John Bartholomew or ‘J.B.’ Cleary was a farm labourer living at Devenish north of Benalla, Victoria. In January 1906 he left to take a holiday to New Zealand. One year later, from January to May 1907 a description of his travels was published in the Benalla Standard in an 11-part series under the title ‘A jaunt through Maoriland’. His trip began in Melbourne aboard the Union S.S. Company’s Monowai which took him to Hobart. There, he later joined the Wimmera to New Zealand, calling at Milford Sound, Bluff, Dunedin, Lyttelton and Wellington where he disembarked. At the close of his holiday he once again joined the Wimmera, once again in Wellington, for his return journey to Australia, to Sydney. The following are extracts from the first two parts of his story beginning in Melbourne:

‘Union Line – S.S. Monowai, 3433 tons G.R. 3000 I.H.P. New Zealand-Australia Service
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

Benalla Standard (Vic. : 1901 – 1925), Tuesday 29 January 1907, page 4



No. 1.

We left Melbourne by the good ship Monowai, New Zealand bound. The day was a veritable “brickfielder.” After the bustle and confusion inseparable to such occasions, our boat put out amid the handshakings, exclamations of “don’t forget to write, etc,,” and waving of handkerchiefs. Being holiday time our passengers were for the most part, like ourselves, on pleasure bent, and right glad to escape the scorching hot wind raging inland, and what a relief was the cool, invigorating ozone. For the first few hours everything went along smoothly. Dinner was partaken of by full board, as is usual at the first meal. Everyone seemed in best of spirits. But this was not long to last; our ship gradually “got a roll on,” until at last there was a tremendous sea, and then in regard to that dinner it was —

“She brought her’s up on deck,

I brought mine from down below.”

Sea travelling, despite its little inconveniences, has its droll side. Our cabin mate is such a good sailor, has never been sea sick in his life. The words, “It must be a d— peculiar sensation,” are hardly out of his mouth when out he jumps, and is seen later pronouncing “Europe” for all he is worth. By the next morning the storm had gone down, but at the breakfast table — such of us as were able to reach it — there was many a vacant chair.

We had an exceedingly pleasant run into Hobart, most of the passengers having found their sea legs by that time. We entered that beautiful harbor of harbors, the Derwent, by early morning, when the denizens of the quaint old Tasmanian capital were slumbering. What a peaceful calm pervaded the whole town as we glanced out our port-holes. It seemed a veritable “city of the dead.” We stayed a week in Hobart, and, needless to say, we had a delightful time. As I have treated of Tasmania in previous contributions to these columns, I shall not dwell long in this article. Hobart never seems  to change. The people are content to move along in the same old grove, with no excitement, no bustle in the streets; the same old buildings, with the same high stone foundations, and which seem as old as Methuselah. To their credit, however, the Museum is an institution which cannot be approached anywhere in Australia. A large room is provided for the free use of tourists and visitors, and their comfort is studied in such a way that other more pretentious cities could well copy. A splendid clock graces the P.O. tower at last, and was much needed. After all Hobart is a dear old spot; although it might be quiet, its great charm lies in its situation — such natural beauties. Viewed from one of the adjacent hills, the city down in a basin, the panorama presented is a grand one. The harbor stands dotted over with white sails, and glistening in the sun shines well; the harbor is such that it can be only dreamed of.

Then there are its scenic surroundings, and above all the climate. A visitor once tasting of the Tasmanian summer air, which is proverbial, is always anxious to revisit. The Princess of Wales said on her visit that Hobart was the most beautiful city in Australia, taking it from Nature’s standpoint.

We board the boat once more. S.S. Wimmera this time, and after three days’ pleasant sail put in at Milford Sound, which is a good day’s run out of the ordinary course. Ships only visit these sounds once or twice a year. It is very rarely indeed that weather permits. Perfect weather prevailed, fortunately, and we viewed the sounds under the most favorable conditions. The sight, I may state, from a scenic point of view surpasses anything to be seen in New Zealand, and I can only attempt to describe it. As we steam, or glide rather, into the sound on both sides a series of stupendous pyramidical-shaped hills of most remarkable symmetrical evenness rear up to pierce the clouds; the steep sides are covered with the most beautiful green, mossy-like verdure. As we glide along the air is calm, stilly, and almost freezing in its nature, depite [sic] the sunshine. Every here and there remarkable miniature waterfalls can be seen trickling down from the very pinnacles. Fresh delights open up at every turn. Large patches of snow come to view, spread out on those sublime heights in front of us, and with the sun playing on them the sight is one that may be seen once in a life time. The stillness is suddenly, almost dramatically disturbed. What sounds like thunder breaks out in deafening claps, leaving behind the most remarkable echoings. Presumable rockets or such are being fired off, which heighten the effect considerably. The whole scene around is appalling in its grandeur. It would be hard to picture those stupendous, pyramidical mounts on both sides of the water, rearing up to a height of 4,000 feet in some cases. They seem to touch the very sky. Those who have visited the celebrated Fiords of Norway affirm that these sounds are even grander. Just before we commence to turn back a little object can be discovered at the water’s edge, which appeared to the most of us as a small white stone, but which, when scrutinized through a pair of field glasses, proved to be a house— an accommodation house— kept by Mr. Sutherland, the discoverer of the falls of the name; in fact, the only human being living there for miles and miles around.

