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Overland Trip - 1850 (Wgtn to N Ply)

The Curtis family departed 6/8/1849 from  London for New Zealand on the "Pekin"  562 tons, and their first NZ landfall was at Port Chalmers on 5/12/1849 - Capt. George Whitby; Dr S L Müller, surgeon. 26 December, the ship arrived at  Wellington, and 3 days later, George left  to walk overland to New Plymouth to make preparations for his family who arrived there on 7 February 1850. This a copy of his letter home to England

Saturday, 29th of December 1849. Mr Smith and I started for New Plymouth to get things ready for our families as we should go in less time than the ship, which had to call at Nelson and discharge cargo there. Various were the opinions in Wellington as to the distance, some said 200, some 250 and some 300 miles, some recommended us to walk and some to get horses and finding none to suit, we agreed to walk and started about 4 in the afternoon, taking with us things necessary for the journey strapped to our backs. My parcel consisted of blanket, my macintosh and a boulli tin ( that is a tin in which 6 lbs of preserved meat is packed for a voyage) to put my small things in consisting of some tea, a veil to keep the mosquitos off at night, soap, a drinking cup, a small bottle of brandy, a few fish hooks and line etc. and accompanied by my two dogs and Mr Smith's dog.

We landed from the ship and called on Captain Rhodes for letters of introduction to two people on the road and then started - Mr Smith leading his dog and I leading Rose and Dido running loose. The dogs in the town soon began to attack our dogs and we had some trouble to keep them off and when we got clear of the town Rose began yelping and barking in such an extra-ordinary manner as attracted great attention and when about a mile on the road, fell down in a fit which lasted a quarter of an hour. Not-withstanding I tried every means I could think of to bring her round, such as putting water on her and lastly sticking my knife into the roof of her mouth. When she got better, Mr Smith and I led her on two strings between us until he got tired when I had to lead her by myself and at length she got so exhausted I suppose by the fit, that she kept laying down and I could drag her no further so tied her to a fence and went on without her. This was about 3 miles from Wellington and about a mile further on, we met the policeman carrying the mail and he agreed for 2/- to take Rose back to the ship. In consequence of the above delay we succeeded only about 7 miles that night to a public-house called the halfway house where we had tea and slept. For tea we had ham and eggs, very good as was the tea. The house was of wood and next to our bedroom was a fowlhouse and Mr Smith was much annoyed by a cock which kept crowing and he said I kept rocking backwards and forwards also in bed as though I were in my hammock on board ship.
We walked six miles the next morning to breakfast at a house called the ferry house kept by a man who surprised me very much by the conversational powers he exhibited and general information, until I was told that he had been a clergyman and had been in New Zealand for many years before the Company had possessions here. I mention this because it is not an uncommon thing to find men here in various capacities who have previously lived in good society at home. After breakfast we proceeded along the main road for 6 miles which brought us to another ferry opposite Porirua, a military station of some importance, dined there off goat mutton (very good) and went on to Pakakarike to tea 16 miles further. Had goats flesh again, bacon and eggs, butter, bread, potatoes etc. but it had such a name and not without cause for mosquitos and sandflies, that it would have been of no use attempting to sleep there, so we moved on. The road so far was very good, as good as the generality of roads in England but hills being all the way. Over and between the hills covered with trees of immense height and thickness with occasionally a clearing of small extent, the country here being too hilly and heavily timbered to pay for clearing. We descend a steep hill for about two miles along a winding road before arriving at Pakakarika and pass through some hundreds of very large goats which feed on the sides of the road and supply the Inn with milk and occasionally with meat.
From Pakakariki the road is on the sand by the sea shore and beyond a bank runs parallel to the sea consisting of sandhills and in general stretches a mile or two inland and then you come to fern, flax etc. for from 1 to 4 or 5 miles and then hills covered with wood and this was the general character of our route as far as Wanganui (halfway to New Plymouth) and consequently as we walked on the beach and could see but rarely anything but sandhills on our right and the sea on our left, our view was not very interesting.
