A Life of J. C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Scholar
9 — 'A Peculiar Sort of Non-Classifiable Part-Time Public Servant', 1 1938–51
'A Peculiar Sort of Non-Classifiable Part-Time Public Servant', 1 1938–51
John's Life at Victoria and in the circle of family and friends based on the college and on his home in Karori was remarkably full. Yet he came to have a parallel, almost separate, life based on the Centennial Branch (later the Historical Branch) of the Department of Internal Affairs. How this began he recounted in his 1954 lecture The New Zealand Scholar:
Some time in the late thirties I met a very remarkable man, and I became involved in the work of a government department and the preparations for celebrating the New Zealand centennial. I did not want to be involved; I regarded the whole thing as indulgence in a series of fatuities, all of them depraved, from which a sensible person ought to be exempt. I ended by undergoing a process of conversion, slow and awkward, into a conscious New Zealander. It was very largely, though not entirely, owing to the remarkable man. Let me be precise in my memory. I was coming out of a side entrance to Parliament Buildings one day when a stocky figure in an overcoat and an old cloth cap, who was going in, stopped me and without preamble said, 'I agree with you in every judgment you made in that book of yours [the Short History] except about Massey; there was a great deal more to Massey than people think; I could tell you a lot about Massey' – and immediately passed on. This was my first – I cannot say introduction to – experience of Joe Heenan.2
One of Heenan's moves, in fact, related to Cook rather than the centennial celebrations. John had approached the Education Department and its director, N.T. Lambourne, seeking funding for the college so that he could be freed from some of his teaching to start the work on Cook. He could get no reply from them and he suspected they had simply lost his memoranda. This was the opportunity for Heenan, 'our priceless Undersec. for Internal Affairs', to act. As John reported to Richmond, Heenan said:
'I had an idea just as I was washing up the breakfast dishes on Saturday page 270& I rushed straight to the phone & rang up Peter Fraser but he was out of town.' However Peter Fraser was very sympathetic when back in town; I'm Peter Fraser's white-headed boy, just now, says Joe. Joe's idea was to take advantage of the late demise of Lindsay Buick … who had a sort of pension-salary of £275 at the Turnbull Library* … & give me the money to do Cook (pay for substitute at V.U.C. part of the time etc) by appointing me Research Adviser … to the Turnbull Library at £300 p.a. He actually wrote a memorandum & took it to Cabinet & even got it past Walter Nash. Walter wanted to be certain they would get … value out of me. 'Oh, he'll have to write his own schedule of duties, I can't do that' says Joe airily. I am supposed to advise people & so on, whatever that means, & generally do any damn thing I like.3
The brief John drew up was 'to carry out historical research and to supervise the publication of material in the library', to assist students, and to advise the government on historical matters generally and on subsidising research and publications.4 The Victoria council approved the arrangement5 and on 1 July 1938 John was offered the appointment.6 In the event he made little use of the office (with new nameplate) provided. The Turnbull Library was under the Department of Internal Affairs, and Heenan was happy to view John as a 'somewhat unclassifiable … part-time public servant'7 in his department rather than in the library† (John's brief could apply almost equally to both). Moreover, by this time he had already been drawn into the centennial plans.
* Buick had retired from journalism in 1933 to devote himself to history. A 'compiler and recorder of historical facts', he had already produced a number of books based on material in the library. His position in the Turnbull was vaguely defined: 'to write up the history of N.Z. in a popular way'. (Rachel Barrowman, The Turnbull: A Library and Its World (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995), pp.34–5)
† Formally, his appointment was to the staff of the department, as were those of the other library staff at that time.
Most of the decisions were effectively made by the standing committee, which consisted of the Wellington members of the committee: Scholefield, Alister McIntosh (who had moved from the General Assembly Library to the Prime Minister's Department), Fred Wood and John, with Heenan in the chair. John's influence came to the fore when Wood was away on leave later in 1937.11 The staff members, John Pascoe (a Christchurch mountaineer and photographer with historical interests, happy to escape an unpromising legal career when he was appointed in August 1937) and especially McCormick, played as active a role as the committee members in making decisions. John's position was a little ambiguous. A member of the national committee, he was also, as we have seen, a part-time adviser to Internal Affairs. At the first meeting of the standing committee, Beeby, with the example of Building America, a publication from the Columbia University Press, sold them the idea of a set of brief 'pictorials' on New Zealand history and life. This developed into the series Making New Zealand.
The proposed historical surveys raised a number of questions besides those of topics and authors. On certain points Heenan was clear. To Dick Campbell, now deputy to William Jordan at the New Zealand High Commission in London, he wrote, 'With regard to page 272size, style and method of treatment I have taken Beaglehole's "Short History" as a model for the series'.12 McCormick was anxious to give them some kind of intellectual coherence. He set down his ideas in a letter to Heenan dated 11 October 1937. The books, he said, 'should be bound together by some common idea, they should exemplify in all its ramifications some general thesis which is applicable to the whole field of New Zealand history'. In McCormick's view that general thesis, should be adaptation, an idea he had developed as a research student at Cambridge:
Now the idea which seems to me to be of fundamental importance in any consideration of New Zealand history is this; that 100 years ago a sample of nineteenth century society and civilization was transferred to New Zealand and has since been reshaped and adapted, with varying degrees of success, to conform to the conditions of a new environment – i.e. natural surroundings and climate, a new order of society, special economic conditions, a native people and all the other elements which constitute environment in its widest sense.13
The idea, he suggested, was simple, 'so simple and obvious that one finds scarcely any mention of it, either implicit or explicit, in the vast mass of New Zealand writing'. Two notable exceptions he allowed were Guthrie-Smith's Tutira and 'Dr Beaglehole's work, particularly his History of the University'.* It was hardly surprising that John told Heenan that his views coincided with McCormick's and he thought that 'the guiding thread he [McCormick] suggests should be brought very emphatically before authors as our ideal'.14 McCormick's own survey, Letters and Art in New Zealand, exemplified his idea admirably but was one of the very few that did so. In writing on the discovery of New Zealand, it was not an approach that John could follow.
* Adaptation as McCormick explained it, was essentially a one-way process. The Maori came into the story as one of the influences on Pakeha society but he did not recognise how Maori society itself underwent a process of reshaping and selective adaptation, that there was a two-way process of social change.
* Professor Elder at Otago University, and J.T. Paul, the veteran journalist and Labour Party stalwart, who was deputy chairman of the committee. In 1939 Paul became the government's Director of Publicity and, in effect, chief censor.
When Duff left in December to become first editor of the New Zealand Listener, McCormick succeeded him as editor and John was given the title of typographical adviser; 'nominally typographical adviser', as McCormick recalled it, 'but oracle in all matters'.24 Why 'typographical adviser'? His interest in printing and book design went back to his boyhood and student days, but he had really begun 'his typographical apprenticeship in earnest'25 when Beeby gave him the responsibility for planning and printing The University of New Zealand and for similar work on subsequent publications of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.26 He would have had some involvement in design decisions from the early days of centennial planning and he clearly shared Heenan's determination to have the printing done outside the Government Printing Office,27 which, in John's view, represented the worst in New Zealand design and printing at the time. To Heenan, at the beginning of 1939, he wrote that 'the printing practice of the Government Printing Office is so deplorably old-fashioned and its equipment in type so entirely inadequate* (judged by contemporary standards) that there is some question how far it is competent to print a book at all'.28 Before Duff left it was decided that the pictorial series should be printed by Wilson and Horton in Auckland. John's first approach to its design was that each survey should have a distinctive format to reflect its individual content; he was 'steered away' from this to a standardised design.29 John Pascoe was hard at work collecting illustrations and working on the layout.
