Loading Dray — Bullocks — Want of Roads — Banks Peninsula — Front and Back Ranges of Mountains — River-beds — Origin of the Plains — Terraces — Tutu — Fords — Floods — Lost Bullocks — Scarcity of Features on the Plains — Terraces — Crossing the Ashburton — Change of Weather — Roofless Hut — Brandy-keg.
I completed the loading of my dray on a Tuesday afternoon in the early part of October, 1860, and determined on making Main’s accommodation-house that night. Of the contents of the dray I need hardly speak, though perhaps a full enumeration of them might afford no bad index to the requirements of a station; they are more numerous than might at first be supposed — rigidly useful and rarely if ever ornamental.
Flour, tea, sugar, tools, household utensils few and rough, a plough and harrows, doors, windows, oats and potatoes for seed, and all the usual denizens of a kitchen garden; these, with a few private effects, formed the main bulk of the contents, amounting to about a ton and a half in weight. I had only six bullocks, but these were good ones, and worth many a team of eight; a team of eight will draw from two to three tons along a pretty good road. Bullocks are very scarce here; none are to be got under twenty pounds, while thirty pounds is no unusual price for a good harness bullock. They can do much more in harness than in bows and yokes, but the expense of harness and the constant disorder into which it gets, render it cheaper to use more bullocks in the simpler tackle. Each bullock has its name, and knows it as well as a dog does his. There is generally a tinge of the comic in the names given to them. Many stations have a small mob of cattle from whence to draw their working bullocks, so that a few more or a few less makes little or no difference. They are not fed with corn at accommodation-houses, as horses are; when their work is done, they are turned out to feed till dark, or till eight or nine o’clock. A bullock fills himself, if on pretty good feed, in about three or three and a half hours; he then lies down till very early morning, at which time the chances are ten to one that, awakening refreshed and strengthened, he commences to stray back along the way he came, or in some other direction; accordingly, it is a common custom, about eight or nine o’clock, to yard one’s team, and turn them out with the first daylight for another three or four hours’ feed. Yarding bullocks is, however, a bad plan. They do their day’s work of from fifteen to twenty miles, or sometimes more, at one spell, and travel at the rate of from two and a half to three miles an hour.
The road from Christ Church to Main’s is metalled for about four and a half miles; there are fences and fields on both sides, either laid down in English grass or sown with grain; the fences are chiefly low ditch and bank planted with gorse, rarely with quick, the scarcity of which detracts from the resemblance to English scenery which would otherwise prevail. The copy, however, is slatternly compared with the original; the scarcity of timber, the high price of labour, and the pressing urgency of more important claims upon the time of the small agriculturist, prevent him, for the most part, from attaining the spick-and-span neatness of an English homestead. Many makeshifts are necessary; a broken rail or gate is mended with a piece of flax, so, occasionally, are the roads. I have seen the Government roads themselves being repaired with no other material than stiff tussocks of grass, flax, and rushes: this is bad, but to a certain extent necessary, where there is so much to be done and so few hands and so little money with which to do it.
After getting off the completed portion of the road, the track commences along the plains unassisted by the hand of man. Before one, and behind one, and on either hand, waves the yellow tussock upon the stony plain, interminably monotonous. On the left, as you go southward, lies Banks Peninsula, a system of submarine volcanoes culminating in a flattened dome, little more than 3000 feet high. Cook called it Banks Island, either because it was an island in his day, or because no one, to look at it, would imagine that it was anything else. Most probably the latter is the true reason; though, as the land is being raised by earthquakes, it is just possible that the peninsula may have been an island in Cook’s days, for the foot of the peninsula is very little above the sea-level. It is indeed true that the harbour of Wellington has been raised some feet since the foundation of the settlement, but the opinion here is general that it must have been many centuries since the peninsula was an island.
On the right, at a considerable distance, rises the long range of mountains which the inhabitants of Christ Church suppose to be the backbone of the island, and which they call the Snowy Range. The real axis of the island, however, lies much farther back, and between it and the range now in sight the land has no rest, but is continually steep up and steep down, as if Nature had determined to try how much mountain she could place upon a given space; she had, however, still some regard for utility, for the mountains are rarely precipitous — very steep, often rocky and shingly when they have attained a great elevation, but seldom, if ever, until in immediate proximity to the West Coast range, abrupt like the descent from the top of Snowdon towards Capel Curig or the precipices of Clogwyn du’r arddu. The great range is truly Alpine, and the front range occasionally reaches an altitude of nearly 7000 feet.
