Sheep on Terms, Schedule and Explanation — Investment in Sheep-run — Risk of Disease, and Laws upon the Subject — Investment in laying down Land in English Grass — In Farming — Journey to Oxford — Journey to the Glaciers — Remote Settlers — Literature in the Bush — Blankets and Flies — Ascent of the Rakaia — Camping out — Glaciers — Minerals — Parrots — Unexplored Col — Burning the Flats — Return.
February 10, 1860. — I must confess to being fairly puzzled to know what to do with the money you have sent me. Everyone suggests different investments. One says buy sheep and put them out on terms. I will explain to you what this means. I can buy a thousand ewes for 1250 pounds; these I should place in the charge of a squatter whose run is not fully stocked (and indeed there is hardly a run in the province fully stocked). This person would take my sheep for either three, four, five, or more years, as we might arrange, and would allow me yearly 2s. 6d. per head in lieu of wool. This would give me 2s. 6d. as the yearly interest on 25s. Besides this he would allow me 40 per cent per annum of increase, half male, and half female, and of these the females would bear increase also as soon as they had attained the age of two years; moreover, the increase would return me 2s. 6d. per head wool money as soon as they became sheep. At the end of the term, my sheep would be returned to me as per agreement, with no deduction for deaths, but the original sheep would be, of course, so much the older, and some of them being doubtless dead, sheep of the same age as they would have been will be returned in their place.
I will subjoin a schedule showing what 500 ewes will amount to in seven years; we will date from January, 1860, and will suppose the yearly increase to be one-half male and one-half female.
Ewes Ewe Wether Ewe Wether Wethers Total Lambs Lambs Hoggets Hoggets 1 year old } January, } 1860 } 500 -- -- -- -- -- 500 1861 500 100 100 -- -- -- 700 1862 500 100 100 100 100 -- 900 1863 600 120 120 100 100 100 1140 1864 700 140 140 120 120 200 1420 1865 820 164 164 140 140 320 1748 1866 960 192 192 164 164 460 2132 1867 1124 225 225 192 192 624 2582
The yearly wool money would be:-
Pounds s. d. January, 1861. . 2s. 6d. per head 62 10 0 1862. . . . . . . . 87 10 0 1863. . . . . . . . 112 10 0 1864. . . . . . . . 142 10 0 1865. . . . . . . . 177 10 0 1866. . . . . . . . 218 10 0 1867. . . . . . . . 266 10 0 Total wool money received. . . . 1067 10 0 Original capital expended. . . . 625 0 0
I will explain briefly the meaning of this.
We will suppose that the ewes have all two teeth to start with — two teeth indicate one year old, four teeth two years, six teeth three years, eight teeth (or full mouthed) four years. For the edification of some of my readers as ignorant as I am myself upon ovine matters, I may mention that the above teeth are to be looked for in the lower jaw and not the upper, the front portion of which is toothless. The ewes, then, being one year old to start with, they will be eight years old at the end of seven years. I have only, however, given you so long a term that you may see what would be the result of putting out sheep on terms either for three, four, five, six, or seven years, according as you like. Sheep at eight years old will be in their old age: they will live nine or ten years — sometimes more, but an eight-year-old sheep would be what is called a broken-mouthed creature; that is to say, it would have lost some of its teeth from old age, and would generally be found to crawl along at the tail end of the mob; so that of the 2582 sheep returned to me, 500 would be very old, 200 would be seven years old, 200 six years old. All these would pass as old sheep, and not fetch very much; one might get about 15s. a head for the lot all round. Perhaps, however, you might sell the 200 six years old with the younger ones. Not to overestimate, count these 700 old sheep as worth nothing at all, and consider that I have 1800 sheep in prime order, reckoning the lambs as sheep (a weaned lamb being worth nearly as much as a full-grown sheep). Suppose these sheep to have gone down in value from 25s. a head to 10s., and at the end of my term I realise 900 pounds. Suppose that of the wool money I have only spent 62 pounds 10s. per annum, i.e. ten per cent on the original outlay, and that I have laid by the remainder of the wool money. I shall have from the wool money a surplus of 630 pounds (some of which should have been making ten per cent interest for some time); that is to say, my total receipts for the sheep should be at the least 1530 pounds. Say that the capital had only doubled itself in the seven years, the investment could not be considered a bad one. The above is a bona-fide statement of one of the commonest methods of investing money in sheep. I cannot think from all I have heard that sheep will be lower than 10s. a head, still some place the minimum value as low as 6s. 3
