Creating a National Spirit: Celebrating New Zealand's Centennial
10: Scholefield's Dictionary
10: Scholefield's Dictionary
The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography was the largest and most important of the centennial historical publications and, for Dr G.H. Scholefield, its chief compiler, a happy ending of 40 years' painstaking research. Whether Scholefield would otherwise have found a commercial publisher for so large a manuscript must be doubtful but the government's decision to commission historical publications to mark the centennial gave him the opportunity he needed. As parliamentary librarian and chief archivist, he was one of Heenan's senior colleagues in the Department of Internal Affairs. When, early in 1936, Heenan was seeking government commitment to the commissioning of as-yet-unspecified historical publications, he invited Scholefield to submit a proposal for a dictionary of national biography. The National Historical Committee endorsed the proposal at its first meeting in 1937.
The work that Scholefield described in his proposal was already almost complete. His views on the sorts of people who should be included in a dictionary of national biography and the manner in which their biographical entries should be written up were also well considered. Biographies, in his view, should be essentially factual, a life record, not critical accounts or character sketches, and should include authorities consulted and a general bibliography to assist further study. People still alive would not be included.
People to be included as a matter of course were governors of New Zealand, cabinet ministers, members of parliament and of the former provincial councils, judges and important magistrates, bishops and other heads of churches, and, rather quaintly, New Zealanders who had been 'elevated to the peerage' and those who had been decorated for services to New Zealand. All of these would require 'exhaustive treatment'. Below these eminent personages were to be those who had distinguished themselves by public service, or who were prominent in the social, intellectual and economic life of the country; prominent mayors of the chief cities, some early missionaries, explorers, soldiers in New Zealand wars, public servants of distinction, professors of standing, leading educationalists, scientists, writers of prose and verse, including journalists and lastly, 'women of particular prominence'. Among Maori it was to include those most notable in pre-European times, leading chiefs since the arrival of the missionaries and Maori leaders of the last hundred years.page 140
Space should be allocated to subjects in order of their importance. Those of the first rank, for example, Seddon, Grey, Vogel and Marsden, would get 5000 words each. Those of second rank—about 50—would get 800 words. Another 100 would warrant 400 words, and more than half of the entries would need only about a hundred words. 'The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography', he concluded, 'is intended to be a handbook to the history of New Zealand. It will fill a gap that has long teased the patience of scholars and students. It will prove a work of the same value and permanence as Dr Hocken's famous Bibliography ... It should be as worthy of the occasion it serves to mark as the rest of the Centennial publications.' Scholefield's proposal was, of course, a description of work already completed, 'as a fitting counterpart to the British Dictionary of National Biography'.1
Guy Hardy Scholefield had developed his passion for biography around 1900 when, as a young journalist on the staff of the New Zealand Times in Wellington, he wrote a series of articles about early New Zealand personalities which were then published throughout the country. Living in the capital brought him into frequent contact with various public figures, including Richard Seddon, but it was Gorst's Maori King and E. J. Wakefield's Adventures in New Zealand, and other classics of New Zealand history, bought with prize money won at Victoria University College in 1903, which really fired his enthusiasm. Another stimulus was the public lecture Sir Robert Stout gave on James Edward Fitzgerald in 1906 and later published. Scholefield was then twenty-nine. He wrote to all the surviving members of the old provincial councils (or their relatives), of whom there were still many, among them John Logan Campbell of Auckland, John Roberts and James Mills of Otago and J. W. Barnard of Nelson. The resulting articles were published in four of the metropolitan newspapers.
He became aware, during this undertaking, that it was difficult to find accurate information about his subjects and was thus led, in 1908, to set about publishing the first Who's Who in New Zealand. A record of public service to New Zealand was the essential criterion for inclusion. In contrast with the compilers of contemporary Cyclopaedias, he set his face against including subjects who provided their own material and paid for inclusion.
He acquired a decade of overseas experience as the London correspondent for the New Zealand Associated Press, and as a war correspondent. Returning to New Zealand in 1919, he became editor of the Wairarapa Age and by 1924 sought to extend his biographical writing with a new edition of Who's Who, including material on expatriate New Zealanders he had met abroad. He had learned a great deal about the necessity for accuracy in dates and spelling of names, and for caution in accepting family recollections at face value. Struck by the dearth of information about the then Prime Minister, William Ferguson Massey, he set about preparing material for a short biography which he published the following year on Massey's death.