This evening we walked about 4 miles when we fell in with a party of natives who were landing in a canoe and who ran after us to hear the news and I suppose were surprised to see two white men alone at that time of night, however they were very civil and one went about half a mile with us to show us the road. We had to cross many streams on the sea shore which emptied themselves into the sea and where about ankle deep and about 3 miles further came to a small river which Mr Smith attempted to cross but the water soon coming over the top of his boots and not knowing how much deeper it might be, we determined to wait for morning and accordingly made our bed in the fern which grew in patches on the said hills.
31 December We woke about an hour before day break, packed up our things, took a dram and started along the beach for the next village Waikani which we reached about 5 in the morning and the tide being out we had no difficulty in crossing the river. This village consisted of a straggling collection of houses and not knowing where to find the Inn we went to the largest and most respectable looking house which proved to belong to Major Drury, Commander of the police in that district who as soon as he saw us, got up and went with us to a policeman's house whom he called up and directed to shew us the way to the Inn, here we went to bed until about nine when we had breakfast of meat and potatoes, it being the custom in this country to have meat and potatoes with each meal and generally tea. We rested here this afternoon and the next day. I forgot to say at Waikani we saw a handsome church built by the natives, the outside is of wood and the roof thatched and the inside reed lashed together by flax and so formed to represent pillars and altogether it had a very pretty effect, here also we saw a fine specimen of a native pah or village encircled by an open fence or stockade about 12 feet high and at intervals the posts were five or six feet higher than the rest and the tops were carved to represent deities, for although they do not worship idols now, they still retain them for ornament. Wednesday we left Ohow accompanied by a native girl whom we became acquainted with on the road between Waikaini and Dhow and whom we found very useful as she carried us on her back across the streams and found us some shell fish to eat, we had engaged a guide here over night to carry our baggage but in the morning he said he was sick and could not go, so we walked on as before, about 22 miles this day and slept at a poor hut with no floor but ground and a white man for a landlord and a native woman for landlady but never-the-less were well fed as at every other place in New Zealand where a white man lives.
Thursday to Rangatiti 28 miles along the sand and had frequent showers but kept myself pretty dry with my maxintosh but Smith got wet. Halfway we crossed a wide river in a canoe and the ferryman who took us over was a native and charged us 6d each which was the usual price here for crossing a river. He lived in a raupo or reed hut but without door or window and gave us some potatoes and tea for dinner which we ate with some sandwiches we brought from Ohow. We reached Rangitiki just as it was dark quite knocked up. Smith with swelled ankles and I with blistered feet and had to buy horses in order to continue our journey. Mr McDonald of whom we bought them had just been to Wellington to be married and returned with his bride the day after we arrived and stayed at the Inn because his house was not finished. He had been in Australia for some years and knew Wm Newsham.
After one day's stay at Rangatiti we resumed our journey on
Saturday the 5th January accompanied as far as Wanganui 28 miles by the landlord and about half that distance by a Mr Ashdown who has been for many years in New Zealand, this day nothing occurred worth mentioning. We dined off potatoes with some natives and arrived safely at Wanganui. At Wanganui we spent Sunday the 6th. Mr Churton formerly carrying on a large drapery business at the west end of London, but now a settler here, called on us and took us in his canoe 5 miles up river to see his land. He owns a large tract of country and has some nice level land. On our return he dined with us and then we went to his house to have some claret. This is a military station and the principal settlement between Wellington and New Plymouth but owing to the fighting here most of the settlers left and went to the other settlements, but few remaining except Mr Churton and a few shopkeepers who trade with the military. We heard of the fighting at Wanganui before I left England but it seems there were only 4 men killed on each side all through the war and in general people here think much less of the disturbances in New Zealand than you do in England.