3 August, 1862. — Since writing the above, matters have somewhat changed. Firstly, Ewes are fully worth 30s. a head, and are not to be had under. Secondly, The diggings in Otago have caused the value of wethers to rise, and as they are now selling at 33s. on the runs of the Otago station (I quote the Lyttelton Times, which may be depended upon), and those runs are only very partially stocked, the supply there must in all probability fall short of the demand. The price of sheep in this settlement is therefore raised also, and likely to continue high. All depends upon what this next spring may bring forth upon the Otago gold-fields. If they keep up the reputation which they sustained until the winter caused the diggers to retreat, the price will be high for some few years longer; if they turn out a failure, it must fall before very long. Still, there is a large and increasing population in Canterbury, and as its sheep-feeding area is as nothing compared with that of Australia, we do not expect sheep here ever to fall as low as they did there before the diggings. Indeed, they hardly can do so; for our sheep are larger than the Australian, and clip a much heavier fleece, so that their fleece, and skins, and tallow must be of greater value. Should means be found of converting the meat into portable soup, the carcase of the sheep ought, even at its lowest value, to be considerably higher than 10s. Nothing is heard about this yet, for the country is not nearly stocked, so that the thing is not needed; but one would, a priori, be under the impression that there should ultimately be no insuperable difficulty in rescuing the meat from waste. It is a matter which might well attract the attention of scientific men in England. We should all be exceedingly obliged to them if they would kindly cause sheep to be as high as 15s. or 17s. seven years hence, and I can see no reason why, if the meat could be made use of, they should fall lower. In other respects, what I have written about sheep on terms is true to the present day.
The question arises, What is to be done with one’s money when the term is out? I cannot answer; yet surely the colony cannot be quite used up in seven years, and one can hardly suppose but that, even in that advanced state of the settlement, means will not be found of investing a few thousand pounds to advantage.
The general recommendation which I receive is to buy the goodwill of a run; this cannot be done under about 100 pounds for every thousand acres. Thus, a run of 20,000 acres will be worth 2000 pounds. Still, if a man has sufficient capital to stock it well at once, it will pay him, even at this price. We will suppose the run to carry 10,000 sheep. The wool money from these should be 2500 pounds per annum. If a man can start with 2000 ewes, it will not be long before he finds himself worth 10,000 sheep. Then the sale of surplus stock which he has not country to feed should fetch him in fully 1000 pounds per annum; so that, allowing the country to cost 2000 pounds, and the sheep 2500 pounds, and allowing 1000 pounds for working, plant, buildings, dray, bullocks, and stores, and 500 pounds more for contingencies and expenses of the first two years, during which the run will not fully pay its own expenses — for a capital of 6000 pounds a man may in a few years find himself possessed of something like a net income of 2000 pounds per annum. Marvellous as all this sounds, I am assured that it is true. 4 On the other hand, there are risks. There is the uncertainty of what will be done in the year 1870, when the runs lapse to the Government. The general opinion appears to be, that they will be re-let, at a greatly advanced rent, to the present occupiers. The present rent of land is a farthing per acre for the first and second years, a halfpenny for the third, and three farthings for the fourth and every succeeding year. Most of the waste lands in the province are now paying three farthings per acre. There is the danger also of scab. This appears to depend a good deal upon the position of the run and its nature. Thus, a run situated in the plains over which sheep are being constantly driven from the province of Nelson, will be in more danger than one on the remoter regions of the back country. In Nelson there are few, if any, laws against carelessness in respect of scab. In Canterbury the laws are very stringent. Sheep have to be dipped three months before they quit Nelson, and inspected and re-dipped (in tobacco water and sulphur) on their entry into this province. Nevertheless, a single sheep may remain infected, even after this second dipping. The scab may not be apparent, but it may break out after having been a month or two in a latent state. One sheep will infect others, and the whole mob will soon become diseased; indeed, a mob is considered unsound, and compelled to be dipped, if even a single scabby sheep have joined it. Dipping is an expensive process, and if a man’s sheep trespass on to his neighbour’s run he has to dip his neighbour’s also. Moreover, scab may break out just before or in mid-winter, when it is almost impossible, on the plains, to get firewood sufficient to boil the water and tobacco (sheep must be dipped whilst the liquid is at a temperature of not less than 90 degrees), and when the severity of the sou’-westers renders it nearly certain that a good few sheep will be lost. Lambs, too, if there be lambs about, will be lost wholesale. If the sheep be not clean within six months after the information is laid, the sum required to be deposited with Government by the owner, on the laying of such information, is forfeited. This sum is heavy, though I do not exactly know its amount. One dipping would not be ruinous, but there is always a chance of some scabby sheep having been left upon the run unmustered, and the flock thus becoming infected afresh, so that the whole work may have to be done over again. I perceive a sort of shudder to run through a sheep farmer at the very name of this disease. There are no four letters in the alphabet which he appears so mortally to detest, and with good reason.
