The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)
Thus We Began
Every New Zealander should welcome the “Centennial Surveys,” which amplify and make more detailed the work of the “Making New Zealand” pictorial series, evidence that the Historical Committee of the Internal Affairs Department approve that educational method of “concentricism,” considered by many the ideal treatment for the social studies in general and for history in particular. The earlier series is designed to appeal to the man who wants his information in concise and dramatic form: “Centennial Surveys” offer more solid intellectual fare. The end of a century of British rule is a most opportune time for the appearance of a dozen or so volumes dealing with different aspects of New Zealand life and progress, and giving together a comprehensive picture of our people and country during that period.
Indeed, the three volumes under consideration cover the greater part of the historical field. The scope of Dr. Beaglehole's book is clearly defined by its title; but “Settlers and Pioneers” and “The Women of New Zealand” are by no means so definite. As a result we find a certain amount of overlapping where both authors find it necessary to treat of the experiences of emigrant and settler. For example, Chapter Two, “The Voyage,” in “The Women of New Zealand” is paralleled by “The Emigrant Ship” in Cowan's book. Again, scanning the remainder of the titles in this series, we might reasonably expect one planned to bridge the gap between Beaglehole and Cowan, “Traders and Missionaries,” at a guess. It must be remembered that between Cook's last voyage and the commencement of organised settlement there stretches a period of sixty years. Without taking chronology as our sole criterion, and granting that Mrs. Simpson gives us a valuable picture of the early missionary ventures, some might yet consider that a part of the story remains to be told.
Here it behoves us to recall that the real aim of the series, both by explicit statement and by implication, is to give a number of vivid pictures of life in New Zealand yesterday and to-day. This is sound psychology. Despite radio and despite talkies, the age is essentially pictorial: educators have long recognised the superiority of visual aids to those utilising the other senses; and it is to the popularity of this mode of learning that not only the cinema, but also the host of pictorial magazines and the vogue of the comic strip in the daily paper bear eloquent witness. Viewed in this light, the achievements of the individual writers are such as to give cause for self-congratulation not only to the Historical Committee which selected them but also to the reading public as a whole.
To Dr. Beaglehole fell the congenial task of summarising for the first time in a single volume the achievements of the men whose efforts gave New Zealand a place on the map. Considering his admitted qualifications as a specialist in this field, his was the easiest assignment; and his is the most obviously successful. Within the limits of a study comparable in length to one of Macaulay's historical essays he gives a succinct and authoritative account which hardly ever flags in interest and the style of which is always well suited to its theme—nowhere more so, indeed, than in the dignity of his introductory paragraph:
“Kupe or Maui—which was it, who first of heroes came breasting in his canoe the surge of the deep Pacific, riding for many days the dark waves of ocean …?”
A noble opening for a saga of brown-skinned Vikings who “before even the voyages to Labrador of the Vikings of the north—compassless—and metalless—had loosed themselves against Hine-moana, the forces of ocean, and ridden out the worst of her storms.”
“This was lofty ….
“This is Ercles' vein,” but we do not expect or demand it to be continued throughout the remainder of the work for which the less florid and more matter-of-fact style adopted is a better vehicle. Yet we may well be grateful for the poetry of such passages as “the vast front of trees that trod like great chiefs to the sea,” and “the mountain ranges with their tresses of water, their pure and shining garb of snow”; for his splendid picture of an ocean-going canoe: “handsome with carved prow and stern-piece; snug amidst the sprays with its covering of matting taut over stout framework; with forty-foot mast page 10 and tough bellying sail …”; grateful, too, that, despite his prefatory dismissal of “flights of fancy,” he leaves over the pre-European period the mist of legend like this “thin veil of spray” through which Aotearoa first appeared to the Maori voyager a thousand years ago.
For Tasman and his successors Dr. Beaglehole reserves a more straight-forward mode of narration. His tribute to the Dutch seaman, “a thoroughly skilful commander, performing a considerable task with very inadequate material,” was well-deserved. We may welcome also the sidelights on Tasman which, though reflecting little credit on his character, nevertheless help us to a clearer picture of him as a man. “One may remember also Franz Jacobszoon Visscher and other men, who received as crown of their service the sum of two months', or one month's, pay, in cash, and put to sea again.” Though hardly known to fame Visscher was the scientific leader of Tasman's expedition, and his “Memoir concerning the Discovery of the Southland” was the deciding factor in its being undertaken.
