The Bluff—Bleak and inhospitable view—Miserable
railway arrangements—First impressions—Cheerless ride to
Invercargill—Forestry neglected—Shameful waste— The
timber industry—Necessity for reform—Pioneering —The usual
Australian mode—The native method—A
contrast—Invercargill—A large farm—Conservatism of the
farming classes—Remenyi's anecdotes.
We have thus
tracked the much-talked-of depression down to earth. We have followed the
cry of "dull times" all through the islands; and here at
last, in Dunedin, we have found some faint echoes
with the ring of truth in them. Before entering into any
inquiry or speculation as to causes and possible remedies,
let me finish my descriptive remarks by detailing briefly
what we saw at Invercargill and the Bluff, and then, with
the reader's permission, we may devote a chapter or
two, profitably, to a consideration of one or two
deductions from what we have observed, and take a glance
in closing at some of the moral, social, and intellectual
phases of life in this land which is so rich in natural
beauties and scenic marvels.
We drew up
alongside the dreary wharf at the Bluff on May 29. It may
be necessary to mention for the edification of my readers
that this is the most southerly point of call for
ocean-going steamers to New Zealand.
The Bluff is a
good instance of what is at first so puzzling to a new
arrival from the old country, namely, the antipodean order
of things. He has been so accustomed all his life to
associate cold weather, snowy hills, bleak moorlands, and
wintry skies with the inhospitable north and warmth,
colour, foliage, and all the delights of balmy summer
with the "sunny south" that he gets "considerably mixed," as a Yankee
would say, to find that in New Zealand the farther south
he goes he gets the less sun ; and if he happens to
experience the same weather as we did at the Bluff, he
will begin to think that he has taken farewell of the
Now it does seem
like a confession of weakness and want of straw, so to
speak, to begin a chapter by a disquisition on the
weather, and yet the elements cannot be left out in any
description of the Bluff.
If there is any
other place at the Antipodes where more piercing blasts
are to be experienced, accompanied by gusts of sleet and
rain; if there is anywhere else in the wide world, a more
unsheltered, forsaken, "waste-howling wilderness" than
the Bluff, well, I don't want to see it; that's all. The
Bluff is quite enough for me! I saw it in somewhat similar
circumstances twenty years ago, and it does not seem to
have altered much since then. There are possibly a few
more houses, and bigger shops. The wharves are somewhat
more extensive, and the railway buildings have been added.
There was a railway twenty years ago ; that I distinctly
remember, because an enthusiastic Bluffite got a shovel,
and dug a sort of pit in the drifted sand, and showed me
the rails, but there was no train then. The line
was blocked by the sanddrifts, and possibly also because
the provincial treasury-chest was at ebb-tide.
There is a train
now. It is the coldest, most comfortless train I ever rode
in. The railway officials seem like the old rails, to have
been dug out of a sanddrift too. One individual, who
seemed to be invested with authority, was about the
most sluggish in his movements of any official I remember
to have ever met. He professed the most sublime ignorance
of the time-table, or possibly was too lazy to give the
asked-for information. Surely any fool, he evidently thought,
coming to the Bluff, should know at what hours the
trains ran. At any rate he acted as if such were his
mental excogitations. The miserable pigeon-hole, or
trapdoor, through which the bits of pasteboard are
purveyed, was kept inexorably shut till exactly one minute
after the train was timed to start. This, in spite of
frequent knockings by a troop of fellow-passengers, who
were already depressed enough by what they had seen
of the Bluff. Of course, then, the guard began to fuss,
the engine-driver to cuss, the solitary porter to "muss,"
and things rapidly got "wuss."
applicant for a ticket tendered a one- pound note.
"Ain't ye got no
smaller change?" came querulously from the official.
"Well, I can't
change it. Ye'll have to wait."
The next man
"planked" a half-sovereign, and received his ticket.
I put down a
sovereign, and sharply demanded both tickets and change.
