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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter XI


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 water.

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 Sydney blood!

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 N.S.W. railways!

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 in gardens.

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 the other.

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 purpose.

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 it.

"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 one else."

"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 happy.

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 exhaustion.

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.


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