Bank's Peninsula—Port Lyttelton—The changes of
twenty years—A transformation—The great tunnel—The
graving work—Christchurch, the city of gardens—Its
homelike aspect—Hard times—Colloquy with a croaker —The
philosophy of the matter—"The good time coming."
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 1 remember the clustered rigging,
thick with immigrants, as we clung to the shrouds and gazed on
the land we had come so far to see. What changes
since then ! How many have gone down in life's fight and
been trampled into the dust of forgetfulness. How many are
scattered far and wide over the earth's circumference, for
I have met shipmates in far-apart places. How very few
have weathered all the storms and reached the quiet
haven of cosy opulence and middle-aged leisure. Ah, well !
it is the way of the world, and my fight is not by any
means over yet.
The changes in
Port Lyttelton are little short of phenomenal. What was
but a bare harbour, with a shingly beach, on which we had
to step from watermen's boats, which plied between ship
and shore, is now a magnificent port, with an enormous
embracing 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 merrily along. Great sheds line
the shores. A big terminal railway-station skirts the sea-face, where once
the 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 hill and 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 way for the
railway and locomotive sheds, and a blackened, smoky
archway, low down near the great graving dock, shows me
the sea-end of the famous tunnel through the towering
mountain, which Moorhouse projected, and which had
not long been begun when I arrived in the colony.
Then, Lyttelton was but a little village of
weather-board huts. Now it is a crowded town of
gable-ends peeping up in serried rows all over the hills.
Alas ! the cemetery on the hill is more densely peopled
now, too, than it was then.
The tunnel is 2870 yards long, and brings all
the Canterbury plains into direct touch with the sea.
The magnificent back-country of New South Wales is
as yet in a worse plight than the plains of this little
province. The railway system of Sydney practically stops
short of the sea by a weary gap of two or three miles; so
far at any rate as passengers are concerned. What a bitter
satire on the vaunted wealth and energy and enterprise of
The Graving Dock is another achievement of
which the Canterbury people may well be proud. It
is over 400 feet in length. In fact we saw the fine
steamer Kaikora berthed high and dry in the dock, getting
a new blade put on to her screw. The Kaikora is 420 feet
on the keel, and the dock could have taken a much larger
vessel than that.
Dashing through the tunnel, we emerge into
Heathcote Valley, after five long minutes of
Cimmerian darkness. For once in my colonial life I ride in
a clean smoking carriage. It is worthy of record, that
fact. The spittoons in the floor are burnished as bright
as a new shilling, and the cushions are spick and span.
There are tablets for striking matches; the atmosphere is sweet.
The saloon is more like a club smoke-room than a
railway-carriage. What a contrast to the piggeries on
Through the valley, the Avon winds amid its
drooping willows, and on the great plain the city
spreads its symmetrical streets, and its houses embosomed
Christchurch is par excellence the city of
gardens, groves, seminaries, churches, and artesian wells.
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, that
seem to have been picked out of old English towns
and dropped down here. Yonder is an old belfry tower,
weather grey and lichen-covered. Surely it has been
transported bodily from some corner of Lichfield or York.
The schools and colleges are thickly scattered
over the flat beyond the river. I remember when it
was a wilderness of marshy sedge tussocks and flax-bushes.
Now the architectural triumphs would do credit to any
cathedral city at home.
The Museum, under the able curatorship of
Dr. Julius von Haast, ranks as the finest in all
Australia. Indeed, the collection in some respects is not
inferior to that of any European capital.
The Botanic Gardens and Park are exquisitely
laid 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 far
away, verging the plain, the snowy Alps fringe the
picture with their glistening crests of spotless white on
It is a beautiful panorama. One could easily
fancy himself back in the old country. But the
sights are soon exhausted, and the flatness is apt to
become "just a leetle monotonous."
Warner's Commercial Hotel, in the Cathedral
Square, was our caravanserai. No home could have been more
comfortable and no host more hospitable. Warner is a host
in himself, and his gentle-mannered nieces do the honours
of his house with a grace and geniality that makes one
feel sorry to leave the home-like atmosphere of the place.
The autumn winds, too, had swept the leaves
from the deciduous trees, of which there are more
here than in any New Zealand town; and the bare branches
added to the English look of the place. Altogether
Christchurch is the most English-looking town we have yet
seen at the Antipodes; and, as it was the object of the
fathers who founded the settlement, to transplant a slice
of 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 and
well-fed crowds ; the shops were full of customers;
the theatre was well patronized ; and a general well-to-do
air was apparent everywhere.
I only found one croaker. He complained
bitterly of the bad times ; but when I asked him where
lay the blame, he was rather hazy as to how to allocate
"Was it the Government?"
"Well, no ! He believed they were doing their
best. Of course there used to be more public works
going on; but then these were finished, and no Government
could always be putting up public buildings."
"Was it the banks?"
"No, he didn't know much about banks, but he
believed they was pretty liberal, too!'
"Was it employers?"
"Well, no. They were just as bad off as any
"Would he like to go back to the old country?"
"No fear," very energetically. "Times was
bad, 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—Times
were bad. That must be true, because everybody said
so. But how bad were they? Men had fair wages, comfortable
home's, were well clad, well fed, could afford tobacco,
and other little luxuries, and yet—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 cannot last for
ever. Even big reckless loans must have an end. The period
for payment of interest comes round with unerring
regularity. The time must come when steady industry must
apply itself to reproductive works. Lands must be tilled,
and ploughing is not so showy as tunnelling and bridge-
building. Grasses and cereals must be sown, but
returns are slower than from big contracts. "While the
dollars roll in let us spend them. Sufficient for the day
is the evil thereof." Such seems to me to be the general
philosophy of these recurring hard times. When wages are
high and work plentiful, the fat kine are slaughtered and
eaten right off, rump and stump; and not even a scrap
is salted down to eke out the scanty fare that must
inevitably follow, when the evil days of the lean kine
come upon us.
I believe that while there is a certain amount
of depression in New Zealand at present, it is but
temporary. The resources of the country are only in
the birth throes of their exploitation. Well for all
concerned if the lessons of thrift, self-denial,
frugality, and the necessity for hard continuous effort,
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
busy future 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 and water
flows, and industry merits success, so long will
Canterbury flourish, and the cry of bad times from lazy
croakers will have as much effect as the idle wind that
wastes its energies on the sands of the desert.