Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Minstrelsy (1852). William Golder and the beginnings of a national literature in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Minstrelsy (1852). William Golder and the beginnings of a national literature in New Zealand.


The first collection of poetry by a British settler to be printed and published in New Zealand, William Golder’s The New Zealand Minstrelsy (1852), exemplifies the process of cultural appropriation and displacement which characterises colonisation. The conception of a national literature which informs Golder’s poetry is, however, a distinctive outcome of the cultural, philosophical, economic and religious elements which combine to produce Scottish cultural nationalism in the first half of the nineteenth century. The role of the poet as minstrel in creating and sustaining a democratic conception of the nation is affirmed, in this case for a new nation yet to acquire the attributes of a modern, civilised society. New Zealand is, however, not a blank surface on which the languages of Britain can be inscribed without modification, as Golder demonstrates by incorporating Maori names and local settings in his rewriting of traditional Scottish songs.

When William Golder (1810-1876) published The New Zealand Minstrelsy1 by subscription in 1852, the first volume of poetry printed and published in New Zealand, he had been living in the Hutt Valley north of Wellington for 12 years, having arrived on one of the first New Zealand Company ships, the Bengal Merchant, in 1840. It was not his first publication. Before leaving Scotland he had published in 1838 a larger volume, also by subscription, containing poems, songs and prose narratives, Recreations for Solitary Hours.2 A selection from this volume was reprinted as an Appendix to The New Zealand Minstrelsy, making the latter volume as a whole exemplify the transitional character of emigrant culture — a physical disjunction between present and past, recovery of the past through recollection, and continuity in the translation of cultural forms and practices to the new place. Like the first Australian colonial poets discussed by Michael Ackland,3 Golder saw the development of a national literature as an integral aspect of the formation of New Zealand as a modern nation. The New Zealand Minstrelsy offers a distinctive approach to satisfying this need, one deeply informed by Golder’s social and cultural origins in the Scottish Lowlands.

In their introduction to their anthology, Bards in the Wilderness. Australian Colonial Poetry to 1920, Brian Elliott and Adrian Mitchell affirm that “Poetry is one of the expressions of the community consciousness; in surveying the poetry of Australia we have kept very much in mind the community which produced it, largely a provincial community. . . . our premise is that poetry cannot be divorced from the society or the times out of which it grew.”4 In Golder’s case, the notion of community is a doubled one, including both the early establishment of settler society in the Wellington region and his continuing association at a distance with the community of his birthplace, Strathaven, and its region, the Scottish Lowlands in both their rural and their industrialising, urban aspects. Both of these communities can be described as provincial, but the relation between metropolis and province, empire and colony, is multilayered. As Michael Fry has argued, in their participation in the world-wide expansion of the British Empire, Scots carried with them their experience of internal colonisation.5 Furthermore, that experience of engagement with dominant English and European stereotypes of the Scot was productive of a cultural nationalism in Scotland which was based in Calvinist protestanism, its contribution to the subsequent and distinctive development of the Scottish Enlightenment and, as a specific aspect of that intellectual movement, in the reframing of oral traditions (both the Lowlands ballads and the Gaelic oral traditions of the clan culture of the Highlands under the bardic mantle of Ossian) as the locus of Scottish cultural difference and the foundation of Scottish national literature and culture.6 Channels of communication which occur within the framework of empire but are not conducted through the centre, described as transcolonial by Trumpener,7 are of considerable significance in making possible the sharing of kinds of knowledge, experience and cultural production which are characteristic of settler communities and their complex relations with the intellectual and aesthetic cultures of the imperial homeland.8

The period in which William Golder developed his conception of himself as a poet, the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century, was one of rapid social and cultural change in the Scottish Lowlands. These changes are marked biographically, in his occupations of agricultural labourer, weaver, primary school teacher, poet and settler. The title page of Recreations For Solitary Hours describes him as “Infant Teacher” at a school in Newton, on the outskirts of Edinburgh; one of the tales which it includes refers to an experience in Glasgow while he was training at the innovative Glasgow Normal School.9 The event which led to his decision to emigrate with his wife and young family was his wife’s conversion to Catholicism, which immediately debarred him from further advancing a career as a teacher in Scotland. His farming experience, not his capabilities as a teacher (or his sense of vocation as a poet), secured his selection for emigration by the New Zealand Company.

Given his social background and his self-achieved literacy, it might seem astonishing that such a man could propose, once in New Zealand, that he might help found a national literature. Ackland notes about Australian poets of the same period that “the struggle to found a national literature [was] an abiding local goal” and that “this was an age which demanded and expected indigenous literatures. Scotland, Italy, and Germany had all found individual tongue, with imaginative writing contributing significantly to a nascent national identity.”10 What led Golder to think that he could make such a contribution in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Minstrelsy — structure and contents

