Writing Lines 8

Letter to parents Sarah and Edwin Harris in Nelson, 20 February 1861

New Plymouth
Feb 20th 1861
My dear Mamma and Papa.

I have a more melancholy letter to write than I ever thought to have written from New Plymouth, so sad I scarcely know how to begin. But I must not make too long a preface or you will be alarmed and pained with suspense yet most likely you will have heard of this last fearful tragedy before reading my letter.

On the afternoon of Feb 8th Mr William King went out as usual for a short ride. Happening to meet his man Thomson coming from Woodleigh, Mrs W. King’s property, he asked him if he saw any Maories [Māori] out there. Thomson said that he had not seen any Maories or traces of them. Mr King had mentioned in the morning that he was quite tired of the rides he had been lately & longed for some fresh place to go. He certainly had no intention of going to Woodleigh when he left the house for he always took his revolver with him and he was then unarmed. He reached Woodleigh but while he was in one of the fields before the house he was fired at by a party of Maories in ambush, three shots took effect, one in the back, two in the side. With almost super human strength he rode several hundred yards and then fell exhausted. The Natives ran to secure the saddle & bridle, two others, more bloodthirsty than the rest, came up to Mr King, and now the accounts vary so much that I cannot say exactly which is most correct. He is reported to have said to one of the Natives, a man who had worked for him, ‘Leave me I am badly wounded.’ The man wished to save him but the other Maorie pointed his gun close to him and shot him through the head. Dr Wilson says from the nature of the wounds he, Mr King, could not possibly have spoken a word. Nearly the whole of this fatal scene was witnessed from the barracks and as fast as they could run the Militia went out. Some gentlemen on horseback got there first but too late to render any assistance, poor Mr King was beyond all human aid. In the meantime I was quietly reading on the beach and when it was time to return walked leisurely into town. When Mary Elliot (a child) asked me if it was true that Mr King was shot at I went on & met Mrs Richardson hurrying down to Mrs King’s. She said as she passed ‘Mr King is shot,’ in her excitement she spoke the truth for she did not then know that he was dead.

In a little while after the sad procession entered the town and his body was at once taken to his own house.

The horror stricken grief of his wife and the fearful blow to Capt. & Mrs King I need not speak of, you can so well imagine what they felt. On Sunday he was buried by the side of Mr Richardson. The funeral was a private one but a greater number of people have never I think attended a funeral here before. Capt. King (R.N., William King was his only child) was pleased to see so many. He bore up well on that day, but now that it is over he seems to be pining away.

Mr King’s untimely death has made a great and sudden change in all the plans. It was his often expressed wish that if he died that his wife should leave New Plymouth with the children, which she will do as soon as she arranges matters a little. Mr Des Voeux has given up his commission and intends going to Sydney by the next mail steamer and from thence to Van Diemen’s Land to Hobart Town with Mrs King & Mrs Richardson but perhaps not all together. Mr Des Voeux’s first wish and intention was to take me. He afterwards thought of going to Wellington, then if I liked he would have taken me there on his way and tried to get me another situation and if he could not, send me on to Nelson, so Mrs Des Voeux told me. I then went to Mrs Dingle and made her an offer of taking her children to Nelson. But she could not make up her mind to part with them, she strongly recommended me to open a school here, she said that I should be certain to get plenty of scholars. I felt very much inclined to try and consulted Mrs Standish about it and she was of the same opinion. Mrs Dingle also offered me a home for a few weeks. They live in part of Richard Brown’s house, but where to get a school room is the great difficulty.

Mr Des Voeux again determined to go direct to Sydney & Mrs Des Voeux again asked me to go with them but she did not seem to be very earnest about it. I was so little inclined to accept her offer that Mr Des Voeux thought it necessary to speak to me one evening. He spent an hour pointing out the advantages while I opposed the disadvantages, he was I saw thoroughly in earnest, he said he was quite surprised at my hesitating, he thought I would have been glad to see a little more of the world. But the stumbling block how to get back again. Mr Des Voeux said that the move that he was about to make was a very expensive one and that after taking me there he could not afford to send me back. But I said if after you are settled in Hobart Town you should find some one you like better & I had not the means of returning? He replied that he would never do any thing so unjust.

After some further consideration he said first he would give me ten pounds towards returning then that he would pay half & also that when the war is over he [manuscript breaks off]

MS copy of letter to parents Sarah and Edwin Harris, Nelson. Written in New Plymouth, 20 Feb 1861. Breaks off mid-sentence. Copying date unknown. Puke Ariki. ARC2002-190. Fascicle 1, pp. [23]-[26].

Emily reports the death of William Cutfield King 8 feb 1861 to her parents in Nelson. She informs them of Des Voeux’s intention to remove his family to Hobart, and his request that Emily will accompany them. Edwin and Sarah would certainly have heard news of WC King’s death but Emily’s proximity to the event is emphasised by the particulars she gives, including her whereabouts at the time of the attack.

