Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1909.

Chapter VII. Travel and Its Incidents

"In journeyings often, in perils of rivers, .... in perils in the wilderness."--St. Paul.

By the end of his first year the bishop had visited well-nigh the whole of the inhabited portion of his diocese and had also journeyed to Auckland for the Conference which will be described in a subsequent chapter. He was now fairly inured to the hardships of his work; he had compiled a note-book full of valuable data as to distances and directions, tracks and fords, and he had made the acquaintance of the chief settlers along his lines of route. On his first journey his English politeness and inborn modesty had made it really difficult for him to walk up to a strange house expecting hospitality. Now he was sure of welcome, and the old hesitation no longer troubled him.

During the next ten years (1858-1867) the travelling increased in amount as new districts were opened up, and though it became gradually less difficult, it still afforded plenty of scope for incident and adventure. The heavily timbered Banks Peninsula presented many an obstacle to the wayfarer.

His first visits to the Bays were made on foot. On one occasion he was accompanied by Archdeacon Mathias, and after a long trudge they arrived at Wairewa (Little River). Here they were hospitably received by the Maoris, and in the guest-chamber the bishop enjoyed his usual sound sleep. Not so, however, his companion, who appeared next morning with rueful face, and confessed that he had passed a very restless night. "In fact, I could not sleep at all," said the Archdeacon, "my pillow seemed always cold, and was never easy." Upon investigation it was found that the pillow was indeed little likely to induce refreshing slumbers, for its stuffing consisted of live eels.

At a somewhat later date the Bishop was riding round the northern bays with a young clergyman (afterwards Archdeacon Lingard). They arrived at the foot of a hill so steep that it seemed impossible to climb.

"What are we to do, my lord?"

"Do as I do," said the Bishop. Thereupon he dismounted, put his horse to the hill, and grabbed his tail tightly. Up went the experienced animal, over the logs and tree-stumps; the bishop held on behind, and the difficulty was soon overcome. What would his English friends have said if they could have seen their old vicar engaged in such an acrobatic feat?

Something untoward, indeed, generally happened in this difficult though beautiful portion of the diocese. In 1858 it was constant rain on shore and contrary winds at sea; in 1859 it was a bush fire. In 1860 it was the snow. Some extracts from his diary will illustrate this and similar journeys.

"July 10th, 1860, Tuesday.--Fine day. Left Christehurch 10 a.m. Arrived at Governor's Bay 1.15. Called on Mr. Potts. Arrived at Purau 4 p.m. Called on Mr. Rhodes. Went on to Mr. Wood's and remained for the night. Evening prayer--'Palsied Man.'

July 11th, Wednesday.--Fine day. Rode on to Port Levi from 9.15. Monument 11.30. Mr. Cholmondeley's 12.15. Evening prayer--'Samaritan Woman.'

July 12th, Thursday.--Fine: wind from north-west. Left Port Levi with Mr. C. Cholmondeley 10.5. Arrived at Anderson's, 4.15. Snow on Mt. Herbert. Messrs. Anderson and Parsons had come eight or nine miles the previous night in search of me, supposing that I had been lost.

July 13th, Friday.--Dull: inclining to rain. Bain towards evening. Left Anderson's 10. Arrived at Akaroa 11.30. Visited candidates for confirmation.

July 14th, Saturday.--Heavy rain. No moving from the house--Mr. Aylmer's.

July 15th, Sunday.--Heavy rain. Service in the house.

July 16th, Monday.--Slight showers. Confirmation of seven candidates.

July 17th, Tuesday.--Tolerably fine. Left for Okain 's Bay, 10. Met on the top of the hill Mr. Torlesse. He returned with me. Bough riding--trees broken down by snow. Bridge destroyed in the entrance of Bay. Arrived at his house about 3.

July 18th, Wednesday.--Fine: occasional showers. Examined the school, especially the two upper classes. About 27 children present. Evening service in the chapel school. Preached on the 'Parable of the Prodigal Son.' People attentive. About 40 persons present.

