Where no man ever stood before

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand and the route is walked by thousands of visitors each year. But, in the mid-19th century, it was uncharted territory for new settlers. The first man to climb Mount Tongariro, and only the second European to penetrate so far inland, was 24-year-old John Carne Bidwill. This is a (heavily) edited version of his detailed account.

March 3rd, 1839 – When I arose in the morning, I was astonished to see the mountains around covered with snow, except the cone, which was visible from its base to the apex, and appeared quite close. The natives said the mountain had been making a noise in the night, which, at the time, I thought was only fancy : there seemed to be a little steam rising from the top, but the quantity was not sufficient to obscure the view. I set off immediately after breakfast, with only two natives, as all the others were afraid to go any nearer to the much dreaded place; nor could I persuade the two who did set off with me to go within a mile of the base of the cone.

As I was toiling over a very steep hill, I heard a noise which caused me to look up, and saw that the mountain was in a state of eruption : a thick column of black smoke rose up for some distance, and then spread out like a mushroom ….. the noise, which was very loud, and not unlike that of the safety-valve of a steam-engine, lasted about half an hour, and then ceased, after two or three sudden interuptions. I could see no fire, nor do I believe there was any, or that the eruption was anything more than hot water and steam.

MA_I281750_TePapa_Ketetahi-Steam-Holes_full-2

 “Steam holes” on Mount Tongariro.

The cone is entirely composed of loose cinders, and I was heartily tired of the exertion before I reached the top. Had it not been for the idea of standing where no man ever stood before, I should certainly have given up the undertaking.

MA_I249512_TePapa_Summit-of-Tongariro-Shewing_full-2

One man and his dog repeat Bidwill’s achievement. c.1880s.

After I had ascended about two-thirds of the way, I got into what appeared a water-course, the solid rock of which….was much easier to climb than the loose dust and ashes I had hitherto scrambled over. It was lucky for me another eruption did not take place while I was in it, or I should have been infallibly boiled to death, as I afterwards found that it led to the lowest part of the crater, and from indubitable proofs that a stream of hot mud and water had been running there during the time I saw the smoke from the top.

The crater was the most terrific abyss I ever looked into or imagined. The rocks overhung it on all sides, and it was not possible to see above ten yards into it from the quantity of steam which it was continually discharging.

MA_I249826_TePapa_Ngaruahoe-Ruapehu-From_full-2

Tongariro’s summit crater with the cone of Ngauruhoe in the background and snow-capped Ruapehu beyond that.

I did not stay at the top so long as I could have wished because I heard a strange noise coming out of the crater, which I thought betokened another eruption. I saw several lakes and rivers, and the [surrounding] country appeared about half covered with wood, which I should not have thought had I not gone to this place.

I had not above five minutes to see any part of the country, as I was enveloped in clouds almost as soon as I got up to the top. As I did not wish to see an eruption near enough to be either boiled or steamed to death, I made the best of my way down….. I was half frozen before I reached the ravine, and thoroughly drenched by the mist; so that I was very glad when I found the place where I had left the natives and the fire. I got back to the tent about seven in the evening.
‘Rambles in New Zealand’, J.C. Bidwill, 1841. Reprint by Capper Press, 1974.

Photographs by Burton Brothers in the 1880s from the Te Papa Collection.

Note : Tongariro is better behaved today and, like its neighbours, is closely monitored by all kinds of scientific instruments. They can’t even sigh without their minders noticing. There are shorter walks available in the park if you don’t feel up to the Alpine Crossing.

Advertisements

The Edwin Fox

From ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1961. (Abridged)

[One of] the many remarkable ships owned by Shaw Savill & Co. was the Edwin Fox, whose hulk, now 105 years old, has been lying for many years at Picton, port of Marlborough [New Zealand]. She was built of the best Burma teak-wood in 1853 in Sulkeali, a province of Bengal. She was laid down to the order of the Hon. East India Company, but while still on the stocks was sold to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson of Cornhill, London.

Edwin Fox 1-2

Originally a full-rigged ship, later a barque, Edwin Fox carried troops to the Crimean War, convicts to Australia, and passengers to India.

The ship continued to trade to India and the Far East until 1873 when she was chartered by Shaw Savill & Co. …. After clearing the Channel she was damaged in a gale in the Bay of Biscay. The crew broached some cases of spirits and became so drunk that the passengers had to man the pumps as the ship was leaking badly. She was towed into Brest and there repaired.

