Under the Southern Cross
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Having spoken of the Grand Hotel of Dunedin, let us add that it is one of the best houses of public entertainment we have found in all Australasia. It is a large, elegantly-appointed freestone building, under admirable management, – a little in advance perhaps of the present requirements of the city, but the population is rapidly increasing, to which end a first-class hotel largely contributes by attracting strangers and making their visit agreeable in all that conduces to their domestic comfort.
Within about seventy-five miles of Dunedin are some of the most productive gold-fields in the country. Gabriel's Gulch, so called, has proved to be a mint of the precious metal so rich that all the tailings of the diggings which have been once worked at a handsome profit, are just being submitted to a second and more scientific process in order to obtain the gold which is known still to remain in them. The amount of these tailings in gross weight is doubtless hundreds of thousands of tons; what percentage of gold to the ton will be realized, remains to be seen. An interested party informed us that it was confidently expected that more profit would be obtained by this second treatment than had been realized by the first. Some average samples sent to England for scientific treatment yielded at the rate of two ounces and one half of gold to the ton of tailings. If even two ounces can be realized, these diggings of Gabriel's Gulch will prove a Bonanza indeed.
New Zealand in proportion is nearly as rich in gold deposits as is Australia, and the precious metal is found under very nearly the same conditions; that is, in quartz reefs and in alluvial deposits. Much gold has been found here in what are termed pockets, under bowlders and large stones that lie on the sandy beach of the west coast. This gold is popularly believed to have been washed up out of the sea in heavy weather; but undoubtedly it was first washed down from the mountains by the rivers, and deposited along the shore. Official returns show that New Zealand has produced over fifty million pounds sterling in gold, or two hundred and fifty million dollars, since its first discovery there. Besides Europeans there are several thousand Chinese engaged in mining for gold; and here as in Australia these Asiatics work upon such claims and such tailings as have been abandoned by others.
Fern-trees abound in and about Dunedin, often growing to a height of thirty feet, with noble coronals of leaves, – far more effective and graceful than the fan-palm which is seen in such abundance at Singapore, Penang, and in Equatorial regions. The fuchsias grow to mammoth proportions and to a giant height here. We have never seen this favorite so large elsewhere, with one exception, – in the Summer Gardens of St. Petersburg, where an exotic plant of this beautiful flowering shrub had grown to the size of a tree, twenty feet high. About the suburban residences of this colonial capital laburnums, roses, laurels, and lilies abound, blooming all the year round.Innumerable exotics have been brought hither, and as was remarked to us by a citizen who was exhibiting a fine display on his own grounds, "the plant that will not thrive in New Zealand in any month of the year with ordinary care, out of doors, is yet to be found." This gentleman showed us a tiny flower in bloom, so like the Swiss edelweiss that we asked whence it came, and learned that it is a native of the mountain regions of New Zealand. It was surely an edelweiss, the simple but beautiful betrothal flower of the European Alps. It has a different name here, which we cannot recall. As to trees, the elm, beech, willow, fir, ash, and oak have so long been introduced from England, have been so multiplied, and have grown to such proportions, that they seem native here. Botanists tell us that there are not quite fifty different species of trees in England; but we are assured by equally good authority that there are a hundred and fifty different species found in New Zealand, – an assertion we could easily believe after having been in the country a few weeks, and enjoyed the beauty of its abundant forests.
When Captain Cook first came hither, he fully understood the cannibal habits of the native race, and desired to take some practical steps toward discouraging and effacing such inhuman practices. Upon his second visit, therefore, he introduced swine and some other domestic animals, including goats, in the vain hope that they would ultimately supply sufficient animal food for the savages and divert them from such wholesale roasting and eating of one another. The goats and some other animals were soon slaughtered and eaten, but the swine to a certain extent answered the purpose which Captain Cook had in view. That is to say, they ran wild, multiplied remarkably, and were hunted and eaten by the natives; but cannibalism was by no means abolished or even appreciably checked. Wild hogs are still quite abundant throughout the Northern Island, springing from the original animals introduced years ago.
