Scots Abroad: Stories of Scottish Emigration

Letter of John Salmond, 1850

Letter of John Salmond to his father-in-law describing his emigration to New Zealand. Dunedin, 4 March 1850:

Dear Father

We received yours of 4 September and the newspapers, on 27th December. We were glad to hear you were all enjoying your ordinary measure of health. We both have had excellent health since leaving home. Cholera had been on board of the Moultan till she had got beyond the Tropics. Her whole company, passengers and crew were in a most debilitated state. Nine of their number died. As they advanced however towards the southern regions they began to recruit and before disembarking on the shores of New Zeland were again in possesion of excellent health. Before you get this I hope you will have received letter first containing Account of voyage, landing and first impressions of the country, you will perceive from the date of this that a considerable time has elapsed from the date of first and you may perhaps be inclined to censure me for being so long in writing. But believe me from being a little perplexed about the general appearance of the country, and the apparent future prospects of settlers, at the time I should have wrote (about 3 months after our arrival here) & felt extremely averse to writing feeling sure I would compel myself to depict what I really felt, which would certainly then have given (as I am glad to have since found) unnecessary carefulness on your part about us. The fact is the country in the neighbourhood of Dunedin being very unprepossesing to the eye either of the agricuturest or the grazier, and as few comparatively take the trouble of looking at the rural destricts, the consequence is that dissatisfaction get abroad, and all more or less gets infected and hence indecision and partial stagnation, the little machine half refusing to move. Now out of the chaos of conflicting thought and opinions scarcely knowing what to say or write I thougt it due to you and to the intrests of the colony too to defer till such time as I should take a tour over the block, and judge of its capabilities from actual observation, now after having returned from spying out the land I am glad to be able to communicate far better Accounts than before I dare to hope.

The country then lying between the town and the Taieri plain the nearest rural district, consists of alternate hill and gully not even the pleasing diversity of hill and little dale. These are low hills with flat broad tops and more or less covered with flax and fern. There are a few limited runs for cattle or sheep about, but the district certainly cannot be praised. There is scarce a spot suitable for cultivation even on a small scale.

The Taieri plain is an extensive flat piece of country with a great deal of fine pastures, and considerable quantities of bush here and there. Some are exuberant in their praises of this district, and it may possibly possess advantages, but for myself I do not see them as yet; the hills bounding it are in some places very fine runs for sheep but a large portion of them are high abrupt hills. It is likely that this part of the block from being nearest to the port will be first occupied, but it is only after crossing the Taieri river and entring on the Waihola district that in my estimation the really fine country begins. Then a very extensive fine country opens up, particularly The Tokomiriro plain the next district after the Waihola, a plain covered with a luxuriant grassy herbage, capable of grazing thousands of kine and bounded by nice easy hills also clothed with a rich carpeting of grass admirably suited for flocks of sheep. In no country side could cattle or sheep be tended with less trouble than here. This part of the country if dotted with its little homesteads surrounded by their patches of cultivated land hedgerowed and diversified by clumps of wood would form a pleasant and lovely peaceful vale. The chief drawback to its immediate occupation is the ill apportionment of its bush being mostly all situate in one spot.

The Country between the Tokomairiro and the Molineux And the Molineux itself is decededly the best of all. Its pastures are remarkably rich and unlimited; stretching westerly across the country over low grass mounds. The soil in the Molineux flat is very fine being all river deposit. The clumps of fine timber scattered over its surface gives the country a very prepossesing appearance. Taking the Otago block as a whole it is considered as fine a pastoral country as is to be found in the South seas, and there is no doubt as soon as its capabilities for these pursuits become generally known by graziers that its grassy mounds and downs will soon be teeming with cattle and sheep. In designating Otago a grass country it is not to be understood that the soil or climate is unfavorable to the growing of grain. Unlike the Australian settlements we have plenty of rain while at the same time we have sufficient sunny weather to mature any crop grown in the temperate zones. But in the infant condition of the place and the distance of the rural land from the port, and as cattle and sheep are easier transportable than wheat, barley, or oats, the reason is obvious. The establishment of the whale fishery at the Auckland isles will likily become a market for flour or oatmeal. I wish in the meantime we had as much growing as serve ourselves. The class of people who should emigrate to Otago are middle class men, farmers or merchants, these would undoubtedly soon find themselves independent. Labourers in the meantime had better stay at home as we have more than money to employ.

