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HOME > Short Stories > Five Years in New Zealand 1859 to 1864 > CHAPTER XVIII.
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    Death of Parker—Royal Mail Robbed by a Cat—Meet with Accident Crossing River.

During our absence a sad occurrence took place, which I will record here. A Mr. Parks, a Government surveyor, and well-to-do sheep farmer on the Ashburton, had been engaged during the previous year in making surveys on the Rakia and Ashburton, and on his staff was a young man named Parker. This lad was another instance of the ideas some home people entertain, that for a youngster without intellect, energy, or application sufficient to obtain him entrance to a profession in England, the Colonies are the proper place. In their opinion he must get on there, or at any rate, he will be got rid of. The latter may be true enough, but as regards the former, the proofs are few indeed.

Parker was a weak, good natured, feckless lad, about eighteen or twenty years of age, and the only thing he appeared to be able to make anything of was playing the fiddle. Wherever he went his violin accompanied him. While fiddling he was happy, but it was pitiful to watch him trying to work at or take an interest in any employment which he could neither appreciate nor understand.

The survey party had proceeded up the gorge of the Rakia, and were absent about a fortnight, when Mr. Parks, requiring to send back to his station for some instrument he had forgotten, and Parker being the least useful hand on the survey, he decided to send him. The distance was twenty miles, and the route was across the open plain leading for a part of the way along the river. He was to go on foot, and put up the first night at Grey\'s station, about half-way.

Between the Camp and Grey\'s the path led along the bank of the Rakia, which was here very steep, upwards of a hundred feet perpendicularly above the riverbed, and occasionally subject to landslips.

A week passed without the return of Parker, and Mr. Parks, getting concerned for the lad\'s safety, despatched a messenger for information, when it was found that Parker had not appeared either at Grey\'s, or his own station, and[Pg 95] for another week inquiries were made for him in every direction in vain.

At about the end of the second week from the date of Parker leaving the survey camp, a shepherd of Grey\'s, happening to descend into the Rakia river bed in search of some wandering sheep, came upon a roll of red blankets lying at the foot of a landslip. Going up, he found it to contain the body of a man half decomposed, and being eaten by rats. Upon the ground alongside was a pocket-book containing writing and a pencil.

The shepherd, taking the pocket-book, returned speedily to Grey\'s. Upon examination the book was found to contain a diary of five days, written by the unfortunate Parker, before he died of starvation, thirst, and a broken leg, at the foot of the landslip.

From the entries it appeared that he had been fiddling along (in his usual absent manner, no doubt) very close to the edge of the Rakia bank, when a portion of it gave way under his feet, and he fell sliding and tumbling until he reached the bottom on a bed of shingle, his leg broken, and his body bruised and shattered. He succeeded in loosening the swag of blankets he had strapped on his back, wrapped them round him and lay down, occasionally calling, and always hoping against hope that some one would discover him. It was a vain hope, poor chap—not twice in a year\'s space was a human being seen on that wild river bed. He lived for five days in the agonies of hunger, thirst and despair, not even a drop of water could he reach, although the river ran within twenty yards of him, and at last death mercifully put an end to his misery.

I now returned to work, continuing at the same time the study of my books, which I kept at the Ashburton, to fit me for the duties of surveyor and contractor. I was deriving a good return from my sheep and could add yearly to their number. During the remainder of the summer and autumn I worked steadily at bush work, hut-building and run-fencing, and when the winter set in I rigged up a hut in the forest, where I lived alone and earned a good return for my time in felling and cutting-up firewood for which I received from the squatters—I think—ten shillings a cord, 9 ft. by 4 ft. by 4 ft. The Ashburton Valley road had been greatly improved, and the weekly mail which hitherto ran between Christchurch and Dunedin was now made bi-weekly, and the stations on the Ashburton and Rangitata gorges arranged[Pg 96] for a regular postman on horseback to fetch the mail from the Ashburton immediately on arrival, in lieu of the old plan of having it conveyed from one station to another by private messengers.

I recollect a ridiculous accident which happened to one of these mail carriers, who had been despatched to fetch mails across the plains. I do not think I mentioned that there were numbers of wild cats to be met with all over the country. They were not indigenous, but domestic animals or their descendants gone wild, and with their wild existence they engendered a considerable addition of strength and fierceness. The shepherd\'s dog was the natural enemy of these animals.

On the occasion to which I refer, the messenger, an old Irish servant of Mr. Rowley\'s, wa............
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