Scholefield's biographical dictionary was said to be finished and ready for the printer and research had begun for the atlas. John offered to design the dictionary and see it through the press. He was now effectively in a position to make decisions himself. He wrote to Heenan and sent him a specimen page:
* In a slightly later memorandum to Heenan, 'Shortcomings of the Government Printing Office' (1 March 1939), John wrote that the office 'should have a fundamental outfit of standard type-faces such as Caslon, Baskerville, Bell, Aldine Bembo, Perpetua Titling. If it has not some such types as these, it simply has no pretensions to be considered a modern printing office at all.' (J.C. Beaglehole Papers, 73-004-01/10. ATL.)
After getting a good many specimens set up we have settled on this for the D.N.Z.B. It is 9 point Baskerville, the black type is Cloister. The price per page is 19/3; 800,000 words would work out at 1087 pp; say 2 volumes of 544pp. & total printing £1047. This is about £120 cheaper than the page in Garamond first quoted on, at 15/3 a page, & will give a better-looking job. If they use Baskerville, they can start setting right away … 30
The printers were Whitcombe and Tombs; their composing room manager and later works manager in Wellington, with whom John was to establish a warm friendship, was L.G. (Lance) Davison.* Producing the two volumes took over fifteen months. John not only designed the book and supervised its production, but acted virtually as editor. Getting the dictionary ready for the printer meant 'wrestling with an untidy and tattered manuscript';31 later he read galley proofs and page proofs with a wary eye for factual errors. McCormick thought he should be officially recognised as editor but John was unwilling.32 When the job was finished John drafted a letter, which he hoped the Prime Minister might sign, to be sent to the manager of Whitcombe and Tombs:
The task of producing the Dictionary has 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. It is perhaps invidious to particularise, but your linotype operators certainly have had a difficult task; and I think also that the work of the apprentice who, I understand, paged practically the whole book, calls for special mention. The result on the production side is, I think, the finest set of volumes on this scale that has ever appeared in New Zealand.33
* Davison subsequently moved to Christchurch on becoming Whitcombe and Tombs printing works manager there.
'Printing is an interesting game', he wrote to Richmond at the end of 1939, '& I should like to be Govt printer for a couple of years … it has been the main occupation of my life this year'. But he wished 'all the stuff' they were 'turning out was worthy of the pains'.
I do not think that Dr G.H. Scholefield's Dictionary of NZ Biography is a monument of accuracy & judicious comment; & I would not advise you to buy even vol ii, where a constellation of Richmonds blazes away like the tropic sky … To say nothing of Atkinsons & Hursthouses & the rest of your Ten Shining Tribes. I do not observe any great redeeming vice in the midst of your virtuous ancestors; they seem to have pinched a lot of land from the Maoris, but all in the most improving way, in the highest interests of the res publica & with the aid of much ethical statement. But our Dr Scholefield is not the man to soil a tomb with ambiguous flowers; he lays the pure lily; no weed of criticism enters into his wreath; our Great it seems were all Good, or if not good then Misunderstood … He seems to feel a hint of something lacking when he remarks in his preface that he aims only at giving Fact & not Comment. I.e. to say that a man arrived in 1840 is a Fact (even if he didn't); to say that he murdered his grandmother or swindled the Poor is Comment. But this is all very small beer, who the hell is interested in Scholefield anyway? He is only one of the curses that have afflicted me since April, when we started printing his damned book.36,*
* Scholefields volumes had been compiled mainly from newspapers in the General Assembly Library and in the course of his other duties as Parliamentary Librarian. With all their shortcomings, they did temporarily fill a gap until the publication of the five volumes of The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, produced with infinitely greater resources, during the 1990s.
The title-page on all three volumes is so weak that it ought to be changed even at this late stage. It is, of course, as difficult for a typographer as for anyone else to make bricks without straw, but there are some good substitutes for straw available. Also, there is no justification for untrimmed edges on a machine-made book. To trim and stain the top end of the volume and leave the bottom just as it happens to fall is to forget that we are nearly half-way through the twentieth century.39
John welcomed a typographical critic and, in his explanation of the two points of which the reviewer was critical, he revealed 'an intimate and sophisticated knowledge of the principles of design as well as a recognition of the realities of book publishing in New Zealand at this time'.40
Your reviewer deplores the title-page … So do I. The difficulty here is one of balance. If the frontispiece is covered with a blank sheet, you will find that the title-page doesn't look so bad after all – perhaps a little too restrained, but not so bad. Unfortunately the unit in book printing is not the single page but the two-page opening; and in these surveys the frontispiece badly overweights the title-page. The obvious remedy is to make the title-page heavier – i.e., to use bigger type on it. But at present we have no bigger type of the right sort – Monotype Aldine Bembo – to use on this page, though it has been on order for more than three months. Why not use a different sort of type then? Because a whole book should also be regarded as a typographical unity, and we have, I think, no type that would fit in well with Bembo. That remedy would be worse than the disease … We can only watch and pray for the arrival of the right sizes of type.*
* The bigger type arrived and was used for the title page of Eric McCormick's Letters and Art in New Zealand; and a bigger size again for Leicester Webb's Government in New Zealand and Oliver Duff's New Zealand Now.
We are just beginning in New Zealand to produce books of tolerable appearance, and there is no reason why in a matter that demands craftsmanship and taste rather than genius we should not reach a relatively high standard. But to become complacent at this stage, to lavish indiscriminate praise, would be disastrous. I hope therefore that those of your readers who are interested in typography will regard these Centennial books as a starting-point, not as a final achievement.41
John's response reflects a modest satisfaction with what had been achieved, and this is echoed a little later in a memorandum to Heenan:
I don't think the jobs are by any means perfect, but taking all the circumstances into account, perhaps they may be called quite reasonably good. We have got on good terms with the printers anyhow, and I even think convinced them that we are not mad. At least we have set up a standard, and this Government work has knocked anything ever done in N.Z. in the commercial line into a cocked hat (not that that would be difficult anyway). It seems to me important that the Government standard shouldn't be lowered; it seems important that it should even be raised.42
John's taste as a typographer was relatively conservative. He had a high regard for eighteenth-century typography and a preference for 'unobtrusive simplicity'.43 With the centennial publications he was already, in Sydney Shep's words, showing 'some of the typographical trademarks which he would flourish through the next decade – classic typefaces such as Monotype Aldine Bembo and Baskerville, swelling rules, centred title-pages, meticulously letter-spaced titles, the use of a fixed grid, and insistence on wide margins'.44
When John described his role to Richmond he left out of the list 'author': 'I've turned into a sort of printing hack; with jurisdiction over all govt. historical publications, & a sort of supplementary editor to be consulted on spelling, punctuation, copyright, treatment of authors, treatment of Under-Secretaries, price of fish, & other details impossible to reduce to classification'.45 He did mention in the same letter, however, that he had got an advance copy of his own volume in the centennial surveys. He had finished writing The Discovery of New Zealand in September 1939 and it came out in December, the first to appear.
John's object was to 'give an account … of the process by which page 279New Zealand was "discovered" – that is, by which its coastline and its extent became generally known'. Much of the story was familiar to him from writing The Exploration of the Pacific but there was one significant difference. 'It would have been both unjust and absurd,' he wrote, 'to enlarge on the achievements of European discoverers, and exclude all mention of the remarkable voyages of the pre-European centuries'.46 His training and his inclination as an historian was to look for written records. He depended, therefore, on the accounts of Kupe's discovery and of the Great Fleet handed down in Maori tradition and interpreted and published in English by S. Percy Smith and Elsdon Best. These were the orthodox views of the time, but since he first wrote they have been greatly revised in the light of later scholarship. When John prepared a second edition of the book, published by the Oxford University Press in 1961, he confessed he had given much thought to what to do with that first chapter; in the end he decided to leave it much as it was.
