Southland Times Company, Printers Invercargill1879
"Dust thou art, to dust shalt thou return," was the inexorable fiat that thundered through the confines of space in the early morning of creation, and the sickle of the great reaper has not rusted for the want of use since that old by-gone time. By some instruction, which to man's finite, comprehension appears mysterious, the noblest, truest moral flowers are garnered before they have exhausted the full beauty of their fragrance, have ceased, if they ever could cease, to charm, attract, instruct, while the noxious weed is left to poison the sands of time with its baneful seed. One of the best and noblest of New Zealand's sons has passed away, a Knight, who, like Bayard, was without fear and without reproach. Sir John Richardson is dead. In the brief sketch of the life, all too short in comparison to its usefulness, we prefer to speak of him as "The Major." The whole tenor of that life was so kindly, genial, instructive, from its self-sacrifice, that one grudges to lose the smallest portion, and "The Major" grasps the whole. The latter title was doubtless intended as an honor, but there is little occasion to bestow what is inherent—the man was honor himself.
The son of a man of great capacity, who held at his death one of the highest appointments in that very brilliant service—the East India Company's Civil Service—the youth and a portion of the summer of the page 2 Major's life was spent in India in the military service of the E. I. Company; the corps to which he was attached being one which has gained a proud notoriety, for the brilliancy of its achievements in Indian warfare, viz., the Bengal Horse Artillery. That he distinguished himself as a soldier on several occasions, obtained staff appointments through the facile ability of pen and speech, and an educated intelligence above the average, will not be a matter of surprise to those who knew him in New Zealand; but his life was so real, so earnest in his desire to do good to others, to "act in the living present" that the generous energy of the young soldier could not be fettered by the narrow duties of barrack life. Joining himself with a band of young officers, among them Havelock, he devoted his spare time to the education of his men, in the great lessons of obedience, patience, self-denial, and faith. Even in the morning of his life there seems to have been accorded to him by "the Great Master" the three gifts of Longfellow's "Singers," "to charm, to strengthen, and to teach," and nobly did he administer the "talents" given him. In the barrack hospital, whispering to the dying soldier the wonderful story of ineffable love; in the convalescent ward, strengthening the recruit, snatched from the gates of the dark valley, to be faithful in his returning power to that Great Captain, whose banner, in his hour of weakness he had grasped so eagerly; in the extemporised chapel, charming his soldiery into belief of a higher, nobler life than the gratification of the senses—the indulgence of a sensual selfishness. By precept and example the young soldier wielded "the three great chords of might" with moral courage, a brave persever- page 3 ance, which silenced the sneer, stilled the taunt of those whose innate sense of a meaner life drove to disparagement of his efforts, and secured the devotion of his men. Doubtless, on Friday last, there was an assemblage it "the pearly gates,"
"Singing to welcome
The pilgrim of the night."
The worn pilgrim whose vigorous youth, soaring above the meaner occupations and pleasures of mankind, setting at defiance its prejudices and sneers, had taught many in that gathering the road to their great habitation.
After years of honorable and distinguished service, "The Major" finally settled down on the banks of the Puerua, bringing with him into the then wilderness the untiring energy, the cultivated humor, the kindly earnest desire of helpfulness, which stimulated to exertion, invigorated into self-confidence the settlers of the Molyneux, and were as sunrays in the early days of endeavor to conquer the difficulties of settlement, to obtain a foothold on the soil—difficulties which the man of to-day wots not of. Every newspaper in the colony has some record of his political career, his colonial, we may say Imperial usefulness. Sought for, not thrusting himself into the political arena, he first appeared on the political platform as a member of the Otago Provincial Council, and was its Superintendent at a time when a new phase of circumstances, entirely novel to his anterior experience, tested his administrative capacity. Gold was discovered. An entire change had come suddenly over the spirit of the dream of the orthodox agriculturist. New men, new means of acquiring sudden wealth, swept page 4 like a maelstrom over the colonial horizon. The suddenness of the alteration in the possible calculation of circumstances, the novelty of the applications required to meet it, the poverty of local intelligence, to assist in the task, were embarrassing. His firmness, forethought, and untiring energy proved equal to the occasion, and he was enabled to grasp the position successfully. The wheel of time rolled on, and he entered the Colonial Parliament, at the earnest solicitation of his fellow-colonists in Otago. His first utterances in the Assembly rivetted attention, elicited the respect due to intellectual cultivation; unbiassed by narrow prejudice, untarnished by the desire of self-aggrandisement, he took his stand as one of the leading men of New Zealand. How he quickly rose to be a member of the Ministry—how, after indefatigable work in various political positions, he was raised to the Speaker's chair in the Upper House, is a matter of history, but it may not be equally well known that while many New Zealand statesmen have added largely to the indebtedness of New Zealand, Major Richardson reduced it by about half a million. On the adoption of "the self-reliant policy," and withdrawal of the Imperial troops, an adjustment of the accounts between the colony and the mother country became necessary. Great Britain claimed a return of half a million. Major Richardson was appointed by the Colonial Government as Commissioner to investigate and report on the subject. Entering with all his usual energy into the work, he proved that, taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration, justice demanded rather a payment to the colony than any by it. The case was so well argued that the Secretary for the Colonies was page 5 glad to waive all Imperial demands; and the report was described by a high authority as "a monument of careful research and brilliant composition."
