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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter X


McNab's gardens—The Rimutaka railway—The Fell engine —The gorge itself—Grandeur of the scenery—Power of the wind—The Wairarapa Valley—The town of Mas- terton—An -antipodean hermit—Mr. Kohn's curios— The Belmont Viaduct—Meat-preserving industry—The various stages—A social blot.

The "lions" about Wellington are not numerous, but they are well worthy inspection.

McNab's Gardens, at the Hutt, are unique in their way, and in the season can boast of the very finest display of azaleas, camellias, and espe­cially rhododendrons, probably to be seen south of the line. McNab himself is a fine specimen of the good, thrifty, gentle-mannered, practical old Scottish gardener. His buxom wife partakes of the practical also; but nothing delights the worthy couple more than to do the honours of their floral domain to any one who betrays a curiosity to look and learn.

What memories gardeners must have; real gardeners, I mean. Not the frauds and shams, who invent names on the spur of the moment to hide their real ignorance, and whose assumption of infallibility is at times so exasperating.

McNab showed us pines, palms, lilies, flowering shrubs, from Japan, Brazil, India, Africa, Europe, all growing "cheek by jowl," yet in graceful groupings and telling contrast, and the name of every one came as pat as petitions to a mendicant, and was accompanied with quaint little bits of de­scription and touches of humour, which made the old man's tale most enjoyable.

On St. George's Day we took advantage of an excursion train at a marvellously cheap tariff of ys. fare, to go over the world-famed Rimutaka rail­way.

Englishmen make very little fuss over St. George. What a fuss and fuddle Scotchmen sometimes make over their dinner to St. Andrew; and, of course, we all know that St. Patrick's memory is embalmed in the heart of every Irishman, and annually honoured by an amount of green ribbon, whisky, and eloquence, which none but an Irishman could compass. But St. George! Well, really, there was very little bustle in Wellington on his account on the date I write about; and the banks were the only institutions that seemed to hold, his memory in any special esteem.

The excursion train was but poorly patronized, and, punctually at 10 a.m., we started in most inauspicious weather. It rained heavily, and the clouds were low, and the air raw and chill. We steamed through the mists and driving rain, away round the harbour and up the valley of the Hutt, past rural farms and rich pastures in the valley, and the river at our feet rattling noisily over its shingly bars.

Past Silver Stream, a pretty station, we begin to approach the bushy defiles and half-cleared flats, where settlement is more scanty and recent than in the lower valley. "The forest primeval" still holds its own stubbornly here, and only a few unsightly patches of slovenly clearing on the hill­sides show that the pioneer has begun to make his mark. These first rude beginnings of settle­ment are so like the schoolboy's first writing lessons—grim, unsightly blots and thick strokes ! Never mind ; the fine penmanship will come in time.

When we come to the Upper Hutt, the outlook under the depressing influence of the dull weather is not inspiring. There is a neat little church, but that about exhausts the neatness. Farming has retrograded here during the last five years. A big timber trade was formerly done; but the forests have been denuded, and a wilderness of black stumps are all that remain to tell of the former bravery of foliage. A wave of dullness has swept over the place, and it languishes for the want of energetic workers and possibly a good-natured banker or two.

From Kaitoke we have two engines, and make a steady ascent through some forest scenery of striking beauty. The look back, across the valleys and down the wooded glens, is most romantic and beautifully diversified.

At the top of the steep, the Fell engine is attached to the train, and takes us down the terrific decline to Cross Creek. There is here a raised centre rail, and the engine is provided with some intricate and ingenious mechanism which grips this centre rail, and so minimizes the danger, and gives additional power. I was informed that only on the Vesuvius Railway and on one incline on the Alps is there such a steep gradient as here, and that it is only on these three lines that the Fell engine is in use. Not being an engineer I cannot vouch for this.

At all events the Rimutaka gorge is a sight which once seen can never be forgotten. Critics of the carping sort say that the line should never have been brought by this route at all. They tell you of two alternate routes of easier grades and much more suitable for traffic. All I can say is that for the tourist, the Rimutaka line offers attractions which are positively enthralling. The curves are very abrupt. The pace is rapid enough to make standing on the platform dan­gerous, as the oscillation is extreme; but the scenery is thrillingly grand.

The clear, brawling stream dashes along at the foot of the embankments, with here and there an abutment of logs and gabions stemming its im­petuous rush, and diverting the insidious waters away from their work of undermining, and over­throwing the labours of the engineer. Some of the glens are stupendous in their depth. Two slender, spidery-looking chain-bridges span the stream at two different gorges. The bosky hills seem on fire, as the steam and mist curl and wreathe their ghost-like fantastic columns aloft through the dark canopy of matted creeper and dewy fern fronds.

Anon the sun bursts through the driving scud, and for an instant the gleam and glitter, the sheen and radiance, the play of glowing brightness and gloomy shadow, are positively bewildering, and superlatives are exhausted in the attempt to render any of the faintest concep­tion of the absorbing witchery of the fairy display.

