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by Samuel Butler

By R. A. Streatfeild

Since Butler's death in 1902 his fame has spread so rapidly and the
world of letters now takes so keen in interest in the man and his
writings that no apology is necessary for the republication of even his
least significant works. I had long desired to bring out a new edition
of his earliest book A FIRST YEAR IN CANTERBURY SETTLEMENT, together
with the other pieces that he wrote during his residence in New Zealand,
and, that wish being now realised, I have added a supplementary group of
pieces written during his undergraduate days at Cambridge, so that the
present volume forms a tolerably complete record of Butler's literary
activity up to the days of EREWHON, the only omission of any importance
being that of his pamphlet, published anonymously in 1865, THE EVIDENCE
EVANGELISTS CRITICALLY EXAMINED. I have not reprinted this, because
practically the whole of it was incorporated into THE FAIR HAVEN.

A FIRST YEAR IN CANTERBURY SETTLEMENT has long been out of print, and
copies of the original edition are difficult to procure. Butler
professed to think poorly of it. Writing in 1889 to his friend Alfred
Marks, who had picked up a second-hand copy and felt some doubt as to
its authorship, he said: "I am afraid the little book you have referred
to was written by me. My people edited my letters home. I did not
write freely to them, of course, because they were my people. If I was
at all freer anywhere they cut it out before printing it; besides, I had
not yet shed my Cambridge skin and its trail is everywhere, I am afraid,
perceptible. I have never read the book myself. I dipped into a few
pages when they sent it to me in New Zealand, but saw 'prig' written
upon them so plainly that I read no more and never have and never mean
to. I am told the book sells for 1 pound a copy in New Zealand; in
fact, last autumn I know Sir Walter Buller gave that for a copy in
England, so as a speculation it is worth 2s. 6d. or 3s. I stole a
passage or two from it for EREWHON, meaning to let it go and never be
reprinted during my lifetime."

This must be taken with a grain of salt. It was Butler's habit
sometimes to entertain his friends and himself by speaking of his own
works with studied disrespect, as when, with reference to his own DARWIN
AND THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, which also is reprinted in this volume, he
described philosophical dialogues as "the most offensive form, except
poetry and books of travel into supposed unknown countries, that even
literature can assume." The circumstances which led to A FIRST YEAR
being written have been fully described by Mr. Festing Jones in his
sketch of Butler's life prefixed to THE HUMOUR OF HOMER (Fifield,
London, 1913, Kennerley, New York), and I will only briefly recapitulate
them. Butler left England for New Zealand in September, 1859, remaining
in the colony until 1864. A FIRST YEAR was published in 1863 in
Butler's name by his father, who contributed a short preface, stating
that the book was compiled from his son's journal and letters, with
extracts from two papers contributed to THE EAGLE, the magazine of St.
John's College, Cambridge. These two papers had appeared in 1861 in the
form of three articles entitled "Our Emigrant" and signed "Cellarius."
By comparing these articles with the book as published by Butler's
father it is possible to arrive at some conclusion as to the amount of
editing to which Butler's prose was submitted. Some passages in the
articles do not appear in the book at all; others appear unaltered;
others again have been slightly doctored, apparently with the object of
robbing them of a certain youthful "cocksureness," which probably grated
upon the paternal nerves, but seems to me to create an atmosphere of an
engaging freshness which I miss in the edited version. So much of the
"Our Emigrant" articles is repeated in A FIRST YEAR almost if not quite
verbatim that it did not seem worth while to reprint the articles in
their entirety. I have, however, included in this collection one
extract from the latter which was not incorporated into A FIRST YEAR,
though it describes at greater length an incident referred to on p. 74.
From this extract, which I have called "Crossing the Rangitata," readers
will be able to see for themselves how fresh and spirited Butler's
original descriptions of his adventures were, and will probably regret
that he did not take the publication of A FIRST YEAR into his own hands,
instead of allowing his father to have a hand in it.

With regard to the other pieces included in this volume {1} I have
thought it best to prefix brief notes, when necessary, to each in turn
explaining the circumstances in which they were written and, when it was
possible, giving the date of composition.

