Writing Lines 3

Letter to Miss Hill in Liskeard, England, 8 December 1860 

New Plymouth
Dec 8th 1860
My dear Aunt Emma.

I have just passed a most dreary day. Papa has at last gone to Nelson. The Airedale came in this morning but owing to the weather being so rough was obliged to put off again so soon that papa had not time even to wish me good bye. I hurried down to the beach hoping to see him but was too late. I came back with a feeling of disappointment and loneliness I cannot describe. In war time we feel very acutely every thing is so uncertain. You part perhaps from a friend with a careless smile and a few hours after you may look upon his lifeless corpse. You go to Nelson leaving some one very dear to follow by the next vessel. And when hastening joyfully to the Port to receive her you are told that she is in her grave. Such things have happened so often that we grow fearfully anxious about those we love.

We are still cooped up in the town, a few people live beyond the Trenches but they do so at a great risk and are obliged to come in whenever there is any cause for alarm. I do not like the idea of living in the town all the summer, it is so hot and dusty beyond anything a person living in England can conceive. We are often tempted to go outside the lines farther than prudence would allow, all seems so calm and peaceful one can scarcely suppose there is the slightest danger, until we come to some deserted home or to the site of some well known cottage now burnt to the ground.

However such wanderings are akin to madness, yet in spite of which I must tell you of our little expedition into the country. Mr Des Voeux occasionally rides out to his farm to look after the remnant of his property there. Glenavon is [or] was the prettiest place here. There is an extensive garden with a most romantic dell by the side of it with winding paths in every direction. Here and there the trees have been cleared away and rare shrubs and flowers planted. We had often petitioned to be allowed to visit Glenavon once more but Mr Des Voeux declared it was folly to run such a risk. At last we proposed a picnic one day to gather gooseberries when he was going out with an escort.

We set off early in the morning, five venturesome women in a bullock cart. Mr or rather Capt. Des Voeux rode in advance with some of his mounted troop while we followed at a slow and steady pace in the cart, accompanied by several officers well armed and mounted.

Before leaving town it was rumoured that a large body of W— were advancing and we were entreated not to go, but we had grown so incredulous about reports that we paid no attention to it except one lady sent for her husband’s revolver and which I think she would have used with effect if necessary.

It was a lovely day and only those who have been shut up for months in a town almost in a state of siege can imagine how delightful it was to breathe again the pure air of the country. All seemed so still & peaceful so fresh and green that our armed party did not appear in harmony with the scene. When we were about half way it was said that someone had heard guns firing and we had better turn back, however we went on and at last arrived in safety at our destination. How changed since we left, the garden once so nicely kept now overgrown with weeds, the houses which for some unaccountable reason the Maories [Māori] have not burnt, with the windows broken and every scrap of paper torn from the walls. Still we spent several hours there very pleasantly and then returned to town laden with fruit and flowers. Two days after some of the rebel Natives made Glenavon their head quarters for a time. A boy was fired at near there but fortunately was only slightly wounded. And at the spot where we hesitated about going on another poor boy was dragged from his horse and tomahawked.

MS copy of letter to aunt Emma Jane Hill, Liskeard, England. Written in New Plymouth, 8 Dec 1860. Copying date unknown. Puke Ariki. Fascicle 1, pp. [3]-[6].

My dear Aunt Emma
Emma Jane Hill (1802-1866) was born in Plymouth, England, and lived in Liskeard, Cornwall, where she was for many years a teacher at a private boarding school for young ladies. She was the eldest sister of Sarah Harris, and a mentor to her Harris nieces. Five of Sarah Harris’s letters to her sister from the 1840s and early 1850s appear in ‘The Family Songbook,’ often with news of Emily: ‘Her remembrance of dear Aunt Emma is kept alive by our often talking of you. She is a very intelligent child. Had she [been] brought up by you I am [sure] she would have done you great Credit.’ (2 May 1844) Emily’s 1860 letter to her aunt is noticeably more conscious of narrative style in its rehearsal of the Glenavon visit than in the letter to her mother three days previously.      

Glenavon is [or] was the prettiest place here
Glenavon at the Waiwhakaiho, Brooklands and Ratanui to the south of New Plymouth were three of the larger farms in the district, each with landscaped grounds and extensive plantings. In 1860 the properties were owned by TW Richardson, Captain Henry King and Charles Brown, all of whom had been obliged to abandon them and take refuge in New Plymouth.

How changed since we left, the garden once so nicely kept now overgrown
From Emily’s comment it is clear that she was in Des Voeux’s employ before the outbreak of war. The date of the Richardson and Des Voeux removal from Glenavon to New Plymouth is not recorded but seems likely to have occurred between the start of hostilities in March 1860 and the entrenchment of the town in July. A fictional date of 20 March for the flight of the Glenavon families to town occurs in Henry Stoney’s novel, where the Wellmans are the Richardsons and the St Peirres appear to be a mix of the Des Voeux and King families. Glenfairy is Glenavon, The Retreat is Brooklands. Heroine Fanny Wellman is a (much younger) Catherine Des Voeux, her friend Mary St Pierre may be a cipher for Eliza Mary King.