4 The above is true to the present day (August, 1862), save that a higher price must be given for the goodwill of a run, and that sheep are fully 30s. a head. Say 8000 pounds instead of 6000 pounds, and the rest will stand. 8000 pounds should do the thing handsomely.
Another mode of investment highly spoken of is that of buying land and laying it down in English grass, thus making a permanent estate of it. But I fear this will not do for me, both because it requires a large experience of things in general, which, as you well know, I do not possess, and because I should want a greater capital than would be required to start a run. More money is sunk, and the returns do not appear to be so speedy. I cannot give you even a rough estimate of the expenses of such a plan. I will only say that I have seen gentlemen who are doing it, and who are confident of success, and these men bear the reputation of being shrewd and business-like. I cannot doubt, therefore, that it is both a good and safe investment of money. My crude notion concerning it is, that it is more permanent and less remunerative. In this I may be mistaken, but I am certain it is a thing which might very easily be made a mess of by an inexperienced person; whilst many men, who have known no more about sheep than I do, have made ordinary sheep farming pay exceedingly well. I may perhaps as well say, that land laid down in English grass is supposed to carry about five or six sheep to the acre; some say more and some less. Doubtless, somewhat will depend upon the nature of the soil, and as yet the experiment can hardly be said to have been fully tried. As for farming as we do in England, it is universally maintained that it does not pay; there seems to be no discrepancy of opinion about this. Many try it, but most men give it up. It appears as if it were only bona-fide labouring men who can make it answer. The number of farms in the neighbourhood of Christ Church seems at first to contradict this statement; but I believe the fact to be, that these farms are chiefly in the hands of labouring men, who had made a little money, bought land, and cultivated it themselves. These men can do well, but those who have to buy labour cannot make it answer. The difficulty lies in the high rate of wages.
February 13. — Since my last I have been paying a visit of a few days at Kaiapoi, and made a short trip up to the Harewood Forest, near to which the township of Oxford is situated. Why it should be called Oxford I do not know.
After leaving Rangiora, which is about 8 miles from Kaiapoi, I followed the Harewood road till it became a mere track, then a footpath, and then dwindled away to nothing at all. I soon found myself in the middle of the plains, with nothing but brown tussocks of grass before me and behind me, and on either side. The day was rather dark, and the mountains were obliterated by a haze. “Oh the pleasure of the plains,” I thought to myself; but, upon my word, I think old Handel would find but little pleasure in these. They are, in clear weather, monotonous and dazzling; in cloudy weather monotonous and sad; and they have little to recommend them but the facility they afford for travelling, and the grass which grows upon them. This, at least, was the impression I derived from my first acquaintance with them, as I found myself steering for the extremity of some low downs about six miles distant. I thought these downs would never get nearer. At length I saw a tent-like object, dotting itself upon the plain, with eight black mice as it were in front of it. This turned out to be a dray, loaded with wool, coming down from the country. It was the first symptom of sheep that I had come upon, for, to my surprise, I saw no sheep upon the plains, neither did I see any in the whole of my little excursion. I am told that this disappoints most new-comers. They are told that sheep farming is the great business of Canterbury, but they see no sheep; the reason of this is, partly because the runs are not yet a quarter stocked, and partly because the sheep are in mobs, and, unless one comes across the whole mob, one sees none of them. The plains, too, are so vast, that at a very short distance from the track, sheep will not be seen. When I came up to the dray, I found myself on a track, reached the foot of the downs, and crossed the little River Cust. A little river, brook or stream, is always called a creek; nothing but the great rivers are called rivers. Now clumps of flax, and stunted groves of Ti palms and other trees, began to break the monotony of the scene. Then the track ascended the downs on the other side of the stream, and afforded me a fine view of the valley of the Cust, cleared and burnt by a recent fire, which extended for miles and miles, purpling the face of the country, up to the horizon. Rich flax and grass made the valley look promising, but on the hill the ground was stony and barren, and shabbily clothed with patches of dry and brown grass, surrounded by a square foot or so of hard ground; between the tussocks, however, there was a frequent though scanty undergrowth which might furnish support for sheep, though it looked burnt up.
