The Past and Present Of New Zealand With Its Prospects for the Future
Chapter XII. Lecture on Wanganui
Chapter XII. Lecture on Wanganui
In considering the past history of Wanganui, we need not search into remote antiquity amidst the myths of Maori legends, but take the first coming of the European to it, as our beginning, which will only carry us back for a period of about thirty-six years.
I must call upon you to imagine you see a Maori fishing party at the heads of our river on one of our fine calm summer days, and that you perceive a whale boat enter it filled page 268 with various articles of trade, on a trial trip for the first time to the place, the adventurous crew coming from Kapiti, where there were whaling establishments already formed. The boat makes for the bluff—the crew land and commence cooking their dinners; the natives, attracted by this unusual sight, collect around them; they give them welcome, presenting them with some of the fish they had taken, and with several baskets of potatoes. One of them, Puta, a Taupo chief, gets into the boat to admire at his leisure the wonderful things it contains. The owner sees him sitting in it and sternly orders him out. The chief takes no heed of the command, when the other jumps into the boat and seizes the native to turn him out; a tomahawk is suddenly withdrawn from beneath his mat, and the next moment the unfortunate captain is no more. A general struggle ensues, the entire crew is destroyed, excepting one European and a negro, who are spared. Our poor countrymen are cooked and eaten, and their heads dried and preserved as moko-mokai’s.
Such was the commencement of the European acquaintance with Wanganui—certainly not a very propitious one. The natives were from Taupo, and thither they carried their prisoner Andrew Powers, a Swede by birth, and afterwards for many years a resident at Wanganui. It was he who gave the account. The Taupos carried him up into the interior and then to Rotorua, where he was ransomed with a considerable amount of goods by a countryman of his named Tapsall. The negro managed to effect his escape, and got back again to his comrades at Kapiti.
The captain of the boat, Joe Rowe, organized the expedition. He lived at Kapiti, where he carried on a great trade in dried heads, which at that time were much sought after in England; so great was the demand that marauding expeditions were frequently undertaken merely to procure heads for traders, and those who had the finest tatooed countenances were often murdered for the sake of their heads. It seems an act of retributive providence that this merchant’s own head should be so treated, and probably sold with others to his countrymen.page 269
Amongst the heads which Joe Rowe had purchased were two of Taupo chiefs; these were incautiously exposed and seen by a party of natives coming from that district then on a visit to Kapiti, where Rowe kept a store; some of those natives were related to the poor fellows whose heads he possessed, which were at once recognized and wept over, they entreated him to give them up to them; he not only refused to do so, but laughed at them. They left vowing vengeance, and finding that he had arranged a trading expedition to Wanganui, they left before and went there, waiting his arrival, and then killed him as already stated, cutting off his head and drying it in return. This account was furnished by a man well known as ‘Scotch Jock,’ who was one of Rowe’s comrades on the Island of Kapiti.
Two chiefs, Putakarua and Te Awaroa, from the Nga-ti-rua-nui with a small party came to Wanganui to proclaim the Gospel, which they had only recently received themselves. Nepia Taratoa, then staying in the neighbourhood of the Karamu, or as it is now called, Churton’s Creek, cut them off, and when told they were Christian natives, said they would eat all the sweeter. The ovens which cooked them were near the spot on which Churton’s house now stands.
Another party of the Nga-ti-rua-nui natives were afterwards killed and eaten at Te Ahituatine, where Carlton Cottage is built; they also came to proclaim the Gospel to the Maories of this place, but the object for which they came was not understood; the natives fancied those strangers intended to makutu or bewitch them, and acting upon this impression, fell upon, killed, and cooked the entire party. It was not long, however, before they found out their mistake, and were sorry for it. This was the last cannibal feast which disgraced our river.
Another party from Taupo arrived with a chief named Wiremu Tauri at their head (his son is living amongst us). He also had embraced the Christian faith and proclaimed it here; he was listened to with great attention, he took up his abode at Putiki, for many years lived there, and had the page 270 honor of being the first preacher who made converts to our faith in this place.
In 1839, the Rev. Henry Williams, from the Bay of Islands, brought the Rev. O. Hadfield to Waikanae at the request of three young chiefs, who went all the way from Waikanae to the Bay to solicit a Christian teacher, Tamihana te Rauparaha, Matene, and Hakaraia were their names, and Mr. Hadfield was sent at their request.
Mr. Williams then visited Wanganui, where he met with a very kind reception from the natives, and was entreated to send them also a Missionary; this he promised to do. He returned North by the Wanganui, Taupo, and Rotorua, and was perhaps the first European who had ascended the Wanganui river. In 1840 his promise was redeemed, Mr. Mason arrived at Wanganui, and took up his abode at Putiki.
