A Life of J. C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Scholar
13 — Private Life and Public Causes
Private Life and Public Causes
When he arrived home from London in July 1950, after his first leave, John settled into a pattern of life centred on his study at 6 Messines Road that largely persisted until his death just over twenty-one years later. The bookshelves gradually grew higher on the walls, stacks of papers mounted on the floor. If he had a system for keeping anything other than books in an orderly way (he could put his hand on a book he wanted without hesitation), it was not obvious to any observer. On the wall hung Raymond McGrath's watercolour of the East End of London, the portrait of Erasmus that John had sent his father from London in 1927, and a portrait of his grandfather, William Henry Beaglehole, painted by his uncle, George Butler. Later these were joined by one of Janet's drawings. The little bust of Voltaire that he had bought on his first visit to Paris was on one of the shelves. It was about this time that he had a large new desk made, with drawers on each side at the front, and cupboards at the back. The top was always a mass of books, papers and letters waiting to be answered – I have 'recently let down a bucket into the ocean of unanswered correspondence', he wrote on one occasion1 – but space was made for a photograph of Elsie in a leather frame, a pewter inkstand (which John had found in a second-hand shop in Molesworth Street, bought for ten shillings and got great satisfaction out of cleaning up and polishing), a pottery ashtray for his pipes, and a number of other small things he had collected: a little red lacquer tray to hold pens and pencils, the piece of lead from the Astrolabe, a pebble from Matavai Bay, a polished half-coconut shell in which he kept paper clips, and two small pieces of building stone (used as paperweights) whose origins I can no longer remember. From his desk John looked out to the small back garden, to a climbing rose, Paul Scarlet, which flowered bravely against an almost sunless wall, and to a crab apple tree – almost every spring he would comment to Janet page 423when it blossomed. A little further away was an old apple tree. When Tommy Hunter died John was given the armchair which had been in his study at Victoria College. It stood next to John's desk; he snoozed in it for half an hour or so after lunch on days when it was not fine enough to lie outside in the sun, and he read there in the evenings.
I think it was about the time of his first leave in London that John gave up beginning his day (once he had helped wash up the breakfast dishes) by playing Bach preludes and fugues on the piano in the sitting room – so clear a part of my childhood memories. This was probably the time, too, when he stopped playing the Town Hall organ for the graduation ceremony. Other habits changed. Now that he was doing only a little teaching, he was walking less regularly to the university; when he needed a break from writing he walked around the neighbourhood, with his pipe and the beret he had bought in Paris when he was at his first Unesco conference, brooding over the next sentence or paragraph. When he was working at his desk he would emerge for morning coffee, which Elsie made, and they would have it together, on the front verandah if it was fine. His afternoon tea he often made himself and drank in the study. When we were very young we had learned that it was sometimes necessary to wait a little for John to appear when a meal was ready – 'Dad's just finishing a sentence' settled the matter.
* When John was appointed to the Senior Research Fellowship he thought he would celebrate by giving Elsie £50. 'This is for clothes,' he said, 'not stupid things like books', and he suggested she should start with a new nightie. 'Oh thank you, says she, with a kiss, I'll buy a new washing machine. What is the use of a woman like that?' he wrote to Janet. 'She can wear clothes too.' (Jcb to Jep, 14 October 1948.) Elsie bought a Bendix, one of the first automatic washing machines, when they were in London the next year. It made life a great deal easier.
† I am writing this biography in John's study. He and Elsie lived in the house for almost thirty-five years. My wife, Helen, and I have now (in 2005) been here for over thirty years.
On the walls of the dining and sitting rooms the Van Gogh and Cézanne prints gave way in time to New Zealand work. Elsie and John's first paintings by T.A. McCormack, Toss Woollaston and Eric Lee-Johnson were joined by more McCormacks, two John Weeks, a number of Evelyn Pages, woodcuts by Mervyn Taylor, a Charles Tole, a second Woollaston and a Frances Hodgkins oil, while the Frances Hodgkins print came home from the university. Other art was not entirely supplanted; two fine Japanese prints hung in the passage, John had the print of Gainsborough's painting of his daughters (from the National Gallery) framed and hung in his and Elsie's bedroom. When in New York in 1962 they acquired a Braque lithograph, and other reproductions were bought when they were overseas, including a Blake which Elsie never cared for and which was hung only briefly. John had the John Basire engraving of William Hodges's portrait of Cook, and Alister McIntosh, who had developed a considerable interest in early prints of New Zealand and the Pacific, gave him a copy of J.K. Sherwin's engraving of Hodges's painting The Landing at Tanna. The collection of pewter grew steadily.
A continuing part of John's pattern of life at Messines Road was his books and his reading. Even when he was working hard on Cook, his reading was as wide ranging as ever, and there is hardly a letter among all those he wrote to Janet in which he does not comment on books seen, books bought or books read. In February 1951, for example, he reported to her that he had been reading Boswell's London journal and Byron's letters, which he had bought when on leave in London: 'What extraordinary chaps have committed themselves to paper in the English language; & how page 425they have pushed women around & complained of women'. He felt that he could go on 'reading and reading' the letters, although he considered Byron an 'unpleasant fellow' – 'but what a charm he must have had, & what an intelligence. I must read Don Juan at once; but then there are so many other things I must read at once; & I really keep on meaning to soak myself in the 18th century for Cook & Banks; oh how difficult life is. Why wasn't I born with a single track mind?'3 Read Don Juan he did, and then, within a few months, moved on to Henry James:
I've read HJ's Portrait of a Lady. The awful thing, the shocking thing about it was that I was so worked up that I had to take part of yesterday morning off to finish it; reckless monster of immorality as I felt myself to be, reading a novel in the daytime, in the morning, yet I was helpless in its grip, the Puritan was vanquished yet again. It's one of those stories with reverberations, so that I can't read anything else except matter of fact until the reverberations have died down a bit within me; oh that chap could write … I like his humour – a wonderful line in subdued irony when he likes to let it peep out. And when he really hits you you get it fair in the middle.4
A fortnight later he had finished another Henry James, The Ambassadors, and wondered, 'Would he have been any better if he hadn't been so frightened of vulgarity? Perhaps, but who knows?'5 Later in the year he read the two volumes of Johnson's England: 'I call this working up the 18th century background, & find I can thus get away with anything in full view of my conscience.'6
Alongside the Scholar, comfortable in his study, and increasingly recognised in the university world to which he contributed in a host of ways, was the public man. He did not seek the limelight, indeed in temperament he remained modest and retiring, but if he believed something needed to be done, he was ready to do what he could. The range of his interests is suggested by looking at the period after he returned from London in July 1950, when he quickly resumed his involvement in all sorts of activities in addition to working on Cook. For some months he spent a lot of time on the hopeless struggle to save the historical atlas. Then there was the University of New Zealand Press, and worries over the rising cost of printing. 'It's much easier to lecture on the general principles of book production to the Library School', he wrote to Janet, '& say the art of printing is the art of spacing; when really one should say the art of printing is the art of being a millionaire page 426who doesn't want his money back.'7 In February 1951 he flew to Christchurch to talk at a refresher course for teachers, organised by the British Council. He wrote a piece on Hunter, marking his retirement, for the New Zealand Journal of Public Administration, and a note for Landfall on a collection of paintings Helen Hitchings had gathered to be exhibited abroad; he also spent time and energy trying to help her gain government support to do this. In an article for the 1951 Arts Year Book, 'A Small Bouquet for the Education Department', he warmly praised the work of School Publications. He reviewed a number of books for the New Zealand Listener and gave his views on the Chamber Music concerts of the year for the December Chamber Music Bulletin. But the main excitement of 1951 was political, stemming from the struggle between the new National government and the watersiders' union.
Since then New Zealand had played a significant role in the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.11 In 1948 Fraser had appointed John and Fred Wood to a special Human Rights Committee in Wellington to study the draft declaration and covenant carefully, and to send its opinions directly to the United Nations for consideration.* The Evening Post had a leader asking what provisions of the declaration had been infringed by the government's actions against the watersiders. The academics' letter suggested that six of its articles were relevant, and quoted them, before asking whether 'the denial of civil liberties, on balance, tended to allay or to exacerbate the present disputes'. The Post printed the letter,12 but as John expected there was a long leader 'denouncing us & saying that this sort of thing should not be discussed'.13 A reply, drafted by John, was printed a week later;14 it was summarily dismissed by the editor, and the correspondence was closed. Their arguments fell on deaf ears. It was, perhaps, not a happy coincidence that just at this time John was pressing the Minister of Internal Affairs for a meeting on the future of the Historical Branch and the atlas.15 The government, deriding Walter Nash's call for a negotiated settlement, portrayed the struggle with the watersiders as part of a worldwide battle against communism, and acted ruthlessly to destroy the Watersiders' Union and the few other militant unions that had supported it. On 14 July, after 151 days, the watersiders acknowledged defeat. As Keith Sinclair wrote, the government's 'stunning victory in the wharf crisis helped it to entrench itself in office'; Holland called an early election, 'seeking a mandate to deal with the Communists', and was returned with an increased majority of seats.16
* John wrote at the time to Phyllis Mander Jones: 'I have been on a committee working over the draft declaration & convention on Human Rights, & two more dreadfully drafted documents I have never seen. I hope Australia will support our very numerous emendations & drastic reshapings.' (Jcb to Mander Jones, 25 March 1948. Ml 1709/63. State Library of Nsw.)
