Story of Settlement Party 1889-91
Specially written for the Press by A. M. Robson
Article Published in Christchurch Press 11 September 1937
As many people are at present interested in Sunday Island, a short account of the experiences of my family which went there from New Zealand some 48 years ago, may be of interest also. After the New Zealand Government annexed the Kermadec Islands in 1887 — Sunday Island being the largest of these islands — it offered different areas to the public for lease. Some of the areas were taken up by a syndicate of Napier residents, Mr. H. K. Howell and a Mr. Ellisore being the organisers. They in their turn appealed to the public to take up shares in the venture, and this was done by some members of my family, with others.
The scheme was that any person, on payment of £50, should be given a passage to the islands, a five—acre section on the hills and half an acre on the flat for residential purposes. The idea was that the settlers should grow early potatoes and tomatoes for the Auckland market, as the residents did on Norfolk Island.
A vessel was to be procured, and was to ply between Sunday Island and New Zealand every six months or as arranged; between times she was to be engaged in cargo carrying on the coast of New Zealand. Among other encouragements to the public, a doctor was to accompany the expedition.
Knowledge that the island had been inhabited for some years, and that it had a wonderful climate, and the offer of transport, was enough to make the members of my family decide to leave New Zealand and sink or swim in the venture. So in September, 1889 three brothers and two sisters, with Mr. and Mrs. Howell, and five other intending settlers, left Napier in the schooner Dunedin (90 tons) for Auckland. Auckland was to be our final port of call, and there we were to get stores, seeds, etc., to meet our requirements on the island for six months.
ROUGH DAYS AT SEA
This schooner had been engaged in cargo trade up and down the coast of New Zealand. She was brought from Auckland to Napier, and there she was taken charge of by a man with a deep-sea captain’s certificate, a coastal certificate not being sufficient to take the little vessel so far away from land. By the time she had left the shelter of the Napier breakwater (then being constructed), it was late afternoon, and the captain put straight out to sea - he was scared of the coast as it was quite unfamiliar to him. Once at sea we met a head wind and by nightfall we were well south of Cape Kidnappers.
When morning came we were still about where we had started from. The head winds lasted for days and we made very slow progress, being so far out to sea that we could not take advantage of the shore winds. We had the chagrin of seeing through glasses sailing vessels (recognised by the mate who had brought the schooner from Auckland) going ahead and passing out of sight.
On one or two nights the wind, was so strong and the sea was so rough that we were all battened down in our very small cabins, and the sensation was one of fear and anxiety. However, all went well, and nothing disastrous happened.
ARRIVAL AND DISAPONTMENT
Article Published in Christchurch Press 18 September 1937
After a stay of about five days in Auckland we once more embarked and sailed for our Eldorado. The Trip was slow because of lack of wind, but uneventful. It took seven days instead of the usual five. Our destination was Denham Bay (sometimes called Fleetwood), which lies to the south-east of Sunday Island, and which was uninhabited.
When we anchored in the bay on October 11 a mist covered the islands, lifting every now and then to disclose high hills covered with bush of a crimson hue, which I’ve afterwards discovered to be a species of pohutukawa covered with blossom. The effect was charming as the mist floated up and down, and in most places the island seemed clothed with bush from the ocean’s edge to the very tops of the hills.
Our captain anchored in what was thought a very safe place in the bay only to find that as the wind rose we were far too close for comfort to the Wolverine Rock. The spray was breaking over the rock in fine style. So our boat, which we had brought from Napier for our landing, was launched and manned, and the schooner was pulled out of danger. This was our first thrill, and I am sure that the men were very glad of something to do to break the monotony of our long trip in such very congested quarters.
A DIFFICULT LANDING
We began early the next morning to look for a suitable landing-place. This seemed impossible from the vessel, for nothing could be seen but high surf breaking on beach and rocks alike. The boat we had secured from the Napier Harbour Board was not of the best for working in surf. But because of the expert, boating knowledge of one of the would-be settlers, and a willing although not expert crew, not a single accident occurred in the landing of goods and passengers, in spite of great difficulties with surf and rocks.
