The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892.
The Taranaki Refugees.—Trafalgar Park.—Railway Proposals—Volunteer Corps established.—Explorations by Mr. W. T. L. Travers, Sir Julius Von Haast, Mr. James Mackay, jun., Mr. Rochfort, and Mr. Burnett.—Wreck of the Delaware.—Presentation to Julia, Martin, and other Maoris.—Opening up the Interior. —Track down the Buller.—Progress of Gold Mining.—Depression in Nelson —West Coast Rush.—Effect in Nelson.—The Superintendent and three others drowned.—Character of Mr. Robinson.— Sorrow of the Nelson People.—Mr. Saunders elected Superintendent. His first Executive.—Mr. J. C. Richmond resigns as Commissioner of Crown Lands.—Mr. Saunders' Political Difficulties.—Dissolution of Provincial Council.—Mr. Saunders re-elected Superintendent.— Provincial Council Elections.—Steamer "Kennedy" arrives.—The Steamer "Nelson."—First Steamer to enter Hokitika River.
During the Taranaki War in 1860 the wives and children of many of the settlers there were removed to Nelson. When news of the outbreak of hostilities arrived, very strong sympathy was aroused. A public meeting was held, at which the Superintendent, Mr. Robinson, presided. Subscription lists were opened, and an immediate asylum was offered. The offer was accepted, and for months the Taranaki refugees continued to arrive. The country people of the Waimea and Motueka vied with the residents of the Town in offering them hospitality. Many of the refugees were received into private families, but accommodation of this kind was limited. The Oddfellows, true to the benevolent principles of the Order, gave up their Hall and buildings for several months without charge, and at considerable pecuniary loss. Shortly after, the support of the refugees was undertaken by the Nelson Provincial Government, and afterwards by the Colonial Government.
The Provincial Council found the money for the erection of cottages, long known as the "Taranaki Buildings," which were subsequently utilised for some years as a refuge for the aged and infirm. In addition to the voluntary subscriptions of the Nelson people, the settlers of other parts of the Colony contributed to the fund; the Provincial Councils of Otago and Wellington voted sums for the same purpose; and even Australia sent substantial aid.
At one time there were nearly 1,200 Taranaki settlers, including women and children, staying in Nelson. After the close, of the war free passages were offered to the refugees, from Nelson to Taranaki, of which the great majority took advantage, but some few elected to remain.
The funds collected were vested in a Committee, who, after upplying the immediate wants of the refugees, found that they page 128had an unexpended balance of £500, which was not required for the purposes for which it was subscribed. This money was placed upon deposit in the Union Bank of Australia, Limited, at Nelson, at interest, and was re-deposited from time to time.
On the 6th July, 1891, this sum had increased from £500 to £1667 19s. 9d. The surviving members of the Committee. viz.: Mr. Oswald Curtis, Mr. William Wells, Mr. Edward Everett, and Mr. W. T. L. Travers, concurred in the application to Parliament to allow this money to be expended in the purchase of Trafalgar Park, containing fifteen acres, to be vested in the Mayor and Corporation of the City, to be used as a recreation ground, and for other purposes'connected with the athletic sports and other recreations of the inhabitants of Nelson and the surrounding districts. A Bill was introduced and passed into law by which this object was effected.
Trafalgar Park is mostly land which has been reclaimed from the Mud-flat by the Athletic Ground Company, Limited, with the view of letting it for cricket, football, and bicycle matches, and other sports and athletic recreations. Unfortunately, the speculation did not pay—the Company expended all their capital, and had to mortgage their property, the interest upon which they could not pay. The mortgagee being willing to sell it, at the price named, it has been acquired, in the way described, for the people of Nelson. It is not a little curious that so long ago as 1863 a proposal was unsuccessfully made in the Provincial Council to expend £2000 in reclaiming part of the Mudflat for a recreation ground. There was strong opposition by the Country members to the Provincial funds being expended in this way. But, thanks to the judicious nursing of the Taranaki fund, the Mudflat Recreation Ground, or, as it is more euphoniously styled, Trafalgar Park, has, with the sanction of the surviving members of the Committee, and the approval of Parliament, become the property of the citizens of Nelson without drawing upon the public or municipal chest.
Various proposals with regard to Railways were mooted as early as 1860. One was to make a line to Wangapeka, another to the Waimeas, and another to Motueka, and the possibility of bringing the West Coast into railroad communication with Nelson was even talked about; indeed, the latter may be said never to have been lost sight of from that time. The late Mr. Charles Elliott, who was from the first an enthusiastic supporter of a railway to the Coast, stated at a public meeting in 1863 that his proposals to the Superintendent in that direction had been received with "a smile;" "but, added Mr. Elliott, "I believe that within ten years a railway will be running through the Waimeas, and will eventually be carried right through." He was so far right, that the first sod of the Nelson and Foxhill railway was cut in May, 1873—and it is hoped that page 129the latter part of his prediction will be shortly an accomplished fact.