In preparing the book for publication I have been materially helped by
friends in both hemispheres. My thanks are specially due to Miss
Colborne-Veel, of Christ-church, N.Z., for copying some of Butler's
early contributions to THE PRESS, and in particular for her kindness in
allowing me to make use of her notes on "The English Cricketers"; to Mr.
A. T. Bartholomew for his courtesy in allowing me to reprint his article
on "Butler and the Simeonites," which originally appeared in THE
CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE of 1 March, 1913, and throws so interesting a light
upon a certain passage in THE WAY OF ALL FLESH. The article is here
reprinted by the kind permission of the editor and proprietor of THE
CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE; to Mr. J. F. Harris for his generous assistance in
tracing and copying several of Butler's early contributions to THE
EAGLE; to Mr. W. H. Triggs, the editor of THE PRESS, for allowing me to
make use of much interesting matter relating to Butler that has appeared
in the columns of that journal; and lastly to Mr. Henry Festing Jones,
whose help and counsel have been as invaluable to me in preparing this
volume for the Press as they have been in past years in the case of the
other books by Butler that I have been privileged to edit.


[By the Rev. Thomas Butler]

The writer of the following pages, having resolved on emigrating to New
Zealand, took his passage in the ill-fated ship Burmah, which never
reached her destination, and is believed to have perished with all on
board. His berth was chosen, and the passage-money paid, when important
alterations were made in the arrangements of the vessel, in order to
make room for some stock which was being sent out to the Canterbury

The space left for the accommodation of the passengers being thus
curtailed, and the comforts of the voyage seeming likely to be much
diminished, the writer was most providentially induced to change his
ship, and, a few weeks later, secured a berth in another vessel.

The work is compiled from the actual letters and journal of a young
emigrant, with extracts from two papers contributed by him to the Eagle,
a periodical issued by some of the members of St. John's College,
Cambridge, at which the writer took his degree. This variety in the
sources from which the materials are put together must be the apology
for some defects in their connection and coherence. It is hoped also
that the circumstances of bodily fatigue and actual difficulty under
which they were often written, will excuse many faults of style.

For whatever of presumption may appear in giving this little book to the
public, the friends of the writer alone are answerable. It was at their
wish only that he consented to its being printed. It is, however,
submitted to the reader, in the hope that the unbiassed impressions of
colonial life, as they fell freshly on a young mind, may not be wholly
devoid of interest. Its value to his friends at home is not diminished
by the fact that the MS., having been sent out to New Zealand for
revision, was, on its return, lost in the Colombo, and was fished up
from the Indian Ocean so nearly washed out as to have been with some
difficulty deciphered.

It should be further stated, for the encouragement of those who think of
following the example of the author, and emigrating to the same
settlement, that his most recent letters indicate that he has no reason
to regret the step that he has taken, and that the results of his
undertaking have hitherto fully justified his expectations.

June 29, 1863


Embarkation at Gravesend - Arrest of Passenger - Tilbury Fort - Deal - Bay
of Biscay Gale - Becalmed off Teneriffe - Fire in the Galley - Trade Winds-
-Belt of Calms - Death on Board - Shark - Current - S. E. Trade Winds -
Temperature - Birds - Southern Cross - Cyclone.

It is a windy, rainy day - cold withal; a little boat is putting off from
the pier at Gravesend, and making for a ship that is lying moored in the
middle of the river; therein are some half-dozen passengers and a lot of
heterogeneous-looking luggage; among the passengers, and the owner of
some of the most heterogeneous of the heterogeneous luggage, is myself.
The ship is an emigrant ship, and I am one of the emigrants.

On having clambered over the ship's side and found myself on deck, I was
somewhat taken aback with the apparently inextricable confusion of
everything on board; the slush upon the decks, the crying, the kissing,
the mustering of the passengers, the stowing away of baggage still left
upon the decks, the rain and the gloomy sky created a kind of half-
amusing, half-distressing bewilderment, which I could plainly see to be
participated in by most of the other landsmen on board. Honest country
agriculturists and their wives were looking as though they wondered what
it would end in; some were sitting on their boxes and making a show of
reading tracts which were being presented to them by a serious-looking
gentleman in a white tie; but all day long they had perused the first
page only, at least I saw none turn over the second.