Colonel Wakefield, the principal agent of the New Zealand Company, appears to have visited Wanganui about the latter end of 1840. He was generally known among the Maories as “Wide Awake.” He had previously met with three chiefs of Wanganui at Waikanae, and there got two of them to sign a document professing to sell to the Company all the land from Manawatu to Patea. He then paid this place a visit, and having sent goods to the amount of about £500 for the chief Kurukanga of Ririatepo (nearly one hundred miles up the river), he professed to have purchased all Wanganui. Soon after his nephew, Jerningham Wakefield, with the surveyors arrived, and, in spite of the opposition of the owners, they managed to survey by one way or other, partly by moonlight, a portion of the Wanganui block. They had a large raupo building near the Commercial Inn, with a long table down the centre and a cask of rum at one end for each to help himself from—a rude representation of a baronial hall, of which Jerningham was the chief, wearing a native mat like a toga, and a large Manilla hat with an ostrich feather in it.
The Settlement of Wanganui at such an early date was owing to the inability of the New Zealand Company to fulfil its engagements with those who had purchased land orders at home. The small extent of Wellington being utterly in- page 271 sufficient to meet all the Company’s liabilities, lands therefore were offered at Wanganui to those who were too late to obtain them at Wellington; some walked along the coast, and seeing the superior character of the country accepted the offer, and thus Wanganui was commenced. Such was the high opinion which Colonel Wakefield formed of it, that he caused it to be laid out as a city, setting apart two acres and a half as a site for the cathedral, and two thousand acres for its endowment, which the Bishop made a great mistake in not accepting.
Soon after the first settlers in the Surprise, the Jewess, and Clydesdale arrived. In 1842, the little Catherine Johnson began her useful trips to and from Wellington, and her then youthful owners erected a little store, to which I shall again allude.
In January 1843, the Rev. J. Mason lost his life in crossing the Turakina river, and in April I arrived as his successor.
On the first Sunday in 1844 I opened the church here for Divine service.
In the beginning of summer we had a hostile visit from Taupo, but the timely present of a blanket apiece to the chiefs, with a little tobacco, had such an effect upon our enemies that they politely retired without breaking the peace. The total population was then only 120.
March 16th, 1845, the Governor paid us a visit, being the first Wanganui had been honored with from a Governor.
During the summer another hostile party visited us; they encamped at Paikatore, a small village which formerly stood on the river bank by the market place—the site has long since been washed away. The inhabitants felt their unprotected state, and called upon the Putiki natives for help. They responded to the call, and garrisoned the town; so completely was it protected that, in November, the inhabitants, to testify their thanks, gave a public dinner to the chiefs. In the following month the Governor sent about two hundred men, under Captain Laye, for the defence of the place, into whose hands the chiefs resigned their trust, and then came forward to aid in erecting the Rutland page 272 stockade, all the timber for which was drawn from the Putiki woods. The military, however, had not been here long, before a misunderstanding arose with the natives. A young midshipman—a mere boy—possessed a miniature pistol, this he presented with an assumed look of fierceness at a chief, forgetting, perhaps, that it was loaded. He pulled the trigger, the ball passed through the cheek and lodged somewhere near the ear; the man, however, recovered. This act was viewed as an intentional murder, they demanded the boy to be given up, that was refused, and none of the chiefs were permitted to attend the examination—which was very injudicious—some of the young relatives of the wounded man went and murdered the family of the Gilfillans, as utu, or payment. John Williams, the tried friend of the Europeans, at great personal risk and exertion, arrested the murderers, who were given up to the commanding officer, tried by court-martial, found guilty, and hung outside the stockade, where they were likewise buried.
A few weeks only elapsed before a taua arrived to revenge their deaths. In May a grand attack was made on the town, a portion of which was occupied by the enemy; the York stockade was not then in existence, consequently the hill afforded shelter to the enemy. Captain Campbell’s house at the base of it was occupied, and there the natives enjoyed themselves, supping on about three dozen of his fowls. The house now occupied by Mr. Jones, was also held by the taua, whose principal chief, Maketu, was killed in it, whilst plundering a cask of tobacco; the shot was a random one fired from the attic window of the Commercial Inn, which was then fortified with a bank and trench in front of it, as also was the Rutland Inn and Dr. Rees’ house. In these the inhabitants were shut up every night for safety.
