Omens of Succession

Another tale from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘.

The Nicols, father and son. took a contract to build 
a bridge and an accommodation house at the Mataura 
River. Not having seen the place, they had to trust to 
the particulars given by the Government Department, 
and their estimates were made up from the information 
supplied, a good deal of which was misleading. Mr. 
Nicol, senr.. engaged men and a bullock driver, and. 
having secured a pair of first-class bullocks and sledge, set 
out from Dunedin for Mataura. Walter Nicol had now 
his first experience as a bullock-puncher, as the others of 
the party left him in charge. The road was only a track 
in many places, and in others there was hardly anything 
to guide the plucky new-chum driver. Nothing daunted, 
he set off, and after five days reached Caldervale, Kaihiku. 
then occupied by Alex. McNeil, where the others joined 
him, and the bullocks were handed over to their proper 
driver. The first day's trip had been as far as Saddle 
Hill; the next to Taieri Ferry; the third to Mathieson's. 
at Toko ; the fourth to Balclutha. and the fifth to Kaihiku. 
After leaving this place they managed, by taking a long 
day, to reach Trumble's place at Otaraia, but received 
a very surly welcome, neither food nor lodging being at 
first forthcoming. Ultimately they persuaded Trumble 
to give them food, and they lodged in the stockyard 
among the calf-pens. The seventh night found them at 
their destination the Bush about two miles below the 
present Mataura township, where there was a Maori settle- 
ment. Work then began. All the timber had to be cut in 
the bush and taken to the bridge site, a distance of about 
two miles. Soon a difficulty presented itself. The bridge 
had one span of fifty-two feet, and they could find only 
one tree in the bush which would square the size required. 
They had to go to Steel's bush. Edendale. for the other, 
and this entailed a great deal of extra labour. The bridge 
was a foot and horse bridge, six feet wide, and the spans 
were to rest on two Mat rocks, almost in mid-stream. It was 
found that the plans were here far astray, the proposed 
bridge being found to be twenty feet short, and some time 
was wasted in getting authority from Dunedin for the in- 
creased length. Provisions ran short, and the bullock 
team was sent to Invercargill for flour. It was away a 
fortnight, and then brought only one bag. The men were 
in a sad plight. Rich, a station-owner near, was away 
from home, and his foreman refused to sell them any 
meat, and if it had not been for the Maoris they would 
have starved. These Maoris gave them a few potatoes, 
and they managed to get some wild pigs. On Rich's 
return he soon had a bullock killed, and they were in 
clover. They then shifted camp to the bridge site, and 
were ready to start, when a flood came, and showed 
them that something would have to be done to prevent the 
bridge when built from being swept away, as the water 
rose right over the rocks where it was supposed to rest. 
The authorities were communicated with, and instructions 
sent to drill holes in the rocks and put in bolts, which 
were fixed by having melted lead poured in. After the 
work was completed, the river rose again, and the water 
flowed over the bottom of the bridge. Some time after- 
wards the bridge was swept away just when Southland 
separated from Otago and this accident made the sepa- 
ration complete. The accommodation-house was soon com- 
pleted, and the party returned to Dunedin. 
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