On Monday the 7th we left Wanganui in company with the policeman who carried the mail, hoping to keep up with him to New Plymouth. It was in the evening when we started and we expected to reach Mr St HilI's, a missionary, that night who lived 8 miles on the road, and about one and a half miles from the sea shore. We fortunately met with a soldier who had bought his discharge and was going to New Jan 8th. We arose at daybreak and breakfasted on tea, coffee and biscuits which we bought at Wanganui, enough to last several days and then resumed our journey which lay for a few miles along the beach and then along the cliffs at distances from the edge of the cliff of from 2 to 3 miles and sometimes coming to the edge which was 200 or 300 feet perpendicular above the sands. From Wanganui to Plymouth, we found cliffs in general bordering the sea instead of the low sand bank mentioned before which reaches from Wanganui to within 30 miles off Wellington, and we were now careful not to go along the sands with a rising tide for fear of being caught between the sea and the cliffs. We travelled upwards of 40 miles this day and stopped only once to have some biscuits and brandy and water and once at a native village to dine off potatoes and biscuits. The soldier was tired and begged us to eat his biscuits and drink his brandy that he might not have so much to carry and the native policeman was quite knocked up. We arrived at our sleeping quarters about 5 in the evening. It was a native village and as soon as we were seen the inhabitants ran to meet us and shouted out "Pakeha, Pakeha" (white man) and flocked around us, asking the policeman a great many questions as to who we were, where we were going etc. and took me for a missionary. The natives dress generally consisted of merely a blanket thrown over the shoulders and occasionally a shirt was added and here as at other places, they were very inquisitive and curious. We slept in a native hut made of raupo (a kind of grass that grows in the swamps and has a blade 2 inches wide and 6 to 8 feet long) which has only one hole in it for light, air and entrance about 2 feet from the ground and the size of half a door. As soon as it was ascertained that we were going to stay the night, the owner of our lodging swept it out and strewed the floor with fern. We then bargained for the use of it for 3 sticks of tobacco, worth about 2d each but the native policeman who should have been our friend, told him we were Gentlemen with plenty of money and then he would not let us have the house under 3/-. We bought some potatoes for some tobacco and had our supper about eight o'clock and made our beds, our saddles forming our pillows and very good pillows they make. We were at first troubled by mosquitos but the smoke from the fire soon drove them away and as long as it was light, as many natives as could possibly push their heads through the entrance of our house came to stare at us, nevertheless we slept pretty well until daybreak, but occasionally disturbed by some puppies that would keep coming through the hole in the house and which I at first took for rats.
This village was nothing to be compared with the one at which we dined and which had much better buildings and was situated on a considerable eminence. The Chief's house was built of raupo and reeds worked together with great ingenuity and I suppose 50 ft by 30 with a good entrance. The chief had a very handsome mare and foal and some young horses but the dogs like all other native dogs, were the most miserable objects possible to conceive, small half starved mongrels. We always found the natives civil, generally bought anything we wanted with tobacco which is frequently used as a circulating medium as money in small transactions. The natives have become such Jews that at one place they would not give us any water to drink unless we paid them, which very much disgusted our Irish soldier. A woman with a child came to see us - the child cried and was as much frightened at us as one of our own children would have been at a New Zealander. At this village the postman knocked up and said he was mally wal (very ill) and could not go on, so gave the mail bags to another native whom we did not much like the look of. He was a fine tall powerful man over 6 ft naked all but a blanket and carried his tomahawk in his hand. Two or three natives equipped in like manner and the policeman absconded us in the morning.