Neither, indeed, did our friends pass unscathed from the general calamity, and in one day it was alike the misfortune to all to abandon their comfortable and happy homes for the discomforts of a crowded town, little above the size of an ordinary village in England. With firm heart, however, and confidence in a higher power, Messrs. Wellman and St. Pierre prepared to seek shelter with their neighbours—and sad, indeed, and disheartening was the group that, on the 20th March, 1860, left the precincts of Glenfairy and the Retreat. As fate would have it, they met on their way, and, with a cheerful voice of salutation, each vied with the other to dispel the gloom of their hearts, in their leaving those abodes that years of toil and expense had reared.

Fanny and Mary rode together—the heart of each was full—entire confidence was now between them—and Mary communicated to her friend her little secret also, and the compact of mutual love that had been established between her and Walter, who now rode up to join the party, and with lusty voice bade them be cheerful, infusing by his manner fresh courage into their drooping spirits, which was no easy task to do as they passed along the crowded road. Nor could they see so many of their fellow-settlers in that melancholy procession, flying from their firesides, without sorrow and pity. It was, indeed, a sad scene, and one difficult to depict, as o’er hill and dale and down each winding road, came group on group in varied style—some with teams laden with their property—others urging on their steeds, not even having tarried to saddle them; then came waggons and bullock drays filled with children—a motley scene indeed—but all, alas! filled with gloomy forebodings for the future.

Mr. Wellman’s family was kindly received in the house of an old friend, one of the most comfortable in the town, but still, from its crowded state, a great distress of mind to the more sensitive feelings of Mrs. Wellman,—one who was ever cautious not to intrude on any, and deeply felt the dire necessity which compelled them thus to encroach upon her friends. A house lately built and fitted as a goods store was taken by the St. Pierres, and though much cramped as to room, and changed from the spacious mansion they had left, with Aunt Dorothy’s careful and energetic spirit, and Mary’s cheerful one, their position compared to that of many others was enviable. Thus were our friends housed on the first outbreak of the war, but still hope was great with them, that the energetic measures about to be adopted would, ere long, restore them to their homes. (Stoney 52-53)

A boy was fired at near there but fortunately was only slightly wounded
John Bishop was wounded 23 Nov 1860 near the Waiwhakaiho Bridge.

Taranaki Herald 24 Nov1860: 2. Continuation of Journal of Events. Friday, Nov. 23. — The town was surprised this morning by the intelligence that the Waikatos were at Waiwakaiho, and had fired upon and wounded a young man named John Bishop, who was on his father’s farm contiguous to the bridge. Bishop and a native boy were walking on the flat on the town side of the bridge and opposite the pa occupied by friendly natives for the protection of the bridge when they received a volley from behind rising ground, about 15 yards from where they were standing, (an old Maori entrenchment) Bishop was hit through the wrist and in the groin, but the Maori boy escaped. The two immediately ran into a wooded swamp under the pa, and succeeded in escaping. Bishop reached the town where he fainted from loss of blood. From the number of shots fired a large party must have been in ambush.

6 p.m. — Bishop’s wound in the wrist is severe, the bullet passing through the two bones. The wound in the groin is superficial, he had a single-barrel fowling piece in his hand when the bullet struck him, he dropped it, and it was taken away by the Waikatos. During the afternoon, a native woman saw about 200 of them across the river, and when they saw her, they passed Bishop’s gun one to another with exulting yells. They afterwards waved to her to return to her pa. It is said the Waikatos are encamped near Mr. Smart’s farm.

another poor boy was dragged from his horse and tomahawked
Joseph Sarten, aged 16, was killed 4 Dec 1860 at Te Henui.

Taranaki Herald 8 Dec 1860: 3. Continuation of Journal of Events. Tuesday, Dec. 4. — Heavy rain during the night, but no wind. Dense fog over the town and country. — At 4 p.m., a lad named Joseph Sarten, who was at the Henui on horseback, seeking a bullock, was shot and tomahawked. A boy named Wm. Northcote, who was riding alongside him, witnessed the whole affair. A volley was fired and Sarten fell, and directly afterwards several natives ran from behind a furze hedge and tomahawked him. Northcote escaped and rode into town with the intelligence, and a party of Militia and Rifles, and the inlying picket of the 12th, with the Mounted Volunteers, proceeded to recover the body. It was found where he fell, in a lane running from Stewart’s house towards the beach, about midway between the Henui and Waiwakaiho rivers. He had received three bullets in his back and sides, and was brutally hacked about the head and legs by tomahawks. The horse was led into town with a bullet through its neck. The mounted men brought the body as far as the Henui, where they met the troops, and it was put into an ambulance cart and brought to the hospital. The shots in the body and in the horse show that at least four persons were concerned in the murder, and from the character of the wounds, they had evidently been posted within a few yards of where their victim passed. A heavy mist had favoured their purpose. The poor boy was 16 years of age, and is the second of the family who have met a violent end from the rebels.