The news of the disturbed state of Wanganui reached me in Auckland, when the Governor left the following morning in the Inflexible, taking me and my natives with him. We reached the Wanganui, May 24th, three days after the attack. John Williams met us at the heads, hoisted a flag as a signal, a boat was sent to bring him on board; he then made the page 273 Governor acquainted with the state of the place. No time was lost, all the boats were manned, and went up the river playing Rule Britannia, the enemy, who lined the north side of the river, retired as we advanced, and fixed their camp on the hill above St. John’s Wood. One of the inhabitants was captured, but he was spared, and afterwards redeemed with a cask of tobacco; another of our settlers nearly lost his life at the foot of Shakspear’s Cliff; the enemy fired from above, the ball passed through his cheek and came out under the chin; he recovered, and became one of the foremost in every attack upon the enemy, seeking satisfaction for his wound and fighting with his fellow-settlers. The grand battle was fought in July, at the base of St. John’s Wood; much powder and shot were disposed of, with little injury to either side, the following day the natives sent a challenge to renew the fight, which not being agreed to, they said they could stay no longer, but must go and plant their potatoes. As the number of dead and wounded was equal on both sides the natives said they were rite, satisfied—three killed and ten wounded. The next morning they left; this was the end of the quarrel. They retired, and peace followed without any formal declaration of it being made. The fact was, there had never been any real bad feeling between the two races at Wanganui. The natives of this part were attached to the Europeans, and they, on the other hand, had always confidence in their own natives; this kindly feeling between the two races was perhaps stronger at Wanganui than anywhere else. Thus, when the war was over, there was no perceptible bad feeling observable.
A slight digression may here be made. To the good feeling of the Wanganui natives towards their European neighbours must, in a great measure, be attributed our recent successes, and the present fair prospect of peace. General Cameron declined native aid, and thus made the war one between the European and the entire Maori race. The noble defence of this settlement at Moutoa and Ohotahi proved that a large body of them really made common cause page 274 with the European. The Superintendent of this province, to his honour be it said, was the first to appreciate the fact, and treat our loyal natives with that respect which was due to them; nor was it lost upon them. General Chute followed in the Superintendent’s steps and availed himself of it. By their aid the regular troops, as well as our own contingent, were initiated in bush fighting. The enemy now found their forest fastnesses were no longer a protection to them; they lost courage. General Chute’s progress, unlike that of his predecessor, was rapid. He even ventured to take his army through the dense forest to Taranaki, and there received an ovation from our countrymen, returning to us covered with laurels. But we must be just, and not forget that it was his Maori companions in arms who climbed up the trees, plucked, and threw them down to him. Let Wanganui then never forget this, nor think it is discharging the obligation by allowing its native population to become demoralized and degraded, but remember that it is its duty, and will be its true interest and glory, now to give them the right hand of fellowship, to raise them up, and enable them to partake of its own civilization. It is distressing to every reflecting mind to see how they are allowed to haunt our public houses, and cluster round their doors like flies rushing to the papers laid for their destruction. Let us rather show as a community that we seek to return their friendship with real good. They are a noble race, and their preservation will be both to our credit and advantage.
After the war, the little settlement was still in a sad state. As far back as 1844, Governor Fitzroy recommended its being abandoned, and kindly offered the inhabitants a free passage to Auckland. There was no response made to the offer; when, however, the war was finished, several left and went to Taranaki and Nelson. The prospect was certainly very gloomy; the land had not even then been paid for; when the Governor sent the purchase-money by Captain Symonds, that gentleman, hearing there was some probability of a fresh quarrel with the natives, suddenly decamped with the money on board the Government brig. Mawai page 275 compared him to a bush pig, which, when you think it is caught, suddenly slips out of your hand and escapes. It was not until the 29th May, 1848, that the land was finally paid for, and the purchase completed. From that day the settlement steadily progressed.