With equally good intent, though not for a similar purpose, in later years rabbits were introduced into the country, but have in the mean time so multiplied as to become a terrible pest, consuming every green thing which comes in their way. "Like locusts they devour everything that grows out of the ground," said a stock farmer to us, "and would if left to themselves soon eat the sheep out of the fields." The flesh is recognized as good and suitable to eat, but it is so abundant that it is held in small repute, the skins only as a rule being preserved, and the carcasses left on the ground where they are killed, to be consumed by hawks and other carrion-eating birds. When brought to market, as they are daily, the retail price of rabbits is two pairs for sixpence, the seller retaining the skins and receiving the bounty paid by Government for their destruction. We were told that London and Paris are the largest consumers of the rabbit-skins, being freely used by the glove-makers for the manufacture of a certain grade of gloves. We also saw large cases of the skins securely packed and addressed to merchants in Vienna and Berlin. Thousands of bales of rabbit-skins are annually exported; indeed, so extensive is this trade that there is a large commercial room established in Dunedin called the Rabbit-Skin Exchange, where the article is bought and sold in enormous quantities. Thirty-five miles inland from this city, the author has seen by moonlight a whole sloping hillside which seemed to be moving, so completely was it covered by these little furry quadrupeds. They are poisoned, shot, trapped, and killed with clubs, but still so rapidly do they breed that there is no visible diminution of their numbers.
From Dunedin to Christchurch by sea is about two hundred miles, or the trip may be made by sail via Oamaru and Timaree. The harbor of Littleton, which stands in the same relation to Christchurch as Port Chalmers does to Dunedin, is a thoroughly sheltered deep bay, surrounded by a range of hills on three sides, – hills of cliff-like character rising abruptly out of the sea. Beyond those are higher elevations, their tops covered with snow, which the sun tinged with silvery hues as we sailed up the channel on a bright July morning. The surroundings are delightfully picturesque, the entrance to the harbor being as narrow as the harbor of Havana. It is formed by two breakwaters extending from opposite sides toward each other, each of which is over a thousand feet in length. Two huge dredging-machines were seen busily at work deepening the channel, so that vessels drawing not over twenty-two feet of water can lie at the wharves and discharge cargo. The spirit of commercial enterprise was very manifest here.
It was as late as the year 1850 that the first settlement was made at Christchurch, when a considerable company of immigrants, since called the "Canterbury Pilgrims," came from Liverpool intending to form a community devoted to the Church of England. This design however was only partially carried out, though Christchurch is the chief seat of the Church of England in New Zealand, and has a magnificent cathedral testifying to the design of the original founders. It is said that the first people who arrived freely expressed their disappointment when they climbed the hills of Littleton and looked off upon the Canterbury Plains, with scarce a tree or shrub upon them, and not even a hillock to break the dull monotony of the brown tussock and low clumps of wild flax. A little over thirty years have since passed, and how different is the view to-day! Those lonely, dreary plains are now covered with thrifty farms, divided by broad fields of grain and well-fenced orchards, dotted here and there with pleasant homesteads surrounded by ornamental trees and blooming gardens, while as the centre and motive of it all there lies in the foreground, close at hand, Christchurch, the cheerful and populous City of the Plains. The lonely aspect of thirty years ago has given place to one instinct with busy life and modern civilization.
Littleton with its four thousand inhabitants is a most active and intensely busy seaport. We were not prepared to find so much shipping lying at its wharves. The long piers which are built out from the shore are lined with foreign and coasting steamers, and are also laid with iron rails connecting with the railroad which runs into the interior. Thus freight is brought in the cars alongside of the shipping, and it requires only a hoisting apparatus to fill rapidly with freight the hold of the largest vessel. The export of New Zealand produce from Littleton in 1886 reached the aggregate of nearly two million pounds sterling, and the revenue collected during the same year was two hundred thousand pounds sterling. The harbor is overlooked by a castellated signal-tower, situated upon a lofty cliff; and the town itself is terraced over the hillsides after the usual style of the colonies. Nothing could be more striking to the eye upon entering the harbor from the sea than these cliff residences.
