Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Music and Song - Part of the Past NZ History

Waiting for the start of the Mercury Bay Inaugural Music Festival at Whitianga Queens Birthday Weekend  2016
 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

Queen's Birthday Weekend  on the Coromandel Peninsula this weekend , experienced an inaugural Mercury Bay Music Festival. A wonderful medley of music, songs and musicians. With tunes from folk music, world music -  acoustic, traditional, bluegrass, jazz, flamenco.  All kinds of music held in Whitianga Venue's and  music that was good for the soul. Stewart Pedley, a local Whitianga musician, was the first musician up and naturally,  he sang the ballad of the ship Buffalo.  Buffalo Beach at  Whitianga is named  after the wreck of this ship, which lays underwater out in the Bay.
Early Morning Mist Buffalo Beach, Whitianga Queens Birthday Weekend 2016 -
photo courtesy Chris and Anne Ball
Typical of any ballad or folk song that remains with us over the decades and even centuries, the words are often passed down orally and some have evolved and changed on their way down the years. The weekend music festival got me to thinking about the music that is a part of our New Zealand history as well as world history. The ballad  about the ship Buffalo started way back in 1840 - more than 175 years ago.  The words of the first ballad about Buffalo  , were attached to a page of the diary  of Thomas Frederick Cheeseman, second master on the 1837 voyage of HM's Buffalo .
Come all you jolly seamen bold, and listen to my song,
 I'd have you pay attention, and I'll not detain you long,
 Concerning of a voyage to New Zealand we did go,
 For to cut some lofty spars, to load the Buffalo.
 When at New Zealand we arrived, our hands were sent on shore,
 Our tents were then all pitch'd well, and provided with good stores;
 At six o'clock we all rouse out, then such a precious row,
 Come quick and get your grog, my boys, unto the woods you go.
 With saws and axes in our hands, then through the bush we steer,
 And when we saw a lofty tree, unto it we draw near,
 With saws and axes we begin to lay the tree quite low,
 With cheerful heart strikes every man to load the Buffalo.
 Now eight o'clock is drawing nigh, 'All Off! All off!' 's the sound,
 All thro' the trees it echoes loud, and makes the woods resound,
 Then every man lays down his axe, and thro' the bush we come,
 To get their jolly breakfast, every man does nimbly run.

 Our breakfast being over, then to work we do repair;
 Our work is all pointed out, for every man his share.
 There's roughters and refiners, and there's jolly sawyers too,
 To lop and trim those lofty spars, to load the Buffalo.
 When twelve o'clock is drawing nigh, 'All Off!' again's the cry,
 Then every man lays down his axe, and through the wood does hie;
 Our cook had got a dinner that will make all faces shine,
 With pork and murphies smoking hot on which we tars do dine.
 'Grog ho!' is the next cheerful cry, we drink it up with glee;
 We light our pipes when time is up and, smoking, go away
 Unto the woods to finish well the spars that we began,
 And when the afternoon's expired, then home comes every man.
 And when we have our supper got, our barter we prepare,
 With shirts and blankets in our hands, to the native's huts we steer;
 For toki, pigs and murphies  we exchange our traps, you know,
 For to suit our rakish blades of the saucy Buffalo.
 On Wednesdays and Saturdays, at four o'clock we strike,
 Each man to wash and mend his clothes, whilst he has got daylight;
 We've extra grog on Saturdays, to cheer up every man;
 There's happy day on board the Buff ashore in New Zealand.
 Our ship she is well loaded, and for England we are bound;
 Where plenty of good rum, my lads, and pretty girls abound;
 Farewell to Tonga - Mowries and Wyenas also
 They will oft times wish to see again the happy Buffalo.
                                In Diary of T F Cheeseman, Alexander Turnbull Library NZ
                                Copy also on Rootsweb

The ballad Stewart Pedley sings about the ship Buffalo of course adds to her story. John Archer's web site, New Zealand Folk Songs has the words and music to  this version of The Buffalo, sung by Stewart Pedley.

