Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 1 — The Alleys and the Buckinghams
The Alleys and the Buckinghams
John Alley arrived in Canterbury in 1857 at the age of 22, with his brother Henry, his sister Matilda, and a cousin, George.1 John, Henry, and George went to Hawke's Bay, but John soon returned to Canterbury, where he settled on a small farm near the Styx River, on the northern fringe of Christchurch, which he worked in partnership with a neighbour, Walter Goodland.2 In various records he is described as 'labourer', 'farmer', and 'horse dealer'.
The Alleys were Protestant Irish, members of the Church of Ireland in the Anglican communion and of the Irish establishment since Cromwell's day. They farmed in County Laois near Dublin. An earlier member of the family, William, had been bishop of Exeter during the reign of Elizabeth I; of him it was said that 'he was well stored, and his library well replenished, with all the best sort of writers, which most gladlie he would impart and make open to everie good scholar and student, whose companie he did desire and embrace; he seemed to the first appearance to be a rough and an austere man, but in verie truth, a verie courteous, gentle, and an affable man … only he was somewhat credulous, and of a hasty beleefe, and of light credit, which he did oftentimes mislike, and blame in himselfe'.3
One can see parallels between the character of Bishop Alley and the later New Zealand branch of the family, but between them lie also two centuries of life in a minority Irish community notable for its independence, uprightness, stubbornness, and success in literary, administrative and military fields. Just as New Zealanders of European origin have evolved a character and a nationalism of their own alongside their Polynesian compatriots in somewhat less than two centuries, so the Alleys from Ireland were distinctively Irish.
On 20 September 1864 John Alley, aged 29, married Sarah Ward, four years his junior, who had been in New Zealand since 1850, having come out with her brothers. Sarah's family was another Protestant one. Their home was in County Down, south of Belfast, but they had known and intermarried with the Alleys in Ireland, to the extent that they were apt to page 18blame the failings of other family members on interbreeding.4 True to form, Sarah's brother James married John's sister Matilda in New Zealand.
Three children were born to John and Sarah. Henry John arrived on 9 July 1865; Frederick James, the father in due course of Geoffrey, on 7 December 1866; and Amy Jane on 19 November 1868. But barely three months after Amy's birth, on 13 February 1869, John went off on horseback to look for some pigs that had strayed. When he did not return, Sarah asked Goodland to go and look for him, and he was found lying unconscious beside his horse, which was standing with a broken leg. He died the next day.5 When Amy was baptised on 16 February, her father was recorded as 'John, deceased, cattle dealer'.6
So Sarah was left, at the age of 30, with three small children and a tiny farm on which she lived in a cob house with a thatched roof, doing the heavy work herself.7 She was indomitable. She has also been described as a charming Irishwoman who was much ahead of her time and keen on the education of women, a committed Anglican, and devoted to the Queen and all she stood for.8 Later, when a grandchild asked her why she had not married again, she drew herself up and replied with dignity, 'What was good enough for the dear Queen was good enough for me.'9
Of her three children, Frederick was the one on whom Sarah placed her ambitious hopes. He was to be an Anglican parson, and to that end he had to walk not only to school in Papanui and back during the week, but also to Sunday school, choir practice, and church.10 Given his Irish ancestry, it is not surprising that he was not submissive enough to follow the path that had been laid out for him. In any case, his later reading of Darwin and other writers caused him to have severe doubts about Anglican orthodoxy. Although he did not become irreligious, he adopted the Unitarian position, which was later interpreted by his son Rewi in this way: 'I believe there is a universal god that orders life and evolution, but I do not believe in Christ as a physical son of God, only as a great leader of mankind. I love to go to church to sing and listen to the beautiful poetry of the service but cannot say the creed, although I believe in Christ's teachings.'11
Instead of the church, Frederick chose teaching as a career. He was appointed to a pupil-teacher position at Papanui School in 1881, at the age of 14, and taught there until the end of 1886, with a break of one year when he worked for and was awarded a teacher's certificate of training at the Christchurch Normal School. He then taught at the Normal School in 1887, at Charteris Bay, on Lyttelton harbour, in 1888, and at Irwell, a locality between Lincoln and Leeston, from 1889 to 1891. A Charteris Bay pupil remembered him much later as 'one of the finest men I have ever known' – and Miss Alley (his sister Amy) as 'kind and considerate in every way towards the children'12page 19
It was when he was teaching at Irwell that Frederick met Clara Maria Buckingham, a young woman who had been living with the family of Henry Overton of Meadowbank farm as companion-governess since 1883. Frederick was tall, erect, and blond and, as she remarked, 'a man with a few ideas'; she was well-educated, beautiful, and petite. They were married on 28 January 1892, in the Overtons' house.13
The Buckinghams were of solid English yeoman stock of the kind who, in Trollope's novels, were highly regarded and treated with respect by the squire but did not expect to be invited to dine. They were Methodists, and teetotallers, and their family had provided mayors and aldermen in Suffolk and Norfolk. Thomas, Clara's father, had a farm at Hethersett, a pleasant village six miles from Norwich, and in his prime was known as 'the strongest man in Norfolk'. Clara and her older sister, Susannah Lucy (named after their mother Lucy née Goldsmith), were educated at the Day School for Girls, Surrey House, in Norwich, while their brothers, Thomas Anson and James Herbert, attended the King Edward Middle School, a budget offshoot of the Norwich Grammar School.
