A Life of J. C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Scholar
6 — Dunedin, Hamilton, Auckland, 1930–32
Dunedin, Hamilton, Auckland, 1930–32
Back in Wellington, Elsie went to stay with her parents on the Western Hutt hills and John moved into 49 Hopper Street with his father and Auntie. It cannot have been an easy homecoming. His father was still deeply affected by his mother's death; indeed, John gained the impression she was constantly in his thoughts: 'everything, flowers, books, house, hills, sun, air, sky, is Her to him'.1 John visited relations, but his Aunt Ada Paterson had died a few months before his mother,2 and cousins had married and were making their own lives. While Keith and Fronnie with a baby daughter were in Wellington, with Jenny's death the heart had gone out of the extended family. John started reading about Pacific exploration at the Alexander Turnbull Library but found it difficult to settle to work.
I started on Chapter 1 of my Pacific book the other night; but I can't even write ordinary humdrum mediocre matter of fact prose now; after a couple of hours of dreadful heartbreaking work & the completion of one foolscap page I felt like falling on the floor & crying. An impotent deadly blight seems to have settled on me; all I seem good for is teaching, or shovelling clay on my brother's [Keith's] section. Is this the influence of N.Z., my beautiful romantic homeland, or have I just come to the end of my tether?3
This was to Kathleen McKay early in 1930. She was back in London on another trip. 'Gawd! how your news of plays & music twists me up', John wrote, but there was one bright prospect: 'Ere you get this I shall be married'.
At one stage there had appeared to be a chance of a job at Victoria. F.P. Wilson's assistant lecturer, Winifred Maskell, had decided to leave but then said she would stay on. John was offered a job for twelve months as the WEA tutor-organiser in Dunedin while the incumbent, L.M. Ross, was on leave. With nothing else in prospect, page 152he accepted the offer. A little later Miss Maskell changed her mind once more. Wilson, 'left in the lurch', offered John the position. Although it was only half-time with a salary of £250, he would have taken it if he had not already committed himself to Dunedin. It would have given him 'a foot in', and with Elsie's allowance from her father and free accommodation at Hopper Street he thought they could have survived. He believed he had extracted a promise from Wilson that he would do his best to get him a full-time job the following year. 'I hope to heaven the blooming luck has turned & that things will be all right next year. Otherwise we shall be well in the soup in a country like this'.4
Whatever it entailed, the WEA position was a job, and opened the way for marriage. The one remaining impediment was Elsie's mother's anguish at the prospect of a registry office ceremony. John, for his part, was equally determined it should not take place in a church:
I grieve to lacerate Mrs Holmes's feelings so; but some vestige of intellectual integrity we must hang on to … considering that her convictions are assaulted so, she stands it well, & in silent fortitude which I cannot but admire; & is going to make us a cake, even though she comes not to the ceremony … I go on my secular way in some distress, but hoping that I am justified. Blast these prehistoric people, pillars of the church & these ½ wits of parsons! Otherwise the Holmes crowd are behaving like angels.5
John and Elsie's marriage, on Monday, 17 February 1930 by the Wellington Registrar, was followed by a lunch at the Holmeses, for the immediate families. The only non-family guest was Elsie and John's old friend from the tramping club, Marjorie Wiren, with her small daughter. After lunch they left in Elsie's father's car for Raumati Beach, where they had been lent a bach for a week by another old tramper. John's 'Journal' of the week is a record of walking, bathing, quoit tennis and taking out the flounder net – and eating fish almost every day. John took Tristram Shandy (his intention to read it in London the year before had clearly come to nothing) but did little reading, though he and Elsie both read 'Marie Stopes' and Elsie, H.G. Wells's Love and Mr Lewisham. John conscientiously kept a record of their expenditure on food, which came to a total of 12s 7½d for the week, mainly on milk, bread and eggs with a 'blow-out' on the final day, when they spent 9d on a pineapple.
At the end of February John's father, encouraged by the family who hoped it would help him move on from his grieving, sailed for England. Three days later John and Elsie caught the overnight ferry page 153to Lyttelton and from there the train to Dunedin. Accommodation had been arranged for them in a house at 34 Clifford Street (with their landlady living in part of it), 'nothing much to look at from the outside, but the rooms are big & plain & comfortable, not over furnished, & very convenient'.6 It was on a hill, close to the northern end of George Street (Dunedin's main street), overlooking the Botanical Gardens and with a fine view of the city, the harbour, the surrounding hills and away out to sea; but, fine as the view was, John wrote to Dick Campbell, he still preferred that of Brunswick Square.7 He had a study at the university, which was a short walk from the house.
The WEA, as the Workers' Educational Association was invariably known, had been started in England in 1903 as 'a non-political, non-sectarian, and democratic association for the promotion of workers' education'.8 It had come to New Zealand in 1915 via New South Wales and continued to be closely linked with Australia for the following twenty-five years. At a time when opportunities for even post-primary education in New Zealand were still severely limited, many people believed in education as the key to social advancement (a belief at the heart of the Forward Movement and of the Unitarian Church of John's early years). A number of staff within the university colleges shared this belief, and Thomas Hunter, at Victoria, was one of those involved in the association from its earliest years. Sir Robert Stout, as Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, supported the WEA, and the government gave a small grant to the colleges for the teaching costs of tutorial classes, which in the early years were frequently taken by university staff members. In 1919 the government made its first direct grant to the association. From its early years it had a strong regional basis to its activities, with tutorial class committees organising the programme in each centre. In 1920 the first tutor-organiser or district organiser was appointed, in Canterbury, with further appointments following in other centres. Canterbury also held the first summer school (the successors of which were to flourish in the 1920s and 30s) over the Christmas–New Year period of 1920–21. John attended one of these two years later, and wrote a short article on it for the Evening Post.9
The association grew steadily through the 1920s, although its aspirations inevitably exceeded its resources. The original tutorial classes (an hour's lecture followed by an hour for discussion) were supplemented by correspondence courses and the 'box scheme', in which books and other written material were sent out to students page 154who would then meet in a group to discuss the reading. Numbers grew, and in 1930 there were nearly 7500 students enrolled in 224 classes.
The director of the Dunedin WEA (a part-time position in addition to his main job), to whom John was responsible, was Dr Allan G.B. Fisher,* professor of economics at Otago University, six years older than John but also recently married. John found Fisher an admirable boss. His wife Airini had taught home science at the university, and the first time John and Elsie invited them for a meal Elsie, who had little practical experience of cooking, having grown up in a household with a cook, prepared two complete main dishes to ensure that at least one was successful. The Fishers were good company, they too were walkers, and they became lasting friends. Other new friends were the lecturer in economics, Geoffrey Billing, and his wife Muriel.
John's London premonition that they would be building their furniture out of kerosene and fruit cases was borne out when he put three kerosene cases together, 'enlarged the top a bit and put a small back to it' to make a sideboard and then put fruit cases together in the same way for bookshelves.10 He discovered a picture framer who had known George Butler, and using wedding-present money had him frame the Cézanne print La maison du pendu (brought from London), a Butler watercolour, The blue boat, and John's portrait. John, as always, arranged objects with painstaking care: 'the Cézanne has a wall to itself; the Blue Boat just fits over the mantelpiece, flanked by those two Breton plates & the copper candlesticks I gave Elsie … Our other pictures are variously & suitably disposed.'11
Dunedin offered wonderful country for walking. Mount Cargill, the Leith Valley and Flagstaff Hill were all within easy walking distance of the house, while further away were more hills and the coast and the long, stark peninsula on the far side of the harbour. John and Elsie were out exploring almost every weekend. Elsie was always an inveterate scavenger; they carried back flowers, firewood, apples and plums from trees that she judged had gone wild, and on one occasion fifteen pounds of pears from which she made twelve pots of pear ginger jam.
* Fisher was a graduate of Melbourne and London Universities and was appointed to Otago in 1924. After a highly successful eleven years' tenure of the chair in economics he left to take up a similar chair at the University of Western Australia. He went on to further appointments in London and the United States. He and John continued to keep in touch.
John's travelling and lecturing ('commercial travelling in miscellaneous wisdom', he described it to Dick Campbell12) began at the end of March when he travelled south to Stirling, a small town on the railway near Balclutha, 'to give a kick off to a new circle starting there without a tutor'. 'Unfortunately', he reported to his father,
there were held on the same night a 21st birthday party, a meeting of the River Board, & a meeting of the local football club, which thinks it may be able to raise a team this year, so my meeting got only the residue of the population of the district, i.e. 4. Apparently however the birthday party accounted for most of the others who had promised to come, bar one gent who had a sore throat as a result of two days in Dunedin; so Stirling is going forward with fair optimism.13
Two days later the Dunedin WEA
had a social for the combined purposes of starting off the year with a bang, welcoming the new tutor, Dr Beaglehole, & his wife, & presenting Fisher with a Webster's Dictionary to mark the occasion of his marriage & the prevailing esteem for him etc. On walking into the hall, we found a large legend staring at us from the wall 'Tutor New We Welcome You', done in crêpe paper on a spare curtain – which was staggering enough for a start. Of course there were speeches, but there was also supper; likewise a lot of jollification which I now seem to forget – folk-dancing & a play & a lady recited & so on. And I was introduced to about 50 people of whom I haven't the slightest recollection.14
The travelling was formidable: Palmerston on Monday night, Palmerston Sanatorium every second Tuesday, service car to Oamaru for Tuesday night as the timetable made it impossible by train, back to Dunedin for a midday meal on Wednesday and then that evening to Hampden. John could have gone directly to Hampden from Oamaru, going back to Dunedin meant six hours extra in the train, but staying away meant 'being marooned either in Oamaru or Hampden for the day, besides not seeing the missus from Monday afternoon to Thursday mid-day'. However, Oamaru was only once a fortnight. He returned from Hampden on Thursday morning and had the mid-day meal with Elsie. There was a short trip to Outram for an evening lecture, from which he got home towards midnight. On Friday there was a lunch-hour lecture at the Roslyn Mills.