Stoney’s novel also moves one of his families, the St Pierres, to Hobart, where some complicated twists of mistaken identity are resolved and (unlike real life events) the wanderers return to Taranaki at the close of the war to rebuild their homes and prosperity. The only real-life protagonists to return to New Plymouth were Mrs EM King and her daughters. Eliza Mary King’s unconventional approach to widowhood attracted immediate criticism on her return. Helen Wilson, wife of Dr Peter Wilson, wrote to Donald McLean 22 Jan 1863 that Mrs Willie King had returned, ‘looking cross as ever, without a scrap of mourning on her dress.’. Maria Richmond wrote to her daughter-in-law Emily Richmond 25 Apr 1863: ‘Meantime people go on amusing themselves as usual, Mr Arthur Standish gave a ball on Thursday night at the old mess-room, the combined culinary art of Mrs Standish, Mrs Humphries and Mrs J. S. Smith were displayed in an elegant supper to a large assemblage of beauty and fashion . . . Dr McKinnon, ‘the observed of all observers’, in a Highland costume of rich materials which showed his manly form to great advantage, devoted himself the whole evening exclusively to Mrs Willie King.’ (Scholefield 2.38)

On the afternoon of Feb 8th Mr William King went out as usual for a short ride
Taranaki Herald 9 Feb 1861: 3. Continuation of Journal of Events. Friday, Feb. 8. — This afternoon, Captain W. C. King (Militia) ventured out to his estate at Woodleigh, and was shot dead. The unfortunate gentleman was observed from Marsland hill to ride smartly down a slope followed by natives, who shot him with great ferocity. Volunteers and militia hastened to the scene, followed by military, but too late to render aid or intercept the natives, who were seen decamping in the direction of Ratapihipihi. His body was found pierced by six bullets, three through his head, two in the body, and one in the thigh. From the appearance of the wounds in the head he was fired into while lying on the ground. The horse was brought in though shot in three places, but the saddle and bridle had been removed.

Dr Wilson says from the nature of the wounds
Dr Peter Wilson (1791-1863). He and his wife Helen Ann Wilson (1793/94-1871) emigrated to NZ on the Slains Castle, arriving in Port Nicholson from London in 1841. The Wilsons lived in Wanganui until 1847, when they moved to Taranaki. Peter Wilson was appointed New Plymouth’s Colonial Surgeon in 1849. An undated pencil drawing by Edwin Harris showing Mt Taranaki / Egmont viewed through a classical portico of columns and arches is part of the Dr Peter Wilson collection at Puke Ariki (A64.817). Verso inscription: ‘Drawn by Edwin Harris for Mrs Wilson because of her complaint that N.P. did not have any ‘real’ architecture.’

Capt. King (R.N., William King was his only child)
Captain Henry King, formerly of the Royal Navy, his wife Mary Anne and son William Cutfield King, arrived in New Plymouth on the Amelia Thompson in 1841. King and his brother-in-law George Cutfield established Brooklands, a large farm to the south of the New Plymouth settlement and King was first commissioner of Taranaki. In his role as Resident magistrate King supported Edwin Harris’s application for Government survey work 1849-50. See ‘The Family Songbook’ #26 and note. The house at Brooklands was destroyed in the 1860-61 war.

I then went to Mrs Dingle and made her an offer
James Dingle owned the 50-acre rural section Grey 480 adjacent to Edwin Harris’s farm on Frankley Rd. See ‘The Family Songbook’ #24 and note. It seems likely that Emily, Kate or Sarah Harris were teaching the Dingle children in one or other of their schools before the war.

They live in part of Richard Brown’s house
Richard Brown was a merchant, an old settler and an editor of the Taranaki Herald. He was appointed Captain of the Native Irregulars at Waitara when war broke out in 1860 but the force was disbanded by military authorities after Brown was ambushed 26 May and mortally wounded. He died 22 August 1860 at Waitara.

Taranaki Herald 25 Aug 1860: 2. Continuation of Journal of Events. 4 p.m. — Tasmanian Maid unexpectedly made her appearance with her flag flying half-mast high, and a signal that Mr. Richard Brown was dead. The immediate cause of his death, which took place on Wednesday at 2 p.m., was influenza. Every respect was paid to his body by the troops at Waitara when it was put on board the steamer. The bluejackets at Mount Eliot, under Commodore Seymour, with a gun carriage on the beach, and a guard of honor, received the body and conveyed it to the deceased gentleman’s residence in the town. When the coffin was placed on the gun, the guard carried arms, and the numerous assemblage fell in and joined in the cortege. An inquest on the body was held at Waitara on the 23rd instant.

An elegy for Richard Brown appeared in the Taranaki Herald 1 Sept 1860: 3. The poem was reprinted in the Wellington Independent 14 Sept 1860: 5. See Michele Leggott, ‘Touching the Taranaki Campaign: The Poems of Matthew Fitzpatrick August-November 1860.’

On the death of the late Capt. Brown, T.M.

We need no badge of mourning to mark our deep-felt grief,
In yielding back to Earth, our old, our well-tried chief ;
For Freedom sheds a tear, to the hero that defended
Her sacred laws and rights, and in her struggles ended !

The tomb is o’er him closed, but the grave can never hide
A patriot’s well-won fame,-a Briton’s noblest pride.
When British laws were slighted, his ready sword he drew,
To assert Britannia’s rights, and God’s, and Freedom’s too !

Though his hair was gray with years, he played a soldier’s part,
For ‘neath his manly breast, there throb’d a Briton’s heart ;
His hand was ever foremost, where danger seemed most near,
And oft his daring spirit, fill’d the rebel’s heart with fear !

No selfish thought e’er nestled within his gen’rous breast,
‘Twas when he toiled for others he felt himself most blest !
To our province he was ever a true devoted friend –
His purse was to advance it, -his arm, to defend !

Thou brave, thou noble soul, receive our last adieu –
Our hearts are living urns for patriot sires like you,
You’ve won immortal fame, and we hope (what is more dear)
A crown of bliss divine, in God’s own heavenly sphere !

Matthew Fitzpatrick, Private, 65th Regiment.
Taranaki, 27 August 1860.

Taranaki Herald 1 September 1860: 3.

Wellington Independent 14 September 1860: 5.