The Edwin Fox was purchased by Shaw Savill & Co. in 1875 and during the next decade she made a yearly voyage out to New Zealand, firmly establishing her reputation as a ‘slowcoach’. …. in 1880 she arrived at Lyttelton with twenty saloon, twelve second-class and seventy-seven steerage passengers, all of whom were full of complaints about their accommodation. In the following year she was 139 days on passage from London to Bluff.

Some years later the rapidly growing frozen meat trade gave new employment to the ship.

Edwin Fox 2-2

In 1885 The Edwin Fox was fitted with refrigerating machinery and, stripped of her rigging but with lower masts still standing, was used as a freezing hulk in various New Zealand ports.

Finally she was towed to Picton under engagement to freeze for the Wairau Freezing Company. In 1899…. she was converted into a coal hulk and loading stage and moored at the foot of the hill on which the freezing works stand. There she lies, a relic of a past era and a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.

Edwin Fox 4-3

The Edwin Fox in Shakespeare Bay, Marlborough Sounds, in 1983.

This story has a happy ending. Twenty-five years after Mr. Waters published his book and three years after these photographs were taken, the hulk of the Edwin Fox was saved from total disintegration. It is now housed in its own covered dry dock on Picton waterfront, only a few minutes walk from the Cook Strait ferry terminal, and is still a never-ending source of interest to sightseers.
Read full details of the ship’s fascinating career on this page from the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

H.M.S. Victory

Although the Victory was ordered for the Royal Navy in 1759 and is still in commission as a flagship, she is for ever remembered for just one battle on one day; Trafalgar, 21st October 1805, and her association with one man; Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Victory

Still afloat at Portsmouth in the early 1900s.

V_Nelson…. “in his new flagship, the Victory, [Nelson] had one of the stateliest three-deckers ever built, a vessel in every way worthy to receive him [in 1803]. She had been laid down when he was still in his cradle, had been launched at Chatham in 1765, and had worn the flags of Keppel, Kempenfelt, Howe, Hood, St Vincent and other, lesser, admirals. She had just undergone a large repair which was practically a rebuilding, and was capable of a surprising turn of speed. Had Nelson been offered his choice, he could not have proposed a finer or a lovelier ship.

Such a ship was “tall” indeed, for her main-mast, with its top-mast and top-gallant, rose 175 feet above her deck. She mounted 104 guns, and with all her size and capacity there was not a corner wasted, from the depths of her hold with its ordered stores and well-stowed ammunition to the skid-beams on the spar-deck where the boats were ready for hoisting out by tackle at the word of command.”
‘A Portrait of Lord Nelson’, Oliver Warner. The Reprint Society, 1958. [Edited]

V_KGVThe Victory remained in service after Nelson’s death and the French/Spanish defeat at Trafalgar until paid off in 1812, and was afterwards moored at Portsmouth as either a receiving ship or flagship into the early part of the 20th century. Then, in 1922……

….. “it was discovered that Nelson’s famous flagship, the Victory, was sinking at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour, and that the timbers of the hull were in perilous condition. She was accordingly moved permanently into dry dock, and thorough measures taken to restore her. A careful study of naval records has enabled the Victory’s appearance at the time of the battle of Trafalgar, and the Admiral’s quarters, to be reproduced.

On July 26th, 1924, before holding the Naval Review at Spithead, the King and the Prince of Wales went over the famous old man-of-war, and inspected the work of reconstruction.”
‘The Reign of H.M. King George V’, 1935. W.D. & H.O. Wills.

H.M.S. Victory

The restored H.M.S. Victory in 1928, the year it was opened to the public.

Victory gun deck

The lower gun deck. The crew slept and ate here too.

“Impressive as the Victory still is, in her meticulously preserved condition at Portsmouth, she is now but a shell of the sea fortress which dominated the Mediterranean. Her immense spread of sail, which gave her speed, has gone forever; her eight hundred and fifty men, who gave her power, are no more than memories.”
Ibid: Warner.

This impressive “shell” has managed to draw visitors by the million since 1928 and, with the help of some expensive, high tech care and attention should continue to do so for many more years.

It could be argued that Trafalgar was as important to Britain in the 19th century as the Battle of Britain was in the 20th, and for the same reason; they both foiled an invasion by a foreign power. Trafalgar Day will be commemorated this Sunday.

I had intended to write more about the ship, the battle, and the Admiral but Mike at A Bit About Britain did it first – and better – with his post on 24th August. I recommend you read it. In fact, if you’re planning to visit Britain, or just want to explore the place without leaving your chair, this blog is essential reading. (And he didn’t pay me to write that).