July 19th, Thursday.--Wet morning. Had intended going to Akaloa on foot. Prevented by weather. Cleared up towards noon. Visited the reserve for churchyard, and promised to consecrate a part of it if enclosed.

July 20th, Friday.--Left Okain's Bay with Mr. Torlesse, 9.20. Arrived at Anderson's, 1 p.m. Dined, and on to Pigeon Bay. Boad shocking. Beached Mr. Sinclair's, by descending into the tide, about 5. Evening service--'I am the vine.'

July 21st, Saturday.--Fine. Left Mr. Sinclair's, 9.30. Arrived at the top of the hill 12.15, at Mr. Fleming's 1, at Mr. Cholmondeley's 1.45.

July 22nd, Sunday.--Very wet. Morning service in the house. Family present with two others.--'I am the vine.' Evening service--'The Prodigal Son.'

July 23rd, Monday.--Snow, hail, and rain. Bound to the house. Evening prayer--St. John xi., first part.

July 24th, Tuesday.--Fine, with occasional showers. Left about 10. Arrived at Mr. Wood's 1.15, through heavy snow on the hills and in the bush. Lunched, and on to Governor's Bay. Snow partially melted. Mountain torrents full and noisy. At Governor's Bay 4 p.m. Snow thicker on the ground, increasing in quantity on the ascent. Heavy drift on the descent. Path not easy to find. Arrived, however, safe at home, 7.30. All well at home. Deo Optimo Maximo sint gratiae per Jesum Dominum nostrum."

With this crossing of Dyer's Pass in the snow may be compared an earlier experience, when the bishop lost his way on the same hills and spent a whole Sunday morning struggling through the bush. It was Quinquagesima Sunday, 1858, when he left home to take a service at Governor's Bay. This is his account of the day:--

To Hoon Hay with L. Left home at 8.15, arrived at Hoon Hay 9.15. Bode up the hill: arrived at the summit about 10.15. Lost our way through the misdirection of a sawyer, and got entangled in the bush. Emerged on a ledge of rock, thickly covered with herbage, about 11.40; and having tethered our horses there, descended by steep gullies to Parsons'. Arrived there a quarter before 1. By 1 the family had returned from the temporary place of worship. Had evening service at the Parsons'. Present, the family and four others. Drank tea, ascended the hill in about an hour. Arrived at Mr. Cridland's 7 p.m. Home at 9,

North Canterbury presented fewer obstacles than the Peninsula, but there were rivers which were not always f ordable and tracks which could not always be found. The following extract will show the conditions of travel in weather which was not too good:--

Northern visitation.--April 10th, 1858, Saturday.--Started for Kaiapoi and on my northern visitation. Arrived at Kaiapoi 5 p.m. Mr. A. Blakiston's. Evening prayer. The Rev. W. W. Willoek subscribed the Declaration and took the oaths, and was licensed by me to the district of Papanui and Kaiapoi.

April 11th, Low Sunday.--Very wet south-wester. No service in church. Confirmation delayed. Service at Mr. Blakiston's. Present, four people.

April 12th, Monday.--Morning prayer. Saw Mr. Willoek. Arrived at Bangiora 5 p.m. Evening service. Present, four people.

April 13th, Tuesday.--Left for Fernside. Dined there, and rode on with Mr. H. Torlesse across the Moeraki Downs to the Gust Valley. Crossed the Oust with some difficulty, and arrived at Mr. Higgins', Gust Valley, about 6 p.m. Evening prayer.

April 14th, Wednesday.--Two baptisms. Dined at Mr. Sanderson's. Arrived at Mr. Cookson's 3.30. Mr. Cookson absent. Drank tea in the sawyers' hut. Slept at Mr. Cookson's. Evening prayers.

April 15th, Thursday.--Started at 10. Visited T. Marsh, junr. Bode on to Captain Milton's and dined there. Beturned partly by the same route, and arrived at Mr. White's. Service. Present, Mr. W. and three servants.

April 16th, Friday.--Bode on with Mr. White to the end of his run. Called at Mr. Dixon's; dined, and on to Captain Bowe's. Full evening service--'Parable of the Talents.' Seven present.