G.H. Scholefield. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, New Zealand Free Lance Collection, C-22399-1/2.
He made good use of this rich resource as year by year he added to his card catalogue with new entries, corrections and death notices. He was now, in 1933, preparing the third edition of Who's Who. As he did he envisaged 'the publication in a decade or so of a National Biography of New Zealand. That now became a feature of my work.'page 142
Scholefield was a member of the National Historical Committee but took no part in its deliberations on his proposal. A subcommittee accepted the proposal and work began on the writing of additional entries and the preparation of the completed text for publication.3 He had already written 95% of the entries that would be included. The rest were written by James Rutherford (Busby, Clendon and Felton Mathew), J. B. Condliffe (Pember Reeves), Eileen Duggan (Jessie Mackay), C. R. H. Taylor(Alexander Turnbull), Nina Brown (Dicky Barrett), J. D. Pascoe (Frank Milne and Conrad Kain), R. I. M. Burnett (Hector), J. H. B. Scholefield (Sir Charles Skerrett, William Macgregor), and Rev M.A. Rigby Pratt who wrote sixteen entries on Methodist missionaries and ministers.
J. C. Beaglehole edited the work, designed the two volumes in which it would be published, and saw it through the press. McCormick, who as secretary of the National Historical Committee had oversight of the project, was so impressed with the amount of time that Beaglehole put into the mammoth task that he tried to have him acknowledged as editor but Beaglehole refused.4 In his introduction to the dictionary Scholefield made no reference to Beaglehole's contribution as editor, thanking him however for 'suggestions ... particularly in regard to the typographical production'.5 Sydney Shep discusses Beaglehole's typographical contribution in her essay.
The Department of Internal Affairs called for tenders in November 1938 and the following February the government authorised Whitcombe and Tombs to produce 1000 sets of two quarto volumes bound in buckram of approximately 500 pages each in double columns for a total cost of £1500. It is clear from a thank-you letter that Beaglehole drafted for Parry to send to the printer, Whitcombe and Tombs, that he was exacting in his requirements. The task of producing the Dictionary' he wrote, chas been a long and arduous one and has, I know, called for a great deal of patience and care, in typesetting, correcting, paging, printing and binding, and I know too that Dr Beaglehole, in charge of the production has not been remarkably easy to please, but the interest taken in the job by your people, as well as their solid work over a long period, has been a very pleasant feature of this phase of the Centennial/ All associated with the job from an apprentice printer to the works manager were mentioned. Beaglehole himself considered the production 'the finest set of volumes on this scale that has ever appeared in New Zealand'.6
The first volume was published in April 1940 and the second soon after. They were priced at £2 10s a set and by July were selling well. From the time of publication the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography has been known as 'Scholefield's Dictionary' or simply as 'Scholefield'. It was his conception, his compendium of the country's political and public figures, and his greatest claim to be remembered. It quickly became a collectors' item. He received £300 for his efforts.7
Scholefield's favourite political subjects were well represented in the Dictionary. Vogel and Grey have seven pages devoted to them; Wakefield and Stafford, six; page 143 Seddon five. Anxious to account for the work of the old provincial councils fairly, Scholefield mentioned as many as possible of these early settlers even if they have only three lines. The 'women of particular prominence' whom Scholefield decided to include make up about thirty-six of the 2500 entries, or one to two per cent. This striking disparity was symptomatic of the pre-World War II period during which Scholefield was collecting his material, when few women were represented in public life and their contribution to the nation's life was largely hidden in domesticity and childrearing. The few women doctors and lawyers might have qualified for entry had they not been still alive in 1939. Ada Paterson is the one doctor included but the other health professionals are all nurses: Grace Neill, Sybilla Maude, Mary Ewart, Hester Maclean, Margaret Sievwright (who also campaigned for women's suffrage) and Anne Pattrick.
