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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - Home Life at Halfway Bush - Chapter IV

In the early days the opportunities for social entertainment were scanty enough. Hocken says that an occasional lecture at the Mechanics Institute on some solid subject, or a tea meeting followed by excellent speeches did much to liven the community. At such homesteads as that at Halfway Bush it was considered a privilege to entertain friends and kindred. Dancing to 5 a.m. and a reference to prayer in the same paragraph point to a more broadminded attitude than we are accustomed to associate with this era.

September, 1854.

We are all in the continuance of the best of health and spirits, and all going on busily at the Halfway Bush. This is our spring, equal to your March 10th, and on Saturday last we had the first rhubarb tart for the season. Our young wheat looks well, and other things budding beautifully. The first early potatoes are planted, and the garden all in first-rate order. Sandy and Bill are busy now putting up a new fence along the roadside of the section of post and four rails morticed very strong, not to be overmatched in the Colony.

I send you a paper containing a short account of a harvest home we had some time ago. It was rather a fine affair for New Zealand, the barn being handsomely decorated with flags and evergreens. The tables ran the length of the house with a cross one at the top, covers laid for 60 upwards. Silver plate at the upper table, viz., candlesticks, bottle, and cruet stands, a large china punch bowl with silver ladle, a bottle of the best Islay in each brewing, also plenty wine and brandy, two chandeliers hung from the roof overtopped with the heart of a spread fern tree. Your humble servant, being in the chair, of course put his best foot foremost. The evening was spent with great good humour, and dancing kept up till 5 o’clock morning. Similar meetings had been previously held in the other districts. I have written this account very hurriedly as the captain of the Thetis has just come up from Port Chalmers saying he intends sailing to-morrow, sooner than expected, so had to finish off in the store. I enclose a pastoral letter which you will have some pleasure in perusing, and please to circulate it to Mr. Cameron, etc., etc. Remembering you all often in my prayers, hoping still to enjoy the same from you, and commending you all to the grace of God.

The arrival and departure of the Bethunes are recorded in letters of May and June, 1855. The Rev. Alexander Bethune was school-teacher at Invercargill and elsewhere in Southland from 1861.

Since the arrival of the Simlah we have enjoyed the company of Mr. and Mrs. Bethune with us at Halfway Bush. I brought them home with me on arrival, and they have remained ever since. We like them very much. Mr. Bethune has been at the Molyneux and back, and has fixed on a spot about ten miles south of the river at a place called the Warepa Bush; but as it is unsurveyed he cannot get possession for want of a Government surveyor. He is waiting the decision of the Provincial Council. He preached one afternoon for Mr. Burns very acceptably, but not over bright. I esteem them both good people.

They have been living with us since their arrival. Only left us this week to spend the winter months at the Green Island district, teaching and preaching on Sabbath, until he gets right possession of his land at the Clutha.

May 15th, 1855.

On Thursday last, William, Sarah, and I were at a marriage in the North-East Valley, viz., Mr. R. McKenzie, son of the Rev. Mr. McKenzie of Farr, to a Miss Smith, an Aberdonian. There were about 50 persons present. The hilarity of the evening was kept up until about 2 a.m. Plenty of dancing in the barn to the bagpipes. They (the Smiths) kept Sarah until the Monday following.

The night following the marriage, mother and I, together with Mr. and Mrs. Bethune, were invited to tea and supper at our next neighbours, Mr. Marshall’s. [James Marshall was one of the first deacons of First Church. His daughter Margaret married William Hepburn.] There were about 20 present, and everyone gaily dressed, as at a home party, and the tables covered with everything that is fine. The party being very select, we enjoyed ourselves very much (never forgetting the Queen and absent friends). We also remained together until an early hour, so you see we have our friendly enjoyment here as well as you have. When the addition to our house is finished we intend having a blow-out here on account of our first-born son, being now 21 years of age. The carpenter expects to be done in two weeks now, the roof being on and the windows made. He has only the floors to lay and doors to put on, but more of this after.

March 4th, 1856.

In my letter to Janet I think I mentioned something of a marriage which was to take place in our house betwixt Margaret Lindsay, late of Kinghorn, and Mr. Andrew McNeill, Molyneux. I must give you some account of it, there being some little novelty attached. I may first state that marriages here are in general kept up in great style with large parties, so Margaret was resolved not to be behind; got everything provided in the most sumptuous manner, and every accommodation provided for a large party. Wednesday was fixed for the ceremony at 4 o’clock (the law here prohibiting any to marry after that hour). The feast was all prepared, the company had mostly arrived, the ladies dressed in white with their kid gloves on, the minister also appeared at the hour appointed, the bridegroom only was awanting. What could we do but sit and wait and talk, and try to laugh, but to no purpose. Five o’clock arrived; the minister took his leave, leaving Margaret quite in the dumps. I asked if she would give us any dinner. She answered, "Oh, yes." The tables were soon covered with plenty, of which we all partook heartily—less the bride. After dinner, as usual, the toasts and song went round merrily up till 9 o’clock, when I was called out of the room into the kitchen where, lo and behold, I saw the bridegroom and bride sitting together !— all right, only sore fatigued and very wet. However, I soon introduced him to the company which produced three hearty cheers, raising all our spirits, so that we could not part till "the wee short hour ayont the twal," and that only after taking a promise from each one to return next day at the same hour.