We do not like the invention of new crimes. We do not like this whittling away of civil liberties. We do not think that New Zealand can afford to throw aside any at all of those conservative principles built up so painfully during the course of British constitutional history, which now seem in needless and imminent danger from a Government so devoted to the assertion of constitutional righteousness.19
He approached colleagues to sign it – 'amusing to see the visible wrestling with conscience of some of them who didn't sign'20 – and got seven others besides himself. The Post printed the letter on 13 November, together with a quite full report of a protest meeting held on 12 November in the Concert Chamber of the Wellington Town Hall. The meeting was chaired by the young lawyer Nigel Taylor (husband of Nan Taylor, John's former student and colleague in the Historical Branch), and John and Walter Scott were two of the main speakers. John was reported in the Post21 as saying that he resented 'the irresponsibility of people in the Government' who had made the meeting necessary. He continued:
I thought that the dissolution of Parliament and the subsequent election was the lowest point of irresponsibility we had yet reached in New Zealand history, but however low we go, there are depths below depths, and we are plunging into them now. I do not like the prospect of people being pushed around, and you have heard what this Bill involves in pushing people around. There are not many safeguards for personal liberties in it.
He again pointed out the irony that, while New Zealand was supporting the promulgation of human rights in the wider world, at home the government was happy to ignore such rights. He concluded by saying that the Bill 'would be absurd if it were not so vicious and dangerous'.
John told Janet that he 'let fly' at the meeting,22 but twenty years later Walter Scott gave a rather different view. He remembered particularly John's quotation from Burke's speech on conciliation with America: 'Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest page 429wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together'. He also remembered that a number of those present rather disapproved of John's address: 'it was less rhetorical, less passionately denunciating, than they wanted. But the knowledge and judgment that guided [John] to Burke for his quotation had disciplined him to be restrained and reasonable even under so great an affront to his strongest beliefs as the Police Offences Amendment Bill.'23 The newspapers joined the criticism of the Bill – 'even the Dominion', John noted – and he was pleased that the Victoria College law faculty was in the forefront of those making critical submissions to the Statutes Revision Committee: 'they can't say the University isn't doing its part'.24 There seems little doubt that the outburst of public opinion led to a significant improvement in the Bill before it passed into law on 3 December 1951.
Just over two months later John received his letter from the Minister of Internal Affairs terminating his job with the Historical Branch, as recounted in chapter nine. A number of his friends in the department were 'very distressed'. John saw A.G. Harper, the head of the department, who confirmed the rumour that he had not been consulted until 'after the event', and told John he believed that he was being sacked because of his opposition to the government's Bill.* This time, according to John, 'Elsie was merely highly amused'.25 He discouraged those who wished to make a public issue of the matter. Bodkin, the minister, denied altogether any political motive in sacking him – 'he just thought apparently it was the natural thing to do'26 – and John, significantly, in the end thought that he could believe the minister's denial.27 At the time he appears to have been more upset about the fate of the atlas than his own treatment; he had had enough of the situation in the department and was ready to leave.†
* Fred Wood, writing to Blackwood Paul on 27 February 1952, asked: 'Do you know that J.C.B. was sacked from what remained of his job with Internal Affairs on account of his opposition to the police offences bill?' (F.L.W. Wood Papers. 90-006-07/20. Atl.)
† That there was some feeling critical of John in the government was shown the following year. When he left Internal Affairs he lost his position as the department's nominee on the National Commission for Unesco. The commission was keen that he should continue. John reported to Janet (14 July 1953): 'I don't think I told you that the Nat. Comm. for Unesco had forced me back on to itself. The Minister refused to appoint me on nomination from University, C.E.R. [Council for Educational Research] etc, but the Nat Comm has the right to nominate three or four the minister must accept, so poor old Algie was caught.' John had had little time for Algie ever since his time at Auckland University College, when Algie was professor of law and one of the more conservative members of staff.
The controversy over the Act led directly to the formation of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties,28 with which John was to be involved for the rest of his life. He had mixed feelings about the inaugural meeting, held on 18 August 1952:
… there were the usual lunatics who wanted more public meetings to rouse Public Enthusiasm. So that I felt impelled to warn my colleague on the Executive Committee, Mr N R Taylor, against too much enthusiasm. I don't know why so many people want to live so constantly in an orgy of enthusiasm. When it comes to the point it's always the unenthusiastic academic who is hoisted up on the platform to assault the govt. Thank God for a few blokes like Walter Scott.29
* The Special Branch of the Police took a close interest in the council's formation. Detective Sergeant D.S. Paterson reported (21 August 1952) that the 'meeting was characterised by the attendance of left-wing, so-called intelligentsia in Wellington including the following who are wellknown as Communists or Communist sympathisers', and he named five, beginning with John and Walter Scott. In a record of John's 'attendance at C.P. meetings', the only two listed were this meeting to form the Council for Civil Liberties, and the 1943 annual meeting of the Co-operative Book Society (none of the earlier ones). In his August 1952 report Paterson made no reference to the 'reliable report' received the previous September that, although John 'had been a "leftist" sympathiser in his earlier years he was [now] considered to be not so strong in his sympathies'. The Special Branch continued to take some interest in his activities, as did the Security Service subsequently. The police recorded among other things that he wrote articles for Landfall. A Security Service note in 1966 stated that he had 'for years shown a consistent socialist outlook with a strong emphasis on civil liberties – he is President of the Nz Council for Civil Liberties. He is also interested in the nuclear disarmament movement. Though leftist in outlook, he is not regarded as extreme.' Although the Security Service maintained their file on John, he was never the subject of ongoing inquiries, and the latter part of the file consists largely of newspaper clippings referring to him. (J.C. Beaglehole File. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Papers.)
During the 1950s, with the shadow of McCarthyism extending to New Zealand, Walter Scott and John led the council in taking up the cases of people who had suffered political discrimination and been victimised for what today would often appear unremarkable opinions. A continuing problem was the difficulty the council had with the press, which generally refused to publish its statements – more often than not drafted or polished by John. The council resorted to other ways of working. John was a member of the deputation on 2 April 1954 (and wrote the case they presented) that persuaded Holland, as Prime Minister, to reprieve the three Niue islanders condemned to death for murdering the resident commissioner.32 He supported the testing of the 1954 amendments to the Indecent Publications Act through the Lolita case,* and was a member of the informal committee that helped the Secretary for Justice, John Robson, frame the new 1963 Act, which created the Indecent Publications Tribunal. Later, he led a delegation from the council that discussed with the Commissioner of Police and his senior officers the better treatment of persons under arrest, and the handling of demonstrations in such a way as to protect, equally and adequately, the rights of all. In Walter Scott's words:
… without fuss, or vanity, or any standing on dignity he worked with fellow-citizens to reduce or remove any unwarranted obstacles to freedom of speech and assembly, any interference with the 'liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, according to conscience'. He waspage 432always the same – cool, unafraid, informed, direct, accurate and honest, treating everyone alike, regardless of rank or reputation.33
* In 1960 the Minister of Customs banned Nabokov's novel Lolita. As a means of contesting the minister's action the council decided to import copies; these were seized by customs and the council prosecuted for their action. In the Supreme Court Justice Hutchison found that, while the novel had literary merit, it was insufficient to outweigh the emphasis on sex and its tendency to deprave and corrupt young readers. The Appeal Court upheld this view. Although the council lost its case, its action was successful in demonstrating the unsatisfactory, indeed ludicrous, state of censorship in New Zealand, and this played a part in bringing about new legislation.
During John's time the council, which has continued its work to this day, remained a small Wellington-based organisation, though in time it was linked with similar groups in Auckland and Christchurch. Essentially built on a network of friends, colleagues and associates closely associated with Victoria University College (from 1961, Victoria University of Wellington), the council slowly gained credibility and, in an unspectacular way, played a worthwhile role in extending and protecting the civil liberties enjoyed by New Zealanders.