The outbreak of hostilities at Taranaki led to the establishment of a Volunteer Corps in Nelson. A meeting was held at the Wakatu Hotel on 16th February, 1860, at which it was resolved, That a Company of Volunteers for military service should be at once formed, to be called the Nelson Company of Volunteers, to consist of 75 rank and file; and a Committee of the following gentlemen was formed for the purpose of carrying out the object of the resolution, viz.: W. T. L. Travers, B. Walmsley, D. Walmsley, D. Sinclair, H. E. Curtis, J. Percy, J. Millar, and C. Elliott.
The swearing in of No. 1 Company took place on 5th April, at the Court House. Mr. Travers had been duly appointed Captain; Mr. S. Kingdon, Lieutenant; and Mr. H. E. Curtis, Ensign. Mr. J. Lockett was appointed Captain and Adjutant in the Nelson Battalion of the New Zealand Militia, who were actually called out but disbanded in a few days, the Government preferring to depend upon the patriotic spirit of the Volunteers.
In the Town, a second Corps, called the No. 2 Company Rifle Corps, was formed, of which Mr. N. Edwards was elected Captain; A. Kerr, Lieutenant; B. 0. Hodgson, Ensign. The Nelson Volunteer Naval Artillery Company was formed at the Port, under the express sanction and wish of Major Richmond, and with the advice and assistance of Lieutenant Pocock, R.N., of Motueka. The first officers were—William Akersfen, Captain; Thomas Trewhellar, 1st Lieutenant; Frederick Stock, 2nd Lieutenant; Thomas Simcoe, Gunner; Thomas Brown, Carpenter.
The Country districts were equally full of volunteering ardour, and the following Companies were promptly formed:— Suburban North: Captain James Mackay; Lieutenant, A. S. Collins; Ensign. D. Slater. Motueka: Captain, F. Horneman; Lieutenant, C. Pocock; Ensign, Graham Greenwood. Waimea East: Captain, George Sparrow; Lieutenant, Charles Muntz; Ensign, Robert Malcolm. Waimea South: Captain, John Wilson; Lieutenant, D. Warnock; Ensign, J. Squires. Waimea West: Captain, N. G. Morse; Lieutenant, John Ayers; Ensign, Charles Eedwood. Moutere: Captain, C. F. Selling; Lieutenant, C. H. Bensemann; Ensign, W. Cook. The intense dislike to joining the Militia was one cause why so many Volunteer Corps were formed, Volunteers being by law exempted from serving in the Militia.
The separation of Wairau was a serious loss to Nelson, and the people looked to the settlement of, and connection with the West Coast, as likely to repay that loss twofold. Three expeditions were organised in 1859-60 with a view of thoroughly exploring the district, and these were placed under the charge of Mr. page 130John Rochfort, Mr. James Mackay, jum, and Mr. Haast (afterwards Sir Julius Von Haast, K.C.M.G.) Mr. Rochfort had already made an expedition to the "West Coast, and given much interesting and valuable information respecting the auriferous character of the river beds and the coal deposits. Mr. W. T. L. Travers, District Judge of Nelson, undertook an exploration, the main objects being to discover the sources of the Waiau-ua, and to ascertain whether any practicable pass could be obtained from the valley of that river into the valley of the Grey. He was accompanied by Mr. Christopher Maling, and by David Stewart, whom he had engaged to assist in carrying provisions. They traced the Wairau to its source, and crossing a low saddle in the mountains on the western side of the Clarence (named by. Mr. Travers "Maling's Pass"), they reached the head-waters of the Waiau, and ascended a mountain, finding the summit covered with a close sward of grass, as smooth as the lawn of a gentleman's domain, dotted with ponds of cool, delicious water, the margins of which were literally carpeted with Alpine flowers in full bloom, many of which were extremely beautiful. Proceeding along the range, they noticed a low grassy saddle leading into a large river running due west, and rising in the Spencer mountains. This they concluded was the main branch, or at least a large branch, of the Grey, but subsequent explorations proved this to be erroneous. Before this trip Mr. Travers discovered and named the Ada, Henry, Anne, and Boyle rivers. Satisfied with having accomplished his self-imposed task, the explorer and his companions returned to Nelson and reported the result of their journey. Mr. H. Lewis and Mr. Maling travelled: over the same ground the following month.