Now, if my story is not too long, I must tell you what detained the bridegroom. He had to come from the Molyneux, upwards of 60 miles, but the roads and rivers were all flooded with water with having rained incessantly for several days—indeed we had not seen such a flood for several years. He, along with two brothers, left the Molyneux on horses on Monday and reached the Tokomairiro River that afternoon, but it was impassable. They rode six or seven miles further up the stream to no purpose. They had to wait there that night, all Tuesday and Tuesday night, and still it rained. On Wednesday morning they constructed rafts made of the flax and brushwood, called by the natives "mugies," [Maori mokihi, a raft.] and sailed across on them, swimming their horses, which they accomplished in safety, although not without some considerable danger. After this they pushed on through mire and swamp, but the horses got knocked up when they reached the next, the Taieri River, still 25 miles from Dunedin, but where there is a good ferry. Leaving his brothers to follow next day, Mr. Andrew got a fresh horse and did his best, but as I have already said, did not reach until 9 o’clock, so you perceive that love even in New Zealand is not easy cooled even at the age of —.

Next day came, and the same work here was all to do over again. Such a bustle of cooking and brushing and dressing, etc. Andrew himself set off with two fresh horses to meet his brothers, which he did some 12 or 15 miles off. They all returned in good time, but then another difficulty arose. The minister was pre-engaged to marry another party in town at the same hour. We had to go and treat with them to get married one hour earlier, which put them also about, their friends being invited at that hour. However, half an hour was granted, and a horse got to the minister, which brought him to the Halfway Bush just at 4 o’clock, where the same party was all waiting, with several additions. The knot was soon tied, and the minister again took his leave. The tables were soon spread and again loaded with plenty, and as tastefully set out as you could wish to see in the Lang Toon. No one could have known that anything had been touched the day before. We all enjoyed it with fully more life than the day before, especially those strangers who had come through such fatigue. At an early hour in the evening the whole party repaired to the barn, where the dance was kept up till an early hour. Supper was also set for as many as liked to partake, but all passed over in great good humour and happiness. Next morning 17 sat down to breakfast. After 10 the young couple set off on horseback, getting a volley of old shoes thrown after them by the young folk. Thus ends my long story, which has grown much longer than I intended, but for want of a better it will be something for you to read. Our young folks found no fault with what occurred, thereby they got two marriage dinners and two sprees instead of one, but you may be sure it caused no small stir in the house, everything being cooked and baked in the house, and really Margaret did it in style, sparing no expense.

Sarah had a letter from them saying that they had reached home safely, sending at the same time an invitation to her and William to come to his brother’s marriage next week, to take place at the Waihola Lake; but they are not going at this season.

Referring to another wedding in the same year, he writes:—

June 28th, 1856.

Our rule here is to stand three several days calling in church, which they were not very anxious to submit to; but the days passed over, and the ceremony took place in her own house at half past three o’clock. After tea almost the whole number—about 20—moved off to the Halfway Bush, the ladies in a cart, five of the gents on horseback, and the rest walked. The roads were fine and the moon beautiful. Our William being best man, he and the bride had horses, set off at full gallop, never slacking bridle until they reached the Halfway Bush, leaving Uncle [The bridegroom, James Paterson.] and I to come at our leisure (he not being a rider). All arrived in safety at 7 o’clock, where a large party of our best neighbours had assembled to meet them, all very gaily dressed. Thirty-eight, besides children, sat down to a splendid supper in our parlour. Everything was set out in as good a style as we could have possibly done at home, and everything was baked and cooked in our own house except the bride’s cake. The proper one, by the by, was cut up in Dunedin, was three storeys high and very splendid; but a receiving one, very large, and ornamented was sent to our house.

The supper consisted of roast beef, boiled mutton, steak and kaka pies, fowls, tongues, plum pudding, custards, jellies, etc., port and sherry wines, brandy, Scotch whisky in abundance. Your humble servant in the chair gave the company no time to fag. Song and toast went merrily round till 11 o’clock, when the young folks got up a dance in the new kitchen in which most of us joined by turn. About 2 a.m. the company broke up, but a few of our youngsters kept it up till near morning. The next day the young folks walked and rode about our place, when they went into town quietly in the evening, where a few friends had met to receive them, and had supper. Thus ended the spree. In justice to the parties I should have added their liberality to us. In addition to white kid gloves, Uncle presented Mother and Sarah each with a splendid new sarcenet gown made in the newest fashion. The bride gave me a beautiful super black surtout and vest, the same as Uncle got. The bride was married in a coloured sarcenet and a figured black ditto on Sunday, so everyone was very gay. Gaiety now is the order of the day in the town at least, but it is the first new coat for Sabbath that I have got since leaving home, or gown for Ma either, so it’s an ill wind that does na good. About a month before the marriage we had another harvest home, fully more gay than the former one two years before, but we did not print it. I wanted the chaps to write you the particulars; they took the whole management.

A Birthday Party, Christmas and New Year celebrations are also recorded.

December 29th, 1858.

Last Saturday being Christmas was held as an holiday. Shops all shut. So we had a family party at Wakari—in all 17 sat at dinner; all very happy, not forgetting absent friends.

Saturday, 1st, being New Year’s Day, is another holiday to be kept in Uncle James’s at dinner and a picnic in the evening at his new grounds. Would you not both wish you were with us?

Happy to inform you that William has succeeded in getting his license for his run for 14 years, so he is now all right. It was a hard push to get his cattle all forward such a distance in good time. However, he managed it with perseverance. Will give you a better account some other time.

October 1st, 1860.

Last week our whole family dined together with all the Patersons in Uncle James’s new house, "Essequibo," [The Hon. James Paterson was in business in Georgetown, on the Essequibo River, British Guiana, before coming to New Zealand. The, High Street School and Mr. E. C. Hazlett’s residence now occupy the site of "Essequibo," where many family gatherings were held.] above 20, in celebration of Grandpa’s birth, viz., 85 years of age, who is still in good health and spirits, on which occasion he made a fine speech and even sang a song. I gave "Absent Friends," which I never forget. Mr. James Adam was the only stranger, so we spent a happy evening.

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