As the year progressed, the train service steadily worsened as the Railways cut services in response to the economic depression. John, increasingly fed up with the travelling, began to look forward to finishing most of his classes by the end of September:page 156
Just about time too … I used to go to Hampden – 55 miles – in 3 hours. Now they have knocked out the passenger trains & hook a couple of carriages on to 150 yards of trucks it takes in theory 4 [hours]. Last Wednesday it took nearly 5½. Train gets to Port Chalmers fairly well; then proceeds by a series of jolts & jerks, stopping dead in between, to within a few miles of Seacliff, when it stops altogether. It is then broken in two; some trucks to go on to Seacliff, leaving the passengers stranded for ½ hour or so till the engine comes back for them. Then we go to Palmerston at a good bat, making up a lot of time; go on for a few more miles, & wait for a goods train with no passengers; arrive in Hampden just in time for me to tear along to my lecture without any tea ½ hour late! … No heating of course; & after a warm springy spell, the weather has been vilely cold again.15
However, from the start the students he met seemed very keen and amiable. They were given some choice in the course of lectures they were to have but it could be difficult to please everyone.
I thought I had Hampden all fixed up for political science, & the meeting was nearly over on that assumption when a rebel arose & said he didn't want to hear about Plato & all those dead fellows, history was no good to him, he wasn't interested in Fascism & so on, give him literature; now what about some lectures on Galsworthy? So I said All right, but I could hardly give 24 lectures on Galsworthy, what else did he have in mind? He said it wasn't fair to ask him to make up a syllabus on the spur of the moment; anyhow he supposed I'd been to university & if I'd taken my B.A. I ought to be able to lecture on literature … So they took a vote, & out of 30 odd 16 voted for literature, 9 for pol. science, & the others didn't vote at all. Then they had supper, as it was the first meeting of the year, & most of them said Oh, it doesn't matter! Talk about anything you like! or Say you're going to talk about something & talk about something else! But one bloke said: Anything you like, but for God's sake no more Shakespeare! – At Outram they thought they'd like political science but also a few lectures on music. Roslyn Modern Problems – disarmament & the like. The other mobs don't seem to know what they want yet. After I've finished all the lecturing I have to write & run a correspondence course on colonial history; & finally edit & write a weekly column in the morning paper & a fortnightly one in the evening one.16
In spite of the vote, at Hampden as well as Outram he started with Plato and Aristotle, 'to the accompaniment of unexpected enthusiasm',17 and given the choice between more Greek political theory and moving on everyone plumped for the Greeks. Discussion generally was on 'unemployment or coal-mining or N.Z. education' though the transition from Aristotle seemed 'quite natural'. No one page 157wanted to learn New Zealand history. The Roslyn Mills class caused John some trepidation. He got through a discussion on disarmament but they wanted to go on to unemployment and then tariffs. 'Now no one', he wrote, 'would accuse me of being an economist; so the outlook there is not too bright'. The course was ostensibly on 'Modern Problems', but John suspected that 'even Duncan with his passion for broad views, universality & omniscience would boggle at some of it'. In the event John's trepidation was unwarranted.
By the middle of June he was looking forward to being halfway through most of the courses, and wrote to his father that things were going on pretty evenly with the numbers keeping up (this was too sanguine; the class at Palmerston had collapsed by the end of the month though not, John thought, for any failing on his part).18 He had, however, lost the local Anglican parson from the Hampden class:
a rather loud-voiced cocksure swipe, who accused me (& wrote to Fisher behind my back) of being anti-British & socialist & disrespectful to bishops & nasty about his church to an audience of Presbyterians & disloyal to the objects of the W.E.A. & a good many other things. The rest of the class congratulated me on getting him out of the way, which was the last thing I intended to do. Fisher told him, if he thought I was so subversive, it was his duty to stay on & combat my sinister influence – so did I; but he marched out into the wilderness & respectability, taking his wife, a very meek silent damsel, with him.19
John confirmed that the class did have a good solid backbone of female Presbyterians, but the postmaster and the schoolteacher had 'regrettable leanings towards free thought'. There was also a former lighthouse keeper, now farming, who appeared to be extraordinarily well read and was eager to read Hobbes, never having had a chance to do so before.
Dunedin was proving very hospitable. The university staff, in John's view, were a bit more sociable than those in Wellington, though he merely raised an eyebrow politely whenever he was solemnly assured it was the only university town in New Zealand. They were entertained by the ethnologist H.D. Skinner and his wife; 'he seems to be a bit overwhelmed at times by his missus, who is pretty voluble', John wrote to his father.20 The Beagleholes had known him when he was studying at Victoria at the same time as John's Uncle Ted before the First World War. The Bensons (he was professor of geology, she was giving some lectures on Japan to which Elsie went) invited them to a musical evening. They were an interesting pair, Quakers and ardent members of the Institute of page 158Pacific Relations, for which Benson got John to give a lecture on the Spanish exploration of the Pacific. 'Everybody is mad on lectures down here …' John reported. 'Of course, poor cows, they have nothing else to do, bar going to see one another & to the pictures. They all have a sublime faith in Dunedin & their university too.'21 To Sophia Hooper, John was more forthright: 'Dunedin is Dead, & all the corpses walking around think it is the greatest Show on Earth',22 and he confided that 'every now & then we get so thoroughly fed up with the place that we could break down & cry'. It was generally the English papers that set him off; with Elsie it was John's father's letters from England.
In July John wrote to him:
Work has been going on much as usual. I have nearly caused a riot at Hampden lecturing on Ruskin & Morris & civic art etc., assailing the Dunedin railway-station & N.Z. houses with much gusto. They can't see what's wrong with the Railway station. Working up this subject I read a jolly good little book by W. R. Lethaby called 'Form in Civilisation' which I bought years ago – I'm glad I waited till after being in England to read it…23
He urged his father to visit the William Morris showroom in Hanover Square, which he had missed seeing.
It was not a cheerful month. John had news that his friend Harry Espiner, who had accepted a lectureship at Victoria and was due to start at the beginning of 1931, had died at Poitiers, the result, John assumed (rightly), of his dreadful war injuries. He was 'a jolly good cobber to me … the gentlest & simplest fellow I ever knew'.24 The same week John heard from F.P. Wilson that there was no hope of a job at Victoria the following year. 'This job is all right for a year', he wrote to Kathleen McKay in July,
& the hills round Dunedin are really superb … But the travelling is cruel, let alone absence from wife most of the week … The lecturing itself is quite good fun, mostly on my favourite academic subject of political theory, which can be made to involve a lot of other things. The farmers' wives & village store-keepers & railwaymen I lecture to are all good sports too, though I'm blowed if I know what some of them mean when they start arguing.25
He was wanting to get back to Wellington as soon as possible to work on his Pacific book.
A further blow came with the news that Marjory Hannah had been killed when she was struck by a bus in Featherston Street in Wellington. She and John had met several times in London a year page 159earlier. She too had returned to New Zealand reluctantly, in her case to be near her elderly father. 'God! sometimes the world seems quite insane', John wrote to his father.26
The year's programme finished with a debate, held at Hampden, between the Hampden and Oamaru classes, with supper. 'A good deal of handshaking & speechifying & people seem to have been fairly pleased'.27 At Roslyn Mills the chairman told John that he had greatly improved during the year and the class voted £1 to buy him a book. John chose J.B. Condliffe's New Zealand in the Making, which had just been published, and all fifteen members of the class signed it.
While John was thankful the travelling was over he clearly regretted seeing the last of some of the classes, and both he and Elsie 'could have stood' another year in Dunedin, where they had made good friends. John judged Fisher to have been 'an ideal boss'28 and this regard was reciprocated. As well as expressing 'great satisfaction' with John's work, Fisher wrote to him, 'I would intensely like to have you and a few more people like you to vary permanently the atmosphere of Dunedin'.29 John and Elsie returned to Wellington at the end of October and moved in with Elsie's parents. He finished his second chapter on Pacific exploration and wrote forty pages of an 'essay on N.Z. history' for a book of essays which he and Quentin Pope 'were proposing to edit and J.M. Dent to publish'.30 John's salary continued until the end of January, and he had agreed to mark a thousand Matriculation history papers (such marking became a vital contribution to the family income in the years ahead). With no possibility of a university job, and some regret at the prospect of leaving Wellington just when Ian Henning was about to join the Victoria staff in Harry Espiner's place, John applied for the WEA tutor-organiser's position for the Waikato, based in Hamilton, £400 a year and permanent. His special subjects, he noted in his application, were colonial history and political theory but he also had 'a fair general knowledge of current world politics, European history and English literature'.31
He was interviewed in Auckland, where he met Norman Richmond for the first time and was favourably impressed. Richmond, four years older than John, was one of the Richmond–Atkinson clan; his father, Maurice Richmond, had been a barrister, and for some years professor of law at Victoria College. After graduating in mathematics from Canterbury College, Norman Richmond saw active service in France during 1918 – 'enough of war', he wrote, 'to make me a pacifist for the rest of my life'.32 On returning to Christchurch page 160he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and at Oxford dropped mathematics in favour of modern history and political science. In 1925 he was appointed assistant tutor-organiser for the WEA on the staff of Auckland University College, three years later became director of the WEA tutorial classes in the Auckland district (which included Waikato). Richmond shared John's critical dissatisfaction with the world; for him adult education should above all play a key role in bringing about a more economically and socially just society. Their shared passion for the music of J.S. Bach proved to be an equal bond between them.
