| The Streets of my city, Wellington New Zealand, |
by F. L. Irvine-Smith. (1948).
|Contents: a letter | Part One chapters: 1 | 2 | Part Two chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 |
Part Three chapters: Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Appendix
Suprema a situ
Motto of City of Wellington, adopted June 13th, 1878.
Down from your heaven, or up from your mould,
Send us the hearts of our fathers of old.
TRANSPLANTED Wellington rapidly took root. At the close of 1840 there were 2,500 settlers, or in whaler parlance, 'Jimmy Grants,' upon its shores, and ships were fast bringing more. Slowly civilisation climbed the hills. Houses began at beach level, at the foot of the bush and scrub-covered hills, but gradually the scrub and bush of what is now the Terrace was cut back and cleared, though Kelburn and Karori at first remained a wilderness, where settlers went at times only to cut out larger trees for timber.
As originally laid out, Wellington consisted of about 2,350 acres, made up of 1,100 town sections, each one acre in extent, interspersed with about 30 miles of roads and streets occupying a probable area of 150 acres. Added to these were 1,100 acres of town belt and reserves. The two flats of Thorndon and Te Aro were linked by a narrow foreshore following the line of the harbour, today the heart of Wellington, and as Te Aro Flat was the larger, it became the business end and Thorndon Flat the official end of the settlement.
In spite of growing numbers life was for some time a heavy weight to pull, though against this could be scaled the inestimable advantages of youth, health and character. Had they not been carefully selected for all three qualifications by this far-seeing Company? The leader himself was in his thirties, indeed, not a single "Tory" passenger had approached the hoary age of forty, and generally speaking, the age of selected married immigrants did not exceed thirty. As they gained their bearings, living became easier - birds, fish, eels and wild honey for the taking; pigs, pumpkins and potatoes at little cost from the natives. Fish was both choice and plentiful - schnapper, kingfish and kahawai. The favourite fish-food of the Maori was the freshwater eel and the shark, both of which he dried in the sun, but never salted, having like some primitive races, a curious aversion to salt. Cows were rare indeed, but goats were plentiful. The pioneers cooked over open fireplaces or in camp ovens and go-ashores (three-legged iron pots), eked out their vegetable diet with supplies of watercress, puha, or the tender shoots of the "cabbage" tree, and enjoyed, whenever they found them, the ripened berries of the konini, titoki, kahikatea and lawyer.
Nor was such ingenuity confined to food supplies. Home-made furnishings were marvels of originality. Beds, as often as not, of sacking swung between manuka poles; bottles for candlesticks; a barrel neatly sawn in half served for the Saturday tub or the Monday wash, the latter aided by woodash washing soda from the tawa tree. For many a long year a barrel, cut out in front, did service as the family armchair, and indeed such are not extinct today. For women, lace-bark bonnets became fashionable; a flax bush was the family source of baskets and string; rangiora leaves served at a pinch for note-paper. In times of accident and sickness the native flora supplied a whole pharmacopoeia - phomium roots for wounds and abrasions; rata-vine sap for cuts; clematis and koromiko for diarrhea; dock-root tea for boils; mallow poultices for swellings; roasted phormium roots for chilblains; soothing drinks from the houhere and bush sarsaparilla from the supplejack. Money, it is true, was scarce. It was to become scarcer still in the lean times ahead, but contracts for road-making, attention to sections of absentee settlers and the activities of the growing port brought in some welcome cash, and in those economical days nothing was bought that could possibly be made. "Economy," wrote one, "is the order of the day. I carpenterise and carry logs and cook and go to council without detriment to my gentility." With sturdy independence they helped themselves - and helped each other. No visit was made emptyhanded. All gave and all received. Sorrow and sickness the concern of all.
A hundred years and more have passed since then, but never did the world need such brotherhood again as in these chaotic afteryears of war. Very apt was the recent homely illustration of the King to the delegates of the United Nations, when telling of a small Scotch lassie trudging along the road, under the weight of an apparently heavy burden. "Is that not a heavy load for such a little girl as you?" was the sympathetic comment of a passer-by, scarcely expecting the indignant rejoinder, "It's no' a load! It's ma brither!"