April 17th, Saturday.--Morning prayer. Bode on to Mr. Chapman's. Mr. C. absent. Rode on to Mr. Torlesse's, Fernside. Evening prayer. Men present.

April 18th, Sunday.--Dick gone off. Went in with Mr. Torlesse to Bangiora (a funeral). Evening service at Bangiora--school house. Well attended. Baptism.

April 19th, Monday.--Baptism. Dick found. Bode on to Mount Grey station. Called on the Captain Brindon's--living under canvas. Crossed the Ashley without difficulty. Arrived at Mrs. O'Connell's about 5. Evening prayers.

April 20th, Tuesday.--Remained at Mrs. O'Connell's. Bode out with her up the bed of the Kowai. Evening prayers.

April 21st, 22nd, and 23rd.--South-wester. Shut up in house.

April 24th, Saturday.--Fine day. Left Mrs. O'Connell's at 9 a.m. Called at Mr. Douglas'. Dined and rode across the plain and over the downs to Messrs. Marchant's and Polhill's. No one at home. Crossed the Waipara, and arrived at Mr. Meldrum's (Teviotdale). Mr. M. arrived in the evening. Evening service.

April 25th, Sunday.--Service at 11--Litany; I. Peter ii., 11. Twelve persons present. Walk after dinner. Service in the evening--'Ten Talents.'

April 26th, Monday.--Pine day. Bode on with Mr. Meldrum. Parted company about two miles from Teviotdale, and over the Limestone Bange to Mr. Caverhill's. Mr. C. and Mr. Templer absent. Service in the evening--'The Prodigal Son.' Well attended.

April 27th, Tuesday. Baptism. Bode on with George, a half-caste, over the hills in the direction of Mr. Moore's. Creeks impassable. Beturned to Mr. Caverhill's. Evening service--'The evil spirit east out.'

April 28th, Wednesday.--Returned to Mr. Meldrnm's after a vain attempt to get to Mr. Moore's by following down one of the spurs of the Limestone Bange. Hail and snow at intervals. Evening fine. Mr. D. only at home. Evening service.

April 29th, Thursday.--Fine day. Bode on from Teviotdale across the Waipara, crossing the stream three times before arriving on the plain. Arrived at Mr. Moore's about 1. Mr. M. absent. Mr. and Mrs. White, overseer. Bemained the rest of the day. Evening prayer--'Lord's Prayer".'

April 30th, Friday.--Wet morning. Started about 1, and crossing the bed of the Waipara passed through the Weka Pass towards Mr. Mason's. Old house unoccupied. On six miles further to new house. Mr. Mason absent. Present, three men. Evening prayer--'Prodigal Son.' Wool and tarpaulin bed.

May 1st, Saturday.--Fine day. Rode on to Messrs. Walker's and Mallock's station (Heathstock). Found it after some slight aberrations from the track. Crossed the Waipara too soon. Luncheon, and on to Mr. Young's. Evening prayer--'Lesson of the day.'

May 2nd, Sunday.--Morning service (six present)--'Importunate Widow and Publican.' Bode on about 12 o'clock with Mr. Young, across hills under a south-wester to Mr. Douglas'. Arrived about 4, thoroughly wet. Evening prayer.

May 3rd, Monday.--South-wester, no rain. On across the Kowai and down the left bank. Across a creek to Leith's Kowai Accommodation House. Thence across Saltwater Creek--Cameron's Accommodation House. Thence across the Ashley to Mr. Raven's. Dined, and on to Kaiapoi. Called at Mr. Wylde's, and on home in company with Mr. H. overseer of roads. All well at home. D.Q."