‘Sutherland’s accommodation house, Milford Sound N.Z.’
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

The trip down the sound and back occupy about four hours, and altogether our trip to Milford Sound will remain ever green in our memories. Our ship then continued her way, and reached “The Bluff” next morning in teeming rain. We landed and put our first feet on Maoriland soil — “God’s own country” as poor Richard Seddon used to call it . The rain came down in torrents, and, consequently, our first impression of New Zealand was not a good one. Those of us from the main land felt the cold, and real cold it was — overcoats seemed useless. To come to describe the little township all we have to say about it is, its main feature is oysters — Stewart Island oysters. Oh ! such oysters as would make the heart of a connoisseur jump with delight. Such large prosperous looking oysters we never swallowed before. We continued our journey in the evening, and when we woke up next morning we find ourselves in Dunedin.

In common with most visitors, we were agreeably surprised at the size and great beauty of the city. Nestling by its calm lake-like bay, the view around comes as quite a revelation to one. The port proper is Port Chalmers, some eight miles distant, but owing to improved harbour arrangements, steamers now come up the estuary, right up to the town. The town is surrounded by a hilly belt of timber, called the “Town Belt.”  The Queen’s drive encircles the city, winding round the ridge of the hills. What adds to the picturesqueness of the place is that the houses are built on a series of ridges, which gradually rise up all round to the fringe of the “Town Belt.” The climate is cold and bracing — quite the coldest in the Island. Previous to our landing, it rained almost continuously for a fortnight, but on such a day as this, our first landing in Dunedin, it is quite a pleasure to live and view this Eden of the South — for a veritable Eden it is.


On such a day the city is bathed in a wealth  of sunshine. After weeks of wet, just picture the effect. The whole place assumes a freshness peculiarly its own; every hill around is clothed in a rich, green sward; the flowers bloom — such flowers we never saw before. The place is a perfect paradise of gardens. The fine buildings stand out in bold relief. The city is remarkable for its large and handsome buildings. Indeed, Dunedin possesses by far the finest buildings in the colony, althouth [sic] its population is not the largest —about 53,000, I think. The air of Dunedin has a delicate aroma all its own, though so cold. On such a day as this, one has only to stand and observe the throngs passing to and fro in the streets. The Dunedin boy, as seen coming from school is a splendid specimen, well grown, well proportioned, and can easily be taken to be a couple of years older than he is. The people have health written in their faces. The laughing Dunedin girl, as she lightly trips along with bursting peach-like bloom in her cheeks, is a perfect picture. Indeed, she is famed all over the colony for her delicate charm of complexion. Climate is responsible for all this. The cold weather makes the strenuous life imperative. The people must move about under such conditions, and the strenuous life is always conducive, to good health. Strong winds are almost an unknown quantity. It is a standing joke that a Wellington visitor always puts his hand to his hat at street corners, in anticipation of a gust of wind, and is easily picked out in consequence. In Wellington boisterous weather prevails. Dunedin is essentially a Scotch city, and is well named “Edinburgh of the South,” by reason of the vast number of people from the “Land of Cakes” who emigrated here in the pioneer days. They have helped in no small measure to make Dunedin what it is today. A fine statue of Bobbie Burns stands as a monument of their patriotism. Other statues to be seen are those to the memory of Dr. Stuart, and memorials to Captain Cargill, one of the founders of the province, and to the Rev. Dr. Burns, the first minister. It would be superfluous to go over all the buildings. The churches are a noteworthy feature, including the cathedrals (Anglican and R.C.).  Scholastic  and charitable institutions are scattered about in plenty. The hotels are amongst the finest in the colony. Three theatres and about half a score of halls cater for the amusement-loving portion. An admirable system of electric and cable tram cars, run in penny sections, serve the town and suburbs. What is most striking is the extreme cleanliness observable. Everywhere has an appearance of neatness, right down to the humblest cottage. Nothing in the shape of poverty seems to exist; no slums, such as are to be seen in other cities of its size — striking evidence of the all-round prosperity. Yet Dunedin appears to be quiet. It makes no great show of its prosperity. Nevertheless, it is backed up all round by splendid agricultural, pastoral and mining country, with woollen, leather, iron and all sorts of factories. We are loth [sic] to leave charming Dunedin, the most beautiful city in Now Zealand for a certainty. We board the boat once more, and sail out for Christchurch. Christchurch, so well known as the scene of the great exhibition.

