Under the Southern Cross
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In 1839 an incorporated association in London, called the New Zealand Company, sent out a ship loaded with emigrants to settle in the country. These were the pioneers who established the city of Wellington, the present capital of the islands. The country was still under the jurisdiction of New South Wales; but in 1841 it was constructed into an independent colony, and the first Legislative Council was held at Auckland. Thenceforth special settlements were regularly made by shipments from England; and in 1852 the Imperial Parliament granted the people of New Zealand a charter of self-government. By this act the sovereign power was vested in a General Assembly, consisting of a Governor appointed by the Crown, and two Houses, – a Legislative Council, or Upper House, the members of which are nominated by the Government, and a House of Representatives chosen by the people at large.
Before taking the reader to the several cities embraced in the route we followed through New Zealand, a few preliminary and general remarks, embracing information which is the outgrowth of subsequent experience, may add interest to these pages and render our progress more intelligible. First, as to position, New Zealand lies as far south of the Equator as Italy does north of it. It is divided into the North and South Islands by Cook's Strait. The South Island is also known as Middle Island, to distinguish it more fully from Stewart Island, which belongs to the group, and which lies to the south of it. This last-named island is separated from Middle Island by Foveaux Strait, some fifteen or twenty miles across from the Bluff. It is about fifty miles long by thirty broad, and has a mountain range running through it, the loftiest peak of which is a trifle over three thousand feet high. There are some fishing hamlets here, but very few inhabitants. All these islands are believed to have once been a part of a great continent, which is now sunk in the sea.
The Southern Alps of the South Island, which were thus named by Captain Cook, are wooded up to the snow-line, the greatest height reached by any portion of the range being thirteen thousand feet; and let us add that in frosty grandeur they are unequalled outside the limits of Polar regions. Vast snow-fields and glaciers exist among them, whence flow icy streams to the lakes of the table-land. The southwest corner of the island, as already intimated, is peculiarly indented by glacial action. There are numerous large lakes in both the North and South islands, notably in the district called Southland, in the South Island, where there are twelve large bodies of fresh water. These lakes are usually called the Cold Lakes of New Zealand, in distinction from those in the North Island known as the Hot Lakes. Many of these bodies of water in both sections are of enormous depth and of great scenic beauty. One is often reminded of Scotland by the general scenery in New Zealand, both countries being characterized by dark, serrated mountains casting sombre shadows into still, deep bays.Lake Taupo in the central part of the North Island covers an area of two hundred and fifty square miles. There are numerous mountain ranges in the North especially, which are mostly covered with forests, and three giant snow-capped mountains, – Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Mount Egmont, – ranging from seven to ten thousand feet each in height. The several portions of these islands differ materially from one another; the strange volcanic developments of the North Island are not repeated in the South. Of local peculiarities we shall speak in detail as we progress.
It is not yet a hundred and twenty years since Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand, and the numerous native population that then swarmed upon its shores have dwindled to a comparative shadow of a once formidable race. But it is the present, not the past, with which we have mostly to do, – the present aspect of mountains, valleys, rivers, and lakes; with the wonderful volcanic developments and present activity of submerged forces that are exhibited in this peculiar country. Though heroic deeds and historic associations have not hallowed these localities, they are sufficiently unique in their own inherent charms to be intensely attractive. One does not pause amid burning mountains, boiling springs, and rushing geysers, to dwell on the want of human or historic background; the marvellous sublimity of Nature is sufficient. The bleaching bones of men and of extinct enormous birds, found among the brown tussocks of these lonely plains and in these curious caves, tell of a period long past, – and yet a period unhistoric and unheroic. These pages will clearly show that there is no lack of grandeur and beauty in this isolated land, but there is an utter lack of pathos.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand is rarely visited by drought; the whole eastern coast, north and south, abounds in good natural harbors, while the rivers and streams are ever-flowing and innumerable. Though it is a mountainous country, it differs for instance from Switzerland, in that it has no lack of extensive plains, which seem to have been left by Nature ready to the hand of the farmer, requiring scarcely ordinary cultivation to insure large crops of cereals. The diversity of surface, as well as the fact that these islands extend over thirteen degrees of latitude, give New Zealand a varied climate; but it is a remarkably temperate one, its salubrity far surpassing that of England or any portion of the United States. While snow is never seen in the North Island except upon the highest mountain peaks, the plains of the South Island – as far south as Otago – are sometimes sprinkled with it, but only to disappear almost immediately. The rivers are generally destitute of fish, and the forests of game. It is no sportsman's country; but vegetation runs riot, the soil being remarkably fertile, clothing the wild lands with perpetual verdure and vigorous freshness. Persons competent to express an opinion, compare the climate in the north, say at Auckland, with that of Spain; the middle, represented by Wellington, with that of France; and the southern, say at Invercargill, with that of England. The area of the islands is about one hundred thousand square miles, being a few more than are contained in England, Wales, and Ireland combined. The entire coast line is four thousand miles in length. There are here nearly seventy million acres of land, forty millions of which are deemed worthy of cultivation. The soil being light and easily worked, favors the agriculturist, and New Zealand is free from all noxious animals and venomous reptiles.