One thing which mainly contributed to its prosperity should not be overlooked. The New Zealand Company had not fulfilled its engagements with those who had purchased of them; many of the land orders were received so far back as 1839, and consequently, for the long period of nine years, they were unable to go upon their ground, or obtain compensation. Sir George Grey pronounced most justly that this was a grievous wrong, and rectified it by giving one hundred and fifty acres additional for every hundred acres purchased of the company. The holders of the company’s land orders were called, in the infancy of the colony, “sectionists,” and regarded as great men, being the only possessors of land. When so much scrip was thus given, the settlers in general felt their want of money to be the greatest; the scrip, therefore, soon found its way into the market, and sold at from five to eight shillings per acre; this immediately increased the number of land owners, and was a great step to the general prosperity. Another beneficial measure of Sir George Grey must not be overlooked, the reducing the fixed price of land to ten shillings per acre. With 100,000 acres of land, purchasers were soon obtained, and as the tide of emigration set in, it became necessary to enlarge our borders. The Rangitikei block was next bought, then the Waitotara, and now the Manawatu, which we must call ours, for it will do more for Wanganui than Wellington, and since that the Patea district as well. Wanganui was mainly indebted to these two things, “land scrip” and “cheap good land”; for being able to stem the adverse tide, which afterwards threatened its destruction, no sooner was this district paid for than the Californian gold field was discovered; that did no injury. Next, the Australian gold fields were found out, a few young men went to them, but finding they might go further and fare worse, page 276 when they obtained a little gold came back here and invested it in land, and so gave rise to some of the comfortable homes around us. The next cry was, gold found at Otago. A few went there also from this place, but all returned; instead of injury, we derived benefit from those gold fields, and our settlers gained as utu, or payment, the precious metal, without digging for it, our fertile plains supplying the gold diggers with food in return. The exportation of cattle to the South has been a great benefit to the place, for previously they were of little value, fetching only from 30s. to £3 a-head, instead of £12 as they do now. We may add, that our exports to the North also became very important, for the good people of Auckland likewise have made a great call on our herds. In every butcher’s shop there you may still see the best carcasses ticketed “Prime Wanganui beef.” Sufficient has been said of the past.
We now turn to the present state of Wanganui. Those who have gone through all the transitions our little community has had to pass, cannot fail being struck with the change. We began with raupo huts peeping out of the lofty fern; the greater part of the ground now built upon was formerly a regular swamp, or rather bog, the old church is an instance; the only dry spot of the acre in which it stands was its site in the corner; and even when the hospital was built, the contractor was unable to dig the foundation the stipulated depth on account of the water, so also with the whole of the Victoria Avenue; it was a perfect swamp frequently knee deep, and seldom less than the ankle. These places are now dry enough, and covered with comfortable homes.
Wanganui is no longer a village, it is a town, and neat town too, with every prospect of being a large one likewise.
I still possess the first census—men, women and children, 120; but at the conclusion of the first war 205 was its sum total. We cannot speak with any certainty of its present population, but that of the town is fully 2000, and of the surrounding districts 2000 more, and perhaps, including Rangitikei, Turakina, and Wangaehu, it is little under 6000. Next we have something more to say of our streets;—it is page 277 due to the Town Board to add that it has not been idle. Auckland at this moment does not possess a continuous length of pavement equal to that laid down with asphalt in Wanganui. The Empire City sadly wants what Wanganui has had some time—brick sewers. The public buildings, too, must have a passing notice, although the less we say of the court house, jail, and other Government offices, the better: had the Town Board the management, doubtless they would be more worthy of the place. Our churches are beginning now to be built as if intended to accommodate numerous congregations; of their architectural beauties I shall leave others to speak. Of strictly public buildings, the Oddfellows have the honour and credit of being the first to erect a suitable edifice for their meetings; I feel pleased to think Wanganui possesses a hall like this. May other societies speedily imitate their example. It is a step the right way, and is already showing how greatly it may aid in advancing the moral and intellectual state of the town. I hail with pleasure the institution of a Literary Society, which I trust will progress and draw forth the mental powers of our townsmen. I am sorry I cannot record the advancement of the Mechanics’ Institute; perhaps the two might be united, and between them produce an edifice for their meetings worthy of the object, and of the place.
Some few years ago, an old house might have been seen slowly travelling up Wilson Street, and, apparently wearied with the effort, quietly resting for several weeks, if not months, in the middle of the street; that old building was the first Store erected in Wanganui, and the first abode of the enterprising men from whose untiring energy, enterprise, and industry, the well-known firm of our first merchants has arisen. In the place of that little building are the present extensive shops, stores, offices, and warehouses, which we now see. Amongst the many comfortable houses in this town, one has recently been reared by one of the firm which is not to be surpassed by any private residence in New Zealand.
In taking a rapid view of the present, we must not omit the grand outlets of the public mind, the safety valves of our page 278 feelings—the Wanganui Press. Our town possesses two journals, which are each issued twice a-week, and represent both sides of every question, the “Chronicle” and the “Times.” We had a third, which, I am very sorry to say, did not live to enter upon this year; it was a paper which might have been a credit to the place, and one which could have given expression to the literary effusions of its inhabitants; it had also the credit of being the first paper of the kind printed in New Zealand, but perhaps it was only a pioneer to a better. Of it I shall not say, Requiescat in pace, but hope to hear it replying, Resurgam.