And so the afternoon wore on, wet, cold, and comfortless - no dinner
served on account of the general confusion. The emigration commissioner
was taking a final survey of the ship and shaking hands with this, that,
and the other of the passengers. Fresh arrivals kept continually
creating a little additional excitement - these were saloon passengers,
who alone were permitted to join the ship at Gravesend. By and by a
couple of policemen made their appearance and arrested one of the party,
a London cabman, for debt. He had a large family, and a subscription
was soon started to pay the sum he owed. Subsequently, a much larger
subscription would have been made in order to have him taken away by
anybody or anything.

Little by little the confusion subsided. The emigration commissioner
left; at six we were at last allowed some victuals. Unpacking my books
and arranging them in my cabin filled up the remainder of the evening,
save the time devoted to a couple of meditative pipes. The emigrants
went to bed, and when, at about ten o'clock, I went up for a little time
upon the poop, I heard no sound save the clanging of the clocks from the
various churches of Gravesend, the pattering of rain upon the decks, and
the rushing of the river as it gurgled against the ship's side.

Early next morning the cocks began to crow vociferously. We had about
sixty couple of the oldest inhabitants of the hen-roost on board, which
were intended for the consumption of the saloon passengers - a destiny
which they have since fulfilled: young fowls die on shipboard, only old
ones standing the weather about the line. Besides this, the pigs began
grunting and the sheep gave vent to an occasional feeble bleat, the only
expression of surprise or discontent which I heard them utter during the
remainder of their existence, for now, alas! they are no more. I
remember dreaming I was in a farmyard, and woke as soon as it was light.
Rising immediately, I went on deck and found the morning calm and sulky-
-no rain, but everything very wet and very grey. There was Tilbury
Fort, so different from Stanfield's dashing picture. There was
Gravesend, which but a year before I had passed on my way to Antwerp
with so little notion that I should ever leave it thus. Musing in this
way, and taking a last look at the green fields of old England, soaking
with rain, and comfortless though they then looked, I soon became aware
that we had weighed anchor, and that a small steam-tug which had been
getting her steam up for some little time had already begun to subtract
a mite of the distance between ourselves and New Zealand. And so, early
in the morning of Saturday, October 1, 1859, we started on our voyage.

The river widened out hour by hour. Soon our little steam-tug left us.
A fair wind sprung up, and at two o'clock, or thereabouts, we found
ourselves off Ramsgate. Here we anchored and waited till the tide,
early next morning. This took us to Deal, off which we again remained a
whole day. On Monday morning we weighed anchor, and since then we have
had it on the forecastle, and trust we may have no further occasion for
it until we arrive at New Zealand.