John was offered the job and told that a car would be essential for the travelling. He and Elsie bought second hand a two-seater with a dicky seat at the back, and at the end of February they drove to Hamilton, taking three days and staying a night in Wanganui with John's brother Geoffrey, his wife Theo and their small daughter Mary. Geoffrey pronounced the car, vetted by the Holmes's mechanic, to be 'lacking in some important respects as well as in most of the minor graces'.33 Certainly, it needed attention at garages in Wanganui, Hawera and New Plymouth before they finally reached Hamilton. It was not a good start to John's relationship with cars.
They were enthusiastically welcomed, and given a bed, by the chairman of the district advisory committee, F.A. de la Mare (widely known as 'Froggy'). De la Mare had been one of the first students at Victoria University College; he had edited Spike, been president of the Students' Association, represented the college at rugby, cricket and tennis, written verse, and in 1910 edited a collection of verse written in and around Victoria, The Old Clay Patch. The college retained his lifelong loyalty. A 'reluctant lawyer',34 he put most of his energy into public causes: penal reform and the rehabilitation of prisoners, prohibition, the ideals of the League of Nations, education and academic freedom. In his younger days he had been a member of the Forward Movement and the Unitarian Church, where he had known John's parents, but he had since become a freethinker and a rationalist and an 'anti-Bible-in-schools stalwart'. He and John had much in common, although, John reported to his father, 'my word, he can be an awful bore'.35 He modified that judgement in a later letter: he 'is not a bore except when you are tired or in a great hurry – he only takes a whale of a time to find the right word & get his yarns off his chest'.36
Work began at once. John's predecessor, F.B. Stephens ('one who knows not fear in a motor car'37), who had been appointed lecturer in economics at Auckland University College, spent a week driving page 161him around and introducing him to the district. John despaired of ever being on such terms of easy familiarity with butterfat and farming costs. Despite this inadequacy, during the forthcoming months he was to find the farmers generally most tolerant of his agricultural philistinism.38
Elsie meanwhile was looking for somewhere to live. After Dunedin, Hamilton was flat, 'flat with a flatness primitive & almost impeccable', though parts of it were 'very pretty'.39 It was not promising for walking. They settled on a house at 6 O'Neill Street, 'the best of a bad lot'; it had the advantage of a shed for the car and was not far from the river.40 With eight rooms there was at least plenty of space, though the wash-house and lavatory were in a shed at the back. It cost them 32s 6d a week. There was one big room that they planned to use as a living-entertaining-book-music room (John's first act was to hang some of the pictures there), and they plunged into cleaning, painting and decorating. The garden, which ran down to the railway line, was a wilderness of overgrown weeds and rubbish. They hired a 'protégé' of de la Mare's to do a lot of the dirty work of clearing it; de la Mare had saved him from gaol a day or so before, 'a very nice chap, on the mend now, but in gaol from boyhood, a regular social rebel'.41 Inside the house they scrubbed and painted. Elsie covered a 'revolting dado' in the kitchen with orange American cloth. Coloured glass in two of the doors aroused John's ire; they covered one door with a curtain, the other they unscrewed and stored in a spare room. Elsie also pasted brown paper over two sets of offending fireplace tiles. John was not a great handyman: 'I have to do all my carpentry & constructional engineering with a hammer, a screw-driver, & a gimlet. The axe comes in handy sometimes but when used as a saw it is not highly satisfactory. We are on the look-out for a good second-hand saw though.'42 He took to the recalcitrant lawnmower with an oil can and a hammer and, surprisingly, got it to go.
After a fortnight things were taking shape inside, and outside the place was slowly emerging from chaos. John's father sent them the family piano from Hopper Street and they found a cabinetmaker named Hodgkins to make some furniture. He was recommended by Mrs Rogers, wife of a Hamilton doctor. The Rogers were friends of the de la Mares (de la Mare's wife was also a doctor), and had a house with a fine garden stretching down to the Waikato river, which flowed through the middle of Hamilton. They too were interested in the arts and were to be very hospitable to John and Elsie. Hodgkins was set to work on a kauri dresser and a set of kauri chairs with page 162seagrass seats for the dining room, adapted from a picture in Heal's catalogue. John wished he had some more catalogues of modern furniture besides Heal's and the Studio Year Book for 1930.
After sharing the house for the year in Dunedin, John and Elsie clearly enjoyed having a place of their own. 'If I had the Turnbull Library up here', John wrote to his father, 'I wouldn't mind staying for three years or so & knocking [the house] into shape'.43 Before the end of March, however, his salary was cut by 10 per cent to £360 – a move by the government in response to the depression. They had just ordered an armchair from Milne and Choyce in Auckland for Elsie, and John had asked Hodgkins to make him a working chair – another Heal's design – from 4000-year-old manuka retrieved from the Arapuni buried forest. Should he go ahead with the chair? John agonised and decided that, if a long-promised wedding cheque did not eventuate, he would have to earn the cost of the chair by the sale of verse or by writing articles. Having made that decision, however, they began to calculate whether their remaining unspent wedding-present cheques would also run to a small settee and chair after the pattern of those they had admired at 'Finella'.
The 'minor interstices between gardening & house decorating' were filled with WEA work. John's first lecture was at the Waikeria borstal. He was driven out by de la Mare, who, representing the Howard League, took a concert and lecture party there every week – '30 miles & a rotten road. The man's a hero.'44 John talked about the exploration of the Pacific. The audience he thought 'very acute & appreciative', and he was also roped in as accompanist for various songs. He lectured to the local branch of the New Zealand Educational Institute on democracy and art, and to the Rotary Club on historical research ('de la Mare of course wangled an invitation & was much pleased by the exhibition – he takes a very fatherly interest in all our outgoings & incomings & general performances'45). He was elected to the executive of the League of Nations Union.
The car continued to play up. 'We go to bed every night praying that someone will pinch or burn it. There were lots of burglaries in this district before we came; but now nobody seems to have the slightest desire to make off with a handy-sized car.'46 It was overhauled once more and running much better, fortunately, when lectures started in the third week of April.
Debating club on Tuesday & short chat by me on oratory past and present; Wednesday address by me to Luncheon Club on Univ. of London … Wednesday night out to Morrinsville to start off there, on Democracy; Thursday, inaugural lecture, Hamilton, on Democracy; page 163Saturday, Horsham Downs, Democracy. Elsie is getting rather sick of Democracy, but I am repeating myself wherever possible. The classes are much bigger than I had in Otago. Elsie is still chauffeuring – she drove out to Morrinsville, & I drove back … in a frightful storm of rain.47
John never did become a confident driver, and after Hamilton never drove again.
In that age before air travel, Hamilton was very much more accessible than Dunedin. Elsie's father, when travelling by train to Auckland to catch a ship to Sydney for a board meeting of the AMP, entertained them to breakfast at the Frankton station (the overnight train to Auckland stopped there long enough for the passengers to breakfast in the station dining room). On his way back he stopped off for a day in Hamilton. Elsie's brother Charles and his family were in Auckland and came down to visit. At the end of April John's father came to stay – 'if you can wangle from McIntosh [in the General Assembly Library] a large folio volume of Tasman's voyage edited by Heeres (I think) & bring it I should be vastly obliged'.48 Elsie's parents stayed in August, with 'a blow-out at the Hamilton Hotel at the Old Bloke's expense', and Keith and Fronnie, on holiday at the beginning of October, used Hamilton as a base to visit Rotorua and Auckland.
