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"OVER THE FALLS AND OUT ON THE CEAN."

The following extraordinary narrative of New Zealand experience is supplied to the Australasian by Mr. John George Miles, formerly well known in Nelson. It is unnecessary to make a single comment on the matter or the manner of the remarkable story, which ia titled as above, with, a descriptive sub-title as below :—

Being an Account of Some Danq-ebotts Expeditions in a Rob Roy Canoe, in N.Z., in Seabch of Gold.

By F. R. G. S,

Late in the jear 1867 I returned from a twelvemonth's holiday in Old England (to which after 12 years' tolerably severe roughing it in the early days of Nelson, I felt myself fully entitled), bringing baok with me a Rob Roy canoe of the Baltic pattern. During my short stay at home I had been introduced to Captain M'Gregor, the commodore, or the captain, I forget which, of the " canoe club."^(l rather think the Prince of Wales was commodore, or something of the sort). I had also read his clever " 1000 miles in the Rob Roy canoe " which spoke only of river travels (some of them dangerous enough), and afterwards I studied his" Rob Roy" on the Baltic, mostly a log kept in deep sea waters. I read a thrilling and well-told story, which appeared soon afterwards in The Times, describing a somewhat hazardous crossing of the English Channel in a Rob Roy canoe, manned by one of the club. The subject began to interest me. During my 12 years' apprenticeship to colonial life, it had often been part of my week's work to shoot the falls of a rapid river in a Maori canoe, but that was quite a different matter. The one was manned by a crew of at least five Maoris, who, if the falls were too Bleep, or the river too rapid, could easily aacend the banks, catlike, and by means of strips of flax, first draw up myself and afterwards the canoe, and put us both into smooth water on the lower side. But the Rob Roy was a much more difficult affair. Here you had to go about alone, carry your own provisions, light your own fire, pitch your solitary tent, and possibly lose your own life, for want of a little assistance, after which, probably, your whitened skeleton would be found years afterwards adorning a plateau above high-water mark on some almost unknown river, that even the Maoris themselves had no name for, and even the intrepid pig-hunters who stumbled across your remains would find a fey oak planks, a long iron keel, some copper nails, and your fryingpan, billy, and gun. That such would be my case if I went out alone, I clearly foresaw. Suppose I should strike a snag and the canoe and stores Bink from under me ? Most likely, I should be- at the time be at least 50 miles from the nearest settlement, English or Maori, for I had it in my mind, if I did take back to my adopted home a Rob Roy, I would explore in her where the foot of man had never yet trod. Her infinitesimal draught of water, her large sloped decks for carrying stores, and the mode of propulsion, always looking forward at your work, all combined to make her the very boat in which to examine the miles and miles of creeks and lagoons at the foot of many an auriferous river, whose banks covered by supplejack, lawyer-vine, and impenetrable scrub, I well knew the very Maoris them* selves had never entered. They were taboo even to them. I described all this to M'Gregor, and consulted him as a man of experience. We had long discussions upon the subject. We consulted the Messrs. Searle (the celebrated builders of the canoe, and of the Oxford and Cambridge racing boats,) but foi weeks we came to no definite conclusion, except the want of help a man would be certain to suffer from in such an uninhabited place. At last the captain hit upon an idea that I immediately proceeded to act upon, and ultimately carried out; with what success the reader will see. I was strongly advised by him to get a canoe constructed, stronger in every way than his Baltic canoe, of solid English oak plank, not less than 14ft. 6in. long, 2ft. 4in. broad, and ±in. thick, with extra canvas, considering the extra ballast she was expected to carry, and not to weigh, empty, more that 701b. Calculated, likewise, that loaded, without her crew (of one man), with an extra weight of 801b of cargo in her, she should only draw 2in., but with her crew not more than 4in. in all. We went together to Messrs. Searle, and M'Gregor gave them the plans, Had I gone with anyone else, I should never have succeeded at all, but the captain of the canoe club was all powerful there. As it was, when told that six weeks was all the time we could giva him, Mr. S., sen., looked " unutterable things," and merely stated that he had orders in his workshop tnen for more than 70 canoes to be completed in the same time. However, when the subject of the price waa mentioned, and he found I would willingly pay one-quarter mora than the usual price, he became more amenable and agreeable, and finally it wasj arranged that for the sum of £26 Bs. 6d. my little I vessel was to be safely delivered on board the some-! what larger one that was to ferry me over the 14,000 i odd miles that separate the Thames from Cook's; Straits. Moreover, I was to be present each day, soi soon as I liked, in the workshops, and to watch her; progress from her keel and garboard streak, to thef time when her little silk Union Jack flew at her mast-ij head, for it was part of M'Gregor's advice for me tojj take out only one English built canoe with me and if[i she arrived safely, to construct another one in Nelson| to travel in company with some friend, built of someg tough colonial wood, as near as possible on the same lmes| from the experience I should have acquired in Searle »;;;