Eight women writers range from Lady Barker in the 1860s to Esther Glen who died in February, 1940, just before the dictionary was published. They include the poet Jessie Mackay, the novelist Edith Grossman, Robin Hyde, Louisa Baker, Susan Wood, Anne Wilson and, of course, Katherine Mansfield. The artists included were mainly watercolour painters: Dorothy Kate Richmond, Margaret Stoddart, Frances Mary Wimperis, Kate Emma Clark, Rhona Haszard and Mary Elizabeth Tripe. Drama was represented by Marjorie Hannah. The four teachers were pioneer headmistresses of girls' schools: the formidable Mary Gibson of Christchurch Girls' High School, Maria Marchant and Margaret Burn from Otago, and Kate Evans of Nelson College for Girls, who also had the distinction of being the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree, not only in New Zealand but also in the British Empire.
Six women won recognition for their pioneer efforts in achieving political status for women: the earliest, Mary Muller, whose passionate pleas for women's franchise were published in thel860s under the pseudonym Temina'; then Harriet Morison, early trade unionist and suffrage worker; Kate Sheppard, who led the women's franchise campaign in the early 1890s; Ada Wells, the first woman city councillor in Christchurch; Elizabeth Yates of Onehunga, the first woman mayor in the British Empire; and Elizabeth McCombs, who had, as recently as 1933, become the first woman member of Parliament. The remarkable Mary Aubert stands alone, as a Catholic nun, teacher and nurse. Several other women rate a paragraph as an addition to an eminent father or husband, for example Constance Barnicoat, the journalist and war correspondent, and Anna Stout, the suffragist campaigner.
Among the women there are at least five Maori: Topeora Rangi Ngati Toa, niece of Te Rauparaha, famous as a composer of waiata; Ri Maumau, a follower of Hone Heke; Te Paea, daughter of the first Maori king; Huria Matenga, whose heroic feat in rescuing the crew of the wrecked brig, Delaware, in 1863 made her well known to most Pakeha; and Makereti Papakura who became an Oxford anthropologist.
Maori men were well represented. Some 212 Maori leaders were included in essays page 144 which also gave accounts of relatives and descendants who did not rate a separate entry. Scholefield had not found it easy to gather material on Maori subjects and acknowledged his enormous debt to the scholarship and enthusiasm of Sir Apirana Ngata at all stages of the work. 'Though I was generously guided by Sir Apirana Ngata and other scholars through many pitfalls, I am still not confident that the Maori biographies are accurate. I can only claim that they constitute a considerable advance on any collected Maori biography hitherto published, and hope that while the material is still accessible from the old men and women and the tohungas, scholars of the Maori race will devote their attention to a comprehensive Maori biography.' His experience with the Maori section of the dictionary led him to comment, 'The accuracy with which [the whakapapa] was transmitted from generation to generation, till the advent of writing and printing undermined this infallible medium, compels admiration.'8
In 1940 the country was perceived as more homogeneous than at the end of the previous century, and Scholefield had few examples of other racial minorities. There are two Chinese business men, Chew Chong of Taranaki and Sew Hoy of Dunedin; several French settlers from Akaroa, Germans from Nelson, Scandanavians, like Judge Alpers, and some exotic individuals such as the soldier, Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky, Paul Nicholas Balthazar von Tunzelman (the Russian explorer of Central Otago) and the Dutch painter, Petrus Van der Velden.
Scholefield was adding essays right up to the time of publication. The most important addition to the addenda in volume two was his long article on Michael Joseph Savage who died in the month the first volume was ready. Esther Glen, a children's author who died in February 1940, was also included. Tau Henare MP, who died in January, and Richard McCallum, MP for Wairau, who died on 1 February, were also added. There were, also, omissions from volume one, two of the most important being John Logan Campbell and the French explorer, Dumont d'Urville.
New Zealand reviewers of the Dictionary were full of praise. Oliver Duff said that if he were choosing one book for all moods it would be the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. 'Nothing,' he wrote, 'is quite so interesting, so stimulating, and so reassuring as the company of men and women who can talk to us when we want them to talk and never in any circumstances contradict us. . . .Wander through this gallery with Dr Scholefield and you will come away walking on your toes.' D. O. W. Hall thought it 'remarkably good' and commended its 'dignity, responsibility, accuracy, and [its] full bibliography of sources. Anyone who has worked in the same field will realise its value and marvel that it is due, unlike similar works in other countries, to the industry, almost wholly, of one man, Dr G.H. Scholefield.'9
The longest and most penetrating review was by G. F. James, lecturer in history at the University of Melbourne, in one of the first numbers of Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand. James praised it as a 'monument' to Scholefield's page 145 'industry and perseverance'. He also paid a tribute to the New Zealand government whose 'outstanding publications programme5 had 'utterly eclipsed its Australian counterparts' by producing 'enduring centennial monuments5. One result was that, unlike Australia, New Zealand now had a dictionary of national biography, and it was a good one. But it had, he wrote, shortcomings, and it is clear from his review that, in offering advice as to how these could be avoided in future, James was addressing his remarks as much to Australian governments as to those who might in future compile supplements to the New Zealand Dictionary.