There are other islands besides the two principal ones named (adding Stewart Island), but they are too small to require mention. The wonderful collection of geysers, sulphurous springs, and natural baths of the North Island are famous all over the world, and we shall presently ask the reader to visit them with us. Slight shocks of earthquakes are not uncommon here, but only one serious volcanic eruption has occurred for many years. The remote situation of the country, surrounded by the greatest extent of ocean on the globe, has kept it in a measure unknown to the rest of the world, even in these days of rapid communication. Wellington, the capital, is about sixteen thousand miles, more or less, from the Colonial Office in London; in other words, New Zealand forms the nearest land to the actual antipodes of England. The precious metals are distributed over the land in gold-bearing quartz reefs, rich alluvial diggings, and in the sands of its many rivers; mines of tin and iron and other deposits are supplemented by an abundance of the most important of all minerals, coal. In 1861 the gold-fields were discovered in Otago, stimulating fresh immigration, until at the present writing the country contains in round numbers six hundred thousand souls.
In these general remarks let us not forget to express hearty appreciation of the pronounced hospitality of the people of these British Colonies, both in Australia and New Zealand. It was almost impossible to escape its generous importunity, or to steal from it a few hours daily for personal observation and reflection. Intelligent, kind-hearted persons sometimes forget that even the best meant hospitality may become oppressive by over-effusiveness. We might have passed free over every railroad in Australia and New Zealand, the coasting steamers had a cabin quite at our service without charge, and even our hotel bills would have been handed to us receipted without pay, had we permitted it; but no service of whatever sort was accepted without the current charge for the same being paid. We wish, however, to bear testimony to the whole-heartedness which was so liberally displayed to a stranger. A chance newspaper paragraph printed by a Sydney journal on our first arrival, whose editor recognized the author's name, went the rounds of the Colonial press, and we were thus promptly recognized on appearing at each new locality.
As regards the matter of federation, spoken of in connection with Australia, it seemed to us hardly to apply to New Zealand, since this country is already one in this respect. There is no such folly recognized in New Zealand as a tariff between the different sections. As to federation with Australia, twelve hundred miles and more away across the sea, the citizens of Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland say they do not see any possible advantage to accrue to them from it. On the contrary, they would lose more than they could by any possibility gain. New Zealand looks askance upon all high-tariff methods, and would gladly have free-trade. "We do not want to see public enterprise thus handicapped in Dunedin," said a prominent merchant of that city to us, – a sentiment echoed a few weeks later by an English resident doing business in Auckland, who said to us frankly, "We hope your country will keep up its high tariff; it suits us exactly. If you were to adopt free-trade principles in the United States you would eventually ruin the trade of England in the markets of the world."
