Monday, January 24, 2011

Pioneer Days.

Pioneer Days.

Tale of Runaway Sailors
When Christchurch was Village.

It was in October, 1858, that we left the St Katherine's Dock, London, in the barque Ambrosine, belonging to the firm of Shaw, Savill, and Co, for Canterbury, New Zealand, writes G.M.H. in the Tasmanian Mail. The barque was an old vessel of about 600 tons, and carried a general cargo in the hold, and about 60 or 70 immigrants in the 'tweendeck, besides a few cabin passengers.

After a passage of 120 days we anchored safety in the harbour of Port Cooper, or Lyttelton. The passengers with their luggage, were landed in cargo boats, and most of them made their way on foot by the bridle track across the hill, to Christchurch, then a village nestled amongst flax bushes and cabbage trees on the banks of the Avon, which was almost solidly over grown with weeds and watercress.

When I landed in New Zealand the wages of an able seaman was £2 10s a month. The food, chiefly salt horse and weevily biscuits, and the accommodation a bunk alongside the wind lass.

Learning that we could earn £1 a week, with an unlimited allowance of damper and mutton, we watched an opportunity to clear out. So, one evening while the captain and officers were enjoying themselves in the cabin I pulled the dinghy which was towing astern, up under the bows, and three of us jumped in and made for the little boat jetty. It was a dark, stormy night, and we had a hard pull to reach the shore against, the gale. On getting to the jetty, a waterman put his head over the railing and asked us to leave the boat in his charge. This we agreed to, stepped on shore with our swags, and made for the Port Hill bridle track.

A Convict Camp.
Though dark, we soon reached the top, and, looking down the Heathcote Valley, we noticed what appeared to be a camp fire half way down the hill, so we made for it. On reaching the camp fire we found a tent erected, and a party of marauding ticket-of-leave men out on plundering expedition. Though apparently a lawless crew after taking our measure they told us we would be unable to cross the Heathcote River, as Pearce, the ferryman, lived on the opposite bank; but they invited us to share camp fire and hospitality. This we gladly accepted till daybreak, when we resumed our journey.

A young man, Orlando Kenrick, came out in the ship with us, and as his destination was Rangiora where a relative of his owned a sawmill, we made for Rangiora on the second day. Here we were most kindly treated by Mr Vincent, the manager of the sawmill and his good wife. While there, Mr Boyce, manager of Clifford and Well's Stonyhurst Station, came in. He told us they were mustering the stragglers, and that if we made for the station he would employ three of us. This offer we gratefully accepted, and Mr Boyce left.

Having obtained a supply of food we decided to start on our journey that evening; but on going up the road we were overtaken by Mr Boyce on horseback. He stated that after leaving us, he met Mr Revell, the policeman then stationed at Kaiapoi, who asked him if he had seen any thing of three runaway sailors, because he had a warrant their arrest. Faithful, but prevaricating Mr Boyce replied that he knew nothing about us. He thereupon told us that he was quite sure Mr Revell in his endeavour to catch us, would ride no further than Saltwater Creek, where there was an accommodation house and a boat, and that if we continued our journey that night and got across Saltwater Creek some distance we would be quite safe; "but," added he, "I can not now give you employment for fear of getting into trouble; but if you reach Stonyhurst, call there, and you shall be kindly treated." After expressions of gratitude to Mr Boyce for his kindness, we made for the Saltwater Creek.

Eluding the Police.
The night was warm, fairly clear, as we trudged along the dray track. At break of day congratulating ourselves on escaping the policeman, we started on our journey. We had, however, proceeded but a short distance when we noticed a house ahead of us, then the creek came into view, and the boat. Now, here was a fix. The river we had crossed the previous evening we afterwards found was the Ashley; and here, just ahead of us, was the Saltwater Creek and the house, probably at that moment containing the man in blue.

It was about 5 o'clock, and a Sunday morning, when three of us stood outside listening intently. Luckily there were no dogs about. I opened the door softly, and the gaze that met my sight fairly made my hair stand on end. There in a bed, lay the policeman fast asleep, his belt and revolver on a small table alongside the bed. The three of us had a look at him, then we closed the door softly, and stole silently away. It took us about a moment to reach the creek, where, luckily, the tide was at its flood, jump into the boat and reach the opposite bank, where we dragged the boat up high and dry. By the time that policeman woke up we were no doubt fully ten miles north of the danger zone; nor did we stop till we reached the Waipara. Our next stage was Stonyhurst where Mr Boyce who was the embodiment of kindness supplied us with food and tobacco. Thence we travelled on to the Reilley Bros, and the Kaikoura Whaling Station, where we secured passage in the schooner Randolph, Captain Kempthorne, for Wellington.

Ultimately I discovered the reason why the captain had issued a warrant for our arrest. It that the waterman, who offered to take charge of the boat in which we escaped, got into, his own boat that evening and towed the ship's boat down the harbour some distance into a convenient nook. There he camped; but on the following morning he towed the boat back to the vessel, where he told the captain he had picked up the boat drifting near the entrance of the harbour, and demanded £5 salvage, which the captain paid, but, being angered at what this lying boatman told him and led to believe, he took out a warrant for our arrest.

Fifty years have now elapsed since the occurrence here related took place the country has changed from a sheep run to a and flourishing Dominion and I have the inward satisfaction of knowing that in a humble way I have lent my best effort and to bring about this happy result.
Grey River Argus, 11 June 1914, Page 8

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