for the most part it was amicably arranged without coming to a sale by competition. Some, however, got £10, £20, and £25 privately to quit their claim.

Only one case came to the hammer for decision, viz., 150 acres at the Molyneux, being applied for by two persons, viz., Mr. Maitland from Edinburgh, and an Irish lad from the diggings run it to £85 premium. Mr. Maitland got it. I had no thought of seeing such a contention for the land seeing that cash was to be paid down in six days after application. Neither had I any intention of buying any more at present, but when I saw that all around us was soon to be picked up and that we would be confined to our own small sections, after a day or two I applied for 80 acres, all in one block, lying in front of the house, well watered, and all arable, all of which I got without opposition; but had I waited a few days longer I would not have got them for every one ten-acre section is now bought up. It will no doubt turn out a valuable property, being so near the town. Now I only want men and money to put it under cultivation. It is all open and fit for the plough. That is now 120 acres I have of suburban land with plenty of timber.

In 1855 my grandfather resigned his position as manager of J. Macandrew and Co. to become a partner in James Paterson and Co.

June 30th, 1855.

I am sorry to observe your remarks about the wool I sent turning out a bad spec., but up to this time I have not heard from Messrs. L. about it. Since then I have done nothing in it, although it could have been got here this last season at 1s. to 1s. 1d. fine quality. I somehow think I was rather jewed with it. It happened to be a small lot which came from the north and was landed at Port Chalmers, so we never saw it, but I know from the books that Messrs. McA. paid 1s. 2d. for it. I will look better after the next, expecting soon to have more time on my hands, and I may here at once mention my intention of leaving my present situation next month and joining Mr. Paterson in business for a short period. I may again state that he has so much work to do in his own line that he can attend to nothing else, and again his sales in the store would require a person constant in attendance. I will have far more liberty and be better able to attend to the interests of my home correspondence, besides, from my long acquaintance with all the settlers, have no doubt that we will be able to do a good share of business; but you will be duly advised of the particulars when it occurs. I may add that my leaving is in the best terms with the house. They only feel sorry for it. The house added another £25 to my salary last year, and said further if my money was the reason of my leaving, I had only to name my own price; at same time highly approve of it.

[I remained there (James Macandrew and Co.) for three and a half years, when I joined my brother-in-law, Mr. Jas. Paterson, James Paterson and Co., as general grocers. After being a few years in business together, and meanwhile Mr. Macandrew having become Superintendent of the Province and his time wholly occupied with political affairs, he offered to make over to us his whole business in Manse Street, stock in trade, and buildings, at a fair valuation with terms of payment. All this was gone into and settled. The auction business which Mr. Macandrew carried on was continued, and ultimately my son William took up the hammer for us and continues to wield it in his own firm, McLandress, Hepburn and Co., till this day with success.]  [Reminiscences, 1870. McLandress, Hepburn and Co. were succeeded by Park, Reynolds and Co.]

We only wish we saw you and Catherine here beside us. We are sure you would do well. Every carpenter, as they are all called, has more work than they can get done at 8s. per day of eight hours. Few estimate jobs, all days wages, and keep no stock but the saw and the hammer. The builder provides everything. I have had one man for six weeks past at 8s. per day and his dinner, putting up the addition to our house, which is now just about finished. I will enclose an inside drawing if I can remember before closing.

Everybody here seems to be thriving amazingly, as a proof of which two cargoes of sheep, horses, and cattle per Gazelle from Sydney were sold in two weeks after arrival for cash at very high prices, say sheep at 32s., horses from £30 to £60 (very lean), young heifers, £14 per head, 18 months old—our house were agents. Since then (last mo.) we have given the Amherst, for Melbourne, a full cargo of produce, say 118 tons of potatoes at £8 per ton of 20cwt., and nearly 2,000 bushels of oats at 6s. per bushel. And now we are busy lading the Sybil from Geelong with the same—a full cargo. All these goods come through my hands first, all weighed and stored away in the store, then recarted to the jetty and sent down to Port Chalmers in our own barge at 10s. per ton. This gives us a great deal of work. I have had two extra men in the store these six weeks back. We have also got an additional clerk. Besides we have two schooners, the Star and the Endeavour, constantly trading coastwise.

T. J. White has left the firm and gone over to Mr. Jones’ store (no loss), and our W. H. Reynolds is just away to Melbourne by the Amherst to spend £600 on free passage money to labourers from that quarter, seeing they won’t come direct from the Home Country. Hope he will send good ones. Since the cheap land was sold, labourers are scarcely to be had. I told you in my last about that matter, and that I had added to my possessions. A draft of how the land lies will also be enclosed if I can. Now I only want strength to get it fenced and improved. Can’t you send me out some good decent farm servant? I will either give or find him employment on arrival. By the way, I have sold all the three ploughs. Could not get one kept, such is the demand for them, but our Sandy thought they were rather light at the bridle point of the beam, but you just send other three the same, a little stronger there if you can, for breaking up new land, and with double socks and jointed at the mould board, if you can, so as to go into a less box. Mr. Bethune’s was done that way by Barrow-man.

By the way we have had no winter as yet, and it is now our shortest day, only a little frost and sharp mornings, but beautiful weather during the day although very changeable. Both last summer and autumn have been the best seasons we have seen here.

This year there are two portable threshing machines in the settlement of two horsepower, one of which we have hired from the Green Island bush to come and thresh our crop at the Halfway Bush. We have had it for the last two days, and it has done all our own wheat and oats at once. Now ready for the market, and saved the boys a deal of labour and time. During threshing time all our neighbours turned up to assist. Then we go and assist them. The two on one side having no barn carted their wheat to ours, and so with our next neighbour. Two men and two horses came with the machine and stopped three nights with us, so our house has been in a bustle like harvest time. Though the shortest day with us, we had very fine weather and moonlight. This is the way we get through our work in our district—helping one another.

We will be needing a pair of cart wheels by next year. I was thinking they may be sent out loose, spokes and naves all fitted to put together. The axle and iron rims could be lashed together. Could Mr. Rowan not manage it in that way? But if not, to send them as before, complete with trace chains and back bands, crosstrees, and clicks, etc., barrow wheels and axles.


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