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

A Meeting With R.L.S

A Meeting With R.L.S.

Though we saw something of the Stevensons on that visit to Auckland in 1890, it was not until three years later that I met and talked with R.L.S. himself. That ever-treasured experience and privilege was on board the mailsteamer Mariposa, at Auckland on February the 24th, 1893. Stevenson was on his way from Samoa to Sydney; it was the year before his death, and he was indeed dying then. He looked pale and ill, as he sat there in the saloon; he was waiting for Sir George Grey to call for him, and I had the chance of a talk with him about his books and the always troubled politics of Samoa.

That pale, romantic figure is plain in the mind's eye, after all those years. Romantic is an ill-used adjective, yet I feel it is the right word here. His deep emotional eyes, with a humorous kindly glint, his lank black hair, rather long and rather damp-looking, his slender waxy-white hands, were features that do not pass from memory. Stevenson's eyes, the eyes of a poet and a lover of humanity, seemed Polynesian eyes too, the liquid, eyes of the golden brown folk.

He was worn and tired, but he was very kind to his young interviewer, and talked freely enough about the triangular political squabbles in Samoa, where affairs were rapidly approaching the periodical crisis. “Things are just about as bad as they can be,” he said. “Every day deepens my belief that annexation by some one Power would be the best thing that can happen to the Islands. This divided control is a curse.” The two head officials appointed by the Powers, were a curse also, I gathered. “There is no money in the Treasury at Apia. Not a salary has been paid for the last four months, either to the Municipal magistrate (Mr. Cooper, an Auckland man), or to the other officers or police— in fact, the only men who have got their salaries are the two Europeans— one is a Swedish judge—sent out by the Powers to run the farce of a Government.”

I think that at the moment I was more concerned to get Stevenson's views about Samoa, present and future, than to ask about his books. He was expecting to be deported by the Germans. But when we passed on to writing topics, he told me about his latest job of work, as he called it. It was, he said, to be called “The Schooner Farallone;” it had been tentatively titled “The Pearl Fisher.” This was the book that, as it developed, was eventually published as “The Ebb Tide.”

Sir George Grey was a great and heroic figure in Stevenson's eyes. The page 61
(Rly. Publicity Photo.) A view of Karori, a suburb of Wellington. (This photograph was taken after a fall of snow—a rare occurrence in the Capital City of New Zealand).

(Rly. Publicity Photo.)
A view of Karori, a suburb of Wellington. (This photograph was taken after a fall of snow—a rare occurrence in the Capital City of New Zealand).

venerable man of great State affairs and the dying writer met and talked, and Stevenson recalled in one of his letters the pleasure of walking arm in arm with Grey and talking of Pacific Islands affairs, past, present and to come.