A comparison with Golder’s other volumes of poetry,11 which were published in 1854, 1867 and 1871, shows that the order of poems in each volume is not accidental; there is a consistent pattern, the poems being arranged in a sequence beginning at the poet’s present location and concluding at a remote location which can only be recollected or known imaginatively. The most common form of this pattern is that of a mental movement from the present towards the future (prospect) or the past (retrospect); the actual moment in time which brings these dimensions of experience and knowledge immediately together is the turn from the old year to the new.12 Perceiving this pattern is more complicated in The New Zealand Minstrelsy because of its inclusion of a selection from his pre-emigration volume, Recollections [sic: Recreations] for Solitary Hours, as an appendix. However, it informs the arrangement of the volume and each group of poems. The poems written since arrival in New Zealand come first, and the first poem is set in the Hutt Valley beside the Erratonga (now Hutt) River. Of the thirty three poems using a diversity of speakers and stanza forms which follow, all but four are provided with Scottish tunes and their subjects are various aspects of settler work, social relations, domestic life and Christian faith, with emigration as a dominant theme. Those without tunes include one sonnet, one epigram, a blank verse memorial to a friend who has died, and the celebratory ode written as the emigrant ship approached New Zealand. The five religious poems which are collected together at the end of the group place the preceding poems in a context which points to the future and reframes the emigrant’s journey as the Christian’s journey through life, the first poem, “The Christian’s March”, beginning with the words, “We are bound for the Kingdom of God”. The social and sociable concerns of the secular lyrics are brought within the prospect of salvation, the group concluding with “The Christian’s Joy”, a poem in which the poet instructs his soul “To sing thy Saviour’s praise” and which ends with the affirmation that “in his name salvation’s free/To all the human race.”13

By reprinting in Wellington a selection from Recollections [sic: Recreations] for Solitary Hours as an appendix, Golder literally placed his first book in the past while at the same time providing a precedent for his claim for public recognition as a poet. The poems in this group have clearly been selected and arranged to demonstrate both his poetic and political development. He also made a significant decision about what was transferable to his new place of settlement. Broadly speaking, he included poems which demonstrate the range of kinds of poem in the first publication, especially those which have to do with poetic vocation, but he seems to exclude those which are in various ways tied to specific circumstances or people associated with his life in Scotland. He retained poems on themes which remained important to him throughout his life, including love, loss, friendship, memory, the purposes of poetry, learning, and the role of Britain as the world’s leading civilised nation. The poem with which this group, and the volume, concludes — “Patriotic Breathing.—An Ode. Written at the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832” - strikes the same note as “The Christian’s Joy” in its emphasis upon freedom from tyranny, spiritual and political, as the gift of the Saviour and Britannia respectively to humanity.


The single most important sign of Golder’s self-conscious relocating of himself and his poetic work in New Zealand is the first poem in the volume, “Erratonga”. The position of this poem repeats the arrangement of Recollections [sic: Recreations] for Solitary Hours, in which another meditative poem with a local river setting, “A Morning’s Visit to Kype’s Cascade”, opens the collection. As well as marking the present place of the volume as New Zealand, in another respect “Erratonga” displaces the Scottish locality as the scene identified with Golder’s poetic work; the earlier poem is not reprinted in the appendix. This positioning identifies a complex cultural action, which might be called a mutual appropriation. Most obviously, Golder captures the New Zealand locality by incorporating a local name within a European poetic form, language and poetic conventions: the form is that of a song to be sung to the tune, “Maid of Islay”; the language is English, although the river’s name clearly is not. The conventions are the defining of a locality by the name of its river, and a river as the sympathetic and beautiful space in nature accommodating an emigrant lover’s solitary meditation.14

But there is also a reverse capture, that of the conventions, language, and form by the locality. Throughout his thirty six years in New Zealand, Golder persistently reaffirmed the foundation of his sense of identity as the scene and setting of his birthplace, Strathaven. The key features of this place of origin are the town’s history as a site of religious and political radicalism, and the topographical landmarks which define its environs, most especially its rivers. Pastoral poetry and actual behaviour intersect closely in this process of identity formation; other examples of it are given in accounts of three other Scots poets from the same region as Golder to whom he refers in his later publications. Thomas Pringle (1789-1834, an emigrant to South Africa in the 1820s), Robert Pollok (1798-1827), and James Nicholson (1822-1897, also from Strathaven) all walk extensively in the environs of their homes, having favourite and secluded places in which to meditate, either by rivers or waterfalls, or on high points which permit panoramic views over the home territory. Both Pringle and Golder as emigrant poets deliberately relocate their poetry from Scotland to the colonies by their use of local names while continuing to confirm their identities through the interiorisation of a physical locality and its repetition in poetic description and narrative.15 It is apparent that his early formation, centred on Strathaven and the part of his family which continued to live there, continued throughout his life to exercise a powerful influence over him — the typical, melancholic condition of the emigrant/exile separated from “home”. But his determination also to work to realise the future in a place so palpably not Scotland, to become a New Zealander in the process of working out what that might mean through the formation of a new nation, is signified in his placing of the New Zealand poems first in The New Zealand Minstrelsy and, following the preface in which he affirms the value of poetry in the creating of a new society and nation, by placing a Maori name as the first word the reader encounters.16 In this respect, just as Scotland is to be distinguished poetically from England through settings, place names and linguistic differences, so might New Zealand be; the new land is not wholly silent, local names immediately signifying difference of location and hence the possibility of the difference of the cultural nation as well within the larger order of the British empire.17

Another sign of this intersection of pastoral and actual settings is the naming by Golder of the three houses he built and occupied.18 The first, in a clearing in the dense bush of the Hutt Valley, he called “Sylvan Grange”. It could be that this fully pastoral name is ironic, but he has left no direct comment about it.19 The next, adopting the Maori name for the area, he called “Petoni”. The third, on a new farm which he developed on the western hills above the valley, he named “Mountain Home”. The latter has a special significance in this series because it affirms in the simplest way not only that, whatever his memory might put before him, he is now “at home” in New Zealand but that he has also left the containing space of the valley for the panoramic, visionary space above it.20 Furthermore, the house is itself a sign. In one of his early poems, “Stanzas, Extemporaneously Written On A Stormy Night, Dalserf, November 4, 1833.”, which is reprinted in the Appendix, while his family sleeps during a fierce storm, he considers the lot of all those who lack shelter on such a night:

Has ev’ry homeless wand’rer shelter found,
’Neath hospitable roof, or humbler shed?
Or has there any from th’unfriendly door,
Been spurn’d, who has not where to lay his head?

