Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

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

Chapter VIII. The Bishop and the Diggers

"Mountain hoary,
Winding shore and deepening glen,
Where the landscape in its glory
Teaches truth to wandering men."

Five years before the time when Bishop Harper was relieved of th southern portion of his diocese, his field of work was suddenly enlarged on the west. During 1864 rumours of gold deposits beyond the Alps had been growing more numerous and more confident. Early in 1865 all doubts were set at rest, and thousands of adventurous diggers found their way to that hitherto unknown strand. They came from Otago, from Canterbury, and from Nelson; from Melbourne and from Tasmania; from California, and even from old England. In March the influx began, and soon the riverbeds, the creeks, the beaches, and the terraces were alive with miners' camps. Canvas towns sprang up at Hokitika, Greymouth, and many smaller mining centres. The population soon numbered something between 30,000 and 50,000--all, or almost all, being strong and adventurous men in the very prime of life, of various nationalities and religions, and all excited by the maddening thirst for gold.

Here was a mission-field suddenly set down at the door of sober, slow-moving, respectable Canterbury. No two populations could be more unlike, nor could there well be a greater difference (in the same latitude) than existed between the climate, the vegetation, and the products of the countries which they occupied. The bishop was not without experience of work among miners, for in Central Otago he had addressed a large congregation of them in the open air during his tour of 1861, and had held services for them at Queenstown two years later. But he had never undertaken such a journey as that to the West Coast, nor had he ever dealt with such a population as was now to be found there. He was now over 60 years of age, and might well have sent some younger man to do the pioneering work. Notwithstanding all these considerations, he determined to go forth in person; and the rush had not long set in before he prepared to cross the ranges on a mission tour to this new world of adventure a!nd excitement. Starting from the Malvern Hills station, with his youngest son, George, on September 1st, 1865, he followed, as far as it then reached, the excellent road which the Canterbury Provincial Council so promptly carried through. But beyond this stage there was nothing but the roughest of mountain tracks, and the travelling was made worse by incessant rain. Near the river Taipo he found an old Eton boy--Mr. E. Blake--in charge of a road-makers' camp. The weather was so bad here that the travellers halted for a day. During this time a party of diggers arrived on the scene and demanded food, which was not to be had. Their behaviour was so violent that the bishop's words had little effect, and they were only restrained from rushing the hut by the sight of the engineer's revolver. Next day, however, the bishop was able to give these men an exhibition of practical Christianity by helping them across the river. For this purpose he crossed it some ten times with two diggers hanging on to his legs each time while he carried their swags on the saddle and round his shoulders. Some impressions of his journey were fortunately collected by one of his daughters-in-law upon his return, and were embodied by her in a letter to a sister in England. From this letter we give the following extract. Its vivid narrative will enable the reader to fill in for himself the meagre outlines of the bishop's diary, which shall be quoted later;

"October 13th, 1865,

"I told you in my last letter that the Bishop was gone to the West Coast, and now I will tell you how he went, and what he found when he got there--and please remember he is Aunt E.'s father, and you will be surprised, I think, at his being able to go through so much. He and G. went together, or we should never have heard of his doings, for the Bishop seemed to make nothing of them; we heard the chief report from G.

"They started riding from the Malvern Hills, and, as is generally the case, had bad weather every day going over. Eighteen miles of the road is worse than you can possibly imagine without seeing it. Supposing there was no mud on the road, it would be like riding up and down stairs over roots and fallen trunks of trees, deep holes and boulder stones; but imagine over this soft mud never below the horse's knees and sometimes over them, and all this through bush. It sounds pleasant, does it notf Well, at the end of a day like this, rain continuing the while, they would have to sleep on the ground in a tent, with perhaps some dozen of diggers in a terrible state of intoxication, no means of changing their clothes, which were wet through, and nothing to be got to eat but bacon and biscuits. Once, while wading through the mud, the Bishop's horse stumbled and went over on its side (his leg under, of course), and the mud being soft the horse could not get up alone, nor could he; so they lay quite still, embedded in mud, as the Bishop says, 'very comfortable,' until G. came to their assistance.

