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HOME > Short Stories > Five Years in New Zealand 1859 to 1864 > CHAPTER XIV.
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    Leave for Mesopotamia—Road Making—Sheep Mustering—Death of Dr. Sinclair—Road Contracts on the Ashburton—Washed down Stream.

I had only been a few days in Christchurch when I met a Mr. Butler whom I had once before seen up-country. He immediately offered me a post on his run at £60 a year, with all expenses paid, which I could hold for as long or short time as I needed. This exactly suited me in my present circumstances. I accepted his offer and started the following day for Mesopotamia, as he had quaintly named his station; it lay between two rivers.

Mesopotamia Station

Mesopotamia Station.

Mr. Samuel Butler was a grandson of the late famous Bishop Butler. He had come to New Zealand about a year previously with a small fortune which, as he said, he intended to double and then return home, and he did so in a remarkably short time. Immediately he landed he made himself acquainted with the maps and districts taken up, and rode many hundreds of miles prospecting for new country. His energy was rewarded by the discovery of the unclaimed piece of mountain land he now occupied near the upper gorge of the Rangitata. The run, which comprised about 8,000 acres, formed a series of spurs and slopes leading from the foot of the great range and ending in a broad strip of flat land bounded by the Rangitata. Upon two other sides were smaller streams, tributaries of the latter—hence the name Mesopotamia (between the rivers) given to it by its energetic possessor. Mr. Butler had been established upon the run about a year, and had already about 3,000 sheep on it. The homestead was built upon a little plateau on the edge of the downs approached by a cutting from the flat, and was most comfortably situated and well sheltered, as it needed to be, the weather being often exceedingly severe in that elevated locality.

Butler was a literary man, and his snug sitting-room was fitted with books and easy chairs—a piano also, upon which he was no mean performer.

The station hands comprised a shepherd, bullock driver, hutkeeper, and two station hands employed in fencing in[Pg 74] paddocks, which with Cook, the overseer, Butler, and myself made up the total.

At daybreak we all assembled in the common kitchen for breakfast, after which we separated for our different employments.

At 12 noon we met again for dinner, and again about 7 p.m. for supper, which meal being over, Butler, Cook, and I would repair to the sitting room, and round a glorious fire smoked or read or listened to Butler\'s piano. It was the most civilised experience I had had of up-country life since I left Highfield and was very enjoyable. I did not, however, remain very long at Mesopotamia at that time.

There was a proposal on foot to improve the track leading from the Ashburton to the Rangitata on which some heavy cuttings were required to be made. I applied for the contract and obtained it at rates which paid me very well. My supervisor was a man called Denny, who had been a sailor, and I knew him to be a capable and handy fellow, as most sailors are. He was quite illiterate—could not even read or write, but he was clever and intelligent and had seen a great deal of colonial life and some hard times. Every night when supper was over and we sat by the fire in our little hut, I read aloud, to his great delectation, and his remarks, pert questions, and wonderful memory were remarkable.

This work paid well, and I was soon in a position to make my first investment of £100 in sheep, which I placed on terms on Butler\'s run. To explain this transaction: I purchased one hundred two tooth ewes at a pound each, upon these I was to receive 45 per cent. increase yearly in lambs, half male and half female, and a similar rate of percentage of course on the female increase as they attained to breeding age. In addition I was to receive £12 10s. per hundred sheep for wool annually. It was a good commencement, and I decided to stick to contract work if possible, and increase my stock till I had sufficient to enable me to obtain a small partnership on a run.

Just at this time there arrived at Mesopotamia a friend of Butler\'s by name Brabazon, an Irishman of good family, it being his intention to remain for some time as a cadet to learn sheep farming. He became a great personal friend of Cook\'s and mine, and many a pleasant day we spent together when, during intervals of rest, I was able to pay a visit to the Rangitata Station.[Pg 75]

On the completion of the road contract, the mustering season had begun, and I went over with my men to give a hand and remained for a month assisting at the shearing, etc.

I think it was at this time that a most sad occurrence took place, resulting in the death of Dr. Sinclair, who was travelling for pleasure in company with Dr. Haast, Geologist and Botanist to the Government of Canterbury. He and Dr. Haast with their party had been staying at Mesopotamia for a few days previous to starting on an expedition to the upper gorge of the Rangitata. They all left one afternoon, Dr. Sinclair, as usual, on foot. He had an unaccountable aversion to mounting a horse, and could not be induced to do so when it was possible to avoid it. Strange to say, a horse was eventually the cause of his death. He was a man of some seventy years of age with snow white hair, a learned antiquary and botanist, and old as he was, and in appearance not of strong build, he could undergo great fatigue and walk huge distances in pursuit of his favourite science.

The party had proceeded in company some few miles up the river, when Haast and his men went ahead to select a camping place, leaving Dr. Sinclair with a man and horse in attendance to come on quietly and take him over the streams, the intended camp being on the opposite side of the river.

Upper Gorge of the Rangitata

Upper Gorge of the Rangitata.

The plan adopted for crossing a stream, when there is more than one person and only a single horse, is as follows: One end of a sufficiently long rope is fastened round the animal\'s neck, the other being held by one of the men. One then crosses the stream on horseback, when he dismounts, and the horse is hauled back by means of the rope, when another mounts, and so on. In this instance the attendant rode over first, but the stream being somewhat broader than the rope was long, the latter was pulled out of Dr. Sinclair\'s hands. The man then tried to turn the horse back loose, but the animal, finding himself free, bolted for the run. Dr. Sinclair called to the man that he would ford the stream on foot, and although, as the attendant stated, he warned him against attempting to do so, he immediately entered, but the current was too powerful and quickly washed him off his feet. It was now nearly dark and the man said that although he ran as fast as he was able down the stream, he was unable to see anything of the Doctor. This was the miserable story the station hand gave in at the homestead when he arrived an hour afterwards.[Pg 76]

All hands turned out, and having mounts in the paddock, Cook and Brabazon were soon in the saddle galloping towards the fording place. Striking the stream some distance below where the accident occurred, both sides were carefully searched, as they worked up. When within a quarter of a mile of the ford Cook discovered the body of the Doctor lying stranded with head and shoulders under water. Life, of course, was extinct. He was drawn gently from the stream and laid on the shingle just as the foot men arrived with torches. It was a sad spectacle, this fine old man we all loved and respected so much, only a few hours before full of life and health, now a ghastly corpse, his hair and long white beard lying dank over his cold white face and glaring eyes. The scene was rendered all the more weird and awful by the surroundings, the still dark night, the rushing water, and overhanging cliffs under the red glare of the torches. His body was laid across one of the saddles while one walked on each side to keep it from falling, and so they returned to the station that lonely four miles in the dead of night.

He was laid in the woolshed and a watch placed on guard, and early in the morning a messenger was despatched to Dr. Haast with the sad t............
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