After some hours away in the boat the men returned to the schooner to report progress to those remaining on board. The captain was very dubious about a landing being made at all. He was quite sure that the project would have to be abandoned and that everyone would have to return to New Zealand. However, when he was assured by the steersman of the boat (the young husband of the writer) that a safe landing could be made, he consented to allow the loading to begin.
The first loads comprised tents, bedding, and cooking gear, camp ovens, and so forth. With these went some of the men who had to be landed to fix up the camp and help unload the boat, which had to be done in a certain way so as to ensure the safe and dry landing of everything.
The first landing was done on the beach, and the next had to be done on the rocks, where the five women of the party were put ashore. We women were put into the boat, one on each thwart. The boat was pulled into the rocks, where some of the men were waiting ready to help us to land, which we did one at a time, being passed from man to man as they stood one behind the other, till we were high and dry on the rocks and out of danger.
There is always a certain amount of danger in landing on a surf beaten coast. The steersman of the boat has to watch the oncoming waves, and if he considers they are getting dangerous he has to order the crew to back oars and wait for a favourable chance to pull in again. Otherwise the boat is likely to be smashed on the rocks or capsized in the surf.
When the women had been landed they proceeded to the camping sites and got busy, while the boat returned to the vessel for the night. The landing of the passengers and goods took three days, and when I mention that among our possessions, large and small, there were a Collard and Collard piano in a case, a small spring trap, and a 200 gallon corrugated iron tank, it will be realised, that the task was not a light one.
The journey was now over and we were all safely ashore. It was with very mixed feelings that we all sat down to our first meal on the shores of what was to be our new home. There was a great feeling of disappointment and disillusion. The hills looked steep and inaccessible. We could not visualise garden plots on those rough looking places.
A few last words about our voyage from New Zealand. We were a very friendly party and the crew could not do enough to make the trip as comfortable as possible. We had plenty to read. Of course, playing cards were much in demand; community singing (as it is now called) was a great enjoyment. One sailor (a merry chap) used to entertain us with solos accompanied by an accordion. The tune was always the same, but he fitted quite a variety of words to it as the fancy took him.
After a day or two of thorough inspection of Denham Bay, which was to be our home, the men were quite satisfied that because of the steepness of the hills and (except in a few places) their inaccessibility, we would have to abandon all ideas of taking up land on them for planting. We would have to concentrate on what land there was available on the flat.
The shareholders and directors who were with the party, Mr. and Mrs. Hovell and my father (Mr. Carver) chose areas on one side of the freshwater raupo lagoon in the centre of the bay. My husband and I, with some of the other settlers, took
land on the other side of the lagoon. The lagoon, which is about.40 acres In extent, had once been a freshwater lake. The tradition is that settlers from New Zealand in years gone by preferred feathers from the seabirds to the “one one” (Maori for raupo seed head) which they wore. They emptied the seed heads which they wore. They emptied the seed heads into the lake, bringing about the growth of raupo. By digging wells at the side of the lake we found fresh water — a wonderful boon, as there was no other fresh water in the bay.
After a meeting of settlers our true position was made known. The vessel which we thought was to carry goods to and from New Zealand would have to be sold on her return to New Zealand. There was not enough money in the hands of the directors to pay the installments due, through some would be shareholders backing out at the last minute. Furthermore, no doctor had come or would come to the island.
FOOD SUPPLIES: PRESERVING EGGS AND MEAT
Article Published Christchurch Press 25 September 1937
We had stores with us for six months. Every effort had to be made now to plant and so prepare for the time when our stores should be depleted. My husband and myself, together with my father and mother, sisters, and, one brother, intended to stay and do the best we could to make a home. The others were to return to New Zealand at the first opportunity. My people found a very suitable piece of land to cultivate, and we all set to work to plant the seeds and plants we had brought.
