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Letter from John Cawte Beaglehole to his Father, 26 July 1929

page 1

My dear Father,

I start my last letter from
England. Let me answer yours however, before
getting on to that business. — I can’t understand
how that letter of mine missed the N. Z. mail —
it was posted as usual, at the usual time & pillar-
box, so far as I remember; no, I believe it was
posted on a Thursday, instead of a Friday, & the
Australian mail closes on Thursday, & it may have
got in there by mistake. (Something seems to
have gone wrong with my hand — it seems unnatural
to write.) Well, as I said, I am glad you are
out of Shanland’s for a while — what prospects of jobs
there are for both of us, I suppose we shall be able to
discuss in person in a couple of months. — The
little bits about Mummy I was glad to have, of course;
the bit of verse does express some of the essence of her, I
think; & who less needed to copy it out? Yes, you
know I realise what you were to each other — what
you are to each each other, perhaps it might be right
to say. I don’t know whether you realise how mag-
your letters have been lately; but I should
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like you to know, briefly, that I feel very proud of
them, & proud to be your son.

It certainly was a shock to hear about poor old
Archie Douglas. If I can manage it, I shall write a
note to his mother — she seems to have had pretty hard
luck, from all I hear. He was a decent chap, was
Archie, though perhaps not greatly abounding in grey matter.
However you don’t generally like a bloke for grey matter,
though you may dislike him for lack of it; & I must
say that Whitcombe’s will be the emptier. Hard lines on
a young bloke.

As for the Realist, it’s not bad, but a whale
of a lot for your money — it adds infinitely to the task
of a month’s reading. I shall be bringing a copy out
with me when I come if I can cram it in. — Elsie
has been through St. Austell once or twice; it seems to
one of the less picturesque parts of Cornwall, on the
borders of the mining country — It seems funny that
I came over with the intention of going to Cornwall in
my first few months, & am going away without
having been near it. If I had been there, & known, I
might have fossicked in the parish registers, or
whatever one does in these cases, & tried to track down
a few more Beagleholes. No one over here that I’ve
met seems to have heard of the name, any more
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than in N. Z. I always have to spell it in shops when
things are sent. — I’m glad you have been keeping
my letters to yourself — I can’t write for the generality
these days. I got Maie Ross’s letter all right; & you
might thank Auntie Win for hers, by the last mail. I was
glad to get it as usual.

About the £50 you offered: you have not had
the suggested cable for this reason — I felt I really
could not take it, & so did Elsie. I understand you
& you understand me, as you say. Well, I think I am
so tremendously in your debt already that I just
couldn’t take this, & as I am coming back so soon, there
isn’t the necessity. I do appreciate your feelings in the
matter, & if it was a life & death matter I would accept;
but as things are, I feel I just can’t. However, I won’t
worry you with thanks, the understanding being what it
is — If you can still put me up in the old room at
Hopper Street — or another one if Auntie Win is dug in
on the Hindenburg line there — th until I can look
around in N. Z., w that’ll do for a start.

Thanks for the cuttings. [unclear: Tayler] certainly seems
to be the bloke to make things hum, — or sing — in N. Z.

Well, this is the position in regard to me
at present. I am due to leave next Saturday, to-
week, in the Osterley, which gets to Sydney
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on Sept 10 or 12 — no doubt you will be able to get full
details of her movements in Wellington. I haven’t heard
anything about this damned Singapore job yet. I spent
an afternoon at the Colonial Office interviewing different
people about it — one of whom was appallingly deaf —
& the upshot was that in spite of politeness & cigar-
& handshaking, they couldn’t tell me anything
except that the job wouldn’t be fixed up before I left. —
chiefly, I gather, because some applicants haven’t sent in
all their papers, & the C.O. is apparently prepared to
wait indefinitely for them. I am regarded as “obvious-
” a very strong candidate, but “the Secretary of State
is not prepared to” &c &c the usual bunk. However
if I leave that won’t prejudice my chance. If I get
the job they will haul me off the boat at Colombo
or Sydney or somewhere by cable. If I have to leave
at Colombo, I suppose I shall have to; if I get as far
as Sydney I shall get over to Wgton to see you first by
hook or crook. However I look at it the situation is
damnably unsatisfactory; if I do go to Singapore
I want to fix up here about books & all sorts of
things. The asses advertised in the first place
about two months ago, & said that applications must
be immediate. Immediate I suppose being an in-
extensible term. If there [sic: they] were to decide
page 5
within the next fortnight I might hang on here here &
join the ship at Toulon if I wasn’t picked; but ap-
they can’t even hazard that prophecy. They
are all very polite & all very maddening. One bloke
suggested that I should change my passage & go via
Singapore, just in case I was chosen. Well, everything’s
in a mess. Elsie’s father has forked out £100 which
we could quite well spend here — but not on things to
take to Singapore; so that about all we can do is to
mark time & pack & swear. Having to be in London
off & on all this time has bust up all our plans
for travelling around too, or most of them. No
Paris, no Oxford, & now it looks like no York-