At the same time as the Council for Civil Liberties was being planned and established, John was also campaigning publicly for the better preservation of New Zealand government archives. The disastrous Hope Gibbons fire on 29 July 1952, which destroyed a substantial part of the (then) Dominion Archives, roused him. 'Ruth Allan [his former student and colleague in the Historical Branch] & I have formed an alliance to shake hell out of somebody or something', he wrote a few days later.34 His concern about New Zealand's historical records went back to his time in the Centennial Branch. Eric McCormick, when chief archivist in the War History Branch of Internal Affairs, had written a very good report on organising the country's archives,35 but to John's regret Eric, rather than trying to push his plans through, had taken up a lectureship in English at Auckland University College in 1947, and left that in 1951 to write books. After a further report by Michael Standish, a history graduate and newly appointed archivist,36 the state of the archives was the subject of a Listener editorial and subsequent correspondence in March 1950, when John was still on leave. After he got back he wrote to the professor at each of the four university history departments urging them to throw their weight behind achieving an Archives Act, proper accommodation, and trained staff.37 The fire provided the opportunity to make this a public issue, one in which, moreover, the press was happy to participate. John had two letters published in the Evening Post,38 each cut by the editor – 'the point carefully filed off the most cutting paragraph, to avoid hurting anybody's feelings'39 – Ruth Allan wrote to the Listener, and the Dominion took up the story.
After the anger and frustration of trying to save the atlas, John realised how much better it was 'if you want to raise hell … to be page 433outside the public service rather than inside it'.40 He wrote an article on archives for the New Zealand Journal of Public Administration, 'trying to kick senior public servants into some sense of their responsibility',41 and did not mince his words:
The custom has grown up in civilized countries of regarding national archives as valuable … So civilized countries take suitable steps for the preservation of their national records, the by-products of their governmental and administrative activities. They regard them as important. They organize institutions like the Public Record Office in London or the Archives Nationales in Paris … We in New Zealand think it preferable to let the records of our national life lie about all over the country, subject to the inroads of dirt and flood and fire; when some stray historian or other eccentric protests that this is not pious, nor economic, nor in any way national, we reply, 'Yes, but where are we to put them?' – and every time a fire occurs eminent public servants congratulate one another and say, Thank God, that lot's gone.42
He went on to argue the case for first-rate record clerks – 'in how many Departments is the record-room regarded as the natural home for the dead-beats and the misfits?' – to ensure that the records needed for efficient administration were readily on call; and for first-class archivists, to advise what should be kept and what destroyed, and to see that what was kept was kept properly.
A Further Demand on his time in 1952 was when Fred Wood went on leave in the second half of the year and, as well as everything else, John had to run the history department. 'If Freddy stays away long', he told Janet, 'I shall become dispirited. More & more I thank God I was never made a professor. It's a sovereign specific for frittering away time'43 – a comment not entirely fair to Wood, who at this time was working on his fine volume in the War History series, The New Zealand People at War. John was trying to get the footnotes finished for the first volume of Cook, and complained about how often he was having to go out when he would much rather stay home and get on with what he had come to regard as his real job in life, 'to cultivate my footnotes': 'I feel a bit browned off, & curse public servants, & curse civil liberties, & curse university presses & college calendars & publication funds … & history departments'.44
In her centennial history of Victoria University, Rachel Barrowman draws a comparison between Fred Wood, the teacher and administrator, and John, the research scholar.45 This is not page 434quite right. Both men were remarkable teachers. Wood had his limitations as an administrator, not least in his reluctance to make decisions, while his published work, especially his volume on The New Zealand People at War, often represents considerable historical scholarship. John, while happy to make decisions, was probably not in the conventional sense a good 'committee man'. His friend Jim Campbell, professor of mathematics, wrote of him: 'His direct and uncomplicated approach could be somewhat disturbing in such gatherings [as the professorial board or a faculty meeting] where, from the nature of their composition, sectional interests and a vagueness about the issues involved make for tiresome desultoriness in the proceedings'. Where he was on university committees, however, such as those dealing with publications, the library or research, his style came into its own and he contributed very fully indeed.46
At the end of 1952, with Wood overseas, John had to go to Dunedin to assess examination papers, but his heart was not really in it:
I discussed examination scripts with Willie Morrell [he told Norman Richmond*], who is really interested in that sort of thing; & I tried to show myself as passionately devoted by now & again suggesting that a bloke who had got 58 should get 59, or (by way of variation, & to show what a balanced mind I had) vice versa. And then of course I came home & lay awake at night thinking of the beautiful girls we had failed & whose lives we had blighted. All this was damn silly on my part so far as VUC was concerned, as I didn't know anybody & hadn't done any examining & didn't know enough anyway to pass any of the papers; but I can proudly report that I helped the wheels of the great Machine to turn around.47
* Richmond by this time was living in Melbourne, where he had been appointed to a lectureship in political science in 1949. The following year he had been forced into early retirement by illness, but he remained in Melbourne, with intermittent institutionalisation, until 1959, when he returned to New Zealand.
Early in 1952 Ivan Sutherland died. He had been on leave for a year to write his long-planned book on race relations in New Zealand, but he had been ill and the book had not progressed as he hoped. When he went missing, and there was what proved to be a false report of his having been seen in Wellington, his friends wondered whether he had had some sort of breakdown and was making his way back to the East Coast and his Ngati Porou friends. John and Elsie went through a period of intense worry which turned to deep gloom when Ivan's body was found in Christchurch. John wrote a warmly evocative note about him for the Journal of the Polynesian Society50 – in Eric McCormick's view 'the finest poem Beaglehole ever wrote'.51 This recorded Ivan's kindness, his enthusiasm – 'if he had to be cautious, he was even cautious with enthusiasm, he would speak about the necessity for caution with the fervour of the evangelist' – and his single-mindedness – 'whatever he talked about, one felt that for the time being it was the most important thing in the world for him. I think that perhaps there came a time when he found he could be no longer single-minded, and that then too came his time of trouble. But last as well as first I think of his kindness.' Joe Heenan had died a few months before. 'We are all very much grief-struck out here', John told Skelton, '& the contemplation of the present régime does not tend to comfort'.52 These two, together with Harold Laski, who had died in 1950, were men whom John admired and of whom he had been deeply fond, who had each touched and helped to shape his life in significant ways. He had also to recognise that Norman Richmond, with his illness, could never again be the fellow knight-in-arms of the 1930s, with their shared passion for J.S. Bach, for civil liberties and other great causes.
Finally, in April 1953, it was Tommy Hunter's turn. When it was known that Hunter was dying, John was asked to prepare a talk on him for National Radio; he did this, but could not face pre-recording it, instead broadcasting live on the evening of Hunter's death. At Hunter's direction – he had firm views on the sort of funeral he was to have – John was also called on to speak at the crematorium.page 436'Lord how the drafting of those few words & of the broadcast took it out of me', he wrote to Janet, 'about nine drafts of each, & then last minute corrections. It makes me realise what a wonderful feat the composition of the Gettysburg address was.'53 When the two addresses were typed and copies made, John, as always, was critical. But they still impress as well-judged pieces of writing, conveying a vivid sense of Hunter's personality and his impact on others, still deeply moving, even to those who never knew Hunter.
I don't suppose he was a great philosopher or a great psychologist in the academic sense. But he was a great teacher. If you had a mind Hunter led you to use it; you could use it against him if you liked, that didn't matter. But you mattered, you were life, you were young, your mind was an individual thing with its individual rights, and he believed in its freedom. He didn't patronise. He really believed in freedom … Of course he had his limitations. I wouldn't make him out a solemn paragon of all the virtues. Anyhow, he moved too quickly to be solemn, physically in his young footballing days, mentally always. He wasn't aesthetic or literary. But he never pretended. He could laugh at himself. He knew I liked and admired him, and once asked me why I didn't give him a halo. Well, sanctity wasn't exactly the impression you got from a session with Hunter's reminiscences, but I'd certainly give him a halo before some of our recorded saints.54
Hunter and Heenan, John commented more than once, were the two New Zealanders he had known who he believed had real claims to greatness.