Wanganui part 2: “the Rhine of New Zealand”.

The Wanganui up-river tourist trip to Pipiriki, per new river steamboats, discloses leagues of winding waters bounded by the evergreen banks of a bewitching land—a nature’s garden, sprinkled all around by bright patches of green and red, by green lawns and grasses, trees and shrubs; uniform plantations of stately poplars and gums, and irregular clumps of firs.

Then the scene changes as the little steamer clips round some water serpentine into a river reach, bounded by majestic rocks.

Pipi_river

The river becomes very tortuous, through wildest and most beautiful country, till Pipiriki is reached. This settlement, which is full of interest to tourist or traveller, is fifty-nine miles north of Wanganui.
[Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897. Abridged.]

Pipiriki landing

Pipiriki landing in 1905.

Pipi_Houseboat 225The delightful spot where the Houseboat is moored is near where the Ohura River, one of Wanganui’s largest tributaries, joins the main watercourse by falling in over a ledge.

The Houseboat has a dining saloon, social hall, smoking-room and lounge, and promenade decks, and is fitted with electric light, bathrooms, and lavatories. This floating palace forms an ideal holiday resort, combining the charm of an open-air riverside picnic with the comforts and attention of a first-class hotel. It affords accommodation to travellers up and down the river. On the down journey lunch is here partaken of, and on the up journey, taking two days from Pipiriki to Taumarunui, the night is spent on board.

Pipiriki houseboat 2

The upper deck contains the dining, social, smoking rooms etc., and the lower deck provides two-berth sleeping accommodation for about sixty persons. The Houseboat is the property of Messrs A. Hatrick and Co., of Wanganui, who control the tourist trade on the river. They also possess a large, modern hotel at Pipiriki, and provide a fleet of eleven steamers, specially built in England for the tourist traffic. The steamers travel from Wanganui to Taumarunui, the terminus of the Main Trunk Railway, connecting in this way with Auckland and Rotorua.
[Caption from a Stereo card of the houseboat by Rose’s Stereoscopic Views, Melbourne, Australia. c.1909. Abridged.]

Pipiriki House 2

Alexander Hatrick, who promoted the river internationally as the “Rhine of New Zealand” even though the two have little in common, bought Pipiriki House in 1901 and doubled its size. It burned down in 1910.

Pipiriki House

Undaunted, Hatrick replaced his hotel with this one which lasted until 1959, when it also burned to the ground. It wasn’t rebuilt.

Pipiriki porch

The view from the new Pipiriki House after 1910.

Pipi_excursion_Manuwai

The stern wheel paddle steamer Manuwai was Hatrick’s biggest river boat, pictured here on an excursion in the Wanganui’s lower reaches in 1905. The upstream section from Pipiriki to Taumarunui required smaller boats that could handle being winched over some of the rapids.

If you want to relive the old days on the Whanganui river, you can take a summer cruise in the restored paddle steamer Waimarie, built in 1899. The season starts October 20.

Image sources: counting down from the top – 2, 3, 5 and 8 are from the Te Papa collection, the rest are from mine.

Tintern Abbey

From ‘Coming Down the Wye’ by Robert Gibbings. 1942.

It was evening when I stepped ashore by the old Anchor Inn at Tintern, the evening of the harvest moon. On that night, in less prosaic times, lovers came from far and near to whisper promises to each other while, from the west end of the abbey, they watched the full moon fill the great empty circle in the head of the eastern window.

Tintern Abbey 1-3

The building was glowing in the evening light, warm as the rose-tinted walls of Petra. After sunset a shimmering veil of mist filled the valley, through which the church appeared tenuous and unsubstantial.

I wandered among the idle pillars and arches while the evening lost its light. Dew began to fall. Owls called from wood to wood ‘Oo, ooloo oo. Oo, ooloo oo.” It grew darker. A pig grunted; a calf bellowed. Still darker. A woman and a man palavered on the road. Dark cars rushed past in the darkness. ‘Oo, ooloo ooloo oo.’

Then over the high, wooded, eastern hill came the moon, golden in the deep indigo sky. Steadily it grew from a shallow crescent to a fuller arc, then to a half circle, to three-quarters, to the full sphere of light. I was alone, and had no wish for whispers from any one. From the southern meadow I watched the shadows creep into the aisles, and the transepts emerge from dark shapes of their own creating.

Tintern Abbey 4-3

As the mist cleared away the church stood revealed in the moonlight, so calm, so still, yet no calmer than the bones of those who lie beneath its turf; priests, deacons, laymen, all who, in their own way, have swelled the universal song of praise. Some of us worship life because we fear death, some of us worship death because we fear life. There is room for us all. Jackdaws now praise God where once the white-robed monks sang hymns.