Of our two banks, in the way of building, that of New South Wales is taking the precedence of the other national one; I trust this, however, will be only for a short time. Some of our best and most conspicuous buildings are the public houses. Nothing struck me more during my recent visit to Christchurch, than its artesian wells. What a benefit and blessing to the place! Could we not easily imitate them, when water is so near the surface? how much would they improve the town, and add to the health and comfort of its inhabitants, especially when the wind blows and threatens to blind or choke them with dust!
But the buildings which give the greatest character to the place are the stockades, though I trust we shall no longer need them in a military point of view; still, being erected, the least we can do is to maintain them, that we may be prepared for any unforeseen evil which may arise. The features of the place, too, would be quite changed by their removal; they stand like old castles, warning the evil-disposed of the consequence of breaking the majesty of the law.
In the enumeration of the public buildings of our town one still remains to be noticed, which is both an ornament to our Market Place, and a credit to our Province, which placed it there. I allude to the Moutoa Monument, erected to commemorate the noble devotion of our Wanganui natives, who at Moutoa arrested the Hauhaus in their course of destruction, where so many of our principal chiefs lost their lives in our defence. A letter was written by the Superin- page 279 tendent and Provincial authorities to the Putiki natives, thanking them for their noble conduct on that occasion. If it had not been for them Wanganui might have been in a far different state from what it is now, and have had its country homesteads as desolate around as those of Taranaki. Nor must we omit the mention of the fight at Ohotahi, where John Williams lost his life, also in our defence, against a second invasion of the fanatic Hauhaus. Funds have been collected for a monument to his memory, which I trust will be the first object I shall see, if spared to return, rearing its head on the summit of the hill where he lays interred.
Of the bridge I must here say nothing, it belongs to the next division of the subject—the future; let us rather contemplate the other ornaments of the place, our noble river—its shipping. And first we have reason to be proud of having a good steamer of our own; wherever it goes it carries the name of Wanganui with it.*
The increase of steam vessels in New Zealand is most extraordinary; it seems but the other day when we had only an occasional visit of the Wonga Wonga, and even that little steamer had to be subsidised to enable it to run its course; now it is rare to see our river without one, and to avoid the possibility of its being so, we carefully keep the Moutoa constantly anchored in our port. When the Government part with it, I trust our steam company will not let that little vessel, so adapted for river trade, leave our port, and that up-river settlers will enable it to run to and fro in their behalf; it will not be long before their wants will require its aid. Of the other shipping belonging to the place, we have the Lady Denison, the Yarra, and the Tyne; but of those which visit us, we can only say that, now the war is all but finished, and the extraordinary demand to supply the Commissariat has in a great measure ceased, the vessels still frequenting our port mark our increased prosperity, which is independent of foreign aid.
To give an idea of our present commercial advancement, we may take the customs of 1856, and compare them with page 280 those of 1865, when the war expenditure was at its height, and then with those of the last year, when it had in a great measure ceased:
|In 1856, the customs were||£ 2,878||19||2|
|In 1865, the great war year||£20,239||19||5|
This amount was independent of wine, spirits, beer, &c., which were supplied to the army duty free.
In 1866, the last year when so great a reduction has been made in the military force of this district, it was still £20,203. 15s. 8d. It may be expected that it will be further reduced in the present year; still we may confidently look for a wonderful advance on former years. Thirteen thousand bales of wool were exported last year, by the firm of Messrs. Taylor and Watt only, but the total amount from this port reached two thousand bales, and the value of our exports was £100,000.
In speaking, therefore, of the present commercial state of Wanganui, we cannot but acknowledge the truth of the old proverb—“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody no good.” The war has brought its evils, its sorrows, its deplorable events; but it has also brought good out of the evil; like Sampson, who got honey out of the lion’s carcase, we have drawn our sweets from the bitters of war. Though we have had to mourn the tragic death of one of our settlers, and the murders of two or three others, still our casualties have not equalled those of other parts, and the withdrawal of the golden shower has not been so serious to us as it has been elsewhere. From all accounts, the present state of Auckland is far less healthy than that of Wanganui. One who arrived only last week from that city, stated the present depression of trade there is very great. Queen-street, lately so thronged and bustling, seemed deserted, and its shops rarely entered; in Parnell almost every other house was empty. In spite of the reduction of military outlay, Wanganui still holds up its head, and instead of empty houses new ones are going up by the dozen.