Possessing essentially a large humanity, which in its catholic benevolence saw "sermons in stones and good in everything" his charity embraced every sect. To do well, to act truthfully, to fight life's battle honestly and bravely, were a passport to his support, a claim on his assistance; to be poor and require it, a guarantee for obtaining it. When the electric wire flashed the sad burthen of the "Reaper's" song, told through New Zealand that the noble heart had stopped to beat, the mind ever active in plotting for the good of others had ceased to think, the kindly friend of childhood had passed away for ever from its confiding smile, from Auckland to Invercargill
"Woman's eye was wet, man's cheek grew pale."
Here, where the last three years of his useful life were spent, one felt his departure not merely as an individual loss, but that humanity had suffered a bereavement. Every public institution owes, in a large measure, its position to his intelligent zeal, every charity is redolent of his generosity. The village church he started, the Sunday-school he organized, the bible class he initiated, breathe forth the holy fragrance of his unselfish benevolence, his earnest ardor. Many a sun may rise and set in New Zealand, but it will be long before its halo will irradiate the silvery glory of so universally honored a head.
Gallant soldier, Christian Knight, farewell!page 6
Since writing the foregoing, the death of Sir John Richardson has revealed glimpses of his inner life, and echoes of the old Indian pilgrimage have reached us.
The diary of his lite in the early eastern days has been found. With that singular reticence which concealed anything that would raise him in the estimation of his fellows, this noble record of his youthful endeavor to live the purer life, to assist others to the belief that existence was an earnest reality with a glorious termination, has never hitherto been seen or heard of by his family or most intimate friends. In reading it, one feels a regret, almost a remorse, that a greater measure of tender admiration, a holier affection, had not been accorded to him.
Any one acquainted with Indian military life, its sensual fascinations, fanned into warmer glow by climatic and surrounding circumstances, can understand the stern control which a young officer has to place on his passions, even on the poetry of his nature; and from what we have seen of the autumn of the Major's life, we may imagine the fascination of its spring. Added to this was perhaps the fiercest trial a soldier of the cross has to endure—the jeers of his fellows. To a military man, particularly in that era, it was purifying thrice purified gold.
The one charming characteristic in man's fallen nature is the depreciation of any effort which contrasts with his own moral deformity—such is a crime which admits of no palliation. The swindler, the social thief, even the murderer may possibly obtain acquittal at the hands of society, but there is no reprieve for one whose life is a monument of reproach to his baser compeers, and the page 7 young soldier experienced it in all its bitterness. The subaltern of that clay who dared to live a better life than fashion sanctioned had to run a fiery gantlet, not merely through the outside world, but through his messmates, his superiors in military rank, with whom official duty necessitated daily intercourse. It was the perpetual "thorn in the flesh" which called forth the heroism of nobility. Physical courage is doubtless admirable, but it is shared in common with the brute creation—the gladiator, the prize-fighter, the most depraved and demoralised of mankind, and above all has the world's universal approbation. Moral courage, particularly in the endeavor to raise humanity to a higher standard, is a rarer attribute, far more difficult of sustenance. To be sent "to Coventry" by one's daily associates, and yet remain firm in the path of duty, argues the possession of those nobler qualities of the mind which raise man nearer to the standard of "the Great Exemplar," and which ought to induce a thrill of pride in one's common humanity. What to a meaner moral nature would have proved too exhausting an opposition, too severe a fight to have sustained, acted as a tonic on the Major's brave heart. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder with Havelock, he fought the battle of earnest Christianity with a courage and perseverance which ultimately silenced opposition. The perfect fruition of that victory he will now enjoy, in meeting the loving faces which his earthly endeavors have clothed with the smile which will never fade, the brightness which nothing can obscure.
"The pages of thy book I read,
And as I closed each one
My heart, responding, ever said,
'Servant of God, well done!' "
One of the most beautiful characters in light literature portrayed by genius is Thackeray's Colonel New-come. In reading the Newcomes, any one who knew Major Richardson could not fail to see a certain resemblance between the Colonel and "The Major." In the simplicity of thought, in the high chivalric sense of honor, in the nobility of action, in the genial kindliness of disposition, the perfect absence of anything approcahing to snobbishness, the strong religious tone (without its affectation), the modest bashfulness of character, the tout ensemble of a high bred English gentleman—one would imagine that Thackeray had taken "The Major" for his model of the Colonel.
There is a time which comes to all humanity, when that mysterious essence, breathed into man's being by "The Master," and termed the soul, asserts itself. The valley of the shadow of death has been entered, the mind has lost its control, the veil of hypocrisy is torn aside, and the naked spirit stands confessed. It whispers in tones that thunder on the listening ear the guiding principle of the irrevocable past, the story of the ebbing life. On entering the dark valley, "The Major's" wanderings told of the purity of his past existence. The mind, silent in its strength of any reference to the early days of Christian endeavor, in its weakness flew back to the sweet communion with Havelock and others. Once more leaving the cool mess-room, with its seductive influences, he stood under the burning Indian sun, at the reading desk, urging his men page 9 on the better path; and, with "won't the congregation join?" trilled out with his dying strength the hymn "Jesus, lover of my soul." Then coming back to his later achievements, he anxiously enquired how the Gladstone Church was progressing, whether the Sunday-school attendance was kept up to its original standard. So his spirit passed away! If ever the beautiful words of the Church of England burial service—"We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life"—could honestly, and with perfect conviction that the hope expressed would meet with realization, be pronounced, it was when the coffin of our Major was lowered to its resting place; and one felt assured that the great heart, whose every beat in life was one of sympathy for his fellow pilgrim, had in death passed away to "the joy of his Lord."
"O, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only
Such as time have lived and died!"
Walter H. Pearson.Invercargill,