Oh Heaven! who has nature in control,
Spare! spare! oh spare! and quell the angry storm;
Oh! pity now the poor belated wretch,
The naughty niggard scorns to house from harm. . . .

I feel for those, whose fates are to endure,
The midnight hazards of the stormy waves:
Oh Heaven! shield them with thy guardian pow’r,
Them ward from wrecks, and from untimely graves.

Let Heav’n be praised! who me from such preserved,
And in His providence has kindly bless’d
Me with a home,—thus cabin’d from the storm,
Provided with a couch, on which to rest.

Such sentiments remained a constant feature of Golder’s thinking about society and the situation of the family, and are otherwise articulated in the first poem in the Appendix in the fact and figure of the lark’s nest. In contrast to David Bunn’s interpretation of the “simple settler cottage” in South Africa as “symbols of rustic retirement and class distinction [and] sites of ideological dissemination, points from which English standards of taste and gentility radiate out into the loneliness”,21 for Golder in Scotland as well as New Zealand the cottage is “home”, a place of protection from both nature and society for the family unit, in which he can reflect and write after the day’s work is done.

Poetry and the nation

In his preface to The New Zealand Minstrelsy, Golder explains why he decided to publish this volume:

in appearing again as an author, it is not, I confess, without some slight hope that this little attempt in the matter of song may tend not only to add to the literature of our Colony, thereby extracting some of the sweets which lie hid among the many asperities of colonial life; but also to endear our adopted country the more to the bosom of the bonâ fide settler; as such, in days of yore, has often induced a people to take a firmer hold of their country, by not only inspiring them with a spirit of patriotic magnanimity, but also in making them the more connected as a people in the eyes of others.

Recreations For Solitary Hours and The New Zealand Minstrelsy both refer directly to only one other writer, the Scottish poet, essayist and educator James Beattie (1735-1803), through epigraphs drawn from his poem, The Minstrel or, The Progress of Genius (1771-1774). But their format reflects other contemporary publications of Scottish poetry, like James Hogg’s early ballad collection, The Forest Minstrel (1810). The importance of such collections in the formation of Scottish cultural nationalism in the early nineteenth century, drawing from and building upon the poetry of Robert Burns and earlier writers in the Scottish vernacular movement, has been widely discussed. Thomas Crawford summarises his view of the importance of popular song traditions by affirming that “Each resurgence of the creative spirit in Scotland since 1707 has been associated with renewed interest in popular culture and with something of a ‘folk revival’; each has felt the need to tap the popular tradition which is, perhaps, the most abidingly national part of our culture.”22

Although Golder knew when he published Recreations For Solitary Hours that he was intending to emigrate, the poems themselves were written in the immediate context of poetic practice in Lowland Scotland. Lyrics and songs predominate, with a named tune being provided for each song. The inclusion of prose narratives of actual events complements the orientation towards actual social situations in the poems and songs, just as does the plain language, whether Scots or English. The volume signals its contemporaneity, addressing a present audience in terms which that audience is taken to expect or find familiar. Thomas Crawford’s analysis of Scottish song culture in Society and the Lyric. A study of the Song Culture of eighteenth century Scotland demonstrates how high and popular cultures in Scotland intersected in the composition and performance of songs. He distinguishes between two kinds of song, action songs and national songs, in a way which is helpful for understanding Golder’s aims in his first volume and the way in which they translate into the New Zealand situation. Crawford notes that popular song was a “medium which could be used by men and women in every walk of life to render their experiences, however slightly these might differ from their fellows’”, and asks, “How, then, did their action songs contrast with what have been termed national songs - the deliberate, creative and systematic attempt by the professionals, Ramsay and Burns and a number of lesser men and women, to produce a new corpus of song for the whole people of Scotland by a combination of purposive editing and the fitting of new words to old tunes?” He argues that the difference is one of degree, since many national songs were initially personal and occasional in their composition and circulation. Writers like Ramsay and Burns “saw themselves as (in a modern metaphor) cultural engineers, consciously preserving and recreating the nation’s songs”.23

As Crawford implies, the constant feature is the tune, the link with community, custom and tradition; it is the words which can be rewritten to permit the inclusion of other experiences within the already known structure of the tune. Golder makes this point himself in a note attached to the first of the religious songs in The New Zealand Minstrelsy, while emphasising that the subject of the song has a moral relation to the music:

As in music there are many tunes, though unconnected with words, expressive of much feeling, corresponding with the several sympathies existing in the soul of man, so have I taken the liberty of shewing, how they can be improved by applying some to subjects of a sacred nature.24

Such a conception of poetic composition places that which is already known and shared by a community, the tune, ahead of the invention of the poet. But Golder also proposes that a familiar tune, representing a particular emotional quality in human nature, will be “improved” when it is performed with new, “sacred” words. This work of the poet enables improvement in society to occur exactly because it inserts a better content into an already known, communally shared form. Such writing becomes of national significance, in these terms, when it is adopted widely as the preferred wording for a tune which is itself already generally known and performed by people at all levels of society. While oral transmission traditionally achieves this result for popular song, Golder’s inventions in song form are recorded and disseminated in print; he makes use, that is, of a communications technology which has only recently become available to members of the working class and by means of which they can contribute to the ongoing production of a national culture.