yards. This seemed in every respect sound advice, and the future will show how well it succeeded. The six weeks soon flew by. Visits to friends in the far N., ditto due S.,to say nothing of E. and W., soon ran away with the few last hours on the dear old English soil I was likely to spend for many many years; and then the day before the Electra left the docks, I hurried down with my luggage, in company with several younger brothers and cousins, who would have given their ears to have come too (poor lads! how little they knew of the delights [?] of a long sea voyage!), to arrange my cabin. Silver's people had done their best. To me (au old traveller), the little cabin looked like a sea paradise and I was arranging and seeming my sea chest, &c, when it suddenly flashed across me—the canoe. I had not seen her for 10 days, and then she was nearly finished. Where was sho ? Just then the old stoward, whom I knew so well (I had travelled with him and his captain before, the latter a regular brick and a great friend of mine), came in and touching his cap Baid: "Oh if you please, Mr. M., will you come'jout for a moment on the mahwlocis sir, and look at your boat. Captain W. saw it slung'^himself directly it came on board, but wo took the cover off to look at her, sir, and my eye ! ain't she a perfect beauty ? you'll take the shine out o' them Nelson folks, Ido think !" I went out and there was my little jewel encased in a cover that stretched over her sloping decks, and was made fast under her keel with straps suspended under the thwarts of one of the huge cutters on the booms, just below the break of the poop. " Yes, sir," said the steward, " the skipper, he put all her sails, her mast, and your two paddles (for I had ordered two in case of accidents) inside of her, and he did say that if aiiy of the hands ill-used her on the passage, it wouldn't be five-water grog they'd get, but none whatsomdever ! " So my mind was relieved, and nothing remained but to fee the old boy who had relieved it, to pay Messrs. Searle, and to hurry back at 4 o'clock express to spend my last evening in the abode of my ancestors. Next evening I was on board of the Electra at Gravesend. That night we were tugged clear of the foreland, and the following day saw us, I and the canoe, bowling along 12 knots an hour before a strong N.E. breeze, which soon carried us clear of the chops of the Channel. On the 84th day we dropped anchor in Wellington, after a tolerably pleasant voyage, and though we had encountered Borne very severe weather rounding the Cape, yet owing to the kind skipper's care in the docks, no harm had happened to my little pet. The next thing was the getting her over safely in one of the intercolonial steamers to Nelson. The Eangitoto arrived after our waiting about four days in Wellington, and to her, and her captain, I, like Cseaar, consigned myself and all my fortunes. However, the little tiny boat was such a novelty, that even the rou^h, Booty stokers respected her, and by the captain's orders she was finally placed in one of the quarter-boats, out of harm's way, and secured, not before she had run the narrowest escape that she had yet had, in being nearly sat upofy as she laid on the poop, in the hurry of casting off, by an exceedingly stout old lady. Nothing but my presence (and presence of mind) saved her from instant annihilation, and in that case I should never have had the chance of writing the following thrilling narrative. To make a long story short, in about 30 hour 3we were alongside the Government pier in Nelson Haven, and my darling safely slung in a bontshed, before I even allowed myself to be fairly welcomed home to my numerous friends, who were all anxious to know what I had in that " sack." Next day we uncovered her, and their delight knew no bounds ; but when I stepped the mast, adjusted the sail aud cushion, and stepping into her, afloat, sailed down the " tide-rip " seven miles an hour, a cheer from the several hundred people assembled greeted the launch of the little Southern Cross in the waters of the south. After a few weeks' rest amongst friends, and after I had detailed, for the benefit of audience after audience, my visit to the French Exposition, and all at out beautiful Paris, the visit of the Sultan and Pasha of Egypt to England, my introduction to H.8..H. the Prince of Wales, in company with some 60 other gentlemen, governoi'3 of St. Bartholemew,s Hospital, on the occasion we elected him our president, and other home tropics which seemed greatly to interest the old colonists who had not visited the laud of their birth for 20 years, I began to long for the breezy hills of my farm, and to hear again the shrill, metallic scream that, ringing far through the magnificent bush of New Zealand, announces, while the equestrian is yet afar off, his approach to the large saw-mills of which I had been the pioneer and founder, and in which I still held a share. I began to find the fashionable black velvet " cut away" a. bore, and thirsted for a " 6lop " and independence. Accordingly, one fine morning in November (how peculiar this would sound in the London I had so recently left), having arranged with one of my own timber carters to carry, slung beneath his axles, the Southern Cross as far as the road goes in the direction of the mill, and to leave her at the river (a distance of 15 miles) at a friend's house, I mounted a horse sent down from the farm for me, and in two hours I was on my native heath, and my name was—certainly not Eob Koy M'Gregor. Here I found everything very much as I had left it. The trees around the dear old house were much grown. It had been a good Beason with the wheat and oats as the ricks testified, and the stock-book showed a tolerable satisfactory result. A ride over the run (involving considerable loss of leather to my unseasoned limbs) showed as peaceful a scene of sylvan beauty as ever a landlord jupt returned from a year's absence could possibly desire. It was just the end of the spring, and both trees and fields had put on that emerald tint that they wear at no other period of the year. I had ascended a hill by a steep Bheep track, intricate but safg, and had dismounted about 1000 ft. above the house roofs, whose chimneys I could see at my feet, lazily puffing forth small jets of blue Bmoke in the evening air. I could hear the sharp chirp of an axe, where the man cook was chopping firewood for the evening's tea. Far away a mile or more, I saw the cattle lazily grazing on the fresh pasture, as mob after moj> came in from the low ground, ascending to the knob where they camped at night. Below, there arose a wjiole chorus of " ba'aha" from several hundred she^p and lambs in the homestead. Then there came the cows to be milked at the stockyard, and the man was whistling as he followed them, and even his dog danced about as if he felt the exhilaration of such an evening, in such a climate. Talk of the English climate, indeed : I shuddered on the hill top at the bare recollection of its chilly fogs. Far down the valley I saw the winding Wairoa River wending its tortuous course to the distant sea, and over the large flat expanse of the Waimea plain the setting sun flashed on hundreds of distant windows, till the wholo expanse Beemed set with diamonds; while in the background lay the distant Port hills, and just leaving the mouth of the haven I saw the farascending smokß from the funnel of the mail steamer that was bearing to that northern land my letters, full of thankfulness to a Higher Power for my safe arrival in my adopted home. On the other hand I looked straight over the Motueka valley, 40 miles and more, to the crater of Mount Arthur (an extinct volcano), and the snow-crowned summits of the " back bone" of the Middle Island against the deep blue sky, till they faded away in the golden haze, nearly 100 miles distant. Suddenly the snn dipped behind Mount Arthur, and, recollecting that in ten minutes it would be dark until the moon rose, I trotted carefully down the winding path, to tea, with an appetite that nothing short of a long sea voyage, an exhilarating ride, good spirits, and a splendid digestion could give any man. The way I disposed of beefsteak, eggs, and milk that evening, fairly astonished my Bteward, at whose hospitable- board and amidst whose charming family-circle I spent the evening. After tea the moon was up, and lighting the colonial pipe, I strolled up and down the long verandah, gazing out between the eweet-scented honeysuckle and the cloth of gold rose that twined around its posts, over the brilliantly lit-up scene before me. There lay the treacherous sea on whose uncertain bosom I had lately tossed for many a weary night, and whose caprices I had made up my mind again to tempt —and in such a cockleshell! Eeader, you may well ask: why, with comforts around me, I could not stay at home and enjoy them ? Why, Knowing the dangers of the deep so well as I had mica to, I should iritfaUy rifk the lile giyca »« fox * I

