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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 7th September, 1926

page 1

We crossed the equator last night, or rather in the early
hours of this morning, & although there has been rain part of the day — real
tropical sheets of it last night à la Conrad, and a breeze all day it's darn
hot sitting down to write in my dinner rig-out although the Sydney
lads reckon it's bonzer weather. I don't wear anything but my white
shirt & trousers and my blazer all day & manage to keep reasonably
cool except in games, but my oath! this dressing up makes a
man sweat like a pig. Hoping Auntie will excuse the Anglo-
. Likewise you! Talking of clothes, I don't think a man
needs many dress-shirts — three are plenty, & two would be enough
for all the wear they get; but you could do with about six
pairs of white trousers. If you mess around with quoits your
hands get filthy in five minutes & even if you don't wipe them
on your trousers you have to hitch same up sometimes or delve
into your pocket for a handkerchief, or you lean against a
rope; and the net result is that you look rough. I have a good
mind to resurrect my shorts & wear them — only it might
cause fevered protest from all the old girls on board. Shirts are
all right, because although they look decent for one wearing
I wash them in the morning alternately & hang them up in my
cabin & they're dry in about three hours. The same with white socks
every two or three mornings. And you get all your shoes cleaned
for you; though it isn't invariably a safe procedure. I had
mine pinched two nights ago, but I bought a new pair on the ship
(you can purchase all sorts of general merchandise at the barber's
shop from the novels of H.J. Locke to fancy soap)& the purser said
he would give me a certificate for the insurance people so I'm
not worrying much. A I brought too many pyjamas and not enough
books. So much for the Great Clothes Question. Also I forgot to
page 2 get any sleeve-links, & I've consistently forgotten to buy them at
ports of call so far. I think I'll have to try the barber's shop,
which I never thought of before or I might get something classy
in an Eastern genre at Colombo. Colombo is going to be a bit
of a problem though; we have been making bad time against con-
swells, & though we are scheduled to get there at 1 o'clock
tomorrow we're not expected to do it till 3, & we're leaving again
at 4 the next morning. So it looks as though we'll have to concen-
on the nightlife of the East, east of Suez. I thought I'd
be able to get some films developed & printed there & enclose
in my letter from there, but I don't think there's much hope
of that now. I didn't take any pictures in Australia, but I
took a few on the ship the other day. I haven't struck much
out of the ordinary so far for photographs.

I'm trying to write this late at night in the smoking-room
& at the same time eavesdrop on a very interesting conversation about
Lord Curzon between the administrator of Fiji & a nephew of that
eminent, but dead statesmen. Said nephew has the Curzon beak &
pots of money (never done a day's work in his life, according
to what an officer told me) but sits in the smoking-room all
day and most of the night absorbing drinks. He has a most astonishing
facility in disposing of same & must be a perfect gold-mine to
the bar. I heard from another source that he is a brilliant
scholar but I never saw a weaker-looking, more idiotic-sound-
specimen in all my life. The perfect sponge. Name of

Since leaving Fremantle we have had a fairly tranquil
existence; no rough weather & very good for deck games. I polished
off the last of my letters of thanks & posted them there so I
am now able to write to anybody I like to, but gosh! writing
in this weather is hard work. Fremantle is a ghastly hole.
We spent most of the time here discussing whether we would
go to Perth or not. As a preliminary we ambled up to the
Fremantle gaol & inspected the exterior of that; & then with the
full intention of going to Perth we caught a tram to circle
page 3 round to the nearest railway station, the railway-bridge over the
river having busted. But by the time we had gone as far as
the tram went & found that we had gone too far & argued a
good deal more & found the railway station we decided it
was too late to go. It's a fifty minutes' train journey. And
then we bought some chocolate & peanuts & a Perth evening
paper & decided that a town that could produce such a paper
wasn't worth going to anyhow. So we ate peanuts all along
the road to a tram junction & caught a tram on spec to its
terminus — & low & behold! it landed us on the uttermost out-
of the suburbs of the place, practically in the country
in some scraggly bush where we disembarked & picked
wild flowers & ate a few more peanuts. And then on the
way back the sunset gave even that despondent place with
its dirty river a sort of beauty. So we thought we had
profited by its existence all we reasonably could; & we'd
only spent about 1/6 each (party consisted of [unclear: the Great] the three
Australians & me). We were only there four hours in all — 3 to 7.
The glory of the place appears to be the gaol. They had an execution
there quite recently; & one of the ballads I bought on the Domain
at Sydney was descriptive of this melancholy occasion.

