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Produced by P. J. Riddick







STATION LIFE IN NEW ZEALAND


By Lady Barker.


1883




Preface.

These letters, their writer is aware, justly incur the reproach of
egotism and triviality; at the same time she did not see how this was
to be avoided, without lessening their value as the exact account of
a lady's experience of the brighter and less practical side of
colonization. They are published as no guide or handbook for "the
intending emigrant;" that person has already a literature to himself,
and will scarcely find here so much as a single statistic. They simply
record the expeditions, adventures, and emergencies diversifying the
daily life of the wife of a New Zealand sheep-farmer; and, as each was
written while the novelty and excitement of the scenes it describes were
fresh upon her, they may succeed in giving here in England an adequate
impression of the delight and freedom of an existence so far removed
from our own highly-wrought civilization: not failing in this, the
writer will gladly bear the burden of any critical rebuke the letters
deserve. One thing she hopes will plainly appear, - that, however hard
it was to part, by the width of the whole earth, from dear friends and
spots scarcely less dear, yet she soon found in that new country new
friends and a new home; costing her in their turn almost as many parting
regrets as the old.

F. N. B.




Letter I: Two months at sea - Melbourne.


Port Phillip Hotel, Melbourne. September 22d, 1865. .... Now I must
give you an account of our voyage: it has been a very quick one for
the immense distance traversed, sometimes under canvas, but generally
steaming. We saw no land between the Lizard and Cape Otway light - that
is, for fifty-seven days: and oh, the monotony of that time! - the
monotony of it! Our decks were so crowded that we divided our walking
hours, in order that each set of passengers might have space to move
about; for if every one had taken it into their heads to exercise
themselves at the same time, we could hardly have exceeded the
fisherman's definition of a walk, "two steps and overboard." I am
ashamed to say I was more or less ill all the way, but, fortunately,
F - - was not, and I rejoiced at this from the most selfish motives, as
he was able to take care of me. I find that sea-sickness develops the
worst part of one's character with startling rapidity, and, as far as
I am concerned, I look back with self-abasement upon my callous
indifference to the sufferings of others, and apathetic absorption in my
individual misery.

Until we had fairly embarked, the well-meaning but ignorant among our
friends constantly assured us, with an air of conviction as to the truth
and wisdom of their words, that we were going at the very best season
of the year; but as soon as we could gather the opinions of those in
authority on board, it gradually leaked out that we really had fallen
upon quite a wrong time for such a voyage, for we very soon found
ourselves in the tropics during their hottest month (early in August),
and after having been nearly roasted for three weeks, we plunged
abruptly into mid-winter, or at all events very early spring, off the
Cape of Good Hope, and went through a season of bitterly cold weather,
with three heavy gales. I pitied the poor sailors from the bottom of my
heart, at their work all night on decks slippery with ice, and pulling
at ropes so frozen that it was almost impossible to bend them; but,
thank God, there were no casualties among the men. The last gale was the
most severe; they said it was the tail of a cyclone. One is apt on land
to regard such phrases as the "shriek of the storm," or "the roar of
the waves," as poetical hyperboles; whereas they are very literal and
expressive renderings of the sounds of horror incessant throughout
a gale at sea. Our cabin, though very nice and comfortable in other
respects, possessed an extraordinary attraction for any stray wave which
might be wandering about the saloon: once or twice I have been in the
cuddy when a sea found its way down the companion, and I have watched
with horrible anxiety a ton or so of water hesitating which cabin it
should enter and deluge, and it always seemed to choose ours. All these
miseries appear now, after even a few days of the blessed land, to
belong to a distant past; but I feel inclined to lay my pen down and
have a hearty laugh at the recollection of one cold night, when a heavy
"thud" burst open our cabin door, and washed out all the stray parcels,
boots, etc., from the corners in which the rolling of the ship had
previously bestowed them. I was high and dry in the top berth, but poor
F - - in the lower recess was awakened by the douche, and no words of
mine can convey to you the utter absurdity of his appearance, as he
nimbly mounted on the top of a chest of drawers close by, and crouched
there, wet and shivering, handing me up a most miscellaneous assortment
of goods to take care of in my little dry nest.

