I joined Wylie and Wills in Wellington and we then set about preparing for our voyage to Otago, by obtaining surveying instruments, engaging men and securing provisions. However, we found ourselves very much hampered from having no money. Wylie had none, Wills was worse off, for he only had debts and I was in the same state as Wylie.
Something had to be done, so we tried our credit. We got instruments supplied to us out of the Survey Office to be paid for when we had finished our contracts, & provisions and stores were given to us on the same terms by Mr. Robert Waitt, (1) a Wellington merchant.
(1) Described as a red-faced man, with tow-like white hair, large prominent tusks of teeth and abundant evidence of being addicted to the weed for chewing purposes, Robert Waitt (1816-1866), a 24 year old canny Scot settled at what was then known as Te Aro Beach in 1840, soon setting himself up as a General Merchant, Auctioneer, Importer & Exporter and Coastal Trader. A picturesque story-teller, his friends knew him as “white-headed Bob, the liar.”
I also drew a Bill on my mother for I forget how much, but the sum I received for it amounted to £80. Another fortunate source from whence we derived assistance in money was an agreement made with Colonel Wakefield, the Chief Agent of the New Zealand Company, who gave us £100 on consideration of our engaging our men in Nelson instead of taking them from Wellington. This suited us very well as labour at Wellington was nearly half as much again as that in Nelson and the £100 we received was more that the extra cost of going to Nelson.
Having thus secured instruments, stores and money, we chartered in conjunction with two other contract parties the good ship Bee, a brig of about 150 tons, commanded by Captain Unthank, (1) and sailed for Nelson, where we engaged men, and having shipped them we sailed to Otago where we safely arrived about the end of May 1846.
(1) As master of the tiny 134 ton brig, Alexander Unthank (1819-1867) made many trading voyages from Port Nicholson to Nelson, Akaroa, Otago, New Plymouth and Sydney from 1844 to 1846. By 1854 he was Master of the 300 ton brig Thomas Worthington sailing between Wellington and Melbourne.
Here we landed some more passengers and then sailed for Molyneaux Bay (1) where we intended to land our men and stores and begin work. However, on arriving off the Bay, it was too rough to land, so we carried on sail to the south and after bumping heavily on a sandspit in a heavy sea near the entrance to the Bluff Harbour, we got safely into that port.
(1) Common usage has subsequently renamed Molyneaux Bay as Port Molyneux.
Here we remained for two days, when the wind and weather being favourable we again set sail and anchored about four miles from the mouth of the Molyneaux River on the 6th June 1846. We immediately commenced landing everything with the two boats we had brought with us, one being a Deal lugger called the Rhadamanthus and the other a whale boat. We landed everything safely although the surf was rather high and snow was falling.
On the beach close to our landing place, we found two houses near together, one occupied by Mr. Wilsher and the other by a man named Russell, (1) the former had been living here since about 1840. He had come with a cargo of cattle from Sydney on behalf of a firm who were desirous of establishing a cattle station, but unfortunately all the cattle died during the passage except one, a cow in calf, which was safely landed and Wilsher landed with her and occupied himself in looking after her and her progeny, which numbered about six or eight when we arrived on the scene.
(1) George Willcher or Willsher and Thomas Russell settled at Molyneaux Bay when they arrived aboard the Portenia from Sydney on the 28th of June, 1840. By marrying a Māori girl Willsher obtained a right to some land. Many years afterward he was given a Crown grant for twenty acres at the mouth of the Korero creek. A centennial cairn, erected by the Clutha County Council at Willsher Bay in 1940, commemorates the landing of George Willsher and his companions.
He had also a Māori housekeeper called Makariri, which means “cold” in English and a big pig dog whose name I forget. His house was of two rooms, and he kindly gave us the use of one of them until we could build our own.
The other settler Russell lived close to Wilsher in a little hut surrounded by a garden in which he grew enough wheat and potatoes for his own subsistence. The wheat he ground between two stones. His live stock consisted of a few goats, which often trespassed in Wilsher’s garden, and as Wilsher’s cattle often trespassed in Russell’s garden, there was a very violent and continued feud between them.