John's tributes to the memory of friends reveal more than a little about himself. He believed that affection and loyalty called for the utmost honesty, that what was said should be said (or written) as well as it possibly could be; such acts of piety, which he was increasingly called on to perform, deserved 'the supreme compliment of sympathetic candour'.55
What he felt he owed to Heenan was acknowledged, with marked adjectival restraint, in the dedication to the first volume of Cook's Journals (the only volume to have a dedication):
To the memory of
Joseph William Allan Heenan
A Citizen of New Zealand
A man of most various mind
Generous and Lively in friendship
A servant of the public
Liberal imaginative humane
This volume is dedicated
It was further recorded and explored in his lecture, The New Zealand Scholar, which he gave when he received the Margaret Condliffe Memorial Medal* at Canterbury University College on 21 April 1954. He had first heard of the award nearly eighteen months earlier, and had somewhat irreverently scoffed at it in a letter to Norman Richmond: '[J.H.E.] Schroder who had something to do with it & takes it all very seriously read me the "citation" over the phone. And when I tell you that it finishes up by saying I have inculcated piety towards our ancestors or something you will understand why I swooned away on the spot.'56 He hoped they would forget all about it, but if he had to deliver an 'oration' he thought 'it would be rather amusing to do Thoughts on Civil Liberties in Nz … with Short Historical Notices on Ronald Algie, M. Rocke O'Shea, & other forgotten or to be forgotten Figures'. By September 1953 (when he had almost finished revising the general introduction to the Cook Journals) he had decided on the title and had started on the lecture, 'very heavy & painful going, blood & sweat & anguish'.57 He was reading the American critic F.O. Matthieson's book on T.S. Eliot, which he thought very good and which had given him some ideas for the lecture. He mourned Matthieson's death very much: 'You know a first-rate critic is a very great work of God.' He was also reading, and finding exceedingly interesting, 'a large & good life of Emerson' by Rusk. It was a book he would have liked to send to his father 'with a hearty recommendation'.58 In early October he had got a draft finished, but when he read it through he thought that he'd 'rarely read a more egotistical, trite, empty, string of words. The only thing worth saying', he reported, 'is the page about Joe Heenan, & I doubt whether people will see the connection between that & anything else.'59
* The award was endowed by J.B. Condliffe, the eminent New Zealand economist, as a tribute to his mother. He wished it to be given to recognise creative ability, especially in the arts, and hoped it might go to 'a younger man who still had some work left in him'. (Condliffe to Jcb, 14 January 1954.) The first award, in 1945, was to Sir James Hight, the former Rector of Canterbury University College, who was seventy-five. The award to John was the second to be made. Whatever he thought about the occasion, John was not thrilled by the medal itself: 'The thing they gave me was dreadful beyond my wildest dreams. Very poor bronze, & shocking design & lettering … So much for the late Mr Shurrock, sculptor.' (Jcb to Jep, 28 April 1954.)
The heart of the lecture was autobiographical. 'I am bound to confess that I find myself interesting, though only as a sort of case study', John wrote, and he traced his own changing feelings about New Zealand from his time as a postgraduate student in London until the 1950s. His account of his first meeting with Heenan has been noted in chapter nine, together with the role John credited Heenan with in his own growing recognition of what it was to be a New Zealander, of what was or might be worthwhile about life in this country. He ended the lecture on an optimistic note: 'our intellectual culture is beginning to take a new tinge. We are beginning to speak our own minds.' New Zealanders, he suggested, should continue to leave New Zealand:
But a province with a tradition rich enough, with a pattern of life varied enough, with a sense of its own identity and its own time lively enough,page 439will always bring enough of them back. The time has gone by, I think, when the New Zealander need always be dragging out his cultural nostalgia and brooding over it … Am I saying these things too easily? Am I merely whistling to keep my courage up? I am not unaware that my trade as a historian is a school of scepticism. But I venture to hope.
* Some later read this expression as sexist. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that it revealed such views on John's part. That he recognised women as scholars should be clear from his discussion of Frances Hodgkins and Katherine Mansfield in the lecture, and equally from the respect and enthusiasm he had for the work of his former students and colleagues in the Centennial and Historical Branches.
When John finished writing the lecture he sent it to Eric McCormick (whose study of Frances Hodgkins and New Zealand, The Expatriate, John was at that time seeing through the university press) for 'some really savage criticism'.60 He was unsettled by what he considered the 'extravagant praise' of McCormick's reply.* McCormick had read the paper three times on the day it arrived, and he wrote at once to say it was 'extraordinarily good' and 'in many places, very moving – not at all unworthy of its forerunner'.61 What John had said about Heenan he found 'quite admirable', and the discussion of 'colony', 'province' and 'expatriation' 'profoundly interesting', though he wondered what the audience would make of this, 'some of which presupposes knowledge – and preoccupations – which many of them may not possess'. He ended:
What superb control you have over your material and how beautifully you write! Damn you! But I mustn't end on a note of envy. I feel about this, as I did about the paper in the Tommy Hunter volume,† that it sums up and expresses magnificently ideas and opinions that have been vaguely floating about in a number of inarticulate minds. On this damp mind it has acted as a spark, though there is no danger of any vast conflagration.
* This was more than two years before McCormick's review of the first volume of Cook's Journals, which, being public, unsettled John even more.
He sent a copy of The New Zealand Scholar to Ruth Ross, perhaps the most brilliant, and certainly the most forthright, of those former students of his whom he had recruited to the Historical Branch in the early 1940s. She was now living in Auckland but they had kept in touch. Ross matched John's autobiographical digression with twelve pages of her own:
I very strongly feel that this business of 'being' a New Zealander, of thinking as a New Zealander &c has been and is still being much over-intellectualised. Of course we are New Zealanders, so why bellyache about it? I was born a New Zealander, I am a New Zealander, I behave, and speak and think as a New Zealander, I like being a New Zealander, I shall die a New Zealander – so what? That seems to me a completely normal state of affairs … If a few thousand dropped in my lap tomorrow, I would not buy a ticket for London, for concerts and plays and galleries and lectures. I'm damned sure I never want to set foot in the U.S.A. I'd go north again, and look at the bare brown hills of the Bay, and watch from Opononi the sand hills turn golden with rain to come. I'd go to Kaeo and Mongonui [sic] and right up to Reinga. They say there is nothing to see up there, but I'd like to see what nothing is like …63
Ruth wrote that, for her, John had always been 'the New Zealand scholar'; it had never occurred to her that he did not feel his 'New Zealandness' in the same way as she felt hers.
It was a wonderful letter, and it is clear that Ruth was one of those who believed, almost passionately, that rural New Zealand, the 'country' as opposed to the 'town', was the 'real' New Zealand. This John did not concede: 'I can't see that [rural New Zealand] is any "realer" than urban NZ. My Wellington childhood was just as real as your country one. V.U.C. is just as much Nz as my brother-in-law's farm at Tauherenikau'.64 This was in a later letter. His reply to her first letter does not appear to have survived, but in her next65 Ruth noted that the lack of a 'fighting come-back' on John's part suggested that he still had not worked out what he thought and felt about 'some things New Zealand'. It is possibly more likely that page 441he recognised that he simply did not have the time to take Ruth on by letter; Cook and Banks pressed hard. He and Ruth were, for a start, focusing on rather different things. John's very title, 'The New Zealand Scholar', suggests that his primary concern was with high culture, though he defined his scholar very broadly. And in looking ahead at 'seeds sprouting', he wrote, 'I am not sure that the School Publications Branch does not hold the New Zealand future in its hands'. McCormick, who understood and shared so many of John's preoccupations, was very much his age; Ruth belonged to a later generation, which may partly explain their differing views. But there was much more to it than this. While she had grown up in Wanganui, as a girl she had spent much of her free time with her father, who was a stock buyer, hanging around the yards while he drafted sheep, and exploring the country. Taken on a trip to Britain at the age of eleven, she had 'felt like a stranger in a foreign land'.66
At the beginning of April 1955 John went to Auckland to open a large retrospective show of paintings by John Weeks. His admiration of Weeks's work went back to their first meeting in 1932, and he gave Weeks an important place in the development of New Zealand painting. He told Ruth Ross that he had been trying to carry their discussion a bit further in the speech he had written for the opening.67 Unusually, he had made quite extensive notes before he started to write. Once again he was thinking about 'New Zealandness' in terms of a painter: 'The artist, like the community, works in a tradition, thinks in a tradition, exploits a tradition, even if he fights against it. One of his tasks, unconscious perhaps, is to widen a tradition. One of his tasks, in a community like ours, is to discover and make plain a tradition.' John quoted from a letter he had had from Weeks some years before in which he wrote: 'I wish to paint something that embodies the spirit – essence – or whatever else one elects to call it which I feel exists in New Zealand landscape rather than a straight and literal rendering'. The result, John suggested, of this 'sombre struggle to make plain an underlying spirit is not reassuring': 'He is affirmative, certainly, in his finest pictures, with an affirmation that we accept, and draw strength from. Perhaps there is more than one sort of reassurance. Perhaps Mr Weeks' affirmation reassures us of the worth of our position in our own province.'
Ruth was at the opening, in the front row. 'It was nice to catch your eye', John wrote to her, 'in the throng seated so quiescent at my feet, even if said eye was by no means acquiescent, even a bit derisive'. He assured her that Weeks was a 'good bloke' who would measure up to her requirements of a New Zealander – 'Good taste page 442in beer; & you ought to hear him curse people.'68
Not long after this Ruth and her family moved north from Auckland when her husband Ian was appointed to teach at the Motukiore Maori School, on the Hokianga Harbour. 'Your move … sounds very exciting', John wrote to her. 'You could hardly be closer to the original, autochthonous … New Zealand soil. You ought to be very happy'.69 She saw this as a dig at her reaction to The New Zealand Scholar,70 and made the most of the opportunity the move gave her to learn more about Maori history and to increase her encyclopaedic knowledge of early Northland. She and John were to meet again regularly, and to continue their intellectual sparring, especially between 1963 and 1969, when Ruth joined John as a member of the board of the Historic Places Trust.
