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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Mother, 18 September 1926

page 1

   Dear Mummy

   Well, to continue; though it is a hard
job doing so in this weather, & just after dinner too. We are
passing some country now I shouldn't like to do much tramping
in — hills of bare rock, gravel & shingle-slides, sandhills &
sand, hills razor hacked not a blade of grass or green any-
. On my left Egypt; on my right Palestine. Well, if
anybody promised it to me I wouldn't say thank you. And the
weather since we left Colombo has been such that about the
only thing to do between 10 am. & 4 pm. has been to look for a
breeze & go to sleep. An old man in the 3rd went west a
a couple of nights ago; but he had p been pretty feeble since
he came on board the ship, & ill for ten days or so; so perhaps
that couldn't be helped. But they must get it in the neck in
the 3rd with six in a cabin and no fans. The only way
I could go to sleep two nights was to chuck all the
clothes off the bunk & lie down stark naked. That
with a window opening on the sea & a fan going
full tilt; & I lost more juice in the last week than
in any year before. It's all right for the Sydney blokes —
they think it's just nice & warm; & I dont mind it if I
don't have to do anything; but otherwise, gimme something
colder. Dressing for dinner is just like turning on taps all
over your body; playing cricket you look as if you'd
been under a waterfall. But we've had a breeze ever
page 2 since we got into the Red Sea, & compared to some of the
days that have gone before, today is mild. And the ice-cream
every morning at 11 is very refreshing. Since we left Colom-
nothing much has happened, the weather being such. A new
round of games has been instituted in which I was
wiped out in the first round in most cases, though I still
survive into the third in bucket quoits. But cricket & quoit-
are the only games really worth playing. At the same
time, I may say that I am nobly living up to the intellect-
gifts of my forbears, winning the gent's prize in a book-
title guessing competition the other night, though no pize has
come my way yet. But they are handing out things on Monday
night, at a fancy dress dance, so I may get a bargain tin
of cigarettes, bought cheap at Suez, which we reach tonight
about 10. We are going to the dance, or anyhow dressing up,
either as the Klu Klux Klan or the Kelly Gang. Whinfield has
promised to let us have a few revolvers & we are going to
look for a few bombs & crackers in Suez. So the indica-
are that we shall make a very resounding success.
We have had a good few more arguments too, but have
just about given up this Miss Rowe as a dud; she may
be beaming in classics, bit I never knew anyone take less
interest in anything important in the world around her.
Apparently she is an earnest Christian, goes to church every
Sunday on board, & rather embarrassed another girl on board
who was dressing for dinner by carrying on an earnest
discussion on prayer with her bloke underneath the windows
page 3 After which she had to decide whether it would be right
to go to the pictures that night, being Sunday: However she
finally went, reckoning that the Lord wouldn't mind, I suppose,
as the interest in the Fortieth Door was so intense (at
the present moment the sub-heroine is held in the arms of
a greasy Egyptian, while the villian is advancing a
Sa broad & shiny snickersnee towards her throat; other side of
door two Yank heroes hammering away in heroic fervour —
to be continued in [unclear: these] theatre next week; great stuff); We
managed to start her off one night by scoffing at the classics,
but even then I could put a much better case for her than
she usually does herself. A very distressing case for a 3 years
scholarship at Oxford. You needn't have any pity for the
girl; she isn't afraid of us, but quite rude sometimes. She
is a bit mixed as to our characters though, especially mine;
as she has to reconcile the vehemence of my controversial meth-
with the sweetly chaste character of my verse, some of
which McGrath showed her. You may think I am
taking up a lot of space with her, but she has been a
great worry to us all — it's not right that a modern intell-
girl, a University leader apparently, should be like this.
But Christianity seems to do for them all. The Australian
lads on the contrary get more & more interesting, or a
least McGrath & Duncan do. I swapped theses with Duncan;
he did a good one on progress involving a terrific amount
of graft, & knows a whole of a lot about social problems,
also has a sense of humour, which very few girls seem
page 4 to have, I don't know what. He is mad on Bertrand Russell
at present. Henning says one day "who is this Bertrand
, anyhow?" Duncan looks at him wonderingly
for a moment & then burst out "Good God! have you
ever heard of Jesus Christ?" He is going to London, too,
which is cheerful. But in another way McGrath is
the most interesting of the three; I think I told you about
his woodcuts & so on — he is going to give me some of the
best of them, & has also offered to do some for my poetry-
book when it is published; which offer I grabbed with alac-
. He is pretty keen on my verse & went to the touble
of copying some of it out for himself; likewise Duncan.
So you see that even I am creating my little sensation.
Did I mention a bird called Strong & his wife, going home to
do chemistry at London; the wife is an artist or at least was
an art- teacher of sorts; so what with the lads I know at
Home now, & this crowd, we are anticipating having some
pretty jovial gatherings later on. And by gum! it's not
so long to go now; 12 more days & I'll be in London.
Well, I'll be glad to get a few letters from home anyhow.