Wednesday 8/9/26 9.45am. We can see a ship and very faintly
land, & I am getting really excited for the first time. It is a
pleasant sensation to be crossing part of the earth that has really
some history behind it & not just a few twopenny. ha'penny scraps
& tenth-rate politics. This reminds me I am thinking I may
change my work when I get to England & consult the birds in
charge for to something in political theory; however we'll see, — the
NZ Coy still may be the handiest subject to work on.

When we left Fremantle we proceeded to elect a sports
committee & make our lives miserable. It seems to be the accept-
idea that you can't do anything or enjoy anything on board
unless you have organised sports & screw a whacking big
page 4 subscription out of everyone to pay for prizes and a band for the very
small minority to dance to. £1 they charged men, 15/- women,
½ price to Colombo, so I entered for pretty well everything to get
my money's worth. Won most of my first rounds too, but got
wiped out later on. The best game is quoit-tennis, which you
play with a net & a single quoit, singles or doubles, scoring
the same as in tennis. This would be a good game to ring
up at home down on the lawn. Ring quoits isn't bad, either
some birds do wonders at it s. But after quoit-tennis cricket
is the best; we have nets rigged up from four o'clock in the after-
, & I am developing quite a pretty talent as a bowler,
I invariably get Whinfield, the 3rd off, out — I think when
I'm bowling him he gets an inferiority complex. They have
a bath about 15 ft by 10 rigged up in the back-deck now, too;
so that after playing you can go for a wallow — not much
good trying to swim as four strokes gets you there & back; & if
you get about six people in it there isn't much room for the
water. Still it's about the best thing to do on board to work
up a sweat for a couple of hours & then hop into the bath. It
gives you an appetite too — my word! you do eat on board. It
gives a man a unique opportunity to get experience with food, the
meaning of culinary French, & so on; & the combinations you can
work out are astonishing. Potege à la Russe, [unclear: Samoan], sauce
[unclear: Tartare,] Roast Turkey, ice-cream & coffee — there's one sample.
We are experimenting a bit with liqueurs, too; each bloke shouts
all round, @ 6d a head, now & again. Crème de menthe &
Benedictine we have tried so far, the first sickly pepper-
stuff but the Benedictine was good. Don't tell
Bobby Stout.

The funniest thing about this sports committee is what
I have noticed before — that sporting leaders find them most
comfortable rendezvous & sympathetic environment the bar.
The president a dissipated cove called Moss, who seems to
page 5 experience considerable difficulty in keeping his trousers up, announced
at the first meeting that their object must be to prevent any of
the passengers from acculmulating mould. His own method ap-
is to wash it off internally — he was the one man
on board bar Ld Curzon who took no part whatsoever
in the sports (except to make allegedly humorous announce-
). But his brightest remark to was so full of humour
that we nearly choked, that is, those of us who hadn't swooned.
"There are a number of young men on board" he said
to someone "who are very fortunate to be able to rub up
against men of the world & so broaden their minds. I refer to
the students" If you could only see some of the men
he refers too! I have seen them. And my oath!
The secretary is the one genuine example of the genus
moron we have on board; one or two of the others are pretty
batty, but they're John Stuart Mills to him. However I'm
a v getting fed up with commenting on this type. The
treasurer is a cheerful contrast, a bloke from Melbourne,
just married, going to London off his own bat to do chemistry
& we shoved on Duncan & Henning as a method of paying
off scores. The girls on the committee are about the silliest
asses on the boat; those off it are quite decent some of
them, a darn sight better than the average of the men.
Apart from sports they think up batty things like guessing
the names of towns, head-dress competitions, a very feeble
mock trial etc. I got a certain amount of fun out of the
head-dress affair; I made a splendiferous general's hat out of
the newspaper I bought at Fremantle & three diffe rrent colours of
crepe paper for gold braid & plumes. But you get a darn sight
more fun out of doing what you like than out of these organised
amusements, if you can call them such. I play the piano now
& again, but the flash mob generally have it in hand, with
page 6 gems of concerted melody like "Where is my baby tonight?" One
of them, a girl called Berry with who has a mother with an expansive
bosom, a mission to manage the ship, & a talent for "kindly
consenting" to do things, & also the silliest giggle I have heard in
my life, has some jolly good songs though, Purcell, W.H. Hadow,
& 18th Century French, & I am hoping her to get her to sing
them some time. In fact she has promised to do so, but
points out that with all the business that she has to get through it is
hard to find time. Going to England to be married, I believe.
Brave man.