I will not waste time and space by describing the horrible sea-sickness
of most of the passengers, a misery which I did not myself experience,
nor yet will I prolong the narrative of our voyage down the Channel - it
was short and eventless. The captain says there is more danger between
Gravesend and the Start Point (where we lost sight of land) than all the
way between there and New Zealand. Fogs are so frequent and collisions
occur so often. Our own passage was free from adventure. In the Bay of
Biscay the water assumed a blue hue of almost incredible depth; there,
moreover, we had our first touch of a gale - not that it deserved to be
called a gale in comparison with what we have since experienced, still
we learnt what double-reefs meant. After this the wind fell very light,
and continued so for a few days. On referring to my diary, I perceive
that on the 10th of October we had only got as far south as the forty-
first parallel of latitude, and late on that night a heavy squall coming
up from the S.W. brought a foul wind with it. It soon freshened, and by
two o'clock in the morning the noise of the flapping sails, as the men
were reefing them, and of the wind roaring through the rigging, was
deafening. All next day we lay hove to under a close-reefed main-
topsail, which, being interpreted, means that the only sail set was the
main-topsail, and that that was close reefed; moreover, that the ship
was laid at right angles to the wind and the yards braced sharp up.
Thus a ship drifts very slowly, and remains steadier than she would
otherwise; she ships few or no seas, and, though she rolls a good deal,
is much more easy and safe than when running at all near the wind. Next
day we drifted due north, and on the third day, the fury of the gale
having somewhat moderated, we resumed - not our course, but a course only
four points off it. The next several days we were baffled by foul
winds, jammed down on the coast of Portugal; and then we had another
gale from the south, not such a one as the last, but still enough to
drive us many miles out of our course; and then it fell calm, which was
almost worse, for when the wind fell the sea rose, and we were tossed
about in such a manner as would have forbidden even Morpheus himself to
sleep. And so we crawled on till, on the morning of the 24th of
October, by which time, if we had had anything like luck, we should have
been close on the line, we found ourselves about thirty miles from the
Peak of Teneriffe, becalmed. This was a long way out of our course,
which lay three or four degrees to the westward at the very least; but
the sight of the Peak was a great treat, almost compensating for past
misfortunes. The Island of Teneriffe lies in latitude 28 degrees,
longitude 16 degrees. It is about sixty miles long; towards the
southern extremity the Peak towers upwards to a height of 12,300 feet,
far above the other land of the island, though that too is very elevated
and rugged. Our telescopes revealed serrated gullies upon the mountain
sides, and showed us the fastnesses of the island in a manner that made
us long to explore them. We deceived ourselves with the hope that some
speculative fisherman might come out to us with oranges and grapes for
sale. He would have realised a handsome sum if he had, but
unfortunately none was aware of the advantages offered, and so we looked
and longed in vain. The other islands were Palma, Gomera, and Ferro,
all of them lofty, especially Palma - all of them beautiful. On the
seaboard of Palma we could detect houses innumerable; it seemed to be
very thickly inhabited and carefully cultivated. The calm continuing
three days, we took stock of the islands pretty minutely, clear as they
were, and rarely obscured even by a passing cloud; the weather was
blazing hot, but beneath the awning it was very delicious; a calm,
however, is a monotonous thing even when an island like Teneriffe is in
view, and we soon tired both of it and of the gambols of the blackfish
(a species of whale), and the operations on board an American vessel
hard by.

On the evening of the third day a light air sprung up, and we watched
the islands gradually retire into the distance. Next morning they were
faint and shrunken, and by midday they were gone. The wind was the
commencement of the north-east trades. On the next day (Thursday,
October 27, lat. 27 degrees 40 minutes) the cook was boiling some fat in
a large saucepan, when the bottom burnt through and the fat fell out
over the fire, got lighted, and then ran about the whole galley, blazing
and flaming as though it would set the place on fire, whereat an alarm
of fire was raised, the effect of which was electrical: there was no
real danger about the affair, for a fire is easily extinguishable on a
ship when only above board; it is when it breaks out in the hold, is
unperceived, gains strength, and finally bursts its prison, that it
becomes a serious matter to extinguish it. This was quenched in five
minutes, but the faces of the female steerage passengers were awful. I
noticed about many a peculiar contraction and elevation of one eyebrow,
which I had never seen before on the living human face, though often in
pictures. I don't mean to say that all the faces of all the saloon
passengers were void of any emotion whatever.

The trades carried us down to latitude 9 degrees. They were but light
while they lasted, and left us soon. There is no wind more agreeable
than the N.E. trades. The sun keeps the air deliciously warm, the
breeze deliciously fresh. The vessel sits bolt upright, steering a
S.S.W. course, with the wind nearly aft: she glides along with scarcely
any perceptible motion; sometimes, in the cabin, one would fancy one
must be on dry land. The sky is of a greyish blue, and the sea silver
grey, with a very slight haze round the horizon. The water is very
smooth, even with a wind which would elsewhere raise a considerable sea.
In latitude 19 degrees, longitude 25 degrees, we first fell in with
flying fish. These are usually in flocks, and are seen in greatest
abundance in the morning; they fly a great way and very well, not with
the kind of jump which a fish takes when springing out of the water, but
with a bona fide flight, sometimes close to the water, sometimes some
feet above it. One flew on board, and measured roughly eighteen inches
between the tips of its wings. On Saturday, November 5, the trades left
us suddenly after a thunder-storm, which gave us an opportunity of
seeing chain lightning, which I only remember to have seen once in
England. As soon as the storm was over, we perceived that the wind was
gone, and knew that we had entered that unhappy region of calms which
extends over a belt of some five degrees rather to the north of the

