Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911
My dear St. John,
Nearly two years since my last letter. I have been busy with parochial and diocesan work, but this has been overshadowed by such happenings as the death of the Queen, the sudden illness of the King, and the postponement of his Coronation, which has stirred to the quick the patriotism of New Zealand. There can be no doubt of the loyalty and love of the Mother Country which animates our community. Emigration and travel have brought about a habit of mind which realizes the vast importance of the Empire as a whole. The Little Englander spirit finds no place here. Small as our population is, a mere million in a country rather larger than Great Britain, it is keenly alive to its responsibility, so far as possible, for the maintenance and welfare of the great British family. New Zealand of late years has done something for self defence; the South African trouble brought an opportunity which showed what it was willing and able to do for the Empire.
Two lines of cable connect us with the old world and put us in daily communication with all that happens. On the day of the Queen's funeral the whole country "stood by" to follow her to her grave. As page 302elsewhere, in Timaru all work was suspended. Special services held in church, and at noon a public out-of-door service in the presence of a great assemblage. I was asked to arrange this. It included addresses from Mr. Craigie, the Mayor, and myself, parts of the Service being taken by ministers of the various denominations.
When the sudden news came of King Edward's illness, on the very morning of our preparations for Coronation rejoicings, and his life seemed to hang in the balance, people went about as if under the shadow of some great personal loss.
The war in South Africa came as a great opportunity for New Zealand, which will have a far-reaching effect on the national character and manhood of our people. It appealed to something more than the love of adventure. Eight Contingents went to take part in it, each about five hundred strong, consisting of men in the prime of youth, mostly well trained, at home in the saddle and with the rifle and, to their great advantage, accustomed to wide open country and rough out-of-door life. Personally, I was much interested, having been for years Honorary Military Chaplain of the South Canterbury Volunteers, and in constant touch with them; and from the fact that eight of my nephews served in the war, some as officers, others in the ranks.
The Government rose nobly to the occasion. You may have heard of our Premier, a masterful man, risen from the ranks, of great ability and force of character,—Richard Seddon, known as "King Dick." At first he seemed of the ordinary type of demagogue, a past master in the art of hustings oratory, possessed of great physical strength and a stentorian voice. But, as events proved, he was no mere labour page 303politician. He saw the supreme importance of the welfare of the Empire,—an opportunist perhaps, yet in his sphere of power a great statesman. I write with special interest in him, as, in my goldfield days, Richard Seddon was one of my vestry-men in the little Miner's Church at Waimea, then unknown to fame,—originally an engineering mechanic, then miner, storekeeper, hotelkeeper. Then he qualified himself as a mining advocate, obtained a seat on the Westland County Council, and its chairmanship, at last winning his way into Parliament.
Do you remember one of Jowett's sermons at Oxford on "Religion and Politics?" After laying stress on the difficulty of combining the two, and the risk, which past history so fully illustrates, of Religious policy becoming Religious tyranny, he asks: "Is there no rule of right and wrong by which the Statesman must guide his steps, no true way in which morality and religion enter into politics? First of all he has the rule not to do anything as a statesman which as a private individual he would not allow himself to do. He will not flatter nor deceive, or confuse his own interests, or those of his party, with the interests of his country." This may be said to be an ideal of Statesmanship seldom attained. Seddon's political methods scarcely do so. As a man with men, in all his personal life I feel sure that he is perfectly straight; a true and constant friend, a genial comrade, with no trace of snobbery in his conduct; in spite of his success, blameless and happy in his family life, and in public life emphatically a man who realizes that the secret of good government is to govern. But he allows himself a political as well as a private conscience. He does not hesitate to avow the principle page 304of "the spoils to the victors" in political warfare. His devotion to his work is remarkable. "Your Premier," said a visitor to Wellington, "works harder than all the rest put together; I heard him speaking in the House long after midnight, and met him on the wharf at ten in the morning as fresh as a daisy."
The conclusion of the War in Africa has been the occasion here of great rejoicing. Our men are returning; there are many gaps in their ranks, and many are suffering from malaria. In every centre there is a movement to erect suitable public memorials of the gallant conduct of our New Zealand lads. It is most satisfactory to hear of their keen sense of discipline, to say nothing of their ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with regular troops, and give good account of themselves.