"The rivers were very high, and one they had to cross and recross some ten times. His Lordship is described thus:--A fdigger's swag or pack round his episcopal shoulders, in the peculiar way they carry them, and the two owners thereof hanging on to his legs, thus being dragged across the river, and we believe he would be there still, acting ferryman, if G. had not been there to insist on his proceeding. They were about five or six days getting over, all this time wet through, and when they arrived at Hokitika, the Bishop must, I fancy, have presented a sportsmanlike appearance, from the episcopal gaiters having become the colour of the mud. His hat, which I have seen, was in a very elegant condition; he has offered it to me for my next riding hat. However, here he was able to obtain secular garments in which to array himself while his own were being dried.

"The town consists of one long street, the facings of the houses being pretty good, but often nothing behind but a miserable shanty, or a tent. He slept while here in a tent having a partition; the other half G. shared with a policeman. The only building large enough for service was a place called the Corinthian Hall--the theatre and general public building of the place. It is a large corrugated iron room used for every purpose. Behind him was the platform with the scenery used in the plays--before him a regular bar, with rows of bottles of various names and shapes. The congregation either standing or seated on boxes or barrels.

The service was announced the day before in the streets by two town criers: "O Yes! etc., etc.," both probably in the same state as the above-mentioned diggers, and trying to outvie each other in titles of honour to the Bishop--hoping to be rewarded accordingly.

"He describes the scenery there as being very beautiful. He went in a boat up one river which was actually unmolested by the hand of man in any way. They reached a small lake surrounded by hills covered by thick bush down to the water's edge--every beauty of which was reflected in the clear waters. Behind the low hills was a range of higher forest-covered hills, these over-topped by the back ranges of snowy mountains, and Mount Cook to crown the whole. It is so wonderful to think of so much grandeur and beauty waxing and waning with the seasons and no one there to admire it; and when they go there for that or any other purpose it will be spoilt.

"Well, they came back again with better weather, and from the point to which the coach goes, the Bishop came thereby. There were a number of discharged road-makers with £50 apiece coming down to spend it, and their idea of rough respect to 'his reverence' was amusing and touching. One proposed with an oath that anyone who swore should be fined sixpence. This was carried out, though their idea of oaths was a strange one. They met a man who was a digger, who having no money was walking down, and they were immediately for making a subscription to take him on in the coach. In the meanwhile they quarrelled so much that the coach went on without him. All this shows how much good there is left in men who seem so utterly hard and rough, does it not? The Bishop always says he likes the real diggers very much, and certainly some I have seen passing through are very fine men.

"From all accounts it seems Hokitika will become a permanent town. The telegraph is nearly finished over to it, and the road is in process of making. L. is bent on going over to visit his old haunts and see the old scene where he spouted Greek Testament to the waves for the sake of company--under a very different aspect. Such changes gold and a few years produce," We now give the bishop's journal of this first West Coast tour:--

September 1, Friday.--From Malvern Hills to Otarama (Mt. Torlesse) Mr. Enys' station. South-west weather part of the way. A little snow at night and frost in the morning. 35 miles. Slept at Mr. Enys' station.

September 2nd, Saturday.--Fine day throughout. From Otarama to Grassmere, Mr. Hawdon's station.

September 3rd, Sunday.--Grassmere. Wet in the morning; fine in the afternoon. Evening service--Parables of the Importunate Widow, Pharisee and Publican.

September 4th, Monday.--From Grassmere. Fine throughout. To Mr. E. Jones'--junction of Bealey and Waimakariri, 12 miles. Dined at Jones', then on to Wright's camp. Arrived about 5 p.m., passing by Smith's camp.

September 5th, Tuesday.--Wet morning. Left Wright's camp about 11. Down the Otira Gorge, rough river bed, two miles per hour, thence through bush track. Arrived at Blake's camp, 5.30. Showery throughout. Slept in tent very comfortably--rained heavily during the night--strong wind towards morning.

September 6th, Wednesday.--Fine, with drying wind. In Blake's camp all day. The Taipo impassable.

September 7th, Thursday.--Doubtful all the morning; wet in the afternoon. From Blake's camp through bush, crossing the Teremakau and Taipo. Bush bad. Up and down hill through swampy ground. Arrived at McClintock's store--hospitably received and fed. Slept in bunk. Rained more or less all night.

