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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter I. — Our Arrival in the New Country

page 1

Chapter I.
Our Arrival in the New Country.

On the second day of July 1883, in company with my wife, six children, a servant girl, and a full-rigged sailing ship—captain, mates, doctor, and crew included—I, the writer of this narrative, arrived at the port of Auckland.

Our voyage had occupied one hundred and six days, and every one concerned was mightily sick of it.

Myself and family and the doctor were the only occupants of the saloon, and as the latter had been ill for a considerable portion of the voyage, and the captain and myself were at loggerheads, things had not been quite so cheerful as they might have been. We had had more than our fair share of bad weather too: seven weeks of continuous gales, during which the page 2 ship had been more or less under water—or, as the mate put it, "had only come up to blow" occasionally—and our provisions had near run out, so it will readily be believed the prospect of once more treading dry land was hailed with delight by all.

I am a civil engineer by profession, and having for some time found it very difficult to obtain employment in the old country, rejoiced in the prospect of getting work in New Zealand in connection with a land company, who were the owners of a large tract of land—500,000 acres—situated as nearly as possible in the centre of the north island. This company had a board of directors in London, from one of whom—a friend of an uncle of mine—I had a very kind letter of introduction to the company's manager in New Zealand. My intention was to buy a few of the company's acres and build a house at the place where they were laying out a large town. Being the first in the field, and having such a good letter of introduction, as well as very fair testimonials, I felt confident of success. However, to return to our ship. As soon as she anchored off the floating magazine to discharge her gunpowder, before coming alongside the wharf, I looked about for a means of page 3getting ashore, and was lucky enough to have a passage offered me in the steam launch which had brought the health officer on board.

My mind was too bent on discovering house-room for my family, to think much of anything else, though I must confess I was not impressed with my first view of Auckland. I walked up the main street and opened negotiations with some of the principal hotels, but these proving too expensive for my pocket, I wandered about hoping to come across a house with the familiar card "Apartments to let" displayed in the window. After a considerable wear of boot leather and temper without any satisfactory result, I entered a small hotel (by the way, every beer shop in New Zealand is an hotel) and besought information combined with a glass of ale and a biscuit.

Having ascertained the whereabouts of what I was assured was a most respectable boarding-house, I set out for the place, and presently found myself opposite to a wooden structure in H— Street, which seemed to my unaccustomed eyes to be a cross between an undersized barn and a gipsy's caravan.

With hesitating hand I lifted the knocker, and my feeble rat-tap was after a considerable lapse page 4of time responded to by a female of doubtful age, and still more doubtful appearance. To this lady—they are all ladies in New Zealand—I told my wants, and was graciously informed that she would undertake to accommodate my whole family for six pounds per week,—which, by the way, was about one half the sum demanded by the most moderate of the hotels. With a feeling of relief at the prospect of getting suitable quarters at last, in reply to her invitation I entered the house.

"This is where they has their meals," said my guide, with evident pride, as she opened a door on her left and disclosed a room looking for all the world like a skittle alley of unusually wide dimensions, with a long table down the middle of it. Not a vestige of carpet was there on the floor, which was far from clean, and sloped towards one corner. On both sides of the table were ranged a number of kitchen chairs, and these, with a sideboard bearing a strong resemblance to a varnished packing-case on end, completed the furniture.

In a voice feeble with emotion, I requested to be shown the sleeping apartments, and was conducted to the back yard, down each side of which stood a long weather-boarded shed with page 5six partitions in it; each divided portion being supplied with a window and a door, and forming a bedroom a little larger than a bathing-machine—which it internally greatly resembled. Three of these were placed at my disposal, and I hurried away in a cold perspiration, caused probably by the reflection, "Whatever will the wife say?"

It was getting late, and I was getting tired. "Shall I have another hunt," I debated, and sacrifice the pound the wily proprietress of the caravan and bathing-machine had insisted on my leaving as a deposit.

I knew we could not remain in the ship, as the stewards were discharged, and there was no one to attend to us. With a sigh I determined to stick to my bargain, and hurrying down to the wharf in Queen Street, secured the services of a waterman, and was soon alongside our erstwhile floating home. On reaching the deck, my wife immediately accosted me as follows:—

"Have you succeeded in getting rooms? The children have been so troublesome. They are longing to get on shore, and neither Mary Ann nor I can keep them quiet!"

I assured her that after an immense expenditure of leg power I had succeeded in arranging page 6about quarters, and added—as a vision of the skittle alley and the bathing-machines flitted, before me—that I doubted whether she would find them very comfortable.

"Oh! never fear, dear," she cheerfully rejoined. "After three months on board ship one ceases to be particular! All I long for is a bedroom with plenty of room to turn in."

Again a vision of the bathing-boxes arose, and I trembled.