One example is his composition of new lyrics for the tune “Flowers of the Forest”, which Crawford discusses as an example of the links between “national” and “action” song.25 Crawford shows that three sets of words were published in the 1760s, all achieving the status of national songs. Two sets use the remnants of the old ballad, “I’ve heard a lilting at our ewe’s milking” and “The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away”; the third set departs entirely from these words and is, as Crawford describes it, “a lament, not for a local community or a nation’s chivalry, but for one young man who has been drowned.” Golder in his two sets uses the stanza form of the first two, does not use the line which provides the name for the tune, and follows the narrative of the third set. “Donald’s Return”, in Recreations for Solitary Hours and republished in the Appendix to The New Zealand Minstrelsy, is a story in which “bonny young Mary” anticipates the loss of her lover, Donald, in a storm at sea but is then relieved by his return and his promise not to go to sea again; “Mr T—’s Dirge to the Memory of W. Cook, Drowned April 10, 1847” is a poem expressing the speaker’s grief at the loss of a close friend. These changes suggest a deliberate decision by Golder, both to choose the more traditional version of the tune and to write for it a lyric in which an event of personal rather than historical significance is lamented. In this way, a history which cannot become part of the narrative of the nation of New Zealand is written out of the poetry, and the representative significance of local and personal events is written in.

The concept of a national literature which is at work here is given further definition in a lecture by the first Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh University, W E Aytoun. In his discussion of the vernacular basis of Scottish humanism in The Democratic Intellect, George Elder Davie discusses the approach taken by Aytoun to the problem of the relation between Scottish and English poetry. Aytoun employs “‘the distinction between natural poetry which is minstrelsy and artificial poetry which in default of a better name you may call aesthetical composition’. He argues that there is a connection between the Scottish tradition of poetry as natural and the democratic basis of Scottish society.” On this basis, Aytoun proposes that there is

nothing national in either Spenser or Milton or Pope, or Dryden, or Byron, or Wordsworth, or many more. They are great poets, no doubt, but the people don’t sympathise with them, though portions of the intellectual and educated classes may do so; and taking them together, what kind of congruity either of sentiment or of form do you find in their work? But take Burns and Scott and Hogg, and Motherwell, and Allan Cunningham, with their predecessors David Lyndsay and Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson - they are adored of the people. And why? Because they are minstrels and because they embody in vivid strains the emotions, thoughts - nay, prejudices, if you will - which are most rife in the national bosom.26

Golder’s aim in The New Zealand Minstrelsy to contribute to the establishment of a national literature is properly contextualised by this statement, which proposes that the value of poetry is to be judged by the extent to which it can represent (reflect and shape) the distinctive and shared qualities of a people, a national community, in words and forms able to appeal equally to all of its members. It might be assumed from Golder’s statement of aim that his conviction that a national literature for New Zealand could and should be created was based on the personal, social and cultural value he attributed to Scottish poetry as the substance of his national literature, in contrast to the valuation of poets according to a scale of greatness of literary achievement. This is certainly the position adopted by Rev Charles Rogers, the editor of The Scottish Minstrel, in which the poetry of “the humbler bards” is, like the poets themselves, shown the same respect as the poetry of more educated writers because all share the same “poetic gift” and all contribute to sustaining the “national spirit” through “popular song”.27

Golder and the Communitarian Lyric

The romantic movement provides another important context for interpreting Golder’s poetry. He shows no interest in the recovery of the past, either as folk culture or as chivalric and national history; he does place great value on nature, imagination and reflection, but without drawing his reader into a distinctively private realm of experience of the self or by adopting a radical politics. His apparent disinterest in some of the key features of romantic poetry is explained in Janowitz’s particularly helpful study of what she terms the dialectic of romanticism. She argues that there are two distinct modalities of romantic poetry, derived from “the opposition of individual and collective”. While “the singular lyric voice” gave expression to “the revolutionary idea of a democratic voice in the age of revolution”, that idea was also expressed in “the notion of a collectivised popular sovereignty, which drew upon customary culture and its popular poetic forms.” Her conclusion is that “romantic poetry models experience in two distinct forms, the extremes of which I am calling the individualist and the communitarian. At one end are situated those lyrics whose voice is singular, most often masculine, and voluntaristic; at the other end are those which produce a lyric ‘we’.28

The New Zealand Minstrelsy is undeniably to be located at the communitarian end of the scale. Golder’s lyric poetry, which constitutes most of the volume, takes its stanza form from the tune to which it is written. Each poem is a little narrative, the speaker in some poems being an observer of a social event and in others one of the participants, male or female. What constitutes the poem is an immediately imaginable event or situation and a trajectory through a crisis, the import of which is registered morally and emotionally. The language is plain and direct, consistent with the immediacy and typicality of the situation and setting. Basically what changes between the poems in the Appendix and the New Zealand section is the setting, from a land intensively socialised to a new country in which nature is wild and its indigenous inhabitants correspondingly savage. Poems with the laborious work of land clearance as their setting focus on the familial context and purpose of the work, and the means of maintaining emotional stability:

Evening Industry
Tune—“’Twas in the merry month of May.”

The moon had fill’d her horn on high,
And pour’d on earth her silv’ry sheen,
A still and cloudless azure sky
Proclaim’d her night’s own radiant queen.

