Sarah | Emily | Frances

Sarah | Emily | Frances

By Michele Leggott


I think I feel a little pleasure in telling you
the dress was a plain Irish Poplin
made in the fashion of the day
a cape of white Gros de Naples with long ends nearly to my feet
trimmed all round with white swan’s down
a white hat trimmed with a small white feather
& orange blossom

the forest is behind me & the sea in front
but I dare not venture into the former for fear of losing myself
& the beach is often too exposed to high winds
making you almost blind with the iron sand
& the great waves of the Pacific Ocean dashing against the rocks
I have seen a beautiful water spout & the Whales sometimes
but that was not often

I believe I must conclude by telling 5o’clock p.m.
Corbyn’s driving in at the gate
Emily at crochet work
Kate looking to see what is in the cart for the house
Frances feeding the calf, Mary the pet lamb
Augusta & Ellen making a garland of daisies & roses for the lamb’s neck
Papa reading Sharp’s Magazine, Mamma writing


I believe I was at that time
the only girl in all Taranaki
who ever wrote a line
I am like the active verb
to be and to do
I am too necessary an appendage
to be left out

we used to swing on the great creepers
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

we kept drifting until we got nearly under the bridge
one of the men, a young Maori, climbed along the broken chain
& just as we were under dropped into the canoe
he quickly rowed us across & we went home
how many times since then
I have tried to cross, in dreams
that broken bridge or drifted down that river


I arose shortly after 5, finished my preparations
and after taking a cup of cocoa was ready to start by 6.30
My travelling costume consisted of a short dress of grey homespun
black jacket; a hat; strong leather boots, riding gloves
my swag contained a rug, and a few necessaries for camping out
I had a small basket for ferns, wild flowers etc
which I could strap on my back, that being the easiest mode of carrying it

Our road lay through a farm that had been abandoned during the war
dead trees were covered with, rata creeper in full flower
whilst ferns, and native shrubs were growing
wherever there was the least shelter
the house had been burnt by the maories
but fuchsia and blackberries still mark the spot where the garden had been
the gentlemen soon joined us heavily laden, I did pity them

a wonderful panorama stretched out before us
from the White Cliffs to Stoney River and right away over the clouds
to ‘The Other side of nowhere’
and then again inland over a sea of forest
with the blue smoke of Stratford hanging like a faint mist over the settlement
I cannot describe the top of the mountain for the best of reasons
we were higher than the field of snow where the crater is

You can read more about this piece in ‘Speaking back to Emily Harris (2021).’