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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter XVIII - Death of Mrs. McLeod

The year 1857 was a sad time both for minister and people, for then it was that Mrs. McLeod entered into her rest. Mary McLeod was the most gentle and loving of women. She had suffered from chronic rheumatism for many years, and through it was frequently confined to bed. A loving wife, a wise companion, an indulgent mother, a generous giver, and ever a peacemaker, she left the most kindly of memories amongst the people. The struggles and heartburnings of these people ever since leaving Scotland greatly saddened her. She was the confidant and soother of all their domestic troubles. The men had their outdoor work, but the women were left to nurse the sick, listen to the laments of the aged, and so to brood over their hard lot. In their sphere of life the women had by far the more trying duties to perform. In motherhood and family sickness they had no trained head to advise or help them; while the preparing of suitable clothing and food was a perpetual task. The marvel is that they endured the battle of adverse circumstances so well; while it speaks volumes for their stamina and boundless resource. They deserve an imperishable monument and the everlasting gratitude of their descendants. In all their troubles the ministerís wife was their ministering angel.


A beautiful spot close by the landing place at The Cove had been selected as the common burying ground. No more appropriate spot could have been selected. Here they first set foot on Waipu soil in February, 1853, and here on departing they rest to all eternity. It was originally a lovely bush-clad slope, but time has robbed it of much of its sylvan beauty. The brave and undaunted pioneers who sleep there deserve well of their successors, and the latter ought to lavish time and money on restoring and preserving its original beauty.

Following the old Highland custom, when the day of burial arrived, a boy visited every house in the settlement and gave the following verbal message to each householder:

"You are warned to attend the funeral of Mrs. McLeod at two oíclock to-morrow, and God be with you." The men donned their best clothing. All work ceased at midday, and the people gathered at the house of mourning. Ever since the moment of death, the body was being "watched" by relays of friends. Two to four individuals became "watchers" in turn, and generally sat in silence. Usually an elder of the church or some leading man visited the house daily and held family worship. In those days there were no hearses, so the coffin was carried shoulder high on a bier to the grave. In the Highlands the custom was to invite all the people into the barn and give them a "dram with biscuits and cheese". The bier was kept at the church, and it was brought to the house along with the coffin. Usually a retired sergeant or other retired military man, was appointed master of ceremonies. The refreshments over, he ordered the men to "fall in." Then the coffin was brought out and placed on the bier which men carried "hands down." The sergeant shouted "open ranks !" when a lane was formed, and the men carrying the coffin passed along it. On reaching the end of the lane the sergeant shouted "shoulder highómarch !" Then the ranks closed and on went the cavalcade, the sergeant leading it. After marching a few hundred yards, he turned round and shouted "relief!" Then the cavalcade came to a stand and four fresh men relieved the bearers. As this was accomplished, he shouted "to the rearómarch !" and thus the funeral procession marched whatever distance it had to travel to the burial place. The ceremony was picturesque and awe-inspiring, and once seen is never likely to be forgotten. Death is the leveller of all things human, and in its presence all flesh is but as dust.


