Henry Lawson Among Maoris
It was not, of course, Henry Lawson who chose his occupation in New Zealand, but chance and a shortage of government posts. According to Bertha the choice was hers, in the hope (as she explained forty-six years later) of finding him a job that would 'leave him free to write' and be 'right away from hotels'.1 But Henry seems to have accepted the offer willingly. It was managed through the help of Lawson's friend Edward Tregear, Secretary of Labour, poet, and student of Maori culture and Polynesian languages. Tregear was reputed in the Australian working-class press to be 'an avowed Socialist' and in 1893 he had found Lawson work and lent him money in 1896.2 Bertha's account of the appointment, conflated from her two not entirely consistent memoirs, is that prepared with a letter of introduction to the Prime Minister, R. J. Seddon, from J. F. Archibald, editor of the Bulletin, she called on Tregear who told her that Seddon was due to leave next day for London for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and advised her to ask Seddon simply to minute the letter and hand her back to Tregear. Seddon obliged; then Tregear introduced her to 'Mr Ward, the Minister for Education' who called in F. K. de Castro, a clerk to the department, who offered Mangamaunu school, which she apparently accepted on Henry's behalf. The boat for Kaikoura was to leave in two days; on the same day as the appointment she asked for an advance of a month's salary to pay fares and buy furniture and ship it to Kaikoura (in her second version she says she page 83concealed the fact that they had no furniture); de Castro agreed and she bought a mattress, a kettle and pots and groceries.
But Bertha's reminiscences of thirty-four and forty-six years later are understandably unreliable.3 To be accurate so many years after would be a long haul on anyone's memory; and the second memoir was ghosted by her de facto second husband, Will Lawson. More seriously, she was recalling the most promising period of her marriage to Henry Lawson across the bitterness of their separation in 1903, her prosecutions for his defaults in maintenance, and her own mental breakdown. For example, it could not have been Joseph Ward to whom she was introduced, since he never was Minister of Education, and had in fact in the previous winter resigned his several ministries because of his bankruptcy and the scandal of his private financial manipulations.4 The man she meant could only have been William Campbell Walker, who was Minister of Education from 1896 to 1903. Indeed it is more likely that it was Henry who presented himself at the department and, being partly deaf, misheard the name. Since he was in Wellington and had made no written application, the department would hardly have appointed him without seeing him.
A letter from Tregear to William Pember Reeves, the preceding Minister of Education, confirms this: it is dated 13 April 1897.
Talking of Labour Agitators (I suppose it is hardly fair to call a poet by that name) Henry Lawson … has come over here to live. He brought a letter of introduction to Mr Seddon from Mr Archibald the editor of the Sydney Bulletin, and I have been trying to get audience for him with the Premier, but this is the Premier's last day but one, and he is driving through things, trying to wind up, with a sulphurous odour in the atmosphere and a cyclone of flying private secretaries … Lawson is married now to a nice little woman who has been a hospital nurse and has got him in hand well so that I hope he won't go 'Baresark' any more but will settle to steady work. He intends to write up New Zealand and I think it well for the colony for a man of such rare literary ability to come here.5
Bertha's account of their stay in Wellington is telescoped. She suggests that she called on Tregear (and Seddon) the page 84morning after their arrival, got Henry the job on the spot, went home to tell him, returned to ask de Castro for an advance and dined with Tregear that evening. The following day, the day that Seddon was to sail, she bought the household goods; the third day caught the boat; and 'the second day out' from Wellington they landed at Kaikoura and went straight to Mangamaunu. According to this account they were installed in Mangamaunu within five days of reaching Wellington.
But in fact the interval was nearly four weeks. They disembarked from the Anglian on 9 April, a Friday.6 They had several days in which to wait on Seddon who did not sail till the following Thursday, 15 April.7 The Evening Post reports Lawson's appointment (to 'Mangamaume') on 1 May. Departmental records are more definite. The offer of Mangamaunu school to the retired teacher was made on 22 April. Tregear's testimonial for Lawson to Habens is dated 27 April, and on that day Arapere Panita was notified of Lawson's appointment.8 They sailed on the Wakatu (registered tonnage: 95) on 4 May.9 Lawson reported to the department that he reached Mangamaunu on the afternoon of Wednesday 5 May. Apparently the appointment was not as perfunctory as Bertha suggests. Habens was certainly consulted. Nevertheless no obstacle was seen in Lawson's lack of schooling. Tregear's testimonial made three points, that Lawson was a 'distinguished literary man', that Mrs Lawson would be an admirable helpmate, and that the two of them were in need of assistance. The only handicap that Habens, in a note to Walker, saw was Lawson's partial deafness, which could be offset by his wife's assistance and the smallness of the school. Whether de Castro was as liberal in his advance as Bertha says cannot be checked, since monthly salary payments are not recorded on the school file; but there is a receipt, signed by Lawson and dated 18 May, for £1 5s. 'advance for travelling expenses'.*
* Civil Service regulations required the presentation of a 'proper voucher' before travelling expenses could be refunded. N.Z. Gazette, 1878, p. 1208.
