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CHAPTER IV.
    A Period of Uncertainty as to Occupation.—Eventually Leave for Nelson as Cadets on a Sheep Run.

On our return to Christchurch we were beset with a diversity of advice not calculated to bring us to a speedy decision. Some advised us to go on a sheep run for a year or two as cadets to learn the routine, with a view to obtaining thereafter an overseership, and in time a possible partnership. Others advised our setting up as carters between the Port and Christchurch, while, again, others recommended us to invest what money we possessed in land and take employment up country until we had saved enough to farm it. All advice was excellent, and had we decided on one line it would have been well, or if we had had fewer advisers perhaps it would have been better. We were waiting and talking about work instead of going at it, living at some expense, and keeping up appearances without means to support them. But it was not easy under the circumstances to decide. To go upon a sheep station and work as a labourer or overseer was very obnoxious to C——. With his home experience of farming he expected too much all at once, and naturally I was guided by him. Farming on a small scale, even if we had sufficient money to buy and work a farm, would not pay. There was not then a large enough home market for the crops produced. Land-holders held on, hoping that as the wealth of the Colony increased and the town extended and peopled, land would proportionately increase in value, and market for their produce would be found at home or abroad. But the Colony was then very young, and the staple produce of the country upon which everything depended was wool, which was only partially developed. The country was not then a tenth stocked. Sheep-farming was decidedly the thing to go in for whenever we could contrive to do so, but in the meantime what were we to take up for a living. The answer should have been simple enough. But, however, there is no need to dwell on our petty disappointments; they were only[Pg 20] what hundreds feel and have felt who have gone to the Colonies with too sanguine expectations that it was an easy and pleasant road to fortune. That it is a road to fortune is very true, if a young man is content and determined to begin at the beginning and go steadily on; but it is not always an easy road at first for the youngster who has very little or nothing to commence upon, especially if he be a gentleman born, and has only his hands to help him. He must put his pride in his pocket and learn to be content to be taken at his present value. If he does that he will find, that his birth and education will stand to him, and that no matter what occupation he may be forced to take up, if his life and conduct be manly and reliable he will command as much or more respect from his (for the time being) fellow workers as he would do under different circumstances. It is a huge mistake to suppose that the gentleman lowers himself anywhere—and especially in the Colonies—by undertaking any kind of manual labour. I have known the sons of gentlemen of good family working as bullock-drivers, shepherds, stockdrivers, bushmen, for a yearly wage, and nobody considered the employment derogatory. On the contrary, these are the men who get on and in time become wealthy.

A sad event occurred about this time, which, as it was in a way connected with our ship, I will relate here. It was the custom of Government at that time to send out to the Australian Colonies for employment as domestic servants, possibly wives for young colonists (women being much in the minority), a number of girls from the Reformatory Schools in London; and in the "Mary Anne" some twenty or thirty of them had arrived. While on board they were under the charge of matrons, and on arrival were received in a house maintained at Government expense, until they obtained service or were otherwise disposed of. This house was under the superintendence of a medical man, Dr. T——, whose acquaintance we had made on our first arrival. He was a middle-aged man, a thorough gentleman, a bachelor, and a great favourite in Christchurch society. Amongst the shipment of young women was a very handsome, ladylike, and well-educated girl, and an accomplished musician. The doctor was smitten, proposed to her, and married her quietly. On the day on which we first heard of the event we happened to be sitting with some acquaintances in the public room of the White Hart Hotel, when Dr. T—— entered, and walking over to the[Pg 21] fire, called for a glass of water, nodding to us all round in his usual friendly way. On receiving the water, he threw into it and stirred up a powder which he took from his pocket, and immediately drank off the mixture. "I\'ve done it now," he said; "I have taken strychnine!" and remained standing with his back to the fire in an unconcerned manner. We scarcely heeded his remark, taking it as a joke, till he suddenly crossed to a sofa, and called to us for God\'s sake to send for a doctor. One was sent for, but he arrived too late, if indeed his presence could have been of use at any time. A doctor knows how much to take to ensure death. After a few fits of convulsions, very terrible to witness, Dr. T—— was a corpse. The cause of his committing suicide was due to his discovery, very soon after his marriage, of the true character of the woman he had taken to his home.

I do not know whether the custom of sending out to the Colonies persons of this class still exists, but it certainly cannot be a good one, and I fear that but a very small percentage of them really turn over a new leaf. There must be now, at any rate, better means of disposing of the surplus members of reformatory establishments in the Old Country than sending them to run wild amidst the freedom and temptations of the new world—a custom as hurtful to them as to the Colony which receives them.

C—— and I at length decided to commence work as carriers; we rented a four-acre paddock, and built a small wooden hut, and were in treaty for the purchase of the necessary drays and teams, but it was all being done in a half-hearted way, as well as in opposition to the best of our advisers. C——\'s aversion to undertake anything where he was not entirely his own master was unconquerable. Doubtless the carrying business would have answered very well, for a time at any rate, and there was no actual hurry, so long as we were employed and earning a living, but it was not to be.

We were invited to meet at dinner at the Chief Justice\'s a Mr. and Mrs. Lee from Nelson Province. Mr. Lee was a large sheep-farmer, and before we left that evening we had accepted a most kind invitation from him to go to his run for a month or two at any rate, before deciding finally to take up the rough and uncertain business we had proposed for ourselves. The Judge so strongly advised this course for us both, that C—— could not refuse, although he was by[Pg 22] no means keen about it. The judge explained that the opportunity was an excellent one, and would in all probability lead to his (C——\'s) being offered the overseership, if he decided to take up the life after a fair trial. I did not know then, as I did soon after, that C—— had serious intentions of abandoning the country before giving it a fair trial; everything he saw was obnoxious to him, and he evidently yearned for his home in Ireland and his little farm again.