John's Energy During the 1950s seemed boundless. It is difficult to grasp, let alone convey, the full extent of his activities. As chairman of the university press he was not only involved in what could be lengthy discussions with authors, but also in the design and production of the individual volumes. If that was a continuing responsibility, there was also the host of smaller things that arose. The Council for Educational Research regularly called on him for typographical advice. The week after Hunter died he started on seven lectures to the Library School (two years later he cut it down from seven to two, and when he returned from leave in 1956 he did not give them again). He spent most of a morning writing a memorandum on reorganisation in the Turnbull Library for two new members of staff 'in positions of some authority' (John Reece Cole and Margaret Broadhead). 'They are both nice', he told Janet, '& the prospect of something being done there is brighter than it used to be.71 He taught a second-year history tutorial on Puritan New England – 'I am still excited about the Puritans – I am excited every Wednesday, & the kids are nice. I read the book about Increase Mather,* the whole 399 pp.… & now', he added, 'I am some way on in Evelina'.72
He was persuaded to stand for the Victoria College Council as the staff member and was elected unopposed. 'Blast it, blast it, blast it. Only after I had said Yes did Freddy tell me that I should then have to attend the Prof. Board, oh what a curse … it wouldn't be so bad if there weren't so many other things.'75 The same month he was in Dunedin for a three-day meeting of the University Academic Board. He was teaching the history honours paper on American history in place of Winston Monk, who had been killed in an air crash just before the term began – 'his death completely shattered us …he was one of the good things in NZ'.76 Early in 1955, when a 'dreadful hiatus' in the arrival of Cook proofs meant that he could 'plunge into Banks again', he was also giving his last lectures to the Library School and was reading Henry James's letters – 'Even if he talks about the weather it's an education in words & play of mind'.77
John could not have achieved everything he did without Elsie; she was extraordinarily capable in running the house and the family, and equally capable in the voluntary work she took on in the community. Domestically he did not get much beyond the washing-up, though he got a certain satisfaction from that: 'I like to finish up a piece of pedantic washing-up sometimes, the sensation of finishing up something properly is always agreeable, & it comes so infrequently in writing books.'78 That 'pedantic washing-up', however, particularly when he was polishing glasses, drove anyone else involved almost to distraction. He was still cutting the hedges early each summer and the grass when there was not a son around to do it, and there were a number of fuchsia plants which were always referred to as his, though beyond regularly checking their progress he did nothing with them. At this time, in the early 1950s, I was a student at Victoria College and living at home. I do not remember John ever showing more than the mildest impatience with some of page 444the scholarly frustrations he faced – the full extent of which only became clear to me as I read so many of his letters – nor appearing to be weighed down with work he had taken on. While he was trying to tidy all sorts of loose ends before going on leave in 1955, he found the time to read and comment on the MA thesis I was working on. To Janet, he sadly reported that I, unfortunately, had not 'the faintest idea of punctuation'.79
For academics in that age before e-mail, not the least of the advantages of going on research and study leave was the opportunity it gave of leaving behind the multifarious distractions of committees and good causes. For the year he was away over 1955 and 1956, John was able to concentrate largely on his work on Cook and Banks. There were still distractions, by no means all unwelcome. He and Elsie looked at lots of paintings. He and Douglas Lilburn (also on leave), acting on instructions from Fred Page, who wrote and told them they could spend £90, bought a painting by Frances Hodgkins for the Victoria staff common room collection:
The picture we bought [he wrote to Page] is entitled 'Kimmeridge Foreshore', or something like that … The Redfern had it. We inspected all the Leicester Galleries had, & the Lefèvre … This one is quite the best we have seen, bar possibly one. Price – but no, I'll lead up to it gradually. Leicester had a really very fine oil £250, a gouache, Welsh Hills, & a water colour £65 each; & others not considered … We wiped the water colour & then Douglas thought he couldn't live with the tree in the gouache. On to the Redfern, where I had been before. Douglas much struck, as I had been. On to the Lefèvre. Some interesting ones, but fantastic prices – £300+, apart from £25, £40, £50 for drawings, not very distinctive, & small water colours. Today we took Elsie & a niece of mine down to the Redfern – verdict favourable. Right, we said, We'll have it. £160 … But you say plaintively, like any politician, Where is the money to come from? Simple, we answer; You send all the cash the Common Room has, & you, Douglas, & I put up the rest – & any other mug on the staff you can take down – to be repaid later. If that isn't clear Douglas will explain when he gets back … Well, I said to Douglas, as we parted outside Piccadilly Tube, we've done a good day's work. We have, he said. We've done our duty by N.Z., I said. We have, he said. Be seein you, I said. Yup, he said. Thus we parted. And remember, if there is any argument over what the object is in the foreground, we are making it driftwood … What a pity I shan't be back till after the first fury of indignation & astonishment is over.80
There was a certain amount of debate in the common room when the painting arrived. A young economist suggested that the money might be better spent in providing free tea or coffee, but when the page 445members were told that if they did not wish to keep the painting the Auckland Art Gallery was keen to have it, they decided it should stay. The painting at the Leicester Gallery, The White Chateau, John and Elsie had bought for themselves.
While he was in London on leave the government in 1955 established the National (later New Zealand) Historic Places Trust with John as the representative of the University of New Zealand. His interest in historic buildings and places in New Zealand went back to his work in the Centennial and Historical Branches. At the end of 1942 the government had the opportunity to buy Pompallier House* in Russell. John was sent up to look at it, strongly recommended that it should be bought, and commented – rather rashly, as it turned out – that it was, on the whole, 'excellently preserved'.81 Cabinet approved its purchase for £2000. Further inspection showed it to be in very bad condition: the woodwork was infested with borer and there were fears that the rammed-earth walls might collapse. Over the next six years more than £9000 was spent on repairs.† It was a foretaste of what was involved in conservation. The question of how the building should be used and presented gave a further foretaste of questions the trust would face later. John had firm views:
… it is important to keep the house itself as the main exhibit. That is, it must not be filled up with junk. The interior of the Treaty House on the other side of the Bay is a dreadful warning … anything that goes into the house, anyhow the two main lower rooms, should be both interesting & good – whether furniture, pictures, or period knicknacks – & with some period flavour; not necessarily the Pompallier period, for we must remember the place was lived in for nearly 100 years.82
When John left the Historical Branch, that was the end of his direct involvement with Pompallier House until it was placed in the care of the trust in 1967.
* In the belief that Bishop Pompallier had at one time lived there, the Pompallier building was known as Pompallier House until the 1980s, when research (building on earlier work by Ruth Ross) which preceded major conservation work by the Historic Places Trust showed clearly that the building was built by the French Marists as a working printery, tannery and book bindery. It was decided then to refer to it simply as 'Pompallier'.
† John visited the house at the end of 1948 and sent a telegram to Heenan: 'Never mind the cost Pompallier a triumph.' Heenan replied: 'It had better be' (J.W. Heenan Papers. MS-Papers-1132-16. Atl.)