Admirers of Henry Lawson's writings will be pleased to hear that our Government has fixed him and his wife up in a nice little position-by no means a "phat" one, such as many bone-sucking Johnnies hold here, but of sufficient pay to free Harry from the poet's worry as to the morrow. He will, no doubt, repay the colony's kindness by writing our land up in some of his best work-both prose and verse. The settlement of Australia's poet over here will be a good advertisement for Maoriland. He has done good propaganda work for socialism-so here's to H.L.
A week later Walter Woods, editor of the Hobart Labour weekly, the Clipper, wrote:
How Maoriland is snapping up the talent! Henry Lawson, the foremost Australian-born poet and story-teller, has been found a billet in a native school under the shadow of the Kaikouras and the wing of the Seddon Government.10
* Tom L. Mills, later editor for thirty years of the Feilding Star and elder statesman of New Zealand provincial journalism, was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1865, came to New Zealand when nine and was educated at Timaru. He became foreman printer on the Timaru Herald, but was dismissed for protesting at a reduction in piece rates. He moved to Wellington where he was dismissed from a number of printing jobs for his activity in printing trades unions. When Lawson first met him he was chief compositor on the New Zealand Times; but in 1897 a piece of his 'descriptive journalism' attracted the attention of the Evening Post, which took him on as compositor, book-reviewer, music and drama critic, and interviewer. He was for a time New Zealand labour correspondent for the Brisbane Worker and the Tasmanian Democrat (Launceston); he later contributed gossip of the New Zealand printing trade to Wimble's Reminder (Sydney). He died in 1955.11
In 1897 he was less interested in Lawson's visit than in the speaking tour of the English trade union leader Ben Tillett.
The sources of information about the stay of the Lawsons at Mangamaunu between 5 May and 1 or 2 November are the school files, Bertha's two memoirs, Lawson's own few letters from Mangamaunu and one or two stray references in later writing, and such sparse and hazy recollections as have been found from people who knew him or knew people who knew him. The school file does not throw much light on life outside the school or on the daily events and relationships inside it. Apart from Lawson's letters, Bertha's reminiscences are an important source, and for such tentative reconstruction as is possible seventy years later, one must depend on them except where other sources show them to be wrong. Of the two reminiscences the earlier (edited by Bertha junior and J. Le Gay Brereton) is likely to be less untrustworthy since it is without the editorial bias of Will Lawson, who cultivated the popular image of Lawson.
Lawson's previous experience of Maoris was benign. In an earlier visit to New Zealand, crossing Cook Strait he had had a number of drinks with 'a big good-humored looking young Maori … playing a concertina'.16 Anthony Cashion, who knew him at Pahiatua, asserted that he admired 'the Maori race … and he was greatly interested in the Maori children'. On his return to Sydney he gave (one imagines with bridling pleasure) 'a most emphatic denial to the rumor that he has been married to a Maori girl'.17 More important, he had worked with five Maori men from Mangamaunu in the linemen's gang in Marlborough in 1894, an experience he described a year or two later as 'the most pleasant days of my life'; and he recalled in 1910 that these men had a high respect for him.18
When the Lawsons arrived with their light hand-luggage and two cement-casks holding the mattress, the kettle, the groceries, and the few pans (or the billy and the frying-pan which Bertha in her second memoir says was all they had to cook with), without furniture or curtains, they found themselves dependent for some time on Maori hospitality. The page 87community met them with baskets of kumaras and a plate of wild pork. The men helped Henry to cut bracken to put beneath their mattress. Whatever groceries they had bought in Wellington were insufficient and until they made arrangements with the driver of the Blenheim coach to bring bread and meat from Kaikoura they relied on Maoris for food. They learned to supplement their supplies with rabbits, pigeon and kaka, pauas and fish and watercress: it should be noted that in doing this they were drawing on a Maori food-supply, and recalled that it was for its food resources that the Mangamaunu block had been selected by the Kaikoura Maoris as a reserve. Later the Lawsons arranged to have bulk orders shipped from Wellington. They could have used the vegetable garden, but it was overgrown and Henry needed the time to write. They sometimes were able to buy potatoes and onions from the Maoris.19
* When Bertha says that the story 'Water them Geraniums' is 'a very true description of our home in Mangamaunu', she must mean by home their domestic relations. There is no resemblance between the two houses except that both had roof, walls, and floor. The selector's house at Lahey's Greek was of split slabs roofed with shingles, it had no veranda; attached to it was an unfloored slab-and-bark shed with a kitchen, a skillion, and a spare bedroom partitioned off with bark and chaff-bags. The Mangamaunu teacher's house was of weatherboard, with a ceiling and a corrugated iron roof; it had a veranda, six rooms and no shed, and was completely floored with wood.