Littleton is connected with Christchurch by a railroad, the tunnel for which is cut directly through the surrounding range of hills, which are almost worthy of the name of mountains. The tunnel is considerably over a mile in length. When this means of surmounting the great impediment presented by the hills was first suggested, it met with serious opposition, as being far too expensive an enterprise for so young a colony to undertake. So it was for a while given up; but as the colony grew in numbers, and produce for shipment poured into Christchurch, the necessity of the railroad was more and more fully realized. Without it, all exports by the way of the port of Littleton must be hauled by animal power over the hills at great expense. Finally the road was authorized; and once being determined upon, it was quickly built, at a cost of over one million dollars.
Having penetrated the range of hills by means of this grand improvement, one emerges into a broad level country, and passes through an agricultural district which is under a high state of cultivation, beautified here and there by pleasant rural residences, gardens, and wooded reaches. The land is divided into convenient lots and separated by tall hedges of gorse, blooming in all its gaudy yellow splendor, and impregnating the atmosphere with a sweetness which belied the season, seeming rather to belong to the balmy days of early spring. Eight miles of rail brings us to the outlying portions of Christchurch.
This metropolis of the Canterbury Plains is located upon ground as level as a chessboard, its broad streets intersecting one another with almost painful regularity and precision, but lined with fine substantial stone buildings, and rendered attractive by many shops displaying a great variety of goods. These avenues are full of busy life; horse-railroads, freight-wagons, coaches, and cabs are constantly passing before the eyes. The day of our arrival chanced to be that of the monthly races, and all the world of Christchurch and its environs had turned out to enjoy a holiday. Some of the shops were closed at noon, that all might participate in this gala occasion. Four-horse teams, with long ranges of extra seats rigged for the purpose, started from the public square laden with male passengers, the vehicles bearing great placards reading, "To the Races for one shilling." One might have imagined oneself in New York or London, so rushing was the tide of life through Cashel Street and Cathedral Square.
The Public Garden of Christchurch is situated in a bend of the river Avon, on the western side of the city, about five minutes' walk from the business centre of the town. It occupies some eight or ten acres of land laid out in tasteful style. That portion which adjoins the river is lined with a beautiful border of weeping willows. A system is adopted in arranging the plants whereby all of a hardy nature are placed by themselves, the tropical vegetation being arranged together in the same manner; the plants indigenous to Japan, China, India, Australia, and Great Britain form each a group by themselves. This is called the geographical order, and has some advantages; but in adhering to such an arbitrary rule of adjustment, picturesqueness of effect must often be sacrificed. This whole collection of plants is of considerable beauty and scientific interest, though the garden is yet in its infancy, being less than twenty years old; but it is yearly undergoing much improvement.
A city built upon a perfect level is very rarely seen either in Australia or New Zealand, though there are exceptions, as in the case of Adelaide. Such a site is by no means so pleasant to the eye, albeit there are many practical advantages gained thereby. One feels shut up as it were in these long level reaches; the abrupt hills of Sydney, Dunedin, or San Francisco are preferable, even if often inconvenient. Nevertheless Christchurch is a pleasing, prosperous, and rapidly growing city, with much architectural beauty in its thoroughfares. As the commercial outlet of a broad-spread, fertile, and easily accessible district, it must continue to prosper commercially. Saturday is an especially attractive day here, when the country people – both men and women – from considerable distances come to town to dispose of their produce in the open market. The variety and excellence of meats, vegetables, fruits, and flowers accumulated here on such occasions is worthy of any large capital city. There is a conglomerate of humanity drawn together on this busy day of the week, which turns the streets and squares into a sort of out-door fair. We observed none of that abandon and careless dissipation which characterizes Melbourne on Saturdays; and yet Christchurch does not lack for an ample class who make pleasure-seeking a regular occupation.
