“It can’t go on much longer,” said Sophia to James. They were sitting together at the kitchen table, the children having long been in bed. They had both lost track of time and had no desire to sleep after being cooped up in the house for some days. Even Freddie had left them to it and gone to his room, shutting the door behind him so that James and Sophia could talk without disturbing him.
“No, I hope not,” replied James. “We have no way to know how widespread this snow has fallen. But I daresay there will be a great many losses of animals in the area, and livelihoods will be in danger if it goes on much longer.”
“Even if it stops snowing and things warm up. It is going to take many days for the frozen snow to melt,” said Sophia.
“I am growing a little concerned about the melt water too,” replied James. “Imagine all this snow melting into the rivers. There will be flooding, that’s for sure.”
Sophia stood to fetch the teapot and topped up both their mugs. She was worried for James. He wasn’t getting any younger and even though he had a good team of workers, she knew he would want to be out there helping to rescue his animals. They had both been through all sorts of ups and downs in the years since they moved into the basin, but she was beginning to feel like this could be one of their biggest tests.
“Hark,” said James suddenly. “The wind has come up. That means it will warm up and maybe start to rain again.”
He had hardly spoken those words when they could hear water coursing from every surface, and it wasn’t long before the increasingly heavy rain had started to shift huge chunks of snow off the roof. James ventured to open the front door and got a drenching for his action, but they could see by the dim light of the lantern that the snow was already being washed away in channels.
“This will wake the children,” said Sophia as there came yet another crash of snow slithering down the roof and hitting the ground.
It had indeed woken Freddie who came out of his bedroom rubbing his eyes and wearing only his pyjamas. “I can’t sleep for the sound of that stupid tree hitting the roof,” he complained.
Sophia pulled a knitted blanket from the back of her chair and wrapped it round her son’s shoulders. “Here, put this round you and I’ll pour you some tea,” she said.
The third day began in much the same way. As far as they could tell, it was still snowing and James wondered if the whole house was now buried. He had no contact with his men, and no idea whether his animals were dead or alive. Sophia was concerned for James’ father, who was on his own in the cottage, and all the other families who depended on Applecross for a living. There was very little she could do but assume they were keeping as warm and dry as possible and sitting things out as best they could.
Over breakfast they all sensed a change in things. There was the sound of water running in trickles down the windows and when James opened the door he could see at the very top of the doorway that rain was falling instead of snow. Already the level had fallen, there was a six inch gap at the top of the door. So James and Freddie got their coats and boots on and began to shovel as much as they could away from the entrance. Sophia had already chipped a sizeable chunk of snow away to be warmed in a pot over the fire for water, so they began in that gap and made good progress. By lunchtime they could both stand on solid ground outside the door. The weather had warmed up, even though rain still fell. There was the sound of water running everywhere around them. When they reached a point where they could look back at the house James was astonished at how much snow lay over the place, but the warmer temperature and the rain had already begun to form cracks in the deep snow on the roof. They heard an occasional crack and slithering noises as sheets of snow slipped down a few inches at a time.
30th July 1867
With the first light of dawn it was obvious to everyone that this was an unprecedented storm. Snow still fell, piling high against walls and building up on roofs. There was very little wind to push it into drifts, so it lay where it fell, covering everything in a thick blanket. Inside the house they could hear the roof rafters creaking and groaning under the extra weight, but apart from that there was an unusual silence about the place. Wild creatures sought places to hide in hollow trees or under the barn roof while the farm animals found themselves surrounded by deep white walls of snow, their body warmth melting just a little bit of space around them.
The first challenge of the new day was to get out of the front door. Fortunately, it opened inwards, but James came face to face with a wall of sparkling white snow right up to the lintel. The shovel lay against the wall by the door, but it was going to be an impossible task to dig enough out to form a path. He was going to have to rely on the men in the barn to keep an eye on things until the snow began to melt, but it meant it was going to be a frustratingly long day. Sophia became more and more grumpy at having the family under her feet and the children were bored by lunchtime and desperate to get out in the snow.
On 29th July 1867 – 153 years ago today – the greatest snowstorm in history hit the South Island of New Zealand. Snow fell for six days, with but a brief respite on the fourth day, when temperatures rose enough to briefly turn the snow to rain. Coming as it did at the start of the lambing season, losses of stock were high, leading many farmers to sell up and move away. Those sheep who had not suffocated under the weight of 5-6 feet of snow were often found up to their fleeces in mud where the rain had filtered under the snow, drowning as they stood because their fleeces had grown too heavy to move. It is thought that 90% of the year’s lambs were lost and 50% of the adult sheep.
The storm affected Applecross Station and the neighbouring Combe Station. As you will see in Book 4, The Cedar Trees (due for publication late 2020) the Mackenzies and Lawtons approached it in different ways. Over the next few days we will relive the snowstorm with extracts from The Cedar Trees. Here is Day 1 :-
With a start, Sophia realised that James had got out of bed and was standing at the window. She turned over, privately enjoying his handsome silhouette against the light outside.
“What is it?” she asked. “Is it still raining?”
“No, my dear, come and look,” replied James, pointing out through the window.
She went to join him, shivering as her bare feet touched the stone cold floor. James wrapped his arms around her to keep her warm, and they stood together surveying the scene. The rain had turned to snow while she had been lying in bed thinking back over the last few years. Snow fell in huge clumps, like the snowballs the children would want to throw at each other later on. It was yet to stay long on the ground, falling onto the wet surface it melted almost immediately, but it wouldn’t take long for it to begin to build up at this rate. Though it looked pretty as a picture, James, with a farmer’s eye, saw it as nothing more than a curse.
“Come on, wife,” said James, reluctantly removing his arms from around Sophia’s familiar body and tapping her bottom as if he was issuing orders to a recalcitrant servant. “We all need a hot breakfast before we get to work today.”
To read more about the families of Applecross, go to www.amandagiorgis.com
Wāhine (/wɑːˈhiːni/) is the Maori word for woman.
Today I have been looking for Maori women’s names appropriate to the late 1800s. My favourite so far is Ngahuia which means ‘a beautiful girl who can sing’. Perhaps it comes from the same root as my all time favourite New Zealand bird, the Huia, sadly now extinct. Like all wattlebirds, the Huia sang beautifully too.
In the midst of my online searches I happened upon something really rather wonderful. I encourage you to follow the link to ‘Our Wāhine’ to see a wonderfully rich and diverse illustrated history of New Zealand’s extraordinary women, created by New Zealand artist Kate Hursthouse to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women’s suffrage in New Zealand in 2018. I wonder how many other countries in the world with a similar population could display so many women doing such great things, and coming from so many different backgrounds. Go on, take a look and click on any image to find out more about that person.
Anyway, back to my search for names – Ngahuia, Ngaire, Kare, Miria, Whina, Rangi, Rihi, Meri, Hera, Pania, Ruia, Niniwa, Heni, Akenehi, Miriama, Te Paea …….. what to choose???