Our first thought, was for potatoes and maize. Houses had also to be built, and storehouses for our food supply - for we found that there were rats on the place, though not any worse than in many parts of New Zealand. The houses were frames of saplings and poles cut from the bush - chiefly ngaio and pohutukawa with sides built of nikau or raupo. In a subtropical climate they were very cosy and comfortable.
Nlkau grew in abundance, and to my sisters and myself the art of plaiting the long leaves together, though quite new to us, was very fascinating. We soon became quite expert at the work. Everything was so novel, the climate so beautiful, and the outside life so charming, that we enjoyed every minute of it.
I must not forget to tell of an experience which caused many a laugh. My husband and I had just about finished our new house of two rooms. One Sunday morning after a very stormy night we were lying and listening to the wind, which seemed to be coming in stronger gusts on the sides of our little home, when with a crash the whole side of the roof lifted up and we were gazing at the sky! Fortunately the rain had ceased for the time, and I can assure you that not a minute was lost in getting that roof turned over and back into place. I may say that during the two years my husband and I lived on the island we never experienced wind like that again.
Unfortunately the potatoes we had planted, which were growing beautifully, were quite killed by the gale, but we ate gladly the tiny tubers that were left in the ground.
As time went on and vessels came to the island (the Hinemoa came twice), all the settlers except the members of my family mentioned before returned to New Zeaiand. We carried on. As food was the ruling thought always, we tried not to lose a moment in keeping the supply from diminishing. We planted in every bit of ground that would grow anything, and although we had many failures before our provisions from New Zealand were exhausted, we soon had supplies of island food stored away.
We also found a wonderful planting ground in the crater basin, a dry lake whose floor was covered with soil that would grow anything. I have seen growing there maize cobs more than two feet long and full of beautiful grain, tomatoes by the hundredweight, and pumpkins and marrows with runners yards long and as many as 30 marrows on one vine. And the water melons! they were simply marvellous, both for size and flavour. Taro (or the arum lily family) thrives on the island and is the substitute for potatoes, which do not do at all well in the sub-tropical climate. Taro is most enjoyable, and we were glad to get it.
Petrels, commonly called mutton-birds, and terns, which visit the island every year to lay their eggs and hatch their young, were eagerly looked for. They start to fly round the cliffs about the beginning of August, wheeling in and out and uttering their hoarse cries. In about the third week they alight, the mutton-birds to settle on the hills and cliffs and the terns to settle down on one end of the beach of Denham Bay.
The terns lay their eggs on the beach in hundreds well up from the sea; and with the help of the sun and, the warm sand the young are hatched.
A LUXERY – TURTLE SOUP
The eggs, which are as large as hen’s eggs of medium size, are of every imaginable marking and tint. Most of them are spotted but the spots are most irregular, no two eggs being marked alike. When we found these eggs were eatable and not at all fishy, we set to work to find means of preserving them. This we did by collecting all the shells and pieces of coral we could find on the beach, burning them, and gathering the lime deposit which remained. Of the deposit we made a solution with which we covered the eggs and this made a perfect preservative. There were so few shells and pieces of coral on the beach that every bit was precious, and we took great care of the solution.
A few weeks after we landed a turtle was seen swimming off the beach. There was great excitement, a rifle was secured and the turtle was shot. One of the men swam out and dragged it in. We took off the shell and divided the meat among the different camps. The meat, which is like very dark-coloured beef, but waxy, is not very tasty and rather stringy, but the soup has only to be tasted to be really appreciated. It is of a pale yellow colour and most delicious. For a few days we imagined ourselves to be in one of the most expensive of hotels, or wherever else they serve that wonderful dish.
The oil of the turtle is splendid for cooking fish or anything else. It is odourless, but cooks everything, put into it in a most appetising way. If stored for any length of time, it becomes granulated and keeps well.
