A one horse town

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St. Bathans, 1879. Photo by Burton Brothers of Dunedin from the Te Papa collection.

St. Bathans, in the Central Otago district of New Zealand’s South Island, was one of the towns that sprang into life after the discovery of gold there in 1862 and it soon held a population of 2000. By the time this photograph was taken, it seems the “rush” was over. A sign painted beside the window of the Montezuma Hotel advertises a “Horse for Hire”.

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Note – “horse”. Singular. One only.

On the left of the photograph is the Vulcan Hotel, a typical “tin” accommodation house for travelers in the ’60s and ’70s. It comes from what the English novelist, Anthony Trollope, called the “corrugated iron period” of New Zealand architecture.

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Writing about his winter visit to the region in 1872, he observed –
Corrugated iron does not make picturesque houses. It is very portable; very easily shaped; capable of quick construction; and it keeps out the rain. It is, however, subject to drawbacks. The rooms formed of it of course are small, and every word uttered in the house can be heard throughout it, as throughout a shed put up without divisions. And yet the owners and frequenters of these iron domiciles seem never to be aware of the fact. As I lay in bed in one of these metal inns on the road, I was constrained to hear the private conversation of my host and hostess who had retired for the night.

“So this is Mr Anthony Trollope,” said the host. The hostess assented, but I could gather clearly from her voice that she was thinking much more of her back hair than of her visitor.

“Well,” said the host, “he must be a — fool to come travelling in this country in such weather as this.” Perhaps, after all, the host was aware of the peculiarity of his house, and thought it well that I should know his opinion. He could not have spoken any words with which at that moment I should have been more prone to agree.

Several websites will tell you that the Vulcan Hotel was built of mud brick in 1882 and was previously known as the Ballarat, yet here is photographic proof that it was known as the Vulcan before that date. The brick version, now a Category 1 historic building reputed to be haunted, is still in business and attracting tourists and ghost hunters.

The permanent population of St Bathans today is 6 to 10, depending on your source. No figures are available for the number of horses.

The Wool Wagon

Bullock Team and Wool Wagon, Cheviot. Nelson Province, Hon. W. Robinson‘s Station.

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This photograph represents one of the methods by which wool is conveyed from the wool sheds on the Cheviot Station to Port Robinson in Gore Bay, a distance of about nine miles. The land is very undulating as far as “First Beach,” after which the track lies through shingle and sandhills until the pass of “Cathedral Cutting” is reached, where the numerous steep zigzags put the strength and temper of the bullocks to the severest test.

Bullock wagon pulling a wagon of wool bales. Image from Te Papa collection.

Port Robinson is afterwards gained by a steep descent. There a large woolshed has been erected, also a wharf running directly into the bay. The wool is placed in an iron pontoon, 70 or 80 bales at a time, then run down the inclined plane of the wharf by a wire rope worked by a stationary engine, until the pontoon reaches deep water, when it is hauled alongside a steamer moored a short distance away.

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 ‘The Wool Season’ by John Gibb, 1885.

It is said that two or three days only are required to ship wool from this station, the value of which may reach £30,000.
Messrs. F. Bradley & Co., Photographic Publishers, Christchurch. c. 1880s.

(‘Station’, in this case, refers to what Americans would call a ranch)

Winter sports

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The Southern Alps are a favourite climbing ground for tourists who find in snow and ice a playground for their winter holidays, and the comfortable “Hermitage” hotel at the base of the main range is a popular rendezvous for patrons of the winter sports. The Hermitage is a modern hotel in the heart of the Alps, reached by a good motor road, and providing every convenience for climbers. The summit looks right down upon the hotel.

The Hermitage has expanded considerably since this was written in 1928.

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I think this is from Sealy Tarns, not Mount Sealy.

The ascent of Mount Cook and its neighbouring peaks is the aim of many mountain climbers and the record of conquests is extremely small. The lofty peak of Mt. Cook is 12,349 feet [3764m] above the level of the sea, and its ascent is a task to try out the steel in a climber’s nerves. The track lies over crumbling glaciers and brittle snowfields where the first false step will probably be the last.
‘Beautiful New Zealand’ series, Three Castles cigarettes (W.D. & H.O. Wills) 1928.
Original images from the New Zealand Government Publicity Office.

Writers who record the heights of mountains should add “at time of writing” because it seems nothing is permanent. Aoraki/Mount Cook lost about 30 metres from its summit in a single rockfall in 1991. Luckily there were no climbers standing in the way. Then, in 2014, modern instruments measured it at 12,218 feet (3,724 metres). Its reputation as a dangerous mountain, however, has not been reduced and the warning about false steps still holds true. Many experienced climbers have died on its slopes since it was first climbed in 1894. The last unclimbed route wasn’t conquered until 1970.

The Southern Alps were a training ground for New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary who first climbed Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1948 and went on to famously “knock off” Everest five years later.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook towers above Lake Pukaki on a hot December day in 2013. Perspective is compressed by a 270mm (equivalent) lens. The mountain is about 60 or 70km away (40 miles).

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The view from State Highway 8 at the bottom end of Lake Pukaki.