I may as well here correct an error, which I had been under, and which you may, perhaps, have shared with me — native grass cannot be mown.
After proceeding some few miles further, I came to a station, where, though a perfect stranger, and at first (at some little distance) mistaken for a Maori, I was most kindly treated, and spent a very agreeable evening. The people here are very hospitable; and I have received kindness already upon several occasions, from persons upon whom I had no sort of claim.
Next day I went to Oxford, which lies at the foot of the first ranges, and is supposed to be a promising place. Here, for the first time, I saw the bush; it was very beautiful; numerous creepers, and a luxuriant undergrowth among the trees, gave the forest a wholly unEuropean aspect, and realised, in some degree, one’s idea of tropical vegetation. It was full of birds that sang loudly and sweetly. The trees here are all evergreens, and are not considered very good for timber. I am told that they have mostly a twist in them, and are in other respects not first rate.
March 24. — At last I have been really in the extreme back country, and positively, right up to a glacier.
As soon as I saw the mountains, I longed to get on the other side of them, and now my wish has been gratified.
I left Christ Church in company with a sheep farmer, who owns a run in the back country, behind the Malvern Hills, and who kindly offered to take me with him on a short expedition he was going to make into the remoter valleys of the island, in hopes of finding some considerable piece of country which had not yet been applied for.
We started February 28th, and had rather an unpleasant ride of twenty-five miles, against a very high N.W. wind. This wind is very hot, very parching, and very violent; it blew the dust into our eyes so that we could hardly keep them open. Towards evening, however, it somewhat moderated, as it generally does. There was nothing of interest on the track, save a dry river-bed, through which the Waimakiriri once flowed, but which it has long quitted. The rest of our journey was entirely over the plains, which do not become less monotonous upon a longer acquaintance; the mountains, however, drew slowly nearer, and by evening were really rather beautiful. Next day we entered the valley of the River Selwyn, or Waikitty, as it is generally called, and soon found ourselves surrounded by the low volcanic mountains, which bear the name of the Malvern Hills. They are very like the Banks Peninsula. We dined at a station belonging to a son of the bishop’s, and after dinner made further progress into the interior. I have very little to record, save that I was disappointed at not finding the wild plants more numerous and more beautiful; they are few, and decidedly ugly. There is one beast of a plant they call spear-grass, or spaniard, which I will tell you more about at another time. You would have laughed to have seen me on that day; it was the first on which I had the slightest occasion for any horsemanship. You know how bad a horseman I am, and can imagine that I let my companion go first in all the little swampy places and small creeks which we came across. These were numerous, and as Doctor always jumped them, with what appeared to me a jump about three times greater than was necessary, I assure you I heartily wished them somewhere else. However, I did my best to conceal my deficiency, and before night had become comparatively expert without having betrayed myself to my companion. I dare say he knew what was going on, well enough, but was too good and kind to notice it.