After the grand orchestra of the hills through which the Wye finds its course Tintern may seem but the reed-song of a boy, yet no chord of praise was ever better tuned. The ruin is so perfect now that it is difficult to believe it could ever have been nobler. I, for one, could not wish one more stone upon another.

Follow these links for more information about Tintern Abbey in Wales, the Anchor Inn and the river Wye.

Cross Creek and the Incline. Part 2.

Incline train

Passenger train with three Fell engines on the Remutaka Incline. Te Papa collection.

When the rail line to Wellington via Cross Creek and the Remutaka Incline closed in 1955, all buildings were removed from the settlement and the land was placed in the care of New Zealand’s Forest Service, now the Department of Conservation. Cottages at Cross Creek and Summit stations were auctioned off and transported to new locations. A signal box became a shop in Featherston (best icecreams in town), until a recent fire ended that chapter. The track quickly returned to nature. Siberia embankment became saturated through lack of maintenance to its drainage system and, in the course of one stormy night in 1967, slipped into the valley below.

Heritage and history weren’t high priorities in the forward-looking 1960s and most people were probably happy to see the end of a transport system that was slow, antiquated and dirty – imagine the smoke from multiple steam engines in narrow tunnels! But attitudes change with time.

Fell engine H199, the last of its kind, was rescued from the Featherston children’s playground in 1981. Over the next eight years it was restored to its former glory by a dedicated team of volunteers and housed in a purpose-built museum that has won awards and attracted visitors from all over the world. Department of Conservation staff cleared the old track of gorse and scrub and opened it to the public on 1st November 1987.

R_Siberia 1-2

Where the Siberia embankment once stood. Opening day 1987.

R_Siberia 2-2

The blocked drainage tower is on the right. This is the roughest part of an otherwise easy track.

R_The Summit-2

Approaching Summit station after negotiating the long, dark Summit tunnel.

The track was originally intended for walkers but, with the invention of mountain bikes, has since become part of the much longer Remutaka Cycle Trail.

R_tunnel

Bring a torch.

R_long straight

Information panels have been installed at various points of interest. This was the longest straight on the contour-hugging route, all 274 metres of it!

Cross Creek now (March 2018).

R_shelter

This modern shelter is the only standing structure in what was a bustling, noisy railway settlement for 77 years.

R_inspection pit

 Inspection pits from the engine shed remain. Cast iron brake blocks on engines and brake vans were changed here after every round trip.

Natural vegetation has returned to the hills after years of fires started by sparks from the steam engines (see top photo).

R_ferns

It seems incredible that, back in 1870, a surveyor hacked his way through this landscape and decided it would be a good place to build a railway.

A Greate Poole

Two impressions of Llangorse lake in Wales. Text from 1942, images from 1984.

…..during the one short break in an otherwise continuous downpour I visited Llangorse Lake, a stretch of water some five miles in circumference.

Llangorse lake in Wales.

This lake is also known as Savadden, and in a Harleian MS. of about 1695 we read that: ‘In the greate Poole call’d Llyn Savathan once stood a faire citie which was swallowed up by an Earthquake and resigned her stone walles into this deep and broad water, being stored most richly with fish in such abundance as is uncredible…. and indeed the fishermen of this place have often times taken up goodes of severall sortes from the very harte of the Poole but whether these might be goodes that ware cast away is unknowne but we have never heard of any such mischance in oure times.’ The story is probably derived from the remains of ancient lake dwellings which have been identified on an island on the north side of the lake. This island, wholly artificial, was connected with the shore by a causeway of stones and piles, with probably a drawbridge. On it have been discovered the bones of red deer, wild boar, and cattle.

Llangorse lake, Wales, summer 1984.

It is told, to-day, that when the lake is rough the buried church bells can be heard ringing under the water. When I asked a man who had his dwelling by the lake if he had ever heard the bells he replied ‘bunkum.’ When I asked him if it was true that the waters of the river Llynfi, which enter the lake, do not mix with the lake water, but flow through unstained, he replied ‘bunkum.’ When I asked him if the lake was not celebrated for its miracles he replied ‘bunkum,’ and with that amount of information I reached home before the next downpour.
‘Coming Down the Wye’, Robert Gibbings, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. 1942.

Llangorse lake, Wales, summer 1984.

We’ll stay in Wales (where it doesn’t rain all the time) for this week’s Friday Flashback.