Henry Lawson Among Maoris
Appendix II — Lawson's Visits to New Zealand
Lawson's Visits to New Zealand
Lawson made two earlier visits to New Zealand. Not much is known about the second; but a summary of the first, based mainly on published sources, is appropriate. The main sources are Tom L. Mills's two articles, Anthony Cashion's article in Henry Lawson by his Mates, and Lawson's 'Pursuing Literature in Australia', his four letters to Jack Louisson and one to Emma Brooks.* Little is added by an article by Charles Wilson in the Lyttelton Times, 9 September 1922. Colin Roderick has added further details in his two essays, in Overland, Spring 1957, and the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, June 1967; and an account of the visit is given by Denton Prout in his biography.
Driven by economic depression in Australia in 1893, Lawson sought the price of a passage to New Zealand and was donated a first-class passage by the Union Steam Ship Company, but he chose to travel steerage. The voyage took eleven or twelve days, and he wrote of it in 'Coming Across', first published in the N.Z. Mail (Wellington), 15 December 1893. H. Roth's statement that he landed in Wellington on the Waihora on 27 November is backed by a report in Fair Play (Wellington), 2 December, that Lawson had arrived on the previous Monday. This conflicts with Lawson's dating a letter from Wellington to Emma Brooks, '6/11/93', but perhaps the '11' is a mistake for '12'.†
Lawson landed at Auckland first, and he visited the Auckland Museum to see Maori carving. He 'could not get a show' of work in Auckland and spent his last pound travelling to Wellington where he was better known, 'old chums at every corner'. He reached Wellington in time to see women vote 'for the first time' on 28 November. When he arrived, according to Colin Roderick, he telegraphed J. F. Archibald, editor of the Bulletin, for money. He slept at least his first two nights in Wellington in sewage pipes which were lying in the recreation ground waiting to be installed as part of a municipal drainage system.
At one of these offices that I know, and have a hearty contempt for, it would be thought an act of charity to offer a hard-up Bulletin writer 5s. per col.; while in another it would be a mark of special favour to offer him a chair. I have stood (and walked up and down and boiled over) for two hours in the passage outside the office of a paper which had been "clipping" my work for years, and this because they knew I was hard-up and wanted them to pay for a contribution by way of a change.
He also met Edward Tregear, Secretary of Labour. Tregear found Lawson a job as a painter, but the only work Lawson was given was to paint a small door to the grounds of Government House. Others, according to Mills, who helped Lawson were Gresley Lukin, editor of the Evening Post, for whom Lawson had worked on the Brisbane Boomerang in 1891, and Herbert Baillie whose bookshop in Cuba Street Lawson used as an address when he wrote to Aunt Emma, and was the scene of two photographs of Lawson taken by Baillie's brother John. Mills placed some of Lawson's verse with newspapers, including, he says, the Otago Witness.
He went with a mate to the Hutt Valley, apparently near Silverstream, working for a boss who contracted to supply a sawmill with logs. For a fortnight they slogged in a rough wet gully, felling trees, cutting a track for the bullocks and jacking logs over stumps and boulders. The boss, however, told them they were not bushmen (i.e., in its New Zealand sense, timber workers) and gave them an order for wages on the owner of the mill in Wellington, an order for some reason never cashed. According to Lawson they tramped 20 miles back to Wellington without food or tobacco, and for a while Lawson found some work painting houses.
The 'three-months' unemployed "perish" ' he recalled in 'Pursuing page 182Literature in Australia' presumably ended with his arrival in Pahiatua, on or about 26 February, when he called into the office of the director of the Pahiatua Herald, Alex Baillie, known to him in Sydney when Baillie was on the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald. Anthony Cashion, then a reporter on the Pahiatua Herald, claims that it was at his suggestion that Baillie invited Lawson to join the staff, but this has been questioned by Colin Roderick (CV, i, 450) and by Rollo Arnold, who has written an interesting speculative paper on Lawson's stay in Pahiatua.* Dr Roderick says that Lawson was not a reporter for the Herald, simply a contributor: Lawson confirms this in a letter to Jack Louisson from Pahiatua, written on Herald note-paper: 'Have had no work except a little from the local paper',† the Herald in March ran two prose pieces and some light verse of Lawson's. Cashion tells the legend that Lawson, sent to report the opening of the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka, handed in a brief and overdue report: 'The Mangatainoka Brewery was opened one day this year. It was a gigantic success and ended in oblivion'.