Packing is a devil of a business. I suppose one
can’t pull up three years roots without flushing at
the forehead; but I haven’t been able to get a good
long stretch at it, what with people to see & so on, & am
just about maddened. I have got three cases full of
books & another in process of being packed — waterproof
paper, ribbed cardboard & all complete. It may
seem a lot, but it goes to my heart to think of the
opportunities I’m leaving. It of course isn’t always
possible for two people to agree on what to buy at
the last minute, which adds to the brain-stress on
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my part. There are a good many pictures I would
like to bring out, but it seems as if there is going
to be nothing doing with most of them. I think I
have got some you will like though. Uncle George
gave me one of his best water-colours last night, which
was very decent of him, as I suppose I shall get the
portrait-sketch he has painted of me as well — or
perhaps I am wrong in surmising this. Those who
have seen it say it is very like. I was out there all
yesterday getting the thing finished, & incidentally shelling
peas & wasting time I could badly spare for the
benefit of my blessed aunt. The amount of food of
the first quality she turns on too is at first appalling,
& then deadening. Ern & Duncan came out in the
evening, & Duncan bought a water-colour for me to
take to his mother, so the show paid for expenses &
a bit more. Campbell turned on some sort of fare-
business last Friday night, too, with asparagus
& ice-cream — he to America, I to N. Z. conjecturally,
so that was all very nice.

Elsie & I spent half the last week-end (Friday
to Tuesday in England) at Salisbury, a place I have been
wanting to go to for a long while, & a very charming
place. The cathedral from the outside is one of the
most perfect places I have seen — all of a style, & graceful
page 7
& slender all thro over. The close is perfect, a great ex-
of lawn, surrounded by beautiful houses 17th century
or earlier to Georgian, the calmness & peace & beauty of
it made me think of Mummy & still does — these places
reflect her spirit so exactly; & she would have loved to
sit on the grass under a tree & read or gaze at the cathedral
& knit. You never saw anything so beautiful as some of the
little houses. We walked around the place a good deal
on Sunday, when we arrived there; on Monday we went
by bus to Bournemouth, a huge & ugly place, which I was
glad to see however, as a typical popular English watering-
place — not to see Bournemouth, but to call on an
aunt of Elsie’s in the outskirts, whom it was thought fit
to tell — a deaf but spirited old party. While we were
there we had a bathe, & took the tram ½ hour further
on to see Christchurch Priory, another interesting & beauti-
place. On Monday Tuesday morning we bus-ed
& walked to Stonehenge (not in a char-a-banc) a
place which might be exceedingly impressive but for
the barbed-wire fence & the ticket-office & the aero-
& refreshment bungalow. Doubtless you have
read Squire’s impassioned harangues in the Observer.
He doesn’t exaggerate. Private property in land is
still paramount in England. A civilised people would
settle the whole business in [unclear: two] twos. The country
page 8
round about was very beautiful, with corn & poppies
& wild-flowers, & different coloured slopes stretching
away into the distance. Certainly you can’t appreciate
England until you have seen the country in all
seasons. A summer like this is marvellous. I like
Wiltshire & Hampshire. We knocked round the town
a bit more in the afternoon & then came back, much
against our inclination. The week-end before
we were at Cambridge with the usual crowd, the men
at Clare again — a bit of bathing (once involuntary on
my part, Ern leaping suddenly on to a punt on which
I was standing tentatively balancing a pole), a bit of
roaming round, a good deal of chat & so forth — a
very good week-end, also reluctantly left. We hoped
to go to York this week-end, but things have accumulated
& it now looks unlikely. I would like to go to Oxford
again, but alas! There is a show on to-night, & things
keep piling up. We went to a Bill of Divorcement the
other night — very good. No other plays or concerts, &
I have missed the Russian ballet. The days are just swoop-

Adelaide Macdonald, Helen Allen, & de Kiewiet
have presented me with a set of PhD robes. It is very
decent of them; but why oh why! didn’t they spend
the vast sum necessary in books? However perhaps
page 9
if I appear at a W’gton capping in these, Aunties will be
much gratified.

Mummy said she wanted to see me in a red gown —
so I can’t feel much enthusiasm for the things now.
I have a lot of things I wanted to show her. I know
you will like to see them still.

I hope Auntie won’t get too excited over my
return — if it is a return. I should like to slip in

Well, this is a shorter letter than usual, but
I won’t pad it out with moral reflections of leaving
Brunswick Square. It’s been a good place to me
on the whole, & has witnessed some stirring scenes,
so the best I can do is to dip my lid & wink
so pretendingly. It looks as if Ben may still hang
on for a bit — round about the same address. Good
luck to the place — it has a good deal of my heart.
I’m sorry to leave England.

But I will be glad to see you.

with love from your son


You will already have had cables (a) to say I
am leaving (b) if I get the Singapore job. I will
have any further letters from you sent on to me,
wherever I am.