It seems plain enough that the Lawsons had established different relations with the community than their predecessors. Their home was hardly the beacon of European house-management that Pope had envisaged and, one imagines, the Danahers and the Steels (within their means) had tried to practise. There is little wonder that they found themselves the object of curiosity, with eyes at the windows till Bertha improvised some curtains out of the mattress covering. At the beginning their poverty probably made relations easier; the hospitality of the Maoris, Bertha says, was 'unstinted'.23 She must, however, have confused them when, in a private scheme to keep her husband away from the pubs of Kaikoura, she told them he was a rich man, but very mean. In a culture that values generosity and deprecates meanness, it could not have helped relations; and Henry's anger at their 'greediness' in following Bertha's advice and asking £1 for the hire of a horse or £3 for a buggy was no more propitious.24
He was curious enough to discover the meaning of a Maori curse. He went shooting with one young man, and he was on easy enough terms with Bob Poharama to buy wild pork from him after a hunting expedition, or to learn why he had had no luck. He, or Bertha, knew the pictures on the wall of Mary Jacob's home. He conversed, through a grandchild, with Mrs Poharama, about a devil that had appeared to her the previous night.27
He sympathised with the Maoris against the local European sheep owners:
Whites here intensely clannish, in the narrow sence of the word. Regard the Maoris either with contempt or aggressive dislike, for no reason that I can see except localism-28
[They] were reckoned as poor class Maoris … and looked upon as dirt-and their teacher little better-by the few clannish white families round, whom I looked upon as poor class whites, and with whom I was pretty quickly at feud too.29
Mrs T. Walsh of Auckland was at the school in Lawson's time: she was probably the model of 'the youngest child in the school-a dear little half-caste lady of two or three summers' mentioned in 'A Daughter of Maoriland'. As Hannah Mc- Namara her surname was the same as that of Bertha's mother and stepfather. I quote from notes I made after an interview with Mrs Walsh.
18 February 1963. Mrs T. Walsh says she was at Mangamaunu School while Lawson taught there in 1897. She was not yet five and works out that she must have been page 90three. (She is 69.) Though she cannot recall any details or incidents of the schoolroom, or any impression of how Lawson got on with the class or with parents, she has always remembered him and often thought of him, 'I don't know why.' She remembers him as a kindly man-Very'. 'Mrs Lawson used to nurse me home at lunch-time.' They spoke of adopting her and taking her back to Australia but her mother would not agree…. She read of Lawson's death when it occurred and remembers wishing she had known he was still alive since she would have written to him asking if he remembered her. She left Mangamaunu over forty years ago and has not been back since.
How much teaching Henry did cannot be certainly established. Bertha's claim that she did most of it needs to be examined. It is doubtful that the Education Department would have agreed to give him a job that would, as Bertha says she asked, 'leave him free' to write. Possibly all that Tregear (who was not in that department) took from this remark, if it was made in those words, was that she wanted a job for Henry that Would allow him time to write; and that a four-hour teaching post in a remote settlement would answer. It is clear that when de Castro explained that her duties would be to 'look to the Maori women and children, to instruct them in hygiene, and to teach them how to sew', that he understood her to be appointed, like the wives of other Native School teachers, as sewing-mistress; 'looking to' the women and children was simply the wife's share of off-duty missionary work that Pope had enjoined in the Native Schools Code.