The clearing, round beneath her smile,
Seem’d gladden’d, as by day’s bright noon;
The eager bushman, late at toil,
Rejoiced at having such a boon.

’Mong prostrate logs his work he plied,
His axe disturbing night’s dull ear;
To breathe, on axe he lean’d, and eyed
The moon, whose smile his heart did cheer.

The thoughts of home, and former joys,
Insensibly stole o’er his mind;
And fond remembrance drew a sigh,
For friends, endear’d, he left behind.

At once his crosses, toils, and cares,
From first endured, in bold array,
Upon him sprung in unawares,
As better feelings fain to sway;

But from his humble cottage, lone,
His wife’s sweet strains fell on his ear,
Which his attention roused, anon
His drooping spirits fain to cheer.

“Those wand’ring thoughts still let me spurn,”—
He cried,—“since she’d my cares beguile;
Nor shall I hapless fortune mourn,
Since love alone can lighten toil!”

With this, again, his axe he plied,
Cheer’d by her mellow’d strains the while;
And ev’ry stroke he gave replied,
’Tis surely love that lightens toil!29

What evidently mattered most to Golder in the broad spectrum of social situations was the bond of love and affection between two people, whether as a heterosexual couple or as friends, which includes same sex and sibling relationships. Many poems in The New Zealand Minstrelsy tell of personal loss.30 The larger public or political context, typically war or separation through emigration, is simply presented as a given; what is noticed is the effect of such events, usually cruel, on the lives and feelings of specific people. Two poems which strikingly confirm Golder’s interest in the emotional significance of events are “Wairau:—Or Col. W—’s Dirge to the Memory of his Brother”, to the tune, “Wallace’s Lament”, and, in the Appendix, “A Translation of an Episode in Ossian”. The latter versifies a brief segment which foregrounds by anticipation the state of mind of a young woman who is yet to find out that her lover has been killed in battle; the former takes up an incident which, more than any other, served to highlight the tensions between Maori and Pakeha31, and the New Zealand Company and the British administration, in the Wellington region as the number of settlers increased and the process by which the New Zealand Company had acquired land continued to be investigated.32 Characteristically, Golder does not focus on the violence between Maori and Pakeha or on the circumstances which led to it but, as in the Ossian episode, on the memories and feelings of one remote from the action who loses a loved person - in this case, the loss by William Wakefield, principal agent and leader of the settlement, of his brother Arthur Wakefield. William is the speaker:

Though pleasing, around thee, thy scenes, Waiarau!
’Tis painful to think on the deeds of thy day;
Though all to their fates, so resistless must bow,
I grieve for the victims who fell in thy fray.

But chiefly I mourn thee, my own dearest brother!
And shrink at the thought of thy mangled remains;
The loss I sustain can be felt by no other,
As long as thy mem’ry my bosom retains.

The savage may glory in deeds unrepaid,
And cowardly taunt thee, now low in thy grave;
They’ll yet in the balance of justice be weigh’d,
And vengeance shall visit when nought can them save.

But still, I’m depriv’d of thy friendship, my brother!
Which none can replace, as thy worth all can tell;
The cold hand of death now thy ashes may smother,
Thy mem’ry shall live, though I sigh thee farewell.33

With one important exception, what Ackland writes of Golder’s contemporary, the Australian poet Charles Harpur (1813-1868), is also broadly true for Golder:

his writings are inspired by the belief that the colonies presented the newly arrived white settlers with a unique opportunity. Here they could attempt to rebuild mankind’s original paradise, or they could reproduce our primal errors. . . . An openended vision of creation, and a progressivist conception of mankind are the consequences of [his] republican credo, together with an awesome awareness of individual responsibility, if humanity is to achieve at last its potentially exalted role in a larger, providential plan.34

The exception is republicanism. Golder affirmed the monarchy throughout his life, writing occasional poems on important royal events. Their constant point was to reaffirm the need for moral and intellectual leadership, the special role of those in high office to nurture and advance the foundations of British (but also human) civilisation.35 His dedication of The New Zealand Survey to Sir George Grey, who had in 1861 taken up the position of Governor of New Zealand for the second time, is only the most explicit expression of his view that Grey fulfilled this conception of leadership. The first two volumes were published during the last two years of Grey’s first period as Governor, the second (in 1854) including a long satirical poem set in 1845, the year Grey arrived in New Zealand to Golder’s strong approval. In The New Zealand Minstrelsy Sir George Grey tops the subscription list both by office and as the subscriber for the largest number of copies, and Golder includes a poem which praises Grey as governor, “The Effects of Good Government, or The Happy Change”, a song sung “by an English mother to her ‘kitty’” and the only one in the volume with an original tune (the music for which has not survived):

For our Governors ruled with a stiff iron rod,—
All labour was quite at a stand;
For nothing had they done to advance the public good,
Making sorrow prevail through the land.

Now then, dance high, my dovey,
We have alter’d times, my lovie,
Let us happy be now, as we may;
Once we could not get a sow,
Now your dad has bought a cow;—
Hearty thanks to our Governor Grey!

