Bank's Peninsula—Port Lyttelton—The changes of
twentyyears—A transformation—The great tunnel—Thegraving work—Christchurch, the city of gardens—Its
homelike aspect—Hard times—Colloquy with a croaker—The
philosophy of the matter—"The good timecoming."
After Wellington, Port Lyttelton is our next
halting-place, and memory is busy as it carries me back along the eventful
line of twenty-one years since I landed on its steep and stony strand. The
view from the steamer is very fine. The snowy mountains are the same. The
hazy bulk of Bank's Peninsula looms ahead as if barring our farther progress
as it did of yore, but the individual Ego, the I, how different! As the
morning mist lifts we see the deep light, beyond which lies the cathedral
city, Christchurch. The tall spire is faintly discernible, surrounded by
other leafy spires of poplar and pine, and tiny wreaths of blue smoke rising
in spiral columns into the grey air of morning. Behind, rise the silvery
spurs of the snow-clad Alps. They glitter like burnished armour in the rosy
light. The hills and steep braes of the Peninsula are brown and bare, but
the snow has a homelike look, and seems to gleam with a kindly welcome to
the returning wanderer.
Now we near the
Heads. Dear me ! How 1remember the clustered rigging,
thick with immigrants, as we clung to the shrouds and gazed onthe land we had come so far to see. Whatchanges
since then ! How many have gone downin life's fight and
been trampled into the dust offorgetfulness. How many are
scattered far andwide over the earth's circumference, for
I have metshipmates in far-apart places. How very fewhave weathered all the storms and reached thequiet
haven of cosy opulence and middle-agedleisure. Ah, well !
it is the way of the world, andmy fight is not by any
means over yet.
The changes in
Port Lyttelton are little short ofphenomenal. What was
but a bare harbour, witha shingly beach, on which we had
to step fromwatermen's boats, which plied between ship
andshore, is now a magnificent port, with an enormousembracing breakwater, with stately wharves on
massive piles, reticulated with a network of rails,along
which the busy locomotives snort and steam.Trucks laden
with produce are propelled merrilyalong. Great sheds line
the shores. A big terminal railway-station skirts the sea-face, where oncethe waves lapped the strand. A noble observatory
crowns the promontory above. The quarantine-station is
bright and gay with houses and gardens.The town runs its
open streets up the steep hilland the houses overflow
into every nook on the hillsides and jostle each other almost into the
A great area has been reclaimed. Old stone
warehouses have been pulled down to make wayfor the
railway and locomotive sheds, and ablackened, smoky
archway, low down near thegreat graving dock, shows me
the sea-end of thefamous tunnel through the towering
mountain,which Moorhouse projected, and which hadnot long been begun when I arrived in thecolony.
Then, Lyttelton was but a little village ofweather-board huts. Now it is a crowded townof
gable-ends peeping up in serried rows all overthe hills.
Alas ! the cemetery on the hill is moredensely peopled
now, too, than it was then.
The tunnel is 2870 yards long, and brings all
theCanterbury plains into direct touch with the sea.The magnificent back-country of New South Walesis
as yet in a worse plight than the plains of thislittle
province. The railway system of Sydneypractically stops
short of the sea by a wearygap of two or three miles; so
far at any rate aspassengers are concerned. What a bitter
satire onthe vaunted wealth and energy and enterprise ofSydney blood!
The Graving Dock is another achievement ofwhich the Canterbury people may well be proud.It
is over 400 feet in length. In fact we saw thefine
steamer Kaikora berthed high and dry inthe dock, getting
a new blade put on to herscrew. The Kaikora is 420 feet
on the keel, andthe dock could have taken a much larger
Dashing through the tunnel, we emerge intoHeathcote Valley, after five long minutes of
Cimmerian darkness. For once in my coloniallife I ride in
a clean smoking carriage. It isworthy of record, that
fact. The spittoons in thefloor are burnished as bright
as a new shilling, andthe cushions are spick and span.
There are tablets for striking matches; the atmosphere is sweet.The saloon is more like a club smoke-room thana
railway-carriage. What a contrast to thepiggeries on
Through the valley, the Avon winds amid itsdrooping willows, and on the great plain the city
spreads its symmetrical streets, and its housesembosomed
Christchurch is par excellence the city of
gardens, groves, seminaries, churches, and artesianwells.
Climb the Cathedral spire, by
all means, and enjoy the view. The Avon winds through the town. An outing in one
of the dainty pleasure skiffs, on its limpid waters, is one of the pleasant
experiences of the place. From the spire you look down on busy streets
stretching from a common centre, and each one as it nears the circular town
belt loses itself amid villas and gardens and poplar groves. Such a rus in
nrbe is surely unique. Over the Avon are groups of quaint old-world-looking
buildings. Some are built of a dark-blue stone—some of a warm red brick ;
but all seem fragrant with old memories and hallowed with the sanctities of
studious life. They suggest cloisters, quadrangles, libraries, groups of
grey professors, and throngs of grave-lipped students.