One great cause is very clear: Wanganui is the centre of a page 281 great district of producing country; its farmers, graziers, and sheep growers are its feeders; its roads are the arteries conducting the life blood to the centre. Its commerce cannot decrease greatly, but must increase with its country population. Turakina, a rapidly-rising little town, is Wanganui’s first-born. Tutaenui and Rangitikei are also springing up;—we look northward, and feel sure Waitotara and Patea will each soon have their towns likewise. One great benefit which the war has conferred upon us is, that it has made the name of Wanganui familiar to the world, and also the road to it. Formerly, the bar was supposed to be all but impassable, but now vessels of considerable burthen manage to find their way over it, and having once found it generally try it again. The war has brought many to our port who never would otherwise have come, and thus induced them to settle or determine to do so at some future day. It is the fashion, now that we have got nearly all we can from the military, to speak slightingly of them; that should not be so with us; we have every reason to speak well of them. How many of the 58th and 65th have made Wanganui their home? and every now and then others still come dropping in. No, we have much reason to speak well of the military; they are some of our best settlers. With our traffic by land and by water, our ready and constant communication with the north and south, with Sydney and other ports by sea, our daily coaches to and from Turakina, and twice a week to and from Wellington, 120 miles off, with our increasing exports of wool, cattle, horses, and sheep; even in this time of depression, Wanganui may be satisfied that its present state is a healthy one.
But we must not stop here. We must endeavour to take a glance at its future. I have always been sanguine of it. From the various reasons assigned, it must progress and advance. Wanganui has only passed through its infancy. What will it be when it reaches its maturity? Who can tell?
I have visited nearly every portion of the two islands, but in no part of New Zealand have I seen any district that can page 282 be at all compared to this—nowhere is such fertility to be met with. The Emerald Isle itself cannot beat it. We look in vain for it at Otago, Canterbury, Wellington, or in the north. The fact is that our soil is superior and deeper, and we have still better between this and Patea. When, therefore, the whole of this district on the seaboard is cultivated and settled, what an effect will it have on Wanganui. We must also remember we have still our central plains to occupy, and they too will bear comparison with any in New Zealand. In an agricultural point of view Wanganui must advance.
But there is another source of future prosperity to be referred to—one which has hitherto been concealed from the view, and which the enterprise of our settlers has not been able to draw forth from its concealment—I allude to Coal. There can be no doubt of its existence, and in the greatest abundance; in fact, this is a portion of the grand coal field of New Zealand. It crops out about 80 miles up the river, at Tangarakau, and northwards at Mokou,—these are the two inland lips of this great coal basin; it comes out at Massacre Bay and Nelson, which are the southern lips of the same. Every gale washes it up on our shores, and frequently large lumps of bitumen as well, no bad proof of petroleum being near; we have indications of its presence in the cliffs along the sea coast, on the banks of our rivers, and, in fact, everywhere. The coal, too, is equal to any found in New Zealand. I had a sample brought down many years ago, which was tested by our earliest blacksmith, Parker; he said he could weld iron with it as well as any New South Wales coal. It is my belief that coal, and not wool, will eventually be the staple commodity of Wanganui—coal will make this the Newcastle of New Zealand. We may have gold in some of our mountain ranges which have yet to be explored, and we may not have it, but of this I feel firmly persuaded, we have coal and plenty of it; and this will be the making of the place. To avail ourselves fully of it, not only must companies be formed, but we must improve our river. If our roads are good, so should be our grand highway, the river, which is the most important of all, and if it continues to be longer page 283 neglected it will betray a degree of supineness and indifference, unworthy of the merchants and townsmen of Wanganui. The river can be greatly improved; we must not be satisfied by raising a few snags from its bed, but endeavour to deepen its channel and improve its outfall; we have already seen the good effect of faggoting the sides, it has been tried to a small extent and succeeded perfectly—why not carry it on, even to the heads? If the channel were straightened and contracted, the river would be deepened and its outfall improved; surely this is of the utmost importance to the commercial prosperity of the place. An iron bridge will be a great benefit to the town, but it will not make it, rather the town will make the bridge; but if the river be improved that will make the place. When the Commissioners, deputed to fix the site of the capital, came to Wanganui, their doing so was a proof that they thought it might be a suitable spot; its easy access with Nelson, Wellington, and the South, and also with Taranaki and Manakau to the North, made them naturally think, from its geographical position, it was the proper spot for the capital; and what was it that caused it to be rejected? They told me there was but “one” objection, and that was—the River. Let the great concern, therefore, of every true friend of Wanganui be to remove that objection, and it can be done; our river may be deepened, our bar removed, and the Wanganui made a second Thames. It is the grand outlet of the interior, and it remains for the energy of the place to make it the grand inlet of the commerce of the world; and if Wanganui be not the future capital of New Zealand it will at least be one of the first of its cities. By the Wanganui River we approach within a short distance of Taupo Lake, and by one of its tributaries, the Waiongaruhe, a large canoe can go within thirty miles of the Waipa, and thence to Waikato and Auckland.