If, as Bertha says, Lawson spent most of his time writing, he did it sometimes at the teacher's table: Charles Oscar Palmer, a local farmer and poet (whose social calls and verse the Lawsons found equally unpleasing) remembered Lawson telling him of seeing the children 'dipping into the ink wells and splashing large drops about the floor in emulation of the teacher'.30 Bertha says she taught reading and arithmetic as well as sewing 'with Henry looking in, if needed, to help me keep order'.31 She adds that he taught history, geography, and drawing-not the largest part of the timetable; but Lawson leaves not only an account of a history lesson and reading lessons (in his June letter to MacCallum) but this record of repeated teaching of arithmetic, under the scrutiny of Mary Jacob, the oldest pupil in the school:page 91
I was slow at arithmetic … but I stuck to it. I was, I think, going into compound fractions when I le[f]t school. In 97, when I went to a native school in Maoriland, I could scarcely add a column of figures. I had to practice nights and fake up sums with answers on the back of the board and bluff for all I was worth; for there was a Maori girl there, about 20, a[s] big as I am and further advanced in arithmetic, and she'd watch me like a cat watches a mouse until she caught me in a mistake. I was required to give the average attendance to two points of decimels, and I had to study, and study hard before I could do it.32
According to Bertha the children's relatives, 'old and young' would wander into the school to watch the lessons. 'Sometimes they would take a hand at the lessons themselves.'33 But it is, one supposes, corrupt oral tradition that makes her daughter Bertha, who was not born at the time, say: 'Many of the Maoris were grown men and women but they all came to school to be taught English and history and arithmetic and sewing.'34 If Bertha senior could not sew and had to learn from the children, they were quick to teach themselves since they had had only intermittent instruction. There was no sewing under Beck (or singing either), and though Mrs Steel had been employed as sewing-mistress at the end of 1894, there was no further payment of a sewing-mistress during the rest of Steel's stay, probably because she had a second son about that time. There was no singing under Steel either, and Henry, deaf, would hardly have introduced it.35
Lawson started keenly and hopefully. He opened the school the morning after he arrived, a Thursday, when nine children attended, eleven the next day and fourteen the Monday following. He reported (five days after his arrival) that the children were very backward after their long spell without education, but 'exceedingly willing and eager to learn'.36 He asked for stationery and for school records which could tell him the ages of the children. Steel was telegraphed at Auckland Hospital and wired back that the documents were in the school cupboard; Habens told Lawson to consult the return for the previous December to find the children's ages.
At the end of June, at the start of the annual holiday at the end of the second quarter, in his letter to Hugh MacCallum, Lawson is happy in his relations with the class. He is amused page 92at their misconceptions: they are grateful to him and especially to Bertha for the extra week's holiday to mark the Diamond Jubilee and tell him that the last teacher would not have done that for them. The Maori children are sensitive and truthful and in many ways more admirable than European children.37
During the same holiday Lawson wrote again to Habens. He had made a 'thorough search and all possible enquiries' but he had not yet found all the school documents. The church register was lost or inaccessible; consequently in his June return he could only guess at the children's ages. In the case of one girl's age, the previous December's return was unreliable. The low average attendance (in his letter to MacCallum he had calculated it, however painfully, as 13.05) was due to sickness and the whaling season. Four children who had returned with their mother from the whaling station at South Bay in order to attend school had had to return when their father fell ill. Three European children living south of the Hapuku could only attend when it was safe to cross the river. He had difficulty getting firewood:
The children bring what firewood they can, but as they are poorly clothed for the most part, and get wet and invariably use time when they go for wood, and as the men are away and there is no convenience for carting in the pa. I might be permitted to order a load of firewood for the school to last the winter.38
Steel had left a good garden, but it had been destroyed by sheep. Lawson asked for a pamphlet on kitchen gardening. He conveyed the parents' sorrow at Steel's death and asked for Mrs Steel's address, 'so that we might forward some token of sympathy'. Presumably he had not yet entered into the arrangement with the local Maori over the garden.
Habens replied that the registers were not in Wellington and he did not think Steel would have taken them. He sympathised about the firewood but he regretted that to supply it 'would be to invite the Committee to systematically neglect its duty'. He sent Mrs Steel's address and a pamphlet on gardening.
It was not till the end of July that Lawson came across the missing records 'in an unnoticed drawer in the School table'. He had not looked very hard. The specifications of the rimu page 93table, ordered 23 January 1880, are 'One Table with Large Drawer 4 feet 6 in by 3 feet turned legs'.39
According to Bertha, Pope visited them and 'gave a good report and complemented us on the progress we had made'.40 The school file only records the examination visits of inspectors, usually at the end of the year, and there was none in 1897. It is probable that Pope, since he liked to have each school visited twice a year, called on them in mid-year without any record other than a diary or logbook entry which is no longer kept.