With the house and furniture in a more satisfactory state, they were also inviting people in – should they try an open house on Sunday evenings, like the Laskis? John wondered. One of their first visitors was the secretary of the district advisory committee, an Englishman named Arthur Ward. Five years younger than John, he had come to New Zealand in 1926. After a period working on dairy farms in the Bay of Plenty he had been appointed company secretary to the New Zealand Co-operative Herd Testing Association and the Auckland Herd Improvement Association. It was the beginning of an outstanding career in the New Zealand dairy industry; in 1954 he became general manager of the New Zealand Dairy Board. To Arthur, John and Elsie represented a world of books, art and music of which he knew little. If de la Mare was unstoppable on his latest enthusiasm for putting the world to rights, Arthur was insatiable for all that he had missed in his youth. He was embarking on a book-buying campaign, so John 'turned over A. Bennett's Literary Taste to him, from the W.E.A. library. He thinks my knowledge of editions etc is simply prodigious …'49 John introduced him to Housman's poetry – for a wedding present Elsie had given John copies of A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems from a limited edition printed and published by the Alcuin Press the year before. Arthur recalled, forty page 164years later, John asking him how he had liked A Shropshire Lad. '"Too morbid" I said. You [Elsie] sympathised with my view, but John said "No – you haven't read him properly. Read him again and if you still don't like him, then read him a third time." I did just that and … at one time I could recite the whole of "Shropshire Lad".'50
In June John reported to his father that he had been 'lecturing pretty hard'.51 He had started a series of twelve broadcast talks, fifteen minutes every Thursday, on the local radio station, 1ZH. For two of the topics (the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation) he used recordings lent by Henry Valder, a local businessman, proponent of a partnership in industry between owners, managers and workers, and a friend of de la Mare's.* John himself covered the other topics: the meaning of democracy, fascism, how the Soviets work, and a summary of the series, together with some words on the duty of doubt. 'A futile sort of business', he told his father. Later, however, in his annual report, he suggested that radio would be a way to extend adult education. The course of six lectures he had given at Morrinsville on political ideals had, by general request, been extended to twelve. He had started a course at Te Kowhai on contemporary problems: communism, fascism, democracy, tariffs, disarmament, and the origin of the war. Bad roads and bad weather (it was an exceptionally long and hard winter) kept away some who had attended the previous year, but he still found the class one of the best, the discussion 'always vigorous and generally to the point'.52 Attendance was increasing at the Hamilton course, which comprised twenty-four lectures on political ideals covering 'the ideas of most of the important political thinkers from Plato to Lenin, with the object of discovering their bearing on modern life'.53 'De la Mare generally comes along & drags in Prohibition or Laurence Housman or both.'54 A second course in Hamilton was on drama. John gave a number of lectures on the history of drama and there were readings of plays, including Ibsen's The Doll's House, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple and Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. The last was a public occasion as the main part of the final WEA social for the year.
* De la Mare had published a pamphlet, A Discussion Concerning Profit-sharing and Co-Partnership (1924), in which he discussed and supported Valder's ideas.
The tutor had always, with town-bred arrogance, been inclined to regard farmers as a supremely conservative class, and was frankly astonished at the individuality and unorthodoxy of some of the expressions of opinion at Horsham Downs … Here as elsewhere there was no nonsense about an hour's lecture and an hour's discussion, and the tutor had more than once to tear himself away, not without regrets, as the time advanced towards midnight.57
Not surprisingly at that time, Soviet Russia was seen by some as a model for the future. 'The W.E.A. is in bad odour', John told Kathleen McKay, 'because it has been talking about Russia over the wireless & that is a thing no gentleman would do'.58 John was reading what he could get of the books published on Russia, including Ten Days that Shook the World, John Reed's account of the revolution, and Maurice Hindus's Humanity Uprooted (recommended by Dick Campbell). He had letters from his friend Lorrie Richardson, who had done some work in Russia in 1930 and was soon to return to do six months' soil chemistry with a Russian party in the Caucasus and Crimea. But John did not find the local communists persuasive:
We had a mob of them along at a meeting about Disarmament the other night … & I argued the communist point with them on the pavement outside afterwards. But they are quite impenetrable. They have one particular fiery evangelist, a farmer from Taupiri who told me with passion that I was a paid agent of the capitalist state, like the whole of the W.E.A. – he'd been watching me. I was not intimidated … It's pleasant to have them along however, for they give fire to discussions that may otherwise languish. The trouble is the blighters can never keep to the point, whatever it may be …59
If judged by what he saw as the main test, John was certainly succeeding at his job: the students were asking for more. The local executive of the Farmers' Union, moreover, were stimulated to 'rare heights of enthusiasm for education by the slump'60 and called on him for advice. Ideally, he said, long courses should be offered all over the district but, apart from increasing financial constraints, there was one great difficulty. All classes wanted 'their lectures page 166at approximately the same time, i.e. when the cows are dried off, between May and July'.61 One solution John suggested was 'to take a leaf out of Denmark's book' and run a short winter school for farmers. With his move from Hamilton early in 1932, and the growing financial problems of the WEA, the idea was stillborn.
The WEA was supported by donations from public bodies and a subsidy from the government on such donations, as well as a direct government grant. As conditions worsened many cut their donations, though the Hamilton Borough Council and the Farmers' Union were welcome exceptions. In late July John heard from Norman Richmond that the government was refusing to pay either its usual grant or a penny in subsidies:
I have had the nasty news [he wrote to his father] that after the end of November, or perhaps with great luck the end of next February, my engagement will be terminated … unless a miracle happens practically the whole W.E.A. in N.Z. is wiped out. In Auckland Richmond will be left but nothing else … I haven't heard anything formally – that will come from the College Council … Of course to be sacked at the end of the year is going to be damned awkward for us …62
'Damned awkward' not least because Elsie was pregnant, the child due in early November.
The news proved to be premature. The government grant was to continue, though the subsidy on voluntary donations was cut. The tutorial classes committee at Auckland University College was able to countermand its earlier recommendation to the college council that John should be sacked. There was some anxiety that Rocke O'Shea, the Auckland University College Registrar, 'the villain of the piece' who had rushed the initial recommendation through and was said to 'hate the W.E.A. like poison', might resist the change. 'Nice genial lot of enemies we have!' John commented.63 His job was saved, but the episode clearly fed his growing disenchantment with public events and government policies in New Zealand and the world in general.
In Britain the minority second Labour government, which he had seen elected in May 1929, fell on 24 August 1931. Faced with seemingly almost insuperable budgetary problems, the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, formed a National government with the Conservative and Liberal Parties. He continued as prime minister and was subsequently repudiated by the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The news left John feeling 'so sick I've scarcely been able to speak for a week'.64 When the New Zealand Herald published a leading article roundly criticising Arthur page 167Henderson, the outstanding British Foreign Secretary, for not following MacDonald, he was roused to comment:
Why a crisis in English politics should be a signal for writers in the New Zealand press to lose touch with their senses I do not know, but to read through the recent comments on the subject in your editorial columns is to gain the impression that the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Morning Post and the New Zealand Herald are dwelling in Bedlam together. Nor, though it may merely be a symptom of inadequacy in myself, do I comprehend why, because the majority of the Labour Party at Westminster are opposed to a 'National' government they are necessarily and without exception knaves and fools. I do not pride myself, because I have read closely all the cables published in the Herald on the English situation, on therefore understanding that situation in meticulous totality; for, unlike leader-writers and newspaper proprietors, I do not specialise in omniscience. But I imagine, having some acquaintance with contemporary English political life, that if Mr Henderson takes a certain step, he takes it with as much patriotism, as much knowledge of the necessities of the country, as much sense of enlightened responsibility as Mr MacDonald …
He concluded by suggesting that the Herald's criticism of Henderson was both 'grotesque and impertinent'.65 De la Mare told him there was 'not one chance in a million' that the Herald would publish the letter, and he was right. 'These N.Z. papers make me sick', John wrote to his father at the end of August. It was, interestingly, a time when the Herald had 'no words hard enough for Forbes, for wanting to form a "National Govt." in N.Z.'.66
Such events were not all-consuming. In the same letter to his father John reported that Elsie's parents had paid a very successful visit for the weekend, that the fruit trees were beginning to spark up a bit, and that he had been asked to give four lectures on the growth of freedom at the Auckland WEA summer school – could his father lend him his copies of Acton's History of Freedom and Bury's Freedom of Thought? He continued:
I have my last regular lecture in the country to-night, at Matangi. Small class there, but interesting; one chap was in Russia for three years 1921–3, & has seen a good deal of the world besides. Another, one Ramstead, leaned on the car for ¾ hour after my lecture & told me all about his family – his father when in England was in with all the Labour & Socialist birds – MacDonald, Henderson, Bruce Glasier, Blatchford, etc & knew Wm. Morris. He had all the Kelmscott Press books, but sold some of them when he left England (including the Chaucer – for £80! – in 1900 though); some he still has. Apparently he has been a great book collector, & of a very lively mind. Now lives at Raglan, of all places for a page 168bloke with Kelmscott Press books to live! I wish I could lay my hands on a few of them.
Courses came to an end in mid-October.
We brought the work of the season to a glorious end last night with the Playboy before an audience of 35 or so, with supper to follow in a simple way; & by charging 6d for the supper made a profit of a few bob. So now I am shut of lecturing for a bit … However I have got the Christmas business [summer school] to work up now & a series of box-scheme lectures on Western Civilisation or something equally inclusive for next year.67
There were also letters to write to organisations and local bodies endeavouring to raise funds for the coming year. John got back to work on the Pacific with the aim of finishing the book over the summer, but he suspected he would not make much progress unless his father could get some more books from the General Assembly Library and send them up. He was reading Chekhov's plays – 'queer things'. On 30 October the baby arrived, a boy, 'lanky rather than fat, so I hope he will turn out a good tramper'.68 A characteristic postcard was sent to Kathleen McKay:
Beaglehole: On 30th November [October], at Waione Maternity Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand, to Dr J.C. Beaglehole and Elsie Mary his wife, a remarkably fine son. Both well. Thanks to Marie Stopes, Bertrand Russell and Almighty Providence (in that order). Australian, English, Manchurian and Eskimo papers please copy. 'Safe in the arms of J.C.'