The result of this absence of precipice is, that there are no waterfalls in the front ranges and few in the back, and these few very insignificant as regards the volume of the water. In Switzerland one has the falls of the Rhine, of the Aar, the Giesbach, the Staubbach, and cataracts great and small innumerable; here there is nothing of the kind, quite as many large rivers, but few waterfalls, to make up for which the rivers run with an almost incredible fall. Mount Peel is twenty-five miles from the sea, and the river-bed of the Rangitata underneath that mountain is 800 feet above the sea line, the river running in a straight course though winding about in its wasteful river-bed. To all appearance it is running through a level plain. Of the remarkable gorges through which each river finds its way out of the mountains into the plains I must speak when I take my dray through the gorge of the Ashburton, though this is the least remarkable of them all; in the meantime I must return to the dray on its way to Main’s, although I see another digression awaiting me as soon as I have got it two miles ahead of its present position.
It is tedious work keeping constant company with the bullocks; they travel so slowly. Let us linger behind and sun ourselves upon a tussock or a flax bush, and let them travel on until we catch them up again.
They are now going down into an old river-bed formerly tenanted by the Waimakiriri, which then flowed into Lake Ellesmere, ten or a dozen miles south of Christ Church, and which now enters the sea at Kaiapoi, twelve miles north of it; besides this old channel, it has others which it has discarded with fickle caprice for the one in which it happens to be flowing at present, and which there appears some reason for thinking it is soon going to tire of. If it eats about a hundred yards more of its gravelly bank in one place, the river will find an old bed several feet lower than its present; this bed will conduct it into Christ Church. Government had put up a wooden defence, at a cost of something like 2000 pounds, but there was no getting any firm starting-ground, and a few freshes carried embankment, piles, and all away, and ate a large slice off the bank into the bargain; there is nothing for it but to let the river have its own way. Every fresh changes every ford, and to a certain extent alters every channel; after any fresh the river may shift its course directly on to the opposite side of its bed, and leave Christ Church in undisturbed security for centuries; or, again, any fresh may render such a shift in the highest degree improbable, and sooner or later seal the fate of our metropolis. At present no one troubles his head much about it, although a few years ago there was a regular panic upon the subject.
These old river channels, or at any rate channels where portions of the rivers have at one time come down, are everywhere about the plains, but the nearer you get to a river the more you see of them; on either side the Rakaia, after it has got clear of the gorge, you find channel after channel, now completely grassed over for some miles, betraying the action of river water as plainly as possible. The rivers after leaving their several gorges lie, as it were, on the highest part of a huge fanlike delta, which radiates from the gorge down to the sea; the plains are almost entirely, for many miles on either side the rivers, composed of nothing but stones, all betraying the action of water. These stones are so closely packed, that at times one wonders how the tussocks and fine, sweet undergrowth can force their way up through them, and even where the ground is free from stones at the surface I am sure that at a little distance below stones would be found packed in the same way. One cannot take one’s horse out of a walk in many parts of the plains when off the track — I mean, one cannot without doing violence to old-world notions concerning horses’ feet.
I said the rivers lie on the highest part of the delta; not always the highest, but seldom the lowest. There is reason to believe that in the course of centuries they oscillate from side to side. For instance, four miles north of the Rakaia there is a terrace some twelve or fourteen feet high; the water in the river is nine feet above the top of this terrace. To the eye of the casual observer there is no perceptible difference between the levels, still the difference exists and has been measured. I am no geologist myself, but have been informed of this by one who is in the Government Survey Office, and upon whose authority I can rely.
The general opinion is that the Rakaia is now tending rather to the northern side. A fresh comes down upon a crumbling bank of sand and loose shingle with incredible force, tearing it away hour by hour in ravenous bites. In fording the river one crosses now a considerable stream on the northern side, where four months ago there was hardly any; while after one has done with the water part of the story, there remains a large extent of river-bed, in the process of gradually being covered with cabbage-trees, flax, tussock, Irishman, and other plants and evergreens; yet after one is once clear of the blankets (so to speak) of the river-bed, the traces of the river are no fresher on the southern than on the northern side, even if so fresh.