Till this time Lawson was happy in his relations and conscientious in his work. He still felt at one with the community when he asked on their behalf for Mrs Steel's address so that 'we' might send a message of sympathy. He was concerned about three European children, overworked and cruelly treated by their parents:
Democratic Maoriland, with its natural and geographical advantages over Australia, is yet not free from the dark spot I refer to. I have known three white children at a Maori (native) school who belonged to a family of (originally) seventeen children. Two or three of the family were alleged to be the children of the eldest unmarried daughter. Of the three who attended school, two girls and a boy, the boy was over fourteen; the girls eight and nine. The boy was ignorant even of the existence of an alphabet. He had the face of a weazened, vicious little old man; and a good deal of the nature. The girls' faces were little masks of what their mother's might have been were she 20 or 30 years older. Both parents looked younger and fresher than the children. Boy and girl rose at daylight, cooked their parents' breakfast (bacon, eggs, &c), carried it in to them, had a meal of bread and fat, and, when necessary, went into the bush to cut and get together a load of firewood. And the girls were eight and nine. The boy's physical development was naturally abnormal, but his head didn't seem to belong to his body. Sons can be over-worked, starved, stunted mentally, and otherwise cruelly treated to such an extent that they are capable of turning upon and killing a brutish parent-just as savage slaves will, when they get the chance, kill their savage masters.41
His letter to MacCallum shows sensitivity and sympathy:page 94
Children very sensitive and very truthful, so much so that in one or two cases I find it painful to tax a child with "copying" or anything of that kind, or where "meanness" is suggested.
… when a Maori woman opens her heart to a white woman, she loves that white woman and would trust her with her life, and might lay it down for her. It may be so with the men, but they are more like us now-mixing more with the whites.42
In a late sketch ('The Kids') there is patronage in his amusement at the argument between Charles Poharama and Sarah Barnett about the colour of a devil which had frightened Mrs Poharama the night before. Even so, he helped Mrs Poharama force her daughter Maraia to drink brine and hold her upside down to expel the sheep dip she had drunk in mistake for holy water to keep the devil away.
Two related incidents show a racial preoccupation in his memory-selection. Possibly the second is a revised version of the first:
Sarah Barnett, the Ishmeal and bad scholar of the school—who would grow to be a Sarah Bernhardt or greater if she were white—has just wholloped and scratched Clifford Renwick, a freckled, typical "flaxstick" from across the river, notable for his championship of his sisters, and the local ill-feeling towards the Maori (his father fought in the war (scare)) Sarah gets in her fierce little report first. "Please" with her eyes flashing and dark face more dusky with indignation "Please Mr "Lorrence" Clifford Renwick called me a—a—Black Nigger!"
Clifford says that he can't help it Mrs Lawson, If they call him and his sisters "white somethings" hes gone to call them black niggers!"43
Which reminds me that when I was teaching a native school down in the South Island (Maoriland) years ago, my little brownies used to shout out manfully—and girlfully [so that he could hear]. They called a spade a spade, though; and often, because of their expressions—or after listening, with the face of fourteen judges, to their anecdotes of visits from the Devil, and other things—I'd have to slip behind the blackboard on some pretence, to hide my expression and cough. Or slip outside to splutter.
Thus Sarah Barnett (enrolled name) wildly semaphoring, "Please Mister (gasp,) Mister Lawrence! (gasp) Charley page 95Poharaina called me a (gasp, gasp) a Half Cask Piccaninny!!!" Sarah by the way, was about three shades darker than Charley.44
He wrote this incident in words very similar in notes towards a sketch in 1910.* If this is a revised version of the first incident the second account, written eleven and fourteen years after the first, is the less reliable. It is not important that the records for December 1896 and December 1897 show no halfcastes on the school roll, since such a classification was arbitrary. What is important is that it is unlikely that Maori children used Lawson's term 'piccaninny', and that if they used 'half-caste' pejoratively it more likely implied a dilution of Maori, rather than European, ancestry. His letter to Mac- Callum, written from the height of benevolence, has terms of condescension: 'all my nigs', 'the youngest picaniny', 'the young heathen'. He could laugh with Mr Hehii but say 'a very old cannabel he looks'.