Timaru is rapidly increasing, and I find that the Parish, at present including the neighbouring district of Kingsdon, is too extensive, though in Mr. J. M. Adcock, my curate, I have an indefatigable worker. He is a Cambridge man, with Home and Colonial experience, and in every way as good a colleague as I could wish. One good result of my holiday tours has come of my camera. I have many slides from my photos made by Newton and Co., London,—scenes in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and at Home, which illustrates my lectures and are a great attraction, specially to so many who have never left New Zealand. A good lantern is worth pages of the best written book. So my holidays are not mere idle time.
Coming back here, I took Egypt en route, and, with some friends, spent a delightful six weeks in an expedition up the Nile in a Dahabyah. Our boat was small, with a tiny saloon and cabins; our dragoman,page 305
Chehatah Hassan, a Bedouin Arab, a man of property near Cairo, who spoke a little English, French and Italian, undertook everything, provisioning the vessel, with a crew of eighteen, and arranging for the hire of camels and donkeys that we might need on the way, for a fixed sum. The vessel had two masts with lateen sails, like huge wings, and could make good way with the wind aft. Every night we tied up by the bank, making daily excursions to temples, villages, and places of interest. In winter months the climate is like an ideal summer's day at home, yet at night cold enough for a couple of blankets. Egypt is emphatically a land of light, brilliant, all-pervading light; there is scarcely any cloud scenery. Sunrise and sunset, such a contrast to the white light of midday, flood the atmosphere with colour that lies reflected on the river, veiling every peak and crevice of the barren dry sandstone ranges with hues of delicate beauty. It is on the Nile one understands the force of the old words, "the plague of darkness, a darkness that might be felt."
It is on the Nile, too, from the deck of a dahabyah, in leisure hours such as no train or steamer can give, you re-read the old story of Genesis, as if it were before your eyes. Men at work making bricks of Nile mud, stiffened with bits of grass and straw, drying them in the sun in moulds, just as they are pictured in hieroglyphics on the Temple walls; women morning and evening by the water side filling their water jars, their graceful garments, bracelets, anklets, of the same type which has survived from time immemorial. Every few hundred yards men raising water for irrigation with goatskin buckets, hung on long bamboo levers, and wheels of the same pattern as in the days page 306of the Children of Israel. In bold silhouette against the evening sky, camels, donkeys, going and coming, the men fine upstanding fellows, with handsome faces, the type which is seen on the monuments, though for long centuries they have been mere serfs. There are some ten millions of these fellaheen, all living within three or four miles of the river, on either side. The river itself, too, is a highway, comparatively crowded with craft carrying pots, produce, and miscellaneous cargo. The air is full of voices; the stars are wonderfully brilliant, the planets hanging like lamps in the blue-black sky; lights are twinkling in the villages, and now and then the howl of a jackal makes night hideous. One night, uninclined to sleep, I stepped across the plank that led to the shore, and went up the bank under which we were moored, on the top of which were tamarisks and a sort of dwarf oak. There I caught sight of several men, sitting round a fire, their heads and shoulders shrouded in their burnouses, with rifles across their knees, smoking and chatting. I retraced my steps, and the next morning learnt from the dragoman who they were. "The Sheik of the district we are passing through, out of compliment to the English travellers, had posted an armed guard for our protection; not," he added, "that there is any need of that now, but a few years ago it might have been necessary." A good example of the effect of the Pax Britannica since our occupation of Egypt.
Our crew, with the exception of the Reis (captain), an Arab, were all fellaheen, first-rate boatmen, eighteen in number—all Mahomedans. They were most particular in their devotions, morning, noon and sundown, not all together, but each by himself, kneeling, pros-page 307trating themselves towards Mecca, and reciting verses from the Koran, always quite unconcerned by any notice taken of them. One day Chehatah Hassan said to me, "Do you know, the crew think a great deal of all you." "Why?" said I, "because we are kind to them?" "No, not only that, but because every morning and on Sundays, on the deck, you have your prayers; yes, they think a great deal of you all." He was often inclined to talk, but always with a certain Oriental courtesy and an apology for venturing to express himself. One day, after an excursion to some temples, some of the crew coming with us to bring material for luncheon and tea, I gave them some cigarettes, which they prize highly, and thanked them. "Do you know, I think you should not do that often; you see the men don't understand that sort of kindness; they expect to be ordered about, without thanks." This, no doubt, is a relic of centuries of oppression and slavery,—a word, a command, and a blow; as the old Arab proverb has it, "Allah made the stick for the back, and the back for the stick." Nevertheless, now and then, we gave the crew a feast, a whole sheep, and sweetmeats. It was worth seeing them sitting on deck at night round a big dish full of mutton and rice, each man with his little clay goblet of water, and another vessel of water in which he carefully dipped his fingers before taking a morsel from the dish, as each did in rotation, using only the thumb and third finger; then songs, recitations, and finally a deputation to thank us in most poetical language. This was interpreted by Chehatah. They are great at compliments. When I was leaving the boat, as I had to catch an Orient vessel at Ismailya, for Australia, the whole crew came forward and, by their page 308spokesman, bade me Adieu: "You are going away across the Great Water; when you are away every day will seem like a month to us."