Colombo was a great place, & I could do with a
month or so, if not six, in Ceylon. But the gentle Cinga-
can spell a tourist about as soon as he leaves Freeman
, I think. Talk of mobbing! My sense of time & the
calendar has gone to pot [gap — reason: unclear] for the last three weeks,
but if you look at the postmark on my last letter you
will see when we I was at Colombo. We got to got into
page 5 the harbour by about 3, & then had to mess around getting
passports visaed & inspected & so on, until so that we didn't get on
shore till about 4. And then the mobbing started. But gee!
the romantic things we saw first: palm trees, tropical beaches,
catamarans, big native sailing-ships — & Lord: I didn't tell
you about my first flying-fish, days before. It was like
what the poet Wordsworth says about his when he beholds the rain-
, his heart leaps up, so was it when he was a boy, so
is it now he is a man, you know the passage. That was me
when I first saw a flying-fish skim the watery blue. But
I have seen shoals of them since dashing hither & thither all
over the place; unexpectedly small they are — not bigger than
a sardine some of them. But to get back to Colombo.

We were in a sort of party which got itself formed I don't
quite know how; McG., D., H, & me, & cove with a loud hearty
voice, one Gerard from S. Aus., & two beautiful specimans of the
Conquering Race, matter of fact, humourless, with a wholesome
comtempt for & amusement at niggers, Marison & Fowler. Well,
Gerard steered us all into some tourist agency, Pickfords by
name, & demanded a car to seat us all & a driver with facts at
his fingers' ends to take us to Mount Lavinia (which is a sea-
side place & a hotel, not a mountain at all), the Cinnamon
& other celebrated beauty spots of Ceylon (see Cook's
pamphlets). Well, the trip was worth going, even with
that crowd. I never saw a place with such beautiful
surroundings, such wonderful streets & avenues — trees,
millions of them, lawn, gardens, parks. We passed down
page 6 a great avenue with wonderful bungalows on each side —
all belonging to the English civil service. By gosh, no
wonder the Conquering Race doesn't want to leave. I should-
if I had a bungalow & grounds like that. But some
belonging to the rich natives are beautiful buildings too; there
was practically nothing really ugly or merely pretentious
that we saw. Groves of palms & coconut trees that
must have covered hundreds of acres. And I never saw
a more cheerful lot than the natives. We passed through
a big native quarter on the way to Mt Lavinia, Havelock Town,
when all the population was coming home from work.
Talk of colour! And the Buddhist priests in yellow stuck out
above the lot of it. Shop & houses we saw, the shops all open
& most of the houses; every possible thing for sale, rope &
lollies & coconuts & vegetables; even one or two [unclear: butchers]. We
saw one or two pretty primitive huts though; but but even they
had a certain beauty from their surroundings. Ca It was a
revelation as compared with the exterior of any NZ or Aus-
town. We got to Mt Lavinia in time to see the
sun set & the surf break on the beach framed in palms,
& to drink a lemon squash & discuss the price of postcards
& genuine tortoise-shell cigarette cases, very cheap, & then drove
back in the dark, the stars coming out & a not un-
tropical smell all around us; the fires aglow
in the Havelock Town houses & our lights showing up
bare brown bodies as we glided along the road (Hummer
roads) By gum! some of these natives have fine bodies,
page 7 too; but others are pretty weak — the funny thing is that the
weakest-looking seem to be the rickshaw men.

