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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

When Great Men Meet. — The Friendship Of Samuel Butler With Sefton Moorhouse. A Story of Early Days in the Canterbury Province

page 30

When Great Men Meet.
The Friendship Of Samuel Butler With Sefton Moorhouse. A Story of Early Days in the Canterbury Province.

(Written for the “Railways Magazine” by William Vance.)

Samuel Butler.

Samuel Butler.

In South Canterbury, on the road to the Upper Rangitata Gorge, a clump of poplar trees can be seen across the river from Mount Peel Station. These trees are the last forlorn remnant of a once, beautiful garden of eight acres that surrounded the homestead of Shepherd's Bush, one of the most famous sheep stations in Canterbury. Owned by Dr. Ben Moorhouse, this station kept open house to all-comers, and being but a few yards from the Rangitata Ford, their generosity was fully availed of by travellers from all parts of Canterbury. Hospitable to a fault, the Moorhouses entertained freely, on occasions having as many as thirty guests at a time, staying with them. The Moorhouse hospitality is still fondly remembered in Canterbury.

Driving his bullock-team from the farthest back station in the Rangitata Gorge, a swarthy, taciturn young bachelor would often break his journey at Shepherd's Bush. This man had evoked unflattering notoriety on account of his peculiar ideas and actions. Owner of a sheep-station that needed careful attention, he neglected it for weeks on end so as to make companionless explorations into the Southern Alps; son of a church dignitary, he continually railed against orthodox religion; a strong objector to “foreign names” being given to places, he named his own station “Mesopotamia.” He would write a controversial letter to the newspapers—next day he would contradict this letter under another name—in order, he said, to keep the correspondence going. He would break off in the middle of a conversation in order to scribble notes in a pocket-book that he always carried in his pocket. Small wonder it is that those who came in contact with him found him “queer,” and in consequence his circle of friends became very limited.

But Dr. Moorhouse, in addition to being the owner of Shepherd's Bush, was the only medical man between Christchurch and Timaru. He was always out on errands of mercy for which he never charged any fee. If his practice gave him no monetary reward, it gave him rich reward in a knowledge of human nature, and Dr. Moorhouse had learned that, no matter how “queer” a man might be in his ideas, he will always respond to kindness. So the unsociable sheep-owning radical found kindness at Shepherd's Bush, and he learned to make it his rendezvous.

First Meeting.

Frequent visitor to Shepherd's Bush was the owner's brother, William Sefton Moorhouse, Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury. Ever a judge of men, Sefton Moorhouse soon saw that this young radical had more than usual ability. “His name is Sam. Butler,” they told him. Ere long, Samuel Butler was guest at the Moorhouse home in Christchurch.

William Sefton Moorhouse was a much older man than the owner of “Mesopotamia,” but he seems to have fascinated Butler from the commencement of their friendship and Butler never lost his admiration and respect for Moorhouse. Many and varied were the discussions that the Superintendent of Canterbury had with this young sheep-owner. During one of these talks, Moorhouse made the remark that had a deep and lasting impression on the young listener. “Very handsome, well-dressed men are seldom very good men,” said Moorhouse.

Butler never forgot this remark, and years afterwards he wrote: “I liked Moorhouse very much, and being young, listened deferentially to all that he said. I did not like to hear him say this for I liked men to be handsome and well-dressed. I have thought about it a great deal during the more than twenty years that have passed since Moorhouse's words were spoken, and even now I do not know what to say. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not.” Had he respected Moorhouse's advice, it would have been better for him, for there came into Butler's life a very handsome young man who was to prove a burden and a drain on his meagre resources.

Charles Pauli.

The name of this man was Charles Pauli. Pauli was employed on the “Christchurch Press” newspaper and he was the only friend made by Butler in New Zealand whose life was to be closely interwoven with his. The two met in Christchurch. Butler had made a considerable sum of money out of his sheep station, and fascinated by the radiant manner of Pauli, he offered his new friend £100 to pay his passage to England, in addition to an allowance of £200 a year until Pauli got called to the Bar. Pauli continued to accept grants from Butler until it amounted in all to a sum of £6,000 even although he knew that, during a good deal of this time. Butler was himself in straightened circumstances. It was
William Sefton Moorhouse.

William Sefton Moorhouse.

page 31 only after Pauli's death that Butler learned that his friend had been earning £800 a year and had left a fortune, but not a penny to Butler. Of this friendship, one biographer writes, “This pitiful story does more credit to Butler's heart than to his head.”

In view of this story, it is small wonder that Butler remembers Moorhouse's words of wisdom, even when more than a score of years had passed since they were uttered. But it was not for this alone that Butler remembered Moorhouse, for the impression that William Sefton Moorhouse made on Samuel Butler was so strong that even when half a century had lapsed since their meeting. Butler considered him one of the most striking personalities he had ever met.

The Moorhouse Policy.