Some of our fellow-passengers were very good-natured, and devoted
themselves to cheering and enlivening us by getting up concerts, little
burlesques and other amusements; and very grateful we were for their
efforts: they say that "anything is fun in the country," but on board
ship a little wit goes a very long way indeed, for all are only too
ready and anxious to be amused. The whole dramatic strength of the
company was called into force for the performance of "The Rivals,"
which was given a week or so before the end of the voyage. It went off
wonderfully well; but I confess I enjoyed the preparations more than the
play itself: the ingenuity displayed was very amusing at the time. You
on shore cannot imagine how difficult it was to find a snuff-box for
"Sir Anthony Absolute," or with what joy and admiration we welcomed a
clever substitute for it in the shape of a match-box covered with the
lead out of a tea-chest most ingeniously modelled into an embossed
wreath round the lid, with a bunch of leaves and buds in the centre, the
whole being brightly burnished: at the performance the effect of this
little "property" was really excellent. Then, at the last moment, poor
"Bob Acres" had to give in, and acknowledge that he could not speak for
coughing; he had been suffering from bronchitis for some days past, but
had gallantly striven to make himself heard at rehearsals; so on the day
of the play F - - had the part forced on him. There was no time to learn
his "words," so he wrote out all of them in large letters on slips of
paper and fastened them on the beams. This device was invisible to the
audience, but he was obliged to go through his scenes with his head as
high up as if he had on a martingale; however, we were all so indulgent
that at any little _contretemps_, such as one of the actresses
forgetting her part or being seized by stage-fright, the applause was
much greater than when things went smoothly.

I can hardly believe that it is only two days since we steamed into
Hobson's Bay, on a lovely bright spring morning. At dinner, the evening
before, our dear old captain had said that we should see the revolving
light on the nearest headland about eight o'clock that evening, and so
we did. You will not think me childish, if I acknowledge that my eyes
were so full of tears I could hardly see it after the first glimpse;
it is impossible to express in a letter all the joy and thankfulness of
such a moment. Feelings like these are forgotten only too quickly in
the jar and bustle of daily life, and we are always ready to take as a
matter of course those mercies which are new every morning; but when
I realized that all the tosses and tumbles of so many weary days and
nights were over, and that at last we had reached the haven where we
would be, my first thought was one of deep gratitude. It was easy to
see that it was a good moment with everyone; squabbles were made up with
surprising quickness; shy people grew suddenly sociable; some who had
comfortable homes to go to on landing gave kind and welcome invitations
to others, who felt themselves sadly strange in a new country; and it
was with really a lingering feeling of regret that we all separated at
last, though a very short time before we should have thought it quite
impossible to be anything but delighted to leave the ship.

We have not seen much of Melbourne yet, as there has been a great deal
to do in looking after the luggage, and at first one is capable
of nothing but a delightful idleness. The keenest enjoyment is a
fresh-water bath, and next to that is the new and agreeable luxury of
the ample space for dressing; and then it is so pleasant to suffer no
anxiety as to the brushes and combs tumbling about. I should think that
even the vainest woman in the world would find her toilet and its duties
a daily trouble and a sorrow at sea, on account of the unsteadiness
of all things. The next delight is standing at the window, and seeing
horses, and trees, and dogs - in fact, all the "treasures of the land;"
as for flowers - beautiful as they are at all times - you cannot learn
to appreciate them enough until you have been deprived of them for two
months.

You know that I have travelled a good deal in various parts of the
world, but I have never seen anything at all like Melbourne. In other
countries, it is generally the antiquity of the cities, and their
historical reminiscences, which appeal to the imagination; but _here_,
the interest is as great from exactly the opposite cause. It is most
wonderful to walk through a splendid town, with magnificent public
buildings, churches, shops, clubs, theatres, with the streets well
paved and lighted, and to think that less than forty years ago it was a
desolate swamp without even a hut upon it. How little an English country
town progresses in forty years, and here is a splendid city created in
that time! I have no hesitation in saying, that any fashionable novelty
which comes out in either London or Paris finds its way to Melbourne by
the next steamer; for instance, I broke my parasol on board ship, and
the first thing I did on landing was to go to one of the best shops in
Collins Street to replace it. On learning what I wanted, the shopman
showed me some of those new parasols which had just come out in London
before I sailed, and which I had vainly tried to procure in S - - , only
four hours from London.