The plains, at first sight, would appear to have been brought down by the rivers from the mountains. The stones upon them are all water-worn, and they are traversed by a great number of old water-courses, all tending more or less from the mountains to the sea. How, then, are we to account for the deep and very wide channels cut by the rivers? — for channels, it may be, more than a mile broad, and flanked on either side by steep terraces, which, near the mountains, are several feet high? If the rivers cut these terraces, and made these deep channels, the plains must have been there already for the rivers to cut them. It must be remembered that I write without any scientific knowledge.
How, again, are we to account for the repetition of the phenomenon exhibited by the larger rivers, in every tributary, small or great, from the glaciers to the sea? They are all as like as pea to pea in principle, though of course varying in detail. Yet every trifling watercourse, as it emerges from mountainous to level ground, presents the same phenomenon, namely, a large gully, far too large for the water which could ever have come down it, gradually widening out, and then disappearing. The general opinion here among the reputed cognoscenti is, that all these gullies were formed in the process of the gradual upheaval of the island from the sea, and that the plains were originally sea-bottoms, slowly raised, and still slowly raising themselves. Doubtless, the rivers brought the stones down, but they were deposited in the sea.
The terraces, which are so abundant all over the back country, and which rise, one behind another, to the number, it may be, of twenty or thirty, with the most unpicturesque regularity (on my run there are fully twenty), are supposed to be elevated sea-beaches. They are to be seen even as high as four or five thousand feet above the level of the sea, and I doubt not that a geologist might find traces of them higher still.
Therefore, though, when first looking at the plains and river-bed flats which are so abundant in the back country, one might be inclined to think that no other agent than the rivers themselves had been at work, and though, when one sees the delta below, and the empty gully above, like a minute-glass after the egg has been boiled — the top glass empty of the sand, and the bottom glass full of it — one is tempted to rest satisfied; yet when we look closer, we shall find that more is wanted in order to account for the phenomena exhibited, and the geologists of the island supply that more, by means of upheaval.
I pay the tribute of a humble salaam to science, and return to my subject.
We crossed the old river-bed of the Waimakiriri, and crawled slowly on to Main’s, through the descending twilight. One sees Main’s about six miles off, and it appears to be about six hours before one reaches it. A little hump for the house, and a longer hump for the stables.
The tutu not having yet begun to spring, I yarded my bullocks at Main’s. This demands explanation. Tutu is a plant which dies away in the winter, and shoots up anew from the old roots in spring, growing from six inches to two or three feet in height, sometimes even to five or six. It is of a rich green colour, and presents, at a little distance, something the appearance of myrtle. On its first coming above the ground it resembles asparagus. I have seen three varieties of it, though I am not sure whether two of them may not be the same, varied somewhat by soil and position. The third grows only in high situations, and is unknown upon the plains; it has leaves very minutely subdivided, and looks like a fern, but the blossom and seed are nearly identical with the other varieties. The peculiar property of the plant is, that, though highly nutritious both for sheep and cattle when eaten upon a tolerably full stomach, it is very fatal upon an empty one. Sheep and cattle eat it to any extent, and with perfect safety, when running loose on their pasture, because they are then always pretty full; but take the same sheep and yard them for some few hours, or drive them so that they cannot feed, then turn them into tutu, and the result is that they are immediately attacked with apoplectic symptoms, and die unless promptly bled. Nor does bleeding by any means always save them. The worst of it is, that when empty they are keenest after it, and nab it in spite of one’s most frantic appeals, both verbal and flagellatory. Some say that tutu acts like clover, and blows out the stomach, so that death ensues. The seed-stones, however, contained in the dark pulpy berry, are poisonous to man, and superinduce apoplectic symptoms. The berry (about the size of a small currant) is rather good, though (like all the New Zealand berries) insipid, and is quite harmless if the stones are not swallowed. Tutu grows chiefly on and in the neighbourhood of sandy river-beds, but occurs more or less all over the settlement, and causes considerable damage every year. Horses won’t touch it.
