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

A Romance of the 'Forties

A Romance of the 'Forties

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.

An Appreciation

From the Hon. Secretary, Brooklyn School Committee, Wellington, to the General Manager of Railways, Wellington:—

My Committee desires to extend through you to the Stationmaster of Upper Hutt and the Coaching Foreman, its thanks and appreciation of the assistance and courtesy displayed by these officers of the Railway Department, on the occasion of its recent picnic. The heavy rain which set in during the afternoon was a problem for the Committee, with nearly a thousand adults and children to deal with. The Stationmaster, however, by arranging conveyance for those wishing to go back to town, and also in placing the picnic train at the disposal of the Committee for sheltering and feeding the children, assisted splendidly in overcoming the Committee's difficulty. His readiness and courtesy in this emergency was much appreciated.

An Historic Clash

At the corner of the Main Hutt Road and the old Military Road stands the unique and beautiful memorial shown below. It recalls a clash with the Maoris in the early days of the settlement in the Hutt Valley.

It was here, at Boulcott's Farm, that a stockade was built and occupied by fifty men of the 58th Regiment to guard the newly settled district from an attack by the Maoris, who, around Porirua, were very restless and threatening. Some 200 natives, led by Te Karanui, who had stealthily come from the coast through the forest tracks, in the early dawn of May 16th, 1846, crept forward and attacked the stockade, but were repulsed and scattered by the troops, who, however, lost six men killed and four wounded. The heroic conduct of the lad, Bugler Allen, will ever be remembered. When sounding the alarm he was struck by a tomahawk on the right arm, but grasping his bugle with his left hand, he continued to call until he was felled and killed by a blow on the head.

On the memorial there are three tablets. That on the left records the brief details of the combat; the central one is a memorial to all who fell in the Hutt Valley in the Maori War of 1846; while on the right are the names of those who fell.

(Photo, Milton Vickery.) The Hutt Valley Maori War Memorial which is the subject of Mr. Knapp's reference on this page.

(Photo, Milton Vickery.)
The Hutt Valley Maori War Memorial which is the subject of Mr. Knapp's reference on this page.