For a start he had to persuade the trust to reconsider its view. At his first meeting (on 28 November 1956), he went at once to what was to be the heart of his argument, that ownership of a building of such unique historical and architectural significance should be regarded as a trust. He spoke of the Bishop of London, who had wished to destroy the city churches but had been stopped from doing so by popular outcry. Although the chairman was not inclined to page 447change his view, John was supported by a number of members – the Turnbull Librarian, Graham Bagnall; the Government Architect, Gordon Wilson; Ruth Allan (John's ally in the archives campaign) and others – and after a long debate it was agreed that the trust should support preservation and should prepare a full statement of the reasons for this.87 John wrote the statement, 'a broadside against the Archbishop',88 and the Evening Post gave it a large part of its leader page. St Paul's, he wrote, should be preserved for its beauty ('a beautiful building in a city remarkably deficient in beautiful buildings and almost entirely deficient in beautiful old buildings'); for its architectural interest ('the design … succeeded not merely in enclosing a space for the purposes of ritual and worship, but in translating Gothic forms into the medium and feeling of a new country with astonishing success'); and for its historical significance ('part of the life of Wellington to a unique degree'). The statement responded to points made by the archbishop and, while recognising clearly the church's legal ownership, spelled out John's premiss: some buildings 'by the very facts of their existence and their history pass from the category of private property … they become a trust, and a trust maintained not for a portion of the community alone, but for the community as a whole'.89
The archbishop would not budge from the inflexible position he had spelled out when he met the trust deputation. There was only one possible way of preserving St Paul's, he asserted, and that was the Lady Chapel proposal. The opponents of his policy he judged 'unable to respect logical argument'.90 But his claim that the 'best architectural opinion' supported his proposal began to look increasingly shaky. Single-minded in his commitment, which was shared by many Anglicans, to completing the new cathedral, and with an eye to the value of the St Paul's site if it was empty and able to be sold,91 the archbishop seemed unable to recognise, let alone to understand, the growing support for preservation, and he appeared to view it as impertinence that some of this came from citizens who were not members of the Anglican Church. John, in contrast, told Norman Richmond that it was 'nice to think of the atheists & infidels struggling to preserve an ecclesiastical fabric against the depredations of the Christians'92 – hardly an accurate view, but a good crack in a letter. He viewed Archbishop Owen, an Englishman who had arrived in New Zealand in 1947, as assuming an authority singularly out of place in mid-twentieth-century New Zealand, and there was a personal edge in the controversy that was more characteristic of John's younger days than his mellower page 448postwar years. 'Confound the church', he wrote at one point, 'I wish we could get it saved & done with. That damned archbishop.'93
Support for preservation grew steadily. The trust published an expanded version of John's Evening Post statement as a pamphlet in 1958, and a further report on St Paul's as part of its annual report to parliament the following year.94 John's eloquent advocacy was supported when the English architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner visited Wellington in 1958 and, having been carefully briefed by the trust secretary, John Pascoe, made a strong statement to the newspapers95 and in a subsequent broadcast.96 Even in England, he said, St Paul's interior timber work would be regarded as an outstanding example of the mid-Victorian period, and he spoke of 'ecclesiastical vandalism' which he hoped would be impossible in his own country.
With the election of the Labour government in November 1957, led by the 75-year-old Walter Nash, John's hopes rose that it might be persuaded to buy St Paul's as a step towards preservation. But he was sadly disappointed. A deputation from the trust waited on the Prime Minister; Nash expressed sympathy and support for preservation, but nothing happened. When the annual report of the trust was tabled in parliament, the matter of St Paul's was raised in debate: 'And who were the blokes who were on the right side?' John wrote to Norman Richmond. 'Nat. Party members. And what did that great cultural force, the Labour Party, say? Apart from Walter, nothing, damn all, a blank.'97 The problem with Nash was to persuade him actually to do something.* A little later, when John was waiting to give evidence on civil liberties to a parliamentary committee, he ran into Nash. The Prime Minister was full of the difficulties of taking any action to save the church. ' "All right" [said John (as he reported it to Norman)], You said in the House you were prepared to go with any group of MPs to the church authorities & talk it over: I'm going to hold you to that". As Walter makes vague noises, & leaps into a plane & rushes off to Washington or somewhere, safe for a few weeks from another problem.'98
* John wrote to Janet on 6 August 1958: 'The Govt can save it if they like, but Wn is really pretty hopeless, & I'm afraid he's breaking up. He rushes round opening things & attending funerals, insists on everything going to his desk … & gives decisions on nothing.'
I have hanging up at home a very good picture by Frances Hodgkins. It's my property. I bought it, I own it, it's mine, nobody else's. I might of course cut it up into a number of bits, and reframe one or two of them, with a lot of talk about the most precious and best-loved portions. If I did so, I ought to be put in gaol, or a lunatic asylum. I couldn't be, of course, there's no law about it. But if I did so, I hope at least I should be ostracised from the society in which I spend most of my time, the men and women who make life – not just property – precious to me. Is there any chance of our ostracising a cathedral building-committee and diocesan trustees? Alas!
As one of the very few outlets at that time for comment on public issues, the Listener was widely noticed and read. John's article rallied further support. The archbishop declined an invitation to reply, and although debate continued – further stirred at one point by the church's extraordinary proposal to transport St Paul's in sections over the Rimutaka ranges to become a chapel at an Anglican private boys' school in Wairarapa – when Owen resigned as archbishop because of illness in February 1960 the way was clear to move forward. Progress was very slow, however. In March 1966 John wrote that he had 'just finished re-drafting a draft by Ormond Wilson [chairman of the trust] of yet another statement on St Paul's', adding, 'I hope that on my dying day I shall not have to drop everything to do still another'.100 However, by that time the Wellington City Council had thrown its weight behind preservation, the formation of the Friends of Old St Paul's had brought together all those in support, and in November 1966 the government finally announced that it would purchase the site and the building, which had been closed for over two years since the opening of the partially completed new cathedral. There followed several years of painstaking repairs and renovation, carried out by the architects of the Ministry of Works, and the church, administered by the trust through its Old St Paul's Advisory Committee (appointed by cabinet), was restored to a quiet splendour perhaps unmatched in its earlier history.
A great many organisations, groups and individual citizens, particularly in the later years, had come to support its preservation. Successive government architects (ex officio members of the trust) included the building in every draft plan of the government centre. John was there from the beginning, passionately committed to a cause which at first found limited backing, steadfast and uncompromising page 450over the years, and ready always to lend his pen, his most effective weapon. Bob Burnett, who, to John's great delight, became secretary of the trust when Pascoe left in 1960, described him as having 'the mana that belongs to those who had often smelt the enemy's powder and who though prepared each time to come home on their shields had returned alive and, in the end, triumphant'.101
During the sixteen years John was a trustee, the staff of the Historic Places Trust was tiny. John Pascoe, the first secretary, was assisted by only a typist and a clerk. The first research officer was not appointed until 1964; in 1971 the number of staff had reached only five. Ormond Wilson, who succeeded Bowden as chairman in 1958 and served for twelve years, gave so much time to trust affairs that he almost became an unpaid member of the staff. John, not knowing him well before his appointment, was a little wary of his booming voice and somewhat patrician manner, but they quickly developed a warm respect for each other and a close friendship which extended to their respective families. At this time Ormond and Rosamond Wilson lived at Mount Lees, a 1000-acre farming property at Bulls that Wilson had inherited from his grandfather, J.G. Wilson. There Wilson, with limited interest in farming, was developing a remarkable garden in an unkempt gully of scrub with a few fine surviving totara, kahikatea, titoki and pukatea. John and Elsie became regular visitors. Ormond for his part generally came to stay at Messines Road the night before trust meetings, where he and John could talk over the current business. 'I could always turn to [John]', Ormond later wrote, 'as a friend for wise advice, advice that was never intruded nor dogmatically stated, but weighed thoughtfully.'102 The glass of whisky they had over agendas and papers marked the first time John and Elsie kept a bottle of spirits in the cupboard.
The trust members, later to be known as the board, generally had five full-day meetings a year; there were also several subcommittees. However, because of the lack of staff, the members could and did become deeply involved in the trust's projects. John's typographical skills were drawn on in the design of trust notice boards, while his historical knowledge – together with that of other members, such as Graham Bagnall, Jim Gardner and, later, Ruth Ross – helped ensure their accuracy. That work was not always straightforward. Certain residents of Mercury Bay were adamant that they knew where Cook in the Endeavour had anchored, yet John had a chart that showed the exact spot, which was quite different. Diplomacy was called for. It was a quality John also used at committee meetings. Bob Burnett page 451wrote of 'the sedating effect of his interventions when feelings became prickly, his skill in redrafting resolutions to give coherence to an untidy and occasionally confused debate'.103
In 1959 John persuaded the trust to buy the old vicarage at Waimate North to undertake its first major task of preservation and restoration.104 There had been earlier suggestions that the government should intervene to preserve the building, but these had come to nothing; before John left Internal Affairs he had urged the department to act, saying it would be a 'national disaster' if the house were left to go to ruin.105 The house had been built during 1831 and 1832 by George Clarke, a Church Missionary Society worker, with a team of Maori helpers; originally one of three houses in the mission station, it was the only one to survive. The fortunes of the mission station declined in the late 1830s. In 1840 George Clarke left Waimate when Governor Hobson appointed him Chief Protector of Aborigines, and two years later the house was rented by Bishop Selwyn on his arrival in New Zealand. For two years it served as a Victorian bishop's palace. In 1844, when Selwyn moved to Auckland, the house (with the rest of the settlement) reverted to the Church Missionary Society. It survived the war in the north, but the field of missionary endeavour was moving to other parts of the country and eventually the house became the local vicarage. When acquired by the trust it was in a sad state of repair.