Most of its shortcomings he attributed to the fact that it was almost entirely the work of one painstaking scholar. By comparison, the great majority of the entries in the latest Supplement of the British Dictionary of Biography had been written by specialists on a single subject. One consequence for the New Zealand work was the paucity of precise details of birth, marriage, death, and forebears of the people included, less than half of whom had been born in the country. What was needed was a commitment to a long-term team approach, through which the compilers of a dictionary would be able to draw on the work of specialist writers, supported by searchers in their own country and correspondents in others who would fossick out essential details of life histories.
James's other main criticism took up what he called 'the vexed problem of impartiality'. Scholefield had taken 'a purely factual approach' and had avoided evaluative comment but impressions were conveyed by 'even the barest factual compilation', and the discovery of new material could well 'change the entire picture5. Scholefield had already, in the Introduction to the Dictionary, given his answer to this criticism. It was precisely because 'estimates of the significance of a man in the history of the country must inevitably change with the passage of the years' that he had adopted a factual approach, because the facts of a life, 'once they are accurately ascertained and recorded cannot change'.10
It is striking to observe how James's criticisms of fifty years before were remedied when the first volume of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography was being prepared to celebrate New Zealand's sesquicentennial in 1990.11 Even more, however, than either James or Scholefield might have imagined in 1940, the conception of what a dictionary of national biography should be and do had changed radically. Scholefield referred to his Dictionary as a gallery of people who had given significant public service: its successor set out to be representative of New Zealand society. It included common soldiers as well as officers, matriarchs as well as patriarchs, the disreputable as well as the respectable, and conscious efforts were made to include a generous allocation of subjects to represent differences in gender, ethnic background, region, and occupation. The Maori entries were published in Maori-language volumes as well as in the English-language volumes. It also had the luxury of four volumes covering the period to 1940, though with about 600 essays in each the total, 2408, for the period is close to Scholefield's 2500. Taking representativeness as the criterion, page 146 Scholefield does not compare well except for the number of Maori entries, which were a praiseworthy 11% of all entries.
Apart from Scholefield's conscious effort to give Maori due recognition in his dictionary, the rest of his subjects were nearly all white males of European descent, many having been in fact born in the British Isles, and he included some who had never even visited New Zealand if they had in some way influenced life here. In his introduction Scholefield justifies including Hooker, Owen, and Lyall, as Hooker's brief visit in 1841 resulted in a lifetime's research in New Zealand botany; Lyall, surgeon and naturalist, similarly visited for a few months in 1842, and Owen never came at all but identified a fossil moa bone in 1839. 'They all impinged upon our history in such a manner as to justify at least a mention.'12 Of these only Hooker finds a place in the 1990 dictionary, where more emphasis has been placed on living and working in New Zealand. Almost all the women in Scholefield's Dictionary appear in the contemporary one: only Mary Ewart, Frances Mary Wimperis, Ri Maumau and Te Paea are missing. Changes in taste over sixty years are revealed by the long essay given to Thomas Bracken whose God Defend New Zealand was in 1940 given official status by Heenan as New Zealand's national song, and his omission from the 1990 dictionary altogether.