The discussion of Maori, and of Polynesian, origins is a battlefield, littered with gashed theories and not a few dead bodies of speculation; and tradition is obviously open to destructive attack. We cannot ignore the fairy-tale quality. A different sort of treatment of this chapter, however, would inevitably have meant analysis and argument at second hand (for I am not an expert in Polynesian history); and the Maori traditions, whether we believe in a historical 'Fleet' or not, have a value in themselves. They were part of the land that the European navigators discovered – even if the 'Fleet' itself was a European invention.47
There was a question not only of content, but also of style. John wrote a first chapter that, stylistically, is in marked contrast with what follows. 'Extravagant and ornate', as Chris Hilliard judged in 1996, 'with dramatic rhetorical questions and "picturesque" passages in the absence of quotable documentary sources',* it had the effect that, while he attempted to take Maori traditions seriously, his chapter created 'an aura of stylized unreality about "Polynesian history" compared to the lively European-centred narratives that follow[ed]'.48, †
* John's prose style in this chapter was 'taken off' in the 1940 student extravaganza, Centennial Scandals.
† Whatever the style, Maori had a greater presence in John's survey than in any of the others. McCormick's guiding thesis in practice seemed to provide little room for a consideration of the Maori part in New Zealand history, and those authors who went their own way saw New Zealand history as a Pakeha story. Apirana Ngata was commissioned to write a volume on the Maori, which would have done something to restore the balance, but it was never written. Maori history would have been much more adequately represented in the historical atlas, for which Ngata was deeply involved in the work on the Maori maps.
In his role as 'oracle in all matters' John was involved in the controversy over the survey that W.B. Sutch was engaged to write on social services in New Zealand.49 The manuscript was finally produced in April 1940 and criticised by staff for its 'alleged bitterness, bias, irrelevancies and clumsiness'.50 McCormick, McIntosh, Hall and John met with Sutch, who agreed to make revisions, but the revised version still failed to satisfy the staff. McCormick and Hall then worked on the long final chapter, but Sutch would not accept their suggestions. John did further work on the chapter, but this was still unacceptable. Walter Nash, for whom Sutch worked as a private secretary, was drawn into the discussion and, at a meeting in late November with McCormick, Sutch and John, he said that approval could not be given for publication until Peter Fraser had seen the book. At that point Sutch proposed completely rewriting the survey, and he was released from his normal duties to do so. McCormick and Heenan recommended publication of the new manuscript, though Heenan thought it gave 'a rather bleak impression of New Zealand life throughout the century'.51 However, Fraser, who by this time had read both manuscripts, would 'not have even the second version at any price'.52 He 'turned it down', John told Richmond, 'because he didn't like its "tone". God knows what he meant.'53
John had little patience with Sutch – 'I shouldn't myself object to Bill Sutch's writing the nastiest minded stuff of the century, if only he'd write it and not chuck it together with a bloody shovel'54 – but the decision not to publish was clearly Fraser's alone.55 Sutch was hardly a popular figure with the Labour leadership; his close links page 281with Tomorrow and with its publication of John A. Lee's attacks on Savage and the government, especially Lee's article 'Psychopathology in Politics', would have added to Fraser's deep distrust of him. He was paid for the survey (£100), however, and given permission to publish it elsewhere and use government photographs for illustrations. His second manuscript was the first to appear, published by Modern Books,* 'with guarantees from Sutch & Scrim[geour] & one or two others'. John thought it 'a damned bad book & from B.S. a disgraceful production'.56 The earlier version was published the following year by Penguin Books.†
Well before the centennial year was over, John was thinking about the future of the historical side of the Centennial Branch. The war had brought uncertainty and he was anxious that work on the historical atlas and plans for the archives, among other planned activities, should not simply be put on hold until hostilities were over. This was due partly to his belief in the uniqueness of the group of staff that had been brought together, in 'its special experience, capacities and accumulated knowledge', and partly to a recognition of how the work already started could be built on and expanded; but underlying both was the change that was taking place in his relationship with his country, 'the process of conversion, slow and awkward, into a conscious New Zealander'.57
The historical atlas clearly was not going to be produced by the end of 1940; it had become apparent that 'war or no war it would have been physically impossible to do the job'. With time no longer a particular object John believed that it could be made a 'fine and exciting, as well as a useful volume', and he hoped that if work continued they could be ready to produce it at the end of the war, when Lands and Survey staff were again available for drafting, paper supplies were restored and new type for printing had been purchased. He also urged the importance of continuing work on the archives; a start had barely been made on gathering together, sorting intelligibly and making available for consultation the records in the country, and a successful centennial project had been the collection of further primary source material relating to New Zealand, especially from Britain.
Looking ahead, John saw further possibilities:
* Poverty and Progress in New Zealand (Wellington: Modern Books, 1941).
† The Quest for Security in New Zealand (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1942). The Oxford University Press published a new and enlarged edition of the book in 1966 in which the original work made up about the first third.
Our archives department ought also to act as a Historical Monuments Commission. There may not be many old buildings &c. that we can hope to preserve indefinitely, but there are many the memory and picture of which should certainly be preserved. What we need is a photographic survey of the country before decay and demolition goes any further. Cottages, shacks, farmhouses, churches – they should all be photographed and when necessary made the subject of measured drawings … We want, too, as complete a photographic record as possible of historic spots; and when it comes to the question of marking these, the archives department ought to have the final say. One thing more in this connection: if we photograph at all, let's photograph also from the air … what mayn't we expect to get … for pre-European history by an expert air-survey of the whole extent of Maori settlement? Take even the pa-sites of Taranaki or the East Coast – we might get results of astonishing interest.
There were projects that had been considered by the National Historical Committee but not found a place in the centennial programme: the production of volumes of historical documents that might include things of a general, not merely a New Zealand, interest – we 'could start with a grand flourish and do Cook's journals and earn the gratitude of people all over the world', the publication of books such as Charles Cotton's Geomorphology of New Zealand, a scientific classic but of little interest to a commercial publisher. New Zealand museums and art galleries were a worry to him: as part of education, 'or if you like art and culture and N.Z. nationalism and sensibility … we could do first-rate coloured reproductions of Heaphy and Buchanan that would make the kids realise N.Z. and art and history at the same time … I was reading McCormick's survey last night and got more and more excited. When I think of what we could do I get so excited I could run round and bang my head against the walls … if we can seize the chance we might really in time touch the mind of the country.'
The case for the government being involved at that time was simple: without it, little if anything would be done. What was needed was a 'sort of archives plus historical publication plus historical manuscript and monuments commissions plus Tolerable-Printing-and-Graphic-Art-education department … all in one'. If, during the war, the preliminary work of 'organising and collecting and planning and experimenting' went ahead something could be done without delay that would 'increase our self-knowledge and power of self-criticism, which will be as much part of our self-respect as Social Security or the Government [state] houses'. What he argued for proved a remarkably accurate indication of where his main page 283interests would lie in the next three decades, although his ideas did not work out in quite the way he foresaw.