Stewart Pedley at opening of  inaugural Mercury Bay Music Festival Queens Birthday Weekend 2016
singing another version of the song The Buffalo - photo courtesy Chris Ball
Travelling up to Whitianga for the Music Festival bought to mind another song said to be  written in 1900 , by H A Cobbledick, Otautau. However the song could have been a sawmill anywhere in New Zealand for they were all very similar in people, community  and process. Tairua ( on Coromandel's Eastern Seaboard )  from 1864, saw  a sawmill of some size milling Kauri. Whitianga where the inaugural music festival was held, saw a sawmill established in 1863, also milling kauri.

Date taken from note accompanying H2011.16/17. Coastal view of Tairua township and mills. Blakeley family collection. Webb & Webb / Photographers Courtesy State Library Victoria, Australia
Both places were close communities , bound by the fact that back then, travel to the mills were by sea, there being no roads. Mercury Bay sawmill was the headline topic of newspapers when electric light was introduced in the mill in 1883. Also in this year George Fraser of Fraser & Tinne bought invited guests aboard ss Rotomahana to Whitianga for the opening of a new upgraded mill and new machinery. Both Tairua and Whitianga mills were in full production into the 1900's.

The traffickers in Maori pine
Are a hardy lot of boys,
Who laugh and sing in rain or shine,
 And make their share of noise.
They are a right good sort, from bosses
Way down to cheeky Hoys and hosses
They work with a will from day to clay,
Content to sweat and pay their way.
Then work, boys, work, with right good cheer,
With muscle and brains the wood craft steer
Squirl, saw, squirl!
Buzz, planer, buzz Gee lip! Gee whaoo!

The business does.
Crosscuts and axes merrily ring
To the bushmen's gladsome lay,
Thro' the bush on- the "shoe" the logs they bring
To the skids by the trolley-way '
Midst flowers and blossom,
'mongst fern and creepers,
'Neath th' fragrant shade, the forest,
reapers Garner Zealandia's giant grain,
For their daily bread and a modest gain. (Refrain.)

The trolleyman guides th' spoil to the mill,
And th' benchmen eager spring
Upon the veteran slain with a will,
 Their cantliooks hurrying,
And wedges and pinchbars, till all is in readiness
For the breaking-down saw.
Here is no laziness
Full steam a-head, and th' log lies in twain,
For the breast saw to rip thro' again and again (Refrain.)

The sawyer guides unerringly His gauge with glittering eyes
 Cuts the best and the most from the forest tree,
No matter what its size! His tailer out" with prompt revision
Discreetly classes each division He gives the slahby the dross to clear,
And loads the trolley waiting near. (Refrain.)

Away to th' yard the trolleyman hies
With his all-sorts load from the mill!
No reins upon his horses wise,
But a brake to slow down hill;
And the yardman, in no mood to dally,
Docks, classes, and stacks, and --keeps the tally
 Day in, day out, with a very good grace
 Contentment's smile upon his face! (Refrain.)

 And so it is that red pine boards,
And white and black pine, too,
Are shipped in truck and waggon loads,
For to build a city new!
And kourai, miro, rata, totara.
With birch and other Zealandia flora
Some dressed by steam and some in the rough,
But all, like our men, straight, square, and tough!
Then work, boys, work, with right good cheer,
 With muscle and brains the wood craft steer.
Squirl, saw, squirl! Buzz, planer, buzz!
Gee up Gee whaoo I The business does. 
                  —H. A. COBBLEDICK. Otautau, October, 1900.
                     Otago Witness, 7 November 1900, Page 59

In Kirk, T. F.L.S. The Forest Flora of New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printers, 1889.
Before the sawmilling at Whitianga, it was  the felling of kauri for ship spars. In 1840 when HMs Buffalo was wrecked at  Mercury Bay, one Captain William Stewart was visiting his friend and business acquaintance Gordon Browne, at the time. Captain Stewart had just returned from piloting the  Ship HMS Herald  down South as far as Stewart Island/ Rakiura and helped rescue the crew and provisions of HMS Buffalo. Stewart was to pilot Bolina with the captain and crew
survivors from HMS Buffalo out of the local waters on its way to Auckland.