There are passages written at Mangamaunu which show that these assumptions were present, if latent, ready to serve as explanation for failure or difficulty:
The other children are bright—cheerful would describe it better—with the exception of one or two half and quarter castes, in whom it was almost startling to me to see that discontented, sulky-resentful is nearer the word-spirit† that Olive Schreiner mentions in her article on South African mixed blood. The nearer the white the more so—it seems to me….45
His treatment of Maori educability as an open question is in itself a concession to doctrines of racial inferiority, or to the local white families who looked down on the Maoris:
White or full-blooded Maori children; but give me the Maori child, by a long chalk. They read better than white children and earlier, but there might be something yet in the contention that you can only teach the Maori child to a certain point-well, I don't know, but must find out. The few examples the Government puts to controvert this idea may go for nothing.46
* See p. 160.page 96
† spirit] expression written above, MS.
I have dismissed the young heathen for Midwinter Holidays with a week added on account of the Record Reign foolery…. I looked up the names and dates in English History and explained the matter, they listened with inforced school attention, but weren't interested. Seems to me that when an impression does get in their minds, like say a clot of flax gum in their hair, it stays there, and other stray impressions stay too, or drop off if there's no room, just as the case may be. Old impressions must be rubbed out with considerable force, or not at all, and new on [e]s rubbed in with more.47
Two years later he saw Maoris and Australian Aboriginals as exhibiting a common (non-European) psychology:
The blacks seem to believe that the spirit moves as slowly in us as it does in their own dusky bosoms … I've noticed the same thing with the Maoris, and suppose it's the same with native races all over the world.48
Speaking of gins reminds me that when they want to cadge, or beg a favour of you, or have a row with you, they will often spend a day edging on the most likely one of their party. I think this is true of most dark races. Whenever I saw a circle of Maori women squatting round for any length of time I knew that something was brewing.49
This led him to some authoritarian philosophising:
When dealing with savages, whether black or white, never explain before doing a thing, else you'll have bother. Do what you want to do, and explain afterwards if you like.50
The fact that he has included some 'white' among the 'savages' should not obscure the fact that he has consigned all members of 'dark races' into the category of 'savages'. It is not far from such a philosophy to the bluster of the teacher in 'A Daughter of Maoriland'. Lawson admits to 'frequent outbursts about something that in my opinion had gone wrong in the pah'.51 Bertha mentions one such outburst when the children stayed away from school after she had visited a sick woman, who she says was tapu. There is a strong probability that the woman's illness was tuberculosis, and she was avoided for fear of infection; Pope in his Health for the Maori, used at the school for some years, had advised everyone, except someone acting as nurse, to avoid the sick-room.52page 97
The next day there were no children at school. I myself was taboo for entering her house. We did not realize, this till Harry went up to the pah to find out what the trouble was. He told the Maoris that if the children were not at school in an hour, he would walk into Kaikoura for the police. He could not see any of the young men. But he either persuaded the Maoris or frightened them. When he returned, he told me that he did not know whether they'd come or not, but it was because I had attended Mrs Jacobs. Harry started the school bell and kept ringing it loudly and awaited results. And presently the children came scattering down the hill. Within an hour they were all at school again and we had no more trouble.53
When Bertha says that their 'nearest neighbours were a very strange family of white people, a mile and half away' she unguardedly excludes Maoris from being considered as neighbours.54
On 25 June when he wrote to MacCallum Lawson was looking forward to using the fortnight's break for writing: he saw a 'chance for a psychological sketch' in Mary Jacob, whom they had taken into their home. But by 10 September when he wrote again to Habens a tone of failure has set in, as if forestalling criticism that might follow the impending examination. He reported that only 'seven and eight' children has been attending school. The four Martins (who had returned with their mother to the whaling-station) were still at South' Bay; Mary Jacob had left; the three European children from across the Hapuku were still irregular in attendance; other children had been away from the kainga since the first quarter. The committee had promised to try to get one child to come back, but as far as he could see they were unable to do more. At the end of the month a number of children [including, presumably, the Martin children] would return with their parents from the whaling-station, but they had in effect learnt nothing new since Steel's departure; what they had learnt from Lawson before they had left for South Bay was only what they had forgotten while the school was closed. There would be no new entrants for the next three or four years. What Lawson seems to be hinting is that an examination would be unfair and a waste of time.