Wilsher was a quiet inoffensive man, the other was morose and quarrelsome and would have domineered over the former effectually had it not been for Makariri who was more than his match when it came to words and was active enough to avoid blows.
We had two contracts, a small one, of chiefly wooded land lying around Molyneaux Bay from the mouth of the Molyneaux River to near the Nuggets, for which we had to receive one and sixpence an acre for laying it off in fifty acre sections. The larger block, for which we were paid one shilling an acre, lay south of the river and extended to its mouth and included the large island which is now called Inch Clutha. The Molyneaux River was afterward called the Clutha when the Scottish Settlers came out in 1848.
As soon as our landing was effected, a part of the men were set to work putting up huts and the rest assisted Wylie and myself in surveying the small contract. Our party altogether numbered about twenty, viz. Wylie and I and two assistants, Gollan and Pelichet, (1) and twelve men, three women and one child. Wills had been detained in Wellington for some reason, and did not join us for several weeks later on.
(1) Donald Gollan (1811-1887) came to New Zealand in 1841 as a member of the New Zealand Company’s survey staff. He was a Canterbury Association Surveyor from 1849.
Charles H. Louis de Pelichet (1820c-1853). A Londoner, he came out to Nelson in the Will Watch in 1841 as an “Improver” on the survey staff of the New Zealand Company under Frederick Tuckett, whose task was to lay out the Nelson Settlement. He was accidentally shot by one of his own men while out pig hunting in 1853 and Donald Gollan married his widow.
Soon after landing we had a visit from the contract surveyors on the north side of the river, viz. Captain Thomas (1) and R. Harrington, who with their men were camped up the river at a stream called the Kaitangata. They had been very unfortunate, having chartered a small schooner to convey themselves and provisions, etc. to Molyneaux.
(1) Captain Joseph Thomas (1803-1874), subsequently the Canterbury Association's Principal Surveyor and acting Agent.
They reached the bay safely, and having landed with all their men, except one and a part of their instruments, they, as night came on deferred until morning the landing of the provisions, etc. However, before morning it came on to blow and the schooner had to run for it. She never returned and Thomas and his party were unable to commence work. All they could do was to find themselves food by pig-hunting. Fortunately, we had a good supply of provisions, part of which we lent to them, so that they were able to being work.
Thomas never saw the schooner again, but after many months the man left on board, “old Jim” as he was called, returned and reported that they had to run as far as Akaroa Harbour for shelter. Everything was landed there and the Captain refused to sail again for Molyneaux. Jim having no money had to sell the stores for a living and to pay for storage. Before he could get a vessel in which to leave Akaroa he found that his expenses had left him without any goods to take back with him. He managed however to return to Thomas after several months absence and became the cook at Kaitangata. He afterwards became my cook and housekeeper when Captain Thomas started the Church of England settlement at Lyttelton. I found him to be a very honest, careful man, though much given at times to strong drink.
Having to commence our work in the middle of winter, with snow on the ground, and the land to be first surveyed being chiefly swampy or wooded, we did not have a very pleasant time of it. The actual work in the field was almost entirely under my direction and all the mapping and office work was done by me.
Wylie very seldom did any work in the field and never any mapping work. At the same time, he was our chief, and when any difficulty arose he was most competent to overcome it. He had been one of the Assistant Surveyors sent out by the New Zealand Company in the Brougham when I was sent out as one of the ten cadets (Wills being another). He was a very good mathematician and an able man generally. Being much the senior of the party, Wylie was of course our head or commander-in-chief, who stayed at headquarters and had general control, while I held the post of commander in the field.
I had to cross the Molyneaux River, the native name is Matau, in a moki-hi. We had been disappointed in obtaining provisions when surveying on the south side of the river and after being on short commons for some time and fasting altogether for two days, we thought it time to leave our work and go to the head station. This was then on the north side of the river, where the Kaitangata stream runs into it.