We sailed from the Bluff at sunset on our return from Invercargill, having a boisterous voyage of fourteen hours to Dunedin, the chief city of Otago District, and indeed the chief city of New Zealand, if we make the number of inhabitants and the wealth of the place a criterion of comparison. Port Chalmers, situated a few miles below Dunedin, forms an outer harbor, so to speak; but vessels drawing twenty feet of water moor at the city wharves at high tide. We were told that the channel from the sea to the town was to be deepened so as to admit of vessels reaching the wharves at all stages of the tide, and that dredging for this purpose would begin at once. The lower harbor is land-locked, being surrounded by hills which slope gracefully down to the water's edge, the general conformation here recalling the scenery about the Lakes of Killarney. All the way up the river from Port Chalmers, a distance of nine miles, the banks are dotted with pleasant rural residences, picturesque acclivities, and low wooded ranges. Here and there were seen broad fields of grain and rich pastures, with domestic cattle grazing, and a few score of choice sheep, – the whole forming an aspect of rural thrift and peaceful abundance. If, as was the case in our instance, the tide is too low to admit of the steamers going up to the town, one can land at the Port and proceed to Dunedin by rail, – an opportunity which was gladly availed of, as we had "enjoyed" quite enough of sea-travel for some weeks at least.
The cities of both Australia and New Zealand have a habit of locating themselves among and upon a collection of hills, up the sides of which the houses creep in a very picturesque manner. Dunedin is no exception to this rule, rising rather abruptly from the plateaux where are the wharves and business centre of the town, to the summit of the foot-hills about which it lies. The town is more undulating in its conformation than Hobart, so lately described. A portion of the level plain near the shore, upon which broad streets and fine substantial blocks of buildings now stand, consists of made land, redeemed at great expense and trouble from the shallow water front. This whole section is as level as a dining-table. Heavy shipping business cannot well be conducted on a hillside; therefore the construction of this plateau was a necessity, as the town grew in size and extended its commercial relations. A couple of mountains close at hand, each of which is considerably over two thousand feet in height, dominate the city.
The Scottish character of the early settlers of Dunedin, as well as that of the present population, is emphasized by the names of its twenty odd miles of well-lighted and well-paved streets, of which nearly all the names are borrowed from the familiar thoroughfares of Edinburgh. The only monumental statue in the town is that of Scotland's beloved poet, Robert Burns, which is situated before the Town Hall, in a small enclosure. The first settlement here was as late as 1848, by a colony nearly every member of which came from Scotland, from which source the city has continued to draw many of its citizens. The Scottish brogue salutes the ear everywhere; the Scottish physiognomy is always prominent to the eye; indeed, there are several prevailing indications which cause one half to believe himself in Aberdeen, Glasgow, or Dundee. This is by no means unpleasant. There is a solid, reliable appearance to everything; people are rosy-cheeked, hearty, and good to look at; there is a spirit of genuineness impregnating the very atmosphere, quite wanting in many places named in these pages.
The wand of the enchanter touched the place in 1861, from which date it took a fresh start upon the road of prosperity. It was caused by gold being discovered in large quantities near at hand, and from that date Dunedin has grown in population and wealth with almost unprecedented rapidity. Large substantial stone edifices have sprung up on all the main thoroughfares devoted to business purposes, – banks, public offices, churches, store-houses, and schools, – giving a substantial aspect quite unmistakable. Numerous large buildings of white freestone were in course of erection while we were in the city, the material being brought from a neighboring quarry. This stone very much resembles that which we found in such general use in Tasmania; it is very easily worked, but rapidly hardens upon exposure to the atmosphere.
The market gardening for the supply of vegetables to the citizens of Dunedin was found to be carried on in the immediate vicinity by the Chinese, just as it is in and about the cities of Australia. No one attempts to compete with them in this line of occupation. There was found to be here about the same relative number of Asiatics as elsewhere among these South Sea colonies, and a small section of the town is devoted to their headquarters.
There are numerous tramways in this capital, the cable principle being adopted in most of them. Dunedin, indeed, was the first town in Australasia to adopt this improved motor; and although horsepower is still employed upon some of the thoroughfares, the former mode has the preference both in point of cleanliness and economy, – besides which, horses could not draw heavily-laden cars up some of the steep streets of Dunedin. The sensation when riding on one of these cable roads up or down a steep grade in the city, was much the same as when ascending or descending the Rigi in Switzerland, by means of the same unseen motor. The car is promptly stopped anywhere to land or take in a passenger, by the simple movement of a lever, and is as easily started again. There is no painful struggle of horse-flesh to start forward again after each stop. The powerful stationary engine situated a mile away, by means of the chains beneath the road-bed, quietly winds the car up the declivity, however heavily it may be laden, without the least slacking of power, irregularity of motion, or any visible exertion of force. It seemed to us that no better motor could possibly be devised, especially when rising grounds are to be surmounted. The principle is well demonstrated in some of the steepest avenues in San Francisco, where cable tramways have long been successfully operated.