Lawson visited a number of places within a rough radius of 30 or 40 miles: the Manawatu Gorge, Ngaturi, Kaitawa, Woodville, and Eketahuna within 20 miles of Pahiatua, and further away, Makuri Gorge and Pongoroa. According to Cashion, he was welcomed by the farming community and was friendly with two families-the Crosbies who had a farm at Mangatainoka, and 'Mr Moore and his daughter Gertrude'. Rollo Arnold identifies Moore as George Moore, clerk to the Pahiatua County Council‡ and suggests a love affair between Lawson and Gertrude, whose poem 'Waiting: A Bush Idyl' (N.Z. Mail, 17 June 1897) expresses longing for the return of a lover with whom she had walked during a bushfire one Easter Monday. Lawson's memory (in 'A Wild Irishman') that it rained five weeks while he was in Pahiatua is contradicted by Mr Arnold's finding, in files of the Herald, reports of a bushfire on Easter Monday 1894, started by farmers burning off after a long spell of dry weather. He reads Gertrude Moore's poem as a message to Lawson, written in ignorance of his marriage but in the knowledge that he had returned to New Zealand in 1897. Mr Arnold relates the poem to some obscure references in Lawson's verse to a broken love affair.
‡ George Moore had once worked as a reporter on several English provincial newspapers. Another Moore at Pahiatua in 1894, with whom Lawson might have had common interests, was F. G. Moore, bookseller and job printer. (Cyclopedia of N.Z., vol. i, 1897, pp 1024, 1040-1.)
It would be tempting to relate this to Lawson's statement in 'The Ghosts of Many Christmases' that his life had been changed by the loss of a letter from a sweetheart when the Tasmania was wrecked off Gisborne, except that when the Tasmania was wrecked (off Mahia Peninsula on 29 July 1897) Lawson was back in New Zealand and in any case married.
Somewhere in his New Zealand experience, either at the Hutt, or on the way from the Hutt to Wellington, or from Pahiatua to Wellington, or perhaps later in the South Island, Lawson met and tramped with a commercial traveller who had a wife and family in Wellington and who was the model for his confidence trickster Steelman, the subject of seven sketches. A mate Lawson had met before he was in Pahiatua was Jack Louisson, a 27-year-old lineman attached to the Wellington Post Office.
Tom Mills says that the foreman of the lining gang was Jack Louisson's brother whom Bertha called Tom, but whose name is given in the Post and Telegraph departmental list (N.Z. Gazette, 1894, p. 1122) as W. W. Louisson, first-grade lineman, aged 38. He was stationed at Greymouth at the end of March 1894 and in the following year at Nelson, neither of which offices are likely to have supervised the laying of lines in Marl-borough, since there were first-grade linemen stationed both at Blenheim and at Kaikoura. But he must have worked in Marlborough for a time. Writing to Jack Louisson from Kekerengu Lawson mentions a Bill known to them both: 'I understand Bill thoroughly. Good hearted old lunatic' And from Sydney in November he wrote: 'Remember me to that old hard case, the Boss, if you see him.'
He described the work in 'The Romance of the Swag':
I've carried a shovel, crowbar, heavy rammer, a dozen insulators on an average (strung round my shoulders with raw flax)-to say nothing of soldering-kit, tucker-bag, billy and climbing spurs-all day on a telegraph-line in rough country in New Zealand, and in places where a man had to manage his load with one hand and help himself climb with the other; and I've helped hump and drag telegraph-poles up cliffs and sidlings where the horses wouldn't go.
The boss was a 'driver' but Lawson enjoyed the open-air work and said that after 'four or five months' of it (in fact three or four months, through autumn and into mid-winter) he was 'too healthy to write'. He told Jack Louisson: 'Graft easy but-mind weariness, you know. Fever of life and all that sort of thing'.*
He was attracted from this work by an offer of a job on the new Daily Worker, launched in Sydney at the beginning of July-initially (according to the Hobart Clipper, 14 July 1894, p. 5) planned to appear daily only for the duration of the 1894 New South Wales elections. The paper only lasted a month, and, according to Colin Roderick, Lawson arrived back in Sydney on 29 July 1894, three days before its demise. He had thus been in New Zealand nearly eight months.
It is more likely a statue in an Australian 'southern town'. Burns statues were unveiled between 1887 and 1905 at Ballarat, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. The Ballarat statue, unveiled 21 April 1887, has on the west panel these lines from 'Robin':
He'll hae misfortunes great and sma'
But aye a heart aboon them a'.
There is possible reference to these lines in Lawson's last stanza:
And the sorrows that you knew
I am learning, Bobbie Burns.