One day the men took out a boat and caught a splendid lot of fish, mostly kingfish. The smaller ones were most enjoyable, but after most of the men had left the island the fishing could not be continued as the boat was too heavy for three men to handle up and down the beach.
The first March on the island saw us all very busy preserving mutton-birds for our future food supply. The young of these birds, which at that time of the year were beginning to lose their down, were then ready to be brought down from the hills; and for more than a fortnight everyone in the different camps was kept very busy from daylight to
dark. The men went up the hills with bags made of sacks picked up the birds from the ground, killed them, and brought them down. As the birds arrived below, the women, except the cook, were ready to pluck them, and as each man came down he was given his breakfast and took his part in the preparing of the birds. We plucked them, tied them in twos, salted them in brine, and put them next morning in a smoke-house. After the preserving, the birds were packed away in sacks or anything that would hold them.
My husband found a kauri log on the beach at this time, and this he and I cut from end to end with cross-cut saw (I became quite expert at sawing). Then the centre of the log had been hollowed out we had two very good troughs, in which we stored both eggs and mutton-birds. When a weight is placed on top of the birds a quantity of oil exudes in which they keep good for along time. In our camps alone we put down more than 2000 birds. When plucked they were as large as bantam fowls, but with very meaty breasts. They were delicious, both fresh and preserved. If they are grilled fresh they are like a tender mutton chop; the preserved ones, boiled or grilled, have the same flavour as a red herring.
I may say here that the mutton-birds supplied to the New Zealand market from the islands to the south are not to be compared with the Sunday Island ones in flavour, being very fishy and strong. I have tried both.
HUNTING GOATS WITH DOGS: USEFUL DISCOVERIES
(“ Article Published in Christchurch Press 2 October l937”)
On our journeys we were invariably accompanied by our dogs. One, a strong black and white cattle dog tan from Auckland, was a wonderful help in catching and holding the goats, of which there were hundreds wild on the island. This dog could hold the largest billy-goat. The goats we used to augment our food supply, as their kidney fat is colourless and very useful. Our other dog was born on the day we landed, his mother being a little black and tan terrier which was given to me when we left Napier.
The little dog (about the shape and colour of a large-sized Pomeranian) was absolutely wonderful. He would bail up and hold without biting, the female goats which were so useful to us, some being brought down from the hills to swell our dairy herd and
others being killed for eating. The meat, especially for the fat ones, was very like real mutton.
We called the little dog Cutis, after one of the islands, and he was one of the most sagacious I have ever known. He was taken to the most inaccessible places. If the men had to cross gullies on the trees the little fellow was raised or lowered with a rope round him, to which he submitted without a struggle; in fact he was always eager to be on with the job and get after the goats. Both the dogs were brought back to New Zealand, the little one being my husband’s faithful friend and companion for 13 years.
My husband (who learnt taxidermy in Wellington) flayed and preserved the skins of many sea-birds that were found on the island. Several of these were sent to Mr. Hamilton, then curator of the Napier Museum. Under my husband’s expert tuition I became quite expert in the art of skinning birds, and I made myself very useful.
A NATURAL PRESERVATIVE
We made a valuable discovery which enabled us to preserve goatskins with a substance which was found in a hot cave in the crater basin. This cave which was about 10 feet high at the entrance, tapered back for some distance till it was about two feet high. The roof is quite hot (I have felt it) and exudes a frothy substance containing mineral salts. This substance falls to the floor of the cave, and when gathered up, boiled and spread hot over the goatskins, it preserves them for all time. We were fortunate also in finding several wild bee hives.
We found several, lime-trees in the scrub in the bay, the fruit of which was very acceptable. Its juice, sweetened with wild honey and diluted with water, was very much sought after in hot weather.