By the end of 1940 John was coming to recognise how his view of New Zealand and its history had changed from that of only a few years before. Of that earlier period, after he first got back from London, he later wrote in The New Zealand Scholar that 'I could not see much point in New Zealand.'58 New Zealand history, he had thought,
was interesting chiefly as an example of what happened when capitalist civilization in its heyday stretched out and started to interfere with a land and a culture hitherto untouched by this dubious way of life. It wasn't particularly interesting in itself, and it was the duty of the New Zealander to step outside his narrow experience, contemporary and historical, and become a citizen of the world, in history and in his own life. I still believe that, except that now I think New Zealand in itself is thoroughly interesting, and that one does not get at its real significance for ourselves or the wider world of history without a good deal more attention than I have been prepared to give to it.59
To that history he now allowed more complexity: 'a history of the conflict of men and their environment, of the conflict of races, of the conflict of classes', as he put it in a review article, 'The New Zealand Mind', published in the Australian Quarterly in December 1940. It was a history, however, that New Zealanders had yet to assimilate, to make part of a tradition 'in which and from which only, a great piece of significant creative work could emerge – itself to illustrate and strengthen the tradition'.60 Hence the importance that John gave to Frank Sargeson's first book of sketches and stories, A Man and His Wife, 'something as native to our scene as the work of Henry Lawson to Australia'.*
Mr Sargeson is important, and he is important because he represents a certain idiom of thought. It is an idiom of thought we have been waiting for. Obviously it cannot be an exclusive one; yet in other, and related idioms, part of a general cast or scheme of mind, we must learn to express ourselves in New Zealand, mastering our medium and being tinged in it, if we are to be ourselves, and not merely an offshoot of England.61
* His support for Sargeson took a more practical form when he joined with Eric McCormick and a small group of anonymous Sargeson admirers in Wellington to send him £13 (a not insignificant sum for that time) as a gesture of esteem. (Michael King, Frank Sargeson: A Life (Auckland: Viking, 1995), p.201.)
The way in which such a tradition might work, John suggested, could be learned from the symposium edited by Ivan Sutherland, The Maori People Today.* The ongoing life of Maori customs and traditions was the key to Maori survival. 'It is an astonishing story', John wrote, 'this Maori renascence, instructive alike in its successes and its limitations; it is the story above all of the utilization, the working-out, the logic of a tradition maintained with the tenacity of despair, realized anew with the tenacity of hope.' There was 'comparatively little, in the realm of the spirit' that the Pakeha New Zealander could place beside that. 'New Zealand is in my very bones', Katherine Mansfield had written. 'That is true, no doubt of an increasing number of us', John commented, 'but it does not show itself in a great many of our minds'.62 But there were grounds for hope.
How do we explain the remarkable changes in John's views? They began, I suspect, in those very years which he referred to so bleakly in The New Zealand Scholar (and was a more complex process than he there suggests), when through his work for the WEA he discovered parts of New Zealand he had not known before and in his classes and the summer schools met a remarkable range of New Zealanders. In its way, debating J.S. Bach with Norman Richmond and John Shearer was a step towards discovering the New Zealand mind, as was finding the paintings of John Weeks and, a little later, T.A. McCormack. The Short History proved to be something more than a study of the extension of capitalist civilisation. In the later 1930s John began reading in the history of colonial America, especially Virginia and the New England colonies, which, as we have seen, became one of his great interests and a field in which he did some of his best teaching during and after the war. He recognised that to view such colonies simply as the products of England's commercial capitalism of the seventeenth century gave little real understanding of what they were and what they were to become. Did this not suggest that there might be more to New Zealand history than he had earlier allowed? His teaching, especially the supervision of theses, and working in the Centennial Branch greatly increased his knowledge of New Zealand and New Zealand history; greater knowledge led to greater interest.
Gradually … the magic of the land of his birth reclaimed him, and it had a new potency for him because he now savoured it as a man who had drunk at other wells … Wellington, in particular, where he had been born, was important to him. The windy hills, the clear light on the harbour, the clanking trams, the tension between the small but lively intelligentsia and an establishment inclined to interpret the words 'Man Thinking' as a warning of imminent danger – all these were parts of his heritage. He made Wellington his Athens.63
In John's view, however, unquestionably the most important influence in his engagement with New Zealand was Joe Heenan.* Heenan, as we have seen, was extraordinarily adept at getting things done.64 He had the continuing support of his minister, Bill Parry, and a remarkable gift for winning the ear of Peter Fraser and, if necessary, Walter Nash as Minister of Finance. Fraser had a weekly meeting of the Executive Council in the wooden Government Building in which Heenan's department was housed. Almost invariably, the offer of a cup of tea after the meeting lured Fraser into Heenan's office for a chat and, for Heenan, the chance to float his latest idea. But there was a great deal more to Heenan than being adept at handling ministers. John wrote of
that passionately informal, that impulsive, generous, quick-tempered, wise, imaginative, romantic, pig-headed, enthusiastic, hard-boiled, sentimental, gullible, sceptical, prejudiced and tolerant man … [with his] extensive and peculiar knowledge not merely of the public service and of politics and politicians, but of racehorses, footballers and athletes … [and] detailed familiarity with some tracts of literature, though at modern poetry he stopped dead.65
Heenan's enthusiasm for Conrad was matched if not exceeded by his enthusiasm for H. Guthrie-Smith; he judged Tutira to be New Zealand's greatest book and John's 'Considerations on Certain Music of J.S. Bach' the greatest poem written by a New Zealander.
* This was how John put it in his brilliant portrait of Heenan in The New Zealand Scholar. He gave the lecture in April 1954, just two and a half years after Heenan died and at a time when he was very conscious of what Heenan had done to support his work on Cook. Whether he would have put it in quite such striking terms had he looked back again fifteen years, later we do not know.
Heenan's papers, now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, show the astonishing range of his correspondents; their contents bear witness not only to the breadth of his interests but also to his ability to establish and maintain warm friendships. Winning the affection as well as the admiration of those who worked for him, he was a man quite unlike anyone John had met before. Heenan, both by example and in his enthusiasms, helped shape John's idea of what it was to be a New Zealander. Their association was to continue through the 1940s and to have a significant impact on John's career.
As the centennial year drew to a close Heenan sought John's and Eric McCormick's advice on the future of the Centennial Branch and its staff. Confident that Fraser and Nash would give him every support 'in anything that tends to add a cultural side to our activities',66 he had been plotting for some time to have the staff retained as a permanent acquisition to his department. He was even hoping that 'Beaglehole's own life job, the edition of Cook's Journals may be one of the works ultimately to be carried out by this Department'. McCormick left to join the army at the end of 1940 and Heenan, having known McCormick's intention, had suggested to John that he might consider heading an Historical Branch within the department. John demurred. He did not think he had any particular qualifications for the task of building up the archives – on the importance of which he and McCormick were agreed. The other task envisaged, working 'quietly on plans for further historical publications and the publication of historical records after the war',67 interested him more but he had 'no wish to abandon the relatively agreeable life of a university lecturer, even partially', unless he could do 'really good work' – which he thought possible only if a regular publications fund was built up.68 However, he suggested a twelve months' experiment with him in charge, and with this information Heenan carried his proposal through with his political masters. John was to occupy the position for eleven years.
An immediate difficulty was staff. Heenan increasingly used John Pascoe for tasks unrelated to the branch, in 1942 appointing him official war photographer with the job of recording New Zealand life during the war. In late 1941 Bob Burnett and Frank Lingard were still working on research for the historical atlas, but both were gone within a few months. The Lands and Survey draughtsmen had all been diverted to wartime tasks and Ruth Fletcher (later Ruth Allan) was the only one left of the Centennial House editorial staff. She had developed, John wrote, 'into a very highly-skilled historical odd-job woman to whom are referred all questions that can't be page 287answered easily and immediately'; without her, he added, he could do very little indeed. She left shortly afterwards to take charge of the broadcasts to schools, which were just beginning. In suggesting the appointment of two of his students from Victoria, John wrote that 'It is no use appointing anybody but hand-picked people … and if I am in charge I want to do the hand-picking myself'.69 The two appointed from the beginning of 1942 were Janet Wilkinson (later Janet Paul) and Ruth Guscott (later Ruth Burnard, then Ross). Janet had trained as a teacher and had taught for two years, including a year's 'country service' in a tiny, isolated one-teacher school up the Mokau river, while completing her BA in English and history. At the beginning of 1941 she had returned to Wellington to enrol in history honours and, a teaching position not being available, had found a job as a plan tracer in the Railways. While Ruth had passed three years of history she had not yet completed her degree, but John judged her one of the ablest students they had had.