Now, whether some subordinate had in the meantime been
over to the public-house or store for change, or whether
my attitude and tone signified that there might be
trouble about, I know not, but there was no
difficulty raised in my case. The poor second-class
passenger, however, who had proffered his pound, was kept
waiting in the cold for some minutes, until at length he
managed to get an accommodating friend on the platform to negotiate the
desired exchange for him.
straws show the drift of the current." We are all
unconsciously influenced very much by first impressions. I
can fancy a party of immigrants coming out to New Zealand ; their hearts
beating with ardent resolves, fond fancies, and high
hopes, being at once chilled and disappointed by
the bleak, wintry, inhospitable aspect of the Bluff; but
if, in addition, they were doomed to a dose of that
railway official, I can imagine the suicide statistics
going up to a hitherto unapproached percentage. The man deserves promotion.
He would be invaluable as a Ministerial Under-Secretary to
receive deputations, or answer questions in Parliament.
He merits much the sort of promotion Haman got.
At length we
started for Invercargill. The wind howled dismally across
the sandy dunes and flax- covered mounds. It screamed and
whistled across the broad shallow bay, and dashed the
blurring, blinding rain in at every crevice of the
rattle-trap carriages. Far away over a dim, misty, flat
expanse, we got one last peep of the distant snowy
sierras. Then down again came the intensified veil of
misty clearlessness and hissing sleet.
The ride to
Invercargill was cheerless in the extreme. Here and there
we pass a train track into the once plentiful bush, now
getting sadly thinned. There are several saw-mills on the
railway-line, and sidings,' piled high with planks and
square timber. Every year sees the country denuded of
its best timbers, and yet such is the Boeotian
stupidity of the average Anglo-Saxon colonist that no
organized scientific effort is made to fill the gaps, and
ensure a continuity of the supply. Verily, the progress of
humanity is a slow process.
How often do we
hear the poor bewildered doubter ask, in an agony of vain
regret, "If there be a God, why doth He yet permit this
evil, or that abuse?" And yet the same doubter will wax
eloquent as he expounds what he is pleased to call
the Gospel of Humanity. He exalts the human intellect, and
indulges in glowing anticipations of the unerring fate,
which is working toward the time when "men shall be as
gods, knowing good from evil." But it is the fashion
nowadays to put all the blame on God. Our doubter quarrels with Omnipotence,
and the All Wise, "whose ways are not as our ways," because the mysteries of
being, the operations of spirit, the deep problems of man's moral nature are
not all brought into harmony with his own crude, imperfect ideas of what
should be, at once, by a mere fiat, by a creative instantaneous act. "And
lo, man being in honour, abideth not. He is like the beasts that perish."
Take this matter of forest-felling, for instance, how short-sighted, how
crass, how like "the beasts that perish." What amazing stupidity; what
shameless greed ; what want of foresight, or criminal indifference to
results! Has not the lesson been proclaimed over and over again that
wholesale denudation of the forests of a country will exact its retribution
in widespread ruin and desolation? Forest management has attained the rank
almost of an exact science now. It has its literature, its schools, its
laws; but they do seem to be as a dead letter to New Zealanders, and not,
alas! to them alone. Occasionally a warning voice is raised, a mild protest
appears spasmodically at intervals in some country journal; but who can
touch the callous heart of the lumberer and timber contractor? Who can prick
his seared conscience? "Let it last my time" is all the aspiration of his
creed. "Let those that come after me shift for themselves " is the selfish
cry that echoes in the emptiness of his inmost soul, and finds expression in
his conduct. The legislator who would attempt a remedy ; the reformer who
would stay the hand of the spoiler, and insist on construction and
destruction proceeding simultaneously, is denounced as a dreamer, is
hounded down as an obstructive. Vested interests stir up ignorance and
fanaticism, and the spoiler has his way. There is no piercing the thick hide
of self-interest. You cannot perforate the greedy man's armour.
Now the timber
industry of New Zealand is a vast one. Millions of capital
must be invested in it, and thousands are dependent on it
for their subsistence. There is no need to stop timber-getting.
There is no necessity to close a single saw-mill.