Through a long, dark, curved tunnel we dash. We spin across the narrow neck named Siberia, where at times the wind shrieks like as if all the squadrons of the " Prince of the Power of the Air" were hurling themselves upon the rugged rocks in the attempt to dash them into pieces. Great stones hurtle through the air at times. It was here that terrible accident took place, when the train was lifted bodily from the track by the hurricane, and many lives were lost. Since then the naked spur has been protected by high, strong barricade fences.

But what a work has this been! How could the surveyors have possibly come down these beetling cliffs? What a wild chaos is here! Crags, cascades, towering heights, and dizzy steeps. It beats the western ghats of Bombay for wild majesty.

And the mists! Those columns of vapour on the steep mountain sides. "He but toucheth the hills and they do smoke." Look up or down the gorge as you will, we seem shut in from the outer world as by the fiat of some fell magician, with impassable barriers of the wildest rock and forest.

Ho! ho! a beneficent wizard to the rescue. See through yonder rift in the hoary glen the distant plains of Beulah. The sun blazing on the Delectable Mountains beyond, and nearer, the gleam and sparkle of a great lake. What a contrast! Down there a picture such as one dreams of when fancy conjures up pictures of the plains of Heaven. Behind, looking away up to the mountain tops, they are literally hidden in "clouds of thick darkness," and so majestic is the whole that the mind is overwhelmed with its grandeur and sublimity, and quite unfit to analyze it into its component parts.

We descend swiftly now into the famous Wairarapa Valley. The great lake now takes on a muddy hue. It is like an inland sea of dull olive green. The dun manuka hills around, and swampy flats bordering the lake, seem very tame after the majesty of the mountains and solemn grandeur of the gorges.

The Wairarapa Valley is famous for its pastures. The centre of the valley is poor land, mostly shingle and sand. The lower valley, however, and the hollows alongside the hills are very rich. It is well populated and dairy farms and factories are numerous. The land about the lake wants draining. The lake itself is the property of the Maoris, and they are agitating now for permission to prevent all European interference with their riparian rights.

The towns in the valley are Featherstone, Grey- town, Carterton, and Masterton. At Carterton is an extensive saw-mill employing over two hundred hands.

At Masterton are three flour-mills, and the town is bustling and seems thriving. The school was undergoing enlargement. There was not a house to let in the place, and we noticed several new buildings in process of erection. There are numerous streams here in which trout-hatching has been successful. There is a capital institute and reading-room, and an efficient fire-service. Ladders are slung in prominent places along the main streets, for use in case of fires. They are supplied by the different insurance companies. This is a good idea surely.

We had a good lunch at Elkins's Club Hotel, and got back in the dark to Wellington about seven o'clock, and had our usual comfortable and hospitable reception at the Occidental.

Another celebrity that must be seen in Welling­ton is the far-famed Island Bay Hermit. Some mystery attaches to this ascetic individual. He lives in a miserable, cold, bare cave, lies on the bare stones, and, while accepting food or clothes from his visitors, rejects all money offerings. Herein he differs from his Oriental prototype, the Fakeer or Yogi. Possibly the dreary past holds its horrid secrets for him. He converses intelli­gently enough on current topics. At night occa­sionally he comes into one of the newspaper offices in town, where he is supplied with mental pabulum in the shape of a great bundle of mutilated exchanges. Over these he pores, and possibly he may one day astonish the world in the role of a new Mahdi, or Peter the Hermit. At present he is an object of curiosity with the many, and certainly, with some, an object of pity and kindly interest.

If the visitor wishes to feast his eyes on an exhi­bition of perfect good taste and exquisite skill in arrangement, let him visit the atelier of that artist in arrangement of curios—Mr. Kohn, the jeweller, on Lambton Quay. Mr. Kohn has a wonderful and most complete collection of Maori and Island weapons, cloths, and other curios. They are arranged round the walls of an upper room, where the light streams softly in through stained windows, and the courtesy of Mr. Kohn is on a par with his good taste. The room is a wonder. It is some­thing unique. Dr. Buller has another splendid collection of Maori curios which I much regretted I was unable to see, although Captain Mair had most kindly provided me with a letter of introduction to the worthy doctor.

The museum and botanical gardens, too, are worthy a visit.

Another object of interest, too, I had the good fortune to behold, under the guidance of its con­structor. This was the Belmont Viaduct, erected on the Wellington and Manawatu Railway about a mile from Johnstonville, by Mr. Morton Dana- her, the contractor, from the design of Mr. H. P. Higginson, the engineer to the company.

The bridge is said to be the highest viaduct, built exclusively of timber, in the world. So that Wei- lington boasts the possession of the largest wooden building and the highest wooden viaduct, as is alleged, which the world contains.