As, then, my bullocks could not get tuted on being turned out empty, I yarded them. The next day we made thirteen miles over the plains to the Waikitty (written Waikirikiri) or Selwyn. Still the same monotonous plains, the same interminable tussock, dotted with the same cabbage-trees.
On the morrow, ten more monotonous miles to the banks of the Rakaia. This river is one of the largest in the province, second only to the Waitaki. It contains about as much water as the Rhone above Martigny, perhaps even more, but it rather resembles an Italian than a Swiss river. With due care, it is fordable in many places, though very rarely so when occupying a single channel. It is, however, seldom found in one stream, but flows, like the rest of these rivers, with alternate periods of rapid and comparatively smooth water every few yards. The place to look for a ford is just above a spit where the river forks into two or more branches; there is generally here a bar of shingle with shallow water, while immediately below, in each stream, there is a dangerous rapid. A very little practice and knowledge of each river will enable a man to detect a ford at a glance. These fords shift every fresh. In the Waimakiriri or Rangitata, they occur every quarter of a mile or less; in the Rakaia, you may go three or four miles for a good one. During a fresh, the Rakaia is not fordable, at any rate, no one ought to ford it; but the two first-named rivers may be crossed, with great care, in pretty heavy freshes, without the water going higher than the knees of the rider. It is always, however, an unpleasant task to cross a river when full without a thorough previous acquaintance with it; then, a glance at the colour and consistency of the water will give a good idea whether the fresh is coming down, at its height, or falling. When the ordinary volume of the stream is known, the height of the water can be estimated at a spot never before seen with wonderful correctness. The Rakaia sometimes comes down with a run — a wall of water two feet high, rolling over and over, rushes down with irresistible force. I know a gentleman who had been looking at some sheep upon an island in the Rakaia, and, after finishing his survey, was riding leisurely to the bank on which his house was situated. Suddenly, he saw the river coming down upon him in the manner I have described, and not more than two or three hundred yards off. By a forcible application of the spur, he was enabled to reach terra firma, just in time to see the water sweeping with an awful roar over the spot that he had been traversing not a second previously. This is not frequent: a fresh generally takes four or five hours to come down, and from two days to a week, ten days, or a fortnight, to subside again.
If I were to speak of the rise of the Rakaia, or rather of the numerous branches which form it; of their vast and wasteful beds; the glaciers that they spring from, one of which comes down half-way across the river-bed (thus tending to prove that the glaciers are descending, for the river-bed is both above and below the glacier); of the wonderful gorge with its terraces rising shelf upon shelf, like fortifications, many hundred feet above the river; the crystals found there, and the wild pigs — I should weary the reader too much, and fill half a volume: the bullocks must again claim our attention, and I unwillingly revert to my subject.
On the night of our arrival at the Rakaia I did not yard the bullocks, as they seemed inclined to stay quietly with some others that were about the place; next morning they were gone. Were they up the river, or down the river, across the river, or gone back? You are at Cambridge, and have lost your bullocks. They were bred in Yorkshire, but have been used a good deal in the neighbourhood of Dorchester, and may have consequently made in either direction; they may, however, have worked down the Cam, and be in full feed for Lynn; or, again, they may be snugly stowed away in a gully half-way between the Fitzwilliam Museum and Trumpington. You saw a mob of cattle feeding quietly about Madingley on the preceding evening, and they may have joined in with these; or were they attracted by the fine feed in the neighbourhood of Cherryhinton? Where shall you go to look for them?
Matters in reality, however, are not so bad as this. A bullock cannot walk without leaving a track, if the ground he travels on is capable of receiving one. Again, if he does not know the country in advance of him, the chances are strong that he has gone back the way he came; he will travel in a track if he happens to light on one; he finds it easier going. Animals are cautious in proceeding onwards when they don’t know the ground. They have ever a lion in their path until they know it, and have found it free from beasts of prey. If, however, they have been seen heading decidedly in any direction over-night, in that direction they will most likely be found sooner or later. Bullocks cannot go long without water. They will travel to a river, then they will eat, drink, and be merry, and during that period of fatal security they will be caught.