But surely the plain lessons of experience and the
monitions of common sense might be acted on.
self-interest, or patriotism, or intelligence will not
make individuals act, then the general intelligence should be roused to
interfere. The State should frame its policy so that
indiscriminate havoc should not be made with the forests.
Replanting should be insisted on, of acre for acre
corresponding to what is annually cut down. Waste should
be punished. Strict supervision should be exercised.
The classes in the commonwealth, other than those
engaged or interested in the timber trade, should have
their interests conserved; and forestry, in a word, should
be taught and practised, and the industry made subject to the same
restrictions in kind, as have been found to be beneficial
in India, Germany, and other countries, where public
attention has been awakened, and the subject scientifically studied. It has
been found good for the common weal to legislate for
factory workers, for miners, for mariners, for sportsmen,
for farmers even, to impose certain restrictions and
formulate rules; why should it not be done with lumberers
and sawyers? It is no reply to say, "Oh, the
forests will last our time." Surely we have a duty to
posterity in this matter. I am so convinced of the evil
that is being done, of the sinfulness of the wasteful
methods that are allowed, that I cannot refrain from
adding my feeble protest to that of others abler than
myself, who have from time to time uplifted their
testimony in favour of a reform in the present conditions
of forest administration. And in a hundredfold greater
degree is it necessary for New South Wales.
You speak on the
subject with your fellow- tourists. They agree with you
that "something should be done." You refer to it in your
conversations with farmers, theologians, legislators,
merchants, squatters, hotel-keepers, and shopkeepers. Yes, they agree with
you that the present state of matters is wrong ; that the
best kinds of timber are fast becoming scarcer ; that
the supply at this rate cannot last for ever; that
there is enormous preventible waste; that even firewood
near the towns is becoming dearer; that the present want
of system is rotten; anything you like—excepting that it is any business
of theirs to help forward public opinion, to check
abuses, and institute reformed methods. Here in Southland
vast areas, while they have not been made one whit more
adapted for settlement, have simply been despoiled of all
that made the land valuable to the State. Some few
individuals have been enriched, but the country has been
impoverished to an extent that would appal the heavily-
taxed farmer, and general consumer, could he be only made
properly cognizant of the fact. In some parts where public
roads had been made, or telegraph-lines constructed through bush country, I
have seen millions of magnificent logs, each of
them containing hundreds of square feet of sound,
merchantable timber, burnt like so much stubble, or
tumbled together pell-mell to rot, to breed putridity, to
become a loathsome eyesore, to raise one's gorge, at the
reckless, sinful waste of God's good gifts to man.
I saw several
such roads in the North Island. Had a portable
saw-mill—or, for the matter of that, where one could go
ten could go—had portable saw-mills accompanied the road
party, enough timber might have been cut to go far toward
defraying every penny of the expense of forming the
highway. 'Tis true the road might have taken longer time
to make, the initial expense might have been greater ; but
in no country that I am acquainted with would the returns
from sawn timber have been so absolutely ignored and
contemptuously rejected as an item of reimbursement as in
New Zealand and, shall I say it, in Australia too.
Or take the
average settler, pioneering in a bush district. All the
timber he fells is indiscriminately .burned. That is so !
Is it not? It is undoubtedly generally the case. Well, I, too, have
been a pioneer, and have had my fair share of
clearing to do. The method of my procedure, which was not
different from the generaj custom there, was to cut down
all useless undergrowth and small timber first. I next
selected such trees as I intended to retain as permanent
shelter. Of course, this would depend largely on the uses
to which it was intended to put the land. My own
experience and my reading have taught me that, whether you
are clearing for pastoral or agricultural purposes,
it is wise always to retain a few trees to the acre. In
clumps to be preferred. Sometimes I would leave a pretty
wide belt, and wherever the soil was light and poor, I
would invariably retain the primal forest on such spots,
until I could put in plantations of more useful trees.
Thus you provide
for shelter, a most important desideratum, either for
flocks or crops. You also cause less disturbance of
atmospheric and climatic conditions; and there are other
advantages, not to speak of the beauty, which accrue from
this plan, but which, as this is not a treatise on land
management, cannot be given here.