September 8th, Friday.--From McClintock's to Hokitika, through bad bush road (7 miles) and across the Arahura 13 times, thence along road (sand) to Hokitika 5 miles. Wet all day, but not the worse for it--D.G. After changing clothes went out with Mr. Sale to look about the place.

September 10th, Sunday.--Hokitika. Morning service in Corinthian Hall. Preached Matt. xi. 16, &c. 'To whom shall I liken,' etc. Evening service at 7. 'What is your life?' (A good congregation).

September 11th, Monday.--Walked with G. to Kanieri. After luncheon went with Mr. Sale and Or. in boat to lagoon. (River 6 miles, Lagoon 3 miles long, 2 1/2 broad).

September 12th, Tuesday.--(Baptisms, &c.) Church meeting at the CafS de Paris. Subscriptions £84 8s 6d.

September 13th, Wednesday.--Called on Mr. G. Harper, Wesleyan minister.

September 17th, Sunday.--Corinthian Hall--Morning service--'Unforgiving servant.' Holy Communion in Courthouse, 17 communicants. Evening service--'Parable of the Talents.'

September 18th, Monday.--From Hokitika to MeClin-tock's. Arrived 6.30 after desperate ride and floundering through bush. The Arahura lower than when we came over.

September 19th, Tuesday.--From McClintoek's to the Terrace (Alexandra), crossing the Waimea, Bangiriri, Taipo, Teremakau. Bush track wretched. Bivers low. Lunched at the Taipo. No eatables at the Terrace excepting those kindly furnished by Messrs. Preston and Bradley. Slept on a wooden gridiron.

September 20th, Wednesday.--From the Teremakau to the junction of the Waimakariri and Bealey. Road good--especially in the Otira Gorge. (Slept in Jones' tent).

September 21st, Thursday.--From junction of Bealey and Waimakariri to Christcburch by coach. Started 5 a.m. At Christchurch 9.30 p.m. G. returned with horses to Malvern Hills.

In 1866 the bishop spent nearly three months on the coast (June 9th to August 23rd). The Bishop of Nelson (Dr. Hobhouse) being prevented by illness from visiting that portion of Westland which lay within his diocese, Bishop Harper undertook the oversight of the Grey Valley, in addition to the southern gold-fields. But his headquarters were again at Hokitika, and here he carried on diligent pastoral work. Though not musical, he superintended the choir practices, and alludes with satisfaction to the first attempt at chanting. He worked hard at the preparatory steps towards the erection of a permanent church and parsonage. The Courthouse and the Corinthian Hall were very well in their way, but when the sound of a cork drawn behind the bar broke in upon the quiet of the service, the result was not altogether favourable. After many efforts an influential committee was formed, and before the bishop left Hokitika the immediate building of both church and parsonage-house had been undertaken. In July the mining community was shocked at the report of a horrible murder committed by a gang of bushrangers near Grey-mouth. The victim, George Dobson, who belonged to a well-known Christchurch family, was a young surveyor, and was mistaken for the gold-collector of the district. The bishop was busy with his Saturday night's preparation when the news arrived. Sunday morning was wet, but he set off on horseback at 8.30, and fording the rivers Arahura and Teremakau, arrived at Greymouth soon after mid-day. He officiated at the funeral, which took place in the afternoon two miles from Greymouth. He then conducted evening service in the town, preaching from the appropriate text, "What is your life?" On the next day he rode back to Hokitika under continuous rain, and was compelled to swim the rivers, now too high for his horse to ford. On his way home he experienced both the pleasures and the trials of travelling by coach. Starting at 3 a.m. on a beautiful morning, with no other passengers, he reached the Cass at 5 p.m. Next morning, however, the vehicle broke down at 5.30, just after starting. He reached Castle Hill by 10.30, but was compelled to stay there for the rest of that day and for the greater part of the day following. He did not arrive at Bishopscourt till 2 o'clock on the morning of the fourth day, and recorded the close of this long absence from home with the emphatic words--Deo Opt. Max. gratiae.