At night, and by a lovely clear, cold moonlight, we arrived at our destination, heartily glad to hear the dogs barking and to know that we were at our journey’s end. Here we were bona fide beyond the pale of civilisation; no boarded floors, no chairs, nor any similar luxuries; everything was of the very simplest description. Four men inhabited the hut, and their life appears a kind of mixture of that of a dog and that of an emperor, with a considerable predominance of the latter. They have no cook, and take it turn and turn to cook and wash up, two one week, and two the next. They have a good garden, and gave us a capital feed of potatoes and peas, both fried together, an excellent combination. Their culinary apparatus and plates, cups, knives, and forks, are very limited in number. The men are all gentlemen and sons of gentlemen, and one of them is a Cambridge man, who took a high second-class a year or two before my time. Every now and then he leaves his up-country avocations, and becomes a great gun at the college in Christ Church, examining the boys; he then returns to his shepherding, cooking, bullock-driving, etc. etc., as the case may be. I am informed that the having faithfully learned the ingenuous arts, has so far mollified his morals that he is an exceedingly humane and judicious bullock-driver. He regarded me as a somewhat despicable new-comer (at least so I imagined), and when next morning I asked where I should wash, he gave rather a French shrug of the shoulders, and said, “The lake.” I felt the rebuke to be well merited, and that with the lake in front of the house, I should have been at no loss for the means of performing my ablutions. So I retired abashed and cleansed myself therein. Under his bed I found Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. So you will see that even in these out-of-the-world places people do care a little for something besides sheep. I was told an amusing story of an Oxford man shepherding down in Otago. Someone came into his hut, and, taking up a book, found it in a strange tongue, and enquired what it was. The Oxonian (who was baking at the time) answered that it was Machiavellian discourses upon the first decade of Livy. The wonder-stricken visitor laid down the book and took up another, which was, at any rate, written in English. This he found to be Bishop Butler’s Analogy. Putting it down speedily as something not in his line, he laid hands upon a third. This proved to be Patrum Apostolicorum Opera, on which he saddled his horse and went right away, leaving the Oxonian to his baking. This man must certainly be considered a rare exception. New Zealand seems far better adapted to develop and maintain in health the physical than the intellectual nature. The fact is, people here are busy making money; that is the inducement which led them to come in the first instance, and they show their sense by devoting their energies to the work. Yet, after all, it may be questioned whether the intellect is not as well schooled here as at home, though in a very different manner. Men are as shrewd and sensible, as alive to the humorous, and as hard-headed. Moreover, there is much nonsense in the old country from which people here are free. There is little conventionalism, little formality, and much liberality of sentiment; very little sectarianism, and, as a general rule, a healthy, sensible tone in conversation, which I like much. But it does not do to speak about John Sebastian Bach’s Fugues, or pre-Raphaelite pictures.
To return, however, to the matter in hand. Of course everyone at stations like the one we visited washes his own clothes, and of course they do not use sheets. Sheets would require far too much washing. Red blankets are usual; white show fly-blows. The blue-bottle flies blow among blankets that are left lying untidily about, but if the same be neatly folded up and present no crumpled creases, the flies will leave them alone. It is strange, too, that, though flies will blow a dead sheep almost immediately, they will not touch one that is living and healthy. Coupling their good nature in this respect with the love of neatness and hatred of untidiness which they exhibit, I incline to think them decidedly in advance of our English bluebottles, which they perfectly resemble in every other respect. The English house-fly soon drives them away, and, after the first year or two, a station is seldom much troubled with them: so at least I am told by many. Fly-blown blankets are all very well, provided they have been quite dry ever since they were blown: the eggs then come to nothing; but if the blankets be damp, maggots make their appearance in a few hours, and the very suspicion of them is attended with an unpleasant creepy crawly sensation. The blankets in which I slept at the station which I have been describing were perfectly innocuous.