One of the earliest works undertaken by the settlers was the formation of the road from Wellington to Petone, and the "New Zealand Gazette," October, 1841, announces that the first to make the through trip was Mr. Sam Phelps with his bullock dray. Soon after this a daily coach ran from Wellington to Petone! In the New Zealand "Spectator" and Wellington "Independent" April, 1847, Mr. John Pimble of the Ship Inn advertises that he will shortly commence sunning an omnibus, the "Paul Pry," admirably constructed for the accommodation of travellers or pleasure parties, "between Wellington Town and the Hutt Valley." Nor were horses and bullocks the only beasts of burden of those fareaway days. Donkeys, though never numerous, came soon upon the scene. The "New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator" for May 31st, 1843, reads as follows:
"The brig 'Nelson' returned to port on Monday last, after an absence of eight months from Valparaiso. On arriving at that port, she was compelled to wait for the harvests, no flour being in the market. The 'Nelson' employed her spare time trading on the South American coast. Two 'asses' are amongst her importations, the first we believe introduced into New Zealand, and we doubt not they will prove useful settlers. The Maoris were utterly astonished at the sight of these visitors and have christened them with the name of rabbiti nui." (big rabbits)Later on Mr. Daniel Riddiford bred mules in order to transport stores to the Orongorongo Station.
The diary of Charles Johnson Pharazyn (1802-1903), who arrived in Welington May 24th 1841, in the "Jane" reads:
"The climate, by and large, was kind. If abundance of fresh air be conducive to health, the pioneers certainly had come to a health-giving spot. Writing in his diary in 1842, Bishop Selwyn remarks: "No one can speak of the healthfulness of New Zealand until he has been ventilated by the restless breezes of Port Nicholson, where habits of industry and enterprise are favoured by the perpetual motion of the atmosphere." Unfortunately the restless breezes were sometimes their undoing. Apart from the wooden frame houses brought out by more substantial settlers, many of the early Wellington homes were still raupo or slab huts with the cook houses apart from the dwellings, and the wind at times scattered dying embers with disastrous results. No water supply; no drainage. On November 9th, 1842, forty buildings on Lambton Quay were utterly demolished by fire. Well might one of their number write: "Retrospection is of no avail. Let my motto be Faith, Hope and Perseverance."
Another unseen foe were earthquakes, which certainly seemed more prevalent then than now. Alas! not once or twice in our pioneering story were the terrified settlers to see their hard-won homes disintegrating at their feet. On May 25th, 1840, they experienced their first taste at Britannia. Thereafter "quakes" became familiar, but the worst experience was on October 18th, 1848, when a most disastrous and prolonged series of shocks, with a loss of three lives and £15,000 of property, almost ruined the struggling settlement on the shores of Lambton Harbour. So great was the terror inspired that many settlers decided to move on to Australia and took passage in the "Sobraon" then in port. (1)To complete their misfortune however, the vessel, outward bound, ran on to Barrett Reef and the discomfited refugees were forced to return. Two days after the disaster the Lieutenant-Governor, by proclamation, set aside October 20th as a day of public fast, prayer and humiliation. It is interesting to note (2)that for the first time on record in the history of the Hebrew faith in New Zealand, its members united with the other churches, (as recorded in New Zealand Spectator, October 25th, 1848). Calamity is man's true touchstone.
Though the Port Nicholson Maoris were on the whole friendly, the same could not be said of the neighbouring Ngatitoa war chiefs, Te Rauparaha and his nephew Rangihaeata-a wily pair dwelling sometimes at Kapiti, sometimes on the adjoining mainland. Fore-seeing the consequences to the Maoris of European immigration, they were bitterly opposed to the white settlement of the Cook Strait territories, and early in the forties (1843) were to come into sharp and fatal conflict with the Company's emigrants in the neighbouring settlement of Nelson, and later still (1846) in the Hutt Valley. The possibility of a raid on Wellington itself in its early stages was an ever-abiding anxiety to the settlers, who regarded the beautiful bushclad hills around the town with not a little apprehension.
