Letter 16

Edwin Harris to father James Pasco Harris. New Plymouth, 1 December 1845

New Plymouth December 1 1845

Dear Father

I have at length as you wish it so much made a drawing of my house on the other half of this sheet which Sarah says is exactly like. I hope it will reach you without receiving much injury. You can cut it off and paste it on a piece of card board. I believe it has been described in some of our former letters; since that time I have thatched the roof and added the rustic columns which are composed of the stem of the tree Fern which I cut and brought from the forest they grow there from 20 to 50 feet in height. The ferns in the drawing are young and of the kind the natives make use of for food, it is procured from the inside of the stalk and used to be our substitute for fruit pies and is not unlike apple. The natives also use the root of the common fern which covers the whole of the country that is not taken up by forest. This is not unlike when roasted burnt biscuit but is too stringy to be liked by Europeans. Since our last letter on the receipt of the box we have had an addition to our family of a little girl which we have called Mary Rendel, she is now 2 months old and is very healthy. Sarah is well but complains of Rheumatic pains which I expect will be the prevailing complaint in this Country owing to its moisture.

Harvest is approaching and promises to yield an abundant crop. We have been exporting for some time. Flour to the different settlements and I believe this is the only one able to do so. We are progressing in spite of every obstacle. The natives I am sorry to say are getting more and more troublesome and is the cause of many settlers leaving. I hope the new governor will be able to restrain their insolence, we are not yet certain who he is to be though it is said that Captain Gray the governor of South Australia is to replace Captain Fitzroy but as it is not confirmed we are doubtful. Captain Gray is considered here to be a very talented man and never did a colony require one more. We are continually alarmed by the movements of the natives. Those here are preparing for an attack from their enemies the Waikatos [Waikato] who have threatened them but as this has been done ever since we have been here we are not much alarmed and we hardly know which to fear most. For my own part I would rather they would come and drive those rascals away were it not that the Waikatos [Waikato], although friendly to white people, have the reputation of being great thieves. Our Protector of Aborigines is gone into the interior to prevent if possible a threatened attack from the Taupos [Taupo] on Wanganui, a settlement between this and Port Nicholson.

You are probably more acquainted with the intentions of Government towards this country than we are as the papers must have been full of it at one time. We hear that soldiers are to be placed at all the settlements but we hear a great many things that never take place. I should like to see something done, at present it has been all talk. We have had meetings to take into consideration the defenceless state we are in, a militia bill has passed, the council stockades have been talked of and all has ended in smoke. We have certainly had arms sent us but the natives know where they are and may possess themselves of them any day with greatest ease. Notwithstanding all these things we are in good health and are more troubled about our daily bread than the chance of losing our lives or our property.

I have still nothing to do and indeed have given up all expectation of making a living by surveying. Farming is the only legitimate pursuit here and if I might judge from my own small piece of ground 20 or 30 acres would make me independent. However there is no chance of my possessing such a piece of land, only the size of a large field in England.

With love to Mother, Aunt Maria and all friends I remain your affectionate

son Edwin Harris.

PS The governor Captain Gray is arrived at Auckland. I am very much pleased with the oil colours they were in excellent order & condition. I have of course made use of them and like the method of keeping them very much. It is next to James’ plan and for small quantities superior. Will you in the next send me a Phial bottle of mastic varnish & if you can afford it I should be glad of a set of Guitar strings which will cost from 4 to 5 shillings. I have made a guitar, Music being our only amusement. The evenings are long, lights bad for drawing and books only for those who can get them.


Handwritten transcript of MS letter to father James Pasco Harris, Plymouth, England. Written in New Plymouth, NZ, 1 Dec 1845. Copying date unknown. Puke Ariki. ARC2019-112. Letter 4.


Since our last letter on the receipt of the box we have had an addition to our family
The barque Slaines Castle left Plymouth 24 Oct 1844 and arrived in Nelson 26 Jan 1845. She was in Wellington 16 Feb and arrived in New Plymouth early in March (Brett 2:130).

Mary Rendel Harris (1845-1932) was born 26 Aug and baptised 12 Oct 1845 at St Mary’s, New Plymouth. She married Carl Philip August Alexander Weyergang (1829-1904) in New Plymouth in 1871. The Weyergangs had 2 sons and 1 daughter.