In 1869 he extended his travels as far as Boss, boating thither from Hokitika by way of the Mahinapua Lake and the Totara Lagoon. He had appointed his eldest son to the cure of Hokitika, and the Church had acquired a strong position in the affection of the miners. Writing from this town in 1870 to a relative in England, the Bishop describes the various social gatherings which always formed a great feature of his visits:--

As the Sunday on which I attended the church was regarded as a high day, the services were intoned and conducted, both by minister and choir, in a manner which would have surprised a stranger suddenly arriving at this distant corner of the world, and what ia more, the congregation seemed to go heartily with it, without any apprehension of being entrapped into popery. . . .

We had a great tea-fight or soiree, at which nearly 800 persons were present, avowedly in honour of my visit, but in reality, as a token of the respect and affection in which he (the Archdeacon) is held.

I spent four days, last Sunday included, at Boss. I held a confirmation there: the candidates chiefly males above the age of 20, and of course was welcomed at another soiree, very nicely conducted, and where all things went off most harmoniously, though the company was composed of all religious denominations, Jews included.

In 1873 the bishop (now Primate of New Zealand, and so having some responsibility for other dioceses than his own) combined his West Coast tour with one through the provinces of Nelson and Marlborough. He was now in his seventieth year, but cheerfully undertook a rough journey through the mountainous region between the Hurunui River and the north of the island. After visiting Greta Peaks and other stations in North Canterbury, he entered the Nelson Diocese, travelled over the Whale's Back, and crossed the Conway during the course of a ten hour's ride. At Kaikoura he laid the foundation-pile of a church, and confirmed seventeen candidates; visited Flaxbourne and Starborough, and, crossing the Awatere River, arrived at Blenheim. Proceeding to Nelson, whose bishop was absent from the colony, he held a Synod there, took part in a Maori korero at Motueka, and officiated in many of the churches both in town and country; then travelled by steamer to Westport, Greymouth, and Hokitika, and after the usual services and monster tea gatherings in the mining townships of his own diocese, returned to Christchurch by the overland route.

Nearly every year saw the aged bishop on the West Coast. Nowhere, in fact, was he more popular than among the warm-hearted diggers. In 1877 he was accompanied by his son, the Archdeacon, who had now left Hokitika for Timaru. They received a perfect ovation as they drove up Revell Street. Though they had been on the road since 5 in the morning, there was no time for rest; the bell was already ringing for evening service as the coach drew up at its destination, and the church was filled with worshippers eager to see and hear their bishop and their first pastor. In spite of his long and fatiguing journey, the bishop was up next morning at 6 o'clock, his usual hour, and took a turn on the beach before breakfast. [I owe this fact to the Rev. Canon Pascoe.] A few days later he conducted Sunday services at Stafford and at Goldsborough, then driving on to the new Kumara goldfield, he held a confirmation in the Theatre, in the presence of 500 people.

Westland is not now what it was in the palmy days of the diggings. The population has greatly decreased; the old exuberant life has largely died away. It may interest some West Coast settlers to know that the bishop held such a high opinion of its attractions that he looked forward to a permanent population of well-to-do people who should live there simply for the pleasure of enjoying its scenery and climate.

"There is a balmy atmosphere on this side which will attract those who have means to support their families, and though the soil is apparently little better than that you might expect at the bottom of the ocean which washes these shores--and at one time, before the growth of its exuberant vegetation and forest, must have been like it (that is, a soil composed of small and large boulder stones, grit, and sand, with something like clay but so adhesive that the miners call it 'concrete'), really beautiful gardens with flowers, vegetables, fruit-trees, and choice shrubs may be found here, under the hand of some industrious labourer. How it is managed I can hardly say. There must be a certain deposit of vegetable matter from the dense forests and shrubs--though all appear to be evergreens--and if there are worms in it, as I suppose there are, they must be making some good soil adapted to cultivation, according to Darwin." [Letter written from Hokitika, February 8th, 1887.

But, whatever the future of this interesting country may be, it is safe to predict that as long as any representatives of the first generation of its diggers and settlers remain, the memory of the pioneer bishop will be held in warm and grateful remembrance.

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