Jan 9th to the first river, one mile and a half and here we had to wait above an hour for a canoe. The natives then put our saddles and baggage into the canoe and pushed off into the stream and then having our goods in their power began to make bargain and after some trouble agreed to pay them 2/- or 5/-  I forget which, for Mr Smith, the Irishman and myself and the two horses who swam after us or should have done so, but by some mishap, Mr Smith's horse turned mine on its side in the water and it could not right itself again so we had to tow it across by the bridle and narrowly escaped drowning it. Having resaddled our horses we continued our journey for another mile when we were stopped by another river and had the same trouble again. We again proceeded our guide continually wanting us to push on and I think wanted to separate Mr Smith and I from the Irishman, knowing that he might make better bargains, but we determined to keep together and at length he got tired of waiting for us and went on without us, which we were not sorry for. At about mid-day we halted for dinner consisting of biscuits and brandy and water and our horses fed on the herbage mostly thistles, which was the only food they had during the whole journey. Mr Smith and I started in advance of the Irishman thinking he would come up while we were preparing for the night. This afternoon we found the bogs worse and more numerous than ever, and at length came to one that we were obliged to fill partially with fern and rushes before we could cross, which detained us an hour, and about half a mile further came to another bog that seemed impossible to get the horses over, so after consultation we first tied the two tether ropes together and fastened one end round my horse's neck and tried to throw the other end across the bog but could not throw it more than half way. We therefore determined to sleep among the fern where we were and wait for the Irishman to come up. This afternoon we had passed through a pah of the wildest savages that we met with through the whole journey and who as soon as they saw us (I was leading my horse) crowded round us and laid hold of our bridles and one man put his foot in my stirrup to have a ride and I was obliged to push him away to get rid of him. They asked innumerable questions, such as our names and the names of our horses and dogs. They took me for a missionary and Mr Smith for a soldier and asked where we had come from and where were we going etc. We slept very comfortably this night rolled up in our blankets in the fern and awoke at day light surprised that the soldier had not come up. At daylight we got up and leaving Mr Smith to take care of the horses, I went on alone to search for Mr Woon, the missionary. My path lay between the fern generally about a mile from the sea and after crossing five swamps and brooks in about 2 miles, came to a native village situated as they all are on the top of a hill and was fortunate enough to get through it without waking the inhabitants and so avoided being pestered with questions. The best idea I can give of a native pah or village is the hill at Thetford, or the hill near Devizes if they had a score or two of reed huts on the sides and top of them. Another mile brought me to the next village, larger than the other and here the people were up and directed me down a precipitous path that went to the sea. This morning I passed through a fine country and saw many gardens cultivated with great care, the principle produce is potatoes, kumara or sweet potatoes, water melons, cucumbers, cape gooseberries etc. and they also cultivate the flax plant and use the leaf in making baskets and tying anything together and even for bootlaces. The flower of the flax plant grows on long stems about 8 or 12 feet high and consists of bunches of cups about half the size of a wine glass which are half full of syrup very much like honey and very refreshing to the tired traveller. Throughout the journey we met occasionally with native gardens and in one place I saw about 100 natives at work together, but they have few fields in cultivation and not much corn, although in some parts they grow a great deal. Several natives accompanied me as usual some distance past the village I last spoke of and when I got to the beach I bargained with one to show me the way to Mr Woon's for 2/6 but we had not gone far when we came to a river and he would not carry me over unless I gave him a stick of tobacco, which I did and we soon came to another river and I had to do the same again. We passed in front of a cliff which was perpendicular and of pumice stone with beautiful streams of water oozing through it and after walking a mile we turned up the cliff and another mile brought us to Mr Woons's where to our surprise we found the soldier who had gone by another road and got there overnight. A short distance from Mr Woon's and just before we came in sight of his house, my guide asked me for the 2/6. I found he did not like Mr Woon to know that he had charged me so much. From the information the soldier gave, Mr Woon dispatched a native in search of us first thing in the morning, and we met him half a mile from Mr Woon's and brought him back with us. I then sent a note with another native to Mr Smith with directions as to the road etc. and about 12 o'clock he arrived at Mr Woon's. It was 7 in the morning when I arrived at Mr W-s and he came out of his house partly dressed to welcome me. He is a fine looking man 6 feet high and weighing about 18 stone. He was very kind as were indeed the whole family, every one doing something for us. Mr Woon lives at Waimate halfway between Wanganui and New Plymouth, 75 miles from each and until lately 70 miles from any white man except perhaps some whaling station but nevertheless seems to make himself