The only public place we have yet visited is the Acclimatization Garden;
which is very beautifully laid out, and full of aviaries, though it
looks strange to see common English birds treated as distinguished
visitors and sumptuously lodged and cared for. Naturally, the Australian
ones interest me most, and they are certainly prettier than yours at
home, though they do not sing. I have been already to a shop where they
sell skins of birds, and have half ruined myself in purchases for hats.
You are to have a "diamond sparrow," a dear little fellow with reddish
brown plumage, and white spots over its body (in this respect a
miniature copy of the Argus pheasant I brought from India), and a
triangular patch of bright yellow under its throat. I saw some of them
alive in a cage in the market with many other kinds of small birds, and
several pairs of those pretty grass or zebra paroquets, which are called
here by the very inharmonious name of "budgerighars." I admired the
blue wren so much - a tiny _birdeen_ with tail and body of dust-coloured
feathers, and head and throat of a most lovely turquoise blue; it has
also a little wattle of these blue feathers standing straight out on
each side of its head, which gives it a very pert appearance. Then there
is the emu-wren, all sad-coloured, but quaint, with the tail-feathers
sticking up on end, and exactly like those of an emu; on the very
smallest scale, even to the peculiarity of two feathers growing out of
the same little quill. I was much amused by the varieties of cockatoos,
parrots, and lories of every kind and colour, shrieking and jabbering in
the part of the market devoted to them; but I am told that I have seen
very few of the varieties of birds, as it is early in the spring, and
the young ones have not yet been brought in: they appear to sell as
fast as they can be procured. But before I end my letter I must tell you
about the cockatoo belonging to this hotel. It is a famous bird in its
way, having had its portrait taken several times, descriptions written
for newspapers of its talents, and its owner boasts of enormous sums
offered and refused for it. Knowing my fondness for pets, F - - took me
downstairs to see it very soon after our arrival. I thought it hideous:
it belongs to a kind not very well known in England, of a dirtyish white
colour, a very ugly-shaped head and bill, and large bluish rings round
the eyes; the beak is huge and curved. If it knew of this last objection
on my part, it would probably answer, like the wolf in Red Riding Hood's
story, "the better to talk with, my dear" - for it is a weird and knowing
bird. At first it flatly refused to show off any of its accomplishments,
but one of the hotel servants good-naturedly came forward, and Cocky
condescended to go through his performances. I cannot possibly-tell you
of all its antics: it pretended to have a violent toothache, and nursed
its beak in its claw, rocking itself backwards and forwards as if in the
greatest agony, and in answer to all the remedies which were proposed,
croaking out, "Oh, it ain't a bit of good," and finally sidling up, to
the edge of its perch, and saying in hoarse but confidential whisper,
"Give us a drop of whisky, _do_." Its voice was extraordinarily
distinct, and when it sang several snatches of songs the words were
capitally given, with the most absurdly comic intonation, all
the _roulades_ being executed in perfect tune. I liked its sewing
performance so much - to see it hold a little piece of stuff underneath
the claw which rested on the perch, and pretend to sew with the other,
getting into difficulties with its thread, and finally setting up a loud
song in praise of sewing-machines just as if it were an advertisement.

By the next time I write I shall have seen more of Melbourne; there
will, however, be no time for another letter by this mail; but I will
leave one to be posted after we sail for New Zealand.




Letter II: Sight-seeing in Melbourne.


Melbourne, October 1st, 1865. I have left my letter to the last moment
before starting for Lyttleton; everything is re-packed and ready, and
we sail to-morrow morning in the _Albion_. She is a mail-steamer - very
small after our large vessel, but she looks clean and tidy; at all
events, we hope to be only on board her for ten days. In England one
fancies that New Zealand is quite close to Australia, so I was rather
disgusted to find we had another thousand miles of steaming to do before
we could reach our new home; and one of the many Job's comforters who
are scattered up and down the world assures me that the navigation is
the most dangerous and difficult of the whole voyage.