On the morning after I arrived, for the first time in my life I saw a sheep killed. It is rather unpleasant, but I suppose I shall get as indifferent to it as other — people are by and by. To show you that the knives of the establishment are numbered, I may mention that the same knife killed the sheep and carved the mutton we had for dinner. After an early dinner, my patron and myself started on our journey, and after travelling for some few hours over rather a rough country, though one which appeared to me to be beautiful indeed, we came upon a vast river-bed, with a little river winding about it. This is the Harpur, a tributary of the Rakaia, and the northern branch of that river. We were now going to follow it to its source, in the hopes of being led by it to some saddle over which we might cross, and come upon entirely new ground. The river itself was very low, but the huge and wasteful river-bed showed that there were times when its appearance must be entirely different. We got on to the river-bed, and, following it up for a little way, soon found ourselves in a close valley between two very lofty ranges, which were plentifully wooded with black birch down to their base. There were a few scrubby, stony flats covered with Irishman and spear-grass (Irishman is the unpleasant thorny shrub which I saw going over the hill from Lyttelton to Christ Church) on either side the stream; they had been entirely left to nature, and showed me the difference between country which had been burnt and that which is in its natural condition. This difference is very great. The fire dries up many swamps — at least many disappear after country has been once or twice burnt; the water moves more freely, unimpeded by the tangled and decaying vegetation which accumulates round it during the lapse of centuries, and the sun gets freer access to the ground. Cattle do much also: they form tracks through swamps, and trample down the earth, making it harder and firmer. Sheep do much: they convey the seeds of the best grass and tread them into the ground. The difference between country that has been fed upon by any live stock, even for a single year, and that which has never yet been stocked is very noticeable. If country is being burnt for the second or third time, the fire can be crossed without any difficulty; of course it must be quickly traversed, though indeed, on thinly grassed land, you may take it almost as coolly as you please. On one of these flats, just on the edge of the bush, and at the very foot of the mountain, we lit a fire as soon as it was dusk, and, tethering our horses, boiled our tea and supped. The night was warm and quiet, the silence only interrupted by the occasional sharp cry of a wood-hen, and the rushing of the river, whilst the ruddy glow of the fire, the sombre forest, and the immediate foreground of our saddles and blankets, formed a picture to me entirely new and rather impressive. Probably after another year or two I shall regard camping out as the nuisance which it really is, instead of writing about sombre forests and so forth. Well, well, that night I thought it very fine, and so in good truth it was.
Our saddles were our pillows and we strapped our blankets round us by saddle-straps, and my companion (I believe) slept very soundly; for my part the scene was altogether too novel to allow me to sleep. I kept looking up and seeing the stars just as I was going off to sleep, and that woke me again; I had also underestimated the amount of blankets which I should require, and it was not long before the romance of the situation wore off, and a rather chilly reality occupied its place; moreover, the flat was stony, and I was not knowing enough to have selected a spot which gave a hollow for the hip-bone. My great object, however, was to conceal my condition from my companion, for never was a freshman at Cambridge more anxious to be mistaken for a third-year man than I was anxious to become an old chum, as the colonial dialect calls a settler — thereby proving my new chumship most satisfactorily. Early next morning the birds began to sing beautifully, and the day being thus heralded, I got up, lit the fire, and set the pannikins to boil: we then had breakfast, and broke camp. The scenery soon became most glorious, for, turning round a corner of the river, we saw a very fine mountain right in front of us. I could at once see that there was a neve near the top of it, and was all excitement. We were very anxious to know if this was the backbone range of the island, and were hopeful that if it was we might find some pass to the other side. The ranges on either hand were, as I said before, covered with bush, and these, with the rugged Alps in front of us, made a magnificent view. We went on, and soon there came out a much grander mountain — a glorious glaciered fellow — and then came more, and the mountains closed in, and the river dwindled and began leaping from stone to stone, and we were shortly in scenery of the true Alpine nature — very, very grand. It wanted, however, a chalet or two, or some sign of human handiwork in the fore-ground; as it was, the scene was too savage.
All the time we kept looking for gold, not in a scientific manner, but we had a kind of idea that if we looked in the shingly beds of the numerous tributaries to the Harpur, we should surely find either gold or copper or something good. So at every shingle-bed we came to (and every little tributary had a great shingle-bed) we lay down and gazed into the pebbles with all our eyes. We found plenty of stones with yellow specks in them, but none of that rich goodly hue which makes a man certain that what he has found is gold. We did not wash any of the gravel, for we had no tin dish, neither did we know how to wash. The specks we found were mica; but I believe I am right in saying that there are large quantities of chromate of iron in the ranges that descend upon the river. We brought down several specimens, some of which we believed to be copper, but which did not turn out to be so. The principal rocks were a hard, grey, gritty sandstone, interwoven with thin streaks of quartz. We saw no masses of quartz; what we found was intermixed with sandstone, and was always in small pieces. The sandstone, in like manner, was almost always intermingled with quartz. Besides this sandstone there was a good deal of pink and blue slate, the pink chiefly at the top of the range, showing a beautiful colour from the river-bed. In addition to this, there were abundance of rocks, of every gradation between sandstone and slate — some sandstone almost slate, some slate almost sandstone. There was also a good deal of pudding-stone; but the bulk of the rock was this very hard, very flinty sandstone. You know I am no geologist. I will undertake, however, to say positively that we did not see one atom of granite; all the mountains that I have yet seen are either volcanic or composed of this sandstone and slate.
