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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)


The facts contained in this short article are vouched for by the writer, as they were the actual experiences of his grandfather.

In May, 1841, the emigrant ship Lord William Bentinck dropped anchor in Port Nicholson harbour. Amongst her crew was an Englishman, known to his companions as “Gentleman Charlie,” a nickname that expressed the mystery of his presence there, while setting a seal on their acceptance of a man who was obviously a “gentleman.”

Some years spent in Germany while completing his education had left him with a longing for adventure and for the sight of strange lands. He detested the idea of an office stool and the eventual management of the business of his merchant father. His adventurous mind found its opportunity in the tales he heard of the young colony in New Zealand, and when the ship Lord William Bentinck set out on her long voyage to the other side of the world she carried a runaway as one of her sailors.

Romance was waiting for him in the shape of one of those chance meetings which so often alter the course of human lives. His attention was attracted by a dainty figure in bonnet and gown among the saloon passengers. Just how long it was before he contrived to speak to Betty F——is not recorded. One can imagine her, bored with the monotonous days at sea, noticing the handsome young sailor, who was yet so unlike a sailor. There were glances at first, a few whispered words, notes passed stealthily from one to the other, and stolen minutes on deck after dusk.

The tedious voyage passed quickly for the lovers until the ship lay in Wellington harbour. When Betty and her parents went ashore with the other colonists, “Gentleman Charlie” was not long in following. He and five others of the crew, to whom the colony offered possibilities of adventure and fresh experiences, deserted the ship and made their way into the thick bush behind the narrow fringe of buildings which comprised the settlement.

From their camp in the Tinakori Hills they saw, a few days later, a squad of soldiers, under the command of a sergeant, coming towards their hiding place. After a hasty council-of-war it was agreed that “Gentleman Charlie” should intercept them. His manner quite deceived the sergeant, to whose enquiries he helpfully replied that he had observed the party of sailors making off in the opposite direction towards Karori Bush, some miles away.

After such a narrow escape the runaways separated, our adventurer, travelling on foot through page 46 the dense bush at the harbour's edge (where the Hutt Road now runs) to the pah of Te Puni's tribe at Pito-one (Petone). The Maoris were extremely friendly, and he remained as their guest until the Lord William Bentinck sailed.

But, in the meantime, his impatience to see Betty again, very nearly led to his capture. Walking into Wellington one day, he suddenly encountered the ship's captain, who fortunately did not at once recognise him. The escapee turned and ran hard for the safety of the bush, where he was able to avoid pursuit and scramble back to his refuge among the Maoris.

At last the ship left the harbour, and “Gentleman Charlie” met Betty again. For several months he earned a living at the transitory work that a growing settlement offers, until he obtained the position of coxswain on the Customs boat. Betty's parents having consented, the lovers were married. In those dangerous days one did not go away for a honeymoon. There was nowhere to go.

As those early years were charged with alarms and fears of attack from hostile Maoris, “Gentleman Charlie” joined the militia, and still found life exciting in the campaigns against the warriors of the famous chiefs, Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata. In a house in Wellington to-day, one may see his cavalry sabre, sword-bayonet, and bullet pouch.

Fortune soon smiled again on the young husband. His duties brought him under the notice of Sir George Grey, who, impressed by the coxswain's abilities, had him transferred to the office staff of the Customs Department, where eventually he attained a high position.

So the man who had fled from an office stool ended his days in the formal atmosphere of a Government office. But he had his adventures— and his Betty.