Before Ruth Fletcher left, she introduced Ruth Guscott into research for the atlas – knowledge and skills were passed on to later recruits in the same way – and Guscott from the start showed herself to be a 'passionately devoted researcher',70 making her mark with her work for the map of early European settlement. Janet was less of an historian but wrote well, and quickly proved an able assistant to John on typographical matters. In this he found her 'an absolute Godsend'. She showed a great capacity for picking up technicalities and an ability in design and lettering; she also got on well with the people involved – printers and blockmakers, managers and foremen alike.71 Her experience with the staff in the Railways drawing office clearly stood her in good stead. Later in the war there were more appointments, among them further history graduates from Victoria: Nan Taylor (late 1942), Mary Boyd (the end of 1943), and Frances Porter, who joined when Mary left in 1945.
The branch had moved from Sydney Street East into a former ministerial house in Molesworth Street, before moving into one crowded back room in the Government Building.72 About the end of 1943 it was moved downstairs to two rooms immediately to the north of the main entrance – with a box-seat view of comings and goings for the weekly Executive Council meetings that took place upstairs. The main office was spacious with a very large table and chairs in the middle. John Pascoe and his boxes of photographs and files occupied one end of it. Other staff had desks by windows or in the smaller room. Heenan, who had a remarkable fund of anecdotal stories, would call in regularly on his way to his office page 288upstairs. It was understood that no one should ring John at home before 9.30 a.m., when he had finished drying the breakfast dishes and practising Bach on the piano. He was in the branch several mornings a week for morning tea or to visit Heenan (in those years teaching at Victoria, other than in science, was almost all in the late afternoon or early evening). He was largely preoccupied with publications work, and the staff working on the atlas were left very much to their own devices. He would catch the tram back to Karori for lunch, after picking up a loaf of wholemeal bread from the dairy in Bowen House next to the cenotaph.
There was a continual stream of visitors to the branch: authors, historians, artists, public servants involved in wartime publicity, ex-Centennial Branch staff. It was a lively place to be, in some ways more like an extension of John's honours class than the public service – the group were viewed with some bemusement by other staff in Internal Affairs, who referred to them as 'the Beaglehole kindergarten', a name said to have been bestowed by Graham Bagnall. John kept them up to date with the worlds of music, art and writing; opinions were very forthright and not always very tolerant. He recommended books they should read, and introduced them to the American Information Library in Woodward Street, run by the redoubtable Mary Parsons. Mary Boyd remembers the talk at morning tea as far more interesting than any she experienced later in the university common room.
Heenan was never content with his initial thought that the branch should work quietly on plans for publications after the war. As John recounts it: 'The telephone would ring: "Have you got a minute to spare, boy? Just slip upstairs and have a cup of tea – I've just had an idea."'73 One such idea was that they might have a number of sets of Making New Zealand and the biographical dictionary specially bound to be presented by Peter Fraser to President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Knox, Secretary of War Stimson and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, as well as to the Canadian Prime Minister, McKenzie King, when Fraser was in North America in August 1941.
So I had to turn to & design a lot of gold-tooled morocco bindings & supervise the job – not without some preliminary horror from the boss binder in the Govt. Printer's at such outlandish designs as I put forward. Luckily there turned out to be a very good & very keen young finisher there who got thoroughly excited & worked overtime, & we managed to have a little exhibition in the Turnbull & get the damn things packed & away … The leather was certainly beautiful stuff, & it was certainly instructive to watch the way in which Joe H. called in Walter Nash to page 289disorganise the whole Govt Printer's works to have the job given top priority. You can do things in the govt all right if you can make enough noise & go to the right people – & if the matter is trivial enough.74
Heenan thought the bindings 'marvellously done' and John's designs, simple linear patterns done in gold, 'admirable'.75 They failed to reach Washington in time for Fraser to present them but were still well received.
Public relations at a very different level inspired the 36-page booklet Meet New Zealand, produced by the branch to explain some of the mysteries of New Zealand to the 50,000 American servicemen who arrived in the country from mid-1942. Heenan believed it created 'something in the nature of a sensation' with its descriptions of New Zealanders' drinking customs, road rules and work habits.76 Rereading the booklet now leaves one a little sceptical about Heenan's enthusiasm.
* The poem was included in Curnow's Sailing or Drowning (1943). John, reviewing the volume in the New Zealand Listener (3 March 1944, p.10), said the poem 'gives exhilaration both to our history and to our literature'.
The Curnow commission had a further happy outcome. Curnow wrote to John to say that Douglas Lilburn was 'keen on the idea of writing some music for strings round the Tasman poem' and asking if he could get backing for its performance. 'It would have to be 2YA in fairness to Lilburn. He has had his music badly hashed by the local strings here' in Christchurch.82 John took it up with Heenan, Heenan with the Director of Broadcasting, James Shelley, and the music was broadcast by 2YA on 13 December 1942. The Broadcasting Service string orchestra was conducted by Andersen Tyrer; the poem was read by a young Wellington lawyer, A. Eaton Hurley.
There were other ideas to mark the tercentenary: the establishment of the Abel Tasman National Park, and a memorial in Golden Bay close to the spot where Tasman first anchored in New Zealand waters. John was wary. The plans for the centennial had included marking Cook's principal landing sites. We have seen how John reacted to the memorial at Ship Cove. A year later, after he and Elsie had seen the East Coast anchorages, he wrote again on marking historic spots:
A material monument must be conceived not merely as an act of piety, and therefore praiseworthy in itself, but as an addition to the landscape … it should therefore above all be in key with the landscape, as wellpage 291as reflect the simplicity and solidity of Cook's own character … My opinion remains that for the purpose of memorial nothing could more effectually serve than to keep these lovely bays as unchanged as possible.83
* To mark their collaboration he gave her the two volumes of the 1927 printing of Daniel Berkeley Updike's Printing Types: Their History Forms and Use: A Study in Survivals (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press); a little later he bought himself the new edition.
On John's suggestion Paul Pascoe, the Christchurch architect, designed a simple granite cairn to which a plaque could be attached. Government funding was approved, but with the war the plans barely got under way. The only memorial erected was at Kopu bridge, marking a spot near which Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander landed while exploring the river Thames in the Endeavour's boats. The job was left to Public Works Department workmen with instructions to have it ready to be unveiled on the anniversary of the landing and to keep costs down. When John saw a photograph of the unveiling in the Auckland Weekly News he was horrified. The 'monument bore little resemblance to the original Paul Pascoe design; it was an aesthetic disaster'.84
This grotesque outrage is the essence & summation of all we have been struggling against ever since this matter of memorials came up for consideration. It would be difficult to imagine anything 9 ft high which more completely ignored Pascoe's design. I have delayed commenting for some days because I have wished to employ only scrupulously moderate language. It is very disheartening indeed.
* John first saw the memorial twenty-five years later when he and Elsie were driving to Coromandel: 'all the rage & despair I felt in the Historical Branch rushed up at me again'. (JCB to JEP, 21 December 1966.)