We also had a banana plantation, portioned off for our use, and this, when we had cultivated it, yielded a never ending supply of fruit. This particular banana is different from that which comes to the Auckland market, being only about five inches long and triangular in section. The fruit itself is a salmon pink colour. Though it is not very enjoyable to some palates when eaten raw, it is delicious fried and was always in demand on the island; indeed, it was one of our staple foods, so often did we use it. When we had flour we used the fruit with it, making fritters which our men nearly always took on hunting and exploring expeditions.
AN EQUABLE CLIMATE
While I am talking of flour I may say that we found it did not keep fresh in the island climate for more than six months; no matter how dry it was kept it became very musty in flavour. Of course we could not keep it hermetically sealed. The parakas (store-houses) we built had to have their floors several feet from the ground and their supports covered with tin to keep the rats out. The same had to be done for the frames which we erected to hold the ripening corn and bananas, but that was to done in New Zealand.
During the two years my husband and I lived in the island we kept very careful meteorological observations. My husband was supplied with the necessary equipment and papers, the latter being carefully filed and sent to Mr. Hamilton, of the Napier Museum. The average temperature was, if I remember rightly, somewhere about 70 to 74 degrees. I know that the coldest morning temperature recorded was 59 degrees.
It was a wonderful climate to live in. None of us ever had a cough or a cold. When the men or any of us went on long exploring trips which necessitated staying out over night, only one rug was taken. A shelter would be built of nikau palms, and a fire could be made; nothing else was needed.
A CHILD BORN: VISITORS ENTERTAINED
(Published In Christchurch Press 9th October 1937)
An exciting experience now and then was the sight of numbers of whales disporting themselves at sea at the entrance to the bay. It was a wonderful sight to see these huge creatures leaping their full length out of the water time and time again; and then they would spout great columns of wate high in the air like geysers. They only came near the bay when the wind was off shore, as they are far too clever to be caught in shoal water as a rule.
The sunsets seen from the island were varied, but not a bit more beautiful than those we used to see off the west coast of New Zealand. When I was making my baby-clothes, which I made all by hand, I used to sit on the beach in the evenings, by myself or with my mother or one of my sisters. I might say that my mother (dear, thoughtful woman) had taken with her quite a number of little garments that my sisters, brothers and myself had worn as babies. The advent of my first baby was a source of much pleasure to my family, and my sisters vied with each other in taking care of him.
My sisters took charge of our dairy herd of goats, and with my husband and brother in turn they were very busy people each night and morning. Their method was to tie the kids up every night in a little shed made of split timbers. In the morning the nanny-goats were milked and the kids were released and allowed to run with their mothers for the day. The goats were fed with pohutukawa boughs and leaves, which were thrown into
With the exception of the one gale mentioned earlier in this narrative, we had quite normal weather. We certainly had some thunderstorms, which were rather awesome while they lasted. The thunder never seemed to stop. One minute it would be clashing right on top of the roof then it would roll away and almost cease, only to return with renewed noise; but the storms never lasted long. We had several earth tremors, but only one of any consequence, and it did no damage.. We were not very much alarmed by these, and became quite indifferent to the small shakes.
On the winter evenings we played cards, and the four packs we had taken were very precious. As they got worn and dirty they were cleaned and the ragged edges trimmed. And our piano was a great comfort to us as we were all fond of music and could all sing (more or less). We had taken quite a stock of songs with us, and with these we spent many pleasant evenings. If I remember rightly, we entertained the whaling crew of the Costa Rica Packet with music, they joining with us in singing the songs they knew. These men were all Pitcairn Islanders, most if not all of them descended from the rnutineers of the Bounty. They were astonished to see our piano. Only the whaling crew came ashore, and we did not see either the ship’s captain or any of the crew that brought the vessel from America.
A WILD PIG CAUGHT
As I write, little happenings in our life keep on recurring to me. when we landed we searched eagerly for any evidences of earlier settlers, but none was found. It was only when members of the Bell family visited us during the first months of our residence that we were told that there was a large pig roaming about in the bay somewhere. It had been seen at different times by the Bell family, but they could not get near enough to kill it. It had been left there by someone visiting the island years before.