We have seen a good deal of Melbourne this week; and not only of the
town, for we have had many drives in the exceedingly pretty suburbs,
owing to the kindness of the D - - s, who have been most hospitable and
made our visit here delightful. We drove out to their house at Toorak
three or four times; and spent a long afternoon with them; and there I
began to make acquaintance with the Antipodean trees and flowers. I hope
you will not think it a very sweeping assertion if I say that all the
leaves look as if they were made of leather, but it really is so; the
hot winds appear to parch up everything, at all events, round Melbourne,
till the greatest charm of foliage is more or less lost; the flowers
also look withered and burnt up, as yours do at the end of a long, dry
summer, only they assume this appearance after the first hot wind in
spring. The suburb called Heidelberg is the prettiest, to my taste - an
undulating country with vineyards, and a park-like appearance which,
is very charming. All round Melbourne there are nice, comfortable,
English-looking villas. At one of these we called to return a visit
and found a very handsome house, luxuriously furnished, with beautiful
garden and grounds. One afternoon we went by rail to St. Kilda's,
a flourishing bathing-place on the sea-coast, about six miles from
Melbourne. Everywhere building is going on with great rapidity, and you
do not see any poor people in the streets. If I wanted to be critical
and find fault, I might object to the deep gutters on each side of the
road; after a shower of rain they are raging torrents for a short time,
through which you are obliged to splash without regard to the muddy
consequences; and even when they are dry, they entail sudden and
prodigious jolts. There are plenty of Hansoms and all sorts of other
conveyances, but I gave F - - no peace until he took me for a drive in a
vehicle which was quite new to me - a sort of light car with a canopy
and curtains, holding four, two on each seat, _dos-a-dos_, and called
a "jingle," - of American parentage, I fancy. One drive in this
carriage was quite enough, however, and I contented myself with Hansoms
afterwards; but walking is really more enjoyable than anything else,
after having been so long cooped up on board ship.

We admired the fine statue, at the top of Collins Street, to the memory
of the two most famous of Australian explorers, Burke and Wills, and
made many visits to the Museum, and the glorious Free Library; we also
went all over the Houses of Legislature - very new and grand. But
you must not despise me if I confess to having enjoyed the shops
exceedingly: it was so unlike a jeweller's shop in England to see on the
counter gold in its raw state, in nuggets and dust and flakes; in this
stage of its existence it certainly deserves its name of "filthy lucre,"
for it is often only half washed. There were quantities of emus' eggs
in the silversmiths' shops, mounted in every conceivable way as cups and
vases, and even as work-boxes: some designs consisted of three or five
eggs grouped together as a centre-piece. I cannot honestly say I admired
any of them; they were generally too elaborate, comprising often
a native (spear in hand), a kangaroo, palms, ferns, cockatoos, and
sometimes an emu or two in addition, as a pedestal - all this in frosted
silver or gold. I was given a pair of these eggs before leaving
England: they were mounted in London as little flower-vases in a setting
consisting only of a few bulrushes and leaves, yet far better than any
of these florid designs; but he emu-eggs are very popular in Sydney or
Melbourne, and I am told sell rapidly to people going home, who take
them as a memento of their Australian life, and probably think that the
greater the number of reminiscences suggested by the ornament the more
satisfactory it is as a purchase.