We knew that the weather about the line was often calm, but had pictured
to ourselves a gorgeous sun, golden sunsets, cloudless sky, and sea of
the deepest blue. On the contrary, such weather is never known there,
or only by mistake. It is a gloomy region. Sombre sky and sombre sea.
Large cauliflower-headed masses of dazzling cumulus tower in front of a
background of lavender-coloured satin. There are clouds of every shape
and size. The sails idly flap as the sea rises and falls with a heavy
regular but windless swell. Creaking yards and groaning rudder seem to
lament that they cannot get on. The horizon is hard and black, save
when blent softly into the sky upon one quarter or another by a rapidly
approaching squall. A puff of wind - "Square the yards!" - the ship
steers again; another - she moves slowly onward; it blows - she slips
through the water; it blows hard - she runs very hard - she flies; a drop
of rain - the wind lulls; three or four more of the size of half a crown-
-it falls very light; it rains hard, and then the wind is dead - whereon
the rain comes down in a torrent which those must see who would believe.
The air is so highly charged with moisture that any damp thing remains
damp and any dry thing dampens: the decks are always wet. Mould
springs up anywhere, even on the very boots which one is wearing; the
atmosphere is like that of a vapour bath, and the dense clouds seem to
ward off the light, but not the heat, of the sun. The dreary monotony
of such weather affects the spirits of all, and even the health of some.
One poor girl who had long been consumptive, but who apparently had
rallied much during the voyage, seemed to give way suddenly as soon as
we had been a day in this belt of calms, and four days after, we lowered
her over the ship's side into the deep.

One day we had a little excitement in capturing a shark, whose
triangular black fin had been veering about above water for some time at
a little distance from the ship. I will not detail a process that has
so often been described, but will content myself with saying that he did
not die unavenged, inasmuch as he administered a series of cuffs and
blows to anyone that was near him which would have done credit to a
prize-fighter, and several of the men got severe handling or, I should
rather say, "tailing" from him. He was accompanied by two beautifully
striped pilot fish - the never-failing attendants of the shark.

One day during this calm we fell in with a current, when the aspect of
the sea was completely changed. It resembled a furiously rushing river,
and had the sound belonging to a strong stream, only much intensified;
the waves, too, tossed up their heads perpendicularly into the air;
whilst the empty flour-casks drifted ahead of us and to one side. It
was impossible to look at the sea without noticing its very singular
appearance. Soon a wind springing up raised the waves and obliterated
the more manifest features of the current, but for two or three days
afterwards we could perceive it more or less. There is always at this
time of year a strong westerly set here. The wind was the commencement
of the S.E. trades, and was welcomed by all with the greatest pleasure.
In two days more we reached the line.

We crossed the line far too much to the west, in longitude 31 degrees 6
minutes, after a very long passage of nearly seven weeks, such as our
captain says he never remembers to have made; fine winds, however, now
began to favour us, and in another week we got out of the tropics,
having had the sun vertically overhead, so as to have no shadow, on the
preceding day. Strange to say, the weather was never at all
oppressively hot after latitude 2 degrees north, or thereabouts. A fine
wind, or indeed a light wind, at sea removes all unpleasant heat even of
the hottest and most perpendicular sun. The only time that we suffered
any inconvenience at all from heat was during the belt of calms; when
the sun was vertically over our heads it felt no hotter than on an
ordinary summer day. Immediately, however, upon leaving the tropics the
cold increased sensibly, and in latitude 27 degrees 8 minutes I find
that I was not warm once all day. Since then we have none of us ever
been warm, save when taking exercise or in bed; when the thermometer was
up at 50 degrees we thought it very high and called it warm. The reason
of the much greater cold of the southern than of the northern hemisphere
is that the former contains so much less land. I have not seen the
thermometer below 42 degrees in my cabin, but am sure that outside it
has often been very much lower. We almost all got chilblains, and

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerA First Year in Canterbury Settlement → online text (page 1 of 10)