Talking one day to Chehatah about British occupation of Egypt, he said, "Yes, of course, some don't like it, they think we should be a nation by ourselves; but, yes, it is good, I know. It is this way. Not long ago Tax Collector used to come to me, and say, 'You pay for horses, camels, sheep, asses, farm, so much' —I pay—then he come again and again any time. Now, English Tax Collector come, he say, 'Here is the schedule, enter all you have; you pay so much'; never see him again for whole year; yes, that is very good."
Occasionally he took us into Mosques, where one has to put large yellow slippers over one's boots, but no hindrance is offered to your entrance, as might be elsewhere. "I see," I said, "many praying, but never all together, why not?" "Well, we pray when we want to, that is enough." "But I never see women praying; don't they pray?" His answer was evasive: "They might if they liked, but what good would it be? they have no souls." It is this low conception of womanhood, and the almost total absence of the idea of sin, despite their strict adherence to ritual, and the low value put on human life, which is the bane of Mahomedanism.
We saw fine specimens of Egyptian troops; it was a few months after the battle of Omdurman. Tall, thin-shanked, broad, not deep in the chest, alert, and perfect in drill, they have proved themselves worthy comrades of British troops. With British officers they will face any foe. Their pay is good, and on returning to their villages on leave, they are made much of, page 309whereas, before British occupation, a conscript was regarded as a doomed man, seldom heard of again by his kith and kin. The abolition, also, of the forced unpaid labour of the Corvée, annually impressed for canal and other work, has worked wonders. It was said that the fellaheen would never work, for wages, without the lash. They do so willingly. The country is being regenerated by a mere handful of British officers and civilians. Tact, courage, justice, unselfish care for the best interests of the people, is doing far more than the millions of British capital spent in material advancement of the land. Of the latter we saw a great instance, in the great Dam at Assouan, above the First Cataract. It was in its first stage; it will increase by irrigation the area of available land to a great extent.
The temples and monuments, tombs of the kings, and their palaces are too big a topic for a letter like this, but I must add a word or two about the temples of Philæ, a few miles above the first cataract, where Egypt proper ends. Leaving our boat at Assouan, we had a little experience of a desert journey, yellow hard sand underfoot, not a sign of vegetation, silence, solitude, and sunshine; here and there an outcrop of granite rock, rounded and weathered with the sandstorms of centuries, purplish in colour, and occasionally inscribed with hieroglyphics. These rocks give the only chance of shade in a "weary land" of uninterrupted sunshine. Turning the corner of one of them, there was the Nile in view, and rising out of it an island, sixty feet above the water, its steep sides clothed with vegetation, and above, the outline of pillared temples. They are not ancient, as antiquity goes in Egypt, being only of the Ptolemaic age, 300 B.C. Philæ was page 310the frontier foot of old Egypt, commanding the Nile. Occasionally the Pharoahs sent armies into the mysterious southern regions, and brought back spoils, gold, silver, spices, slaves, and dwarfs, leaving, as Rameses II did at Abou Simbel and other places on the Nile, huge sculptured memorials of his renown. It is some 1,800 miles further up the river before Khartoum is reached, and it was not until Kitchener's military line of railway was laid recently that there was any mode of getting there, save by the tortuous course of the river, and negotiating various cataracts. As yet no civilian is allowed to use the railway. No doubt, in future the Sudan will, under our occupation, become a great field for British enterprise. When the great dam is finished, eighty feet in height, it will hold up the water for some miles, storing it for gradual use, instead of running to waste at high Nile, and distributing it during low Nile. But it will almost submerge the island, leaving only the slightest foothold for the temples. I am glad to have seen Philæ in its primitive beauty, soon to be a thing of the past.