(To be continued.)

Benalla Standard (Vic. : 1901 – 1925), Tuesday 19 February 1907, page 3


By J. B. Cleary.

No. II.

By morning we reached the city that claims so much world-wide attention at the present time. Port Lyttleton [sic] is the landing place — a most picturesque little port. Christchurch is eight miles inland, and is the only large town in New Zealand that is not at the same time a seaport. It is quite “on the cards” that a great canal is to be cut shortly, to cost about £2, 000, 000—no less — which goes to show the city is in a pretty solvent state at the present time. Sunshiny weather favoured our arrival at Lyttleton [sic] again, and it was with high spirits that we entrained for the exhibition city to have a flying look round prior to the boat’s departure again in the evening. Green verdant plains greeted our eyes on both sides during our pleasent [sic] eight-mile run. On arrival at Christchurch one utters an exclamation of surprise at its contrast to Dunedin. The town is built on a remarkably flat situation, and in fact is built up all round by hundreds of square miles of flat agricultural lands, called Canterbury plains. The town is thus well named “City of the Plains.” The Canterbury plains are the famed agricultural lands of the colony; in fact nearly all the wheat and oats grown are supplied from this fertile patch. To hark back to the city proper, it is claimed for it that it is English in appearance. The beautiful river Avon meanders gracefully through. And a visitor is at once struck with the beauty of Hagley Park, which is so much enhanced by this pretty little river flowing through it. The fine park is 800 acres in extent — no less. A portion is given over to the exhibition, which I will touch on later. A considerable part is laid out as a botanical garden. The day being a delightful one we enjoyed a walk round these pleasant grounds, with flower and plant refreshed so after the recent rains. A marked feature is the size and wealth of growth of the trees. Every here and there we crossed the river on some old rustic looking footbridge or other, with often an arch of foliage overhead — a veritable fairyland arch. Visitors from the old country passing through likened the pleasure grounds to those of some old English town. We happened on the superintendent on the way out, and expressed our pleasure of the gardens. He seemed pleased, and in the course of a chat said, “So many visitors come to me and say ‘ Your gardens are lovely, but you should see those of such and such a place’, perhaps mentioning Europe and America.” The superintendent is an enthusiast to the backbone, and in the course of an interesting talk informed us of the peculiar nature of the soil. ‘ It might rain,’ he said, ‘for days, as it has done for the past fortnight, and then a day or so after the water must be laid on again. Such is the nature of the soil.’ To describe the town itself, in a word it is one bustling hive of industry. It takes credit for marvellous growth. Although the buildings cannot quite come up to the standard of Dunedin, there are two cathedrals, Roman Catholic and Anglican, which no visitor should fail to see. Built of New Zealand stone and other colonial material, they can be hardly surpassed for all-round beauty of architecture. The museum too is about the best we ever saw. The Maori collection is at once unique. A full day is required to view this tine collection. It is interesting as well as amusing to compare New Zealand rules and regulations with our own. For instance, in our Victorian museums the notice attached to a piece of statuary invariably is, “Do not touch.” In New Zealand “instant prosecution” is threatened. Again, in this state one invariably sees notice in a public place, ‘Do not expectorate;’ over there it is, ‘Do not spit.’ They evidently make their meaning pretty clear in Maoriland. Christchurch, remarkably well laid out, is the second largest city in the colony, the population being 60,000.

Let us come at once to the all-absorbing subject — the Exhibition. We saw the building of buildings being erected on the banks of the charming river Avon. Hundreds of workmen were employed, and the place presented a very animated appearance. The sight itself was worth going miles to see. Over 120 acres is enclosed for the purposes of the Exhibition — a portion of the Hagley Park above mentioned, which the residents dote on. The graceful winding river itself, and the beautiful park, with its belts of great English trees stretching far away in the distance, is enough to assure the fame of the Exhibition alone. Just prior to our visit a wind storm played havoc with some woodwork erected to a great height, twisting it almost out of recognition. Looking on at the great preparations, one becomes meditative. We thought of the tens of thousands of footprints that would tread the ground during the months to follow, and of the great attractions that would be centred there to bring people from all over the world.


