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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - The Church in Otago - Chapter III


My grandfather, before leaving Scotland, was an elder of the Free Church, Kirkcaldy. He was inducted to the ruling office in First Church, Dunedin, on March 16th, 1851, and he served that Church and later Knox Church in many capacities. His name is on the list of elders associated in 1854 with the First Presbytery of Otago, and, indeed, of New Zealand.

October 28th, 1852.

Last Sabbath the church at Port Chalmers [There was no settled minister at Port Chalmers until the induction of the Rev. William Johnstone on June 23rd, 1858. The Rev. Thomas Burns walked there to preach every Sunday in the summer of 1848-9. ] was opened for the first time by Mr. Burns. Of course there was no sermon at Dunedin. Accommodation, however, was provided for conveying as many as possible by boats to Port Chalmers; the morning being fine six or seven boats started with a good complement. The sail was pleasant and beautiful, so with our company and those at Port Chalmers, etc., the house was well filled. The ship Persia was laying in port with all her colours flying, and all the boats arriving at the same time, filled with well-dressed people, had a most imposing effect. The Sabbath bell very shortly after landing began to toll from the tower of the new edifice, for the first time sounding among the woods around. The house stands on a rising ground looking over the town, and commanding a most splendid and imposing prospect over the whole lower harbour to the Heads, seven miles off. The collection at the door amounted to £18 3s. 4d., which was not very bad for a small seaport village in Otago. Mr. Burns preached two very excellent sermons to a very attentive and solemn congregation—.. forenoon text, Psalms cxix and cxxxvi; afternoon, Luke 1, 78, 79. We got all safe home in the evening.

March 12th, 1855.

In Dunedin we are just in a bit of a dilemma about getting a new church built. Part of the money is subscribed, but we cannot come to an agreement as to whether it is to be built of iron, stone, brick, or wood, and having few architects amongst us we cannot get an estimate. It is to be built on a hill-top close on the bay with a bell on it. Our present house is quite crowded. Cannot you come over and try your hand at it, without joking. I have no doubt but you would make more money here than at home, provided you were willing to put your own shoulder to the wheel. Besides you can now get land to buy at 10s. per acre. A few years’ business here, with a small live stock to begin with, you could soon live independent. A carpenter here keeps no stock of wood, and if a man wants to build he must provide all materials before the tradesman begins. Besides we have an emigration fund here now of some thousands which, although you don’t need, yet if you have any tradesmen or friends you want to send out and can recommend them to me as willing to repay their passage money in the course of two or three years by instalments, your writing to me their names, ages, and calling, I will guarantee their passage and send for them immediately. Those having families or friends here will be preferred. Now I am in earnest about this, there being great want of labourers and tradesmen, and none more than female servants who get from £20 to £30 per annum.

We shall be very glad to see the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Bethune when the Simlah arrives, which we are looking for daily. Margaret Lindsay of Kinghorn has just come into town from the Waitaki—a place about 90 miles north of this on the way to Canterbury. She looks sunburnt but in good health.

After the arrival of the Revs. Wm. Will and Wm. Bannerman in February, 1854, he records the fact that " our two additional ministers are giving general satisfaction and getting on well. We anticipate good results from their labours. Our congregation in Dunedin is still quite full, scarcely a seat to be had."

March 12th, 1855.

The Rev. Mr. Bannerman has just returned from a tour from the same northern quarter, [North Otago or, as it was then known, Waitaki.] accompanied by Mr. John McGlashan. Everywhere and in every house they met with the kindest reception. The people voluntarily subscribed to the extent of £112 yearly in the prospect of getting a minister to themselves. Mr. Jones subscribed £200 towards erecting a church in his neighbourhood, called Waikouaiti. The Presbytery called a pro re nata meeting and sent for a minister for them immediately.

June 30th, 1855.

Lately I sent home an account of a journey I had to the Molyneux. Since then I have had another journey as far in the opposite direction, about 70 miles in the direction of Canterbury, coastwise, in company with the Rev. W. Will, on a missionary tour to that quarter, calling on every house and preaching frequently. Mr. Macandrew was appointed by the Presbytery to accompany Mr. Will, but could not get away at the time, so he sent your humble servant. We had a horse each, and were absent eight days; but more of this after. . . . Intend also enclosing a journal of my journey if ready and not too large, for when I begin I am guilty of being too prosy. I enjoyed my week’s journey very much, only my back became very sore for want of custom in the saddle. Last Sabbath was our winter sacrament, both the young ministers were assisting. The day was fine; we collected at the door £25 odd to help to pay the passage of the next minister, now sent for.

This excerpt from his account of the North Otago visitation opens with a reference to the natives of Moeraki.