It took a Sir George Grey to beat Te Rau at his own game, but that is a later story.
Yet life was not all work. The "New Zealand Journal," October 16th, 1841, announces: "We have great pleasure in recording that a cricket club has been established in Wellington by a number of young men who are anxious that so manly an exercise should not be forgotten in the antipodes." Games were accordingly played on Thorndon Flat, though thirty years were to elapse before the "muddied oafs" came upon the scene. Apparently they were true to type for the "Independent" (August 23rd, 1870) - in reporting an early match, concludes, almost tearfully: "How the players kept on their legs is astonishing, though, of course, every body had at least one tumble, a casualty that did not improve the toilet." One tumble!
In spite of disarranged "toilets," Wellington early became a stronghold of the game in New Zealand; indeed, there came a time when Rugby as the national winter pastime was played so proficiently that New Zealand as a Rugby playing country led the world, unchallenged until the Springbok invasion, long after the 1905 All Blacks had put New Zealand on the map.
In every little garden the English flowers grow,
'You will find them nodding gaily down any road you go.
The list of entries was not long, but never did list of greater length arouse greater pride. Competition was keen for : -
(a) The best cottage garden.
(b) Vegetables: a dozen well-known varieties.
(c) Fruit: four apples grown by a settler.
(d) Flowers: (i) geraniums; (ii) dahlias; (iii) a collection of English annuals.
(e) Decorative: a bouquet.
and if entries were small, enthusiasm was great. The First Prize Cabbage, grown by the green fingers of J. N.Burcham, within thirty yards of the Petone beach, turned the scale at 21 1/2 lb., and the same grower carried off the Second Prize with a specimen of 12 lb. weight. Some of F. A. Molesworth's potatoes were nine inches and ten inches long. The prize peas of Mr. Bannister were rivalled only by the equally succulent prize beans grown by Mrs. Pharazyn. To an admiring public J. T. Wicksteed exhibited no fewer than twelve English annuals. D. N. Wilkinson, early Wellington's most experienced gardener, carried off the "Bouquet" prize, as well as prizes for several varieties of vegetables. Even Colonel Wakefield entered the coveted circle of 37 prize winners with a second class award for lettuce, and Dr. Featherston sprang into immediate fame as the one and only exhibitor of dahlias, the first horticulturist in fact to introduce the tuber into the colony. Colonies and cabbages! The balm of growing things! It was joy to be alive!
They lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.
In 1849 the Misses Spinks conducted a school opposite Herbert Street, before they removed to a house, still standing (1948) behind St. John's Presbyterian Church. This school was in operation from 1849 to 1897. The first schoolmaster, Mr. Charles Grace, arrived in the "Lady LiIford," March 16th, 1840, and his brick-built academy, erected in 1840, was situated at the corner of Woodward Street and Lambton Quay, then known as Kumutoto Corner (Lindsay's Corner).
In an interesting little book by Mr. George Macmorran (S. & W. Mackay, 1900) on schools of early Wellington, the writer tells us of the genial and lovable personality of this first Wellington dominie, a native of Scotland, where he had had 'an excellent University training'. He had lived in both Melbourne and Adelaide, and when Wellington was founded, crossed the Tasman Sea to try his fortune in New Zealand. Mr. Grace advertised his educational intentions thus : -
"Mr. Grace would consider himself as not doing justice to his pupils, even to those who confine themselves to an ordinary English education, if he did not endeavour during the whole course to impart a knowledge of the facts in natural 'philosophy, astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and natural history, which are the most essential to their physical well-being, and which will prove a source of agreeable thought in after life."Small wonder that current opinion in early Wellington circles avowed that Mr. Grace was really a full-fledged Scottish professor incog.