You next proceed
to fell the forest trees. I used invariably to lop
judiciously, burn what could not be used; but if bark was
of any use, it was saved. If charcoal could be made from
the loppings it was made, and the logs, barked and
stripped of branches, were next cut into convenient lengths, and
stacked until such time as I could sell them or saw them
up. In Germany the chemical products from the destructive
distillation of wood form a handsome source of revenue in
themselves. The reserve stock of timber thus secured may
serve the wants of generations. I do not think it relevant
to say that such a mode might be all very fine for India,
or France, or Germany, or Great Britain, but it
would not pay in Australia. I say, give it a trial and
see. "It wouldn't pay" is too often the cry of ignorance
and sheer laziness.
Australian mode, as my readers must know, is to cut and
slash and burn indiscriminately everything, and very often the timber that
goes to build the settler's habitation has .to be
bought actually from some foreign importation. Surely in this vaunted age
of enlightenment and utilitarianism such methods are worse
than imbecile—they are sinful.
I have heard it
said that "there are three things in this world which
deserve no quarter: Hypocrisy, Pharisaism, and tyranny."
To these I would add a fourth, "waste."
be indefinitely multiplied. Is a paling post wanted, or a
log for a culvert, or a rail to stop a gap, the nearest
forest king is straightway hacked down, leaving frequently
three or four feet of the very primest stuff in the
ground. One length is cut up, and possibly as much
precious material left wantonly to rot as would suffice
almost to keep a family for a month under better
It is true a few
faint, but none the less laudable, beginnings have been
made. I know one lover of his kind who has for years been
making experimental plantings of the most likely trees in New
South Wales. My brother, in his parish, has set an
example which is happily being followed largely by his
people. In South Australia, in Victoria— even in the
sometime laggard New South Wales— some little is being
done to stay ruthless waste; to improve forest
administration and introduce new supplies of fresh kinds
of timber. Near Wanganui I saw plantations, 'tis true, and
the Government must be credited with good intentions in
giving grants of land as a guerdon for tree-planting; and,
yet, how much more might be done. Oh! surely if
waste be sinful—as I believe it to be—might not preachers
and teachers deviate occasionally from their sickening
platitudes, to preach practical lessons of thrift and
economy in such directions as I have been endeavouring to
indicate? Surely it would be worthy of a patriot or
statesman—yea even of a three-hundred pound a year
hireling—to devote a little time to the elucidation of
such economic problems as are contained in wise and
prudent forest administration.
Or—let us look
at the matter in yet one more light before we leave the
subject. Here is a country so bountifully endowed with
natural advantages, that at Gisborne, at Warepa, at Auckland, at
Christchurch, out of a score of places, I have seen trees
whose one year's growth has been twelve feet in height. We
find in possession a savage, cannibal, tattooed race, who,
if they wanted a canoe, would select the most suitable
tree with care, and expend infinite toil in carving it for
its required use. If they wanted to build a whare,
the trees were as carefully selected, and as
judiciously used. There was no wanton disfigurement of the grand gallery of
illustration which the Great Architect had painted in such
resplendent beauty and such magnificent variety on the
fair face of hill and dale. But at last comes civilized
man; the last greatest crowning effort of the
"selection" of the ages ; the "fittest" inhabitant of this
sublunary sphere. And what do we behold? Already the reckless devastation
has been so great, that ruin impends over more than one
deforested district. There are places where firewood actually costs
as much as bread; and still we boast of our civilization,
and hug ourselves in the intoxication of our self-worship,
and "thank God that we are not as this poor Maori-" Let
him that readeth, reflect.
Why, even in
sleepy Tasmania, where the forests are much more dense
than New Zealand, the remarkable Huon Pine, once so plentiful all over
the West Coast, is all but exterminated; and a
legislative enactment has recently been passed, so I am
informed, forbidding farther cutting of Huon Pine for a
period of fifty years. I cannot refrain from italics. Is
not this a caustic commentary on what some of my readers
may have been pooh- poohing at, and regarding me in their
hearts as a garrulous "gowk," for presuming to speak as I
Meantime, we are
still shivering in the cheerless railway carriage on the
slow road to Invercargill. The rain is plashing and
dashing more determinedly than ever, and it is evident we
are not to see Invercargill under favourable auspices.