We started off early in the morning with our blankets on our backs and after four or five hours walking down the south side of the river, we came to a place on the bank well covered with flax, having abundance of old and dry seed stalks standing among it. Here we set to work collecting the stalks close to the river and formed them into bundles about fifteen feet long and a foot through. These bundles we lashed together and after about two hours work we completed a raft, which we thought would carry us all over. Our party of four being Wills, Gollan, John Hay and me.
We launched the ship and Gollan shaped a piece of drift wood into a rough paddle. Wills then got on board, which caused the craft to wobble a great deal. I followed, and it wobbled still worse, so I took my boots off and fastened them and my blankets firmly to the craft. Gollan then came on board with the paddle and we requested Hay to step aboard at once, but he declined, saying it was too dangerous as he could not swim.
As Hay would have a long way to go through swampy country before he could get to the beach, where food might obtained from Wilshire or the natives, and he would also have to sleep out a night, I threw him my tinder box so that he might set a fire, reserving for our own use two or three matches, which I had in a box.
We then shoved off and away we went floating merrily down the stream, with the assistance of Gollan’s paddle making a little way to the other bank. Presently we saw below us a big snag or submerged tree with the branches sticking up out of the water. Gollan paddled hard to miss it, but in the raft went and stuck fast. We were now in a difficult position, but as we fortunately had tomahawk with us, we managed in time to cut ourselves adrift and to get safely on land again.
Here the worst part of our journey began, as we had now to walk through a mile and a half of very bad swamp up to our knees in mud, among nigger heads and flax. This part of our journey took us about two hours to accomplish.
We had crossed to what is now called Inch Clutha or Clutha Island and then found ourselves near a wood growing on the northern part of the Molyneaux, called the Koau River by the Māoris. As it was nearly dark we prepared to camp for the night by collecting wood for a fire, and this being done, I tried to get a light form the three matches which I had. But they all failed, only sputtering a little and then going out.
There was nothing for it therefore but to spread out blankets on the ground and turn in, which we did, very tired and hungry. We were without an ability to cook a fine flounder, which I had speared with my knife when crossing the river in the Mokihi. Wills wanted to eat it raw, but Gollan and I laughed him out of such a cannibal feast.
It rained all night and in the morning we continued our journey down the bank of the river for a few hours through very thick and high flax, until we got opposite the station of Kaitangata. (1) We shouted for a boat and soon had the pleasure of being received by Wylie. That was of more importance to us than getting the grand feed, in which we did our best to combine all the breakfasts and dinners that we had missed for the last few days.
(1) In 1844 Frederick Tuckett discovered significant Coal deposits near the Kaitangata Presbyterian Mission Station at the mouth of the Clutha River. The origin of the name is uncertain; although the name of a figure in Polynesian mythology, it more likely comes from cannibal feasts held after tribal fighting in the district between Kai Tahu and Kati Mamoe tribes.
The next question was who was to blame for not sending us food? I blamed Wylie, and he blamed the man whom he had sent with food, but who had returned for some reason which I forget. The end of it was that the man who was most to blame for returning was discharged and the others cautioned.
Our work lasted about a year, being completed about the end of June, 1847 when it was examined and pronounced correct. We should have completed it sooner had it not been for a serious accident, by which three men lost their lives and a lot of provisions. These provisions were required to carry on our work, but were lost by the upsetting of a boat at the mouth of the Molyneaux River. The circumstances connected with this loss are perhaps worth relating.
When we were at the Molyneaux the Māori population did not exceed six or seven persons in all. We were told that some years previously there was a large population living near the mouth of the River, besides villages in the interior, but that Measles had broken out among them, which in a few weeks left very few survivors. In regard to this matter what I was told at the time was, as nearly as I can recollect as follows.