But I'll keep my heart above…*
All the places in 'A Wild Irishman' can be found on the 1:63360 N.Z. Lands and Survey Department maps of Westland districts or in Dollimore's New Zealand Guide: Duffers Creek is 40 miles south of Hokitika, Ahaura (misspelt Aliaura) in the Grey Valley; Orwell Creek (spelt Orewell) 2 miles from Ahaura; Nelson Creek, off the Grey River, now a sawmilling town; Notown, a former gold-mining settlement, now a ghost-town; and Kaniere, 3 miles south-east of Hokitika can be recognised behind 'Th' Canary', its usual local (Pakeha) pronunciation. The spelling Aliaura (which first appeared in the Worker in 1894, and has been repeated ever since) and 'Th' Canary' support Lawson's statement that he heard this story away from the West Coast; it is likely that he took notes and, in the case of Ahaura, misread them.
Yet on the whole-apart from the opening of his later sketch 'The Australian Cinematograph' and impressions based on physical discomfort like the storm in the Hutt Valley in 'The Ghostly Door'-the New Zealand landscape made little impression on Lawson's writing, and most of the stories could, as Denton Prout says, be as easily set in Australia.
* See Edward Goodwillie: The World's Memorials of Robert Burns, Waverley Publishing Co., Detroit, 1911, p. 67.
On his third visit, most of which has been dealt with in this book, the Anglian called first at Auckland, but though the Wellington papers announced his arrival in Wellington, a steerage passenger was beneath the notice of Auckland's N.Z. Herald. The latter part of this visit, after he left Mangamaunu, was spent mainly in Wellington, where according to Bertha, they found a room in College Street. It is not certain where Aunt Emma stayed. The address on a letter to Louisa Lawson is 14 College Street.
But a letter to Jack Louisson, written from Sydney in 1900, suggests that for part of the time he lived with 'T.L.' I assume that this is Tom Mills, who adopted 'Tom L.' as his regular forename in 1886 to avoid postal confusion with two other Thomas Millses in Wellington.† Lawson quarrelled with Mills and regretted it:
threshing it out I've come to the conclusion that it was a paltry quarrel after all-I was worried and irritable and over sensitive on account of my financial position, and quick to take offence at what I considered a slight-Then again we tried to live together in our capacities as married men-which was a great and silly mistake. I never quarrel with any one only when I'm hard pushed and fancy myself in a false position. Now Tom barracked for me alright, I know that-‡
Mr J. E. Traue of the General Assembly Library, Wellington, has provided me with this note on Bland Holt's itinerary:
Bland Holt's season in Wellington was from Wednesday, 17 November to Wednesday, 15 December, 1897. He arrived in Wellington on the Rotomahana from Lyttelton on 17 November (N.Z. Times, 16 November 1897). According to the N.Z. Times (15 December) the company was to leave for Palmerston North on the 16th December. We do not have the relevant provincial newspapers for 1897 but my guess is that the itinerary was Palmerston North, Whanganui, New Plymouth (the railway ran from Wellington as far as New Plymouth).
The company arrived in Onehunga from New Plymouth on the Mahinapua on 24 December and opened an extended Auckland season on 27 December. The season finished on 29 January, 1898, and the company left for Gisborne, Napier and Wellington.
It would be a reasonable guess that if Lawson did accompany Holt it was no further than New Plymouth, and that he returned to Wellington about Christmas. Holt was back in Wellington by 16 February, since Lawson wrote to his mother on that morning that he had to meet Holt in the afternoon for a decision on work Lawson had done for him. Presumably the decision was Holt's rejection of the play or his handing it back for revision.
Possibly Lawson did go so far as Auckland, content to leave Bertha in his aunt's care and to return before her confinement. Their son 'Jim' was born 10 February 1898, the day of an earthquake which caused Emma Brooks to take the first boat back to Sydney. According to Bertha, Lawson was offered another Maori school, near Auckland, but turned it down. Henry, Bertha, and 'Jim' left Wellington on the Tarawera on 12 March 1898 and arrived in Sydney on 17 March.
Three months before he sailed for England in April 1900 he wrote to Jack Louisson: 'I'd like to take a run over and see old friends and shake hands with old enemies (if any) before I go-but am afraid I won't be able to afford it'. He asked Louisson to shake hands for him with 'T.L.', presumably Tom Mills, to make up the quarrel.†
The Dixson Collection at the Public Library of New South Wales holds an undated manuscript, 'The Blanky Papers, II, His Coloured Country', in which Lawson comments adversely on 'flax-sticks', that is New Zealanders, whom he finds mean and conceited and clannish and calls mongrel Scotsmen.‡ I have referred earlier to his memory in 1921 of his 'exile in Toadyland-New Zealand'.