They had the most fiendish looking faces of any Maoris I had seen, much tattooed and much wrinkled with age. They also were fond to shake hands with an attempt to smile. Their neighbours introduced the man as "Bloody Jack [This was not John Tuhawaiki, known by that same picturesque title, who was drowned off Moeraki in 1844 shortly after arranging the sale of the Otago Block to the New Zealand Company. He bore a high character with the Europeans.]" and the old woman as his wife. Mr. Will said, "Why call him by that name—it’s not a good name? " All they could say was, "No ken—the white man call him that." But there is no doubt that were his early history known it would unfold some dark deeds of horrid cruelty. We enquired of them if the missionary ever visited them. They say, "No, only once." After enquiring the way to the house of Mr. Hertslet, [Henry C. Hertslet came to New Zealand in 1840 and settled at Waikouaiti about 1848. He afterwards acquired a large property at Oamaru, where he died in 1901.] which we knew was near at hand, we bade them good-bye.

These native huts are built very near the seashore with a considerable rising hill behind, all covered with evergreen trees, very like a home gentleman’s policy ground. We both admitted the place as the prettiest native reserve of any we had seen. Here it began to rain rather heavy, and before we got over the hill to Mr. Hertslet’s house we were both wet enough. However, we soon got dismounted, tethered our horses—which is all the feed they get—and made ourselves quite at home around the fire as usual. I was well known to Mr. Hertslet, and they were very glad to see the minister, only apologising for having no better accommodation than a sofa and a shakedown for our beds, either of which we were glad to get after so long a ride. We spent the evening very agreeably, and after breakfast next morning we started for another day’s ride.

The tide being full we had no room to pass on the beach but had to go a circuitous round through bush and over by a precipice of a landslip—rather a dangerous road in the dark. We found two or three settlers living in the bush—old seamen married to Maori women with whom they got a piece of land as a dowry. One told us that his taking a native wife was his only safety on landing. Had he not they would certainly have cooked him some day. He was an old man, nearly 80, a native of Edinburgh, had only one eye and his wife had only one also, so they were quits on that score. Mr. Will asked if he had a Bible. He said he had, and at once showed a good family one from a box, which he said he had got from the missionary. Mr. Will said he hoped he read it daily seeing he could not live long now. He very readily replied there was no fear of him dying for 20 years yet, that he was sure of living to 100, for he had been 25 years in New Zealand without having a sore head. Mr. Will prayed and left the poor old man. His wife with the one eye showed us the path to the next house, but unfortunately in crossing a soft sort of ditch or water-run Mr. Will’s horse went down to the belly all fours, leaving him (the horse) all mud from the nose to the tail. This was the only bad step we made on the whole road. My horse shied off and I rounded it all safe.

We again reached the beach all safe, and had a nice canter for two or three miles. Again we turned off to call on a Mr. G. B. Wright, where we met a warm reception. He is from England, has a wife and three children, very superior and pious people. This was to be our abode for the following night, but had still to visit another station called Otepopo, some eight or nine miles further off. After taking an early dinner, and arranging for a meeting to be held in his house in the evening, we started off over a fine level country. Still we went off our way a little, and it took us to get back by 6 o’clock, just in the gloaming. Nothing of interest occurred at Otepopo; only saw the men. After tea in Mr. Wright’s, some eight or ten persons met, to whom Mr. Will read and expounded the Scriptures, your humble servant acting always as precentor. After the meeting one old man, Jack Hughes, [Possibly J. Hughes, whaler, of Moeraki, Tuckett’s guide from Moeraki to Waikouaiti in 1844.] was asked to wait a little for conversation with Mr. Will and Mr. Wright, who both very tenderly and faithfully enquired as to the state of his soul. After a lengthened conversation of one hour, the old man generally approved of what was said, but seemed quite satisfied that all would be right with him at last, that he had done no great evil, but taking a dram; but he knew really nothing about it—that is salvation. We spent the evening very agreeably and profitably.

Next morning we were all ready to start on our way homewards when it began to rain and blow very hard. After two hours it cleared away, during which time Mrs. Wright gave us some very splendid pieces on the piano. She is very accomplished, very humble and kind.

It being now Saturday and engaged to preach at Goodwood, we were obliged to be off by 11 o’clock. It cleared all the way. Making two or three more calls by the way we reached Goodwood by 6 o’clock, where we were again hospitably entertained. Next, at half past ten, a good company filled the large dining room, to whom Mr. Will preached a very excellent and faithful sermon. After sermon we had lunch served up in style. Our horses all ready up at the gate, the whole family shook hands as if we had been relations. We bade good-bye and scampered off for Waikouaiti, which we reached in two hours, where the people were all again waiting. In crossing the river here, the tide being full, my horse was up to mid-saddle, so my feet got very wet. However, I got a change and was all right. The people heard attentively, and some again met us in the evening, with whom we had prayers. Next day we rode round visiting all the people in that district, all welcoming us. Stopped another night in the same house, and started next morning (Tuesday) for home over the mountain. The day was beautiful; got other two men to go with us to Dunedin. About halfway we made tea, etc., in a whare—very acceptable. Reached home at 4 o’clock, where we found all well and a hearty welcome.

