Houses by the sea

posted by Michele

The Alexander Turnbull Library has announced its acquisition of a major collection of Robin Hyde’s literary papers. To celebrate the occasion there will be a reception and reading at the National Library in Wellington on February 26 as per the invitation above.

'Houses by the Sea' is Hyde’s most famous sequence of poems and the title of the collection of her later poems published posthumously in 1952. The sequence explores her Wellington childhood and adolescence, looking back at the 1900s and 1910s from 1937-39 as Hyde prepared to leave New Zealand, then travelled through war-torn China and on to England where she died in August 1939. 'Houses by the Sea' travelled with her and was worked on in places as diverse as Hankow (now Wuhan) and Charles Brasch's Wiltshire cottage. Hyde was fully aware of the effect geographical distance was exerting on early memory, explaining in a letter to her family from Shanghai 2 May 1938:

N.Z. is my country beyond any possible mistake [. . .] I’d like to be home, in the back-yard among the black-eyed Susans, or in the front garden with the hose sprinkling – it'll be autumn now, and Wilton's Creek soft and smelling of wild mint and burning gorse. By whiles I have tried to write and link up a series of poems about our childhood places – Wellington – and like some of the results, though very fragmentary as yet. But in travelling, peace isn’t deep enough – if at all – for the writing of real poetry. For prose, however, it hasn’t been so bad, and I think the inarticulate blurred mass of Eastern noise, which is just enormous, is easier to stand because I can’t understand it – my mind isn’t hunting a thread here, a word there. (Challis and Rawlinson, The Book of Iris, p.531)

The prose from China became her last book, the travel memoir and anti-war polemic Dragon Rampant (1939). The poems, dazzling collages of image and memory, were already more than fragmentary when she wrote from Shanghai (she was always supercritical of her own work). By the time she was typing in the spring sunshine outside Bishop's Barn in April 1939, they had become the 20-page typescript from which the published sequence derives. That typescript is part of the vast treasury of manuscripts and photographs that has come to the Turnbull as part of the Derek Challis Papers. The collection is now available to researchers and interested readers of Hyde.

Image: RH writing at Bishop's Barn during her first visit as a guest of Charles Brasch, April 1939. From Derek Challis and Gloria Rawlinson, The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde (Auckland University Press, 2003)

Papers Past

posted by Michele

A big hand for the folks at the National Library who are putting our newspapers online bit by bit, paper by paper. The project is called Papers Past and it means you can search in all kinds of ways for all kinds of things that made local news. Just before Christmas I found that The Timaru Herald had been put online, not a moment too soon for some tinkering with family history I was doing. When your ancestors don’t leave many clues, the papers have to fill in the gaps (see below, ‘family sightings on the mainland’).

It helps to have an oddly spelt name but even so there were more than 350 search results for leggott between 1873 and 1900 which is when the past stops. My arm was about to drop off coming through the 1890s when I arrived at the following story:

Timaru Herald, 11 January 1898

Mr Leggott, quite an old identity of Timaru, has shown us a curiosity in the shape of copies of a newspaper, The Greyhound Chronicle, published in February, 1865. The ‘copy’ for the paper was written on the voyage of the ship Greyhound, and each MS. day's paper carefully bound, and on arrival at Christchurch the whole was printed and distributed among the passengers. The daily record is interesting reading, the short articles dealing with the voyage, the medical officer's report, astronomy, correspondence on various matters, poetry, humourous paragraphs, etc. Mr Leggott, who was a passenger by the ship, assures us that the paper was eagerly looked for, and helped time to pass very pleasantly.

That’s William, who arrived as a 24 year old farm labourer from Lincolnshire, married 19 year old Catherine Thornton in 1868 and went on to have a family of 11 children. We knew about the Greyhound. We did not know about The Greyhound Chronicle. I searched the databases for a copy, and wonder of wonders, found just one, an ancient photocopy of the publication held by the Turnbull Library. Interlibrary loan has done its work and I am looking at a copy of a copy of the printed version of a handwritten ship’s newspaper that my great great grandfather read February through June 1865 as he made the one-way voyage from London to Lyttelton.

family sightings on the mainland

there was a lot of singing            solos glees duets
recitations and a dialogue in character         sometimes
an initial will show which one of them it was
with the unregistered dog the prize for conduct
the five shilling donation the worst competition score
they play cricket rounders and draughts         they object
to religious instruction in state schools         they join
the Loyal Lifeboat Lodge of Good Templars
the Blue Ribbon Army and the Band of Hope
they are drain layers dry salters road contractors
and they sing         Strike Out the Top Line         The Holy City
Come Unto Me All Ye That Labour And Are Heavy Laden
And I Will Give You Rest         they address remarks on
How to Reach the Unconverted and Can God Furnish
a Table in the Wilderness         they occupy chairs
and second motions         they tender successfully
for local contracts and become identities
in the district          one does jury duty
for an embezzlement trial          one plays a B Flat Bass
they are surface men boot finishers consignees
of shipping from up and down the coast
a son comes second in the three legged race
a daughter is commended for her writing
every eligible name is on the suffrage roll
nobody volunteered for the Transvaal war
and they sing         solos duets quartets         it is never quiet
each morning they open their newspapers
and pick up where they left off
the news goes round and everybody knows
who has been uproariously applauded
who has been struck off the householders’ roll and why
who spoke at length or wished business
speedily disposed of         who sang alto
in one of the pleasantly rendered vocal items
and who is in the conveyance
leaving Gabites’ corner at 1 o’clock sharp today