The school was a mixed one - no, no, away with the thought - "Young gentlemen attend 9 to 11 and 1 to 3; young ladies 1 to 2 and 3 to 4, and upon the payment of a small extra charge, the latter can be instructed in French and Italian."
Yet in spite of such impressive advertisements, for which this kindly pedagogue seems to have had an amiable weakness (see current numbers of "New Zealnnd Gazette"), the little academy on the Beach must have been a very attractive spot for boys. The master had an understanding heart - the essential for any true teacher - and the surroundings were calculated to capture the imagination of any youthful scholar. The sea was at the door, and the lap of the waves kept time to the rhythm of their tasks. At times there would come drifting in upon the quiet of the classroom the shout of sailors or the rumble and splash of the anchor of a coaster, pig and flax-laden, or a brig from South Australia, grain-laden, or even another English ship, bringing fresh immigrants to the infant settlement, to say nothing of precious mails from the Motherland. Purling by was the Kumutoto Stream, long since covered in, running down what is now Woodward Street, where the boys at dinner-time caught eels and bullies, while on its banks, where now stands the Wellington Club, was the Kumutoto Pa with its dusky inmates peering through the palisades at the strangeness of pakeha ways. Further back was hilly ground covered with manuka scrub, and in the gullies heavier bush ripe for bird-nesting. Sometimes too, lessons would be varied by the intrusion of a juvenile native face peeping in the door or window to discover what the pakeha youths were doing, while the wiser Maori kept his freedom and basked in the sun.
But alas! in those early days boy labour was valuable, and there were no Acts of Parliament forbidding its employment. Many parents were engaged in a stern wrestle with adverse circumstances. Fees shrank below a "living wage," even for those days, and this kindly and scholarly schoolmaster was forced to transform his academy into evening classes for lads who wanted little more than a running acquaintance with the three r's - and that at a shilling a week. Mr. Grace struggled on till 1851 when, upon news of the Victorian gold discoveries, he once more crossed the Tasman to Port Phillip to seek the good fortune that Port Nicholson had denied him, and was able at the time to mete out to so few. Some young Wellingtons tried their luck, to return with the news that they had seen "poor old Grace down on his uppers." In no long time there came news of his death, and not a few pioneers - Old Boys and more - felt that they had lost a friend.
Behind the curtain's mystic fold. The glowing future lies unrolled.
Mr. Marriott had been trained as an optician and instrument maker, but was also a skilful engraver, and many of the plates of Early Wellington appearing in the illustrated papers of the day were the product of his gifted pen. He was likewise a fine actor, especially of Shakespearian parts, a good singer, the dancing-master of the settlement, a violinist of parts, the producer of local plays, scene-painter, stage-manager and organiser of local functions, even a poet of sorts, for during the struggle of the Constitutional Association for representative government, he published in 1858 a volume of topical songs-and sang them. One thinks of J. H. M. marching to the poll along Lambton Quay at the head of the anti-Wakefield party, as they chanted the aforsesaid songs to the strains of the major-domo's violin. It was the day of open voting. Politics ran high and eggs were no less eggs, politically speaking, in the days of our beginnings. But to return to the drama, we read: "The Wellington Saloon, a hall used as a theatre, adjoining the Ship Hotel, Te Aro, was opened on Thursday, May 11th 1843, and crowded to excess, hundreds being turned away." The bill of fare was "A Ghost in Spite of Himself," and Mr. Marriott was in charge of the proceedings. Shortly after this the Aurora Tavern, afterwards the Lyceum Theatre, was built by Mr. Marriott, and was the first building in Wellington to be illuminated by gas, this being extracted from oil presented by the whalers who at that time (1844) frequented Port Nicholson.
In later life this Admirable Crichton kept a stationer's shop in Wellington and was also the Inspector of Weights and Measures. His talents descended to his daughter Alice, who became a celebrated London actress. She died in 1900.
There is a tavern in the town, in the town.