To face grinding tyrants no longer he toils,
For scarcely a living, though spare;—
Thus Providence over good government smiles,
And frees us from sorrow and care.36

Poetry and the Future of the Nation

The most unusual poem in The New Zealand Minstrelsy is the one which Golder wrote shortly before arriving in New Zealand, “Stanzas, Written while on the Voyage out to New Zealand on Board the ‘Bengal Merchant’, January 14, 1840.” It is a celebratory ode, strongly endorsing the aims and purposes of the Wakefield plan for the settlement of New Zealand and envisaging the nation’s future as an agent of civilised development in the Pacific. It is also structured as a moment in perception which is particularly resonant for Golder, that of a moment in present time which is also the intersection of past and future. Its imperial context is Britannia’s presence “in every quarter of this active world” as the agent of civilization through “humanity”, that is, Christian and secular knowledge which replaces war, superstition and the waste productivity of nature with peace, industry, commerce and abundance. The poem’s imagined scene is social, the meeting of two peoples: the New Zealanders, included among the “savage nations, which inherit/The sea-girt isles, which long obscurely lay/Beyond [Britannia’s] former ken”; and the Britons, who are coming to “adopt your country as our home”. In his imaginary address to the New Zealanders, Golder begins, “Fear not, New Zealander! we do not come/With hostile feelings, but with all good will . . ./No faithless friendship offer we for gain”. In a note to the words, “Oh happy plan!— ingenuously devised!”, Golder underlines his confidence in the Wakefield plan and demonstrates why Maori have good reason to fear the arrival of the settlers: “the Wakefield method of purchasing territory for colonization; then bestowing part of the land for the benefit of the natives [replaces] taking the land by force, and exterminating its inhabitants, as has often been done by other nations in former years.” The knowledge of Maori which he demonstrates in the poem clearly has not been derived from first-hand experience; it does, however, seem entirely consistent with the account given in G. L. Craik’s The New Zealanders, which provided an extensive appraisal of the qualities and circumstances of the indigenous people. However, there is also a more general context for Golder’s thinking about the kind of relation between settlers and indigenous peoples which he is promoting in his poem. As Christopher Berry has shown, Scottish Enlightenment thinkers argued that “The diversity of social experience and thence the diversity of moral beliefs, is explicable by reference to the uniformity and universality of human nature. In their infancy, societies are rude; . . . but refinement comes with cultivation. And cultivation, whether moral, religious or aesthetic, comes along with the success of mankind in triumphing over the dictatorship of needs. . . . As humans win the time to contemplate, so they leave the kingdom of necessity and enter the realm of freedom. Life in a free and civilised society is a better life than all that has gone before.”37 This broad perspective over the whole history of human social development is intrinsic to Golder’s thinking and provides the foundation on which he engages hopefully with the New Zealand wilderness and its indigenous people.

Golder also provides a perspective from his own family history. Among the tales which he published in Recreations for Solitary Hours but did not republish in New Zealand is a story derived from his father’s military experience in South Africa, “An Incident in the Life of my Father; or, the Murderer Detected. A Tale.” The story records the actions of his father, after witnessing the beating of two African slaves by Irish soldiers which caused the death of one of them, in reporting the incident and being the cause of the soldiers’ arrest. The clear purpose of the story is to illustrate in two ways the unnaturalness of slavery. Firstly, it dehumanises the slave: “because the murdered man was only considered the property of his master . . . a charge of damages was all that was required to repair the loss sustained”; but this decision left Golder’s father “musing on the injustice of letting one guilty of the murder of a man, even although he was a slave, escape the vengeance which the laws of nature required.”38 Secondly (and consistently with the long tradition of protestant casuistry), the soldiers who committed the crime suffer in conscience, one coming to Golder’s father to discuss his torment of mind, and the other committing suicide.

It is possible to dismiss Golder’s invitation to Maori, to “Bid Britons welcome”, as wishful thinking expressive of his anxiety that the New Zealanders may not read the settlers’ intentions in the way Golder wants them to; but I would argue that what he is offering is a conception of New Zealand as a socially, morally, economically, and intellectually advanced nation, the benefits of which all of its people will share as they build it together in friendship, a fundamental mark of humanity for Golder.39 The moment of this anticipated meeting, which is actually imminent, is contained within two other perspectives, the past and the future. The past contains Scotland, “the country we have left behind” which “Has fields less fertile, less propitious skies”, and “friendship’s love,— a painful sacrifice”; the future is one of “blessings realised” as the outcome of the Wakefield plan. Golder shows that the past will continue to play a part in the present, as “oft shall scenes frequented, now resign’d,/Be drawn by fancy — as before our eyes”; the same faculty of imagination will sustain the effort of realising the civilising plan through individual action over many generations. And, as in the specific instance of this poem, poetry will provide a social space in which actuality and the imagined future which powerfully motivates effort in the present interact to produce a form of moral knowledge able to constitute in the minds of its diverse peoples a common idea of what is distinctive about the nation-to-be of New Zealand.

Another way of making the point about the distinctiveness of this poem is by reading it against another poem written at the same time by another passenger on the Bengal Merchant, Alexander Marjoribanks. In contrast to the way in which Golder’s mind is focussed on the imminence of the settlers’ encounter with a new land and a different people, and locates that moment in the larger context of civilization (moral, scientific, democratic and Christian) and human progress, Marjoribanks (despite his own conviction about the superiority of his poem) writes conventional verses which could have been written after a sea journey between Scotland and almost anywhere else. His poem concludes with the sentiment:

And now that we have plough’d the stormy deep,
And anchor’d safely on a foreign strand,
Let’s sing the praises of the gallant ship,
That’s wafted us unto this smiling land.

The partial exception is the following stanza:

Once more the hubbub on the deck is heard,
Once more the sextant fills the Captain’s hand;
Once more the gallant Lawyer mounts his guard,
Prepar’d for fight in yonder savage land.

