The beauty of the New Zealand forest will not soon be forgotten. Reclining upon the verdure-spread earth, and watching the far-reaching shadows, one is lulled into a dreamy mood by the mysterious whispers of the foliage, the influence of the soft resinous atmosphere, and the low drone of insects. The leaves seem to tremble and vibrate like the strings of an Eolian harp. Is it because the brain is over-stimulated by acute sensitiveness that tears – absurd tears – dim the eyes while one is surrounded by this delicious solitude? All Nature seems to be in harmony with one's feelings in this paradise of paroquets and love-birds, this Eden of the Southern Seas, this climate of eternal spring. We have somewhere read of the paucity of song-birds in the regions of Australasia, but let us hasten to correct such an impression. The notes that are trilled over one's head in these umbrageous solitudes constitute a bird-opera worthy of the great southlands overhung by the Southern Cross.
Capital of New Zealand. – About the Native Race. – A City of Shops. – Local Earthquakes. – Large Glaciers. – McNab's Gardens. – A Public Nuisance. – Napier. – Maori Peculiarities. – Native Language. – Mythology. – Christianizing Savages. – Gisborne. – Cruelty to Dumb Animals. – Shag Island. – Sir George Gray's Pleasant Home. – Oysters Growing on New Zealand Trees!
Wellington is situated on the north side of Cook's Strait, and is the capital of New Zealand. It is less than two hundred miles from Christchurch. Auckland was originally the seat of government, but since 1864 this city has been the political capital, in consequence of which the jealousy existing between the two cities nearly equals that between Sydney and Melbourne. Wellington has a grand harbor for all commercial purposes, is very capacious and entirely land-locked. After a narrow entrance is passed, the harbor opens into a magnificent sheet of water, in which the largest ships may ride in safety and discharge their cargoes at wharves built upon the busiest streets of the town. Here, as in Dunedin, a plateau of land has been reclaimed from the sea for business purposes. The curved line of Lambton Quay, one of the main thoroughfares of the city, represents what was once the strand, but a number of broad streets with long lines of warehouses have grown up between it and the sea; so that Lambton Quay is now in the centre of the town. The reclaiming of still more level land from the water-front is going on, in order to accommodate business requirements. The province of Wellington stretches northward a hundred and fifty miles, containing seven million acres of land, diversified by two mountain ranges, and having as grand scenery as can be found in the islands.
Our stay at Wellington was brief, for there is nothing of special interest to detain one here, and two days seemed a long time to devote to it. Were it not that this city is the recognized capital of the country, we should have passed it by with the briefest mention.
The city is surrounded by hills, except on the seaward side. By ascending the hill back of the town, upon which is the Roman Catholic Cemetery, one obtains an excellent view of Wellington as a whole, the harbor especially forming a charming portion of the picture. Soame's Island, which is the quarantine station, lies in the front, four miles from the city; to the left lie Petone and the Hutt; at the right is Mount Victoria dominating the bay, while many pretty villas cluster about its foot. Distant ranges descend toward the harbor, shutting it in by an amphitheatre of hills. There is no lack of shipping about the wharves, and there were plenty of row-boats and small sailing cutters; and as we viewed the scene, an ocean steamship was steering across the bay seaward, leaving a long line of black curling smoke behind her, which was in strong contrast with her snow-white foaming wake.
We found it somewhat cold and rather blustering on Cemetery Hill, though it was July. But this is New Zealand winter; and yet flowers were blooming luxuriantly in the open air in unexposed places. These islands are in one sense as tropical as Africa or Southern India; but it must be remembered that they are the most southerly of the South Pacific groups, and that there is a Southern or Antarctic Pole as there is a Northern or Arctic one. The farther we proceed either north or south from the Equatorial line, or centre of the globe, the cooler we shall find the climate. Thus Southern New Zealand being nearer the Antarctic Circle is less tropical than the northern portion, which is twelve hundred miles nearer the Equator.