The men of the party decided one day that, as we were short of fresh meat, the pig should be caught. So they formed a line from the hills to the sea, each man being so rnany yards from the next. The bay was combed, in this way, with the result that the pig was located. In the scrub about the middle of the bay, killed and brought to the camp in triumph.
The pig was very fat and proved very good eating, the fat itself being valuable. Readers of these articles will no doubt be amused by such feeling references to the value of fat in the dietary. Only those who have experienced a dearth of fat meats and butter in their daily diet will perhaps understand. But really we did not fare so badly for islanders and at no time were we short of food. Indeed, my mother was very proud that after three years on the island she brought back to New Zealand a tin of tinned rabbit which she had kept for hard times and had never had to use. When opened it was still quite good.
FIERCE BEES: ODD BEHAVIOUR OF HEN
(Published in Christchurch Press 16 October 1937)
My mother, sisters and I spent a good deal of our leisure time sewing, making new clothes with material we had taken from Auckland, and remaking the clothes we had brought with us. Most of the time we wore cotton dresses. We always went barefooted except when tramping on the hills, as there was quite a lot of volcanic scoria, like fine gravel, on the tracks
The men wore shirts and shorts. For their feet they used the skin of the hind-legs of goats, drawing it on (hair side next to the foot), and tying it at the lower end and above the ankle. This formed a kind of moccasin, completely protecting the foot from the sharp gravel. A very cheap boot !
The attempt of one of the men to rob a wild bee hive caused us great amusement. He was very anxious to rob a hive, but was determined to do it all by himself - “No use everyone messing around.” He had his own idea of how to go about it. So we fixed Jack up with a helmet, consisting of wire meat-cover to which I had sewn a piece of butter-cloth to tuck in his short collar; stout woollen socks were pulled over his hands; his trousers were tucked into similar socks. Then, armed with a pail and a sheath knife our independent one sallied forth. He pooh-poohed the suggestion, that he should take some matches to light a fire for a smoke screen, so no more suggestions were made. My husband remarked: “There’s going to be some fun. I know that hive and the bees are very fierce.”
RETREAT IN DISORDER
Hour after hour passed. Just as the sun began to set and a search party had been suggested, our “bee man” appeared. Oh, what a sorry sight he was ! helmet gone, hair and clothes all dishevelled and sopping wet, his boots, gloves, and socks all full of bee-stings, (a fact, to say nothing of the stings. which had landed on his face, arms and other exposed parts) and no honey.
It turned out that, after he cut into the hive, the bees just swarmed out all over our hero. As there was no smoke to dull their senses they just got to work, found a hole somewhere in the clothes and popped in their stings. Then the fun began ! It was no good beating at them. They planted stings all over him, and at last, so formidable did they become, our valiant bee hunter had to rush into the sea in self-defence, and remain there untll the bees left him. Then he returned a sadder and wiser man. Later, this hive was taken (with proper precautions) and yielded quite a good store of honey. We found that if a tree bearing a hive did not have to be cut down to get the honey,
the bees would return. Thus we were able to procure further supplies from the same source later on.
THE “FAIRY TERN”
We were fortunate not to suffer any major accidents during our two years’ residence on the island, and my people who remained on the island for the following year, had the same good fortune.
I do not think I have mentioned a dainty white bird called the Fairy Tern. It is about as big as a shining cuckoo so well known to New Zealanders. This bird visits Sunday Island every year to lay its eggs and hatch its young. Its habits are most uncommon, as it lays its egg on the slanting trunk of a tree some feet from the ground, and there the egg is hatched. My husband and I visited one such spot in the bush from time to time, and were able to watch the whole proceeding. Some of a party of university students which visited the island more than 20 years ago took photographs of these birds, of the egg on the tree, and the young bird hatched from the self-same egg.