‡ Grahame Anderson has shown that John and Plischke did not get the spot quite right. (Grahame Anderson, The Merchant of the Zeehaen: Isaac Gilsemans and the Voyages of Abel Tasman (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2001), pp. 93-8)
Once the Tasman booklet was finished work started on a handbook on New Zealand, intended as publicity material for the newly opened diplomatic office in Washington.88 When it appeared in 1945, Introduction to New Zealand was quite unlike any previous official publication. It includes much of the statistical data one would expect in an official publication such as a yearbook, but it is accompanied by a text that is not only full of information but often positively engaging. Much of the text was drafted by Nan Taylor, though John was responsible for the whole. The tone is set in the foreword, which is unmistakably his work:
Here is a book about New Zealand. It is not, we hope, a superfluous book, or a vainglorious book, or a flowery book, or a contentious book. It aims at plain and modest statement. Nowhere in these pages will you find New Zealand confused with Paradise. We don't make absurd claims for our country. It is a little country. It is a young country; in terms of Western culture, it is no older than the states of Iowa or Wisconsin. But it is, we think, an interesting country … It is like America. It is unlike America. It grows things. It makes things. It conserves and it wastes things. It has party conflicts. It assails itself. It admires itself. It tries to learn through experience. It is noisy. It is subdued. It is the usual bundle of contradictions that make up a democratic society. It has a certain unity. We think it is a beautiful country. We don't say that it is more interesting or more beautiful than the United States. We don't want to seem conceited; but we don't want to be too absurdly humble either. And as we think our country is beautiful and interesting, and as we havepage 293written this book in answer to suggestions from our American friends, we think Americans will probably be interested in it.
* At some later date the marble slab was repositioned so that it rests vertically on one of its sides, quite altering the original design. John and Elsie saw it in 1967 and he wrote gloomily to Janet: 'The Tasman inscription has been reset by an unskilled hand – Oh God, some of the letters – & the table all upended & the pavement all irregularly sunk & unlooked after … but it still looks good from a distance. Don't you ever go & look at it again.' (JCB to JEP, 6 March 1967.)
The voice, with its echoes of Whitman, carries through in the introductions to each of the eleven sections which make up the volume. The eighth, introducing 'Manly and Womanly Sports', begins: 'Sing, muse! of mightiest deeds of heroes, and of the sons and daughters of heroes, locked in grim struggle on the field of sport! But sing also of our ordinary selves at play. Of how we leap and run and propel balls. Of how we ascend great mountains and plunge gladly into the waves of ocean, or glide in boats upon the deep…'John was a master of the ironic baroque; at times, perhaps, it came a little too easily.
The account of New Zealand history reflects his interest in both the differences from and similarities to America's experience as well as the volume's intended readership. It is also very different from the history portrayed a decade earlier in his New Zealand: A Short History. There is a greater appreciation of the part played by the Maori, 'who had done much of the work of colonisation' and had 'been the basis in fact of early colonial agriculture and trade and prosperity'. The meeting of two races and two cultures, he wrote, did result for the time being in a tragic mess, but 'the tragedy was by no means final'. This section, indeed the volume as a whole, suggest the extent to which he was growing to appreciate the complexities and character of New Zealand.
Seeing the volume through the press took much of 1945 and there was a final delay of some months at the beginning of the following year in producing a map, although it is not clear whether this was finally included. There were frequent visits to Whitcombe and Tombs and constant conferring with artists (John found George Woods difficult to pin down and get work out of), and production was not helped by the almost proprietorial interest taken by Walter Nash. The volume was extremely well received in the United States. Two years later, with stocks dwindling, an embassy officer in Washington wrote: 'Without the slightest hesitation I can tell you that I think the book was, and is, the very best publicity material that has been released in this country by any nation in the world'.89 The possibility of an English edition was discussed but nothing came of it. The book was not released to the public in New Zealand and the final copies were distributed to those who enrolled for the Pacific Science Congress held in Auckland in January 1949.
From the time when the centennial publications were being planned, Heenan had enthusiastically shared and backed John's determination to have them and later departmental publications well designed and well printed. His own interest in typography was long standing and with his support the branch built up a library of reference works. He was a great peruser of booksellers' and publishers' catalogues, asking Dick Campbell in London to keep an eye out for any prospectuses from 'the Golden Cockerel or any other private Press that may still be functioning', adding that we, 'and when I say "we", I mean J.C. Beaglehole, Janet Wilkinson and myself',90 were particularly interested in these as specimens of good typography. An earlier Golden Cockerel Press prospectus had announced the publication of A Voyage Round the World with Captain James Cook in H.M.S. Resolution by Anders Sparrman. Heenan thought it would be just the thing to give John to mark his page 295'admiration for all that he has done for this Department over the past six years'.91 Campbell discovered that the book had been over-subscribed before it appeared, but managed to winkle a copy out of the press and sent it out in the diplomatic bag. Heenan reported its reception:
I asked Beaglehole to come in in the course of his morning visit to us and sprung the whole thing on him suddenly. It would hardly be correct to say that J.C.B. is a sentimental bloke, but he definitely is an emotional person, and the little gift rocked him right back on his heels … The measly £350 a year we pay him represents only a fraction of his worth to us over the past six years. He has placed New Zealand on the typographical map, and our departmental standard of book production has earned a mild form at least of world fame.92
In Much of the Work being done Heenan sang the praises of the 'Beaglehole–Wilkinson combination': 'as a typographer she is, today in New Zealand, one in a class with Beaglehole himself and a few others of consequence not overlooking Denis Glover'.93 John and Janet worked closely together and he clearly delighted in having a colleague with whom he could discuss the finer points of printing and book design and plot their joint offensives against the Government Printer. She was also extremely well read and articulate. Did she in her intellectual gifts remind John, perhaps, of Helen Allen? At some stage she and John began an affair.
These were the war years, Janet had had no close men friends, and the few with whom she had had even a slight acquaintance were soon in the armed forces and overseas.94 She had joined a small friendly group of students, almost all women, enrolled for history honours, where they had got to know Fred Wood and John more personally. Both of them were interested in and concerned about students and invited them to their homes, where they also got to know Elsie and Joan Wood and their circles of friends. Both men epitomised a lifestyle and values that fascinated the young. Moving to the Historical Branch brought Janet and John more closely together. She responded to the affectionate and at times bantering manner he had with young women. He fell for her completely.
From the days of his courtship of Elsie, John had pitched his affections at a level of intensity that she, with her less demonstrative nature, found difficult to match. Elsie was an extremely able woman: a founding member and early president of the Family Planning page 296Association, the first woman member of the Karori School Committee, later a Justice of the Peace, with much more voluntary work in the years ahead. She read widely, mainly contemporary fiction, and shared many of John's interests in the arts, but her interest was not historical or theoretical; she would not have read Herbert Read or Berenson or Gombrich. In their early days together she was inclined to depreciate her own ability (not helped by John's mocking of what he claimed was her background of bridge and tennis parties) and she never saw herself as an intellectual. At the same time she could be forthright, practical and down to earth. Her views of John's book buying when she believed there were more pressing needs, which went back to their student days, became something of a family joke but at its heart it may epitomise a difference of values between them. For John, like his father, books (and, for John, music) were at the very heart of civilised life; for Elsie they were part but only a part of it. After twelve years of marriage they were both probably settling a little into their own ways. John did much of his work at home, but he kept it to his study and talked very little about it either to Elsie or, later, to his children. Elsie, for her part, was always concerned to support him in his work and, taking on the role of women of her time, became remarkably good at organising and running the home and family and shielding John from interruptions.