But it was the great Southern tour that still constituted the chief hardship. In 1858 the Bishop started somewhat earlier than the year before, and again spent about two months and a half on the journey. He was accompanied by his son Leonard, and rode "Dick" as before. Spending his nights with Messrs. C. P. Cox at the Springs, Chapman at Rakaia, Heyhurst, Gray and Scott, and McDonald at intervals further south, he reached Mr. Rhodes' Levels Station and held service there on the Sunday morning. Timaru had come into existence since the year before, and a congregation was collected in Mr. Cane's woolshed. The hospitality of Messrs. Studholme, Teschemaker, and Filleul was enjoyed, and the name of Oamaru now appears, though it was not sufficiently important to call for a stop. At Moeraki and at Goodwood there were congregations, but the packmare met with an accident in the Shag River and had to be left behind. The Snowy Mountain was crossed without mishap, and the Bishop found much to cheer him in Dunedin. His old whaler-friend, Mr. J. Jones, offered to provide the stipend for an incumbent of Wai-kouaiti, and much generosity was evinced by the other churchmen of the city. After spending five days and holding a confirmation, the bishop proceeded south along his old route, the stopping places being Waihola Lake, Tokomai-riro (now Milton), Mr. Maitland's at Clutha, and Mr. Rich's at Wairuna. On July 13th the travellers reached the hut at Tuturau, where the bishop had dried himself the year before after his escape from drowning in the Mataura. This hut was now well filled, and the bishop slept with five other men--including a Maori--while over his head dangled the four quarters of a newly-slain bullock.

Invercargill was reached without difficulty this time, but the journey onward to Jacob's River (Riverton) was by no means easy. After several hours in a boat, which left at 5 o'clock on the dark winter morning, there followed some miles of rough walking through swamps and sandhills, finishing with eleven miles of welcome hard sand. Returning two days later, the travellers were wet through long before they reached the boat, and when on board were pursued with hail and snow, both while they ran before the gale and while stranded on a sandbank. Yet before leaving Jacob's River the Bishop had solemnised a marriage, and after nearly ten hours' travelling held an evening service at Invercargill.

The journey northward was unmarked by special incident until the Kangitata was crossed. At this point the bishop decided not to follow the direct route homewards, but to visit the stations along the foot of the hills. Somewhere between the Hinds and Alford Station the horses escaped and made off in a southerly direction. Mr. Kennaway who, with his partner, Mr. Delamaine, then lived at Alford, has given in his entertaining book "Crusts" the following description of the bishop's arrival there:--

Just about this time our part of the country saw what it had certainly never seen before--a real, actual, very bishop--the Bishop of Christchurch--step upon its soil. But he arrived very little as you would have supposed a bishop would come, and in very way-worn and sorry plight. He had been taking the first interior tour of his diocese; and on his way up from the extreme southern boundary had taken our station as a halting place on his route. But there had happened to his Lordship what will happen, in a new country, even to a bishop--he had lost his horse.

Now the grand up-country rule when you have lost your horse is a colonially-established maxim. It is this: 'Hump your saddle and look for him," which being translated into "English" English means simply, "Lash your saddle to your shoulders by the stirrup leathers, like a knapsack, and just tramp till you find him--or do not find him--as the case may be." But when the bishop arrived, foot-sore, cold, and way-worn, and without his horse, we saw at a glance that it was one of those brilliant exceptions which establish a rule, and was clearly a case in which all standing orders must be immediately waived in his favour.

We at once offered the bishop a fresh horse for the morning, we prepared for him our best bunk, we heaped fresh wood upon the hearth, insinuated that a well-hung saddle of mutton (the delicate aroma of which already floated from an adjoining cooking hut) would shortly appear, and, above all, my enthusiastic friend, and amateur Soyer, prepared for his Right Reverence his most enticing and finished gravy.

The bishop rested by our fire-side, slept soundly that night under our thatch roof, and breakfasted next morning with an appetite that brooked no trifling. Our horses were running four miles off, but we stock-yarded them soon after sunrise, took out and saddled a steady hack, and, while the day was yet early, saw our guest on his way, fresh mounted, and heard his good-bye with regret.

Thus furnished the travellers reached Colonel Lean's station at the Bakaia Gorge, and crossed the river beyond, but in order to return the borrowed horses and to search for the lost ones, Mr. L. Harper left his father at this point, and the Bishop made his way mostly on foot to the Malvern Hills. [The bishop, in conjunction with the late Sir Thomas Tancred, had taken up a station at the Malvern Hills, and one of his sons was installed there as manager.] It is touching to notice that after a solitary walk of eleven miles across a stoney plain to Mr. Aylmer's, his subject for the evening service was, "Take no thought for the morrow."