I must finish my letter by a description of a dinner-party which about
a dozen of our fellow-passengers joined with us in giving our dear old
captain before we all separated. Whilst we were on board, it very often
happened that the food was not very choice or good: at all events
we used sometimes to grumble at it, and we generally wound up our
lamentations by agreeing that when we reached Melbourne we would have a
good dinner together. Looking back on it, I must say I think we were
all rather greedy, but we tried to give a better colouring to our
gourmandism by inviting the captain, who was universally popular, and by
making it as elegant and pretty a repast as possible. Three or four of
the gentlemen formed themselves into a committee, and they must really
have worked very hard; at all events they collected everything rare and
strange in the way of fish, flesh, and fowl peculiar to Australia,
the arrangement of the table was charming, and the delicacies were all
cooked and served to perfection. The ladies' tastes were considered in
the profusion of flowers, and we each found an exquisite bouquet by our
plate. I cannot possibly give you a minute account of the whole menu; in
fact, as it is, I feel rather like Froissart, who, after chronicling a
long list of sumptuous dishes, is not ashamed to confess, "Of all which
good things I, the chronicler of this narration, did partake!" The soups
comprised kangaroo-tail - a clear soup not unlike ox-tail, but with a
flavour of game. I wish I could recollect the names of the fish: the
fresh-water ones came a long distance by rail from the river Murray, but
were excellent nevertheless. The last thing which I can remember tasting
(for one really could do little else) was a most exquisite morsel of
pigeon - more like a quail than anything else in flavour. I am not a
judge of wine, as you may imagine, therefore it is no unkindness to the
owners of the beautiful vineyards which we saw the other day, to
say that I do not like the Australian wines. Some of the gentlemen
pronounced them to be excellent, especially the equivalent to Sauterne,
which has a wonderful native name impossible to write down; but, as I
said before, I do not like the rather rough flavour. We had not a great
variety of fruit at dessert: indeed, Sydney oranges constituted its main
feature, as it is too late for winter fruits, and too early for summer
ones: but we were not inclined to be over-fastidious, and thought
everything delicious.




Letter III: On to New Zealand.


Christchurch, Canterbury, N. Z. October 14th, 1865. As you so
particularly desired me when we parted to tell you _everything_, I must
resume my story where in my last letter I left it off. If I remember
rightly, I ended with an attempt at describing our great feast. We
embarked the next day, and as soon as we were out of the bay the little
_Albion_ plunged into heavy seas. The motion was much worse in her
than on board the large vessel we had been so glad to leave, and all my
previous sufferings seemed insignificant compared with what I endured in
my small and wretchedly hard berth. I have a dim recollection of F - -
helping me to dress, wrapping me up in various shawls, and half carrying
me up the companion ladder; I crawled into a sunny corner among the
boxes of oranges with which the deck was crowded, and there I lay
helpless and utterly miserable. One well-meaning and good-natured
fellow-passenger asked F - - if I was fond of birds, and on his saying
"Yes," went off for a large wicker cage of hideous "laughing Jackasses,"
which he was taking as a great treasure to Canterbury. Why they
should be called "Jackasses" I never could discover; but the creatures
certainly do utter by fits and starts a sound which may fairly be
described as laughter. These paroxysms arise from no cause that one
can perceive; one bird begins, and all the others join in, and a more
doleful and depressing chorus I never heard: early in the morning seemed
the favourite time for this discordant mirth. Their owner also possessed
a cockatoo with a great musical reputation, but I never heard it get
beyond the first bar of "Come into the garden, Maud." Ill as I was, I
remember being roused to something like a flicker of animation when
I was shown an exceedingly seedy and shabby-looking blackbird with
a broken leg in splints, which its master (the same bird-fancying
gentleman) assured me he had bought in Melbourne as a great bargain for
only 2 pounds 10 shillings!

After five days' steaming we arrived in the open roadstead of Hokitika,
on the west coast of the middle island of New Zealand, and five minutes
after the anchor was down a little tug came alongside to take away our
steerage passengers - three hundred diggers. The gold-fields on this
coast were only discovered eight months ago, and already several canvas
towns have sprung up; there are thirty thousand diggers at work, and
every vessel brings a fresh cargo of stalwart, sun-burnt men. It was
rather late, and getting dark, but still I could distinctly see the
picturesque tents in the deep mountain gorge, their white shapes dotted
here and there as far back from the shore as my sight could follow,
and the wreaths of smoke curling up in all directions from the evening
fires: it is still bitterly cold at night, being very early spring. The
river Hokitika washes down with every fresh such quantities of sand,
that a bar is continually forming in this roadstead, and though only
vessels of the least possible draught are engaged in the coasting-trade,
still wrecks are of frequent occurrence. We ought to have landed our
thousands of oranges here, but this work was necessarily deferred till
the morning, for it was as much as they could do to get all the diggers


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