A considerable number of natives, mostly in European costume, were met in the streets of Wellington, loitering aimlessly about the corners and gazing curiously into shop windows. The girls and women had heavy shocks of unkempt hair shading their great black eyes, high cheek-bones, and disfigured mouths and chins, which last were tattooed in blue dye of some sort. The males tattoo the whole face elaborately, but the women only thus disfigure themselves about the mouth and chin. It was most amusing to see them meet one another and rub noses, which is the Maori mode of salutation. It would be an exaggeration to call these people a cleanly race, though the tribes that occupy the Hot Lake District (whither we shall take the reader in another chapter) spend two thirds of their time in the water. The half-breeds are generally of fine physical appearance, the men especially being tall and well-developed; indeed it would be difficult to find more admirable specimens of physical manhood than exist among these Anglo-Maoris. As we have elsewhere intimated, the daughters of some of the unions between whites and natives are very pretty and intelligent, having received partial education and acquired some pleasing accomplishments. But there are few of these to be found among the tribes, and fewer still among the whites.
Among these natives, as a rule, the laborious work is put upon the women, while the men fill the r?le of idlers. It seems strange that while they were thorough barbarians and cannibals they continued to thrive, – certainly they did not largely decrease in numbers; but with semi-civilization has come almost annual decimation. As we have seen was the case of the aborigines in Tasmania, it is believed by many that the same fate of final complete extinction is in store for the Maoris in the near future.
The entire coast north of Wellington is extremely bold, tumbled together in true volcanic confusion. In the neighborhood of the capital this conformation begins to extend inland; thus the city has no near background of available country for population, from which to draw a certain amount of business, – no suburbs, so to speak. The town impressed us as being a city of shops; and how so many persons can realize a fair living from the amount of local business in Wellington is certainly a mystery. Here the dwellings creep up the hills as we have so often described the case elsewhere; and as the houses are mostly built of wood, fires have proved especially destructive. We found the general Post-Office in ruins by a recent fire, though it was a brick structure; the lofty stuccoed walls were still standing. Some large new buildings nearly finished were also observed to be of brick. For a number of years at first the fear of serious earthquakes prevented the use of any other material in building than wood. Even now there is a frequent tremulousness of the earth, and rumblings as of distant thunder are heard in the hills that run inland from the city toward the high mountains, – all which is quite sufficient to keep the fact in mind that this is a volcanic region. Earthquake shocks are frequent all over the islands, from Cape Maria in the far north to South Cape in the southern part of Stewart Island. It is believed that New Zealand was rent midway, and that Cook's Strait was thus created between the North and South Islands by volcanic explosion. There is known to be an extinct volcano at the bottom of the Strait in front of the entrance to the harbor of Wellington, over which the water is never absolutely calm. Thus it would seem that the city is situated very near a volcanic centre. A fellow-traveller in discussing the matter suggested that it was not just the place to seek for a "permanent" investment; but on the other hand an intelligent elderly resident assured us that these demonstrations are gradually dying out. Fires have latterly been so sweeping and disastrous in Wellington, that this element is coming to be more dreaded than earthquakes; and partially to provide against destruction by flames, stone and brick as building materials in the centre of the town are being almost universally substituted for wood.
The Southern Alps, as the range which runs north and south through New Zealand is called, are believed to antedate the Alps of Europe, while nowhere else is marked evidence of glacial action more clearly defined. The glaciers of to-day, though they are insignificant in comparison to those of ancient periods, are of vast size and full of awe-inspiring effects. In one respect these glaciers particularly resemble those of Norway; that is, in descending so nearly to the sea. The author has seen enormous glaciers in Scandinavia whose lower portions were within a hundred feet of the surface of the ocean, while it is well known that in Switzerland there is no instance where a glacier descends lower than thirty-five hundred feet above the level of the sea.
Willis Street is the fashionable thoroughfare of Wellington, being considerably more than a mile in length and nearly straight; but it is quite irregular in width. This street is lined on either side with stores and public buildings, some of large and pretentious aspect. We counted nine good-sized bookstores upon this avenue, all well stocked with modern literature. One may safely put down this fact as being a significant sign of the general intelligence of the neighborhood. Wellington is certainly growing with the prevailing rapidity of the several localities which we visited; new streets were being laid out, of better width and having more regularity of form, while the roadways were being thoroughly macadamized, and rolled with a heavy steam-rolling machine. In the harbor a large steam-dredging boat was also busy deepening and straightening the course of the channel. Eleven steamships and half-a-dozen large sailing-vessels lay at the wharves, five of the latter from England. It is natural that the trade of the colonies should be very generally retained by the mother country, though there is a considerable commerce carried on with the west coast of America.