Thus ended in the good Providence of God another stage in our wilderness journey, having realised the fulfillment of His gracious promise that He will keep His people in all their ways—no evil shall befall them in their going out and in.

March 4th, 1856.

With regard to church matters I cannot boast great things. Still we are keeping up. A few weeks ago we had an addition to our office-bearers of six elders and six deacons. I am glad to say that Uncle James is one of the elders. We are also getting the church all ceiled and the walls papered, giving it rather a smart appearance inside from the bare walls and rafters.

June 28th, 1856.

I have got a little more time to fill up my paper, but having already written so much nonsense that I should like to change the subject. Our winter sacrament was observed on Sunday two weeks ago, the third Sabbath of June, I think the same day with the Kirkaldy midsummer. The weather was fine and dry up to the Saturday evening previous, when it began to rain. Sabbath was both wet and cold, consequently our meeting was thinly attended. Nevertheless we had a comfortable season, Rev. Mr. Bannerman assisting. All the days and forms are observed here same as at home. Our quarterly collection for the schemes of the Free Church at home was £16 odd that day.

We have lately made a great improvement on the inside of our place of worship. Formerly it was only the rough stone and brick walls with all the roof rafters open. Now the walls are lined with wood four feet from the floor, one inch boards, and are planed and plowed as with you. For want of good plaster the walls (upwards) were first lined with grey calico, then paper and wainscot, and the ceiling white. Vestry inside door covered with cloth and spring back. The passages laid with cocoanut matting. The improvement is very great and much more comfortable. It cost about £80, made up by private subscription. Uncle James was the most active member of committee in carrying it forward.

Notwithstanding these favourable looking accounts of our well-doing, there are not a few disaffected persons amongst us who have no love towards either our Church or Minister. Some six months ago a few families united together, headed by Dr. Purdie, some other Independents and Voluntaries, invited a Rev. Mr. Jeffreys, who was living here in retirement (an English Independent), to preach to them in the Mechanics Hall, where they now have stated worship numbering from 30 to 50. How long they will hold out we don’t know. The English Church is attended by about double that number.

There are also amongst the English portion of our community a few would-be gentlemen—our Mr. Editor [William H. Cutten (1822-83) arrived by the John Wickliffe. He was in the Provincial Council (1853-63), in Parliament (1853-55, 1878-79), on the Town Board, and Commissioner of Crown Lands.] at the head—and who are still mortified at the Scotch people ruling our Province with the old Captain at Our head, and the majority of our Provincial Council Scotch. Are at present leaving no stone unturned to upset our Government. The education question, coupled with the teaching of the Shorter Catechism, is the arena at present, and am sorry to say that, what with our people’s apathy and in the absence of the Superintendent and Macandrew, they are carrying the day at the meetings ; the feeling betwixt parties is very. strong.

April 13th, 1857.

I must now refer you for a little to what is going on in Dunedin. You must have seen from the last newspapers sent you a course of public lectures advertised, and now are going on. They are delivered in our church and are very well attended. Last night was the fifth lecture by the Rev. Mr. Burns on the "Present State of Europe." It was a very able and splendid lecture, and the house was filled to the door; more than 300 would be present. This course was got up by one or two in our place of business, Mr. Paterson being a leading member. They had all the lecturers engaged and the nights fixed before the public knew anything about them. Now they have formed a Young Men’s Society for mutual improvement. The first essay to be delivered next Wednesday evening, so you see we are making some steps in advance

towards intellectual improvement as well as mere money-making. You will see also from the papers that we are taking steps towards building a new church. Private subscriptions have been got in Dunedin amounting to £930.

In his first ten months in the southern parish—from Milton to the Bluff—Mr. Bannerman walked 3,600 miles in his pastoral work. Fording rivers and sleeping out were but incidents in a trip. By 1858, when George Hepburn enjoyed his "fine jaunt" to the South, the worst of the pioneer’s problems would be over.

December 29th, 1858.

Our sacrament was last Sabbath week. We never had so many people; 374 communicated, and the collection at the door for the Colonial Scheme was £40. The Presbytery agreed to a memorial to send home for another minister for Dunedin of a first-class order, but have no time to-day to give particulars. The Presbytery appointed your humble servant to go down to Invercargill along with Rev. W. Bannerman to see after the state of religion there, and to create that district into an educational district under the Ordinance. Hope we will get good weather. It will be a fine jaunt of three or four weeks at Government expenses.

October 21st, 1859.

At present we are ill off for rain, and last week we had as much wind as might suffice for a long time; it did us no harm, but you will see from the papers that some fires which occurred during the gale had an alarming appearance, and unfortunately burnt down the manse near Port Chalmers, when it was just about ready to go into. It is a loss to the congregation of £400 to £500, and a great disappointment to their minister, Mr. Johnston. These were the greatest fires and the highest winds ever we saw here. The weather is again very fine.


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