As well as a ship's pilot Stewart was known as a Sealer and Trader in the Southern Waters of Stewart / Rakiura Island and  the western bottom corner  of the South Island in the Sounds of New Zealand. 

Small Bay Stewart Island Rakiura in 2012 - photo Chris Ball

So too was Captain John Grono of the Governor Bligh. His rescue of marooned sealers from the brigantine Active  in the Sounds that led to one of the first Australasian Folk Songs. Ten men left behind and  rescued from their ordeal by Captain Grono on 27 November 1813 were:

David Loweriston
Alexander Book (Books)
Robert Robison (later known as Robert McKenzie)
James Anderson
John Waid (Ward)
William Jones
Frances Ferara (Francis Farrero)
John Cames (Camel/Campbell)
William Jackson
Bartholomew Vincent

One of the Sounds of the Western Corner of the South Island - Dusky Sound with Resolution in Centre Back - Photo JM Stewart 1985
Captain John Bader, Active , after dropping off the men in about  1810, with David Loweriston in charge. Captain Bader never returned  for them. Bader had taken the Active to Port Jackson, Sydney for further supplies and never been heard of again since that date.  Alexander Books and Robert McKenzie who were amongst the rescued men, became sons-in-law of Captain John Grono.
Seals in Halls Arm down in Sounds, South Island, New Zealand  in about 1970s - photo JM Stewart
 David Lowston
 My name is David Lowston, I did seal, I did seal,
 My name is David Lowston, I did seal.
 Though my men and I were lost,
 Though our very lives 'twould cost,
 We did seal, we did seal, we did seal.

'Twas in eighteen hundred and ten, we set sail, we set sail.
 'Twas in eighteen hundred and ten we set sail.
 We were left we gallant men,
 Never more to sail again,
 For to seal, for to seal, for to seal,

We were set down in Open Bay, were set down, were set down.
 We were set down in Open Bay, were set down.
 Upon the sixteenth day,
 Of Februar-aye-ay,
 For to seal, for to seal, for to seal.
Our Captain John Bedar, he set sail, he set sail.
 Yes, for Port Jackson he set sail.
 I'll return men without fail,
 But she foundered in a gale,
 And went down, and went down, and went down.

We cured ten thousand skins, for the fur, for the fur,
 Yes we cured ten thousand skins for the fur.
 Brackish water, putrid seal,
 We did all of us fall ill,
 For to die, for to die, for to die.
Now come all you lads who venture far from home, far from home
 Come all you lads who venture far from home
 Though the schooner Governor Bligh took on those who didn't die
 Never seal, never seal, never seal.

 So remember those who sail on the sea, on the sea
 Remember those who sail on the sea
 Where the icebergs tower high that's a pitiful place to die
 Never seal, never seal, never seal.

Seals in Dusky Sound 1985 - Photo JM Stewart
There are a number of whaler and sealer songs. Along with many Sea shanties written in the days of those sailing ships. Songs and shanties helped seaman while they worked for life aboard was hard. For sealers and whalers often they were months in isolated places such as the Sounds of the South Island, New Zealand.
Serenity in Dusky Sound, South Island NZ 1985 - photo J M Stewart
Reference Source:
  • The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser , Sat 18 Dec 1813, Page 2 
  • MERCURY BAY TIMBER COMPANY. New Zealand Herald, 3 April 1883, Page 6
  • A SAWMILL LIGHTED WITH ELECTRICITY. Daily Telegraph ,14 September 1883, Page 3
  • SAWMILLING SONG. Otago Witness, 7 November 1900, Page 59
  • Ebenezer Church (1809) Newsletter No. 14: April 2013

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