I forgot to tell you of one or two things on the way out.
We visited a Buddhist Temple, set in beautiful grounds, but a
very debased sort of thing inside. The walls all covered with
paintings of the life of Buddha (the dead spit of the Xian
legends too); but all done in a bastard European style —
European dress mostly, European faces, the furniture a
sort of debased & crude Gothic — the most extraordinary sight.
But the grounds were all that could be wished for, with a novice
about seven years old, I should say, in his yellow robes, &
a lad to give us each some sort of sweel sweet-smelling
sacred flower as we departed. And to run alongside the car
make hideous noises until we all tipped him in return.
My word, the insatiable appetite of these birds for tips
beats the band; however you can't blame them, it's the
tourists wot's done it; & it is a melancholy reflection to
think that I have descended to the status of a tourist. Then
when the car stopped so that Gerard could have his photo
taken in a rickshaw, a native conjuror seized the oppor-
to exploit the exploitable & proceeded to do so with
the most extraordinary English patter. He had a tired-
looking Cob cobra in a basket & a peculiar sort of combined
mouth-organ & flute on which he played to it; & a dilapid-
a rag-doll which went by the name of Charlie Chap-
& he positively guaranteed to make a mango-tree grow, immed-
& conclusively, from seed to flower to fruit, that
page 8 very minute or shortly after. So we said all right & off he
went. But he started a lot of other tricks first, to work us up
to the proper pitch of excitement, which annoyed the Conquering
Race, who told him to get on with his mango & not play the
fool. Notwithstanding which he insisted on opening the door of the case & removing an egg from
Gerard's trousers, & sticking it on to his ear & his nose, & playing
arounds with cups & balls; all of which properly impressed
the more naive of us. So at last the sarcasm & impatience of
the conquering race prevailing, he announced he would proceed
to the unique affair of growing the mango-tree, first patting the
tired-looking cobra benevolently on the head & giving another brief
fantasia on his instrument. After which he proceeded to hold
out the hat,as an indispensable preliminary. The Conquering
Race was exceedingly annoyed at this, & stated emphatically that
they knew that this was what it would come to; but we
all forked out; but old Merlin the Magician wasn't satisfied
until he had a real dinkum rupee before him; sixpences
& shillings were as nothing in his eye without a rupee. All
right says the C.R., I knew he was a swindler & a scound-
; we can't afford to waste any more time here; come
on driver, let her go; & before the more romantic of
us could loosen up off dashed the car leaving Menkin
stil pleading in a very ecstasy of longing for a rupee.
I was very much annoyed at this, & it would probably
have been a memory of disappointment all through my life
had we not run into another conjuror next morning; who
made a mango-tree grow rapidly & satisfactorily for the
page 9 sum of two bob. And to prove that all was fair & above-
board, no deception & everything strictly regular, he gave
us a leaf each. Well, when we got to Mt Lavinia McG.
& I had a short consultation & decided to form a party of
revolt & secession immediately after dinner, which we had
at a palatial place by the name of the Grand Oriental
at the cost of 5 rupees, inclusive, each. We gave the
other crowd the slip & with Henning walked out of the
place plumb into the arms of a bird who wanted to sell McG.
a silk suit & had tracked him to the hotel & lain in wait
outside ever since. Luckily he turned out to be from a place
where McG. had been recommended to go for some silk
things to send home, & we all trailed along there with
him. Just as we got there another bargainer leapt out of the shop
next door, seeing my pipe, & preceeded to sell me 100 of Keith-
3 bob cigars. I would have bought some more too but for
the difficulty of smuggling them into England with my
luggage bulging as it is now. Then I escaped into Hindan-
where we stayed till midnight, having the most gor-
time playing around with silks & shawls & kimonos
& ladies' pyjamas; finally the bloke evidently judging McG
was a man of experience started bringing out garments
of even more intimate intention; but we managed to
stifle a blush & intimated politely but firmly that
we weren't buying lingerie on that occassion. When we
seemed to flag a bit he urged us to have a cool drink &
produced bottled beer for three — it went down well, too. page 10 Don't tell Bobby Stout this, as I told him I would keep
off the drink. The proprietor evidently thought we were
millionaires; for he looked us in the face with a
childlike confidence towards the end of the night & said
he expected we would buy at least £50 worth. By
gum! I should have liked to set you & your sisters or a
few of the girls I know loose in the middle of that
stuff; some of the kimonos were the loveliest things
on earth; Japanese, mostly, hand-printed & embroidered.