At the Museum in this city a most interesting and perfect skeleton of that great prehistoric bird the Moa was seen, – a bird which was indigenous in New Zealand, and which is believed to have been extinct for about two thousand years, probably disappearing before any human beings came to these islands. The Maori Indians can be traced back but six or seven hundred years, and only very imperfectly during that period. They are believed to have come from the islands lying in the more northerly Pacific, presumably from the Sandwich or Hawaiian group. Even the traditions of these natives fail to give us any account of this gigantic bird while living; but its bones are found in various sections of the country, principally in caves, and from these we must "gather and surmise." What is left of the Moa to-day is quite sufficient to form the greatest ornithological wonder in the world. The head of this reconstructed skeleton in the Museum of Christchurch stands sixteen feet from the ground, and its various proportions are all of a character to harmonize with its remarkable height. This skeleton shows the marvellous bird to have been, when standing upright, six feet taller than the average full-grown camelopard. It belonged to the Titans who dwelt upon the earth perhaps twenty or thirty thousand years ago, in the period of the Mastodon and the Dodo. What Niagara is to ordinary waterfalls, the Moa was to all the bird-tribe. It was a long time before incredulous scientists could be induced to admit these interesting facts, but the tangible evidence now existing in the Museum of this New Zealand city is indisputable. This Museum owes its great excellence and admirable scientific arrangement to Dr. Von Haast, the famous geologist and early explorer of New Zealand, and forms a worthy monument to his great fame in the world of science.
Some writers who have made a study of the subject are inclined to believe that the Moa was still existing when the first of the Maoris arrived in New Zealand; but this is only a supposition. It is an open question, indeed, whether the Maoris were or were not the first human beings to tread the soil of these islands. There is sufficient evidence relating to this subject to whet the appetite of conjecture, but not to satisfy it. In the Takiroa caves of the South Island in the Waitaki Valley, and in a sheltered rocky glen or half cave near Canterbury, there are certain crude rock-paintings which are a puzzle to savants. These consist of figures representing men, birds, beasts, fishes, snakes, altars, and weapons, crude indeed as to design, but recognizable. The Maoris know nothing of their origin, and in the present light of the history of that race there is nothing which leads to the belief of these rock-paintings being of Maori production; in fact there seems to be sufficient evidence to prove their greater antiquity. The present natives have never been rock-painters, not possessing for this the requisite skill, though they have always been carvers in wood after a rude fashion. There seems to be some consecutive meaning in these rock illustrations, though what is designed to be indicated cannot be made out by careful and experienced men who have come hither from Europe solely to examine them. They are indelibly painted in red and black on the face of the rock, which is composed of calcareous sandstone. Close examination of the various figures shows that they are underlaid by others, which have either worn away under atmospheric influences, or have been partially obliterated by hand to make place for those which now are prominently visible. Writing in hieroglyphics is not the accomplishment of savages, but argues at least a semi-civilized condition. So do the colossal statues of Easter Island (South Pacific), which were never created by any such race of people as the present savage inhabitants; and yet these tribes have no traditions even of any previous residents of their island. It is the world to them, or rather was until Europeans first visited the place.
The population of Christchurch is from thirty-five to forty thousand. The plain upon which the city stands extends upon the same level for a distance of fifty miles inland, forming one of the best agricultural divisions in New Zealand, which is called the Canterbury District. Statistics show this immediate region to have produced in 1886 nearly seven million bushels of wheat, over four million bushels of oats, besides barley and potatoes in very large quantities. There are over three hundred miles of railroad in the District upon which to bring this grain and produce to market, a large percentage of which is shipped to Europe. We were informed that the number of sheep in this District would considerably exceed four millions, and that the annual shipment of wool was very large. The immediate environs of the city are dotted with cornfields and dairy farms, whose products find a ready home demand. Christchurch is famous for its annual agricultural fairs and pastoral exhibitions, which attract annually twenty-five thousand strangers to the town.
A horseback ride of a few hours from this city into the "bush" reveals a wealth of wooded richness almost indescribable. The trees, mostly of the pine family, yet totally different from the trees to which we give that name, were gracefully draped with luxuriant creepers, mingled with which were glowing red blossoms. Tall fern-trees and flowering aloes shared our admiration with variegated orchids, blending color and form in lovely combinations. In the low grounds the deep-green leaves of the wild flax stood forth with their tall, honey-laden flowers nodding in the breeze and tempting the bees to their embrace. The glowing afternoon sunlight was mottled with busy-winged insect life. The lowly ferns spread in most inimitable patterns a verdant carpet beneath our feet, such as no cunning of the loom could equal. It is well worth a pilgrimage from far-away lands to make the acquaintance, solitary and alone, of the primeval New Zealand forests, where there are no reptiles to dread and no wild animals to encounter. Only Nature, old but unchanged, – Nature, still and grand, – is here to be seen, presenting features which teach us in eloquent language of our own littleness and her immeasurable grandeur.
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