Mr. Haast, having made the Buller, followed up the Matakitaki to the Maruia plain, following for some distance Mr. Mackay's tracks, who had been there shortly before him. He then crossed the Maruia saddle, and eventually reached the Grey country. He spoke of it in glowing terms, and stated he considered it the most valuable part of the Province of Nelson, "Here," he wrote, "lie some hundred thousands of acres of level and fertile land, which awaits the hands of the farmer; as well as several nice grass plains for pastoral purposes ∗ ∗ ∗ I do not think I in any way overrate the value of the Grey country. The above statement is my full conviction, and I am sure that everyone who sees this part of the Province of Nelson will agree with me in every sense." A good many thousands of acres have been broken up by farmers in the Grey country, but not to the extent anticipated by Mr. Haast. Assuming, howeven, that there is the quantity of agricultural and pastoral land he mentions, it will no doubt be taken up by degrees in a systematic way, now that the Midland Railway Company are constructing their line right through it.page 131
In 1857 Mr. James Mackay, jun., travelled on foot along the sea-coast from West Wanganui to the Buller River. In his first exploration he was accompanied by the late Mr. John Clarke, of Pakawau: two Massacre Bay natives went with him on his second trip. Mr. Mackay, having taken soundings of the Buller, which he found navigable for coasting vessels of considerable draught, proceeded to the Kara-o-tamatea Plains (Waite's Pakihis), and travelled inland to Ngawaitakere (Charleston), and then along the coast. On reaching the Miko Cliffs (better known afterwards as Jacob's Ladder), near Romney Point, the ladders which were used by the natives were found to be decayed, and Mr. Mackay and the Maoris accompanying him had to replace the old timber with new before they could get on to the cliff and proceed further. When they ascended and hoisted up their swags and dogs, voices were heard exclaiming, "He kuri pakeha." The Maoris immediately ran into the bush, and some time elapsed before they considered it safe to approach the exploring party. When all sense of danger was over the Natives appeared very pleased at seeing a European, as no white man had been there since Mr. Brunner's visit in 1847. They agreed to defer their trip to the Buller, and promised to accompany Mr. Mackay to the Grey; on reaching which he made arrangements with the Natives to convey him in a canoe up the river as far as Ahaura, for which he agreed to give them £10. When they got there the West Coast natives persuaded the Massacre Bay Maoris who accompanied Mr. Mackay not to proceed further with him, and threatened that they would not allow him to go unless he divided £50 amongst them. Mr. Mackay, who was then a strong, athletic young man, of about twenty-five years of age, replied to these threats by throwing one of the Maoris into the river, and knocking another down in the canoe. Tarapuhi, the head chief, then appeared on the scene, acted as peace-maker, and volunteered to go as guide. Mr. Mackay explored the grass and open country at the Ahaura, Totara Flat, and Mawhera-iti (Little Grey), and returned to the mouth of the Grey river, where he took soundings in a canoe, with the result that he found the river navigable for small craft. He afterwards returned to Massacre Bay by the coast, carrying with him the first Grey coal seen in Nelson.
He again started for the West Coast in February, 1860, his cousin accompanying him, and also Mr. Frank Flowers and three Maoris from the Massacre Bay (or Collingwood) district. They proceeded to the Roto-iti Plains, with the intention of finding a practicable road-line, via the Upper Buller and Maruia, to the Upper Grey, at the point where Mackay's explorations had terminated the previous year. Sir Julius Von Haast, who had been engaged soon after his arrival in New Zealand to report on the geology of the south-page 132western part of the Province of Nelson, accompanied the explorers during a portion of their expedition. He remained in the vicinity of the Tiraumea, awaiting a fresh supply of provisions, while the explorers were engaged marking a track for his guidance up the Maruia valley, through the bush and on to the grass plains. The party were almost destitute of provisions, and the supplies of birds and edible vegetables were very scanty, which compelled Messrs. A. Mackay and Flowers to reluctantly return to Nelson, leaving Mr. J. Mackay and the natives to continue the explorations. But they progressed slowly, owing to want of food, The Maoris became disheartened, and refused to proceed further, stating that they were in an unknown country, which was probably inhabited by wild men of the woods or enormous lizards: they would return to Nelson, or sit down quietly and die in the camp. Mackay had meantime caught sight of a distant hill which he had ascended in the Upper Grey, and assured the Maoris they would reach the Grey in two days. He had a swollen knee; but he cut and gashed it with a razor, so as to ease the swelling and enable him to move quicker. At length they succeeded, after a journey which occupied seven weeks, in reaching the Grey, having marked the track from the Maruia Plain to the junction of the Brown Grey and Upper Grey rivers.
Towards the end of the year 1860, Mr. Mackay and Major Lockett explored a considerable tract of country between the head-waters of the Takaka, Karamea, and Wangaro rivers; and in 1862, Mr. Mackay and Messrs. John and Arthur Knyvett blazed a saddle-track line from the Upper Aorere to the mouth of the Heaphy river.