Dunedin has two capacious theatres; also a public library containing about thirty thousand volumes, attached to which is a cheerful reading-room supplied with all the best magazines and journals of the times, including several of the most popular of our American issues.
Not to contain a Botanical Garden within its limits would be for the place to take a retrograde step among its sister colonial cities; and so Dunedin has a very creditable one, with many exotic trees and plants, which have readily adapted themselves to the climate. Among these there were observed some beautiful larches, junipers, cypresses, Chinese gingko-trees, Irish yews, Indian cedars, American birches, and many magnificent tree-ferns. Mingled with these were flower-beds of heath, laurestinus, daphne, and yellow gorse, all in gorgeous bloom, though it was mid-winter. The daphnes had both blossom and red berries upon their stems at the same time. The palm-like cabbage-tree is indigenous, and imparts an aspect of Equatorial Africa to the whole. To us there is a pleasing revelation in these trees and plants, however simple they may be in themselves. There is a refinement, a delicacy of taste, a love of the beautiful in Nature evinced in all such gathering of the products of widespread countries and different hemispheres, and placing them in juxtaposition. Wonderful are the lovely contrasts and striking natural peculiarities presented to the eye in so comparatively a small compass. Time was when one must travel the wide world over to see these arboreal representatives of varied climes; now they may be enjoyed in an afternoon stroll through the flower-decked paths of some local botanical garden.
Real appreciation looks deeper than the surface; there are stories and legends always ready to be whispered into the ear of the inquiring traveller. These singularly formed hills about Dunedin are not mere barren rocks; they have their suggestiveness, speaking of volcanic eruptions, of wild prehistoric upheavals dating back for many thousands of years. Scientists tell us these islands are of the earliest earth formations. The ground upon which this city stands, like that of Auckland farther north, is composed of the fiery outflow of volcanic matter.
It goes without saying that Dunedin has all the usual educational and philanthropic institutions which a community of fifty thousand people demand in our day. Especially is it well supplied with educational advantages, which seem to be conscientiously improved by the rising generation. The sum expended upon the public schools by the Government is very large; the exact amount is not now remembered, but we recollect being impressed with the fact that it was remarkable for a community of no greater numbers. Throughout New Zealand there are over eight hundred registered public schools of the various grades. The public buildings, notably the University, High School, Provincial Council Hall, and the Presbyterian Church, – this last of a very white stone, nearly as white as marble, – are all imposing and elegant structures.
These cities have not escaped the nuisance of the "Salvation Army," whose principal arguments consist of instrumental noise and torchlight parades. Here in Dunedin, as in Sydney and Melbourne, Auckland and elsewhere in the colonies, they constitute a chronic bore. They are composed of about one third women, and two thirds men and boys; the women beat crazy tambourines, wear poke bonnets, and sing aloud in cracked voices, while the men form themselves into instrumental bands, and produce the most hideous discord. These designing, or deluded, creatures tramp through the streets, in rain or shine, howling and uttering meaningless shouts until they are hoarse. The authorities do not interfere with such demonstrations, though they are clearly a public nuisance; but the mob deride and jeer them. Doubtless the persistent and remarkable exhibitions indulged in by these noisy religionists attract the vulgar imagination, and make followers if not converts. The public house at which we were stopping – the Grand Hotel – faces upon Prince's Street, which is the principal thoroughfare of the city, and in which is a square, ornamented by a monument erected to the memory of Captain William Cargill, the leading pioneer of this region. About the base of this well-lighted monument, it being night, a band of Salvationists were alternately playing upon brass instruments and singing hymns while we were endeavoring to write. The impression was thus strongly forced upon us that this open-air piety, this noisy and gratuitous religious serenading is more disagreeable than efficacious for good.
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