The memorable day arrived, and the exhibition was opened with all the pomp and ceremony incidental to the great occasions, and which we have been rending [sic] about in the papers. By the accounts we get the place has been transformed into a veritable fairyland, the pretty river is now alive with Maori canoes and gondolas. The exhibition, so far, has been a triumphant success, and Christchurch failed to find room for the visitors. 36,000 passed the township the first day, beating the Melbourne exhibition opening day by about 3,000. There is one man absent — the man who designed the whole affair. Yes, Richard Seddon is dead— died never to see his hopes realised, Such are the Fates — for ever unkind.

So much for the exhibition. We crossed the Avon again. It was approaching evening and the river was full of boats. The ladies, particularly, are fond of a row, and boat-load after boat-load passed us, enjoying immensely the exhilarating exercise. Truly, the Christchurch ladies love their row on the Avon.

The Press is exceedingly well represented, as indeed it is in the four large cities. The ‘City of the Plains’ can boast of two dailies and two evening papers, as well as three weeklies. We dropped in at the “Press” office, where they are delighted to meet visitors, and gladly gave any information as to the state of the country at the time. We were informed there was all-round progress. Wages were good. In the lower ranks of the railway service there was a rise of 6d per day, porters receiving 8/, and work was plentiful at high wages — so we were informed. They termed it there the “paradise of the working man.” Since our visit I believe there has been a glut in the labour market, and things are not so good. Immigrants have been brought over in shiploads from the Old Country. A copy of the ‘Weekly Press’ (a splendid journal) was given us, and we took our leave. We caught our train for the port, went aboard our boat, and steamed out to Wellington, which we reached the following morning.

Wellington, needless to say, is the “hub” and situated in the extreme south of the North island. We left our ship “Wimmera” at this stage,  having traversed the full length of the South island by boat. The first impression one gets of the capital or ‘Empire City, ‘ as it is called, is its splendid shipping accommodation. New docks have been lately built, and other extensive improvements are now being gone on with. It is altogether an immense shipping port, and direct steamers from England make it their first port of call. The first glance at the city itself it can be seen the place is simply hemmed in by hills. The consequence is that large areas have been reclaimed from the sea. ‘The reclamation work has been compulsory, the capital has grown so rapidly. To give an instance to what extent this work has been carried out — we-were standing in one of the busiest portions of the city with some of the finest buildings erected thereon, quite a long distance from the sea, and we were informed that all this place was once the sea. It  seems incredible, but it is quite true. This reclamation work is still going on-hundreds of men being employed in consequence. A railway line runs along on some of this recently reclaimed land on the edge of the sea. It is a pretty sight to watch the train careering along the water’s edge in a circular course (the harbor is circular in form) for miles pulling along, until at last it appears in the form of a toy train. In walking about the town one is surprised at the almost inaccessible places houses are perched, such being the remarkable hilly nature. It is no unusual thing to see a fine house perched on the very top of a steep rugged hill. We had much speculation as to how people manage to get up and down and how they can become used to such incessant alpine climbing. Then, again, in the gardens. A walk through the Botanical Gardens is one to be remembered. It is one perpetual ascent and descent. At one place during a ramble we found ourselves on what appeared to be the top of a hill beautifully clothed with flowers and trees. In descending on the other side we got off the beaten track to do a bit of exploring, as we thought. The result was we got “bushed.” We found ourselves in a perfect maze of shrubbery. The descent was so steep we almost had to crawl on our hands and knees, and whichever way we went there seemed to be no conceivable way out of this jungle. At last, after some time plodding along, we struck a path, and, needless to say, kept to the paths for the rest of the walk. I must say the gardens are lovely, are a distinct novelty, and if only for their hilly situation and peculiar laying out are worth going miles to see, but you must not be afraid of hard work.

‘Wellington N.Z. – The Government Buildings’
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

To sum up my impressions of Wellington, its fine buildings are a distinct feature, and above all others it can boast of having the largest wooden building in the world, viz., the Government building. Being the capital, in addition it has the seat of government, Houses of Parliament, etc. What struck me particularly was its splendid electric car system — the most up-to-date I have seen anywhere.
A feature of the travelling is the up and down hill running. The car travels down a hill at tremendous speed. Our first experience was a pain down the spines of our backs. Like Christchurch, the growth of the capital is remarkable. On a tram ride out to Island Bay, the most popular suburb, we were shown chains of houses just erected. Everywhere we went the same growth was apparent.


John Bartholomew Cleary died from typhoid fever in Benalla, Victoria on Sunday 28 January 1917. He was then aged 43 years.


“OBITUARY” Benalla Standard (Vic. : 1901 – 1931) 30 January 1917: 4. Web. 19 May 2019 <>

“Family Notices” Benalla Standard (Vic. : 1901 – 1931)2 February 1917: 2. Web. 19 May 2019 <>.

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021