There is small danger of Captain James Cook being rated too cheaply in any work dealing with Pacific exploration, and, indeed, Dr. Beaglehole devotes the largest section of his work to the great English navigator, outstanding among discoverers of all time. What is often little emphasised regarding his achievement is that, just as by sounding and charting the St. Lawrence in 1759 he made possible the spectacular victory which gave us Quebec, so by the time of his death twenty years later he had amassed a body of geographical knowledge regarding these islands without which the colonising work of the New Zealand Company and of similar organisations could never have been commenced. Without his conquest of scurvy his own great voyages would have been impossible, and some idea may be gained of his success in fighting that scourge of sailors when we realise that on his first voyage there was practically no sickness amongst the crew of the Endeavour till they reached Batavia homeward bound.
In spite of this full treatment of Cook, the discoveries of later navigators are given adequate representation, and anyone who has read the chapter “Cook to D'Urville” should have secured a valuable perspective on those great seamen, mainly French, who added materially to the civilised world's knowledge of New Zealand. He will, too, have read a work which is likely to become a classic for this part of New Zealand history.
Tasman's Chart of New Zealand, reproduced in “The Discovery of New Zealand,” from the facsimile given in the most recent edition of the Journal of Tasman's Voyage. “It has here been so placed as to render clear the line of the coast from south to north, though the drawing in the journal, as the lettering indicates, showed the country, ‘on its side’.”
Breezily and vividly does Mr. Cowan tell his tale:
“the three pillars of canvas marched into the Atlantic”;
“The Poverty Bay massacre was still raw in all minds.”
Certainly he is most effective in the chapters dealing with the progress of areas where he himself lived, and in the exploration and development of which he actually played a part. Without anywhere emulating the highest flights of the earlier work, his narrative is nevertheless usually more absorbing because of this very fact of first-hand knowledge: Dr. Beaglehole may fairly claim to know his sources; Mr. Cowan is a source in himself! “The first home I knew, the first trees and flowers,” he says, “were on the soil that had less than ten years before been a battlefield.” This gives to his account of the hardships and the diversions of those old-time settlers and of their relations with their Maori neighbours an authority and an interest which is usually reserved for contemporary events in one's own locality.
(Rly. Publicity photos.)
Express train hauled by a “J” class locomotive in the station yard at Wellington. The following are the principal features of the locomotive: Length over buffers, 67 ft; weight in running order, 108 tons 5 cwt.; tractive effort, 24,960 Ibs.; coal bunker capacity, 6 tons; water tank capacity, 4,000 gals.; diameter of driving wheels, 4 ft. 6 in.
The latter part of the book is, in general, less valuable than the first dozen chapters in which we are given a number of very vivid pictures of the building of the first bush homes and of the settlement of the Waikato, Taranaki and the King Country. Here the author recreates the atmosphere of those stirring, strenuous days, and, while holding a just balance between Maori and pakeha in his account of those tragic land wars that are such a blot on the white man's record in New Zealand, consistently maintains a realiistic attitude towards their effects on the country as a whole.
We have noted sufficient examples of the manner in which both the above writers have given effect to the general aim of the “Surveys”—to give a series of pictures of New Zealand from the earliest times of which we have knowledge to the present day. “The Women of New Zealand” promises us a set of pictures of an entirely different kind. Actually it is pictorial from start to finish—a “Cavalcade” of New Zealand womanhood.
For a start the title is intriguing. Mrs. Simpson is here breaking entirely new ground; for, though the literature of New Zealand development and progress, without being large, is at least substantial, there was previously no work with just this scope. Such a roving commission might well have been more of an embarrassment than a blessing to the author, and we have already seen how in her story of the lives of the pioneer women she found it essential to treat again, though from a different angle, the same facts as Mr. Cowan in “Settlers and Pioneers.” Again we have to remember that the overwhelming majority of her printed sources were written exclusively from the masculine point of view. The more need, therefore, of imaginative insight to supply the background of that drama of New Zealand women's work and striving which is the complement of male pioneering endeavour. Free use is made of contemporary letters of women, and from these and the skilful and sympathetic links supplied by the author we are able to form a comprehensive impression of their reactions to life in a strange new land.
It will be evident from these quotations that “The Women of New Zealand” fills another gap by sketching in the social side of life in the early days—the unlimited demands on hospitality and the generous response; the afternoon “calls” and the “musical evenings”; the interesting role of charity-occupations as a diversion for the bored women of the upper class. Mrs. Simpson finds the social hierarchies and conventions very early established here, and many will share her regret that we failed to make use of our initial geographical isolation to jettison them altogether.
The three volumes are commendably indexed, and it would be unfair to conclude without a word of high praise for those responsible for the format. Distinguished in appearance and compact of size, with just sufficient illustrations and those wisely selected and really illuminative, they reflect credit on all concerned in their production and should find a ready sale in this country and overseas.page break