There was an aftermath to the Dictionary that caused Scholefield increasing anguish for the rest of his life. His contract vested copyright in the Crown but it foreshadowed continuing work that would lead to the later publication, perhaps at intervals of ten years, of supplements. The intention was to follow the practice of the British and American exemplars. Scholefield kept adding to his pile of cards and, after he retired in 1948, began preparing what he expected to be the first supplement. By 1949 he estimated that he had 200 pages of text which included biographies of people who had died since 1940, new material covering the years up to 1940, among it French texts on de Surville and du Fresne, and an index.13
But there were to be no supplements. Heenan retired in 1949. Labour lost the general election later that year, sending Fraser and Nash into opposition. Scholefield had lost his patrons. Heenan feared for his historical projects under the change of government and, as Michael Bassett records in his history, his fears were well founded: 'a new, less congenial breeze was blowing around his old department.'14
Scholefield had shown a tendency to haggle when negotiating the initial contract, and it was his undoing when A. G. Harper, Heenan's successor, discussed a contract for a supplement with him. Scholefield stuck out unsuccessfully for a much higher fee. He tried to resume the negotiation with a new secretary, J. V. Meech, in 1960, but the department was by then planning a new project that had implications for supplements to the Dictionary. That project became The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, to be edited by the Parliamentary Librarian, Dr A.H. McLintock, and it would include biographies. The department had no further interest in publishing supplements to the Dictionary. Meech, unlike Harper, held that it had no further page 147 contractual obligation to Scholefield. Scholefield was eighty-five and bitter. His old friend and neighbour, Sir David Smith, a former Supreme Court judge, broke the impasse by mediating a settlement under which he deposited some 500 letters and cards in the Turnbull Library for a recompense of £150.15
Scholefield died, aged eighty-six, just a year later, on 19 July 1963, and it was to the Dictionary that all the obituaries referred as his enduring monument.16 In recognition of his distinguished career as journalist, librarian, historian, archivist, and editor, he would himself be the subject of entries in the two official compendia of national biographies published since his death. Because of his resentment of the Department of Internal Affairs' decision to include biographical entries in its Encyclopaedia of New Zealand he would have had very mixed feelings could he have known that it would include a biographical entry on him. In that entry W. H. Oliver wrote that his Dictionary had become 'an essential tool for students of New Zealand history'.17 Frances Porter's entry in the successor Dictionary describes his Dictionary as 'one of the most acclaimed of the centennial publications'.18
Scholefields's Dictionary marks the end of an era in written history in New Zealand. An author, working alone, would never again undertake such a task. A new generation of historians approached the study of history with access to a greater volume of original source material, and more rigorous academic training. By the time the first volume of the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography was being prepared to celebrate the country's sesquicentennial in 1990 two generations of scholarly research had accumulated, providing rich resources on which to draw.
Whatever its shortcomings, Scholefield's Dictionary was a remarkable effort and remained an invaluable guide for two generations. New and more sophisticated research techniques have rendered his work old-fashioned in some ways, but Oliver Duff's claim that it makes a great read is still valid. If we need to check his dates or balance his judgment sometimes, we have now abundant resources available to do so. Nor should it be forgotten that Scholefield remains a valuable first port of call for information on a considerable number of people not included in the volumes of the successor Dictionary. Thanks, too, to Beaglehole's contribution, the physical form of these two volumes with their wide margins, thick creamy paper, elegant typography and handsome binding, make them objects of beauty for bibliophiles after sixty years. We should be grateful that the centennial publications were printed just before the paper shortages of wartime would have made such excellence impossible.
2 Ibid., p.222.
3 McCormick to Heenan, 27 September 1937 and committee notes, Internal Affairs IA 1, 62/9/2, National Archives (NA)..
4 McCormick to Heenan, 13 October 1939,1A 1, 62/9/2.
6 Beaglehole to Heenan, and Heenan to Parry, 30 March 1939; Parry approved on 14 April 1939,1A 1, 62/9/2.
7 Parry signed the contract on 18 December 1939, IA 1, 62/9/2.
8 Scholefield, Dictionary, pp.xii, xiv.
9 New Zealand Listener, 16 August 1940, p.5.
10 G. F. James, Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand, vol.1, no.3, April 1941, pp.196, 97, 200; Scholefield, Dictionary, Introduction, p.xii.
11 The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol.1, 1769-1869 (Wellington: Allen and Unwin, Department of Internal Affairs, 1990), Introduction, pp.viii-ix.
12 Ibid., Introduction, p.xv.
13 Scholefield to Heenan, 2 April 1949,IA 1, 62/9/2.
14 Michael Bassett, The Mother of All Departments: The History of the Department of Internal Affairs (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1997), p. 159.