Mr. Rochfort was sent with a party to make a traverse of the rivers Grey and Buller, and their principal tributaries, and of the coast between the mouths of the former; and to furnish a description of the land available for pasture or agriculture, lying around or adjacent to them. He had performed part of his task, when the accidental loss of his instruments in the Buller river, and other circumstances, compelled him to return to Nelson. He subsequently completed the work and made a very valuable report, in which he recommended the Government to open a route to the northward and westward by Mount Arthur and the valleys running south from the Karamea river to the Buller, and across the last-named river by the Inangahua Valley to the Grey.
Mr. James Burnett, a skilled colliery engineer, made a thorough examination of the Grey, Buller, and Mokihinui coal areas, His reports are extremely interesting and exhaustive, but too long for insertion here. Referring to the Mount Rochfort district, Mr. Burnett says:—" It is reasonable to suppose that in such a rich field, almost entirely unexplored, many seams have yet to be discovered. But without calculating more than is ac page 133tually known, the following figures will give some idea of the capabilities of this part of the coal-field:—15 square miles, or say 10,000 acres, is a moderate estimate of the extent which is available at once; calculating only 18 feet of coal over the whole extent. Now as a cubic yard of solid coal will produce a ton, every acre of a 3 feet seam will yield 4840 tons. Then 4840 x 6 = 29,040 tons per acre, 18 feet thick; and 29,040 x 10,010 = 290,400,000 in 10,000 acres. But supposing only half of this can be calculated on, there still remains 145,200,000 tons. And supposing half this to be lost in the working, we still have 72,600,000 tons of available coal; and this is only one-eighth, supposing all the seams known, to exist over the whole 10,000 acres. I think, on this calculation, there is a margin for all contingencies, particularly as the discovery of more coal is not calculated on. I can, therefore, state positively that on this particular part of the coalfield, there are 72,600,000 tons of coal which may be brought to the Buller harbour, by means of a railway, in no place exceeding 18 miles in length, This 72,600,000 would supply 2000 tons a day for 121 years."
Mr. Burnett ends his report on the Mount Eochfort district as follows:—" I cannot close this report without congratulating, the Province on the possession of one of the most valuable coalfields I ever saw, and commanding a harbour like the Buller, which will make it immediately available." He also says, in a later report, "I must acknowledge my obligation to Mr. Eochfort, who was my companion during the greater part of last journey; his assistance and information was of the greatest service,. as he had previously explored the district, and knew so many places where coal, and indications of coal, had been previously found, to all of which he kindly accompanied me. As the discoverer and first explorer of this coal-field, the Province is much indebted to him." So long as Mount Eochfort looks down upon the plains below, so long will the name of its first explorer-he who discovered the vast mineral wealth it contains—be perpetuated in local history.
On Thursday, the 3rd September, 1863, the new and handsome brigantine "Delaware," 241 tons, left Nelson, bound for Napier. Within twenty-four hours after she was a total wreck in a little bay formed by the running in of the coast from Graham's Point round to Pepin's Islandj which lies close to the coast, fche went ashore about half-past eight on Friday morning at the foot of a precipitous cliff from 350 to 400 feet high; and where the rocks and boulders lie in great numbers. The mate, Henry Squirrel, who was a good swimmer, thought he could swim ashore, and took the lead line and tied it round his waist, and lowered himself into the water by going down the martingale of the ship. In going down he struck his back against page 134a rock, and could not get back again. He was hauled on board quite insensible, and given up for dead, and laid in the forecastle on one of the bunks. Just then some Maoris came in sight on the beach. The lead line was thrown to them, and one of them swam to the rock and caught it and a rope was then got ashore, by which the captain and crew and Mr. Skeet (a passenger) got to land, thanks to the Maoris, who rushed into the surf and dragged each man on shore as he came from the wreck. Immediately after the captain got ashore the rope parted. About an hour after this, the unfortunate mate who had been left for dead was seen to crawl on to the forecastle rigging. Nothing could be done to help him until the tide which was rising went down. There was a fearful surf running and breaking right over the vessel. He held on to the rigging for about quarter of an hour, when a sea broke on board and washed him overboard. His dead body was found on the beach next morning, about a mile from the wreck. At the inquast the witnesses concurred in stating, that but for the assistance given by the Maoris not one of them would have been saved. The Jury found the following verdict:—" That the deceased, Henry Squirrel, met his death by being accidentally drowned from off the brigantine "Delaware," and that such death was caused principally by injury which deceased received while courageously endeavoring to swim ashore with a line in order to save the rest of the crew; such injury incapacitating him from getting ashore by the line when it had been connected with the land. The Jury desire to express their opinion that the Maoris Julia, Martin, and Robert, who assisted in rescuing the shipwrecked crew and passengers, are deserving of the hearty gratitude of the public, and that some substantial memorial of such praiseworthy conduct should be presented to the Maoris by the Government."