Follow this link for some spectacular images of the Southern Alps.

Lake Wakatipu

English novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in the winter of 1872, landing at Invercargill in the far south of the country. From there, he planned to visit Lake Wakatipu, 70 miles to the north and already a tourist attraction.

We were unfortunate in the time of the year, having reached the coldest part of New Zealand in the depth of winter. Everybody had told me that it was so, – and complaint had been made to me of my conduct, as though I were doing New Zealand a manifest injustice in reaching her shores at a time of year in which her roads were all mud, and her mountains all snow. By more than one New Zealander I was scolded roundly, and by those who did not scold me I was laughed to scorn….

With great misgivings as to the weather, but with high hopes, we started from Invercargill for lake Wakatip. Our first day’s journey was by coach (after travelling to Winton by rail), which was tolerably successful, though fatiguing…….

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The Remarkables at Lake Wakatipu. Some of the scenery Trollope missed on a journey up the lake in a rain storm.

…..We passed up [a] valley, with mountains on each side of us, some of which were snow-capped. We crossed various rivers, – or more probably the same river at various points. About noon on the second day we reached the lake at a place called Kingstown [Kingston], and found a steamer ready to carry us twenty-four miles up it to Queenstown, on the other side. Steamers ply regularly on the lake, summer and winter, and afford the only means of locomotion in the neighbourhood. But no sooner were we on board than the rain began to fall as it does only when the heavens are quite in earnest. And it was very, very cold. We could feel that the scenery around us was fine, that the sides of the lake were precipitous, and the mountain tops sharp and grand, and the water blue; but it soon became impossible to see anything. We huddled down into a little cabin, and endeavoured to console ourselves with the reflection that, though all its beauties were hidden from our sight, we were in truth steaming across the most beautiful of the New Zealand lakes. They who cannot find some consolation from their imagination for external sufferings had better stay at home. At any rate they had better not come to New Zealand in winter.
‘With Trollope in New Zealand 1872’, Ed. A. H. Reed, 1969.

Fortunately for the New Zealand tourist industry, travellers have ignored Trollope’s advice. They descend on Queenstown every year in their thousands for the winter festival and surrounding ski fields. (It’s popular in summer, too).

Cruising Fiordland

The remote region of New Zealand’s South Island covered by the Fiordland National Park has been a tourist attraction since the 19th century. Then, as now, the most comfortable way of seeing it was by cruise ship, or steamer excursion as it was known then. The sounds were visited by many ships, especially in summer. S.s. Waikare was one of the most popular.

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Mitre Peak. Of the many beautiful Sounds of New Zealand, Milford Sound is the most famous. It is situated on the west coast of the South Island, and the scenery found there equals any in the world. Many great mountains slope to its shores, one of the most important being Mitre Peak (6,000 feet high).
Postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons, c. 1911. Artist A. H. Fullwood.

Manawatu Standard, 28 November 1901.
SUMMER EXCURSION To The WEST COAST SOUNDS BY S.S. WAIKARE, LEAVING DUNEDIN on MONDAY 13th JANUARY, 1902. For Patterson’s Inlet, Halfmoon Bay (Stewart Island) thence via Preservation Inlet, Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Breaksea and Doubtful Sounds, Crooked Arm, Hall’s Arm, Smith, Bradshaw, Thompson and George Sounds to MILFORD SOUND, Returning to Dunedin on 27th January. FARE: £15 and Upwards. For full particulars apply to offices of UNION STEAM SHIP COMPANY OF N.Z., Ltd.

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New Zealand Herald 19 Jan 1909.
WEST COAST SOUNDS TRIP.
Dunedin, Monday. The Waikare left Port Chalmers on Saturday on her annual excursion to the West Coast Sounds. A large number of excursionists arrived during the afternoon by the Ulimaroa from Sydney, and joined the party, which included ladies and gentlemen from all parts of the Dominion. After visiting Preservation Inlet, the Waikare will call in at Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Doubtful Sound, Bradshaw Sound, Hall’s Arm, Thomson, George, and Milford Sounds, and return via Stewart Island.

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George Sound

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Wet Jacket Arm

THE STEAMER WAIKARE.
TOTAL WRECK AT DUSKY SOUND.
PASSENGERS AND CREW ALL SAFE.
PROMPT RELIEF MEASURES.
(Per Press Association.)

DUNEDIN, Jan. 4, [1910]. The Union Steamship Company received word this evening that the s.s. Waikare had struck a rock in Dusky Sound at noon. The vessel is reported to be badly damaged, and the engine room and stokehold are full of water to the water’s level. She was beached on Stop Island, passengers and crew being safely landed on the beach of the mainland.
Arrangements are being made to despatch the s.s. Moura as early as possible to-morrow for the scene of the wreck.

Crossing the Waitaki river

The English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in 1872, when the country was more suitable for intrepid travellers than “tourists”. To make things even more difficult for himself, he arrived in the middle of winter.

Travelling north from Dunedin in a stagecoach he found the road “as good as any in England” as far as Palmerston “but then there comes a change, and thence on into the bounds of the province the road was very bad indeed”. There was an overnight stop at “a small town called Oamaru” and then….