The journey of the following year (1859) has found an admirable chronicler in Canon Stack, who, as a young candidate for ordination, accompanied the bishop. He tells us how, as they were cantering over a stretch of burnt tussock towards the Selwyn River, and steering their course by a particular snowy peak that rose a few inches above the south-western horizon, the bishop's horse suddenly fell forward and turned completely over on its back. The bishop was thrown violently upon his head, but was saved from injury by his tall hat, which was driven down to his shoulders. When at last his face was set free, his one entreaty was that "Dick" should be secured before he was off to Otago. This was not easy to do, but was at last effected through the help of a stockman who came up with timely aid.

A day or two later the Bakaia was reached and found to be rapidly rising. But the bishop resolved to cross--rather to the dismay of his companion who, as a novice, was warned not to look at the water lest he should turn giddy, but to keep his eye fixed on some stationary object on the opposite bank. This instruction was not superfluous, for "when we reached the middle of the stream (he writes) which was about 100 yards wide, and I felt the icy water lapping my thighs and the horse quivering under me with his efforts to breast the strong current, which threatened to carry us down the rapid .... I fully realised the perilousness of our position. "Dick," with his tail floating behind him, was bravely leading the way, but so slowly that it seemed as if we were all planted in the river, and never likely to get out of it. When we did so at last it was only to find that we had still several other streams to cross. The last was the deepest and most dangerous, but we found the Government guide waiting on the bank to pilot us over."

The Rangitata was hardly less dangerous. The crossing place was just opposite Mount Peel, and was itself not easy to find. "The ford looked like a natural dam formed by rocks and boulders through which the roaring water poured with tremendous velocity. I had never encountered anything like it before. It was clear that anyone falling into the river there would certainly be drowned. No human being could get foothold on the slippery boulders, and swimming was out of the question, owing to the intense coldness of the water and the rapidity of the current." But the bishop plunged in, and as he surmounted boulder after boulder, his progress reminded his companion of the "motion of a small yacht in a choppy sea--now bow in the air, now stern." "Had I watched much longer" (he writes) "all my courage would have oozed away, so I plunged in after him and followed in his wake. The grunt of relief given by my horse on reaching the opposite bank showed that he was as glad to get out of the river as his rider."

The course . of the narrative shows that Timaru was rising into importance, for seventy worshippers gathered for worship at Mr. Le Cren's store, and Captain Woolcombe was administering justice in a tiny Courthouse. On the way south the travellers were nearly poisoned with some "tutu wine" made by their hostess, but recovered the use of their speech and limbs before their condition was noticed. At the Waitaki the bishop learned that the time was not a suitable one for a visitation of Otago, and resolved to return through Canterbury. Crossing the plain near Ashburton, he was suddenly overtaken by a violent south-west storm, which quickly obliterated every landmark. This way and that did the drenched wayfarers wander till the roar of the sea drove them back inland, and the course of a creek led them to the Ashburton River, which presented one wide stretch of muddy water sweeping bushes and trees along its surface. Forcing their unwilling horses into the stream, they crossed it safely, and after further wanderings presented themselves stiff and cold at Mr. Moorhouse's station, the lights of which were a welcome sight after the hours of weary search. The bishop's appearance that night at evening prayers was hardly episcopal, or even clerical. His own clothes were drying before the fire, and his celluloid collar alone remained. "His feet were thrust into a huge pair of yellow lambskin slippers, and his neat nether garments had been exchanged for yellow cord riding breeches and grey worsted stockings. A white waistcoat had taken the place of his bishop's apron, and a blue flannel jumper of his frock-coat." Before the station hands were called in his friends thought it desirable to cover him as far as possible with a rug and to allow him no more than a dim light to read by, but they found that when once the service had begun there was no danger of distraction, for his earnest manner and fatherly counsel left no room for thought about his external appearance.