Was the trust to preserve or to restore the building? And if it was to restore, how far should it go in altering and possibly rebuilding the existing structure? Some answers were at least implicit in the early decision that the building should be called 'the Mission House Waimate North'. 'An awful lot of discussion about exactly what to do in re-doing the Mission House', John wrote about one trust meeting. 'It will be a star turn some day, but oh the time taken over these historic monuments!'106 In the engaging address he gave when the house finally opened at the end of 1966,107 John talked about the questions the trust had faced:
Here at Waimate, after painful and prolonged thought, we have been led on to restore. We started, I think I may say with the shingles [to replace the galvanised iron which had replaced the original shingles] … From the shingles we seemed to be driven on by a sense of history: back and back, from one thing to another, to what we took to be the original shape and structure of the house … Perhaps I should not have used those particular words: because how do we know what was the original shape and structure of the house? Also, a house itself is a part of history, it has a history. This house never remained for more than a week, I suppose,page 452exactly as it was when Mr and Mrs Clarke first walked into it in June 1832. Mr and Mrs Clarke and their children were not the last people to live in it. Bishop and Mrs Selwyn and little Willie Selwyn lived in it. Mrs Selwyn objected to various things about it. Bishop Selwyn altered it. Numbers of Maori children were stowed away upstairs. It was a mission station, or rather part of a mission station, and that meant it was a farm house; it was a bishop's palace, a college, a mission station again, a simple vicarage. It was always, one might almost say, being pulled about. Well, exactly what point in history are we to go back to in our restoration – to Clarke in 1832, to Selwyn in 1843, to something in between? And how do we know exactly what the place was like at any particular moment? Only when we begin to study the history of the house do we begin to find out how difficult it is to answer that last question.
The broad objective they had settled on was to restore the interior of the building to a reasonable resemblance of the house lived in by George Clarke and his family in the 1830s. John described the research that had to be done, from contemporary plans and sketches and other historical documents, and from the evidence of the house itself, before the detailed planning and the restoration work could be carried out.
There was lively debate at trust meetings in Wellington; John visited Waimate several times for discussion on the spot. An insight into these discussions is given by a note he wrote after one of the meetings:
… Room 6. Controversial door to lobby. Professor Knight says roundly there was no such door. The Chairman feels there cannot have been a door. Mr Burnett feels that, under certain conditions there would be nothing incongruous in such a door … Mrs Ross is clear that there must have been a door. I favour an opening for circulation with a statement in the guide book of the problem …108
John's comment is characteristic, but Ruth Ross, indefatigable in her research, sometimes felt that his suggestions for resolving a difficult issue, rather than arguing it to a conclusion on the evidence, represented a lapse from historical integrity. The trust's files on the Mission House bear witness to her inexhaustible energy and impeccable standards. John, on the whole, thought her very good value, although he once wrote to Janet, 'If only that girl had a sense of proportion: but I suppose I am not the one to reprove anybody for pedantry'.109 Those two, with Ormond Wilson, Bob Burnett and, in the later stages of the work, John Stacpoole, the Assistant Government Architect in Auckland, were largely responsible for seeing the work through. If the result was not quite the house the page 453Clarkes occupied in the 1830s, it was, in conservation terms and for its time, a considerable achievement.
The greatest challenges for a body such as the trust are to be an effective advocate and to meet the highest standards in the work of conservation. The role John played in the campaign to save Old St Paul's and in the ground-breaking restoration of the Mission House helped give the trust a credible start, though its work on archaeological sites and waahi tapu was yet to come. Summing up their time together on the trust, Ormond Wilson wrote: 'it would usually be John Beaglehole who pointed to the wise decision, the right choice of words, the balanced judgement. I presided over the Trust but he guided it'.110 The time-consuming commitment John showed to its work over so many years was a measure of his deep attachment to New Zealand and its future.
John had Greeted the general election in November 1957, which saw Labour scrape in with a two-seat majority, with a marked lack of enthusiasm. 'I never knew a more immoral election for bribery on both sides', he wrote to me in Cambridge, '& damn silly bribes at that'.111 He and Elsie decided to allow themselves 'the luxury of a personal vote' (in their electorate at that time the National candidate was a certain winner) and voted for the sitting member, Jack Marshall. John thought he had been a good Attorney-General, who had 'even gone as far as to ask the Council for Civil Liberties to come & talk to him about the improvement of one or two things'. But if John did not see 'much hope of sense from the Labour party' at that time and thought them 'just as cowardly as any other party over anything important',112 the new Labour government, for its part, viewed him with favour. During its three years in office it appointed him to a number of positions, adding to his already considerable activities, and John admitted that he found it pleasant to be appreciated by the party in power.
In January 1958 he was sent by the Department of External Affairs as the New Zealand representative to a Round Table in Bangkok organised by SEATO on 'Traditional Cultures and Technological Progress in South-East Asia'. He seems a slightly odd choice; it was not quite his field. He found the conference 'farcical … exasperating almost to the last degree'.113 He wrote to Janet on the final night that the meeting had been
so silly & so futile, except for a couple of mornings … that once or twice I could have screamed. I don't think I have been too popular with page 454the chairman, the wretched phoney poseur Prince Prem (a) because as myself I tried to be flat-footed & force the discussion once or twice on to the alleged subject (b) because as a Nzer I came from Nz, which tried to get the whole thing ditched. But I understand from the Seato boys that in spite of the silliness & futility in terms of the stated subject they still regard it as a great success because it got Asians round the table non-politically & for the first time they didn't fly into quarrels or politics, & they have managed to get joint cultural problems – even if not the problems of technology and culture – seriously discussed. But the capacity for endless statement these chaps have on religion & philosophy & literature! – anything but the point. The most interesting & alive chap here has been Tom Harrison … a very cheerful really acute extrovert, now running the museum of ethnology in Sarawak. No respecter of persons.114
Fortunately, he had posted off the text and annotation of the second volume of Cook's Journals just before Christmas; had he still been trying to finish that work his reaction might have been even stronger. And he had had the chance to 'rush through' some Cook stuff in Sydney on the way to Thailand, as well as having a lively evening with Lascelles Wilson and his family.115 His feeling of time wasted was tempered by being flown to Ankor Wat after the meeting. He had barely heard of this remarkable complex of Hindu temples in Cambodia and was bowled over: 'Sheer unadulterated naked knock out.'116
Not long after his return, he was asked to replace Charles Bowden as chairman of the Historic Places Trust. Tempted to accept and 'tell off the Archbp properly', he reluctantly decided that he could not spare the time for the travelling that would be involved.117 Two months later he accepted appointment to the Advisory Committee to the State Literary Fund – 'I wish I hadn't: but I suppose I may as well have a go at all the committees I am eligible to be on before I turn things in'.118 In the middle of all this he was offered the award of the CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) in the coming Queen's Birthday honours. Given his long-held attitude to such honours, this put him in a rather awkward position. He consulted Alister McIntosh (in Heenan's view, 'the wisest head on young shoulders') and Nan Taylor. Nan 'said No she wouldn't despise me if I accepted an honour, she would be quite pleased', but he claimed that he decided to accept it to please his sister-in-law Norah and Walter Nash,119 and also because 'one or two more would be very annoyed'.120 Many people were pleased – few academics in New Zealand, let alone real scholars, had been honoured in this way – but he particularly liked the reaction of George Currie, the page 455last vice-chancellor of the University of New Zealand, who found John's increasing respectability a little unnerving.
In the latter part of 1958, while he was trying to complete the work on the final proofs of the second Cook volume, and the Banks proofs had at last begun to arrive, he was also very involved in preparations for the Royal Institute of International Affairs Sixth Unofficial Commonwealth Relations Conference, to be held in Palmerston North the following January. As president of the New Zealand Institute since 1954, save for the year when he was away on leave, he was to chair this conference of distinguished delegates from Chatham House and affiliated bodies in many Commonwealth countries. This meant a lot of committee work, and in December he wrote that he was 'sick of meetings … beginning to feel a bit tired, & could do with a month of lying in the sun & reading, either in NZ or in some other Pacific island nearer the equator'.121 However, he found the conference extremely interesting.122 Among the delegates were Gough Whitlam from Australia and James Callaghan from Britain, both to be prime ministers of their respective countries, as well as Garfield Todd, the New Zealand-born Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia from 1953 to 1958. For the first time delegates from countries of predominantly European population were outnumbered by those from African and Asian countries, with particularly impressive representatives from India, Ghana and Nigeria. Discussion was largely moderate and liberal – the two Ghanaians and the Nigerian were all Oxbridge graduates – and controversy was largely avoided, a strong defence of apartheid from one of the South Africans being heard 'with attention' though not with approval.123 John's foreboding about South Africa's future increased and when, some years later, the Southern Africa Defence and Aid Fund started in New Zealand he became one of its earliest supporters.