During the earlier stages of pioneering in a bushclad country domestic animals are of no great value. There are no succulent grasses, and hence the animals wander. Horses and sheep are not great leaf-eaters, and generally there is little of the food these animals desire in the New Zealand bush. The cow and ox will eat a great variety of leaves, but though they manage to live they do not thrive greatly. The cow is generally the first animal to be introduced; but in New Zealand at least bush cows tend to become wild and refuse to be driven into the stockyard. A little time and effort soon changes all this. The pioneer selects a suitable patch in his section, and with his fire-stick burns off all the native growth. This done, he waits for a good shower and surface sows his patch with grass seed. In the course of a month or two he has a fine sward of grass, but the scrub, bush, and timber left by the fire have to be felled. This work has to be done by axe, and hence is slow and laborious. In the course of a year or so he has his patch of from two to five acres clear of timber with stumps only showing. This is the starting point of his cultivation paddock, but to plough or dig or harrow it owing to the tree stumps is an impossible task. If he has time and energy the next step is to erect a post and rail fence around his patch. The material is there at hand, and so labour only is all that is required. In the autumn he again burns the grass and any new growth showing, and on this he scatters his wheat seed and rakes it in as best he can. Maize and potatoes he plants on the lazy-rig principle, which has already been described. As a rule abundance of rain falls in the late autumn and winter, and so growth even with this primitive farming is assured. The area of his section not intended for cultivation is burnt off at any suitable time, sown with grass seed, and left to take care of itself. In the course of one year he has plenty of grass for a cow or two on this burnt area. They help to destroy any new growths and, having this grass area at their command, they are more manageable and rarely take to the bush. There are no roads, and hence horses are of little value. A couple of bullocks and four-wheeled waggon is the next acquisition. All the material for waggon building grows on the farm. SO the handy man constructs his own waggon with his homegrown materials. Bullocks and a strong waggon are independent of formed roads; hence with this outfit he hauls timber or farm products or takes his family to visit a neighbour anywhere round about. He is progressing, and gradually surmounting the difficulties of the pioneer. His next job is to uproot those stumps in his cultivation paddock, and that can only be accomplished with much time and labour, for food he must grow. In the intervals he is busy erecting a post and rail fence, or, if he has cash, a wire fence, on the boundaries of his section. The law is that oneís neighbour is compelled to pay half the cost of all boundary fences. This leads them to work together, and hence fences of some kind are quickly erected. By this time four or five years have elapsed, and he buys a horse on which to ride about, and a few sheep for mutton and wool. The pioneer now feels that his struggles are being rewarded. He has a good log cabin, one or two hundred acres of land, a few cows and sheep, and a horse. Are they all his own property? In the case of the Waipu pioneers at least all these things were their own, for the land was a free grant and the rest was their own labour.


In new settlements the roads universally follow the line of least resistance. The provincial government had little money to spend upon road making, and hence for many years they were merely tracks following the easiest lines of progression. The land surrounding the settlement was owned by the Maoris. They had no need for roads, nor could the government compel them to construct any. In those circumstances there was little use in forming good roads at Waipu for they led nowhere. In the matter of

schools it was different, and here the government acted as soon as the people were ready. Norman acted as teacher for a time, but as the people overcame their pioneering struggles the government stepped in, erected schools, and appointed teachers. One of the earliest teachers appointed was Mr. Hugh McKenzie, who arrived in the "Spray" in 1857. He was born at Assynt in 1817, and was partly educated by Norman. His people sailed in the "Frances Ann" along with Norman and followed him in the "Ark" and St. Annís episodes. He was a teacher at St. Annís, and shortly after his arrival at Waipu he was appointed to the Braigh School. The word "braigh" is Gaelic for a hill-foot or rising ground, and is equivalent to the Scotticism "braes." The Braes of Waipu are quite as lovely as are the " Braes of Balquidder." Mr. McKenzie retired from teaching on arriving at 65 years of age, and was then appointed Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages at Waipu, and held this office until his death in 1895.


As they cleared the land they cut down all the large kauri trees and left them to season. Then when bullock teams were introduced they were employed to drag the huge kauri logs to convenient sawpits, there to be cut up into suitable building timber. Kauri timber is hard and exceedingly durable, so that houses built in the sixties and seventies of last century are as sound to-day as the day on which they were erected. The raupo hut and the rough log cabin have long since disappeared, and fine sawn timber houses have taken their place. At first these wooden houses were roofed with shingles, that is timber cut into pieces resembling slate; but these also have disappeared, and all houses are now covered with corrugated iron. It is exceedingly interesting to watch the various steps in the progress of a new settlement in a new country. First comes the sod hut or raupo hut or calico tent, next comes the log cabin of rough timber, then the more pretentious wooden house, and finally the grand stone or brick building. All these things are seen everywhere throughout New Zealand, both in town and country, only in towns one has to look for them.

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