AN AMBITOUS HEN
The only birds other than sea-birds that I can remember are the tuis. They seem to be the same as the New Zealand tuis, but they are smaller. But I have forgotten the rails which lived in the raupo swamp. My husband secured some specimens of these with their young (little black, fluffy balls of down), which he sent to the Napier Museum.
While on the subject of birds I must tell you of the extraordinary behaviour, of one of the hens which my mother brought from New Zealand. Whether she had wandered into the bush near the nesting places of the fairy terns I do not know; but one day we were puzzled to see her scrambling up the slanting trunk of a tree as it was not time to roost and the sun was shining brightly we were also very interested. We watched the old hen a she sat there, and, saw her lay an egg, which of course, fell to the ground and was smashed. Our amazement and astonishment can be imagined. Strange to say, that hen would never afterwards lay in the fowl house, but would wait till she was let out later in the day and then climb the tree for her daily job ! We had to shut her up in the yard all the time if we wanted a whole egg.
BIG FISH: GUARDING SUPPLIES OF MATCHES
(“Article Published in Christchurch Press 30 October1937”)
One of the jobs that I undertook was the stretching and preserving of goat skins. Because of their objectionable smell the adult male goats were never brought down from the hills, though they had very handsome skins, the hair across the neck and shoulders being of great length and beauty. But the female goats (and sometimes the wethers). had skins that were always fit for keeping. We found them very useful for floor-coverings, many of which I brought back to New Zealand with me. I also picked up quite a number of kid’s skins, the finest and most beautiful of which were those taken from the female goat after they were killed.
Of course our hunters did not make a practice of killing goats that were near to kidding, but often it was a case of having to do so; often a female goat at that particular time would be very fat, and good eating if cleaned and dressed quickly. The kids would be skinned at once, if they were mature enough, and the skin when cured was very soft and beautiful. I am afraid I was not very commercially minded in those days, as when I returned to New Zealand, I gave most of the skins away.
Potatoes, I have said, did not flourish on the island, but all kinds of runner beans did well; some sorts that only grow eight or nine inches long in New Zealand grew to from 12 to16 inches and were most delicious. We grew all sorts of herbs. Shallots flourished, and grew plenty of them.
AN UNEXPECTED DIP
The fish supply was disappointing, although at times hapuku and kahawai would come in to the rocks. The one and only fish I have ever caught was a large kahawai off the rocks of the island, and I was so excited that I nearly fell into the sea. My husband did fall in one day – or should I say, he was pulled in - when he and my brother fishing for hapuku with very strong lines. They had no luck for some time, when all of a sudden something got on my husband’s line. It pulled and tugged, and so great was its strength that before the boys realised what was there my husband was in the sea. Away went the fish and the line — it was a very large hapuku. My husband, not to be beaten at his next attempt., took my wire clothes line and fastened it to a stake well up on the rocks. Eventually he landed a hapuku more than five feet long and of great girth.
As time went on our supply of matches fell very low. So we made it a rule never to let the fire go out, and we were never at a loss as we had a splendid supply of firewood from the pohutukawa growing everywhere about and lying where it had been blown down by strong winds. If the men were going on a hunting expedition they would be supplied with a few precious wax matches, and they would light a fire wherever they camped.
All our tools, axes and spades, and so on, we had brought from New Zealand, and if handles were wanted they were made from the pohutukawa. We did get a few things from our people in New Zealand when the Hinemoa called at the island; but the people on that vessel did not seem to want to carry cargo for us, but only letters. They rather resented our being there at all.
The Armohura or Tropic Bird, lays its eggs and hatches its young in holes and crevices in the cliffs of the islands. When fully fledged they are very handsome, with brilliant red beaks and feet, and rose pink plumage. The two long tail feathers are also a brilliant red with jet black spines. The young birds, when first fledged, are a contrast in colour to the parents, having pale pink feathers with black centres. We have always regretted that we had no cameras with us, for beyond my father’s sketches we have no pictures to recall to us the day to day happenings on the island.