After protracted deliberation the baby was named John Robin, but was always called Robin.
John's reading during the year had shown all of its customary variety. He had moved on from Chekhov to Hazlitt (in the Nonesuch edition), he wrote to his father in late November – 'one of the best books I ever read' – and then J. Livingston Lowes's Convention & Revolt in Poetry, ('also very good'), hoping he might learn something useful for a lecture on freedom in literature planned for the summer school.69 Before Christmas he had also read Robert Graves's Good-Bye to All That, Hawkesworth's account of the voyages of Byron, Wallis and Carteret, and Milton's Areopagitica. He had finished preparing the summer school lectures. Work on the Pacific book had progressed, and only the final chapters on James Cook and a short conclusion remained to be written.
A Christmas dinner with the Rogers fell through when Mrs Rogers suddenly got diphtheria. Elsie and Robin took the train to page 169Wellington on Christmas night to stay once again with her parents, and John followed on 4 January after the summer school ended. His four lectures on 'The Growth of Freedom' were said by Richmond to have been regarded 'as some of the most thought-provoking in the history of our Summer Schools'.70 During the summer John worked not only on the Pacific book but also on 'What is Western Civilisation?' for a 'box scheme' course, to be offered to country groups where it was impossible to send a tutor. In addition to the copies of the twenty-four lectures which John was to write, the groups were to be sent books, pictures and gramophone records (it was 'assumed that at least one member of the group has a gramophone'71). Work on the course continued until well into the new year. John's lectures began with a discussion of contemporary civilisation, 'Civilisation or Catastrophe: Where are we bound to?', and continued with a survey of Western history up to the nineteenth century. The course was planned as the first of three, bringing the students through to the present day. Richmond later wrote of John's work as 'quite the best course of its kind that we have handled here in the last five years'.72
The family returned to Hamilton in late February. For reasons that are not clear they had to find another house, and settled on one further up O'Neill Street, number 30, on the corner. Once again it was 'the best of a bad lot', with 'hideous spots of stained glass here & there, but that seems ubiquitous'.73 The outlook for the WEA was gloomy. The government had decided to cut its funding from the end of March. A grant from the Carnegie Corporation in America would give some respite, but John did not think he could count on a job beyond November.
He had again been roused to write to the newspaper, this time the Wellington Evening Post.74 When the editor of the Red Worker had been convicted of sedition, the paucity of comment, John considered, should 'alarm anyone who has been brought up to believe in a democratic political and social system and the virtues of freedom'. He noted that the prosecution had been brought under the War Regulations, although the war had ended thirteen years earlier, and that the definition of sedition left much to the discretion of the officials involved. He quoted Dicey, Laski, and Mr Justice Holmes of the American Supreme Court: 'We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is needed to save the country'.75 He argued that such prosecutions did not repress and did page 170not persuade, and were 'evidence not so much of our belief in the rightness of our social system, as of our fear for its destruction'. He concluded:
I suggest finally that though one may look in vain to Solicitors General for a grasp of elementary political principle, or to policemen for a just weighing of political possibility, one might reasonably expect from a magistrate, in assessing pains and penalties, some sense of proportion, Or is this merely the exuberant Utopianism of an academic idealist? Perhaps it is.
The Post published the letter but in a 'garbled, or rather truncated version'.76 He had more luck when C.A. Marris, the editor of Art in New Zealand, placed his poem 'The Apple-Bough' first in their verse competition; it was published in the March number and John received the prize of two guineas. He was greatly taken with Marris's 'expounding of the inner meaning of the thing'77 – 'The sight of the massy blossom of the apple-bough spiritualised under the moon induces in [the poet] a valid but inexplicable emotion compact of loveliness and sorrow …'78 – and decided that Elsie should have a new hat out of the proceeds.
John was immersed in planning for the year's work, and in checking his Pacific chapters before they were typed by de la Mare's typist, when he heard that the professor of history at Auckland, J.P. Grossmann, had been sacked for financial dishonesty. Grossmann was a rogue, Keith Sinclair writes in his history of the university, 'albeit a remarkable one', and the events leading to his dismissal 'the greatest scandal in the history of the College'.79 The college decided to advertise not a chair but a temporary lectureship. John had 'laughed a hollow laugh at these things for happening at the wrong time, & thought no more about it',80 until he heard from W.T.G. (Willis) Airey (appointed to the lectureship ahead of him in 1929), who encouraged him to apply. Faced with the prospect of delivering fifteen lectures and marking fifty essays a week, Airey was clearly anxious to have assistance. John consulted Richmond and de la Mare. De la Mare insisted that he should apply, and within five days he had been interviewed and had accepted the position from 1 April.
I was in two minds whether to apply for the job, [he wrote to his father] & whether to take it when I had got it. The change from adult education to N.Z. university work has its dark side, & I don't fancy a cast-iron syllabus much after being my own master. Moreover the job is not over-permanent, but at least it may last out this one; it is temporary, to the page 171end of December, when the position will be reconsidered. So I suppose I must make myself indispensable during the rest of the session. Airey seems a good chap, & gazes back with some sorrow at the Grossmann régime behind him – more with sorrow than with anger, I am afraid, as he is one of the principal S.C.M. boys in the place.* I warned him that I was pure pagan.81
The Farmers' Union in Hamilton wrote to John to say how sorry they were that he was going; once again they were packing and moving. The family stayed in Auckland with old friends from Victoria, Ken and Marie Griffen, while they looked for somewhere to live, finally finding a flat at 22 Grafton Road. It was close enough to the university for John to walk home for meals, and while it seemed expensive at £2 a week they would save on tram fares. It was also close to the Richmonds and to the WEA headquarters. Although the flat was the top floor of the house it was almost at street level, and Grafton Road at that time was 'quiet though not what you would call flash or even excessively select'.82 There was a view of the Domain and plenty of trees, of a distant strip of the harbour and in the foreground the rusty roofs of the factories in Stanley Street and the backs of neighbouring houses – all rough as sacks. During their first weeks in Auckland it rained, at times with a 'hell-like intensity',83 and John's impressions of the city and the university were gloomy.
The library is appalling; hardly a book on colonial history – not even a decent text-book. What there is is almost exclusively out of date. Other departments almost as bad. Political theory not taught – apparently Grossmann didn't like it. And no chance whatever of getting any books – till the Carnegie grant comes off next year. Delightful place. Really Victoria College seems a paradise compared to it … Bright institutions, these N.Z. so-called universities.84
* The SCM was the Student Christian Movement. John reported to his father that there were at the college two rival sects among the Christians: 'The S.C.M. proved too broad & modernist for some of the real dinkum Bible-bangers, so they seceded & formed the Evangelical Student Federation. Their libraries repose side by side in a sort of annex to the Univ. library, & the juxtaposition would make you laugh. The S.C.M. is very strong on the Xian life & missionaries; the E.S.F. runs to Xian evidence & proofs of the inspiration of the Bible. Gordstruth, & this sort of stuff is sheltered by the walls of a university library!' (JCB to DEB, 6 June 1932.)
Before John's arrival R.P. Anschutz, the lecturer in philosophy appointed in the late 1920s and one of the ablest of the new staff, had written a foreword to a pamphlet, A New Zealand Woman in Russia by Mrs H.J. Scott, a member of the Communist Party. After drawing attention to the economic progress made in Russia since the revolution, he had remarked, 'The ten years that the Russians have spent getting out of their mess, we have spent in getting into ours'. He signed the introduction with his name and gave the college as his address. Fowlds took the view that as Anschutz's comments were not based on his academic expertise he should not have identified himself with the college, and the registrar drafted a memorandum (dated 12 April) and sent it first to the professorial board and then to all the staff. It said:
There is always a possibility that the public expression of opinion upon matters of a political nature by members of the staff in their capacity as such, may tend to place the College authorities in a difficult situation. While it is in no way desired to interfere with the ordinary right of free expression of opinion, it is suggested by the Board that members of the staff should exercise due discretion in deciding whether any such statement should be made in their official capacity under the address of the College or in their capacity as a private citizen.86
It was a not unreasonable statement, and in normal times that might well have been the end of the matter. But the times were not normal. There were over 80,000 unemployed – in Keith Sinclair's words, 'the ragged army of men on the dole … architects, teachers, carpenters, chipping weeds on the footpaths; malnutrition in the schools – and children stealing lunches; ex-Servicemen begging page 173outside a pub; the queue at the soup kitchen'.87 The government removed the power of the Arbitration Court to protect wage levels, and government economies worsened the plight of many: public servants and teachers, whose wages were cut, and the old and the disabled, whose pensions were reduced. The misery and desperation experienced by many led to protests. Marches in Wellington and Auckland were broken up by the police, and turned into rioting, looting and the destruction of property. A blinkered government, fearing revolution, passed repressive legislation curtailing civil liberties. Public servants and teachers were threatened with dismissal for any 'public statement' by which any one of them might have 'sought to bring the government of New Zealand into disrepute'.88 'New Zealand', Sinclair concluded, 'had reached its nadir.'89
On 14 April 1932 conflict between unemployed demonstrators and police in Queen Street escalated into extensive rioting. Shop windows were broken and looting took place. 'Special police' were recruited, who included many students.* With feelings running high, a lot of New Zealanders held that the communists, who were influential in the Unemployed Workers' Movement, were threatening not just law and order but the very foundations of society.90 'Fair dinkum', John wrote at the time, 'the whole damn country's gone mad. The hysteria here about communists & foreigners is appalling … This country beats me. I gave three lectures for the W.E.A. on the Breakdown of Democracy, Dem[ocracy] & its Rivals, and the Future of Democ[racy], the first three weeks we were in Akld; I wdn't go beyond the first lecture now.'91 The Minister of Education, Robert Masters, having seen Anschutz's foreword, wrote to the registrar on 28 April querying whether it was 'quite fitting for an Institution partly dependent on Government funds to employ a lecturer holding the opinions that Mr Anschutz appears to hold'. He further asked that the staff be informed of the 'necessity of exercising due discretion in the making of public statements upon matters of a political nature'.92 John thought Masters should have been told 'to go to hell'.93 Fowlds chose to reply (through O'Shea) simply, and perhaps wisely, that he had dealt with the matter.94
* O'Shea took the opportunity to attempt to get Anschutz to join the 'specials', 'as a means of rehabilitating himself, & strengthening the college's position as a respectable institution, in the eyes of Mr Masters [the Minister of Education]. I believe on this occasion Anschutz was not polite to the Registrar.' (JCB, memorandum 'In re Anschutz' (written for de la Mare), 2 September 1932. F.A. de la Mare Papers. MS-Papers-2865-2/3/4A. ATL.)
