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Arrival of First Four Ships

We come now to a time of anticipation and intense interest for all, viz., the advent of the “Canterbury Pilgrims.” We may surely designate by the name of “Pilgrim Fathers” those few who braved the untried country, and by their energy and industry paved the way for their successors —the “Pilgrims.”

On that eventful day, 16th December, 1850,  Mr. Hay, with the assistance of Tom White, was breaking-in the first four bullocks ever used as beasts of burden on the Peninsula. Those bovine pioneers, “Blocky” and “Ben,” “Jacky” and “Rodney”, proved most useful animals for years thereafter, and were ever associated mentally with the arrival of the four pioneer ships in Canterbury. “It goes without saying” that the two boys, James and Tom, were keenly interested spectators. They were seated on the stockyard fence, watching the proceedings, which had engrossed their attention all morning.

Ashen their sharp eyes espied a ship passing the East Heads. Immediately all hands were standing up on the fence, the better to see the unwonted sight of a large three-misted ship in full sail making for the harbor of Port Cooper, the first of its size and kind ever to enter it. Very soon it was followed by another, and yet another, while the excitement ran high in the breasts of all, old as well as young. The then small boys have at this distance of time a distinct remembrance of all the events of that memorable day, so fraught with hope and promise for them. The names of these four historic ships were “Charlotte Jane,” “Randolph,” “Sir George Seymour,” and “Cressy.” Governor Sir George Grey was awaiting their arrival in the harbors of Port Cooper.

It is easier to imagine than describe the excitement and delight which animated our few dwellers in the solitudes when they saw the first ships pass Pigeon Bay Heads. That in the near future cities would be formed and peopled, railways made, and ships built, seemed not too wild a dream. The earlier settlers had proved the soil and climate, which answered their expectations fully, and now greater hopes of the future arose out of the influx of new-life and enterprise in their midst. Those desolate plains would soon teem with busy life, the wild hillsides be trans formed into pastoral landscapes and picturesque home steeds.

The result justified their hopes, for in an amazingly short time Lyttelton spread itself up the slopes, and Christ church was laid oft’. Business was begun on orthodox Old Country lines, nerved by Colonial energy, the outcome of the character that proved itself equal to the severing of Home ties, and the rearing of a new nation on the other side of the globe. It is not easy for us in our days of fast and luxuriously fitted up steamers, “floating palaces,” as they are deservedly called, to imagine what it meant to undertake a voyage to New Zealand in those days. The numberless articles that had to be selected for comfort or necessity, for the long voyage alone, to say nothing of the subsequent requirements for making a home in a new country.

Numbers of the settlers came provided with the framework of their houses, and all the furniture and utensils necessary for their comfort, and those provident ones were speedily settled, ready to begin the business of life.

Port Lyttelton. showing the “Cressy” desembarking passengers, 27 December 1850

Article courtesy of Te Ara - Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
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