The brightest thing that we have in the way of entertain-
is the pictures — one of the largest cinema-theatres
in the Indian Ocean. We have had two lots since Fre-
, a primitive Harold Lloyd, fashion parades, Felix
the Cat
, a comic dog of the same type, St. Paul's Cathedral,
natural history of bees, & a real dinkum thrill in the way of
a serial, The Fortieth Door. It would take all day to elucidate
the plot; the hero is a young Yank archaeologist in Egypt,
scholar, sportsman, & gentleman, who spends most of his time
however combatting the forces of evil. He is half-killed at
the end of every reel, but gets up & does the most incredible
feats of nerve & superhuman strength at the beginning of the
next. Delving for an explanation I could only find it in
the surmise that being a Yank with the above-mentioned
attributes, his strength is of the strength of ten because his
heart is pure. Attempted assassinations, sudden dark vengeance,
patent trapdoors in gloomy dungeon floors, asphyxiating prison-
cells, Egyptian generals with hatchet-faces & secret [unclear: seraphines], heroine
fairer than the skies, supposed ½ French ½ Egyptian but mani-
Yank of the baby doll type — my word! a man feels
limp as rag at the end of each reel. After which we
press the button in the smoking-room & call in a lordly manner
for a lemon-squash. They throw in sandwiches, so it is a
page 7 cheap supper at 6d a head. I must say, to recur to the food
question, that we get fed very well, & that there isn't much need
to bring anything extra in the first — you simply can't eat it.
Thus I have still a good half of Auntie's biscuits left, & some
lemons I bought in Melbourne. We get grapefruit & some
other fruit every morning, & can have it to finish off with
at other meals; & ice-cream now that it is hot at 11 every morning.
The trouble is to get cold water except at meal times; & we can
have iced tea or coffee then if we like. But it's not much good.
Iced soup is another thing I've never struck before. In con-
to this palatial diet & service I believe the third class
gets it pretty rough. I went through their dining-saloon the other
day to get to the baggage room; & Lor' bless you, a delicately-
nurtured bloke like me recoiled. It is going to come with
a bit of a crash to bach on scholarship-money after this.
However, you can see that you needn't worry after the boy's
health yet awhile.

The third are a very mixed lot, Dagos, Turks, h Hindus,
plain Australians, & one bird whose language nobody knows.
An Italian walked on at Fremantle in an aimless sort of
way & shot himself two nights afterwards; & two or three
nights ago another (a turk I think this time) hopped overboard
& was just grabbed by the leg as he disappeared. The officers
say they get a suicide every voyage more or less. It certainly
seems a waste to shoot yourself when the whole Indian Ocean
is just over the side. There is also a German family going
home to the Fatherland for a holiday — Herr & Frau & 16 chil-
page 8 dren
all from Brisbane, where they have left two more kids
to look after the house. This is heroic work. The only thing
is that the Disarmament Commission may keep them out lest
the German army get too big.

We can see land stretched out all along the starboard
side of the ship now — thank heaven for some hills. I never
saw a more god forsaken place than Australia in this res-
. I see it is 11 — I must break of for five minutes & go &
collect my ice-cream or I shall be melting all over the page.

I had two ice-creams, & now we can see the beach & a long line
line of bush behind it, & the hills are [unclear: stunner].

I forgot to tell you about the cricket-match, officers v ladies
which the former arranged to let the letter win by 17 runs to 11, the
officers further appearing in fancy dress, batting left-handed & using only
one hand to field with. They are past-masters in the art of fancy-
dress — a few of them would be the making of the capping procession.
Our little Whinfield was about the funniest & also the vulgarest of the
bunch, leading Mrs Berry to reiterate in tones of distress — 'I don't like
that man — I think he's horrible!' However apparently no harm came
to [unclear: hurt] her little daughter who sat & giggled away ad nauseum as
per usual. Whn somehow managed to get a co weird collection of
bunions on his legs & turned his toes in, wore a bowler hat & a
white dinner jacket & nothing much else but a bathing suit so far
as I could see, except long stockings, which left a gap before the
bathing dress started. The others were also suitably attired. By gum!
it was about the best cricket-match I've ever seen.

I [unclear: ve] haven't read much — Davies' [unclear: hang] book & some of Hardy's poems
that's about all. So I can't give you any intellectual discussion. I [unclear: 've]
will now conclude — the Orsava will pick this up in two or three days, I
think & you will get it about the time I advance to the conquest of London

with love to all & sundry I am etc