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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - Widening Interests - Chapter V

In December, 1855, George Hepburn was elected with John McGlashan and William Smith as a representative of the western district of the Provincial Council, which had been enlarged to 19 members.

The writer also got entangled with political affairs; was first elected member of the Provincial Council for Wakari, which seat he continued to hold (with re-elections) for ten years, four of which he had the honour to sit as Chairman of Committees. Meanwhile he was also returned as member for the House of Representatives at Wellington, which seat he also filled for three years, delicate health only caused his resignation." [Reminiscences, 1870.]

March 4th, 1856.

When this letter was begun I expected to have got it away by last ship, but having a number of business letters to write at the same time did not get yours finished. Since then my time has been a good deal occupied with the sittings of the Provincial Council, which was something rather new to me, viz., legislating for Provinces. It was a position quite unlooked for on my part, but pressed upon me by my constituents. Our sittings lasted for ten days, but long sederunts from 1 o’clock till 10, 11, or even 12 o’clock. Had a strong opposition of six to contend against in all our measures, which is generally the case on all public bodies. The newspapers will give you all the particulars if you think them worth reading. The principal measures were the Education and Road Bills. The first day we met we were all specially invited by card to a dejeuner in the Superintendent’s house, which was served up in great style. Another morning all those on the Government side were invited to a breakfast in the house of Mr. Reynolds, and on another evening the whole Council supped together in a private hotel. Captain Nicol [Captain John Nicol brought the brig Gil Blas, 175 tons, up to Dunedin on March 1st, 1856. The Provincial Council tendered him a public dinner. He settled in Otago and died in 1877.] of the Gil Blas being our guest in honour of being the first captain that had brought his ship up the harbour within a little of the jetty—a thing at one time thought impracticable. The Council has voted him £500 as a bonus to run his ship regularly for one year betwixt Melbourne and Otago, which will facilitate our markets. The Council also voted £500 to be spent on the improvement of the roads, and £1,500 for building schools and schoolmasters’ houses; but, as I said, the papers will tell you all our doings in public matters.

June 28th, 1856.

After being subjected to endure a silence of upwards of three months of what is going on either in the commercial or the historical affairs of the world, we have at last received during the last two weeks letters and papers in abundance. First a coastal vessel via Wellington bringing a pretty large mail, in which we received letters from Kirkaldy till January 29th. Then in a week after another coaster arrived via Canterbury, bringing another large mail of eight bags—the accumulated mails of three to four months—this said vessel being five weeks on her passage betwixt this and the latter place, distance only 150 miles. Contrary winds had driven her twice back from our coast (nevertheless, these prevailing winds at certain seasons we never experience anything like the destructive gales you seem to have at home). But those long delays which occur in the transit of letters, both to and from New Zealand, serve to show why letters are so long on the way. All the other settlements in New Zealand, however, have got steam communication but Otago. That also we expect to share in soon.

By the last mail referred to we had letters from Kirkaldy dated November and December, 1855, duplicates of invoices and letters received three months before, so the first came last. Mr. Douglas in his letter of January 29th mentioned his having forwarded to London along with his own goods some crates of crockeryware from you. This we are very glad of, being sore run out of a good many things. We could have wished you had sent the invoice along with his, but when the Sir Edward Paget arrives, which we now look for daily, we expect both invoice and goods. Being anxious to let you have a little more money, we have paid this day into J. Macandrew and Co. to be paid you through them in bank bills from Melbourne for the sum of £50, which sum we hope you will not be long in receiving, as a vessel leaves this for Melbourne on Monday first. We will embrace the next opportunity of sending you the balance of last shipment.

We observe from the Auckland papers that our representative, Mr. Macandrew, has carried a Bill through the House of Assembly empowering the Provinces to establish banks or carry on banking on a more extended scale than at present. We may, therefore, expect some branch here immediately. You cannot be wrong in sending three or four crates of crockery twice a year, the kinds we will advise you of after.

March 14th, 1857.

I mention these things merely to show you the disadvantage we are at in being so long in getting goods after we expect them. Our letters, too, are still in the same position, notwithstanding the very rapid passages made by the new company’s line to Australia; we are as long in getting them forward to Otago as ever. The authorities at Melbourne or Sydney won’t send the New Zealand letters any way but by the William Denny steamer to Auckland, 700 miles from us, from which we are sometimes two months in receiving them here, but you will see from the papers sent you that great exertions are making in order to get the mails delivered direct to each Province, to aid in which we have voted £2,000 as our share of a bonus for a steamer to call here with a mail, so we expect to be all right by and by.

In your letter you also complain about the length of time in getting your money for what you send. I frankly admit of the reasonableness of your complaint, and do regret it very much, knowing the difficulty you must have in being kept so long out of it. I hope that that also will be remedied by and by. To be sure we have now got a bank established, but they charge us 10 per cent. for discounting a bill and three per cent. more if we ask a bill on home, so we have not troubled them yet in any way. What money we deposit we get no interest for, so there is no inducement there but merely for security. We sent you lately £100 by Mr. W. H. Reynolds of Messrs. J. Macandrew and Co., who left this by the Gil Blas via Melbourne for Scotland, and who will pay it over to you on arrival. He promised to call at Kirkaldy on Messrs. Lockhart, but I forgot to give him your address, but it is likely he will call on you also. He is on a marriage jaunt with a dashing young wife—a great favourite of mine. Tell Mr. Lockhart to send him to you, and you take them to see Catherine and the children.

You seem to think that I charge too much commission—that is by doing so on the gross amount. To be sure I do—it is the regular practice; besides, we give you a good deal higher percentage on the goods we retail than what we would give to other importers here. For instance, we now get crockery laid down at 100 per cent. on the original invoice, with an allowance off for breakages, and almost all other merchandise at 50 per cent. You will see from our newspapers sent the great quantity of goods that Mr. Jones brings in, which he is very anxious to sell at a moderate percentage to keep down small importers. We don’t get half our supply from Home, so are compelled to buy from others from whom we easily get three or four months’ credit, so in making sales we have to do the same just as at Home. This year money will be very scarce owing to the very low price of produce. However, we have no reason to complain as yet.

You will see also from our papers that gold seems to be found in the southern part of our Province—several are now working at it— but whether it will continue to be a profitable field we cannot tell. If it should, it will likely produce a great influx of people. People we do need; labour is still as high as ever—10s. per day was given this harvest, and 9s. to 10s. is very common for carpenters and other mechanics, and house servants are scarcely to be had. The public works going on by the Government, too, would require a great deal more hands than they can possibly get. When you come out, there is no fear of my not speaking—there is no difference whatever. You might very probably get the first sight of me wheeling a barrow down the jetty to save the sixpence for shipping. If anyone here thinks himself too high for doing anything connected with his own business (servant maids excepted) he is a fool.

I forgot to say that collectors are busy taking subscriptions for erecting a new church for Mr. Burns. The Halfway Bush district has raised £200—the others not reported yet.

The first sale of land for the new town at Invercargill took place here yesterday. The room was crowded, and bidding for quarter acres only was very spirited. For some sections the competition was very great, running up from £8 to £46. Altogether the sale realised £1,500 for town sections only, so you see the people are going ahead for town property there.

June, 1858.

The demand for town sections of late has been excessive. There is a monthly sale of those who are applied for, and the competition is sometimes keen. This month there are upwards of 100 sections applied for. The price of building ground in the business part of the town is selling at £1 per foot of frontage. One lot has been even let at that price.

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