The redoubtable Dicky Barrett, fat, fair and veering on forty, who had accompanied the "Tory" as interpreter from her first anchorage in the Sounds to Port Nicholson, soon saw that the new settlement held out opportunities for a much more lucrative livelihood than whaling. Acquiring possession of one of the houses brought out by Dr. Evans, he opened it as a public house on the site of the present Hotel Cecil. Before the arrival of the "Tory" Barrett had already lived with the Maoris for about eleven years, taken a Maori wife, acquired the Maori language and three half-caste sons, and now in consideration of his assistance to Colonel Wakefield, had received as a gift to his children, the land on which the hotel stood.
After a time a right wing was added of two storeys, the lower one for a Billiard Saloon and the upper for a Freemasons' Hall. Mr. Suisted, a Swede, now became the proprietor, and under his judicious management, public patronage continued apace. Mrs. Suisted was a daughter of Captain and Mrs. Richmond and her parents lived at the hotel. It may be mentioned that at this stage Dicky Barrett once more took up his residence in Taranaki, where he had lived before proceeding to the Sounds and where he died at the early age of forty. He is the ancestor of a well-known and highly respected group of Taranaki families, the Honeyfields, and his memory is further kept green by the names of Barrett Road and Barrett Lagoon in the vicinity of New Plymouth.
To return to the hotel, in 1851 the upper storey of the new wing was fitted up as a Council Chamber and used as such by Sir George Grey, while the part beneath constituted the general Government Offices of New Zealand until 1853. From that date to 1855 it housed the first Wellington Provincial Government, while at the same time part of the main building was used as the Supreme Court, Bank of Issue and Registrar's Office. The new wing was shaken down by the earthquake of 1855, and after this the licence was transferred to the present site at the corner of Plimmer's Steps.
As well as the above "official uses", Barrett's Hotel in early days was the centre of the social life of the settlement and was used for "select" balls, Governor's levees, mayoral dinners, race dinners, banquets, company meetings, dramatic performances, political gatherings and all such, while away and beyond, its versatile proprietor was mine host to the wayfaring public. One such wanderer, who came to anchor for a spell in 1840, was young Vincent Wallace, son of the bandmaster at Sydney, and the story goes that his immortal "Maritana" was begun within sight and sound of the waves of Lambton Beach. That may be - or may not. At any rate he saw the city at its birth, and some of the pristine loveliness of its setting doubtless entered his musical mind for future use. Rome was not built in a day.
An echo of such times comes down the years in a letter unearthed recently in an old number (October 2nd, 1926) of the "Evening Post." The writer has apparently just heard that the English poetess, Jessica Rankin, came to New Zealand and is buried in Sydney Street Cemetery. He remarks, inter alia, "It was Jessica Rankin who helped to make Balfe, the great Irish composer, famous. She wrote many verses for his music, and one of Balfe's finest works, 'Mazeppa,' was from the book of that name written by Jessica Rankin." After noting the memorials to Balfe in Westminster Abbey and St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, the writer suggests that some memorial should be placed to the poetess in the cemetery by the Wellington literati. What he apparently did not know was that Jessica Rankin, in the year she came to Wellington (1867), married Charles Johnson Pharazyn, a memorial in the cemetery to "Jessica Pharazyn" has been there since her death in 1891.
Reading maketh a full man.
Private purchases apparently kept pace. In the "New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser," August 16th, 1842, "Mr. John Wade invites the public to inspect a vast assortment of elegantly bound books, now open at his store, consisting of about four hundred volumes of choice works, which will be offered at an early date to public competition."
Nor did the settlement, even in its first Britannic days, lack its newspaper, to say nothing of its bellman and its crier, Mr. Charley Squib. The name of the paper was the "New Zealand Gazette," the first issue of which was made from London on September 6th, 1839. The editor, Samuel Revans, came out in the "Adelaide," and the second issue appeared as soon as possible after the landing of the plant he brought with him.