Hell, if I'd been a millionaire I would have sent you
a hundred or so quids' worth & a cheque to pay the NZ
duty on it. I'll bet Kirk's would kid themselves if they
could have get some of this stuff out. And do their customer
in for about 500% profit, too, I bet. But you could put
the loveliest thing in the most beautiful silk, for £4 or £5.
I had great difficulty in restraining myself from plunging
hopelessly; & even from buying a beautiful little silver
tray or plate engraved & chased in the most complicated
way, for 15/-. But I didn't. In the end the proprietor gave
the three of is, in recognition of our noble efforts to keep
the flag of commerce flying, a little brass bowl buckshee;
which was very nice for Henning who had merely stood
by sangui doing nothing, not even engaging in financial
argument. Then we left the shop & were immediately
engaged & nearly torn limb from limb by rival rick-
men who wanted to take us to the Y.W.C.A. where
a lady was staying from the boat who was meeting
page 11 her husband & going back to Australia & was to take McG's
purchases back for him. Well, a wonderful ride it was,
too, in the night, though of course the lady was in bed &
asleep; & then on our way back to the jetty we ran into
the tail end of a Mohammedan wedding procession & followed
that up. Noise — cymbals, bagpipe, different kinds of drums,
pipes; flares & incense; great poles with weird red
decorations on them, & a crowd of all sorts of conditions;
my word, we did think we were in luck. Then our man
wanted to drop us for supper at an unsavoury looking
place in the native quarter; but having a pretty [gap — reason: unclear]
shrewd idea what it was we declined & thinking of
our pocket books we declined with thanks. Then back
to the ship per rowing boat, engaging the owners thereof
to call for us at 5 the in the morning to take us back.
The ship was supposed to leave at 10 & we didn't want to
waste any time. It was like a furnace on board, but
we took off half our clothes & sat in the lounge & read
or hung over the side & looked at the coaling & loading
operations — all coolie labour, at 2/- per man per night.
There was a lull in the operations & there the poor devils
were, asleep all over the place, on the lighters or in a [unclear: corner]
of the deck. Our boatmen were so much impressed
with our importance or wealth that they turned up at 4am
& had to go to sleep for an hour; & when then we had a
wonderful crossing of the harbour to the shore; a
perfectly quiet night, smooth water, stars very thick, a
page 12 great black cloud over the town; we passed under the sterns of
all sorts of big ships; & just as we got to the jetty the
morning dawned. Thrills! my word; Colombo was the
first place at which I felt really excited since leaving
home. Then down to the Y.W.C.A. again, a place set in the
most beautiful grounds; the streets full of more sleeping
Cingalese, all over the place, on the stone pavement, any-
, in just their ordinary [unclear: caps] & later of big wagons
drawn by the most diminutive oxen; everything to delight
the heart of a tourist; women carrying loads on their heads;
bright-coloured clothes; psu the most primitive customs bang
next to the most up to date ones. Back again to breakfast at
the Y.M.C.A on eggs fried in the most chaotic haphazard way
I have ever seen & papaw; & then around the town on foot
or per rickshaws to the native markets (as the departure of
the ship kept being put off — it didn't go finally till nearly
4 in the afternoon) continually being rushed by diamond mer-
or bead-merchants or beggars or small boys singing
Tipperary in a way peculiarly their own or merchants — with
shops just round the corner with the most wonderful
bargains in elephants or gold rings. All of which we
managed to shake off at not much cost to ourselves.

Well, I could tell you a good deal more if I weren't
getting a paralyzed hand & the mail bag didn't close in
25 minutes. But what's the good? It's just tourist
rhapsodising which I heartily despise; & any one thing
would do for an article or a poem — I could easily
page 13 do my 1000 words on the conjuror for example, & perhaps
get a quid for it, & it might be worth reading then —
& indeed perhaps I shall when I get to a more
temperate climate. And valuable & unique as
my experiences & impressions must be, no doubt
you have read it all before. But by cripes! it's
great to go through it all yourself.

Colombo wasn't the only thrill. My first
night of Africa at Cape Guardafui had me well
worked up, & God! these seas are simply liquid
history. And think of it — Egypt on one side, Pales-
on the other! And the most wonderful
night last night I have seen since some of our old
tramping nights. What s it's going to be like settling
down to hard graft after this in London I don't
know. However we shall see.

Well, give my love to everybody. Will you ring
up Mrs Hooper & give her my special respects; I
shall write to her as soon as I can — you might
in the meanwhile show her these letters. Also same
message to [unclear: Challis].

You should see the Red Sea & Arabian

   Take care of yourself
   With love from