Parties intending to come here I think had better defer buying land till they see it. Altho I should scarcely say so for we will be much in want of money continuing to come in some way or other till at least we are growing as much food as supply the home market. There will be I should think as many potatoes grown next year as serve in that article, but for any sort of grain I do not think from present appearances of preparation there will be much of that even then. The Fact is that the country is more difficult of occupation than anticipated and our people either will not perhaps many of them from want of means go out to the rural and level lands. It is proving a difficulty in the starting of the place the want of available land near the town. My present impression regarding the eligibility of this country for general emigration, is that now there are being enough of labourers out only those who could affort to place themselves in the country district and to keep themselves for such time as things could be grown to them should emigrate. These would find themselves situate not in a paradice certainly, every thing falling in with their preconceived notions of beauty and disposition, but they would however get themselves in a fine open grass country with a climate in many respects resembling their own. And if they do not amass heaps of gold and silver, their corn and their wine, their cattle and sheep will at least abound and out of the turmoil and hurry of an overdriven life they will have more calm pleasure in the life that now is, and more of leisure to prepare for the life that is to come. There is no doubt in the most of minds that finally a more prosperous happy community than Otago may not be found altho at present the prospects especially of the labourer is not very bright. Any scheme any enterprise allowed to develope itself into manhood withouth the rude handling of adversity is sure to totter in feebleness to a premature old age, but assailed in infancy by his iron grasp, the cords are strengthened the foundations are made stable and building these on slowly but steadely and rising a superstructure durable as the rock, we will weather the buffetings of life and perhaps sit down in old age laden with the fruits of peacefull and patient industry.

The Appearance of the country when people are set down is so discouraging, so apparently scant of material and recources that I do not wonder folk are rather averse to do much, hence in the labour market there is just now but little scope every one doing for himself as much as he can, by and by things will find their bottom. Before I went over the block

I had an extemely bad idea of the place as indeed the most have so very bad that I had almost made up my mind to embark on the ocean of uncertainty. But it is really a serious question to ask oneself where to go to be better except turning right home. Now however I have quite other ideas of the country, and if we will but have patience we can scarcely fail of getting on. It is my intention now however of quiting the neighbourhood of Dunedin and fixing myself in the country if we possibly can manage. In doing so I will only be able I suppose to establish a kind of homestead but as time does every thing in a new place only wait and plenty of live stock will come, of course in these circumstances we do not consider ourselves as yet at all settled we are comfortable enough in a pretty good house, and so on, but are rather anxious notwithstanding to be else where altho we cannot boast of the progress of cultivation beyond patches here and there a good deal of attention is directed towards the possession of live stock and there is now a good many cattle and sheep all about, prices are still very high, but as ship loads are now and then ariving from Australia we expect to get them cheaper soon.

If country matters proceed but slow, it only requires however a bit of a start, the town is a wonderment to all. There is I suppose a good many over an 100 house choke full of folks. There are 4 or 5 provision & grocery shops, 3 butchers shops 3 bakers, 2 or three cloth shopes – ; hard ware shopes – a druggist 3 or 4 surgeons – a tinsmith – 2 Black smiths – tailors and shoemakes – milliners & dress makers – 2 or 3 thorough bred gardeners – a lot of weavers they have not yet got begun to work – house carpenters – wheel wrights – upholsterer – cooper – boatbuilder – engineers even – we are in great want at present of a watch maker, I wish I had a good clock, I think I'll send my watch home she did not go many weeks in N.Z. So you see we have mostly all sorts of hands a saw mill is erected and stones for corn and wheat is also to be fitted up but my sheet is full.


Latest news with regard to advising any person to come to Otago, I could not venture as yet I must have more time and experence of the Country and of Colonial life before I can either say – Stay or Come.