His relations with the pupils had deteriorated. An article on Lawson by J. D. Watson in the N.Z. Free Lance (22 March page 981957) elicited two letters from Mr Barry Yelverton of Wairoa who recalled attending Mangamaunu School 1902-7.*
Mr Yelverton wrote to Mr Watson:
I often stayed at the schoolhouse about 53 years ago. A Mr Comerford was then the teacher. I often heard of Henry Lawson and, like most boys, enjoyed hearing about some big Maori girls draping a slate frame around his neck, putting him in the large fireplace and then putting the blackboard against the fireplace.55
One must of course allow for a successor's desire to consider himself an improvement on his predecessor (and Comerford did start in the department's bad grace) and one must allow for exaggeration in transmission from children to parents or local settlers to Comerford to the boys he told. But the episode fits the mood of 'A Daughter of Maoriland' and suggests that the bitterness unsupported by the events of the story might be partly based on an incident or incidents not mentioned in the story. If the incident happened it must have been before 10 September by which date Mary Jacob, the biggest of the 'girls', who was probably involved, had left school; and since there could have been no fire in the fireplace and Mangamaunu in August would be too cold to do without a fire, it is probable that the incident developed from an argument about lack of firewood. It is hardly of course to the girls' credit to have overpowered Lawson, but the point of interest (from members of a culture which normally shows respect for elders) is their hostility or their contempt.
* I tried in 1960 to find out more from Mr Yelverton but he had since died. Mrs Walsh (who was three at the time) could not recall the incident he recounted.
It is over sixty years since Lawson and his wife lived at Mangamaunu, none of their neighbours at that time are still alive, and only one person now resident in the district [Mrs P. S. Boyd], has been sufficiently interested to do much about preserving the yarns of the old-timers. She tells me that she could learn little of Henry Lawson for he did not make much of an impression during his brief stay. Mangamaunu was very isolated, there were few white settlers there, and Lawson seldom got to the town to mix with the people. Her informants could only tell her that Lawson was known to be a heavy drinker when he got the chance and that his wife discouraged any trips that might lead him to the pubs. It was also known that Lawson's weakness strained good relations with his wife and it was believed that when Mrs Lawson left Mangamaunu some days-or some weeks-before Henry's departure it was the result of a quarrel. Mrs Lawson, of course, did practically all the teaching in the native school.61
The last sentence, however, shows how sceptical one must be about such local traditions. Mrs Boyd's account of it says Lawson 'seldom got to town'. It would not have been easy for him to leave Mangamaunu without Bertha's knowledge; ten miles to the nearest hotel, in Kaikoura, was too far to walk; and Bertha had made it difficult for him to hire a horse by warning the Maoris to charge him dearly. Bertha says his only visits were in her company and no more than two or three times.62 C. O. Palmer tells of one visit he made on his own with Bertha's knowledge, while she was left with a Maori woman all the time terrified that he would fall from his horse or be drowned in the Hapuku.63
A similar, but somewhat discrepant, tradition is quoted by Denton Prout, from the Secretary-Manager of the Canterbury Education Board:
… he is remembered as a frequent visitor to Kaikoura riding a white horse. He is said to have been very fond of whisky-much to his wife's displeasure. A present inhabitant recalls, as a boy, being told how Mrs Lawson thought her husband was no longer succumbing to the temptations of the local hostelry, but unbeknown to her, he had whisky hidden in his shed, and on at least one occasion invited this person's uncle into the shed for a quick nip.64
The weakness of this story is that there was no shed—Danaher's shed had been blown over in a gale in 1890 and sold to Aperahama Taki. Some years ago Mr William Quigley of Auckland told me he had once tape-recorded, in a Kaikoura pub, an interview with an old man who claimed to be one of Lawson's pupils; this man had said that when Lawson went to town on Friday the children knew there would be no school on Monday. But Mr Quigley's system was not equal to his enthusiasm: he had not labelled his hundreds of tapes and soon tired of playing them over in order to find the right one; he would not agree to my handling them myself; he thought perhaps the tape had been wiped anyway. But even if the tape had been produced, the old-timer's story has the marks of myth, let alone its own flaws. If Lawson had gone to town on the Friday, Bertha would have opened the school on Monday. And, recalling the complaint about Danaher, it is unlikely the committee would have overlooked so flagrant a breach of contract by the man they saw as the servant of the government.page 101
It was not eight weeks, as Bertha says, but nearly five months before her confinement that Lawson decided to leave. Their son was born in Wellington on 10 February 1898. He wrote to his aunt Emma Brooks in Sydney on 19 September: 'We're full of work and worry just now and I can only write a note to catch the mail. Bertha expects to be confined early in January & I am taking her to Wellington next week'.65