The viaduct is raised on sixteen concrete base­ments. It contains 212,000 superficial feet of kauri timber, and there are thirty-five tons of wrought iron used up in bolts, nuts, washers, and straps alone. At a distance it looks like a gigantic web, or the puzzle of a dreaming geometrician. It is 170 feet in height, above the stream, and the span over the valley is 185 feet. The erection of such enormous lengths gave occasion for a display of fertility of resource on Mr. Danaher's part which is, I think, well worthy of record. It is a sample of what is being done, in hundreds of cases, by our cousins at the Antipodes to conquer nature, and a good illustration of the dogged fight which has to be waged before modern civilization can subdue the wild forces and primaeval difficulties which confront the hardy pioneers of progress in these new lands.

All his sections were built on the ground on the side of the hill. The problem was to place them in situ without the aid of ruinously expensive scaffolding, and, at the same time, without undue risk to his workmen. Every log had to be laboriously dragged up steep hill-sides, along the bed of a mountain stream, and over ground which would have daunted the resolution of most men.

How, then, did he manage?

Thus. Having built his section on the ground he raised it bodily into its place by a vertical lift.

But how did he get his vertical lift? Well that was the clever idea ! He sank a tunnel into the rock on each side of the valley, and made a shaft in each tunnel, and in this shaft set a huge beam. Through the beam he rove a strong wire cable, and then hauled it taut across the valley, and on it put his blocks and tackle, and thus with­out scaffolding raised his structure, section by section, and so the wonderful erection rose without accident or mischance into being, and now stands a marvel of skilful contrivance, and a lasting tribute to the resourcefulness and energy of the genial and gifted contractor.

My visit was not wholly engrossed with behold­ing the wonders in natural scenery. My tastes lie also in viewing the practical, and inspecting the industrial.

So it was that we were glad to avail ourselves of an opportunity afforded us of being shown over the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company's works by the courteous and intelligent superin­tendent, Mr. Oldham.

The Gear Company employs altogether about 250 hands. They have made arrangements for turning out 4,000,000 lbs. of tinned and preserved meats during the coming year. They are turn­ing out at present over ten tons daily, and they are the only firm, I believe, in Australasia who have successfully laid down corned beef in London to pass the Admiralty standards at Deptford.

The men were engaged putting up Government supplies for her Majesty's navy at the time of our visit.- Considering the nature of the material being operated on, the cleanliness of the works was wonderful.

We were first shown into the boning-room, where mighty carcases were being stripped with a deftness and celerity only begotten of long prac­tice. The bones were bundled off to boiling-down and glue works outside the town. Some of them are used to make rich stock for the soups.

The second stage is that wherein the flesh is putin pickle tanks to extract the superfluous blood.

Thirdly, it is next blanched by being loaded in an iron cage, which is worked up and down by machinery, and dipped into boiling water. The attendants forking in the huge masses of flesh with great steel forks was a new sensation, and the forks would have suited "Blunderbore" of Jack the Giant-Killer renown to a nicety.

Fourthly, it was then, after being cut to requi­site sizes, filled in hot into the cans, which have previously all been made on the premises by a staff of experts, and have been scalded in hot water, and thoroughly cleansed.

Fifthly, the cans are next subjected to enor­mous pressure, ingeniously applied by a patent arrangement of turn-screws at a long table, capable of pressing many tins simultaneously. Each can has to undergo a pressure of three tons to the inch, and the process is a patent of the company.

The tinsmith now (sixthly) fixes the heads of the cans in, and solders them down. A small orifice is left purposely in the top of each can.

The cans are now (seventhly) placed in the preserving vats in the cooking-room. Here the heat was rather tropical, though the smell was most appetizing. The lightly-clad workmen, with their clean white caps, hurry to and fro, bending over the seething, bubbling vats, like magicians busy over some magic cauldron. There is the puffing, piffing, paffing, plop plop, of inces­sant ebullition, and the cans in their simmering bath, steam away each from its tiny aperture like so many independent miniature steam-engines. The medium in which they are immersed for half their bulk has to be a dense one to keep down ebullition and lessen evaporation, and so a mix­ture of muriate of lime and fat is used. When sufficiently cooked, the orifice in the lid is sol­dered up, and the cans are next subjected to a further treatment in a bath of a higher tempera­ture. Here one or two will occasionally burst with a terrific report and to the grievous hurt of the attendants. Happily such accidents are rare.

They are then plunged through an orifice into a bath of cold water, cleaned, painted, labelled, and a neat finish given to the exterior, which at last assumes a most attractive guise.

The tin-room was perhaps the most interesting one of the whole factory. The whole work was so neatly, cleanly, and expeditiously done that it was a treat to witness the regularity and method so apparent in every department.

But we have lingered too long over our descrip­tions and must leave Wellington. One painful thing obtruded itself on our observation. We saw more drunkenness in Wellington than in any city or town in New Zealand. Whether this be a permanent or but a passing and transitory phase of the social life of this fine town I cannot say, but it is the only reproach I feel called on to record.

We saw many deplorable cases of open, brazen­faced, flaunting drunkenness, and sad to say not a few of the lamentable instances were those of really well-dressed, respectable-looking women, evidently workmen's wives, probably mothers of families. Alas ! alas! under such circumstances is larrikinism to be wondered at?


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