And yet I was
agreeably surprised at the extent of the town. It is well
laid out on a great flat plain, with gravelly soil, and
therefore healthy. The streets are rectangular, and of a
regal width. It was most pleasing to note that the streets
are being planted with shade trees, and some day
they will be fine boulevards. The most enormous
building in the city is Walter Guthrie's woodvvare
factory. Surely in advance of the requirements of the
place. There is a spacious crescent leading up from the
railway station, some excellent hotels therein, and four
handsome bank buildings where the main street intersects
Of course on
such a depressing day, the general appearance was not
inspiriting; but there is a large surrounding country, for
which Invercargill is the emporium, and as settlement
increases a steady business must always be done. At
present it has reached the nadir of its depression. A
shallow estuary from the sea reaches to the town. It is
called the New River. Small craft can come up on a flood
tide, but the sea outlet is, of course, at the Bluff.
industries of a colonial town are carried on—brickworks,
breweries, tanneries, soap-works, saw-mills, &c. The chief exports are sawn
timber and grain, principally oats.
The New Zealand
Agricultural Company has a splendid freehold estate in
Southland, the province of which Invercargill is the capital; and
some idea of the productive capacity of the soil,
and the importance of the farming interest may be gathered
from a bare recital of what that one estate has done this
season. Mr. Valentine, the manager, a bright, intelligent
Aberdonian, sowed over 6000 acres with oats, and did not
lose an acre. It averaged about sixty bushels to the acre.
In addition, he has 5000 acres sown with wheat, which
usually averages forty bushels per acre. Mr.
Valentine farms on scientific principles, not by " rule of
thumb." The secret of his exemption from the vexatious
losses that visit his neighbours, he attributes to his
early autumn sowings. And yet his neighbours will not
follow his lead.
conservative is the old farmer class! How terribly
difficult to move out of the old routine! Even the gods
fight in vain against stupidity.
world-renowned violinist, with whom I had the good fortune
to travel from the Bluff, gave me one or two admirable
anecdotes bearing on this very point.
instance," said the maestro. "It is a plant that does
delight in moisture; but the old-world farmers did always
plant it on the top of the ridge. The American Farmer, he
did notice that the best potatoes did grow in the hollow.
JHe did reverse the old plan ; and now everybody will
see how much better is the new plan." This told R 2
in his broken English was more entertaining than
any reproduction I can give.
the proverbial grumbling of the average bucolic swain, he
told a good anecdote which he heard Francis Deak, the
Hungarian patriot statesman, tell.
nobility of soul would allow him to accept of no return
for his splendid and disinterested services to his country, used
occasionally to spend a few weeks pleasant retirement from
the cares of politics, at the farm of a well-to-do
brother- in-law in the country.
On his arrival,
on one occasion, he found his host and relative in a very
bad humour—brow clouded, manner abrupt and unamiable; and
on asking what was the matter, his query elicited a
querulous burst of bewailing over his wretched bad
"Why, what's the
matter?" queried the statesman; "potatoes failed?"
potatoes are a good crop."
vineyards have borne well."
"No; wheat and
corn have given an abundant harvest."
"Well, what in
the world are you bemoaning? Potatoes, vines, corn, wheat
all excellent. What can have gone wrong? Are the cattle
responded the rich Hungarian; "but I tried a half acre of
poppy this year, and it has turned out a dead failure."
"Ah, me!" said
Deak. "How many of us think only of our half-acre of
poppies, forgetful of the myriad good things which fall
daily to our lot."
The closing note
I find recorded about Southland is that it contains the
finest herd of black-polled Angus cattle in the southern
hemisphere. These form the famous Waimea herd, near Gore,
which has taken the first prize for this class wherever
shown in Australia.