The stranger coming to the capital must not omit to visit the Hutt, a pleasant village situated where the Hutt River enters the bay. Here also is located the Wellington race-course; and most interesting of all the attractions hereabout is a famous resort known as McNab's Gardens. The pleasant lawns, flower-beds, and fruit-orchards of this place form a charming resort for pleasure parties out on a ride or drive from the city. Some of the ornamental trees contained in these gardens were the finest we saw in New Zealand. The labyrinth of walks leads through exquisitely kept flower-beds, which specially exhibit the remarkably favorable nature of the climate for floral displays at any season of the year. The many fine exotics which are exhibited here must have been accumulated at a heavy expense. A small admission fee is very properly charged by the proprietor, who is prepared also to supply any desired refreshments at a reasonable price. As we write these notes there steals over the senses a delicious memory of atmospheric sweetness, daintily impregnated with mignonette, lilies, lemon verbena, and roses, at that pleasant resort on Wellington Bay.
The last scene witnessed at the capital, as we were about to embark on a steamer for the north, was an attempt at a parade by some "Salvationists." The procession moved in single file, consisting of three poke-bonnets with an equal number of young women under them, two men in red coats, and two in dark clothes, very shiny and greasy. There were also four or five small boys, who so straggled from the line that it was by no means certain whether they belonged to it or not. One of the girls vigorously pounded a cracked tambourine, one of the red-coated men blew occasional blasts upon a tin fish-horn, and all sang psalms much out of tune. The sight would have been ludicrous, had it not been saddening. In the midst of the chorus, "Glory, Hallelujah," the foremost girl, at the most critical moment of her performance upon the tambourine, made a misstep and fell at full length in the middle of the muddy street, while her noisy instrument rolled away through the slush. "There is something in the misfortunes of our best friends which is not entirely displeasing to us," says a certain French philosopher; and so the Salvationists supplemented their companion's misfortune and their "Glory Hallelujah" with uproarious laughter. As the poke-bonnet became once more elevated, both it and the wearer presented a wofully dilapidated appearance. It seems incredible that fanaticism can make such ninnies of men and women, for some of these ill-conducting persons are probably sincere.
Napier is situated about two hundred miles north of Wellington, upon an open roadstead and a very dangerous coast, – a fact sadly impressed upon us by the wreck of a large ship, the "Northumberland," an English freighter which was destroyed here a few days before our arrival and portions of which were still visible. With two anchors down, this fine vessel was driven on shore and completely wrecked, involving the loss of several lives and much valuable property. Almost superhuman efforts were made in behalf of the sufferers by the local life-saving boat's crew, but only with partial success.
The business portion of Napier is quite level, and regularly laid out; but the residences of the population creep up, tier upon tier, on the surrounding hills, one of which forms an extraordinary promontory extending into the roadstead. The six thousand persons who constitute the population of the town seem to be taking life very easily; indeed, there did not appear to be much of any business going on in the place, and the quietude of it was not a little oppressive. There were small crowds of men and youth loafing before the bar-rooms upon the corners of the streets, and among them were observed quite a sprinkling of half-castes and full-blooded natives. There was also a number of native women strolling about listlessly, wrapped only in their high-colored blankets and wearing a single skirt. The tattooed faces rendered these women and girls needlessly hideous, – an aspect which was partially redeemed by their fine eyes, the beauty of which nothing can efface; they are large, black as night, and brilliant, full of feeling and tenderness. If the term "ox-eyed" ever applied to humanity, it is appropriate to the Maori women, who possess this one feature in perfection.
