Letter 25

Emily Cumming Harris, Notes on Frances Emma Harris. Nelson, 12 June 1898 (2)

Frances was a child of very decided character & not easy to manage. We had left the Henui & were living nearer the bush section my father had bought & was building a house on. I think we used to give way to Frances very much although there were two younger little sisters Mary & Augusta. One day we did something to offend & displeasure her very much, and she exclaimed ‘Now you have made me cross you will have to please me again. Mamma said so’ and no doubt we had to do our best to please her imperial highness. No doubt it was bad for her. but my dear mother had far too much work to do for her little ones to be able to give special training to one who wanted it more than the others. How she must have worked for us & how she tried to teach us as well. When we went to live in the bush there were plenty of things to excite and amuse us, but for my father, mother & brother it must have been dreadful. The hard work, the disappointments & worries were enough to kill anyone brought up as my parents had been. Father had no natural bent for farming & that was his mistake.

What hardships we underwent and privations but I think we must have been a cheerful lot & got fun and amusement out of everything. We used to swing on the great creepers hanging from the forest trees, climb trees like boys and walk across the clearings from one log & branch to another without touching the ground. Frances could walk all round the stock yard on the top rails. Once she went down a very deep well in a bucket to get a duck that had fallen in. The forest was our playground, we knew every berry & flower – But it was not all play by any means. We children had to work very hard in the house, taking the different work by turns. Also we had to try (encouraged by our dear mother) to educate ourselves but it was not easy work with so many interruptions. Had we known what kind of life was before us we could have done more, I might have & Frances also. She could not lose her childish good looks. I remember hearing a stranger say ‘what a very beautiful girl,’ but as far as I recall no girl was ever less conscious of it than she was. When I think how deeply she regretted and with cause her want of education in after years, the more I lament how her life was spoilt for the want of the opportunity.

I must pass over years, and write the first letter I can find. We were very fond of poetry, and used to learn a great deal to recite to each other, never to other people, we were too shy for that. Someone offered Frances half a crown if she would learn the Curfew in a very short stated time, which she did.

MS notes on Frances Emma Harris. Written at 34 Nile St, Nelson, NZ, 12 June 1898. Found in Frances Harris, ‘Ascent of Mount Egmont. March 11th 1879.’ MS journal interleaved with 9 watercolour and ink sketches. Briant Papers.


We had left the Henui & were living nearer the bush section my father had bought
See #30, Sarah Harris’s description of moving to the bush section on Frankley Rd.

two younger little sisters Mary & Augusta
Augusta Harris (1848-1870) was born 1 Aug and baptised 27 Aug 1848 at St Mary’s, New Plymouth. She died of consumption 31 Aug 1870 in Nelson. A letter of 27 Jan 1870 from Augusta to Emily Harris reports on the celebrations in Wellington of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony: ‘We enjoyed the ball immensely, danced almost every dance on the program and some extra ones. Mr Duncan has sent Mama the paper with a list of the officers’ names. Take care of it and then we can tell you the names of some of those we danced with. I took it as a compliment that all those I danced with asked me for another dance. I danced 3 times with the admiral’s secretary, Mr Bowling, and one of the officers had nine or ten dances between Fran and I.’

The forest was our playground, we knew every berry & flower
Emily Harris introduced herself to Alfred Barton Rendle of the British Museum in a letter of 29 Aug 1914: ‘I am a New Zealand artist & for a great many years have restricted my work to N.Z. subjects, flowers, birds, ferns, berries, grasses etc. […] I have been hoping to show you & Dr G.O. Bower the very large collection of original paintings I have in my Studio in oil & water colour large & small paintings finished pictures & panels – also portfolios of rough sketches the work of a long life devoted to making better known the lovely things more difficult to obtain each year. I am not a botanist but botanists have frequently sent me rare plants if they thought I had not got them. Many of my paintings have found their way to England & elsewhere. As a child I lived in the bush for some years & so became familiar with the forest trees & flowers & their manner of growth, & have also camped out many times.’

Also we had to try (encouraged by our dear mother) to educate ourselves
Emily makes no mention of the school Sarah Harris established at the junction of Frankley and Elliott Roads for the education of her children and some of their neighbours. Emily and her sister Kate became teachers at the school in the 1850s. When their mother opened a second school in 1859 at the Hurdon Primitive Methodist Chapel near the junction of Elliott and Cowling Roads, Kate stayed at Frankley Road and Emily assisted Sarah at Hurdon. Surviving records indicate that both schools, one for girls and the other for boys and girls, were in operation until the outbreak of war in 1860. See HAH Insull (12. and 16, note 5) and HW Insull research notes at Puke Ariki (ARC2002-737). The research notes also suggest that a school for boys was established in the 1850s by Edwin Harris. However records are unclear and HW Insull notes that the school, located at the junction of Frankley Road and Standish Hill, may have been kept by Samuel Harris, a draughtsman with the NZ Company.

We were very fond of poetry, and used to learn a great deal to recite to each other
The Harrises were not unusual in their love of poetry. Another family group, the Richmonds and Atkinsons, were reading and writing poetry and making music a few miles away at Hurworth on upper Carrington Rd in the mid-1850s. The Richmond Atkinson Papers at the Turnbull Library in Wellington include two volumes of the Aspective Review, a handwritten newspaper edited by Arthur Atkinson 1855-57 containing poems by several members of the family. On his Mangorei farm in 1849, Josiah Flight composed poems for his daughters aged ten and six who were living in town with their mother until the family home could be completed:

My dear little Anne has oft’ wish’d to see
Her Father’s very low dwelling at Mangorei;
Where the boughs of the Rimu the wind whirls around,
And the red blossom’d Rata is frequently found.

The Kareao too entangles the trees,
And the New Zealand Briar one frequently sees;
The toitoi, Tawa and Fucia abound,
With many low shrubs standing thick on the ground.

Kokarikos and Parrots are often in sight;
Owls calling out “pork” fly about all the night;
Pigeons famous for stews are oftentimes there,
And Tuis and Fantails are not very rare.

The fish in the waters we can’t speak much about,
Tho’ tis said in the river there’s very good Trout;
With Eels that in flavour are all you can wish,
And in the small streams there’s the little Cray fish.

But Anne and her Mother and Sisters must come
To see for themselves what may be their next home;
And may they bring with them content with their lot,
Then will happiness reign in their poor Father’s cot.

Mangorei June 24th, 1849

My dear little Sarah, if you wish to know
The names of our cows, you will find them below;
And if you attentively read them aright,
When you come to the bush you will tell them at sight.

First Daisy and Blackberry, both you well know,
Then Cherry so red with fine long horns too,
And Poppy much like her, in colour at least,
With Black Bess, once shining, how alter’d poor beast;
Her daughter’s called Strawberry, she’s so like that nice fruit,
Red Rose is all red; she’s a troublesome brute:
Tulip’s a good cow, but in flesh very low;
Blue Bell will soon calve, so will Violet too:
Pansy so brown looks pretty well now –
I hope when she calves she will prove a good cow:
Picotee is spotted with black and with white,
And Sweet Pea’s a yellowish red if I’m right:
Geranium is red; I believe she’s but young;
Johnquill has a calf that’s not very strong:
Snowdrop, rightly named, her colour is white,
Carnation is red, Pink a strawberry quite.

And now I feel sure as my name is Flight
My little girl Sarah will tell their names right.

Mangorei 22nd Octr, 1849

Someone offered Frances half a crown if she would learn the curfew
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (first published in 1751), which begins:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.