After the New Year the time was propitious for the journey to Otago. "Dick" had escaped from the stable and travelled south on his own account; the bishop, therefore, went to Dunedin by water, and held a successful meeting of the Rural Deanery Board. Mr. Stack was again his travelling companion, and has many good stories to tell of the journey to Invercargill and Jacob's River. At one small and isolated homestead they were hospitably received with assurances that there would be no difficulty in accommodating them for the night. Yet the house seemed to consist of nothing but one long room, with an apartment boarded off at one end and a space curtained off at the other. The family included five young ladies besides the father and mother, and it was difficult to see where all were to sleep. After sitting up late retailing the news of the outer world, the travellers were shown into the curtained area, and found it to be fitted up with bunks round the walls. They occupied two of these, but the rest were not to remain empty, for when time had bean allowed for tired men to fall asleep, a head was stretched between the curtains, apparently listening to the travellers' breathing in order to make sure that they had reached the stage of unconsciousness. One of them was not asleep--was, in fact, awake enough to know that the young ladies crept in and lay down in the remaining bunks. On waking in the morning it was found that the fair sleepers had vanished without leaving a trace of their presence, and soon the two parties were meeting one another at breakfast, apparently quite unconscious of the occurrence of anything unusual.

At Invercargill the Presbyterian minister gave up the Courthouse to the bishop and brought his congregation to the service. The churchwarden was a churchman, but had been so long debarred from a liturgical service that he had forgotten where the collection came in. Mistaking the commandments for the offertory sentences, he produced a silver salver at this solemn moment, and began collecting money from the kneeling worshippers. Some of them rose from their places in their eagerness to deposit their coins, and the bishop was bound to desist from reading until the interruption was over.

At Jacob's River a request came from a settler some miles up the stream that the bishop would come up to baptise a delicate infant, and in spite of pouring rain, he started off, clad in yellow oilskins, a sou'wester tied under his chin, and a thick muffler wrapt round his neck. When seated in the stern of the boat with the tiller in his hand, he looked (writes his companion) "like a jolly Deal pilot on a squally day." Unfortunately, the flood tide was so rough that the journey had to be abandoned.

The attempt to administer the sacred rites of the Church to the Maoris in this district led to some strange scenes. A number of infants and children were presented for baptism, and as far as the infants went there was no difficulty. It was when the turn came for the older children that trouble began. The mothers insisted on placing them in the bishop's arms, and he did not like to refuse. The last was a boy who was named Solomon. The mother was a small woman, and Solomon a big boy of eight. He wore nothing but a ragged shirt, and as he was held up ready to be handed over he slipped through his mother's arms and through his shirt as well. However, the poor woman was not to be beaten, and stooping down, she gave the child a desperate jerk, and Solomon was landed feet upwards in the bishop's arms.

Such a performance might seem to suggest that the Maoris had no very spiritual ideas of the faith they had embraced. But at least they had strict notions on the subject of the Sabbath. A few days later the travellers were informed by their hostess that her Maori man-servant had been greatly shocked at the bishop's conduct on his previous visit. The man had noticed that the bishop slipped out of the crowded little shanty before breakfast on Sunday morning and retired into the bush. With the inquisitiveness of his race the Maori followed, and saw the bishop making good the loss of an important button which had disappeared from his nether garments. Thus, at the ends of the earth, Bishop Harper, of all men, was held to have violated the law of God by using a needle on Sunday.

Space will not suffer more than a reference to the service near the Mataura River, where a pet lamb rushed in among the congregation and began sucking a button of the episcopal gaiters, nor to the consecration of the church at Waikouaiti, which was built and endowed by the staunch whaler, Mr. John Jones. These incidents of travel and adventure may be concluded with the sketch which Canon Stack has given of the bishop's habitual bearing:--

"His kindliness of manner, his habitual cheerfulness, his fearlessness in positions of danger, his patient endurance of the endless discomforts to which he was subjected, but above all, his conscientious and methodical discharge of the duties of his sacred office filled me with the deepest respect for his character. I learnt during that period of close intimacy with him why it was that he was held in such universal respect throughout his diocese, and why a glad welcome greeted him in every house we entered." This testimony might be supplemented by that of other travelling companions, but there is no need to quote them, for they all speak with the same voice.

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