Ours had gone back ten miles, to the Waikitty; we soon obtained clues as to their whereabouts, and had them back again in time to proceed on our journey. The river being very low, we did not unload the dray and put the contents across in the boat, but drove the bullocks straight through. Eighteen weary monotonous miles over the same plains, covered with the same tussock grass, and dotted with the same cabbage-trees. The mountains, however, grew gradually nearer, and Banks Peninsula dwindled perceptibly. That night we made Mr. M-‘s station, and were thankful.
Again we did not yard the bullocks, and again we lost them. They were only five miles off, but we did not find them till afternoon, and lost a day. As they had travelled in all nearly forty miles, I had had mercy upon them, intending that they should fill themselves well during the night, and be ready for a long pull next day. Even the merciful man himself, however, would except a working bullock from the beasts who have any claim upon his good feeling. Let him go straining his eyes examining every dark spot in a circumference many long miles in extent. Let him gallop a couple of miles in this direction and the other, and discover that he has only been lessening the distance between himself and a group of cabbage-trees; let him feel the word “bullock” eating itself in indelible characters into his heart, and he will refrain from mercy to working bullocks as long as he lives. But as there are few positive pleasures equal in intensity to the negative one of release from pain, so it is when at last a group of six oblong objects, five dark and one white, appears in remote distance, distinct and unmistakable. Yes, they are our bullocks; a sigh of relief follows, and we drive them sharply home, gloating over their distended tongues and slobbering mouths. If there is one thing a bullock hates worse than another it is being driven too fast. His heavy lumbering carcase is mated with a no less lumbering soul. He is a good, slow, steady, patient slave if you let him take his own time about it; but don’t hurry him. He has played a very important part in the advancement of civilisation and the development of the resources of the world, a part which the more fiery horse could not have played; let us then bear with his heavy trailing gait and uncouth movements; only next time we will keep him tight, even though he starve for it. If bullocks be invariably driven sharply back to the dray, whenever they have strayed from it, they will soon learn not to go far off, and will be cured even of the most inveterate vagrant habits.
Now we follow up one branch of the Ashburton, and commence making straight for the mountains; still, however, we are on the same monotonous plains, and crawl our twenty miles with very few objects that can possibly serve as landmarks. It is wonderful how small an object gets a name in the great dearth of features. Cabbage-tree hill, half-way between Main’s and the Waikitty, is an almost imperceptible rise some ten yards across and two or three feet high: the cabbage-trees have disappeared. Between the Rakaia and Mr. M-‘s station is a place they call the half-way gully, but it is neither a gully nor half-way, being only a grip in the earth, causing no perceptible difference in the level of the track, and extending but a few yards on either side of it. So between Mr. M-‘s and the next halting-place (save two sheep-stations) I remember nothing but a rather curiously shaped gowai-tree, and a dead bullock, that can form milestones, as it were, to mark progress. Each person, however, for himself makes innumerable ones, such as where one peak in the mountain range goes behind another, and so on.
In the small River Ashburton, or rather in one of its most trivial branches, we had a little misunderstanding with the bullocks; the leaders, for some reason best known to themselves, slewed sharply round, and tied themselves into an inextricable knot with the polars, while the body bullocks, by a manoeuvre not unfrequent, shifted, or as it is technically termed slipped, the yoke under their necks, and the bows over; the off bullock turning upon the near side and the near bullock upon the off. By what means they do this I cannot explain, but believe it would make a conjuror’s fortune in England. How they got the chains between their legs and how they kicked to liberate themselves, how we abused them, and, finally, unchaining them, set them right, I need not here particularise; we finally triumphed, but this delay caused us not to reach our destination till after dark.
Here the good woman of the house took us into her confidence in the matter of her corns, from the irritated condition of which she argued that bad weather was about to ensue. The next morning, however, we started anew, and, after about three or four miles, entered the valley of the south and larger Ashburton, bidding adieu to the plains completely.
And now that I approach the description of the gorge, I feel utterly unequal to the task, not because the scene is awful or beautiful, for in this respect the gorge of the Ashburton is less remarkable than most, but because the subject of gorges is replete with difficulty, and I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of the phenomena they exhibit. It is not, however, my province to attempt this. I must content myself with narrating what I see.
