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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part I - The Journal of George Hepburn, 1850 - Chapter X

As in the previous letter, so in this one, the reader will be struck by the comprehensive and intimate account of the life of a young settlement in New Zealand as it appeared in 1850—In the course of a few pages the writer sketches the town of Wellington, the houses, hotels, shipping, harbour, and climate, as well as the country out to Porirua and the Hutt, the prices of groceries, a Roman Catholic funeral, the Scotch Church, a drowning accident, and an earthquake.

On board Poictiers, Wellington Bay, 24th August, 1850.

Ten days ago I posted my journal of the voyage, including a sheet for Andrew, together with a letter for Mr. Paterson, Edinburgh, by a vessel going from this to Sydney which we hope will go safe. Also posted several newspapers. We have been disappointed at not getting an earlier opportunity of writing home.

It is three weeks yesterday since coming into this port, but are now weighing anchor for Otago direct. We are now very wearied of ship life, as also to get to our journey’s end. Nevertheless, since coming to the shores of New Zealand our time has passed by more agreeably in seeing new faces daily— not to mention plenty of fresh beef and potatoes. As for myself, he has been on, shore for the most part every day, where I never needed to pay for a meal neither in town nor country, and never wanted my dinner. Got introduced to a good many folks, and some of the principal merchants, some of whom kindly offered to supply me with goods in Otago if I wished. Some of the houses hold large stocks of goods of all kinds as agents, and the number of retail shops is great; indeed every door is a shop of some kind for a mile at least along the beach, yet all are making money. Some are wealthy who began with little or nothing—numbers of them Scotchmen.

Wellington is a town of considerable size, containing about 2,000 inhabitants scattered over nearly two miles extent round the head of the bay, and has a commanding appearance from the water. The houses are almost wholly of wood and only one storey, or one and a half. Many of the villas around are very neat, but the churches and barracks have the most prominent appearance. The hotels are next and are very numerous for the place, who all pay £30 or £40 yearly license, and some of them £200 to £300 yearly rent, yet some have made little fortunes; but it is a trade not to be coveted from the number of drunken sailors and soldiers constant customers, and I am told that a great deal of gambling goes on during night by the townspeople. You will observe from the papers that the shipping here is very considerable, reminding us of Leith Roads. California is a new market opened up but recently for Colonial produce, and not a few have emigrated to it. On entering the heads from Cook Strait, called Port Nicholson, you come into a large and spacious bay from 20 to 30 miles in circumference, more like a lake than otherwise, surrounded by high hills all around with only one entrance and that unseen from the anchorage ground. Here ships can ride in perfect safety, although it sometimes blows very hard. Indeed, Wellington is proverbial for wind, its position being in the mouth of the Straits is like as in a funnel, and it catches it every way from the sea. By the way, we caught it in right earnest that night before getting in here; it blew a gale, rained in torrents, and mirk dark, and us locked in the Straits. Every two hours had to shift stays; was once within ship’s length of the rocks. Had we struck it would have been all up with us. It was the only night on which we were afraid, but were mercifully preserved and got in next morning in safety.

During my stay here I have had two excursions to the country in company with a Mr. Marshall, a fellow passenger. The first day we travelled 14 miles to a place called Poririe (Porirua). The road was through a pass or glen all the way, more romantic and sublime than anything I ever saw in Scotland. From the bottom of the glen to the highest summit it was covered with wood. so thick and high that it must have stood from the flood. Some trees I measured upwards of 30 feet in circumference. Nevertheless we found people living here and there all along the road, and several acres cut down. We stopped all night in a Mr. Brown’s—brother-in-law to Marshall—where we were hospitably entertained. That is Colonial—abundance to eat and drink.

Another day we went as far another way to the valley of the Hutt, where we crossed a river in a native canoe at 6d. each; stayed another night in a bush house with a Mr. Sinclair, once the head waiter in the Waterloo, Edinburgh. Came here with a few pounds has now 100 acres of land and plenty of cattle. Everybody here who seems willing to work gets on well, though in a rough way. Even steady labourers get good encouragement. Marshall and his wife, newly married when leaving England, have got engaged at £40 per annum with both their keep in the house. Another man and wife got a place both to serve at £50 per annum; £25 to £30 is a common price for a single man, as stock-keeper or shepherd, but servant maids are most in demand here from 5s. to 7s. per week and board is a common rate; and young chaps like our boys from 6s. to 10s. per week. I could have sold my herrings here at a still higher price, especially the reds. Some come here from London in tins and sell at 3s. to 4s. per dozen. Stoneware is sold in retail at 6d. for every common article—jug, bowl ; cup and saucer, 1s. I hope there will be some by the Mariner for me at Otago. Although the retail price of groceries seems high from the papers, yet you can buy very cheap at the wholesale stores taking a quantity, viz., tea in a small box at 1s. 6d.; sugar at 3d. to 4d. in bags; soap at 3 1/2d. in a box, etc., etc., which is the best way to lay in for a family, of which I have been enabled to do so here from the proceeds of odds and ends sold at Nelson, etc. (besides the herring money). I have everything to keep us for nearly six months to come.

The Roman Catholics have a firm hold here; they have already one good chapel and are building another, called a cathedral. Saw the funeral of Captain O’Connell, nephew of the late Daniel’s. It was done in all the pomp of Romanism, the priests walking in the procession with their white robes, carrying their prayer books and candles, and went through some ceremony at the grave and prayers in Latin. Burnt incense and sprinkled the coffin. The soldiers fired three rounds of cartridge. The priests are a Jesuitical looking set of men. The ceremony occupied from 9 a.m. to 1 o’clock. The Sabbath upon the whole was outwardly tolerably well kept, but religion upon the whole is very formal; still I met with some good people. The Scotch church is well filled, though small; is made up of Moderates and Free and other dissenters. They would have preferred a Free Church minister to Mr. Kirkton, but he preaches better than I expected. Heard him three Sabbaths. He was very kind to us, and so were several other Scotch families.

There was a melancholy accident happened when laying in Wellington. The upsetting of the canoe a few miles from Wellington when crossing a small bay by a gust of wind; it contained two Messrs. Drummond and one of their sons and a native, all of whom were drowned, and that in sight of several on shore. One of them was a son of Mr. Drummond, banker, Coupar, Fife. The Messrs. D. were both much regretted. The minister said on Sabbath there were more deaths by accident in this country than otherwise. There was one slight shock of earthquake when we were laying at anchor, but it being in the night time I did not feel it, although several in the ship did, as well as those on shore; but the people are so used to them now that they do not mind them much. Was told that the great earthquake did the town a deal of good—it set so many to work rebuilding churches, warehouses, etc., but now mostly all of wood.

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