Before the regular settlement of the country by systematic colonisation, there was a large whaling population on the coast, mostly employed in ships. Stationing themselves in harbours, or anchoring in any sheltered bay on the coast, they sent their boats out to catch the whales when seen from the masthead or from a headland on shore. The whales were at one time so plentiful off the New Zealand coast that boats were only sent out when the last whale caught was nearly “tryed out” as it was called, or in other words melted down into oil.
Besides whale ships there were shore parties of whalers who lived on the land who, on securing a whale hauled it on shore and there tryed it out. The oil was stored in casks ready for the ships, which called for it and also the bone at stated periods.
These ships were mostly owned by Hobart Town or Sydney merchants, who fitted out the shore parties and supplied them with necessary stores. Seals were also plentiful along the most southern part of the west coast of the South Island and sealing parties were employed there to catch them. The boats employed were undecked, sharp at both stem and stern, like a whale boat. About eight or ten feet wide and capable of carrying from six to ten tons, they were good sea boats and easily beached in a surf.
The people required to carry on these operations were numerous, and a large trade to supply them with all they wanted was needed. Communication therefore with Australia was very frequent, so that we cannot be surprised if besides the necessaries of civilised life, the worst evils and diseases were also introduced.
Measles was one of those diseases, being brought by ship to the Bluff and carried along the coast to the north by Māoris who started from the Bluff with the disease on board their boat or canoe. Voyaging by day and landing for the night at several Pa on their route, they left the disease behind. Still carrying it with them, in a few days the principal Māori settlements were all infected.
I was told that so great was the mortality among the Māori that the survivors could not bury the dead. This, if true, may account in great part for the scarcity of natives at the Molyneaux when I was there. It was a place that would support a very large Māori population. The area abounded with eels, Wekas, pigeons, kakas and ducks and everything else which a Māori could desire. This included good land, with fine timber and a large river up which they could paddle to the interior. I think therefore it could only be by a great calamity, like that related above, that such a fine country was depopulated.
The Māori habit of sailing along the coast and landing here and there was still practiced by them in 1846. They used to visit the Molyneaux to exchange mutton birds for “kune kunes” or Lampreys, which an old Māori living there used to catch a good distance up the river and in large numbers.
During one of these visits we engaged three of the young men as hands on the Survey, one of these was the son of a chief at Raupuki named “Wrymouth” in English, the son’s name being “Ruru,” a very nice lad of about nineteen years of age.
Another was called Wherohia, whom I attached to myself to carry my theodolite, fill my pipe and make break winds when I was taking sights on exposed situations and the wind was violent and cold. He was a quiet, gentle fellow, had been a prisoner in the North Island with Rauparaha, and was the last of a once powerful tribe called “Nga te Mamoes.” (1) The third, whose name I forget, had nothing about him calling for remark.
(1) By the mid 1830s the Ngati Toa chieftain Rauparaha, with the aid of European weapons, had virtually obliterated the tribes of the South Island. Robert Waitt in an 1856 letter to Captain Thomas wrote of his Guide recalling a raid, when the cannibal Rauparaha nearly depopulated the province of Canterbury by his sanguinary proceedings, and of the canoes laden with human carcasses, which were taken back to Kapiti Island.
These three Māoris had been working for us for some time about fifteen miles inland, when, getting short of provisions, we all returned to the head station near the mouth of the river on a Saturday night. There we heard the glad news that a sealing boat full of provisions had arrived for us in the bay and was waiting for a favourable opportunity to enter the river. Next morning (Sunday) I was washing myself at a stream when I was told that the boat entering the River had capsized. I at once ran down to the beach where I saw the boat anchored close to the breakers on the bar, with two men in her; a Māori and a white man, who formed the original crew of the boat.
The boat was full of water, and after capsizing in the breakers, had righted herself, the anchor and chain being thus thrown out and anchored her just clear of the worst break so that the two men could keep their hold without much difficulty. The question then arose of how to get the men out of the boat, when I found it unexpectedly answered by seeing two strange boats near the shore cruising about, one of which took the men off the capsized boat.