First, there is the river, flowing very rapidly upon a bed of large shingle, with alternate rapids and smooth places, constantly forking and constantly reuniting itself like tangled skeins of silver ribbon surrounding lozenge-shaped islets of sand and gravel. On either side is a long flat composed of shingle similar to the bed of the river itself, but covered with vegetation, tussock, and scrub, with fine feed for sheep or cattle among the burnt Irishman thickets. The flat is some half-mile broad on each side the river, narrowing as the mountains draw in closer upon the stream. It is terminated by a steep terrace. Twenty or thirty feet above this terrace is another flat, we will say semicircular, for I am generalising, which again is surrounded by a steeply sloping terrace like an amphitheatre; above this another flat, receding still farther back, perhaps half a mile in places, perhaps almost close above the one below it; above this another flat, receding farther, and so on, until the level of the plain proper, or highest flat, is several hundred feet above the river. I have not seen a single river in Canterbury which is not more or less terraced even below the gorge. The angle of the terrace is always very steep: I seldom see one less than 45 degrees. One always has to get off and lead one’s horse down, except when an artificial cutting has been made, or advantage can be taken of some gully that descends into the flat below. Tributary streams are terraced in like manner on a small scale, while even the mountain creeks repeat the phenomena in miniature: the terraces being always highest where the river emerges from its gorge, and slowly dwindling down as it approaches the sea, till finally, instead of the river being many hundred feet below the level of the plains, as is the case at the foot of the mountains, the plains near the sea are considerably below the water in the river, as on the north side of the Rakaia, before described.
Our road lay up the Ashburton, which we had repeatedly to cross and recross.
A dray going through a river is a pretty sight enough when you are utterly unconcerned in the contents thereof; the rushing water stemmed by the bullocks and the dray, the energetic appeals of the driver to Tommy or Nobbler to lift the dray over the large stones in the river, the creaking dray, the cracking whip, form a tout ensemble rather agreeable than otherwise. But when the bullocks, having pulled the dray into the middle of the river, refuse entirely to pull it out again; when the leaders turn sharp round and look at you, or stick their heads under the bellies of the polars; when the gentle pats on the forehead with the stock of the whip prove unavailing, and you are obliged to have recourse to strong measures, it is less agreeable: especially if the animals turn just after having got your dray half-way up the bank, and, twisting it round upon a steeply inclined surface, throw the centre of gravity far beyond the base: over goes the dray into the water. Alas, my sugar! my tea! my flour! my crockery! It is all over — drop the curtain.
I beg to state my dray did not upset this time, though the centre of gravity fell far without the base: what Newton says on that subject is erroneous; so are those illustrations of natural philosophy, in which a loaded dray is represented as necessarily about to fall, because a dotted line from the centre of gravity falls outside the wheels. It takes a great deal more to upset a well-loaded dray than one would have imagined, although sometimes the most unforeseen trifle will effect it. Possibly the value of the contents may have something to do with it; but my ideas are not yet fully formed upon the subject.
We made about seventeen miles and crossed the river ten times, so that the bullocks, which had never before been accustomed to river-work, became quite used to it, and manageable, and have continued so ever since.
We halted for the night at a shepherd’s hut: awakening out of slumber I heard the fitful gusts of violent wind come puff, puff, buffet, and die away again; nor’-wester all over. I went out and saw the unmistakable north-west clouds tearing away in front of the moon. I remembered Mrs. W-‘s corns, and anathematised them in my heart.
It may be imagined that I turned out of a comfortable bed, slipped on my boots, and then went out; no such thing: we were all lying in our clothes with one blanket between us and the bare floor — our heads pillowed on our saddle-bags.
The next day we made only three miles to Mr. P-‘s station. There we unloaded the dray, greased it, and restored half the load, intending to make another journey for the remainder, as the road was very bad.