I purchased for my own use a small but powerful bay mare, C—— obtained a mount from Mr. Lee, and in the course of a few days we started in company with Mr. and Mrs. Lee, all on horseback, for their station of Highfield.

Highfield was, as well as I recollect, nearly three hundred miles from Christchurch, and we accomplished the distance in a little over a week, Mrs. Lee riding with us all the way. Indeed, there was no other means of travelling over that wild track, and she was, like most squatters\' wives in those days, an experienced horsewoman.

Our luggage was carried on three pack horses, which we drove before us, and in this manner we accomplished from thirty to forty miles each day.

At night we rested, either at a rough accommodation house (a kind of private hotel) or a squatter\'s station, and during the day\'s ride we sometimes halted for lunch at any convenient locality where we could find water to make tea and firewood to boil it with. Then the packs and saddles were removed from the horses, which were allowed to roll and feed on the native grass while we refreshed the inner man with the usual bush fare, of which a sufficient supply was carried with us.

After crossing the Hurunui river, the boundary between Canterbury and Nelson, we soon left the plains behind and entered a fine undulating country watered by abundant streams and some large rivers, which latter could be forded only with considerable care and judgment, being sometimes full of quicksands, and always rapid.

On approaching our destination, which, as its name implies, stood on an elevated situation, the gorges and river-bed flats, along which our track ran, narrowed and became more wooded and picturesque, till we at length passed through the narrow precipitous gorge that led us to the open plateau upon which the station buildings stood. These comprised the dwelling house, a long, low, commodious[Pg 23] building, furnished most comfortably in English fashion; the men\'s huts, comprising three sleeping rooms, the kitchen and dining-room for the hands, the store, dairy, etc., with an enclosed yard, formed one group, while at some distance away stood the woolshed and sheep yards, paddocks, stock yards for cattle and sheds for cows and working bullocks. In front of the dwelling was a pretty and rather extensive garden plot, through the centre of which wound a small stream of pure spring water. The entire group of buildings, with the garden, paddocks, etc., occupied the centre of a piece of undulating land, open towards the south, where a fine view of the country over which we had journeyed was visible, and on all other sides was bounded by hills, which to the north and west stretched away to the Alps. It was a grand site to make a home upon, although I could not help the feeling that it was a somewhat lonely one; the nearest neighbours were fifteen to twenty miles distant.

Mr. Lee\'s run comprised about 30,000 acres, principally hills, with occasional stretches of flat land upon which the cattle and horses grazed, while the sheep fed on the mountain sides.

We speedily fell into the life, and found it exhilarating. Mr. Lee was a fine specimen of the English country squire, a good horseman and sportsman, and he could put his hand to any kind of work. He had a large store and workshop near the yards, where every conceivable thing needed for use on a station so far from supplies was kept, and he was an excellent carpenter and smith. Indeed, a great portion of the rather extensive buildings and yards he had erected himself, with such assistance as he could derive from raw station hands, while only such articles as doors and windows, furniture, and suchlike were brought from Christchurch. The house walls, roofs, and floors were all of green timber cut in the neighbouring pine forest. The walls of the living houses were composed of a framing of round pine averaging 4 or 5 inches thick, covered on the outside with weather boarding, and on the inside with laths, the space between of four inches being filled with clay and chopped grass, and the whole surface afterwards plastered with clay and mud-washed. The roofs were made of pine framing covered with boards and pine shingles. The outbuildings were usually built with roughly squared framing to which heavy split slabs would be vertically fastened, the inside being left rough or plastered with mud as desired; and[Pg 24] the roofs were of round pine framing covered with rickers (young pine plants) and thatched with snow grass. Squatters soon learnt to be their own architects, and very good ones many of them turned out.

The country immediately surrounding the station was almost treeless, and Mr. Lee was doing a good deal of planting, and had a very fine garden under formation. Some two miles to the rear of the station, in a deep cleft of the hills, lay a considerable black and white pine forest. It is a peculiarity of New Zealand that the pine forests indigenous to that country (and which bear no similarity to European pines) are invariably found in more or less accurately defined patches, growing thickly and never scattered to any appreciable extent. One may ride twenty miles through spurs and hills with no vegetation on them, and then suddenly stumble on a densely wooded ravine or mountain side so accurately contained within itself as to lead one to imagine it had been originally planted.

Within twenty miles of Highfield was another station, called Parnassus, belonging to Mr. Edward Lee, our Mr. Lee\'s brother. We soon rode over to see him, and made excursions to other neighbours, none living nearer than ten miles.

There were upwards of one hundred horses at Highfield, including all ages and sexes, of which the main body of course ran wild, while a few were kept in paddocks for use. The horse Mrs. Lee rode from Christchurch was a new purchase and a very fine animal, named Maseppa, and, strange to say, although he carried her perfectly all the journey to Highfield, he had now, after a few weeks on the run, developed into a vicious buckjumper. One day, when Mr. Lee wanted to ride him, he was driven in with the mob and saddled. Immediately he was mounted the brute bucked and sent Mr. Lee flying. Fortunately the ground was soft, and he escaped with a few bruises. C—— then had a try, with more success, but the horse was never safe for a lady to ride, and he was soon after disposed of to a stock-rider on the Waiou.

It may be interesting here to give a general sketch of a sheep-farmer\'s life and work on his station, obtained from my experience at Highfield, and occasionally on other runs, during my five years\' residence in the country, and this I will endeavour to do in the next chapter.
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