Possibly they intended to leave so soon. He might not have realised until after his letter to Mrs Brooks that a month's notice was necessary. He wrote to Habens on 28 September: 'As the lonliness of this place is affecting Mrs Lawson's health, I wish to resign my position … at the end of October'.66 A day or two later Lawson received notice of the examination in November. He replied to Habens that he would like to stay, but must take Bertha away at the end of October. 'No medical attendance to be depended on-only one horse and trap available for hire, and not always-River crossing unreliable.'67 He asked if the examinations could be arranged earlier. Pope replied, inferring Bertha's pregnancy, and unbending to an unusual man-to-man archness that he was 'sorry to learn you are about to leave us; but you are doing so for what is, plainly, a weighty reason. … As Mangamaunu will probably be vacant for some time and as you have been there only a short time, it would really be hardly worth the Department's while to incur the expense attending an examination'.68 The Bulletin relayed the news, as it must have come from Lawson: 'Both he and Mrs Lawson find Mangamaunu too unutterably lonely: there is neither butcher nor baker, and white faces are seen about once a month'.69
Lawson wrote to Tom Mills in Wellington: 'You won't be surprised to hear that we are more than full up of this place and can stand the lonliness no longer. Will be up early next month … I'll stay in Wgtn if I get anything, if not, and its safe I'll run for Sydney'.70
But Aunt Emma was to arrive unexpectedly before this. Allowing eight days for Lawson's letter to have reached her, there are five ships on which she might have arrived in Wellington from Sydney between 30 September and 12 October, and if she travelled steerage her name would not be on the newspaper passenger-lists. But the Monowai arriving in Wellington on 12 October carried a 'Mrs Brookes' as cabin pas-page 102senger: assuming that this is Emma Brooks, she could have left by the Wakatu for Kaikoura at 6 p.m. the same day: no passenger list is given for that sailing. The next sailing was 16 October.71 Her arrival on 13 or 17 October, was not, according to Bertha, a welcome one for Henry, but it must have relieved him of some worry about his wife's pregnancy.
The parents had been told of the impending loss of their teacher. On 19 October, M. Ngatuere, a non-local Maori from Greytown-and probably the one who cultivated the schoolhouse garden-wrote asking permission to dwell there and look after buildings, fence, and garden while the school was closed. Gibbes refused: 'another teacher will probably be sent to Mangamaunu without delay'.72
But the committee did not view the closing with such equanimity. On 27 October Pene Tahui, chairman, signed this letter written in another hand in English:
I the undersign & my followers would like to know the reason why this School is closeing.
Teacher says it is because the Martins did not attend the last two quarter. It is quite true, their father was at the whaleing station working, & was taken very ill, the Mother had to go and leave MangaMaunu, And there were no one to take care of the children; They are all back now & are attending the School.
What we firmly believe the reason is, because he has no interest in teaching, for he told us that he would rather do 8 hours hard work, than teach in a School for four hours. Instead of him punishing the children when they did not behave, he sends them out off School & tells them never to come back to School any more.
There are 14 children attending the School four not attending for he told them to stop away
After the holidays their will be a few more attendants We all wish that the Goverment will send another School master after Mr Lawson leaves,
Kindly let us know the reason.73
Maoris will not understand school closed wire chairman to stop his nonsense.
Kirk advised Gibbes there was no need to reply to Lawson's telegram; but Pene Tahui was wired on 5 November: 'Another teacher will be sent shortly'. On the same day Lawson was wired: 'Please say when you will vacate residence'. Lawson replied on the 6th, ambiguously: 'Waiting for Wakatu', adding after his signature, 'Kaikoura'.
It was ungracious of him not to have said plainly that he had left the residence. De Castro who called at the school, presumably as buildings inspector, on 7 November, wrote as though he had spoken personally to Lawson at Kaikoura on the 6th: 'Mr Lawson informs me that the key of the house was left with a Maori woman named Knight', and refers in a later memo to 'Mr Lawson's departure (about end of Octr)'.74
The local tradition that Mrs Boyd recalled, that Bertha had left 'some days-or some weeks' before Lawson is almost certainly wrong. It is true that Bertha says Aunt Emma castigated Henry for taking his wife to 'such a lonely place',75 but if she hustled Bertha off, it could only have been to Kaikoura, where they would have had to pay hotel expenses and live in quarters hardly less cramped than the school-house, and it could not have been before 14 October. It is unlikely that they left Mangamaunu even a day or two ahead of Henry, since there was no need for Lawson to stay behind to clean up or lock up; he left this to Mrs Knight.76 The Wakatu, for which they were waiting, was having its annual overhaul and had been off the run for over a fortnight; it needed more repairs than expected and did not call at Kaikoura (from Lyttelton) till 10 or 11 November.77 They boarded the Waverly (77 tons) which reached Wellington 7 November: the list of passengers is given as 'Mesdames Lawson (2), Mr Lawson'.78