The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 10 (January 1, 1937)
An Early Visitor. — Dr. Arnold's Son In New Zealand
It is not generally known that a son of the famous Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, came out to New Zealand as a settler in the early days. I recently learnt this in an interesting book of reminiscences written by the Arnold in question. His impressions of the infant colony are those of a man of culture, and consequently are of unusual value. His brief connection with New Zealand, moreover, is an addition to our country's pioneer literary associations.
Thomas Arnold, junior, was born on 30th November, 1823, at the village of Laleham in Middlesex, where his father was then parish incumbent. He first went to school at Winchester, but afterwards, with his elder brother, Matthew Arnold, attended Rugby. There he had the advantage of his father's splendid training and spiritual influence. He was a contemporary of Thomas Hughes, the author of “Tom Brown's Schooldays.”
In 1842, Arnold went up to Oxford, where he numbered amongst his friends Arthur Hugh Clough, Jowett, Stanley, and J. C. Shairp. In 1845, he took a good degree; and the next year he commenced to read law. A desire to know more about the colonies, however, made him accept a Colonial Office clerkship in 1847, and in 1848 he left for New Zealand. His reasons for this step were that his father, before his death in 1842, had purchased two land sections from the New Zealand Company, and that he had become dissatisfied with England's social institutions. He had long read about New Zealand:—“The descriptions of virgin forests, snow-clad mountains, rivers not yet tracked to their sources, and lakes imperfectly known, fascinated me as they have fascinated many since. And joining the two lines of thought together, my speculative fancy suggested that in a perfect locale such as New Zealand it might be destined that the true fraternity of the future—could founders and constitution-builders of the necessary genius and virtue be discovered—might be securely built up.”
Even to himself Arnold's intentions were not very clear. He had no idea of becoming a settler in a large way, but thought he might “raise some tons of potatoes and a little wheat, besides garden vegetables on the land cleared, and gradually become the possessor of a cow, a horse or two, and a few sheep.” One day Governor Grey came to see him, attracted no doubt by his name, and offered him his private secretaryship, but the young idealist, convinced that “men of independent character ought not to have anything to do with the Colonial Government so long as it was carried on by means of nominee, not representative assemblies” respectfully declined the offer. A few months later, when his section was beginning to look really shipshape, he received word from London that his father's trustees would not consent to the already consummated Porirua exchange.
This effectively closed young Arnold's career as a farmer. Thoroughly disconsolate he returned to Wellington and sought the advice of Domett. Once again his luck turned, for Domett had an immediate suggestion. This was that the young man proceed to Nelson, where there were at present no educational facilities, and open a school there. Arnold liked the idea very much, and on 4th October, 1848, departed to his charge. He was accompanied by Frederic Weld, afterwards Prime Minister, Knight, and Governor of the Straits Settlements.
En route, Arnold stayed at Weld's Flaxbourne Cove station, and experienced the famous 16th October earthquake. This was the shock that killed two persons and threw down every house of stone or brick in Wellington. Arnold records his impression thoughtfully: “The sensation produced was singular and awful, its chief element being the feeling of utter insecurity, when that which we familiarly think of as the firm and solid earth was thus heaving and rolling beneath us.”
But he was a disappointed man. “I left New Zealand without seeing any of the vague hopes of the rise of a regenerated society within its borders fulfilled.” He could not help comparing New Zealand with ancient Greece: “Two centuries hence, should English civilisation and power be overthrown, a few ruined embankments, bridges, fragments of locomotives and dynamos, and ugly buildings of all sorts, would alone testify that here the English Empire had been planted.”
His classical education might be blamed for all this; but Arnold may yet be justified.page 38