'At this', John wrote, he and Norman Richmond 'finally boiled over & decided to write to the paper'.† John reworked the letter he had sent to the Evening Post. They approached a number of colleagues to see whether they would sign it too, but even the two or three who initially agreed pulled out for reasons 'which seemed sufficient to themselves'.
All right, we thought, we'll see if old Sir George Fowlds, who is supposed to be a radical, will sign it.96 Saw him & had one of the most remarkable interviews of our lives with him & O'Shea (trust O'S to be there). Sir G. read it through aloud with much expression, carefully pointing out the sarcastic bits ('They might irritate people') & then said he couldn't agree with it. 'Why, these men – yes – these men favoured violence'. O'S shoves in his oar about people puffed up with a little knowledge rushing in etc. I really wd like a verbatim report of it all. Finally R said Well, if he thought O'Shea's conception of academic freedom represented the attitude of the Council at large, he'd be ashamed of belonging to the
* Nalder's report, dated 9 May 1932, while it did not corroborate John's final comment, otherwise bears out his account of the meeting. 'I asked Dr Beaglehole whether the Russian Revolution in 1917 was not a violent and bloody one. He agreed that it was a horrible revolution and that he would not like to see the same occur here.' He records John's opposition to the government's 'repressive measures' and his belief that 'books of this class should not be repressed'. Nalder's report concludes: 'Dr Beaglehole spoke deliberately and with consideration, and as I was leaving in an apologetic way stated that "personally he would always be pleased to do anything for me or assist me".' The report was forwarded to the Commissioner of Police for his information and was the beginning of a quite extensive file on John held first by the police and later by the New Zealand Security Service (after 1969 the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service). (J.C. Beaglehole File. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Papers.)page 175univ. I said ditto. Sir G. very amiable & fatuous throughout. Next day every member of staff gets a memorandum signed by Sir G., obviously written by O'Shea, assuring them of their determination to defend academic freedom, the most consummately insulting thing I've ever read. Must be seen to be believed …97
† When Richmond later appeared to hold himself responsible for John's 'downfall', John wrote: 'You know as well as I do that I was at bursting point before you came on the scene. I grant that it was your idea to burst together. But I wd. have burst anyhow.' (JCB to Richmond, 7 February 1933.)
John and Richmond decided to go ahead anyhow with a revised letter. It was more temperate than the first draft ('mild as milk & water' in John's view), with less assertion of principle and more raising of considerations which seemed important (had they in fact been influenced by Fowlds's comments?). The letter was headed 'Communism and Hysterics' and in it they wrote:
The whole question of Freedom and authority is a difficult one, and only the person with little knowledge of the problems involved would venture to be dogmatic about it. Nevertheless we would suggest the following points as being important in any calm consideration not only of the case referred to but of the whole problem of social peace which it illustrates. In the first place freedom can never be absolute; its very existence depends upon the authority of the State being maintained (in somewhat the same way as the freedom of motorists, in any real sense, depends upon the rule of the road being enforced). And it would seem to follow that, in times when such authority is in danger, a certain curtailment of the freedom which can safely be allowed in more normal times is justified. The extreme case of this is martial law, which would be justified by most people only when the danger to the State is correspondingly extreme. Short of the extreme circumstances, however, which may be held to justify martial law, are there any principles which it seems reasonable to apply in determining the point at which the State should step in to restrain the free expression of opinions? No complete answer is possible in the present brief compass, but so far as the practice of the most enlightened countries is any guide one may perhaps take as typical an authoritative pronouncement of one of the greatest of American judges, Mr Justice Holmes of the Supreme Court bench. 'We should be', he wrote in his famous case, 'eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten interference with the immediate purposes of the law that an immediate check is needed to save the country.' Now if we apply such a test as this to the case under consideration, the question arises whether the literature concerned was proved to have any connection with immediate violence. It was stated by the magistrate that 'this sort of literature leads to disturbances such as we have recently had in our city streets.' With all due respect we would suggest that no evidence has been produced which would give the colour of truth to this statement. We would go further and say that at a time when we have fifty thousand registered page 176unemployed whose helpless resentment at their position is sharpened by the feeling that the world's potential wealth makes poverty inexcusable, together with a permanent percentage of simple hooligans – latent but nevertheless eager for activity – at such a time it is unnecessary to blame the activities of Communists for any violence which may occur. We would suggest in fact that the penalisation of the two men in this case is merely one example of what can only be described as the hysteria which is rapidly growing up in our country around the words 'Communism' and 'Communists', words much used in this case, and apparently unavoidably so, since both men 'admitted' they were members of the Communist Party.
They went on to question whether such sentences had any effect other than to 'present the social rebel with his case against capitalist society', and concluded:
… we are in no sense attempting to justify violence or lawlessness. What we do suggest is that we should be less hysterical in our search for the causes of such violence. For it would seem to us that the attempt forcibly to suppress opinions (however wrong they may be) which have no proved connection with immediate acts of violence or lawlessness is as inexpedient from the point of view of social peace as it is unjust to the individuals who are made to suffer the penalty.98
Richmond took the revised version to be typed, and decided, to John's chagrin,* to send it with only his signature, with the aim of protecting John in view of the temporary nature of his appointment. He sent the letter to the Auckland Star and the New Zealand Herald. Both turned it down. John claimed that Alan Mulgan, the chief-leader writer and literary editor of the Star, 'was horrified at the mere idea of printing such a thing'.99 John now insisted on signing it and, with both signatures, it was sent to the New Zealand Worker, where it was published on 18 May.
* John later wrote to de la Mare (2 August 1934), 'I have always admired N.M.R. for this, though I damned him heartily at the time.' (F.A. de la Mare Papers. MS-Papers-3865-2/3/4/B. ATL.)
The college staff's reaction to the memorandum, as far as John could judge, was 'either (1) that it's rather amusing & doesn't matter much or (2) that it's perfectly reasonable. The whole place combined', he told his father, 'doesn't seem to have the guts of a rabbit.'102 The professorial board expressed its 'sympathy' for the principles enunciated and gave an assurance of loyal fulfilment of the memorandum's terms; council approval followed. John and Richmond wrote to Fowlds about the memorandum.103 His idea of academic freedom was so 'widely different' from theirs, they wrote, that the board's approval left them feeling 'impelled to offer a sort of minority report'. Parts of the memorandum they accepted. That a statement should be a reasoned one, giving both sides of the question, seemed to them, however, a 'maxim needing fairly liberal interpretation, for it might easily deny the University teacher the right to express any opinion of his own whatever'. The edict against statements which might place the College authorities in an untenable position clearly depended on what constituted an untenable position. They continued:
It would seem to us that though the community has a right to expect that a University teacher will arrive at his views only by the fullest, most rigid and most honest thought of which he is capable, the nature of those views is of no concern to anyone but himself. It would seem also that his method of expression of such views in public is equally of no concern so long as that expression is equally honest and capable. In our opinion, that is almost all that need be said. Reasonably interpreted this would mean that no College Council could consider itself placed in an untenable position by any utterance of a member of the staff unless that utterance and the thought behind it had been put to this test and had failed.
They hoped, they concluded, that the setting forth of their views would not convict them of 'that intellectual arrogance which is referred to in the Memorandum'. The whole issue, in their view, affected 'the innermost and essential principle of university life. If our attitude', they wrote, 'unfits us for the tenure of a post at Auckland University College, we must express our regret'. Fowlds replied to John, saying that he hoped no one who was acquainted with his past would think he was in favour of repressing free speech.104 'Blow his past', John commented, 'it's his present that worries us.'105
A few days later a controversy developed in the Auckland papers on 'liberty and licence'. Anschutz had a letter published in which he claimed that the limitations on free speech should lie in the laws of libel, slander and sedition; unsettled times did not justify further limitations. Nor should there be additional limitations on the rights of particular people, such as university staff or public servants, because of the nature of their employment. John wrote to both papers – 'on the same lines as usual', he told his father, 'mainly pinched from Laski's Liberty in the Modern State'106 – largely in support of Anschutz' argument.