I then ran along the beach towards the landing place where I arrived in time to assist in carrying one of our men named Gill on shore, who had been picked up after swimming for more than an hour with the assistance of a water keg. I now learnt that our three Māoris had gone on board the sealing boat without orders, I suppose for the sake of a little amusement, and that they must all be drowned, and it turned out that this was too true.
The two boats, which had so promptly appeared on the scene had, I learned, only arrived that morning after our provision boat had started to enter the river. They contained between twenty and thirty Māoris, who had come from the south to visit their friends; our three Māoris. They had landed on the beach and then ascended a headland overlooking the river to see our boat come in. There were several women among them, one being the mother of Ruru, who must have seen her son drowned close to her.
Next day the three bodies were washed up on the beach and buried and I got a large board and wrote a memorial on it, which was erected at the grave and served as a tombstone. Two or three months later the natives came back again and exhumed the bodies which they carried away with them to the island of Raupuki.
The Māoris at first were very angry with us, as they thought we had ordered their three friends to go into the boat to assist the crew in entering the river on a Sunday, and they threatened to rush us. They proposed taking all our property from us as “utu” or payment, but when they heard that we were prepared to receive them warmly, and that we had nothing to do with the drowned Māoris going into the boat, they thought better of it, especially on receipt of a present of tobacco from us.
Before the above related accident occurred (I think only a few days previously) I was out surveying with Wherohia, when a strange matter took place. Having been away from my side for some time, he returned looking very doleful and weeping. Upon my asking what ailed him he said that he had just seen a Tui; the parson bird of New Zealand, which had informed him that he was about to die. I laughed at him for being superstitious, but I could not shake him in the firm belief that what he had been told would shortly happen, and sure enough in a day or two afterwards he met his death as I have related.
As most of our provisions in the capsized boat were destroyed, I started off for Otago and Waikowaiti (1) to obtain another supply. I walked to Otago and then went in a whaleboat to Waikowaiti where Johnny Jones (2) - as he was called - had a whaling station with many cattle.
(1) Waikouaiti or Waikowaiti is a small town on the northern shore of the River Waikowaiti, half a mile from the sea and 28 miles north of Dunedin.
(2) Established in 1840, Waikouaiti was the first European settlement in southern New Zealand to be mainly based on farming, and one of the first major European settlements in Otago. Johnny Jones (1809-1869) brought settlers from Sydney to farm the district and his 1843 homestead still stands on Cornish Head.
Here I got what I wanted and had it shipped in our own boat the Rhadamanthus, which had come down from Molyneaux for the purpose. She then sailed for Otago to wait for a fair wind, but again we were unfortunate as she sunk in the night from being anchored so that she grounded on a bank at low tide and leaning over was filled as the tide rose.
I however did not lose much, as the meat and flour was recovered and again put on board, with a fresh supply of tea and sugar, when she started back again. After twice getting off the Molyneaux and being blown back by gales of wind, which would have swamped an ordinary boat, she at last safely arrived at her destination, much to the joy of Wylie and his starving companions, who had for some time been living on potatoes and wild pigs, when they could catch them.
In June 1847 our survey was finished and we all went down to Otago to settle matters with the Chief Surveyor, Mr. Kettle. (1) Here we stayed for some weeks awaiting a vessel for Wellington. At last two schooners arrived, both bound for Wellington, in one of these most of our men took passage, but after calling at Akaroa and then sailing north, they were never heard of again. The vessel in which Wylie, Wills, Gollan, Pelichet and I went had a good passage and we arrived safely in Wellington in August, 1847.
(1) Charles Henry Kettle (1821–1862) was the Chief Surveyor for the New Edinburgh settlement in Otago. He used trigonometrical methods extensively for the first time in New Zealand. His work was painstaking and accurate, but appeared slow to the settlers. Tall, austere and habitually dressed in black, Kettle's unbending allegiance to his principles left him respected by many, but seemingly, loved by few.
I remained in Wellington for a week or two, and then took passage for Nelson where I again took up my quarters with my brother at Thackwood and employed myself in agricultural affairs.