There are old ivy-covered churches, too, thatseem to have been picked out of old Englishtowns
and dropped down here. Yonder is an oldbelfry tower,
weather grey and lichen-covered.Surely it has been
transported bodily from somecorner of Lichfield or York.
The schools and colleges are thickly scatteredover the flat beyond the river. I remember whenit
was a wilderness of marshy sedge tussocks andflax-bushes.
Now the architectural triumphswould do credit to any
cathedral city at home.
The Museum, under the able curatorship ofDr. Julius von Haast, ranks as the finest inall
Australia. Indeed, the collection in somerespects is not
inferior to that of any Europeancapital.
The Botanic Gardens and Park are exquisitelylaid out, and set off by the silvery, ribbon-like Avon,which purls gently along, meandering through the
groves and ornamental lawns.
The ocean bounds the view on one side, and faraway, verging the plain, the snowy Alps fringethe
picture with their glistening crests of spotlesswhite on
It is a beautiful panorama. One could easilyfancy himself back in the old country. But the
sights are soon exhausted, and the flatness is aptto
become "just a leetle monotonous."
Warner's Commercial Hotel, in the Cathedral
Square, was our caravanserai. No home couldhave been more
comfortable and no host morehospitable. Warner is a host
in himself, and hisgentle-mannered nieces do the honours
of his housewith a grace and geniality that makes one
feelsorry to leave the home-like atmosphere of the place.
The autumn winds, too, had swept the leavesfrom the deciduous trees, of which there are more
here than in any New Zealand town; and thebare branches
added to the English look of theplace. Altogether
Christchurch is the mostEnglish-looking town we have yet
seen at theAntipodes; and, as it was the object of the
fatherswho founded the settlement, to transplant a sliceof England bodily into their new garden ground,
they are to be congratulated on having so successfully accomplished their
Notwithstanding the prevailing cry of dull
times,the streets were thronged with cosily-clad andwell-fed crowds ; the shops were full of customers;
the theatre was well patronized ; and a generalwell-to-do
air was apparent everywhere.
I only found one croaker. He complained
bitterly of the bad times ; but when I asked himwhere
lay the blame, he was rather hazy as to howto allocate
"Was it the Government?"
"Well, no ! He believed they were doing theirbest. Of course there used to be more publicworks
going on; but then these were finished, andno Government
could always be putting up publicbuildings."
"Was it the banks?"
"No, he didn't know much about banks, but hebelieved they was pretty liberal, too!'
"Was it employers?"
"Well, no. They were just as bad off as anyone else."
"Would he like to go back to the old country?"
"No fear," very energetically. "Times wasbad, no doubt; but, Lor' bless ye, they wasn't anything like as bad
as they was at home."
And so, boiled down, it all came to this—Timeswere bad. That must be true, because everybodysaid
so. But how bad were they? Men had fairwages, comfortable
home's, were well clad, well fed,could afford tobacco,
and other little luxuries, andyet—and yet, they were not
The fact is, as it seems to me, just about this.People were too extravagant while the good times
lasted. Fat contracts and big public works cannotlast for
ever. Even big reckless loans must havean end. The period
for payment of interest comesround with unerring
regularity. The time mustcome when steady industry must
apply itself toreproductive works. Lands must be tilled,
andploughing is not so showy as tunnelling and bridge-building. Grasses and cereals must be sown, but
returns are slower than from big contracts. "Whilethe
dollars roll in let us spend them. Sufficientfor the day
is the evil thereof." Such seems to meto be the general
philosophy of these recurringhard times. When wages are
high and workplentiful, the fat kine are slaughtered and
eatenright off, rump and stump; and not even a scrapis salted down to eke out the scanty fare that must
inevitably follow, when the evil days of the leankine
come upon us.
I believe that while there is a certain amount
ofdepression in New Zealand at present, it is buttemporary. The resources of the country are onlyin
the birth throes of their exploitation. Well forall
concerned if the lessons of thrift, self-denial,
frugality, and the necessity for hard continuouseffort,
be learned now, from a temporary depression,than from the
dry rot and stagnation of a widespread national deterioration and
Christchurch has stirring times, and a bright
busyfuture before it yet, beyond a doubt, else the Anglo-Saxon is played out, and there is no more virtue in
beef, wool, and grain. So long as grass grows andwater
flows, and industry merits success, so longwill
Canterbury flourish, and the cry of bad timesfrom lazy
croakers will have as much effect as theidle wind that
wastes its energies on the sands ofthe desert.
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