Poenamo Book the Fourth - Chapter XI.
The Capital of Poenamo in 1811.—how we Lived then
To travel away forty years
back in one's past life and portray scenes then occurring would not be an
easy task unless those scenes had a character peculiarly their own, and
stood out in bold relief and marked contrast to the ordinary everyday
routine of life.
Forty years ago it is now,
and yet how vividly does the dawning year of 1841 and the primitive capital
with its handful of people rise before me.
Ah! how many have passed
away, and how few remain to me now with whom I acted as the pilgrim fathers
of those days! Few indeed are we now; on the fingers of one hand almost can
I number them. We are even as so many moss o'ergrown milestones, ancient
relics which marked the road for a past generation which has already
travelled to the journey's end.
Yes! the wintry snow of age
has blanched our heads, proclaiming the many years which lie buried in the
past, and that our course has nearly run.
Yet how vividly rises before
me the picture as I used to look upon it when, rising from my fern bed, I
folded back my tent-door, and smelt the sweet fresh dew-scent in the air,
and saw the rippling tide- wave wash the beach.
How calm and dreamy and
peaceful was the primitive life, waiting in expectancy—all waiting in
expectancy—such a bright future conjured up.
We were all squatting, each
in the little spot which fancy had dictated, and the day of rivalry was
still in the future; there was no envying of a neighbour's superiority or
greater fortune; we were all steeped in a passive equality, all hail fellow
well met; we were as one family, with a distinction—and that distinction was
only the Red Tape one! But we all smiled benignly on the little airs Red
Tape put on in the attempt to enshrine itself in a very milk-and-water
exclusiveness; for from the top-sawyer of Red Tape down to the veritable
top-sawyer and his mate below in the Government sawpits we all gave each
other le beau jour, and had a passing word of kindness to say when we met
among the high fern footpaths or at the landing-place at the beach.
It would have been useless
for Red Tape to stand on its dignity; we all elbowed each other so
intimately and were so isolated that familiarity ceased to breed contempt
and happily engendered the feeling of that good-fellowship which arises
where any small band of men are thrown together far away from their other
fellow-men and their fatherland.
We had our little jokes, and
would ask how Red Tape was this morning in Exclusion Bay, for Red Tape had
tabooed for itself an Official Bay, known to this day by that name, and did
not allow any squatting in it, unless by first obtaining the
Surveyor-General's consent. This grand titled functionary had been passed on
to us from our nearest sister colony, and was next in importance to our
Deputy-Governor, so we christened Official Bay, Exclusion Bay, and it held
that name long after the first sale of town lots killed forever the
Then as Commercial Bay was a
horribly long name, altogether too high-sounding (except on the
Surveyor-General's map) for the pig and potato bartering with the Maories
which took place there, and as the only building erected on it of wood which
the capital could boast was a small Government store, the bay at once became
Store Bay. Where the sawyers were at work retained its legitimate name of
Mechanics' Bay; but there was still another bay where sawyers also were at
work, and which immediately became known as Waipirau Bay, the Maori word for
spirits, alias stinking water, for much rum was consumed there.
I have now given you the
distinctive names of the localities of the young capital, which was now
making quite a grand show with its increasing tents and huts dotted over
these four bays. But it was a handful of houses and a handful of people
only, all peeping out at each other from amongst the scrub and six-feet-high
fern all around.
My large establishment,
representing not only the firm's business premises but the resident
partner's place of abode, consisted, as of old, of the historical tent. It
had been pitched where a little, trickling thread of water ran past, and I
had dug a little well which gave me a plentiful supply, and got hold of an
old flour-barrel to put in the hole.