There were really five Maoris who so bravely rushed into the raging surf, and helped otherwise to rescue life at the risk of their own, without any idea of reward, namely, Julia, James. Martin (her husband), Eobert Martin (his brother), Grey, and Elijah. The public took the matter up, and raised enough to buy a watch and chain for each of the five, and the General Government gave £50 each to Julia, Martin and Robert, and £10 each to Grey and Elijah. The presentation was made in the Provincial Hall on the 14th October, by the Superintendent there being also present within the bar—His Honor Mr. Justice Johnston, Mr. Poynter, R.M., Mr. Sheriff Walmsley, and the members of the Testimonial Committee, namely, Messrs. H. J. Goodman, M.P.O., R. Burn, M.P.C., J. L. Bailey, Secretary to the Board of Works, H. D. Jackson, Provincial Auditor, J. Webb, Chairman of Board of Works, T. Watts, and I. M. Hill.
Mr. Goodman, on behalf of the Committee, read the following address:—page 135
"To Julia,—On behalf of the settlers of Nelson, we present you with a small token of esteem, for your intrepid conduct at the wreck of the Delaware.
"The satisfaction of having done a good action is a higher reward than any mere pecuniary recompense; and, while you live, it must always give you much happiness to reflect that you have been the means of saving human life. It must also give you pleasure to know that your heroism is acknowledged by others, not only here but in far off places; and it is our pride that Nelson possesses a woman capable of showing such bravery.
"Some thirty years ago, a young woman was living with her parents in a desolate lighthouse, near the coast of England, and one stormy night a large steam vessel struck on some rocks at a distance from the lighthouse, and was dashed to pieces. Many persons perished when the ship parted, but nine of the crew and passengers clung to a portion of the vessel that remained on the rock. In the morning they were observed from the lighthouse, but it was difficult and dangerous to get to the spot with a boat even in fine weather, and, therefore, more so when the waves were furious. Yet this brave woman, though never accustomed to work a boat, persuaded her father to attempt the errand of mercy, and with him she pulled the boat through the raging waves, and rescued the unfortunate sufferers from destruction.
"That deed made Grace Darling a heroine; her fame spread throughout Europe; and;) her memory is still fondly cherished wherever the English language is spoken.
"And like her, Julia, your name and deed will find a place in local history. Your brave act is one of which a queen might be proud; and we present you with a watch, whereon your children, and their successors, may read with pleasure an inscription which testifies the esteem in which you are held by the settlers of Nelson.
Signed, on behalf of the Nelson people,
"H. J. Goodman, E. Burn, J. L. Bailey, H. D. Jackson, J. Webb, T. Watts, I. M. Hill, Members of the Committee."
Mr. Goodman then read the next address and presented the watches:—
"To Hemi Matenga (James Martin), Kopata (Robert), Eraia (Elijah), and Kerei (Grey)—-
"These watches and chains are presented to you by tha settlers of the Province of Nelson, and they wish you to prize them as tokens of their true regard for the eminent courage and humanity you displayed, when succouring and saving their unfortunate countrymen, who were wrecked in the Delaware, near jour pa, on 4th September, 1863.
"These mementoes will always convey to you this meaning, page 136that Englishmen know no distinction in rewarding conspicuous' merit. That there is more conscientious glory in saving human life, so they feel more unfeigned respect for you than for the most practised warriors. Mankind—no matter what color or race—are knit together by the feelings of our common nature, and displaying, as you did, the highest attributes of humanity on the occasion which this commemorates, you have made yourselves worthy of the recognition of all noble-minded men. Under fearful circumstances you were calm and bold, and risked your lives to save others, and this, too, amid a raging storm and on a rocky coast; not where there were admiring spectators to cheer you, but where the cries for help though loud were scarcely heard in the pitiless storm, but yet, thank God, were not heard in vain, owing to your instrumentality.
"Signed on behalf of the people of the Province of Nelson."
(Here follow the names of the Committee, as above.)
Julia's watch bears the following inscription in Maori and. English, which, with the necessary difference in the names, is also engraved on those given to the four other Maoris:—
"Na nga tangata o Whakatu (kia Huria) he tohu whakamoemiti mo tona maiatanga ki te whakaroa 1 nga tangata o te Terawea, 4 Hepetema, 1863."
"Presented to Julia, by the settlers of Nelson, in recognition of her heroism at the rescue of the crew of the Delaware, 4th September, 1863."