If written or spoken words can be proved by the ordinary rules of evidence, in ordinary law (not under the specially designed provisions of war regulations and the like) to have been the immediate cause of unjustifiable violence, obviously their employment has been an abuse of the liberty of the citizen. Farther than that we cannot go without lending ourselves to the institution of tyranny. Apart from the highest ranks of the Civil Service, there seems to me to be no special case of professional or academic freedom involved, to which we can rightly apply a different rule; we are all citizens whether we dig drains or sit in a professorial chair. We may be guilty of errors of tact; but I am not aware that tactlessness is a criminal offence.107
Neither paper published the letter. The editor of the Herald, R.M. Hackett, claimed (inaccurately) that John's letter suggested 'that the force behind the law has no better sanction, and is entitled to no more respect, than the force which may be used to overthrow the state' and that this made it 'impossible to publish'.108 John replied that if he had propounded that theory it might be worth examining; why it should make the letter impossible to publish he was at a loss to understand. He added that he was sending the interchange of letters to the New Zealand Worker and he trusted that Hackett had no objection. Hackett wrote back that he did object.109 The editor of the Worker, however, had too much 'copy' to print the letters.110page 179
It is clear that for John these were serious issues. His correspondence confirms this, but it also suggests that he relished the excitement of the controversy. If he were a man of means, he wrote to his father, he would
write a red-hot pamphlet on things in general, publish it at my own expense & then vastly enjoy the ensuing row & dismissal. There doesn't seem to be anybody in the university who has at once the guts or the security to stand up to Masters & Co. & tell them off as they deserve. By gosh, a man with nothing to lose could have a good time giving N.Z. all the political theory it wanted, & a damn sight more.111
Copies of all the correspondence were sent to Fisher in Dunedin, Hunter in Wellington (now vice-chancellor of the University of New Zealand as well as professor at Victoria University College), and de la Mare in Hamilton. Hunter, who was sure the 'Fowlds memorandum' would never have got past the Victoria professorial board without a protest, spoke to Fowlds about it and was reluctant to believe it really expressed his views.112 Fisher thought Hunter had been too easily satisfied by Fowlds' explanations, but that it would do Fowlds good to know that Hunter 'thought it worthwhile to enquire about the matter'.113 De la Mare entered the controversy and collected everything, perhaps already planning his pamphlet, Academic Freedom in New Zealand, 1932–34, which was to be published two and a half years later.
By the middle of June the subject of academic freedom had, publicly at least, 'lapsed for the time being'.114 John did lecture the local Fabian club on 'Liberty in the Modern State' but the members appeared unlikely to 'bring the New Jerusalem along with a rush'. He led off the college's winter public lectures 'with a few remarks on the exploration of the Pacific' and received a warm note of thanks from the registrar. His book on the same subject had finally been completed and posted to England at the end of May. In July he 'went to lecture to a mob called the Labour Defence League on Freedom of the Press, its dubious merits, & had every word taken down by a couple of detectives. Very gratifying for a univ. lecturer to have any notes taken at all at a lecture, I thought. But you can see that the police are leaving nothing to chance.'115
The police report, dated 30 June 1932, was again by Detective Nalder. Only fifteen people were present at the meeting, which was chaired by Thomas Stanley, said by Nalder to be a Communist Party member. The closely typed account of John's lecture suggests that it was largely historical – one wonders what his audience made of it – though towards the end he is reported as saying that 'Society page 180to be decent at all must allow for freedom. It is difficult but must be prepared to pay the price of freedom or inevitably pay the price of repression. The speaker did not believe in repression'. Detective Nalder noted finally (in what can only have been a reference to his report when he asked John to give evidence for the Crown on the Russian revolution), 'Dr Beaglehole was previously reported on by me owing to his sympathy with the Communist Movement' – a judgement which, whatever its truth, was hardly justified by the earlier report. In a later report (14 October 1932) on 'The Labour and Liberty Defence League', Nalder reiterated his view that John was 'a man of strong socialistic tendencies'. Norman Richmond he thought 'undoubtedly' the same, 'but like Beaglehole, owing to his position, and the presence of the Police, he has been wise enough to restrain and control his remarks'.116 The detective's views seem to have owed more to the heightened political emotions of the times than to objective reporting,* but they almost certainly had their effect on John's future fortunes.
Life was not all politics. John exchanged letters with his father on what was available in the Whitcombe's sale in Wellington. Had they still the Shakespeare Head edition of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England? What price? Could he afford it? Of course he could not afford it! Anyhow, don't let C.Q. Pope beat him to it. In the next letter, John would take it – as well as Keith, The Sovereignty of the British Dominions and Webster, The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh.117 For his birthday he had bought himself Herbert Read's The Meaning of Art; he and Elsie had both read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in spite of the Star telling them that most of its New Zealand readers regarded it as 'horrible & disgusting. How the Star knows I don't know, but I dare say they do.'118
The respite from controversy was short lived. On 18 August John wrote to his father:
The news of most moment is that it looks as if I'm going to lose my job again at the end of the year. A tangled story & a dirty one. However in a way it has been so amusing that we have not had time to feel depressed yet, & as the forces of the righteous have won what is anyhowpage 181a temporary victory, it is possible that we may be all right in the end. The intriguing has been going on for about six weeks now, but I only came into it about a fortnight ago. It looks like a political business & the result of the letter Richmond & I wrote to Sir George. The yarn is of course economy – but as the council is spending money right & left on extra help in other directions & giving O'Shea £200 above & beyond his salary & Carnegie grant to study university administration abroad (what for only O'Shea & Heaven know) that doesn't wash too well.119
* Nalder's imaginative powers were shown again in a 1940 report on two young German refugees who had had some contact with John, when he wrote, 'While at Auckland University in 1932 Beaglehole frequently wrote articles of a revolutionary nature for publication in the "Phoenix" magazine'. This is a very odd statement indeed, as the only thing of John's published in Phoenix was his poem 'Decline of the West'. (J.C. Beaglehole File. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Papers.)
O'Shea had proposed,* ostensibly for reasons of economy, that John's temporary appointment should not be extended after its initial year, and that F.B. Stephens (John's WEA predecessor in the Waikato), who had been lecturing in economics (also on a temporary appointment) and whose BA had been in both economics and history, should give half his time to history. Both Willis Airey and Horace Belshaw, the professor of economics, protested at the proposal, but their objections were not reported to the education committee of the college council, which accepted O'Shea's proposal and recommended it to the full council for approval. Before the council meeting took place on 15 August, members of the education committee, most importantly H.J.D. Mahon, the headmaster of Auckland Grammar School and not an admirer of O'Shea, had learned of the 'pocketed' objections and the council agreed to refer the whole matter back to the education committee. In spite of opposition from Mahon and T.U. Wells, the committee, after a 'very fiery meeting',120 held to its earlier decision.
Before the matter came back to the council on 19 September, there was intensive lobbying. Richmond and Anschutz were very active.121 John regretted that his role had to be limited to gathering in the news and making suggestions. De la Mare wrote to Fowlds, saying that Auckland could 'ill afford' to lose John, who was an 'independent and extremely intelligent and useful spirit',122 and added that if they sacked him, his prayer would be 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do'. 'Too right they do', John commented, 'at least those two b's O'Shea & Fowlds do. The amusement doesn't come out in all this', he added, 'but it has been there all the same – talk of international politics & secret diplomacy! They have nothing on A.U.C.'123
* It is an indication of O'Shea's power at Auckland (and the weakness of the professorial board) that the registrar should have decided on such academic arrangements. De la Mare seems to have been almost alone in arguing that O'Shea should have said how much must be saved, and the board should have determined how it was to be saved.
Airey and Belshaw sent in further strong protests.124 Airey drew attention to the very adverse staffing situation in the history department, which had the largest advanced classes in the college, and stated unequivocally that the removal of a full-time teacher would seriously endanger the standard of work. Stephens's qualifications, in Airey's view, were 'beyond question considerably less' than John's. Belshaw, for his part, wrote that 'at no time have I stated that I thought the curtailment of the staff in History was wise, or that the financial aspects of the proposals were altogether fair'. Both Airey and Belshaw suggested other ways of making economies, with Airey offering to take a cut in his own salary if John could be kept on, and also suggesting that both John and Stephens could be offered half-time positions. Belshaw pointed to other funds that might be drawn on. A delegation of history students met with Fowlds and O'Shea to present a memorandum protesting at the proposed changes – the department would lose 'a valuable lecturer whose influence has been and would be in the future a keen stimulus to critical and thorough work'125 – and came away from the meeting believing that the points they had made had not been answered. The professorial board added its protest, resolving, on Airey's initiative, that the difficulties the history department already faced were exceptional and urging the council not to make any changes in its staffing.