I had also fenced myself off
from the gaze of passengers, as the great thoroughfare from Store to
Exclusion Bay passed in front of my tent. I had stuck up some poles and
clothed them with ti-tree, so that I might have a screen behind which I
could carry on all my domestic duties. Don't think I was ashamed to be seen
performing these—not a bit of it; I never was, and I look back with pride
and pleasure to all I had to go through in those days; it was only that
innate modesty of mine which rebelled against being a prominent figure on
the scene! I used to get up at sunrise, often before it, and go away
foraging for wood, which I brought home from a not far-distant patch of
brushwood. When the town became more populous this became exhausted, and
then the Waiomu took us to the opposite shore of the harbour, and we brought
over a plentiful supply.
At the back of my fence I had
rigged up a triangle, from which hung a hook on which to suspend my gipsy
pot, and the fireplace was backed round with large blocks of scoria stone to
prevent my fence from being burnt down. Here I did my modest cooking to the
old oft-told mentioned pork and potatoes—not a sheep or herd of oxen had yet
reached the capital, neither butcher nor baker had yet appeared on the
field. We all were still our own cooks and hewers of wood and drawers of
water, and jolly and well and happy every one of us looked. If there was any
slightly careworn trace on any one's face it was only on the
Surveyor-General's, for he had survey on the brain and didn't need to cook
his own dinner if he only had, he would have been as jolly as the rest of
But sometimes my cooking.
came to grief; it was not always fair-weather work in this direction, for
sometimes such foul weather came that I was hors de combat, and all
hors-d'oeuvres became a delusion and a by-word instead of a by-dish.
This would happen when one of
the north-easters set in, not only blowing great guns, but raining cats and
dogs, when my firewood got soaked, and making a fire outside was impossible.
Then came the tug of war for
dinner, and how the dinner came, and what it was, I suppose you would hardly
believe unless convinced by the faithful extract from a journal I kept in
those days, in which, in half-a-dozen words, I summed up each evening what
had happened since the morning.
Now here is an extract
bearing date "Friday, first day of January, 1841
The happy New Year came,
blowing great guns from the north-east—raining like cats and dogs—postponed
breakfast to see if the day would clear up— tried to boil some potatoes for
dinner—could not succeed for the rain—commissariat at zero, no cold meat
left—had to dine off some of yesterday's cold potatoes—and a drink of water!
In the evening half-nipped my eyes out of my head with smoke trying to boil
a pannikin of water inside the tent— only half succeeded—had a miserable cup
Now what do you think of that
for a jolly New Year's Day? I wonder whether the entry ought to be put to
the credit side of "romance" or debtor side of "reality" of early settling?
Very primitive were our ways, as I have already stated. We had parsons
without churches and magistrates without courts, but we scrambled through
our divinity and our law somehow or other, so that we should be held in
esteem as a Christian and properly-behaved people.
For instance, here is an
entry of date the 15th May:- To-day saw Mr. - sitting. in front of his whare
administering justice under the canopy of heaven."
And of the necessity of this
open-air-court administration of justice I had a convincing proof, for here
is what is entered on the 31st.—On returning in the evening to my tent,
found a drunken man comfortably snoring away on my bed " I suppose I would
rather he had been up before the administrator of justice under the canopy
of heaven that morning, when perhaps he would have been cared for and not
have invaded my tent. As for lying down on my bed, I could forgive him for
that, for having stumbled into the tent he saw an empty crockery-crate, and
he bundled himself down on the top of it. He could not know that was my
bedstead to keep me from the damp ground, but at this date it had become
rainy, and I had already grown luxurious and began to have more exalted
ideas than time fern bed on the tent- floor!
But though we had the
inevitable percentage of indulgers in "waipirau" we had not got the length
of having thieves, for more than once I paddled down to the island, just
tying up my tent-door and leaving everything to take care of itself; the
danger of drunken intruders was left to be looked after by my nearest
neighbour. But in giving you these extracts from my journal I have gone in
advance of the day on which I intended to bring my personal memoirs to a
close, and I must now once more take you back to the first four days of the
year 1841 to chronicle the episode with which I shall wind up in the next,
my last chapter.
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