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

Chapter V. — My First Railway Journey

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Chapter V.
My First Railway Journey.

I omitted in the last chapter to state that Auckland possesses a hospital (perfect for its size), and some grand butchers' shops.

The hospital I have been all over, thanks to the courtesy of the resident physician, and I do not believe that for brightness, ventilation, and all other essentials, its wards are to be surpassed by those of any hospital in London. I trust my readers will not imagine by my speaking of the butchers' shops and the hospital in the same breath that I desire to indicate that these institutions have anything in common or are sympathetic.

With this explanation I will proceed to the butchers' shops. Meat is the principal feather in New Zealand's cap: it is the one really substantial cheap necessary of life, and New Zealanders have not forgotten to make the most of it. It is the bait that has been found most attrac-page 28tive in the immigrant fishery, and by the use of which the agent-general has landed the majority of the immigrants in this colony. The shops where it is sold are quite a feature in the town, and must on no account be neglected. They are very large—larger, I think, than any in London, with the exception perhaps of one belonging to Messrs. Spiers & Pond near Blackfriars Bridge. They are also very bright and clean looking, being lined throughout, ceiling and all, with white glazed tiles. On horizontal bars of bright steel suspended from the ceiling are hung the carcasses of sheep and bullocks in vast numbers, while legs and shoulders of mutton, sirloins of beef and other joints are disposed on tables projecting from the walls. They are without doubt the most killing-looking shops in Auckland.

The auction marts form another prominent feature in the town, and of these I will have something to say by-and-by; for the present I think I had better return to my own affairs.

The letters which had taken a trip to Cambridge (Waikato) had now returned, in company with one from Mr.—, who informed me he would be in town in a day or two, and would call. We therefore had nothing to do till then but amuse ourselves.

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A trip to Remuera, the prettiest suburb of Auckland, in an uncomfortable omnibus, occupied one day. On the next, as my wife wished to do shopping, I decided to find out what shooting was to be obtained in the neighbourhood, and in furtherance of that object entered the shop of one of the two gunsmiths in Queen Street and accosted its proprietor, from whom I learned that there was some grand curlew shooting to be had at Onehunga, a place about eight miles off, on the Manukan Harbour. I immediately determined to go there, and see if I could not make a bag. As I found Onehunga was to be reached by rail as well as omnibus, I decided to try the former, with a view principally to the saving of time; so taking my gun, cartridge belt, and game bag, I made, in colonial parlance, "tracks" for the station, and took ticket for Onehunga and back, the high charge made—half-a-crown—astonishing me considerably. I was fortunate in just catching a train, but not so lucky in my choice of compartments, for I discovered, after the train had given its preliminary jerk—a mode of progression peculiar to New Zealand railway trains—that the gentleman by my side was suffering from an injudicious application of alcohol.

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The seats in New Zealand railway carriages run "fore and aft"—that is, lengthways—and when the first jerk came the afflicted gentleman toppled over against me, and I had some trouble in getting him fixed up perpendicularly again; the next jerk, however, found me prepared, and I met him half way, with a force that sent him over against his neighbour on the other side. This evidently did not meet with approbation, for he was shot back to me promptly, and we kept him going between us like an inverted pendulum. The "overcharged" individual operated upon took it perfectly quietly, evidently considering his oscillations quite the correct thing when travelling on a New Zealand railway. Playing battledore and shuttlecock with a drunken man is tiring work, however, and I was glad to change my seat at the first station we stopped at.

After three quarters of an hour of the roughest railway travelling I had ever experienced—progress being attained by a series of violent jerks —Onehunga was reached, and I descended and strolled away from the station, fully convinced that the railway authorities charged by time, not mileage; and this conviction I have since seen no reason to alter.

Onehunga is not an interesting port, and I page 31have no intention of describing it; suffice it to say that it is decidedly straggling. Going into an hotel near the station, I procured some lunch, and was directed to the most likely place for curlew. I laid up for them in some tall swamp grass, and waited patiently, but never saw a curlew all the afternoon, and what is more, have never seen one since I have been in New Zealand. I am positive there is not such a bird to be found in the colony, or, at any rate, in the province of Auckland; what are called curlew here are really godwit—the feathering of the two birds is almost identical, and both have long beaks, but the curlew's curve downwards and the godwit's upwards. The latter is a splendid bird for the table, while the curlew is scarcely worth the picking. I have shot dozens of them in the old country, and hundreds of godwits out here, so I ought to know.

I would not have wearied the reader with the above remarks had I not so often read in books, and more than once in newspapers out here, of the curlew in New Zealand.

When I reached the railway station, homeward bound, I had a long time to wait for a train, and walking up and down the dreary page 32platform, I did not, no! I greatly fear I did not, bless that Queen Street gunsmith. The train arriving at last, I was jerked back to Auckland in an unenviable frame of mind.

The bag I made that day at Onehunga consisted of one king-fisher, which I looked on at the time as a great curiosity. I am wiser now, for they are the commonest bird we have in this part of the colony—commoner even than sparrows; but that Onehunga king-fisher I skinned and got stuffed, and that Onehunga king-fisher I still value highly. He is the first bird I ever shot in New Zealand, and he is the last bird I ever intend shooting at Onehunga.