We obtained some noteworthy and interesting information relative to these aborigines. For instance, they never eat salt; they have no fixed industry, and no idea of time or its divisions into hours and months; they are, like our North American Indians, constitutionally lazy; they are intensely selfish, and care nothing for their dead; they have a quick sense of insult, but cannot as a rule be called pugnacious; they excite themselves to fight by indulging in a hideous war-dance and by singing songs full of braggadocio, and when thus wrought up to a certain pitch they are perfectly reckless as to personal safety. The Maori is not however a treacherous enemy; he gives honorable notice of his hostile intent, warring only in an open manner, – thus exhibiting a degree of chivalry unknown among our American Indians. Money with the Maori is considered only as representing so much rum and tobacco. Alcohol is their criterion of value; bread and meat are quite secondary. They live entirely from hand to mouth, to use an expressive term, and never take heed for the morrow. As a rule they seem entirely thoughtless and happy in the present, so long as their necessities are satisfied and their animal pleasures are not interfered with. After all, this semi-barbarous race are like children, who follow bad example sooner than good. "White man drink whiskey, why not I?" said one of them to us at Ohinemutu when we declined to give him "drink money." As a rule the Maoris are not beggars, except for strong drink. They will importune a stranger for rum, but not for bread. We were told by an official of the district at Napier that it is quite impossible to imbue these Maoris with a sense of the importance of chastity; the idea is ignored altogether. But it is with them as with the Japanese; after a woman is married she becomes sacred, and to treat her with unchaste violence then is to incur the penalty of death. It would be impossible to imagine a more immoral people, when judged by the conventionalities of our civilization, than these New Zealand natives.
Ancient traditions are fast fading away among this people, dying with the elders of the tribes in whose memory they are locked up. Though the missionaries half invented and half transcribed an oral Maori language, it is almost solely applied to a translation of the Bible, and there cannot be said now to exist any native literature. Yet, could their legends be properly recorded, they would form a sort of barbaric literature by no means without considerable poetic value. Sir George Gray has attempted something of the sort, but with indifferent success. He speaks the native tongue fluently, however, and has always sympathized heartily with the aboriginal race, who call him their English Father.
"Maori" (pronounced Mowre) is the name which the aborigines gave themselves. If there were any human beings on these islands when the Maoris first arrived they doubtless fell a prey to the cannibalistic habits of the new-comers, whose insatiable appetite for human food was, as we have seen, irrepressible. When discovered by Captain Cook, they were the crudest of savage races; they knew scarcely anything of the mechanic arts, their skill being limited to the scooping out of a boat from the trunk of a tree, and the fabrication of fishing-nets from the coarse fibre of the wild flax. They also made spears, shields, and clubs. They had no beasts of burden, and so their women were made to supply the place. Their agriculture was confined to the raising of sweet potatoes and the esculent taro, while their more substantial food consisted of fish, rats, wild fowl, and human flesh. Yet we are told by well-informed writers upon the subject that they were of all the South Sea tribes the most intelligent. They are physically the most vigorous of any savages inhabiting islands south of the Equator, that we have met. They seemed from the outset to be desirous of learning from and affiliating with the whites, – a disposition which has led them to a degree of improvement in domestic life, manner of living, building of proper shelter for a home, and the manufacture of certain articles of convenience. Wherever they are now found in the neighborhood of populous centres, they have more or less adopted European clothing, – though we were told some amusing anecdotes of their going back into the "bush," from time to time, solely to indulge in the old savage habit of nudity, and to enjoy a sense of entire freedom from the conventionalities of the whites.
There is not much intermarriage between the white people and the natives in these days, although when there were fewer white women this was not so uncommon; but the licentiousness prevalent among the native girls is sufficient to prevent this at the present time. The race evinces to-day many of the wild traits of their ancestors, which have been transmitted to them in their blood, and which break out in odd ways now and then when least expected. You cannot quite tame an Apache warrior, a Spanish gypsy, or a New Zealand Maori; there will still remain a lingering desire toward the old life, which will often be resumed upon the first opportunity by the seemingly reclaimed savage. These natives exhibit very little family affection, though we saw evidences of tenderness toward their very young children. The old men and women are not infrequently abandoned when ill or too feeble to take care of themselves, – a trait which is sometimes exhibited by our own Indian tribes. Polygamy and slavery still exist among them. Indeed, a married woman is virtually the slave of her husband, whom she is expected to supply with food by gathering roots, berries, fruits, and the like.