“Twelve miles of as miserable a road as ever I travelled brought us to the Waitaki river, which is the boundary of the [Otago] province”.

Waitaki river

“It was a piercingly cold morning, and we felt aggrieved greatly when we found that we had to leave the coach and get into a boat. But the dimensions of our own hardships lessened themselves to our imagination when we found that two of the boatmen descended into the river, and pushed the boat for half a mile up the stream. During a part of the way three men were in the water, and yet the boat hardly seemed to move. For this service we were charged 2s [shillings] apiece which sum was not included in the coach fare. …..

There are many such rivers as the Waitaki running into the sea on the eastern coast of New Zealand, very dangerous in crossing, and the cause of many accidents. We were then in the depth of winter, and they are not then full. It is after the winter rains, and after the snows, when the mountains give up their load of waters, that the streams become full, and the banks overflow. In the spring the coaches often cannot pass, and are occasionally washed away bodily when the attempt is made. At other rivers besides the Waitaki there is a custodian, who is in some degree responsible for the safety of travellers, and who seems always to charge 2s a head, whether he presides over a ferry, with boat, and boatmen, or simply over a ford, across which he rides on horseback showing the way”.
‘With Anthony Trollope in New Zealand 1872’ Ed. A. H. Reed. 1969.

Modern travellers have a convenient bridge for crossing the river – no charge.

Waitaki bridge

The Waitaki river marks the boundary between the provinces of Otago and Canterbury.

The Waitaki today provides much of New Zealand’s hydro power from a network of eight dams upstream.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river. South Island, New Zealand.

Aviemore hydro dam on the Waitaki river.

Travelling by stagecoach

In the late sixties of last century [19th], when the “Diggings” were in full swing, there was an excellent service of coaches owned by Cobb & Co. Coaches left Dunedin daily by the main north and south roads; the distance covered each day was well over seventy miles, so that an early start was the rule.

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Breakfast at 5 a.m. “with our hats on” was the beginning of the first journey alone for three little sisters who set off to spend a happy summer holiday with an elder sister in her home on the banks of the Molyneux River [Clutha].

Our own road down the Glen joined the South Road a mile or so out of Dunedin, and we had, therefore, no share in the bustle and importance of the daily start from the office in town. We had not long to wait before the coach appeared on the crest of the hill and rattled down towards us. Good-byes were said and last instructions given as the big coach pulled up with a swing and stood heaving and swaying on its great leather springs, while the harness creaked and clattered as the six big greys shook it, stamping with impatience at the delay.

We were soon in the places reserved for us at the back of the coach, where we would be well protected from the weather by big leather curtains – on this fine morning rolled up so that we might enjoy the pleasant country through which we drove.

Besides the seats of honour on the box and above it, there were four (or more) seats set across the interior – just hard wooden seats with very little padding and a wide leather strap for a back. The coaches were generally overflowing with diggers, usually very cheerful, confident that they were on their way to make their fortunes, or, still more cheerful, with fortunes in their pockets, on their way to town to spend them……

The number of horses in use by Cobb & Co. must have been enormous, and the quality was outstanding. Beautiful greys were always reserved for the entrance into town, and the procession of the Gold Escort was indeed a sight never to be forgotten. Armed out-riders led and followed the special coach bringing in the gold; and there was frequently a prisoner or two, in which case the armed guard on the box, and riding alongside, would be considerably increased.

Vintage postcard of two stagecoaches on the Christchurch to Greymouth road.

All that, however, was a thing of long past when, after my marriage, I travelled by coach, this time to my new home on the Maniototo Plain. The railway that was eventually to stretch from one end of the [South] Island to the other could now be used to shorten distances, and our coach journey began at Palmerston, following up the Shag river, to Naseby – one day’s journey. In the earlier days the coach had to break the journey for the night at a so-called accommodation house that bore the very descriptive name of Pig-root.

Some of my happiest recollections are of these old coach journeys to our up-country home, my children enjoying the adventure, tucked away inside the coach with their nurse. Of course, there were inevitable discomforts, but one could forget the bumping into and over frozen ruts on a winter’s morning when looking out on the frost-laden snowgrass, the sun covering the great white domes with jewels, and icicles veiling the blue depths of fairy halls below them.

The driver, appreciating my husband’s eye for a horse, always kept the box-seat for us, and his fund of yarns was inexhaustible, so that on many a drowsy summer afternoon their voices seemed to me to grow fainter and fainter as the coach wound up the sunny side of the Range. But, at the top, the fresh breeze in one’s face was like the meeting with an old friend, and, with a crack of the long whip and the rattle of loose swingle-trees, away we would go, down the long cutting and across the river-bed, till, in the cool dusk, sweet with the scent of the flax blossom and dewy tussock, we pulled up at the wayside hotel where we changed horses for the last stage that day.
J. M. Buchanan, a contributor to ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, 1940.

The stagecoaches illustrated here, with the popular five horse configuration, are similar to the one Mrs. Buchanan would have taken on her trip to Naseby. These coaches travelled some New Zealand “roads” until the early 1920s.