As surf bathing is so popular today, I have often been asked if we indulged in that sport on the island. My answer is No. It was too dangerous a pastime. Though my husband, father and brother were very strong swimmers, they felt it would be unwise to risk their lives when so much depended on them for the livelihood of those dear to them. They did take a dip now and then and enjoyed it thoroughly, but they did not make a habit of
it. The lakes in the crater basin were a source of great pleasure to our swimmers, and my sisters as well as the men had many a bathe there. But this was iot for me. I was always a coward in the water and after nearly drowning my husband by clinging to both his arms when I suddenly got out of my depth in the green lake (only to be pulled off by my brother), I did not try to swim again.
THE VENTURE ENDED: REUNION IN NEW ZEALAND
(Article Published in Christchurch Press 6 November 1937).
We had some quite hair-raising experiences on our tramps, on which I loved to go whenever I was able to accompany my husband and my sisters. One tramp was round the green lake and the track in some places was only wide enough for one person to walk. We had to be very careful there. One false step would have meant a fall into the lake of 30 or 40 feet below, and deep water, too.
Another track we used to traverse, from the bay to the crater basin, was over steam holes and round the hillsides. We had to pass along a narrow track more than 400 feet up, and in one particular place my husband and brother used to help the women folk along with a rope, one holding each end while we sidled along this part of the track. When we had got across safely the rope would be hauled in and we would proceed on our way, very thrilled with our adventure.
I do not think I have said anything about our slush lamps. When we realised that we would not have a vessel going to and from New Zealand to replenish our stores, we naturally became very careful indeed. Materials for lighting were of course, a big item, so with the oil that exuded from the preserved mutton-birds, we filled empty meat-tins, and inserted a piece of thick cotton material about an inch or so wide. When this ”wick” was thoroughly soaked it provided us with light when our candles and kerosene were finished. The lamps were like tallow candIes, in that the wicks had to be snuffed every now and then to keep the light bright.
A LONELY GRAVE
The water which we obtained from wells dug at the side of the lake in the bay was good for both washing and drinking. But we ran out of blue, and as our sheets and linen began to look yellow we had to refrain from using our best white things until our return to New Zealand.
There was a little spot in the bay which always gave us a saddened feeling whenever we passed it. That was the lonely grave of a boy, the son of a sea captain who had died on board ship and had been buried on the island long years before we went there. The grave was right beside the track that led to and from my parents house, and we always had to pass it. I have always felt pleased that my father made a copy of the brass plaque that stands at the head of that lonely grave.
Fourteen months after my first son was born, my second son arrived, on October 19, 1891. Life had gone on in the same way (to me rather monotonous); there was no prospect of anything else, and when the Hinemoa came on her usual yearly trip in December 1891, I persuaded my husband to return to New Zealand. My next eldest sister decided to return too.
BACK TO NEW ZEALAND
My father, mother, and my youngest brother and sister decided to remain another year; and as I was still not very strong and had to take my baby of six weeks, my people persuaded me to leave my eldest little chap with them, which I did. My people all returned to New Zealand in the following December, when we were once more united.
My people had a beautiful garden on the island which they were very loath to leave. I believe the strawberries they grew were a wonderful sight, and after giving the crew of the Hinemoa as much as they could eat, a large clothes basketful was picked to take on board the vessel - but unfortunately the cargo of fruit was lost when the boat capsized in the surf.
I may add that we all enjoyed excellent health on the Island, and certainly if we had carried out our first intention we would never have left so soon. I still say, that if means of going to and from the island were found, it would be a splendid health resort. In these days of wireless communication it would not be so isolated a place. There is no doubt about the quality of the climate, and if people are determined to cultivate the different fertile spots, and not to miss any of the seasons for obtaining supplies of food such as mutton-birds and eggs, there is no fear of a food shortage. But I would not advise any woman to go there unless communication were established with New Zealand.