Martin shortly returned thanks in Maori, which was translated by Mr. Mackay, and was to the effect that for himself and on behalf of the other Maoris, he thanked the Government and the community of Nelson for their liberal gifts. They were all very much pleased with this mark of esteem from the people of Nelson, and they would long prize the gifts and the givers. They had not the least idea that when saving the lives of their shipwrecked European friends, they should receive any reward for doing so. They did not expect such reward, and only did what they could out of a desire to save life.
The financial year 1863-64 began with a substantial sum in the Treasury, being the unappropriated and unexpended balance of a Land Eevenue twenty-live per cent larger than that of any preceding year. No comprehensive scheme had been acted on during the preceding nine years of local self-Government for opening up the interior of the settlement. It had almost been doubted whether there was any interior to the Province. The influx of a large number of diggers convinced every one that it was time to stir, and the unexpended balance in the Provincial Treasury was appropriated to a track through the ruggedest valleys of the country, though the most promising as regards gold. The trial given at this time to the Nelson goldfieids was not successful'—the track was made for a certain distance, but page 137the people would not stop, they passed on to other fields presenting for the time more potent attractions. The large sum spent on the Buller and Karamea tracks, if it missed the immediate object of making a very large auriferous district sufficiently attractive to draw a great population, was by no means wasted. Eeflecting upon what the interior was only a few years back, even this seeming failure was a great advance on doing nothing. The mystery of the Buller was gone—any one could know all about its general features from common talk, without poring over imperfect maps and scanty reports. It was no longer necessary to eat one's dog to get from Nelson to Westport, as Mr. Brunner was forced to do.
Miners were scattered about the Buller and its tributaries, many of them doing well, especially at the Mangles, Tiraumea, and the Lyell. Gold continued to come in from both Upper and Lower Buller in a shape that is very exciting; all coarse and nuggetty; and from time to time a few fresh hands found their way to these localities. But as yet the numbers were limited, and it seemed as if the £25,000 worth of bridle and foot tracks would be of little use. The road from Nelson to the Matiri was fair enough, but from that point to the Lyell there was no road at all, the country very precipitous, with many deep gullies to cross, and the bush very dense. Such tracks as there were, were only misleading, and the traveller had to depend on his own judgment, and freely use his axe to cut his way. It will be seen, therefore, that spite of this expenditure on tracks, a large and valuable part of the mineral country remained very inaccessible. To push this track right through to Westport was strongly advocated, but the money that had been lying in the Provincial chest was all expended, and there seemed little probability of there being any more shortly available.
Instead of pushing the trunk road right through the Buller valley, a good deal of money had been expended in making twenty-eight miles of road on the south side of the Buller, from Lake Roto-iti to the Tutaki, and in the construction of several blind roads—the latter useless, the former of some service in helping to open up the Mangles and Matakitaki.
During the latter part of 1863 and beginning of 1864 Nelson was suffering from considerable depression. Visitors went away charmed with the natural beauty of the place, its excellent buildings; and, thanks to the energy of the Town Board, its well kept streets; but sneered at what they termed the somnolence of the people. But the people were by no means asleep. Considering the population and revenue of the place, a great deal had been done to open up the interior; and as fast as money could be obtained for the purpose, roads and tracks were pushed into the back country. All sorts of proposals were made to the Government as cures for the existing stagnation. Amongst others Mr. page 138W. Long Wrey offered to go to England and raise a quarter of a million for public works, for which, if successful, he was to receive a bonus of £2000. The Superintendent, who was really the Government—the Provincial Executive being responsible to him and not to the Council—would not listen to any scheme that involved borrowing.
Notwithstanding the excitement caused in April, 1864, by the rush to the Wakamarina—to which both young and old flocked from Nelson—the place continued during the remainder of the year under the cloud of hard times, and there was a general dullness; the streets had a comparatively deserted appearance, and the harbour had little or no shipping.
But there was a change close at hand; for months the gold discoveries at Hokitika and the Grey had been steadily increasing; there was a rich gold-field beyond doubt; and by the month of March, 1865, or shortly after, there were from 8,000 to 10,000 people in and near to the Towns of Hokitika and Greymouth.
The rush to the West Coast set in steadily, and soon changed the appearance of the streets and the harbour.
The increase of population caused by the constant stream of diggers passing through on their way to the Hokitika, imparted an unusual degree of liveliness to the streets; and at the Port the daily arrival and departure of steamers—mostly crowded with passengers—was a new feature. It was no uncommon event for five or six steamers to be in harbour at one time. Further reference to this important "rush," and its effect upon Nelson and the surrounding country districts, is made in another chapter.
On Saturday, 28th January, 1865, a most deplorable accident occurred at the Buller, by which the Superintendent of Nelson and three others were drowned.
