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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)


Ben Hird (From a photograph about 1890).

Ben Hird
(From a photograph about 1890).

Anything that will extend our knowledge and understanding of that always magnetic and lovable soul Robert Louis Stevenson is to be welcomed. It is therefore of particular interest, not solely a literary interest, to know that the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has lately acquired a letter signed by him which had not previously seen publication. This letter came to light from the Gisborne district, where several of the recipient's relatives live. It is addressed to Ben Hird, one of the three Island traders to whom R.L.S. dedicated his “Island Nights' Entertainments”—a story for each of them. For me there was a special and particular interest in that discovery by our great treasure-house of Pacific Islands literature, for it renewed memories of the days when we used to see something of those Island friends in Auckland, and on too rare occasions of Stevenson himself.

Those were only fleeting visits, unfortunately, for the man of Vailima was only passing through by steamer on each occasion. His longest visit to Auckland was in 1890, in the South Sea trading steamer Janet Nicoll, it was in that vessel that he made the acquaintance of the three shipmates whose names are so familiar to readers of his books, though not one reader in a hundred thousand could have any inkling of who or what they were.