When we had reached nearly the base of the mountains, we left our horses, for we could use them no longer, and, crossing and recrossing the stream, at length turned up through the bush to our right. This bush, though very beautiful to look at, is composed of nothing but the poorest black birch. We had no difficulty in getting through it, for it had no undergrowth, as the bushes on the front ranges have. I should suppose we were here between three and four thousand feet above the level of the sea; and you may imagine that at that altitude, in a valley surrounded by snowy ranges, vegetation would not be very luxuriant. There was sufficient wood, however, to harbour abundance of parroquets — brilliant little glossy green fellows, that shot past you now and again with a glisten in the sun, and were gone. There was a kind of dusky brownish-green parrot, too, which the scientific call a Nestor. What they mean by this name I know not. To the unscientific it is a rather dirty-looking bird, with some bright red feathers under its wings. It is very tame, sits still to be petted, and screams like a real parrot. Two attended us on our ascent after leaving the bush. We threw many stones at them, and it was not their fault that they escaped unhurt.
Immediately on emerging from the bush we found all vegetation at an end. We were on the moraine of an old glacier, and saw nothing in front of us but frightful precipices and glaciers. There was a saddle, however, not above a couple of thousand feet higher. This saddle was covered with snow, and, as we had neither provisions nor blankets, we were obliged to give up going to the top of it. We returned with less reluctance, from the almost absolute certainty, firstly, that we were not upon the main range; secondly, that this saddle would only lead to the Waimakiriri, the next river above the Rakaia. Of these two points my companion was so convinced, that we did not greatly regret leaving it unexplored. Our object was commercial, and not scientific; our motive was pounds, shillings, and pence: and where this failed us, we lost all excitement and curiosity. I fear that we were yet weak enough to have a little hankering after the view from the top of the pass, but we treated such puerility with the contempt that it deserved, and sat down to rest ourselves at the foot of a small glacier. We then descended, and reached the horses at nightfall, fully satisfied that, beyond the flat beside the riverbed of the Harpur, there was no country to be had in that direction. We also felt certain that there was no pass to the west coast up that branch of the Rakaia, but that the saddle at the head of it would only lead to the Waimakiriri, and reveal the true backbone range farther to the west. The mountains among which we had been climbing were only offsets from the main chain.
This might be shown also by a consideration of the volume of water which supplies the main streams of the Rakaia and the Waimakiriri, and comparing it with the insignificant amount which finds its way down the Harpur. The glaciers that feed the two larger streams must be very extensive, thus showing that the highest range lies still farther to the northward and westward. The Waimakiriri is the next river to the northward of the Rakaia.
That night we camped as before, only I was more knowing, and slept with my clothes on, and found a hollow for my hip-bone, by which contrivances I slept like a top. Next morning, at early dawn, the scene was most magnificent. The mountains were pale as ghosts, and almost sickening from their death-like whiteness. We gazed at them for a moment or two, and then turned to making a fire, which in the cold frosty morning was not unpleasant. Shortly afterwards we were again en route for the station from which we had started. We burnt the flats as we rode down, and made a smoke which was noticed between fifty and sixty miles off. I have seen no grander sight than the fire upon a country which has never before been burnt, and on which there is a large quantity of Irishman. The sun soon loses all brightness, and looks as though seen through smoked glass. The volumes of smoke are something that must be seen to be appreciated. The flames roar, and the grass crackles, and every now and then a glorious lurid flare marks the ignition of an Irishman; his dry thorns blaze fiercely for a minute or so, and then the fire leaves him, charred and blackened for ever. A year or two hence, a stiff nor’- wester will blow him over, and he will lie there and rot, and fatten the surrounding grass; often, however, he shoots out again from the roots, and then he is a considerable nuisance. On the plains Irishman is but a small shrub, that hardly rises higher than the tussocks; it is only in the back country that it attains any considerable size: there its trunk is often as thick as a man’s body.
We got back about an hour after sundown, just as heavy rain was coming on, and were very glad not to be again camping out, for it rained furiously and incessantly the whole night long. Next day we returned to the lower station belonging to my companion, which was as replete with European comforts as the upper was devoid of them; yet, for my part, I could live very comfortably at either.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05