comfortable and wants little but society. We were very kindly received and entertained during our stay, as in fact is every traveller. Mr Woon has built a small house adjoining his own on purpose for travellers and on my arrival I was shown into it. He sent me hot water for my feet, and his own razers to shave and both he and his children came several times to know if they could get me anything more. At about half past eight we breakfasted the company consisted of Mr and Mrs Woon, Mrs Remensneider, his eldest daughter who is married to a German clergyman living 50 miles further on the road to New Plymouth, his three sons and his youngest daughter about 6 years. The breakfast was of the most substantial kind, hot pork chops and potatoes, ham, bacon etc and some very good tea as usual in this colony and I never enjoyed a meal more for I had been travelling long distances and had not eaten anything but biscuits and potatoes for nearly three days. After breakfast Mr Moon read a chapter and prayers then we sang a psalm. Mrs Remensneider then played a little on the piano which they bought off Mr Hursthouse. By this time Mr Smith had arrived with the horses. Mr Woon has a comfortable house built by the natives, also a good garden and farm and a pair of the finest oxen I think I ever saw but his groceries and everything he does not grow are brought to him on the backs of the natives. We passed the remainder of the day very pleasantly in talking and looking over the farm etc. I found that Mr Woon knew many of the Hackney people and some of the people connected with the Grammar school. We slept here this night and next morning breakfast and had prayers as before and my dog had got into the parlour and he began to howl so we turned him out of the room. After breakfast Mr Woon put a piece of pork, some tea, sugar, bread etc in a basket for us on our journey. About 10 o'clock we started but not before we had been repeatedly pressed to stay longer. From Mr Woon's it was 45 miles to Mr Remensneider's, no white man lived between, so we had to sleep in a native hut made of raupo. Here we lighted a fire and cooked some of the pork and made tea. Part of the roof was off the hut, but we managed to keep ourselves dry although it rained heavily. The Irish soldier was still very useful to us in cooking, lighting fire etc.,
Jan 12 At daybreak we breakfasted and resumed our journey. We had a few swamps to cross but no very bad ones and the soldier walked through the water and poked the bottom with his stick to see that it would bear a man's weight. Yesterday we travelled only 20 miles but today about 30 and it rained nearly all morning. I kept myself dry with my macintosh. We had very rough travelling mostly inland and the soldier sprained his knee, so the latter part of the day I let him have my horse until we got within 3 or 4 miles of Mr Remensneider's and as it was near dark, we guide and Smith and I pushed forward and arrived in time for tea. The soldier arrived about an hour afterwards as he had been detained by some natives at a native village he had to pass through because there was a reward offered for a deserter. They knew him to be a soldier by his carrying a knapsack which was given him when he left the regiment and he told us that whenever he separated from us, the natives were troublesome from the above circumstance. Mr Remensneider made us as comfortable as he could for his house was only partly built and he and his clergyman were the only inmates. It being Saturday night we stayed all the next day. I went with Mr R to hear him preach in the native language. The church was in the next village about a mile distant and I walked with Mr R who wore his gown or something between a gown and a coat, more like the dress that Father Mathew is represented as wearing. Soon after we arrived a man began to strike two pieces of iron together as they had no bell. The people assembled to the number of perhaps 40, some seemed attentive and two or three went to sleep. In the hymns the native voices were anything but musical. After church Mr R talked with the natives and then we walked home for dinner which was cooked by Mr R and assistant as were all the meals and they proved very good cooks.
On Monday the 14th we began our last day's journey in company of Mr Remensneider who fortunately for us, was going to New Plymouth. We started about 6 and travelled 6 miles to breakfast at a native village and boiled water for our tea and broiled some ham over a wood fire as usual and much to our surprise a native brought us some cups and saucers and plates to take our breakfast from After breakfast we resumed our journey through, by far, the finest country I had yet seen and had a fine view of the mountain all day as we travelled round the base. Except for the first 20 miles from Wellington, the country along the coast is generally level, but broken occasionally by gullies or clefts in the rocks with streams and forms the swamps been spoken of. About 2 o'clock we came to Omata, 5 miles from the town and the first house we saw was Mr Wickstead's where we stopped and had some bread and butter and milk. Mr W is a magistrate, he has only two children both boys about 16 and 12 years of age. Mr and Mrs Wickstead seemed glad to see us and asked a great many questions about Hackney and our family and I delivered their letters. After a short stay we again went forward for about a mile which brought us to Tom Newsham's house where I remained and Mr Smith and Mr Remensneider went on to town. Tom's house is built by himself - poles cut from the wood and thatched with straw and the sides covered the same way. The country is very pretty and the climate very good, but the town the dust is sometimes very troublesome, but people who have been there for a few months do not think much of them.