Returning down the river, we had to tack constantly against the prevailing northerly wind, a slow process. I had a few days in Cairo, and must limit myself in this letter to a visit to the Coptic Church, and convent, of Abu El Seyfen. Its priest, Abu El Malek, a tall, venerable man in black robes, received us most courteousty; a young Copt acted as interpreter. This church, like others, has an internal arrangement, somewhat like ours, of nave, aisles, side chapels, and sanctuary. Pierced woodwork screens shut off the side chapels and baptistery. The sanctuary—there is no chancel—is apsidal, with a large stone altar, square, on a low level, with a high stone page 311platform behind it, on which are semi-circular seats for the priests, who face the congregation. Side altars are rarely used. The priests celebrate barefooted. Communion is in both kinds, and is administered to very young persons. The vessels, censers, and covers of books are silver. Crosses are used, but I saw no crucifix. There are shrines containing relics, and many pictures, the chief picture that of Our Lord in the attitude of Benediction. "For what purpose," I asked, "do you use pictures," and pointing to one of the Virgin Mary, "for adoration?"
"Oh no," was his reply, "God will have no worship paid to any but Himself, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit."
There are no organs, but bells and cymbals, with triangles, are used; no images; their sacred calendar is much the same as ours, but contains many local saints. Of all Christian communions, the Copts alone have a day—January 18th—to commemorate our Lord's baptism.
The Copts number more than a million, the direct descendants of the first Christian churches in Egypt. Their conversion took place about the time of Diocletian's persecution, 300 a.d., and included the whole population of Egypt. At that time the native language was the ancient spoken language of Egypt. It did not exist as a written language, except in the form of hieroglyphics, which had long ceased to be understood. No one could read them. It was necessary to give the converts the Bible, and a Liturgy, which was in the main the Liturgy of St. Basil, and other Christian documents, and as the letters of the Greek alphabet were known by the people, they were used to represent the sounds of the old-spoken language, the ordinary page 312speech of the country. This, of course, produced a written language which looks like Greek, but is not so. In the church I saw the Bible and Liturgy; on one side of the open pages it was in Arabic, which all use to-day; on the other side the old language of Egypt in Greek letters, now never used. Looking like Greek, it is mere nonsense, just as an ordinary English book in Greek letters would be. Till within a few years ago this old Coptic writing was regarded, even by experts, as rubbish. Not only was it found in the books used originally in churches, but in numerous manuscripts found in monasteries. Gradually it was discovered that it was the key by which the ancient hieroglyphic script on temple walls and monuments might be read. Here is an instance: In the hieroglyphs Egyptian deities are always represented as holding in the right hand the symbol [unclear: T] which Egyptologists took to mean "Eternal Life." When it was noticed that in all passages of the Bible the word which corresponds to Eternal Life is written in the Greek letters "Ankh," the conclusion was clear that "Ankh" was the sound as spoken of the symbol [unclear: T] Then followed the discovery of many other sounds in the hieroglyphic writing, and the formation of an alphabet, so that now these old inscriptions, which literally cover the temple walls and sides of obelisks, are easily read, and historical records which go back further than any other known history have been brought to light. Egyptian history, according to the best authorities, goes back as far as 5,000 b.c.
Asking the priest in what way the Coptic Church regarded the Pope, the reply was: "As a great Bishop, a Patriarch, but not as the Supreme Head of the Church." I got an excellent photograph of Abu Elpage 313
Malek, to his great satisfaction. As I bade him goodbye, he lifted up both hands, placing them on my shoulders, and gave me his blessing, which ended with the words, as sounded in Greek, "Jesu Christ."
In the Museum near Cairo, by the courtesy of the Director, Brugsch Bey, I was allowed the privilege of photographing. Perhaps the most interesting of all the antiquities there is the mummy of Rameses the Great, the oppressor of Israel. It was discovered a few years ago; it is partly unrolled, showing his head and shoulders in wonderful preservation. The masterful and haughty expression of face, and the pose of the right arm and hand, contrary to custom, lying across the chest, indicate the character of the man,—a great conqueror, a great builder, a great father, with one hundred and fifteen children, reigning sixty-seven years, from 1348-1281 b.c., whose memory will never perish as long as the Bible story of Israel in Egypt survives.
It was the custom in old Egyptian burial to swathe the mummy with folds of cloth on which the history of the dead man's life is inscribed. Owing to the dryness of the climate, and the great care taken to make the mummies as imperishable as possible, they form records of the past, such as, probably, no other country possesses.
H. W. H.