The present communication with Wellington by coach is a step the right way—but it is only a step. We must go forward. Cobb and Co. must run to Waitotara, Patea, and Taranaki—nor must they stop there. In this age of page 284 steam we must have railroads. This island is behind the neighbouring one; its railroad has been in use for some years—it is extending it; and please God I return to New Zealand, I hope to go by it from Lyttelton even to Invercargill. It has already got its telegraphic wire stretched from one end to the other of the island. Where is our first line to be? Will the empire city be satisfied much longer to remain without a railroad; and—where is the first to run but along the West Coast. This, also, I hope to see determined on before my return.
What a change may take place during the next two years of my absence! We have an iron bridge to be built, our river to be deepened, our port thus to be more widely opened, our new towns commenced with daily stages running to them, our population doubled, all the comforts and conveniences of life increased, and, by the aid of our Acclimatization Society, our plains filled with game our lakes and rivers with the best fish—nor are these chimerical ideas. The march of progress has set in : where will it stop? Wanganui has got its name, but it has now to maintain it; and a bountiful Providence has given it the means—a most fertile and extensive district. What more remains but increased energy; and I feel persuaded it will be given, for in advancing the place, its inhabitants advance as well.
The recent progress of Wanganui, in a mercantile point of view, will be seen when it is stated that it was only declared a port of entry in December, 1851, and that the inducement pleaded in the memorial to the Governor asking for this boon, was that its exports had reached the large amount of £600.
We have already alluded to the necessity of improving the channel of our river, but even now, in spite of snags and other obstructions, vessels of from three to four hundred tons visit our port, and with the improvements suggested, ships of double that tonnage might enter. In a place where there is no proper authority, whose office it would be to attend to the growing necessities of the place, we cannot wonder that so little of a public nature has been effected—a board of page 285 management and directors seem to be required, and a municipal charter to be given, which will confer the power of attending to such improvements as may benefit the place, and carry on all public works.
A few words may also be added respecting the Wanganui climate, which, for its mildness and equability, may contest the palm with any part of New Zealand. I have rarely seen the thermometer in the house lower than 45°, or higher than 70°, and in the verandah the lowest 30°, and the highest 90°, and that only once in twenty-four years. It is seldom above 85°, in shade, in the warmest part of summer—one severe winter it was as low as 28° in the open air. Colonel Wakefield was struck with the beauty of the Wanganui climate; he remarked, “altogether, it is a sunny, cheerful place, with a delightful climate.” This is in a great measure to be attributed to the sea breeze, which usually sets in about ten a.m. and blows until four p.m.; this moderates the summer heat which in our latitude, 39° 56′, would otherwise be higher;—in fact, further inland, where it is not felt, the heat, as a matter of course, is greater; at Pipiriki, sixty miles up the river, it is frequently very oppressive, with seldom any frost in winter. Another cause of the moderate and equable temperature of our sea board is the absence of any great quantity of timber, or elevated land; the country is naturally well grassed and free from swamps, and although not a humid, it is nevertheless not a dry climate; there is generally a sufficiency of moisture, but not in excess. In no other part of New Zealand do the hills assume the beautiful emerald hue so perfectly as at Wanganui.
An allusion has been made to our streets. It is due that a few words more should be given to them. They are neat and clean with good broad footpaths. Victoria Avenue, the principal street, will be a noble one. It is two chains wide, and only wants planting with a row of trees on each side to render it equal to any in the island. The English, Scotch, and Roman Churches all stand in it, as well as the public school; the Wesleyan Chapel being in page 286 Ridgway Street, which is also rapidly improving in appearance.
We can have no fear for the future of New Zealand, which, though the youngest of six of the Australian colonies, already ranks as the third, and with its rise every city and town belonging to it must rise likewise, and Wanganui, with its greatest share of natural advantages, will be amongst the first. Its motto is, “Go on.”