Samuel Revans (1808-1888), the Father of the Wellington Press, was a pioneer of the first rank. At the age of twenty-five he had gone to Canada with his friend H. S. Chapman (afterwards Judge of the Supreme Court in New Zealand) and together they had founded the "Montreal Daily Advertiser," the first daily newspaper in British North America. Chapman returned to England on a political mission, and Revans, involved in the Papineau rising of 1837, made his way to the United States and thence to England. As a result of his interest in the proposed colonisation of New Zealand, he sailed in the "Adelaide," and a few months later landed with his printing press on the beach of Pito-one, where on April 18th he brought out the second issue of the "New Zealand Gazette." When the colonists moved to Thorndon, the name of the paper was changed to "New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator," though later the word "Wellington" was substituted for "Britannia." With several changes of ownership, the paper lived for at least twentyfive years. A copy of the historic second number is preserved in the General Assembly Library, Wellington.
In later life Samuel Revans was successively member for Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay and the Hutt, He died July 15th, 1888, at Greytown where he had lived for some years with a brother. One of his most useful publications was the "Wellington Almanac," which he started in 1843 and continued for many years, an accurate chronicle of the events of the Province.
For nearly eighty years a street in Wellington bore the name of Revans Street, until it was swallowed up in Riddiford Street, off Adelaide Road. Revans, Riddiford, Adelaide - three names inseparably linked since the days of 1839.
Man is a gregarious animal.
Another social club founded in 1840 was the Wakefield Club, so called in honour of the leader of the settlement. This was at first situated in a building in Lambton Quay, almost opposite the present Government Buildings, but in the seventies a choice site of one acre was secured on the Terrace and in 1877 the present building was opened. The club retained the original name until 1862 when it was changed to the "Wellington Club." It has been the temporary residence of many distinguished visitors and is justly proud of its unbroken record from 1840.
I put my money on the bob-tailed nag,
Somebody bet on the bay.
Later on, in 1842, races were run on the Pito-one (Petone) Beach, a day being selected on which a low tide would leave uncovered a hard sandy surface. Carts, waggons and bullock-drays took the visitors from Wellington to Petone - Wellington had then but one gig, the property of the chemist of Medical Hall - and a flotilla of boats brought those who lacked any other means of getting there. The grandstand consisted of planks placed on the top of eight or ten water-butts outside a fence and supported chairs used by the ladies for the journey in the carts. The Clerk of the Course had a busy time arranging with Te Puni to have the native dogs tied up, and the pigs kept at home, and imploring whalers to push their boats far enough from the beach to give the horses a clear course. At this meeting (October 20th, 1842) the winner of the principal sweepstake was the then four-year-old "Figaro," who, as a two-year-old, had been the first thoroughbred to be imported from Sydney. "Calmuk Tartar" ran second. On the return journey to town the ladies led off in their carts (so prim and so pretty in their little poke bonnets, even if perched aloft in a dray) and the gentlemen followed in procession on horseback behind. The day closed with a race-dinner for the gallants at Barrett's Hotel. What more!
After this, racing was carried on more or less intermittently - Wellington was too busy in its early stages to have overmuch time for play - the favourite localities being Burnham Water, Hutt Park and at times Island Bay. Burnham Water was an area occupied by a lagoon (3) of some two hundred acres in extent on the property of Mr. J. C. Crawford of Miramar. The lagoon was drained by means of a tunnel constructed into Evans Bay, a grandstand was erected and Burnham Water became what was probably the first racecourse proper of the colony. Island Bay Racecourse was in time cut up for building purposes. Hutt Park was granted as a reserve for racing purposes in 1854 and may be said to have retained a racing connection ever since. Soon after the opening of the century, however, it was felt that more commodious quarters were urgently needed. In 1904 the property at Trentham was secured, and on January 20th, 1906 with an attendance of nearly 9,000 people, the new and up-to-date Trentham Racecourse began its career and is still going strong. References 1. The bell of the "Sobraon" now hangs in St Paul's Church, White's Line, Lower Hutt. 2. New Zealand "Spectator", October 25th, 1848 3. Burnham Water (Maori, Para) was so called by Colonel Wakefleld in 1840 after Burnham Hall, Essex, the English home of the Wakefields. The Streets (Part Two)