It is but natural to assume that the man who could make such a strong and indelible impression on Butler must be a person of outstanding character, as indeed Moorhouse was. In the stirring days of the development of Canterbury he was, for many years, the leading man amongst a unique group of unusual leaders who guided the destinies of the infant province. He it was who initiated the policy of freely borrowing—later known as the “Moorhouse” policy—a habit quickly acquired by the rest of the provinces as well as the Central Government.

Behind this progressive policy of public works was the dynamic personality of William Sefton Moorhouse, eagerly pushing on his country's interest and so sacrificing his chance of piling up a private fortune.

The Lyttelton Tunnel was the favourite child of Moorhouse. To such an extent did he devote his aggressive energy to this enterprise that he earned the pseudonym of “Railway Billy.” Moorhouse vowed that before the colony was much older, he would have railways radiating north and south of Christchurch and he set to work forthwith to implement his programme. As preliminary to this policy, the first railway line in New Zealand was opened on December 1st, 1863. The line ran between Christchurch and Ferrymead.

The heart Moorhouse must have thrilled when dawned the day that enabled him to have the first ride in the first locomotive in New Zealand. As mark of the esteem in which he held his Mesopotamian friend, he invited Butler to share with him this signal honour of the first ride on the first locomotive. That Butler deeply appreciated this courtesy is illustrated by the fact that forty years later, Butler recalled: “I suppose I am probably the last survivor of those who rode on the trial trip of the first locomotive that ever travelled in New Zealand. Moorhouse, Reeves, myself and one other (but of this I am not certain) were the only ones on the engine as it started from Christchurch and ran to Heathcote.”

“The Other” Person.

What was the name of that “one other” person who travelled with this celebrated company on the engine that day? I am inclined to think that this person was John Marshman, first manager of the Canterbury Railways. John Marshman was a friend of Butler's and he lived next door to another friend of Butler's—Dr. Julius Von Haast. This house was recently demolished, and in describing the house a writer stated: “At times Samuel Butler came in from his station, played on the Marshman piano, painted in the dining room, and walked in the Marshman garden. No doubt he also sniffed the banksia roses and dreamed of the time when, having created the estate of his desire, he would be able to return to London and the British Museum, and there devote himself to literature. But in the meantime, he played the piano and painted….”

As the long back-station Canterbury winters came and went, this desire to return to England and to devote himself entirely to literature grew stronger and stronger. There was, too, the insistent plea from Pauli for more money. So Butler bids farewell to his sheep station and his adopted land. After having settled down in England for some time, he found that he was in need of further cash, so he took steps to call in some funds he had invested in New Zealand, an action which later occasioned much remorse in Butler's mind.

In relating the story, Butler says “All this is a story that haunts me and will haunt me to my dying day; for it was my friend, William Sefton Moorhouse, who was my mortgagor—one of the finest and best men whom it was ever my lot to cross—a man who had shown me infinite kindness and whom I never can think of without remorse; whether I could have avoided it or no, I do not, and did not, see how I could without breaking faith with Pauli. It was a trespass to call in the money, may I be forgiven, as from the bottom of my heart I forgive Pauli, for whose sake I did it. However, let it pass it makes me sick to think of it.”

(W. W. Stewart Collection.) A typical scene in the railway yard at Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

(W. W. Stewart Collection.)
A typical scene in the railway yard at Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

The memory of the greatness and the goodness of Moorhouse's friendship with him remained with Butler right to the end of his days. Just a few months before he died, Butler, in acknowledging receipt of a copy of the “Weekly Press,” again recalled this friendship: “I am glad to possess photographs of my old friend Mr. William Sefton Moorhouse, who dwells in my memory as one of the finest men whose path I ever crossed, but who also haunts me bitterly as one of the very few men—at least I trust it may be so—who treated me with far greater kindness than I did him. His memory is daily with me, notwithstanding all these years, and ever will be, as long as I can remember anything. Alas that he should show nothing but extreme kindness and goodwill to me and who did not receive from me the measure which he had meted out. Not that I ever failed in admiration and genuine affection, but (it is true, under great stress), I did not consider things which a larger knowledge of the world has shown me I ought assuredly to have considered. Enough! he dwells ever with me as perhaps the greatest man all round that I have ever known.”

page 32


(Continued from page 29.)

“Well, I never!” exclaimed Prudence, clasping the girl in a spontaneous embrace. “Everything seemed all wrong this morning, Dorothy, and now we're shooting up to Heaven. I thought that you and Ralph looked very pleased about something when I came in.”

“I guess we couldn't help it,” laughed Dorothy and perhaps we had better leave Hughie to gurgle over his paints now and Mr. Enderby might want to leave and it would be too bad to delay him after all his kindness.

They found the men folk engaged in a lively conversation both apparently enjoying themselves.

“Mr. Enderby and I were just discussing a letter I received from the Placement Office this afternoon,” said Ralph. “That means I will have to be up bright and early in the morning, Dossie, to meet the manager of Lonsdale's.”

“Oh, I don't think I'd be in such a hurry, if I were you,” replied Mr. Enderby off-handedly.

All eyes were centred on Mr. Enderby in blank amazement.

“You see, you've just had your interview, because I happen to be the manager of Lonsdale's. Would you care to start in the morning?”

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