better purpose? Why, with snch a property, I should want to find more excitement? That one word expresses all! Hardly three years before, I had lost a fond wife, as lovely as she was good, and it was to take her dying bequest to me, a little boy, home, to nestle with his dear graudfather and grandmother and a loving circle of uncles and aunts, that that voyage to England had been undertaken. Her voice still haunted that large, comfortable house at eventide, when the work of the day was done, and now even his little prattlfffif-tongue was gone! There was his nursery, thore still unrnended (at my request) the pane of glass he broke with his tiny fist, and— and—but I could go no further and fairly burst into toars. After a while they relieved me, and I could look out more calmly on her now neglected flowergarden before me ; but I felt that years of hard work and constant excitement must pass over my head before I could again live there at peace in the moonlight, surrounded by all those dear (oh ! how dear !) but painful memories. No ! I would go the saw-mill, and amidst the whirring of its machinery seek forgetfulness in building another canoe, and then away for a time from the " teeming haunts of men." I felt my resolution strengthened, and I breathed an inward prayer that strength might in time be given me to. live once more in future years in the house I had constructed, on the farm I had cleared and made the little paradise it was. I was almost cheerful, when mine host, the steward, cheerily sang out, " bupper !" I must, however, confess that I enjoyed the tea meal better. Sleep did not come to me early. At times I dreamed I was again on board the Electra, and in my sleep I rehearsed one dreadful night off the Cape. Again I clung to the mizen shrouds, afraid to go below, awestruck and yet insensibly admiring the grandeur of the storm ! Again I felt the shock of the sea that struck us, carrying away our starboard main-deck bulwarks, and sweeping away to leeward the prize entire horse and the ship's cow, boxes and all, from their berth on the main hatchway. Once more I saw the ship on her beam ends, and heard the hoarse bellow of the~iEppe'r shouting for axes to cut away the mainmast. Again I felt the main and foretop masts go at the caps, and then she righted. I also righted, but I found myself on the floor, clinging with the grip of death to the bedpost, and in a cold sweat. At lasjj, tired nature " caved in," and when I awoke at 6 o'clock the bright spring sun shone brilliantly in at the windows, and the shadows of the night had " fled darkling" away. About midday all my routine business with my steward was over, and I felt cheerful again as I mounted my horse to ride round four mile 3to the old saw-mill. (To be continued.)

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TC18711114.2.31

Bibliographic details

"OVER THE FALLS AND OUT ON THE CEAN.", Colonist, Volume XV, Issue 1475, 14 November 1871

Word Count
3,217

"OVER THE FALLS AND OUT ON THE CEAN." Colonist, Volume XV, Issue 1475, 14 November 1871

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