To John, his relationship with Janet was clearly enormously important: for a time they were deeply in love (and a part of John was in love with her for the rest of his life), but he made it clear to Janet that he was not going to leave Elsie for her. These were, in a sense, parallel relationships, with Janet at the centre of one of John's worlds, that of books and printing and literature, while Elsie remained the centre of another world, that of home and family, Victoria College, and a wide circle of friends. He brought her a bunch of red roses every anniversary of their wedding. Although it may now seem extraordinary, my brothers and I had no idea of the situation – indeed, I learned of it only after I began work on this biography. This may say something about a child's lack of perception or self-preoccupation (I was nine or ten at the time), or it may be testimony to Elsie and John's determination to keep their marriage and the family intact. Looking back now, my memories of those years are of family activities, of farm holidays, of school days, with no sense of imminent crisis. How Elsie and John worked it out we can only conjecture. It says an enormous amount for her forbearance and her strength, and for their underlying loyalty and unshakeable commitment to each other, that they stayed together.page 297
My impression is that not many people at the time were aware of the relationship. It was to continue until Janet married Blackwood Paul in April 1945.* For a wedding present John gave them a copy of John Milton's poems with illustrations by William Blake, published by the Nonesuch Press in 1926. He found it very difficult to let her go. During the time she was on her honeymoon he wrote a daily diary for her – a strange gift to someone just beginning her marriage. He at least half-recognised this when he wrote at the beginning that she should perhaps destroy it without reading it. It was thirty-five pages, a mixture of the most intimate expressions of longing for her, of hopes for her happiness, and detailed accounts of each day, with a great deal about the production of Introduction to New Zealand and other printing jobs he was involved in. After Janet and Blackwood moved to Hamilton they added publishing (as Paul's Book Arcade and, later, Blackwood and Janet Paul) to the business of bookselling, and Janet had full scope for her exceptional skill as a book designer. John wrote to her regularly, for long periods almost every week: at other times, especially if he was travelling, much less frequently. His deeply affectionate letters, about 500 in all, are full of news about books and printing, art and music, family, friends, and what was happening in Wellington, and form a remarkable record of friendship and of the last twenty-five years of John's life. However, reading them through reminded me of just how much letters were, for him, always something of a literary artifice, of how far, once started or when his emotions were involved, his pen could carry him away. Janet became, and remained, a friend of the whole family, coming to stay on numerous occasions. Elsie, while despairing of Janet's lack of practicality, enjoyed her company and lent her a helping hand when she needed it, and would do so until the end of her life.
* As a student in Auckland, Blackwood had been part of the group around Phoenix. He had subsequently run the family bookshop in Hamilton, Paul's Book Arcade. The war brought him to Wellington as part of the army education and welfare service, and he met Janet through their common involvement in the Progressive Publishing Society.
You, I know have understood the spirit of Polynesia, even as reflected in the cooler environment of Aotearoa under cover of a modern mufti.
Among the other volumes he saw through the press for the department were K.B. Cumberland's Soil Erosion in New Zealand (1944), and Ernst Plischke's Design and Living (1947), a persuasive introduction to modernist ideas based on material Plischke had prepared for the army education and welfare service. These were followed by G. Leslie Adkin's major study, Horowhenua: Its Maori Place-names and Their Topographic and Historical Background. This proved a protracted undertaking of which there is a fascinating account in Anthony Dreaver's biography of Adkin.95 Publication of his exhaustive work by the Polynesian Society, which Adkin had expected, was caught up in an intense controversy over the spelling and capitalisation of Maori names, in which Adkin was in heated opposition to Johannes Andersen, the editor of the society's Journal. In May 1944 J.W. Butcher, a tramping friend of Adkin's who worked in the Statistics Department and knew both Heenan and John, suggested approaching them with his manuscript. Adkin took it in to show John, and later described in his diary the 'warm welcome' he was given:
I laid myself out to impress [Beaglehole] with its authenticity & value, & when he saw the maps and drawings, he seemed quite convinced and decided to push for publication … JWB[utcher] had informed me of the process involved: first Dr. B intimates his approval of the material to Mr Heenan; Mr Heenan then recommends publication to Minister of Internal Affairs (Mr Parry); Mr P then submits the matter to Cabinet. If Cabinet sanctions publication, the Publication Board, of whom JWB is a member, proceeds to authorize the printing. The question of the spelling of Maori place-names & of the use of caps. in geographical and other terms … came up & I was pleased to find that Dr Beaglehole considers Andersen's rules 'preposterous' in most cases and had told the Poly. Soc. so when they applied to the Dept. for a ruling, following on my objections & the subsequent controversy.96
John was impressed with the work, 'a model … of its kind', and wished 'it could be paralleled for every other part of New Zealand where there is a like richness of Maori remains'.97 His initial plan was to persuade the Polynesian Society's council to publish the book with the aid of a government subsidy, though the Historical Branch would have total editorial control. He got a quote from Whitcombe page 299and Tombs in Christchurch: £1000 for 750 copies. The Polynesian Society had pledged £300. With the government baulking at the remaining £700, the society suggested that he was insisting on too extravagant a design and that the printers they normally used in New Plymouth, Avery's, would do the job for £650–700. John stood his ground: 'Avery's were just not skilled enough, nor did they possess adequate bold or italic typefaces; and a good clear type giving 500 words to the page was essential'.98 Adkin got his friends to lobby Parry. In May 1946 the government approved going ahead using Whitcombe and Tombs (at the same time also approving Plischke's book and Roger Duff's The Moa-Hunter Period of New Zealand History) and the book, published by the department and distributed by the Polynesian Society, finally appeared in December 1948. The author's impatience, Dreaver writes, 'was moderated by the charm and courtesy of Beaglehole'.99 Plischke's book had appeared the year before. The Coming of the Maori by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) came out in 1949 and Duff's volume a year later.
In 1945 John designed and saw through the press Downie Stewart's little book Portrait of a Judge, a memoir of Sir Joshua Strange Williams, whom Stewart had greatly admired when he was a young Dunedin lawyer. John's letters to the elderly Stewart,100 gentle and respectful, give a glimpse of how he approached such a task. John had made it clear that he was doing the job in his private capacity and Stewart was worried that he would not accept any reward. John was firm: 'I've had my fun … & after all, I've had the pleasure of playing around with your money. You're the only Elder Statesman who's let me do that.'101
* Hargest's book, Farewell Campo 12 (1946), is a classic account of his escape from incarceration as a prisoner-of-war in Italy.
In 1944 the Department of External Affairs, acting on Fraser's belief that New Zealanders should be interested and well informed about the world outside, inaugurated a series of publications beginning with the Australian–New Zealand Agreement signed on 21 January. Frank Corner, who had joined the department the previous year (strictly, he had joined the Prime Minister's Department, as External Affairs came into being only later in 1943), persuaded John to advise on the typography. The Government Printer had at last acquired some new typefaces. John even produced a simplified and more modern version of the New Zealand Coat of Arms, which fitted more naturally with the new typefaces. 'The result', Corner writes, 'was so good that in due course the style devised for the Department's series was adopted for Parliamentary publications.'104
Meanwhile John continued his typographical work for the Council for Educational Research, treating each annual report as a discrete exercise in design, while the research series through the 1940s carried his characteristic printed label pasted on the spine (one of the techniques he had picked up from Francis Meynell, the publisher and director of the Nonesuch Press). He also redesigned the Victoria College Calendar, and later the college's letterhead and its degree certificates. He arranged for the artist and engraver Mervyn Taylor to redesign the college coat of arms and heraldic crest. When the Chamber Music Society began he designed its programmes, as he had those for the Nimmo's hall concerts that preceded its formation.
