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Musings in Maoriland

Sturt's Last Letter

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Sturt's Last Letter.

In the Auckland Free Library, among the valuable manuscripts presented to that institution by Sir George Grey is a letter written by the celebrated Australian explorer, Captain Sturt, to the Knight of Kawau, in which the writer complains of the neglect exhibited towards him by the Imperial Government. Sir George Grey used his influence in the hope of procuring for Captain Sturt the honour of knighthood which he had so nobly earned, but the Government of the day did not respond to the recommendation, and Captain Sturt died without a suitable recognition being made of his valuable labours in the cause of exploration. The letter was written from Cheltenham, England, where the brave Australian pioneer breathed his last.

page 34

Sturt's Last Letter.
Do heroes always wear the crowns they've won?
Do honours always wait the pioneers
Who brave the Arctic snows and tropic sun
To carve out greatness for the future years?

Are nations always gen'rous to the men
Who venture forth with dauntless hearts to trace
New paths where man may walk with broader ken
To found new empires for the coming race?

Let hist'ry answer, while the blush of shame
Mantles her features as she turns aside
To weep for those who climb'd the hill of fame,
Yet, unrewarded by their country, died.

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'Twas April when the English fields are clad
In green and gold, and all the tints of spring,
When love and hope and health make young hearts glad,
And through the leafy lanes the linnets sing.

'Twas sunny April when the kindling clod
Bursts into life,—when orchards are abloom,
When Nature, waken'd by the touch of God,
Shakes off her cerements, rising from the tomb.

'Twas April when old earth again seems young,
The season when man breaths a purer breath;
When sorrow's language seems an unknown tongue,
And in youth's book there's no such word as Death.

But April has its clouds that veil the sun,
Its sullen shadows, flitting now and then
Across the sky, till all seems drear and dun,
Like gloomy thoughts that shade the hopes of men.

Sad night was creeping o'er the Cotswold Hills
Across the footsteps of an April eve,
The forest birds had ceased their merry trills,
And from the land the sun had ta'en his leave.

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Stricken by sickness in a silent room,
Nursed by his wife the old explorer lay,
And Retrospection, flashing through the gloom,
Brought back the scenes he loved, far, far away.

"Dear wife, the shades of night are near,
And weird-like clouds are scudding by;
I've watched them come and disappear,
Like grey ghosts flitting o'er the sky,
And while I watched I wander'd far
In waking dreams to that fair land
Where first I followed Fame's bright star,
Through deserts drear and forests grand;
Again I stood, in manhood's prime,
A leader of the gallant few
Who labour'd for the after time,
With dauntless hearts and courage true;
Again beneath the yellow blaze
Of Austral's summer sun we march'd,
Across the plains where Darling strays
Through wildernesses pale and parch'd.
Once more on Murrumbidgee's flood
We swept along—my mates and I,

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While on the banks the wild men stood
And raised their spears with savage cry.
But one grand object fired my soul,
And God's protecting hand was near
To guide me to the wished-for goal,—
I felt His power and knew not fear.
I was His humble instrument,
His harbinger to lead the way,—
The herald of His grand intent,
With message of His coming day.
I knew that in the wilderness
A prouder Britain soon should rise,
That millions yet unborn would bless
Salvation's emblem in the skies,
Which pointed to the golden shore
Where Peace would rule and Progress reign,
And Plenty keep her richest store,
And commerce sway the southern main.
With thoughts like these, in danger's face
I boldly looked with fearless gaze,
I felt my mission was to trace
New paths through Nature's hidden ways.
Oh! happy hour! when floating through,
By bank and bend and leafy sweep,
The Murray burst upon our view,
And caused our hearts with joy to leap.
Eureka! it is ours at last.
Thank God, we've found the silver key
That can unlock an empire vast,—

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And ope a gateway to the sea.
Then floating down by wood and wold,
And islets in fresh verdure drest,
We came to where the Darling rolled
His waters into Murrays breast.
You know the sequel—well 'twas mine
To help to build that thriving State.
Famed for its corn, its wool, and wine—
A future nation proud and great.
'Twas mine to serve my native land
Beneath that man of noble mien,
Who knew the secret of command,
And sway'd the sceptre of our Queen.
He still remains our faithful friend,
Though years have rolled away since then.
Ah! that reminds me, I must send
An answer to his note—A pen,
My love, there's ink and paper here,
My hand is trembling, yet I'll try
To write to him, our friend so dear,
And warmly thank him ere I die.

'Tis finished, I have told him why
I sought some honour from the State,
Some thanks from those in stations high;
He knows I've earn'd a better fate

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Than that I've met with, but alas!
I've learned how Governments bestow
Their favours here—but let it pass;
What are distinctions here below,
Compared to those which wait above
For souls that do their duty here;
The light of God's eternal love
To me shall soon make all things clear.
I care not for earth's honours now,
Men's praise is as the passing wind,
I sought a wreath to bind my brow,
For sake of those I leave behind.
Nay, weep not, wife, be not downcast,
Despatch this missive to our friend,
Tell him this letter is my last:
I see the shadow of the End."