It was all to no avail. When the council met on 19 September, Fowlds read, in a voice 'trembling with emotion', a prepared statement126 in which he reiterated the college's financial difficulties and repeated the earlier arguments for Stephens to teach both economics and history.127 Airey's and Belshaw's letters had been sent to council members before Fowlds wrote his memorandum, but he ignored their suggestions and protests, as well as those of the history students. Mahon later told Richmond that 'Airey's arguments were not answered and were unanswerable'.128 Discussion went on for more than two hours, with Mahon and Wells again arguing that John should be retained. Only P.W. Burbidge, the professor of physics (whom John as a schoolboy had heard speak when Burbidge visited his old school, Mount Cook Boys, before leaving for Cambridge on a postgraduate scholarship), and S.I. Crooks, formerly a lecturer in engineering, supported them.129
Fowlds then and later firmly maintained that the economic arguments were the sole reason for retrenching John's position, and it would not have been unreasonable at the time to have concerns about the level of future government funding. John's political views were not mentioned at the council meeting, although in private one page 183council member was said to have described him as a 'dangerous young man',130 and Richmond was told by two members (Burbidge and MacKenzie) before the meeting that there was a prejudice in the council against John, the letter to the Worker being apparently the reason.131 The reasons why members of councils vote the way they do are not always revealed in debate, and as Mahon said, 'The trouble was half the Council was there to vote blindly with Sir George'.132 Burbidge wrote to de la Mare that, while the council had made a bad error in terminating John's appointment, for which he thought 'it did not have a leg to stand on … There was, of course, absolutely no evidence of any motive and consequently none can be imputed … '133 This may be a little ingenuous. The proposal clearly started with O'Shea and, in Sinclair's words, 'O'Shea greatly disliked the left-wingers';134 and he shared his views with Detective Nalder.135 In May O'Shea had written to the editor of the Herald saying that 'the University as a whole frowns very strongly upon dabbling in foolish subversive criticism'.136 He had no time for Airey or Richmond. His view of John is not recorded and must be inferred.137 When O'Shea first raised with Airey the need to economise in staffing, he referred also to John's exchange with the editor of the Herald.138 Airey made no comment on this, simply saying the proposal for a part-time assistant would be entirely unsatisfactory. When John later wrote, 'in the general alarm [of those times] even persons trained in an older tradition of liberalism were liable to lose touch with reality',139 he may well have been thinking of Sir George Fowlds. At the time Hunter wrote: 'I am inclined to think that Fowlds is quite honest in his opinion that he acted solely because of economy, for he does not realise that "though the voice was the voice of Fowlds the hands were the hands of O'Shea".'140
The evidence does not allow us to state with absolute certainty why John lost his job. His friends at the time, however, believed the conclusion to be irresistible: that he was being retrenched, consciously or unconsciously, because he had shown too much independence of mind. Viewing the process as a whole it is difficult to disagree.
As far as John's appointment was concerned, that was the end of it. His friends, led by de la Mare, decided to assemble a full statement of what had happened, with copies of the relevant letters and papers. De la Mare worked assiduously, but his pamphlet, Academic Freedom in New Zealand, 1932–34, took more than two years to appear. The Auckland papers showed no interest in reporting the controversy. The Waikato Times and the Christchurch Press both published a number of articles on it. New Zealand page 184Truth sensationalised it with a front-page article headed 'Auckland University Students on the Warpath', but it rather lamely concluded that 'Council's decision appears beyond doubt to have been made on grounds of economy alone'.141 The student press showed an interest in the issues raised. At Auckland the disputes over academic freedom were far from over,142 but while John continued to take a lively interest it was as an observer rather than as a participant.
The controversy had made his name well known. The arguments he had put forward were far from revolutionary, and almost academic in their expression. But at that time to argue at all, even if it was to urge careful reflection on the causes of the problems facing New Zealand, was not well received. John too became the object of the 'hysteria' against which he had warned. Whatever the reasons for his 'retrenchment', many accepted the view of him as 'a dangerous young man' with 'advanced views'. The consequences for his future would become clear later.
The excitement over, John still had the year's teaching to complete. With pressure easing, he had time 'to read a book or two'. He started with Leigh Hunt's autobiography, which he thought very good, then went on to Dean Church on the Oxford Movement:
Funny lot of birds that crowd – what a pity they couldn't have worried about something fundamentally important … What beats me about all these brilliantly clever blokes like Newman & Froude & W.G. Ward is that they did all their arguing within narrow intellectual limits – they never questioned anything that might have busted up the whole show … It was just as well Darwin came when he did! England had need of him.143
During the time in Hamilton and Auckland John showed the first signs of an interest in New Zealand painting that was to increase steadily as the years passed. Mrs Rogers had asked him to go on a committee 'to run an offshoot of the Akld Society of Arts exhibition' in Hamilton. The reason for the invitation, he gathered, was because his Uncle George had taught painting to Mrs Rogers in her maiden days in Dunedin, and also because
we possess the Cézanne & Van G. prints, which indeed give us considerable standing. It wouldn't be a bad idea to startle the local cognoscenti, connoisseurs, intelligentsia & arty birds generally with an exhibition of [Christopher] Perkins' stuff, I suppose the stuff is all too expensive to buy. If the Wgton birds have any sense, they'll get that Silverstream Brickworks one for their permanent collection, but I dare say it is still about 50 years or so too advanced. I'd like a drawing or two myself.144page 185
In Auckland he saw one of the visiting shows of British art brought out by Murray Fuller, 'some quite good stuff … along with a lot of mediocre … It was decent to see some professional painting after the tripe turned out by the local talent anyhow'.145 Then, shortly before he left Auckland, John met the painter John Weeks. Weeks, like John, had returned to New Zealand in 1929, to paint and to teach at the Elam School of Art, after spending a number of years studying and painting in Europe and Africa. John visited his house at Northcote to see his work and was enthusiastic about what he saw:
The bloke is an artist all right & knocks C. Perkins sky-high. Hundreds of beautiful drawings from Morocco (he went for a fortnight & stayed 15 months) & then ripping paintings of Paris & then this more abstract pattern stuff he has been doing since he got back. He worked under a modern bloke called André Lhôte in Paris & got bitten properly by the idea … Stunner still-lifes & N.Z. landscapes & figure designs … I was wildly excited.146
He was a great deal less enthusiastic about having once again to pack all their possessions. They would, he told his father, be leaving the flat 'with many regrets'.147 Elsie and Robin took the train to Wellington in mid-December to join her parents for Christmas. John stayed on once more for the WEA summer school. He was making enquiries about possible jobs: he wrote to von Zedlitz about work in his coaching school and to Scholefield about the General Assembly Library, with no luck in either case. With no idea what he would be doing, he was able to store their packed possessions in the WEA rooms until the future became clearer.
He was cheered by the expressions of sympathy and regret from students at his departure. He thought he might print them all and send a copy of the pamphlet to each member of the college council. A nun in Hamilton whose thesis he had supervised said that she was sending him and Elsie 'a small piece of hand-work for the house'. After much speculation as to what it might be, it arrived: 'An immense cardboard box … disclosed a yellow lightshade of the largest size & complexity of shape – God knows what we are going to do with it. Elsie pronounces it a marvellous bit of work technically & the most expensive materials; but somehow it doesn't seem to fit our style of furnishing, & nobody seems to be getting married at the moment.'148 John took it to a lampshade shop and was offered 18s 6d for it. He wondered whether he should try to push the price up to 26s 6d so that he could buy D.H. Lawrence's page 186letters,* but decided the day was too hot to bargain and took the price offered.149
Until the summer school began John stayed for ten days with Lascelles Wilson, who had led the history students' protest at his retrenchment. Wilson was working as a cleaner at the university while he completed his degree and was also involved with the WEA. He was to make his career in adult education, later becoming (in succession to Duncan) director of tutorial classes at Sydney University. 'A very decent fellow', John wrote to his father, 'with a very varied experience of life, so that what with yarning after meals & late at night, the past week has been rather like the Duncan-Beaglehole ménage in London again'.150 They both spent Christmas day at the Richmonds', and the summer school, again held at Wesley College in Paerata, began the next day.
There were nearly a hundred at the school, a remarkable variety of people, and testimony to the liveliness of the WEA in those years.151 John gave lectures on Germany, and on literature and morals. Von Zedlitz was up from Wellington – 'all very charming, but there are times when he wanders from the point a bit too much' – Allan Fisher was 'very good', Anschutz 'very good indeed'. John Shearer, another young economist, gave 'an absolutely masterly lecture' and was 'easily the outstanding man at the school'. Owen Jensen, later to be a well-known music critic in Wellington, lectured on music and organised record recitals using the 'stunner' gramophone of the college headmaster. Forty years later Jensen still remembered a passionate debate on Bach between John, Richmond and Shearer. 'For wit, erudition and sheer enthusiasm, it was a discussion of aspects of Bach's music and its interpretation that would have been unmatched in any company.'152 Arthur Ward was there, and other friends from Hamilton, de la Mare and his son, Henry Valder and one of his daughters. Walter Nash and his wife arrived, driven by Dick Campbell in his car. John indulged his enthusiasm for quoit tennis at all opportunities (beating Nash and being defeated only once, by Ward) and played Bach on the piano. Finally it came to an end, and Campbell drove John down to Wellington to an uncertain future.