We are progressing in spite of every obstacle
Edwin’s sentiments are echoed in ’A Taranaki Song’ by fellow settler and farmer John Hursthouse (1811-1860). The lyrics survive, with minor variations, in several MS versions. Skinner’s 1941 notes on the poem provide context and a likely date of composition: ’Adapted to an old tune, the original of which is unknown. Written in a time of extreme financial depression and probably sung for the first time at the Agricultural and Commercial Society’s Dinner, 17 September, 1845.’

The passing moments to beguile,
To cheer our spirits, raise a smile,
Tho’ rude the verse, and rough the lays
We’ll sing in Taranaki’s praise.
And soon we’ll prove in doggrel rhymes,
Despite the badness of the times,
That of all places on the coast
We surely have best cause to boast.
So banish care, and don’t despair
Of Fortune, in this place so rare,
But in a bumper pledge the toast,
New Plymouth fair, New Zealand’s boast.

We’ve famous land for him who tills,
To grind our corn we have good mills,
We’ve Churches for the orthodox,
And for the sinners gaols and stocks,
We’ve lowing herds on every side,
And Habouka in every tide,
And as for fruit, the place is full
Of that delicious Bullabull.
So banish care etc. –

There’s coal (ask Black) in yonder hill,
And manganese close by the mill,
There’s sulphur near old Egmont’s base,
And iron sand all o’er the place,
There’s nickel too if we are right,
And signs of silver rich and bright,
And who the Deuce is there to tell
But that a gold mine’s here as well?
So banish care etc.

But other things we have besides,
We’ve got Gledhill to tan our hides,
To strike the whale with harpoon true
We’ve Barrett and his hardy crew;
Our varied labours soon we’ll cheer
With Davy’s stout, or Seccombe’s beer,
Nor fetch tobacco from afar,
When Nairn can twist the mild cigar,
So banish cares etc.


We’ve gallant hearts, and ladies fair,
A climate that’s beyond compare,
We’ve crystal waters, noble wood,
In fact we’ve everything that’s good.
Sure nothing more we need to add
To prove the sin of being sad,
But gaily here through life we’ll rub,
And merrily meet at the Farmer’s club.
So banish cares etc. –

‘Habouka’: hāpuka, a type of wreckfish common in New Zealand and Australia

‘Bullabull’: poroporo, a soft-wooded shrub native to New Zealand and the east coast of Australia

I hope the new governor will be able to restrain their insolence
Fitzroy was recalled by the Colonial Office in a dispatch dated 30 Apr 1845 and received in Auckland 1 Oct that year. Captain George Grey (1812-1898) was Governor of South Australia 1840-45. He was appointed Governor of New Zealand and arrived in Auckland in Nov 1845. Grey’s first priority was to win the war in the north against Hōne Heke and his allies, a task for which the British government granted funds and troops denied to Fitzroy’s financially-compromised administration (Te Ara).

Our Protector of Aborigines is gone into the interior
Donald McLean, actually Sub-Protector, who continued in the role until Grey’s abolition of the Protectorate in 1846. See Fargher (30): ‘In October 1845 McLean again set out from New Plymouth for Taupo, this time by way of Wanganui. Along the way he again found the tribes fortifying their pa, fearing attacks by Tuwharetoa when they should have been busy planting their crops.’

I have made a guitar
Henry Weekes’ mention of Edwin Harris’s playing of guitar and flute on the voyage to NZ may have prompted family members or museum staff to identify a Spanish guitar belonging to Edwin and now in the collection at Puke Ariki as the instrument from the William Bryan. The identification is uncertain in light of Edwin’s 1845 request to his father for strings for a home-made guitar. The Chappell guitar at Puke Ariki (A71.548) carries no serial number or date of manufacture. However, two music books also in the Harris collection suggest that Edwin acquired the Chappell in later years. The books are Fifty Songs for the Voice and Guitar (London: Musical Bouquet” Office, [1851-1861]) and Giovanni Luigi, Chappell’s Instruction Book for the Guitar (London: Chappell and Company, [c.1858]). Both books have been well-used and contain handwritten lists of song titles and some song lyrics. The books, guitar and a guitar case were part of an extensive donation to the Taranaki Museum in 1961 by Ruth Moore and her sister Ella Grace Hobbs.