One more burden was taken on in 1958, when Ruth Allan died in March. In 1951 she had been asked to write the history of Nelson. Despite her knowing that she might not have long to live, her determination to find and to read all the sources, printed and manuscript, meant that the work had grown and grown. As John later wrote:
She dug up records that had been the exclusive home of dirt and the rats for decades upon silent decades; she came to have a detailed and, indeed, quite startling knowledge of the intimacies of the social life in the province. She followed every clue. She was not content to sample. She must assimilate everything … hence the slowness and the voluminousness of her drafts, even when they were unfinished.124
As a step towards the larger work, in 1954 she had published her little History of Port Nelson.
Ruth Allan had been a regular caller at Messines Road, generally for morning coffee, full of enthusiastic talk and guffaws of loud laughter and the latest news on her discoveries. The 250,000 words of drafts, amended drafts and notes that she left took the history up to only the early years of settlement, but a number of her friends felt that this mass could be turned into a publishable volume of real value. John edited the work, Nan Taylor and Pamela Cocks wrote additional chapters, and others helped. There is the occasional reference to this in John's letters. In June 1959 he told Janet that he had spent a week revising one chapter, grappling with the problems of somehow cutting its length. Early in 1962, when he was 'struggling' to get the work on the book done before he left for London,125 he wrote a biographical introduction, an honest and affectionate picture of Ruth, showing once again his gift for the incisive and sympathetic portrayal of character. Nelson: a History of Early Settlement was finally published by A.H. and A.W. Reed in 1965.
From the time of its election in 1957 the Labour government was being urged from a number of quarters to provide better funding for the arts,126 often with the suggestion of a statutory arts council on the British model. The New Zealand Players, a gallant attempt to provide professional theatre to the country, was in a state of near-continuous financial crisis, while the opera and ballet companies were almost equally precarious. Apart from the National Orchestra, administered by the Broadcasting Service, support was generally limited to small grants from Art Union lottery funds under the personal control of the Minister of Internal Affairs, W.F. Anderton, a politician of good intentions but little weight in Cabinet. While men such as Fred Turnovsky and George Swan were both publicly and privately urging Anderton and Walter Nash to action, John (well aware of the problem the Prime Minister presented) was in touch with Ted Fairway, a friend and Deputy Secretary of Internal Affairs, floating the idea of starting with a small advisory body rather than moving to a full arts council straight away. Such a body, he suggested, could be run experimentally for a year or two, to see how it got on; if it was found to fill a real need it could be established permanently, possibly on the model of the Historic Places Trust.127 Jack Hunn (the energetic troubleshooter in the page 457public service who had been appointed to head Internal Affairs for six months) took up the idea and it slowly moved ahead, with John already giving thought to possible members. It was symptomatic of the Nash government's inability to make decisions, however, that the establishment of the Arts Advisory Council was announced only on 18 November 1960, during the election campaign which led to National's return to power. Its members were the minister, as ex officio chairman, the departmental heads of Internal Affairs, Education and Broadcasting, and five others, including John and Fred Turnovsky. There were no women and no one from Auckland. John approved of Turnovsky, having had a lot to do with him over the years in chamber music,128 and of John Schroder, the Director of Broadcasting. But he was less impressed with the others; and one he deplored, a 'pretentious, silver-voiced smiling useless' man from Dunedin who had already been put on the Historic Places Trust 'as a Labour supporter', and the only 'passenger' they had.129 There is a certain irony in the way John, with all his experience, still at least half-hoped that such appointments might reflect merit rather than political considerations.
The new council asked John, Turnovsky and Schroder to work on some objectives, and they met for two days at the end of January 1961 to write 'the first paper on arts policy ever attempted in New Zealand'.130 John optimistically believed that 'some useful work may be in prospect'.131 The new appointment gave him an excuse to retire from the Literary Fund Advisory Committee; while he was still reading poetry, New Zealand fiction, of which there was still very little, never caught his interest. With the Advisory Council he hoped particularly to do something for the visual arts, and he managed to bring together a visual arts committee comprising Peter Tomory, the lively director of the Auckland Art Gallery, Charles Brasch, Cedric Firth, Fred Page and Bill Sutton, the Christchurch painter who taught at the Canterbury University School of Art. 'How nice it is to have a group of intelligent chaps discussing seriously what can be done about a particular matter', he wrote to Janet after a 'very good meeting', 'when you have a bit of cash to do something with, & know it will not be all talk wasted … I've never really had a day's meeting I've enjoyed more.'132 Brasch later described John chairing one of their meetings 'very coolly & shrewdly'.133
An early decision was to attempt to do something for Toss Woollaston, still trying to make ends meet from his painting and job as a Rawleigh's salesman. John, whose admiration for his work went back more than twenty years, had been very impressed with page 458his show at the Centre Gallery in Wellington in October 1960: 'You know, the more I see of Woollaston, the more he seems to make most other people in NZ mere triflers … I really think if he keeps on at this rate he will do some masterpieces. Of course the Nat. Gallery people treated him with complete ignore, & I just couldn't find time to do anything about it.'134 The Arts Advisory Council offered Woollaston a grant of £1000 to enable him to visit Europe. John wrote to him explaining their intention:
The idea is to say to a painter (sculptor, musician, what-have-you) 'Look, you have attained a certain maturity, but you're not dead yet, you're still capable of development, what about taking £1000 & going away for six months & just looking at (or listening to) the things you're interested in & you think will stimulate you? You don't need to paint or draw (or sculpt or fiddle) though if you want to, by all means do so. There are no strings attached. All we want you to do is to recreate & shake up your soul, if you have one, refresh your mind, make this a spring-board for a fresh jump into the empyrean when you get back.'135
This would be the equivalent for the painter, John thought, of 'refresher' or 'sabbatical' leave for the academic. He added that what he thought Toss needed was 'some solid study of structure & form' and his advice (if it was asked for) 'would be to go to London & look hard through the National Gallery … & then go to the Tate, & then to Paris to the Louvre, & then to the modern pictures in Paris'. Toss, in the midst of a productive spell of painting, seemed less convinced than John was of the value of going to Europe, and was rather reluctant to go away at all without his wife Edith.136 He tried to get the council to spread the money over three years to support him painting at home, but John replied that that would be 'the complete contradiction' of their intentions.137 Toss began to plan the trip that would take him overseas for nearly four months in 1962, to Madrid, London and New York.138 John and Elsie met him in London the following August, and John gave some more advice: 'look at Cézanne more than at Turner'.139 Toss looked at both, but his real discovery seems to have been Goya's paintings in the Prado in Madrid.
What might appear a straightforward idea could prove extraordinarily complicated to put into effect. It took seven months to arrange a commission for Evelyn Page to paint a portrait of Walter Nash. Eventually the Secretary of Internal Affairs took the proposal to his minister (the council being only an advisory body, all decisions had to be approved by the minister) and the minister, Leon Götz, took it to Cabinet, which agreed. The minister then rang Nash,page 459but he became suspicious of what the government might be up to. John had to go to see Nash and persuade him that this was not a government move to embarrass him somehow but an initiative of the Arts Advisory Council. The visit was successful: Nash moved on to the subject of John's article on 'New Zealand Since the War' which had just been published in Landfall. 'I don't know how you know all these things', said Nash, adding that John was 'about ninety per cent right' in what he had written.140
The Arts Advisory Council was bedevilled by lack of money. 'I desperately wish we could give [the New Zealand Ballet] more money', John commented on one occasion, 'they want to put on a major production but major productions are a bottomless sink, & their administration isn't good'.141 The idea of building some sort of infrastructure 'to provide talented artists with the means to create and thrive'142 proved a chimera; even the hope of consistent policies depended on the minister's accepting the advice he was given.* In September 1963 John wrote that he was 'getting thoroughly fed up with the minister'.143 By this time legislation had been introduced to create a new statutory Arts Council that would no longer need to make recommendations to the minister, but John recognised that his role might disappear. The more he thought of Götz and his colleagues making the appointments, the more unhappy he became. 'Wouldn't it be awful if the cure was worse than the disease'.144
* John told Janet about one occasion when the minister went back on an agreed policy when he met a drama delegation from Christchurch: 'he completely took our breath away. Now what do you do in a case like that – when you have recovered your breath? Have a row with the minister in the presence of the delegation, & thus make the Aac seem a shambles, or let it go & thus seem fools? Or chase after them after they have left the room & say Don't take this seriously, & leave them wondering what on earth they have come to Wellington for? If I wanted a final proof that the Council should be a statutory body, & not just advisory, this is it – & you know I wasn't too certain when the whole thing started. Ministers – my God.' (Jcb to Jep, 10 July 1963.)
John was never enthusiastic about being on committees, and never had great faith in them as a means of getting things done. Where he believed, however, that there was a vital battle to be fought, as with Old St Paul's, or important work to be tackled, as with the Council for Civil Liberties or the Historic Places Trust, he could be extraordinarily generous with his time and his pen, providing, in Fred Wood's words, 'willing hands for the thankless task which must be done if ideals are to live'.147