Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911
My dear St. John,
In my last letter I alluded to the different conditions of parish work here and at home. This is due to the general state of prosperity with which the country is blest; the absence of slums, of abject poverty, of a submerged tenth, or criminal class. It is not easy for chance visitors to realize this. Not long ago, at the railway station, I met a passenger by express, a Londoner, on his way through New Zealand for a holiday tour. "I have come down," he said, "from Auckland, and am making for the South on my return to England, and I haven't come across a single instance of destitution; so different to my experience in London as I go to my business in the city. What is your population here, and what is your experience"
By way of illustration of this, I said, "It is close on Christmas time, and though, of course, we have some comparatively poor people here, I really don't know a family to whom it would be a great boon if I sent them a Christmas dinner."
"Well," he said, "is that good for you? You have no one to pity."page 330
This set me thinking. Allowing for the inevitable trouble and sorrow that is the common lot anywhere, I wonder whether we are as thankful as we should be that our lives are cast in such a well-favoured country. Those who are born and bred here, perhaps, take it for granted; they have never known anything else. Occasionally they travel, and if they have eyes to see behind the screen of wealth and progress which, in the great cities at home, hides to a great extent the poverty and misery of so many there, they return to New Zealand glad to escape from the sight of it all.
Another illustration: Travelling to Christchurch, I met one of our chief detectives, and got into conversation with him. "There is, practically," he said, "no crime in New Zealand as compared with other countries. Some occasional cases of it, of course; in such a centre as yours in Timaru, no crime; in larger centres it is beginning to exist, but only beginning; there is intemperance, but not to any great extent; young New Zealand as a rule doesn't drink; gambling is a considerable evil; there's too much racing,—a race-meeting somewhere nearly every day in the year."
"And what about the Local Option question?"
"Well, so far as it gives the people the opportunity of reducing the number of publics, or abolishing them altogether, it has done good. But I have my doubts as to abolition,—useful in some cases, but, as a rule, in centres it encourages sly drinking. I would rather regulate the traffic strictly than try to abolish it. The temperance folk have done good, but they go too far."
With regard to his testimony as to the state of Timaru, a port town of eight thousand people, I may page 331add that when I first came here there was a gaol with an average of fifteen inmates; to-day there is no gaol, in fact no need of one. This is not because our criminals are sent to the gaols in Christchurch or Dunedin, but because we don't manufacture them. It may be an exceptional case, but I think that all through the country prosperity has not been accompanied by corresponding crime, as so often elsewhere.
"I find it difficult to get anyone for a game of golf," said an English visitor to me, "you have an excellent course, though difficult, and many good players, but everyone seems too busy to play, except on certain days."
"Yes," I replied, "the fact is that we are all at work here, with very few exceptions; there are very few leisured folk, so games are relegated to half-holidays, or Saturday afternoons."
This I take to be a wholesome state of things. New Zealanders are keen at holiday making when the chance comes; every sort of sport flourishes, and in some instances, such as tennis and football, the fame of New Zealand is world wide. Every public holiday, and they are numerous, sees crowds of well-dressed, well-fed, sober people out for a day's pleasure. You may hear criticism,—"Is it a good sign?" My own feeling is that it is the healthy outcome of the conditions of our life; an eight hours' day for nearly all; sufficient leisure for recreation; good wages; no sweated labour; plenty of employment for all willing to work, whatever the professional agitator at the street corners may say. Compared with all one hears of the state of things in England and elsewhere, I sometimes wonder whether we are as thankful as we ought to be that "the lines are fallen unto us in pleasant places: yea, we have a goodly heritage."page 332
Another point in our favour. The country is wealthy. For its population, not exceeding one million, which includes many non-wage earners, the private and public revenue is very large. But this wealth is fairly distributed. There are a certain number of rich people, but as yet no millionaires. There is capital, a good deal of it, and we could do with more to everyone's advantage, but there are few, if any, of the evils with which capitalism is credited at home. The political cry there, much of it mere cant, of the tryanny of capital falls flat here. The happy result of this may be found in the absence of social envy between the classes. You may see signs of comparative luxury, but the whole community has its share in it. There are no "idle rich." Nor, on the other hand, is there that imaginary equality which the Socialist dreams of. But at present,—how long it will continue one cannot say,—there is opportunity for everyone to succeed and rise in life, which older countries do not afford so readily. In the best sense of the phrase, "Jack's as good as his Master," here. If he is straight-living and industrious, I don't think he envies him. Nor do I wonder at this, as I think of the hundreds I have known who have risen from the status of employée to comfortable independence.
Perhaps your comment on all this may be,—"You speak of material welfare, but what of the spiritual side of life in New Zealand?" In trying to answer that question I must limit myself to my own experience in the South Island, giving you only a very general idea of the conditions of life here which "make for righteousness," or the reverse, but I will not limit myself to the work of our own communion.
There is the great disadvantage of a secular system page 333in our State Schools, very slightly modified by occasional opportunities of giving religious instruction after school hours in school-houses. Church schools cannot be maintained except in large centres. We have done something in this respect, whilst the Roman Catholics have done much more, but such schools are few and far between. Sunday school work, vigorously carried on, does not fill the gap.
Then, outside the cities and towns church work means very extensive parishes, quite unlike the snug English parish, with an area of a few square miles. The country parson in New Zealand drives, rides, cycles, motors, scores of miles, in all weathers, to visit his flock and maintain his services. But, taking a general view of all Church work, of every denomination, I think we may claim considerable success in providing opportunities for spiritual life in every part of the country. Wherever there is village or hamlet you would see churches well built and cared for. We have not to deal with the vast spaces of Australia; Bush Brotherhoods are not needed for the work. Nor with such crowds of immigrants as Canada; New Zealand is too far from the old world for that, and its area too limited. In a centre like Timaru, and I think it is the same elsewhere, church attendance is, I should say, quite as good as at home, better in some cases. Generally speaking, Sunday is well kept. I remember, some time ago, a good illustration of this. A debate in Synod had elicited from a layman his views in favour of some relaxation of the custom of limiting public games, cricket, football, etc., to week-days, and his reference to pre-Reformation days in England, when, after due attendance at Mass, in the afternoon various sports were indulged in. He page 334had occasion to visit California, and spent some time in San Francisco. Returning, lie took an opportunity in Synod of owning to a complete change of opinion. "I could scarcely realize it was Sunday; here and there a church bell, and an open church door brought it to my remembrance,—the whole place seemed given up to racing and sport of various kinds, theatres and places of amusement all in full swing." One need not be a "Sabbatarian" to be convinced of the value of a "Sunday well spent." New Zealand has made a good beginning in this way. May it long continue.
I am, Yours ever,
H. W. H.