His Honor John Perry Robinson had served as Superintendent of Nelson for upwards of eight years, and been three times elected by increasing majorities of the constituency. He was a man of superior judgment and good intellect, and the officers of the New Zealand Company frequently had recourse to him for assistance and advice in the early days of the settlement; and once, when the Company's works were stopped, and the working people deemed themselves unjustly treated, Mr. Robinson's judicious influence with the people was sought for, and he saved the town from the disgrace of a riot; by a wise use of that influence, at a time when men threatened to break open the stores of the shopkeepers.
In private life he was universally esteemed, and even those who differed from him in the conduct of public affairs, always conceded to him honest and upright intentions, and a sincere desire to benefit the Province. His office gave him great power and influence, which he used for no selfish ends.page 139
It would be in van to attempt to describe the deep gloom which cast itself over the community as the mournful tidings became known, and which evidenced itself in various ways during the day. The Union Jack was halfmast high at the Government Buildings, and at the flag-staff; the vessels lying in harbour displayed the same token of respect, and the minute-bell at Christ Church tolled the death-knell until sunset; whilst the many knots of individuals in the streets sadly and sorrowfully discussing the details of the catastrophe, showed how widely and deeply public feeling had been awakened by the event.
It was said of him that, like the good King of Castile, he feared the curses of the people more than the weapons of his enemies.
The following are the particulars of the sad catastrophe:— About half-past four on the afternoon of the 28th January, on the Wallaby arriving off the bar of the Buller from the Grey river, the captain ascended the rigging for the purpose of examining the bar. Having satisfied himself that there was no apparent danger (the bar being perfectly smooth), he ordered the lifeboat to be lowered, and his Honor the Superintendent, his son, Messrs. Burnett, Gully, and McCulloch, and James Fowler the chief officer, and four seamen, left the vessel in her. When, after crossing the first roller-wave on the bar apparently in safety, the boat did not appear to rise over the second the chief engineer, who was observing the progress of the boat, ascended the rigging, and immediately called to the master to come and see, as there seemed to him to be something wrong. Captain Whitwell immediately put the vessel at full speed, and headed her towards the bar, at the same time getting the other boat ready for lowering. When as near as it was safe for her to go, he saw the lifeboat was swamped, and some of the party holding on to the sides. The second boat was sent to their assistance, and succeeded in reaching her and towing her off to the steamer. It was then found that four people were missing—the Superintendent, Mr. McCulloch, Mr. Fowler, chief officer, and Joseph Cooke, a seaman. But for the very prompt assistance rendered by the despatch of the second boat, not one would have been saved. Mr. Burnett and Mr. John Gully narrowly escaped— both were washed off the boat several times before they were rescued. When the accident occurred, Mr. Robinson was, like the rest, thrown out of the boat as the second sea struck her and rolled her over. He was seen by Mr. Gully to fall on his back in the water; once he managed to raise his head above the surface, and to blow the water from his mouth. After doing this Mr. Gully saw him sink again, and he was no more seen. The bodies of the Superintendent and Joseph Cooke were never recovered; those of Mr. Fowler and Mr. McCulloch were found on page 140the beach the same evening, and an inquest was held on the following day by Mr. B. Walmsley and Mr. John Blackett, two Justices of the Peace, when a verdict of accidental death was returned.
Mr. "Robinson's object in visiting the Grey and Buller was to examine personally the coal-workings, with a view to taking such steps as might prove of advantage to the Province. So that he died with the harness on his back, and leaving many to lament the sad and sudden end of a patriotic and upright man. He was succeeded as Superintendent by Mr. Alfred Saunders, who defeated his opponent, Mr. J. W. Barnicoat, after a closely contested election, by twenty votes, the numbers being respectively 454 and 434.
Mr. Saunders appointed Mr. Henry Adams Provincial Solicitor; Mr. John Poynter, Provincial Treasurer; and Mr. Henry Redwood, junior, a member of the Executive Council. The office of Provincial Secretary, pro. tern., was conferred upon Mr. Alfred Greenfield—Mr. Richmond, who was Provincial Secretary in Mr. Robinson's Executive, intimated his opinion that it was not compatible for him to hold that office in conjunction with the Commissionership of Crown Lands, and the new Superintendent being averse to a separate salary being allotted, appointed Mr. Greenfield, who was at that time chief clerk to the Superintendent, to perform the duties of Provincial Secretary temporarily.
In June, Mr. J. C. Eichmond resigned the office of Commissioner of Crown Lands, having accepted the office of Colonial Secretary in the Weld Ministry. He was succeeded by Mr. H. C. Daniell, and Mr. J. T. Catley became and still is Receiver of Land Revenue.