John's interest in printing and publishing did not flag in spite of the frustration which seemed inescapable at that time. Wartime paper shortages continued. The New Zealand industry in general still lacked the skills and equipment to do first-class work. The Government Printing Office seemed as bad as ever. John had good relations with Whitcombe and Tombs, especially with Lance Davison in Christchurch, but even with them he felt he needed to be watching closely to be sure of getting the results he wanted. Nor was this a guarantee of success. When Whitcombe's in Wellington were producing The University and the Community, the 1946 festschrift for Hunter, there was a problem with the binding. They rang John up 'in such a tone of agony that I thought the factory must have burnt down. I did some mild complaining. Well, said Athea, the page 301fact is, if we know it is a Beaglehole job we get so nervous the whole bloody thing goes wrong.'105
Nor did ministerial involvement in the work of the branch make for efficiency. Each volume had to have ministerial approval. Heenan's way with Fraser and Nash certainly enabled things to be done that otherwise might not have been done, but there was a price to be paid. Nash's close interest in Introduction to New Zealand did not hasten its production. When John reported to Janet that Plischke's book was out, he continued: 'Of course Peter Fraser doesn't like the binding, or the lettering, or the colour, or the title, but who cares? At least McIntosh got him to agree to a price, 6/- paper 10/6 cloth, a decision which Joe was too weak & tired to make on the one day he was in town. Oh send it to the PM, he said wearily about the memorandum.'106
Heenan was due to retire from the Department of Internal Affairs in 1949 but he effectively handed over to his successor the year before when he was appointed manager of the 1949 Royal Tour. He made a two-month visit to England, via the United States, for discussions with Buckingham Palace, and while he was in London he met with the secretary of the Hakluyt Society and committed the New Zealand government to a grant of £3000 to help with the costs of producing the Cook volumes. It was his first trip out of New Zealand. He met a wide range of people, some of whom he had corresponded with for many years, and he returned with a new fund of stories. 'Well', John said to him, 'do you still have the common touch? Too right, he said. But I knew', John wrote, 'that corruption had set in, or he would have said Too bloody right.'107 To Heenan's relief, as it turned out, the tour did not take place, and one of his final actions was to write formally to Peter Fraser recommending that, when John went to Britain on his forthcoming refresher leave, he should be given leave on full pay from the branch* and an additional grant towards his expenses. Heenan confessed that it was a mystery to him how John had managed both his jobs and 'a tribute to his genius that he has been able to combine the two offices with complete satisfaction' to both his employers. 'At no time', Heenan continued, 'has he ever been paid by us in a manner commensurate with the worth of his work to the Government and to the country'.
* When John was first appointed he was paid £300 per annum, which was subsequently increased to £350. Following his appointment by Victoria to the research fellowship it was reduced to £175. The additional grant, which the government approved, was £500.
John, he stated, 'had made an indelible mark on the standard of printing in New Zealand' while his work for the Hakluyt Society would be itself 'work for New Zealand'.108 John, for his part, wrote to Heenan from Auckland before the ship sailed, taking advantage of the fact that Heenan could not interrupt him to say how much he had valued working under him, in 'an atmosphere that few other heads of departments can ever have created', and how he had valued doing the things that Heenan had made it possible for him to do.109 He recognised that it was the end of a chapter, but hoped that, if there was ever a ceremony to celebrate the production of the first map of the historical atlas, they should both be there.
This was not to be.110 Although during the war work on the atlas had never stopped, for some time the number of staff involved was down to one. However, after he came out of the army, Bob Burnett resumed his position as secretary of the atlas in March 1946, and one or two new young graduates were recruited as research assistants. It had become clear that a good deal of the early work, hurried over, had not been done well enough, and had to be checked, updated or redone. To this Burnett, in John's view 'born for the job', brought the most meticulous scholarship (as had Ruth Ross in her time) but, looking back, one wonders if he had the temperament to push the project through. By 1948 the point had been reached where a great deal of preliminary drafting was necessary. But at that time the Lands and Survey Department (with whom the atlas had from first planning been a joint project) was suffering from both a grave shortage of staff and great demands for its services. Although it promised to get on with the work, the drafting of historical maps was never given sufficient priority and nothing was done. There was also one series of maps, on the economy, for which the research remained to be done, and it was proving extraordinarily difficult to get people with the right qualifications to do it. In spite of these difficulties, John went off on leave still expecting that the job would continue to completion. He visited the British Ordnance Survey to seek advice on technical questions about paper, drafting and inks, but the report he sent back to Internal Affairs was not acknowledged.
While he was away there was a general election and a change of government. The National Party came to power determined to cut government expenditure, 'especially on such fancy luxuries as education and culture'.111 And in Internal Affairs they had a willing accomplice in G.H. O'Halloran, the assistant under-secretary, who took the atlas within his province. To save money and because government historical work was no longer regarded as desirable, page 303with the possible exception of the work being done by the War History Branch under Sir Howard Kippenberger, it was decided to end work on the atlas project. It was saved at that point only by the Public Service Commission, which insisted that nothing should be done until John got back to New Zealand and had been consulted, but essentially the die was cast. He arrived home in July 1950 and from then until the end of 1951 did his best to ensure that the work would be completed. Shortly after John's return Burnett, 'goaded by pin-pricks and insults to despair', resigned from the public service and took a job in an insurance office. A little later Nan Taylor, too, left the Branch. Work on the atlas virtually ceased.
John's memoranda, reports and meetings, his argument that 'so much work has been done that it would be tragic now to leave it unfinished',112 if they achieved anything, simply put back the final decision. Some time after a meeting with the minister, W.A. Bodkin, he wrote to him to ask once again if any decision had been reached: 'You will remember that you said you would discuss it with some of your colleagues, and see if you could put in a united recommendation to Cabinet'.113 The reply, two and a half months later, said nothing about the atlas but told him that the 'present arrangement' concerning his engagement would be terminated from the end of the month.114 John's immediate reaction was regret that he had not got in first. He thanked the minister for 'releasing' him 'from a disagreeable and embarrassing situation', and continued:
I had already come to the conclusion that if the Government were not going on with the Historical Atlas, then there was no justification for my remaining connected with the Department, and I was on the point of resigning the rather indeterminate post I have held. I should be still glad if you would consider my resignation immediate – i.e., as from the date of this letter.115
As for the atlas, he was eventually told, in terms of pure formula, that it was hoped to complete it ultimately, 'probably in a modified form'.116 The head of the department told him privately that he was quite certain nothing further would be done. Before giving up completely John approached the Carnegie Corporation. If they provided the money and the government made available all the material, Victoria College might be persuaded to take over the responsibility for the work, which could be housed in the History Department. He would need sufficient funds for two research workers for two years and perhaps £30,000 for the costs of producing 5000 copies of the maps (by this time he was thinking of a box of maps page 304and letterpress rather than a bound volume). Nothing came of the proposal.
Joe Heenan had always recognised that the work of the Historical Branch, together with his other schemes for supporting the arts, depended very largely on the continuation of the Labour government in office, as 'the re-acquisition of a true-blue farmers' Government would, I fear, write finis to this particular chapter'.117 The Historical Branch of the 1940s, carrying out work for which the new government had little understanding, and run in a way (if 'run' is the right word) which made it an easy target for an unsympathetic public servant on the make – 'the enemy of everything Joe Heenan stood for and had done'118 – could not survive. Nor could the individual style that Heenan had brought to the patronage of the arts survive him – the times were changing as well as the government – but the way in which the atlas was brought to an end left John feeling exceedingly bitter. Not long before he received the minister's letter sacking him, he wrote to Janet: 'Cook continues to be a great comfort when things go wrong, & people don't write to me, & Bob resigns, & Mr O'Halloran weaves his plots. And in the interstices of life I manage to read a bit. I have nearly finished Ivor Brown's Shakespeare …'119