Arrival is accompanied by mixed feelings, of relief at having survived the journey (“smiling land”) and the anticipation of violence (“savage land”). No effort is made to relate these different attributes, or to think beyond them to a more considered view of the possible future. The contrast highlights Golder’s intellectual coherence and the constructive ways in which he sought to give imaginative and poetic definition to the moment of contact.

Other poems written after “Stanzas” about the labour of bush clearing and farming need to be read as both rewritings of traditional labouring songs and records of the way in which the progressive thinking elaborated in “Stanzas” is enacted in daily life. One example among several is “A Bushranging”, in which a walk through the bush, which provides delighted enjoyment of the beauties of nature, culminates in arrival at a clearing:

Lo! See yon bush clearing, its aspect how cheering!
Where Industry toils, and fresh gardens do grow:
The axe still resounding, hard labour abounding,
While bushmen exult o’er the forest laid low.

Each scene of work, including the hard physical effort and the threat of despair, is an instance of “Industry” in action, progressively actualising in the present moment the imagined future form of the new nation.

Throughout his life, Golder elaborated the ideas which he set out for the first time in his published poetry in “Stanzas, Written while on the Voyage”, demonstrating that his endorsement of the principles underpinning the Wakefield plan for New Zealand was one expression of deeply anchored ideas and convictions.40 The fact that he published this poem without critical comment twelve years after it was written, during which time the Wakefield colonists had suffered many challenges,41 indicates that it stood as a testimony to what Golder accepted as the benevolent aims of the Wellington settlement and to his own deeply held beliefs about New Zealand’s potential as the place and nation in which a future form of civilised society and humanity, beyond the contemporary achievements of British civilisation, could ultimately be realised.


Golder would not expect a case to be made for him as a uniquely significant founder of New Zealand literature and culture, but he would be gratified by the commemorative recognition that his work articulates a model of citizenship and nationality which remains at the core of what continues to evolve as “New Zealand culture”, specifically in that dimension signified by the term Pakeha and the formation of a distinctive variant of English.42 It is not modesty, but a democratic conception of society and the role of the creative, knowledgable and virtuous individual in its progressive improvement, which governs his self-conception and the claims he makes about the value of both his poetry and his physical labour in the conversion of the New Zealand wilderness for inclusive sociable and humane purposes. A national literature will create a shared idea of that nation in the minds of its people by articulating what is common in experience and purpose, and by critiquing behaviour and ideas which compromise the creation of that nation. A national poet will write songs for people to sing together, poems which promote true values by satirising individuals and common types of behaviour, and poems envisaging the future which, by binding together imagination and the realm of ideas, can inspire the progressive enactment of the idea of the nation through individual and collective effort in a specific time and place. Much of what Golder imagined on behalf of his contemporaries and future generations of New Zealanders has come to pass; more particularly, his progressive orientation towards the future, grounded in scientific knowledge and a democratic conception of the value of human effort, and his conviction that New Zealand could lead the world as a modern nation remain fundamental tenets in much Pakeha thinking and government policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

3 Michael Ackland, That Shining Band. A Study of Colonial Verse Tradition (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1994).

4 Brian Elliott and Adrian Mitchell, Bards in the Wilderness. Australian Colonial Poetry to 1920 (Melbourne and Sydney: Thomas Nelson (Australia) Ltd., 1970), p. xv.

5 Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire (Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, 2001), pp. 493-95.

6 Arthur H. Williamson, “Scots, Indians and Empire: The Scottish Politics of Civilization 1519-1609”, Past and Present, No, 150 (1996), 46-83; Fry, The Scottish Empire, pp. 55-62; Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism. The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton University Press: Princeton, N. J., 1997), pp. 101, 246-7.

7 Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, pp. 289-91.

8 Bill Bell, “Crusoe’s Books: the Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century”, in eds. Bill Bell, Jonquil Bevan and Philip Benet, Across Boundaries: Books in Culture and Commerce (Winchester, Hampshire, U. K.: St. Paul’s Bibliographies and New Castle, D. E.: Oak Knoll Press, 2000), pp. 116-129.

9 See Laurance James Saunders, Scottish Democracy 1815-1840: The Social and Intellectual Background, (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1950), pp. 277-9, 295-300, on the innovations in education and teacher training led by David Stow in Glasgow.

10 That Shining Band, pp. 3, 6.

14 Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), comments on Burns’s use of local river names: “The use of place-names and dialect forces readers to consider the text’s local origin as part of the poem’s meaning, its assertion that the bardie’s apparently obscure, small culture may be valued at least as much as the poet’s grand, celebrated one” (p. 94).

15 Trumpener notes of Thomas Pringle’s African Sketches (1834) that, “even as Pringle traverses and describes the countryside of Southern Africa, he continually evokes the landscapes of Scottish literature” (Bardic Nationalism, p. 255). For Golder, the shift of location may have not represented such a major disjunction. In a poem included in the Appendix to New Zealand Minstrelsy, “Sweet Home”, he evokes “Caledonia” as a place of “social delights” and of “wildness and picturesque grandeur”, in which “thy sons [are] independent and free” (pp. xvi-xvii).

16 Ackland, That Shining Band, pp. 28-31. He discusses the use of the genius loci in early Australian poetry, pp. 33-4, 39-40.

17 John Hutchinson, The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism: The Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation State (London: Allen and Unwin, 1987), p.9, argues that “cultural nationalism . . . has its own distinctive aims — the moral regeneration of the national community rather than the achievement of an autonomous state. . . .invocation of the past, contrary to accepted opinion, must be seen in a positive light, for the cultural nationalist seeks not to ‘regress’ into an arcadia but rather to inspire his community to ever higher stages of development” (p. 9).