One dray had been over the ground before us. That took four days to do the first ten miles, and then was delayed several weeks on the bank of the Rangitata by a series of very heavy freshes, so we determined on trying a different route: we got farther on our first day than our predecessor had done in two, and then Possum, one of the bullocks, lay down (I am afraid he had had an awful hammering in a swampy creek where he had stuck for two hours), and would not stir an inch; so we turned them all adrift with their yokes on (had we taken them off we could not have yoked them up again), whereat Possum began feeding in a manner which plainly showed that there had not been much amiss with him. But during the interval that elapsed between our getting into the swampy creek and getting out of it a great change had come over the weather. While poor Possum was being chastised I had been reclining on the bank hard by, and occasionally interceding for the unhappy animal, the men were all at him (but what is one to do if one’s dray is buried nearly to the axle in a bog, and Possum won’t pull?); so I was taking it easy, without coat or waistcoat, and even then feeling as if no place could be too cool to please me, for the nor’-wester was still blowing strong and intensely hot, when suddenly I felt a chill, and looking at the lake below saw that the white-headed waves had changed their direction, and that the wind had chopped round to sou’-west.
We left the dray and went on some two or three miles on foot for the purpose of camping where there was firewood. There was a hut, too, in the place for which we were making. It was not yet roofed, and had neither door nor window; but as it was near firewood and water we made for it, had supper, and turned in.
In the middle of the night someone, poking his nose out of his blanket, informed us that it was snowing, and in the morning we found it continuing to do so, with a good sprinkling on the ground. We thought nothing of it, and, returning to the dray, found the bullocks, put them to, and started on our way; but when we came above the gully, at the bottom of which the hut lay, we were obliged to give in. There was a very bad creek, which we tried in vain for an hour or so to cross. The snow was falling very thickly, and driving right into the bullocks’ faces. We were all very cold and weary, and determined to go down to the hut again, expecting fine weather in the morning. We carried down a kettle, a camp oven, some flour, tea, sugar, and salt beef; also a novel or two, and the future towels of the establishment, which wanted hemming; also the two cats. Thus equipped we went down the gulley, and got back to the hut about three o’clock in the afternoon. The gulley sheltered us, and there the snow was kind and warm, though bitterly cold on the terrace. We threw a few burnt Irishman sticks across the top of the walls, and put a couple of counterpanes over them, thus obtaining a little shelter near the fire. The snow inside the hut was about six inches deep, and soon became sloppy, so that at night we preferred to make a hole in the snow and sleep outside.
The fall continued all that night, and in the morning we found ourselves thickly covered. It was still snowing hard, so there was no stirring. We read the novels, hemmed the towels, smoked, and took it philosophically. There was plenty of firewood to keep us warm. By night the snow was fully two feet thick everywhere, and in the drifts five and six feet. I determined that we would have some grog, and had no sooner hinted the bright idea than two volunteers undertook the rather difficult task of getting it. The terrace must have been 150 feet above the hut; it was very steep, intersected by numerous gullies filled with deeply drifted snow; from the top it was yet a full quarter of a mile to the place where we had left the dray. Still the brave fellows, inspired with hope, started in full confidence, while we put our kettle on the fire and joyfully awaited their return. They had been gone at least two hours, and we were getting fearful that they had broached the cask and helped themselves too liberally on the way, when they returned in triumph with the two-gallon keg, vowing that never in their lives before had they worked so hard. How unjustly we had suspected them will appear in the sequel.
Great excitement prevailed over drawing the cork. It was fast; it broke the point of someone’s knife. “Shove it in,” said I, breathless with impatience; no — no — it yielded, and shortly afterwards, giving up all opposition, came quickly out. A tin pannikin was produced. With a gurgling sound out flowed the precious liquid. “Halloa!” said one; “it’s not brandy, it’s port wine.” “Port wine!” cried another; “it smells more like rum.” I voted for its being claret; another moment, however, settled the question, and established the contents of the cask as being excellent vinegar. The two unfortunate men had brought the vinegar keg instead of the brandy.
The rest may be imagined. That night, however, two of us were attacked with diarrhoea, and the vinegar proved of great service, for vinegar and water is an admirable remedy for this complaint.
The snow continued till afternoon the next day. It then sulkily ceased, and commenced thawing. At night it froze very hard indeed, and the next day a nor’-wester sprang up which made the snow disappear with the most astonishing rapidity. Not having then learnt that no amount of melting snow will produce any important effect upon the river, and, fearing that it might rise, we determined to push on: but this was as yet impossible. Next morning, however, we made an early start, and got triumphantly to our journey’s end at about half-past ten o’clock. My own country, which lay considerably lower, was entirely free of snow, while we learnt afterwards that it had never been deeper than four inches.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48