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HOME > Short Stories > Five Years in New Zealand 1859 to 1864 > CHAPTER VII.
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    I join a Survey Party—Travel to the Ashburton.

The survey party consisted of a Government Surveyor Mr. D——, his assistant H——, and myself, with a few labourers, and our destination was Lake Ellesmere, some 15 to 20 miles down the coast, where a dispute between the squatters and the Provincial Government boundaries was to be decided.

We started in a rough kind of two-wheeled cart, into which Mr. D——, H——, and I, with our provisions for ten days and the survey instruments, were all packed together with our respective swags of blankets and the cooking utensils. This vehicle was pulled by one horse, and as we had no tents we would have to camp out most of the time.

We reached our destination the same evening, when, tethering the horse, we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable for the night round a camp fire, whereon we boiled our tea and fried chops, and after placing the usual damper under the hot ashes so as to be ready for the morning, we rolled our blankets around us and with feet to the fire, slept soundly.

My duties consisted in dragging the chain or humping a theodolite knee deep in water or swamp, but I learned much even in this short experience which proved of subsequent value.

On our return, Mr. D—— had to diverge to a small farm, if it could be called such, owned by two brothers named Drew, having some work to look into for them. These Drews were the sons of a clergymen in England, and they had lately come to New Zealand with a little money and no experience, taken a small tract of land in this swampy wilderness, and settled down to farm it. The buildings consisted of a wretched mud hut, some twelve feet square, a small yard, and a few pigsties. What a habitation it was, and what filth and absence of management was apparent all over it! Failure was stamped on these men, and on their surroundings; it was clear they could not succeed, and yet they were not drunkards or scamps or reckless; on the contrary, they were quiet and good-natured, and appeared to[Pg 37] be hard-working, although it was difficult to see what work they really did.

For two days we stayed here, all five of us sleeping at night on the floor of the hut. There were no bunks. I was very glad when that duty was over.

These Drews soon after gave up the farm; one died, the other I saw two years afterwards, the part-proprietor of a glass and delph shop in Christchurch, but only for a time. That inevitable tendency to failure engraved on the Drews followed him to the glass shop, and the latter became, in due course, the sole property of Drew\'s partner.

If these men had gone upon a farm or sheep-run for two or three years\' apprenticeship, investing their money safely meanwhile, they might have become in a few more years, prosperous colonists. It was their absolute ignorance, added to a want of sufficient means to carry out what they undertook to do, that brought depression and failure upon them. And a percentage of the emigrants who go to the Colonies act under similar circumstances as they did, and from being on arrival strong, hopeful and brave, they, from lack of something in themselves or from want of the needful advice and sense to adopt it, gradually deteriorate past all recovery. I recollect the billiard-marker at one of the Christchurch hotels was the younger son of a baronet. He worked as billiard-marker for his food, and as much alcohol as he could get. I believe he was never unfit to mark, and never quite sober. He died at his post, but not before he had learned that he had succeeded to the baronetcy, and seen relatives who had come from home to search for and bring him back. It is a strange error of judgment which sends such men as this to the Colonies, but perhaps those who are responsible consider they are justified by the removal of the scapegrace and finally getting rid of him by any means.

On our return to Christchurch I met my old friend and fellow voyager T. Smith, who had just been appointed overseer of a sheep and cattle station down south. He pressed me to accompany him to the locality, pending arrival of letters from home, and as I had nothing just then on hand, I accepted his invitation. It seemed very apparent that I was fast becoming a rolling stone, but though I stuck to nothing long, it was not altogether my fault, and I was always at work, increasing my stock of experience, such as it was. This departure to Smith\'s station on the Ashburton led me away on an entirely new line for some time.[Pg 38]

The station to which Smith had been appointed overseer was about 100 miles from Christchurch. The owner did not live there, so the entire management was in Smith\'s hands. The route lay across the Canterbury plains by a defined cart track, with accommodation houses at certain distances along its course, so no camping out was needed.

The Canterbury Plains are supposed to be the finest in the world, extending as they do, about 150 miles in length by 40 to 60 in width, and over this immense space there was not a forest tree or scarcely a shrub of any size to be met with, except a description of palm, called cabbage trees, which grow in parts along the river beds, and occasionally dot the adjacent plain. The plains are almost perfectly flat, with no undulations more than a few feet in height. They are intersected every ten to twenty miles by wide shallow river beds, which during the summer months, when the warm nor\'-westers melt the snow and ice on the Alps, are often terrific torrents, impassable for days together, while at other times they are shingle interspersed with clear rapid streams, more or less shallow, and generally fordable with ordinary care. Some of the principal rivers such as the Rakaia, Rangatata an............
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