Title: Robley — Soldier with a Pencil

Author: L. W. Melvin

Publication details: Tauranga Historical Society, 1957

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Ronald Melvin

Part of: The Moko Texts Collection

This text is the subject of: National Library of New Zealand Catalogue

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Robley — Soldier with a Pencil


page 9


Among the several writers who have drawn on the authentic atmosphere of Robley's sketches to illustrate their work, is Johannes Andersen. Writing in Maori Music of the absence amongst the ancient Maoris of the drum beaten on a stretched membrane, he says:

"The Maori substitute was his own body and the earth he stood on, making the rhythm of his dances by striking his breast or thighs with his hands, or one arm with the hand of the other, and the earth with his feet; and all witnesses even of the degenerate form of the wild war-dance, know the thrilling effect of the simultaneous blow or stamp of a rhythmically-moving body of men, especially when blow or stamp is accompanied by deep sigh, or gasp, or harsh utterance, enforced through the eye with appropriate expressive glare and distortion of features, and tongue abnormally protruded. Several attempts have been made to catch the impression in a sketch ... the best is that where Robley has caught a single warrior in . . . position. This warrior is more appropriately unclothed, so that his tattooing is well revealed, and his weapon is a true Maori weapon — a tewhatewha, with its ornamented tuft of feathers."

Concerning that particular sketch, Robley has left a fragmentary note that he was inspired to make it after seeing a memorable Arawa war-dance (probably at either Maketu or Matata).

That particular sketch too, leads us to an observation of Robley's methods. For on another occasion he has drawn the same figure in an identical off-the-ground leap but has armed him with a shot-gun (Moko p32). Yet again he has used this second figure, with minor alterations, against the background of an old-time pa entrance (Maketu), resulting in the illustration facing p8 in Gilbert Mair's Reminiscences.

Some explanation of the variation in Robley's work appears necessary. In the first place, his sketches sent to the Illustrated London News were re-drawn by the engraver there, who used a certain amount of licence regarding details, noticeable when such engravings are compared with illustrations of a later period reproduced directly from Robley's sketches.

Also, upon his retirement from the army Robley capitalized more than ever on his sketch-books, in the process making more than one drawing of certain subjects, sometimes with minor variations of detail. These were faithfully executed and are not to be confused with the products of a habit developed when he was an old man, that of making rough copies which he sent to correspondents merely as tokens of goodwill: one such faces p33 in The Story of Gate Pa.10

In 1905 the New Zealand Government purchased seventy of Robley's water-colour sketches which now form the Robley Collection in the Dominion Museum, Wellington. As all his New Zealand service was done there the collection relates principally to Tauranga and is a valuable historical record of the place and of some of its Maoris of the past A note-able exception is 'Chief selling tattooed Heads.' This is purely an'imaginative effort based on his reading about the brutal conditions which existed on the coast in the 1820's arid 1830's.