Mr. Saunders entered upon the duties of his office under circumstances of considerable difficulty. Large sums of money had been steadily flowing into the Treasury from the sale of Amuri lands; but these were now nearly all sold, and unless some other source of revenue could be found, the Provincial Government would have some difficulty in finding the means for the payment of salaries, the making of roads, the education of children, and other necessary public objects. It was a critical time in the history of Nelson, and none but a courageous man would have been willing to undertake the direction of affairs at such a period.
The public works more immediately required were:—(1) The opening of a horse track between the Buller and Grey valleys, so that the only practical route, known at that time, between the East and West Coasts of the Island might be rendered safe for travellers and available for driving cattle. (2) The vigourous prosecution of boring operations for coal at Mount Rochfort. Boring rods, and an expert who had been brought page 141from England to work them, arrived in Nelson in December, 1863, yet in February, 1865, fourteen months after their arrival here, a depth of twenty-two fathoms only had been reached. It was insisted that the borings must be done more vigorously, or the apparatus removed to a more promising field. (3) The water supply for the City. An Act had been passed authorising the borrowing of £20,000 for the purpose, and Mr. Blackett, the Provincial Engineer, had been sent to Melbourne to make himself acquainted with the waterworks of that City, which are constructed on the same principle of a direct service similar to what had been proposed for Nelson. But there was some delay in getting the money, and the Provincial Government were blamed for refusing an offer of £20,000 at eight per cent. It was urged that the supply of water would contribute largely to the sanitary welfare of the community, and materially reduce the risk of loss by fire, and was, therefore, a work of primary importance.
These were the three principal works pressed upon Mr. Saunders—but there were many others of comparatively minor importance—and the question he had to solve was how to provide for these and several other important works necessary to the progress and well-being of the community, and at the same time to maintain the governmental staff in an efficient condition, and to educate the children, in the face of a rapidly falling revenue.
The Provincial Council was dissolved in October, 1865, and the air was soon full of rumours of intended opposition to the re-election of Mr. Saunders as Superintendent. Attempts were made to induce Mr. Stafford, and, failing him, Mr. Blackett, the Provincial Engineer, to stand; but both declined, and Mr. Saunders was re-elected without opposition.
The elections for the Provincial Council resulted in the return of a body prepared to give the Superintendent a fair support. The times were critical, and the patriotism of the members of the Provincial Parliament was strong enough to suppress any indication ot factious opposition, had any such been shown. For the City, Messrs. H. Adams, A. Greenfield, S. Kingdon, O. Curtis, R. Burn, and W. Akersten were returned; for Waimea East, Messrs. J. W. Baniicoat, H. Beit, F. Kelling, and T. J. Thompson; for Waimea South, Messrs. E. Baigent, J. Simmonds, and A. R, Oliver; for Suburban North, Mr. Dodson; for Waimea West, Mr. H. Redwood, junior; for Moutere, Mr. C. Kelling; for Motueka, Messrs. C. Parker and B. Macmahon; for Collingwood, Mr. W. Gibbs; for Takaka, Mr. Sparrow; and for Amuri, Mr. Rutherford.
The rapid progress of the goldfields on the West Coast gave an immense impetus to trade in Nelson. The local steamers "Wallabi" and "Nelson" were always full; and in the month of September, Messrs. N. Edwards & Co. purchased the steamer page 142"Kennedy" from the Australian Steam Navigation Company for £9000. She arrived on the 7th October, 1865, and was at once put into the West Coast trade; and in this month of December, 1891, the "Kennedy" is still going her regular rounds to the ports of the West Coast.
The "Nelson" was a paddle boat built to the order of the Trustees of the Nelson Trust Funds. It will be recollected that a portion of these funds was to be applied to the purpose of promoting steam communication between Nelson and the rest of New Zealand. The Trustees only received a limited amount, and that was applied as above mentioned. The vessel was brought out from England by the late Captain Heffer, and must not be confounded with the "Nelson" which was sent out by Messrs. Willis & Co., and afterwards sent back, because there was no profitable work for her. The "Nelson" was hired to the Nelson and Marlborough Steam Navigation Company (Limited), and acted as the pioneer steamer in opening the gold-fields at the Grey; and she was the first steamer to enter the Hokitika river, under the command of Captain Leech (now Harbour-Master at Westport), on the 20th December, 1864. Upon the collapse of the Nelson and Marlborough S.N. Company, the "Nelson" was hired to Messrs. Cross, Gibbons, H. Redwood, jun., S. Robinson, Wright, and Walker, at a rental of £2400 a year, and she started to resume her regular trip to the coast; unfortunately she got ashore at the Grey on her first trip under her new charterers, and it was some time before she was afloat again.