18 See Patricia Golder, The Golders of Upper Hutt and Hukanui 1840-2000, and associated families: The Browns, Martins, McCools and Somers (Wellington, 2000), p. 19.

19 He describes the accidental destruction of this house, and the refusal of a neighbour to provide temporary shelter for his family, in a note to “The Pigeons’ Parliament”, in The Pigeons’ Parliament; A Poem of the Year 1845., pp. 76-78. David Bunn discusses such naming as a “trope of rustic retirement common in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries”, in “‘Our Wattled Cot’: Mercantile and Domestic Space in Thomas Pringle’s African Landscapes”, in Landscape and Power, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp.148-153. On the cottage in Victorian literature and imagination, see George H. Ford, “Felicitous Space: The Cottage Controversy” in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, edited by U. C Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1977), pp. 27-48.

20 See “The New Zealand Survey”, Preface.

21 David Bunn, “‘Our Wattled Cot’”, p. 150.

22 Thomas Crawford, “Lowland Song and Popular Tradition in the Eighteenth Century”, in ed. Andrew Hook, The History of Scottish Literature, Vol. 2, (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987), p. 137. A valuable assessment of the diverse strands in the eighteenth-century creation of Scottish cultural identity is provided by Andrew Hook, “Scotland and Romanticism: The International Scene”, pp. 307-321 of the same volume.

23 Thomas Crawford, Society and the Lyric. A study of the Song Culture of eighteenth century Scotland (1979), pp.164, 172.

25 Crawford, Society and the Lyric, pp. 176-77.

26 George Elder Davie, The Democratic Intellect. Scotland and her Universities in the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1961), pp.208-9.

27 Rev Charles Rogers, The Scottish Minstrel. The Songs of Scotland subsequent to Burns with Memoirs of the Poets, 2nd edition (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1873), pp. vii, v.

28 Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp.12, 17.

29 Ibid., pp. 23-24.

30 Ian Reid, in “Marking the Unmarked: An Epitaphic Preoccupation in Nineteenth-Century Australian Poetry”, Victorian Poetry, 40 (2002), p.9, observes that much Victorian poetry written in Australia constitutes “a kind of epitaphic writing that can involve considerably more than sentimentalized gestures of personal bereavement and conventional pathos. It can become a way of reflecting on the act of inscription itself as a testimony to, and surrogate for, lost meanings.”

31 “Pakeha” is the term generally adopted by the indigenous people of New Zealand to refer to European settlers. While not universally accepted, it is now commonly used by the descendants of the settlers to mean “New Zealander of English or European origin”.

32 Philip Temple, A Sort of Conscience (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), pp. 311-22.

33 New Zealand Minstrelsy, p.24.

34 Ackland, That Shining Band, pp. 54-55. Ackland, in “From Wilderness to Landscape: Charles Harpur’s Dialogue with Wordsworth and Antipodean Nature”, Victorian Poetry, 40 (2002), p. 21, provides other dimensions of both comparison and contrast between the two poets. He describes Harpur as “largely self-educated” and (in this respect unlike Golder) as searching for “empowering models, working his way through the greats of English prosody from Chaucer to Shakespeare.”

35 Michael Fry, in The Scottish Empire, seems to describe Golder’s position when he writes that “If [Enlightened Scots] saw themselves as liberals, their liberalism counselled not violence but moderation and reform to correct abuse. . . . Not even Hume and Smith, let alone the rest, accepted . . . any idea of government founded on popular consent. . . . Enlightened thought never meant to discard the inherited order, at home or abroad. Progress in the forms it extolled would long fail to shake the conservative concepts of loyalty and hierarchy rooted in the Scottish psyche” (p. 62).

36 Ibid., p. 29.

37 Christopher J. Berry, Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), p. 181.

39 [G. L. Craik], The Library of Entertaining Knowledge. The New Zealanders (London: Charles Knight, 1830), p. 16: “[The New Zealander] is as capable of friendship as of enmity . . . when brought into contact with a nation which neither insults nor oppresses him, and which exhibits to him the influence of a benevolent religion in connexion with the force of practical knowledge.” See also “A Tribute to the Memory of Friendship” in The New Zealand Minstrelsy, p. 38, and Berry, Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment, pp. 28-29, where he shows that, for Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, friendship and loyalty are “the most genuinely social [bonds]” because they demonstrate “the human capacity to bond on principles that go beyond both the instinct for self-preservation and judicious calculation of self-interest.”

40 Each subsequent volume includes at least one major poem on these themes. See James Belich, Making New Zealanders. A History of the New Zealanders From Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century, (Auckland: Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, 1966), pp. 301, 310-311, on what he terms “crusader poetry”.

41 Philip Temple, A Sort of Conscience, pp. 367-70, and Golder, Pigeon’s Parliament, pp. 87-94.

42 Trumpener writes of Scotland in a way which has much resonance for an appreciation of Golder’s position and achievement: “Scotland’s Scottishness remains protected in Scots: a culture lives on in language. . . . Literature, then, has several compensatory or repository functions. Its timeliness, its link to its own time and place, would give it a tragic frailty, were it not that it can survive, in fragmentary or transmuted form, into the next stage of national evolution, to serve both as an historical record of the past and as a foundation for the nation’s future writing” (Bardic Nationalism, p. 74).