This lecture on Wanganui was commenced with the cannibal scene enacted on the first arrival of Europeans in its waters. It cannot be more appropriately concluded than with an attempt to pourtray the change which the European has now made in this district. The tall and gloomy fern which then entirely covered the country has disappeared, luxuriant wheat, clover, and English grasses, supply its place; the entire district is now portioned out in flourishing, well-fenced farms, with beautiful fields and snug homesteads, each with its little clump of trees collected from all parts of the world; the most conspicuous, from its height, being the blue gum, an Eucalyptus from Australia; the English oak, the elder and other familiar trees of our native lands; the gardens, shut in with gorse fences, contain peach, apple, and other fruit trees, with a small patch devoted to the flowers most closely connected with our earliest associations, the rose, the primrose, the cowslip, the violet, and an innumerable number of lovely Cape bulbs. Good roads run in every direction; for want of other names, called Nos. 1, 2, and 3 lines. These conduct us to the town, from whence they all radiate. There we find broad streets running at right angles, and enclosing five acre blocks of houses—all of wood, neatly painted, and, except in the very heart of the town, surrounded by a small garden, for each house was originally erected on a quarter-of-an-acre allotment. The houses have a neat, cheerful look, generally with a comfortable verandah in front. The churches, all of wood likewise, stand nearly contiguous, showing that a certain amount of unity and catholic feeling prevails amongst the different sections of the Christian Church. The poor old weather- page 287 beaten edifice, which was the first reared in the place in its earliest days, still stands in a corner by the side of its full-grown daughter, as a monument of the past, and a proof of present progression. On two elevated hills, opposite each other, with the town between, over which they seem to stand sentinel, are the picturesque stockades. Thence we reach the busy, well-built street fronting our noble river, with its shipping wharves and stores. By the Taupo Quay we reach the Market Place, ornamented with the Moutoa monument of white marble. At present no bridge spans the river, but another year or so will alter the scene, as a noble iron bridge, with a draw-bridge in the centre, is on the point of erection, which will still further add to the beauty of the place, and facilitate the intercourse of its inhabitants. Returning down the town we pass a little stream, and then, amongst some sand hills, we reach the public cemetery, where, according to Abraham’s words, we bury the dead out of our sight, and lest our grief should be of too long duration, we have a race-course adjoining it.
Wanganui has possessed an Acclimatization Society for several years, which has been quietly doing its work, and in one instance at least with apparent success. By such agency how much has already been effected in New Zealand. In the North the pheasant is quite naturalized, and has so wonderfully increased as perfectly to stock that portion of the island, and allow sportsmen the unrestricted pleasure of shooting it; although (for some years at least) it would be a prudential measure to place some restraint, such as taking out licenses to shoot, and make the amount thus raised a means of introducing other species of game into the country, by transferring it to the Acclimatization Societies.
But our present object is not so much to chronicle the good effected by kindred Societies, as to mention what our own has done. It turned out two pair of sparrows, which following their natural love of the noise and bustle of men, selected the Commercial Hotel as the most suitable spot for them to commence their colonial life; they built their nests page 288 and hatched their young amongst the chimnies of that inn, and now these noisy little birds may be seen boldly pursuing their daily avocation, as in the old country. Three greenfinches have also had liberty given them, to make selection of their future homes. The pheasant may be said to be introduced, thirty-five pair having been procured at an expense of nearly £80, in addition to several presented by Sir George Grey to the Wanganui chiefs, as well as some Californian quail, black swans, and peacocks, all of which appear to be doing well, and likely soon to stock the district. Of fish, the carp and Murray river cod have now reached us; and of animals, the kangaroo and rabbit. By continuing these efforts, gradually the country will be as rich in these respects as it was before poor. The bee may be instanced, being now perfectly naturalized in our forests, as well as gardens; honey and wax are so plentiful, as to bid fair soon to become an article of commerce.
Some few hints for the future have been thrown out; another may be given which would greatly contribute to the health of our community. On the north shore of our Heads we possess an excellent beach for bathing. If a suitable building, as a boarding house, were to be erected there, it would always be filled, and soon give rise to others, which would furnish our townspeople with a delightful summer change, without the trouble or expense of going to a distance; it is at our very doors. Those who need a change already find their way to that spot, although at present the only shelter afforded is the blockhouse erected there. I trust some enterprising individuals will turn their attention to this subject.
Nor is Wanganui without its mineral and thermal springs. At Kauairoa there is a warm spring, of about 70 degrees temperature, and near Pipiriki two more of 80 degrees, which are strongly impregnated with sulphur, and still further up the river several others—some saline and others depositing large quantities of sulphur. These must soon be brought into notice and turned to account for their medicinal virtues. page 289 Near the Rerenga there is a spring of remarkably salt water, and close to it another which is perfectly sweet.
The general advantages of the Wanganui district may therefore be summed up in rich land, extensive and large plains, with a good outlet by the river, and a good town to supply all the wants of its country population.