Like many other English arable farmers, the Buckinghams fell on hard times in the late 1870s. The corn laws, which were designed to protect British farmers from overseas competition, were repealed about 1850, but the effect of this move was not seriously felt until the mid-1870s, when improved transport, both within North America and across the Atlantic, enabled vast quantities of prairie wheat to flood the English market. And then there was, from 1875, a series of wet summers which ruined English crops.
Thomas Anson Buckingham came to New Zealand with his cousin Philip Wharton Goldsmith in 1879, and, influenced by their reports, Thomas senior decided to follow with the rest of the family. They sailed on the Waitangi on 5 January 1882, arriving 105 days later at Lyttelton on 21 April. They stayed for a while at Sudeley Farm, Irwell, which was being managed by Philip Goldsmith, and then Thomas decided to go south with Thomas Anson, buying a farm at Drummond in the flat centre of Southland. The two girls returned to Canterbury, Clara to the Overtons, whose property adjoined Sudeley Farm, and Lucy to the School for the Deaf in Sumner, where she taught until she married the Reverend John Alexander Lochore in 1900.
Thomas and Lucy Buckingham, Clara's parents, were hard-working farmers; they were also great readers, active in community affairs, and fond parents. Of Thomas it was said that he never spoke a cross word. They felt their separation from their two daughters keenly, and in 1888 Thomas made a trip to Canterbury to stay at Sudeley Farm. There he died suddenly on 13 March, aged only 58 and only six years after making the huge move page 20from Norfolk. He was buried at Bishop's Corner (now Seven Crossroads), near Leeston. His widow wrote to Clara, 'The thought that never no more shall I see your dear father seems to me so crushing that I say "Why hath God done it?" The answer comes back, "because he will it and he doth all things well, not only well but wisely and well."'14
Frederick and Clara were both aged 25 when they married, Clara having been born six weeks before her husband, on 25 October 1866. Frederick had just been appointed headmaster of Kowai Pass School 15 at Springfield, at the start of the hills on the road from Canterbury to the West Coast. While they lived in Springfield the first three of their seven children were born: Eric Buckingham on 4 December 1892, Gwendolen Lucy (Gwen) on 16 November 1894 and Rewi on 2 December 1897. Rewi's name, which broke the naming pattern that was resumed with the later children, resulted from a visit by the enthusiastic Amy to her uncle in the Gisborne area, where she had been impressed by tales of the great Rewi Maniapoto, warrior chief of Ngati Maniapoto and defender of Orakau pa in 1864.16
Frederick was by this time forming his own educational philosophy, which was strongly influenced by John Dewey, Herbert Spenser, and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Clara, who has been recorded as playing tennis,17 was also involved in women's causes and in the temperance movement, which was at that time an important element of those causes. She contributed signature no.185 to the Springfield sheet of the 1893 women's suffrage petition which led to the extension of the parliamentary suffrage to women in that year.18 She was an active member of the Malvern Women's Institute and in April 1896, as its president, attended the first meeting of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, which had been convened by a group of Christchurch women and was presided over by Kate Sheppard.19 The meeting was reported widely in newspapers and was called the Hen Convention by some who were not ready to change with the times; Clara, as one of the youngest participants, thought of herself as 'the gay young chicken'.20
Of the resolutions adopted by the 1896 meeting, this one, which was proposed by Clara, was typical of her interests at the time: 'That this Council is of opinion that the marriage laws of New Zealand should be rendered remedial, not merely palliative, of disabilities at present grievously affecting married women, and to this end the whole law relating to marriage founded on the exploded doctrine of "possession" or "coverture" should be repealed.'21
In 1898 Frederick was appointed headmaster at Amberley, a thriving rural town some 30 miles north of Christchurch. At 120 in that year, the school's roll was double that of Kowai Pass, and the salary was also somewhat higher, at £208 instead of £158. The Alleys stayed there until page 21the end of 1906, by which time the school had become a district high school.22 Three more children were born in the Amberley years: Philip John (Pip) on 22 May 1901, Geoffrey Thomas (Geoff) on 4 February 1903 and Kathleen Mary (Kath) on 30 March 1906.
Gwen and Rewi were both old enough in their Amberley days to remember them when they wrote their autobiographies. In Rewi's memory they did not include winters: 'It always seemed to be summer.'23 Gwen remembered the little creek which crossed Church Street three times as it meandered through the school playground, the Alleys' garden, then the vicarage and the doctor's grounds;24 for the headmaster, the vicar, and the doctor lived in the same street and their children played with each other exclusively. Clara's radicalism did not allow her to contemplate the threat that her children might learn vulgar colonial ways from others.
The two-storeyed Amberley schoolhouse (which is no longer standing) had four bedrooms and four living rooms. There was no bathroom, and there was only one cold tap for water. Cooking and water heating were done on a shining black coal stove. And yet, by the standards of those days, it was a comfortable home. Above the mantelpiece in the dining room there was a big photograph of the first National Council of Women, with Clara seated on the floor in front of the group.25
Frederick's final move as a teacher was to Wharenui in Christchurch, where he became the first headmaster on 1 March 1907,26 with very little increase in salary. He remained there until 1921. This school had four acres of land on Cutler's Road (now Matipo Street), which ran south from Riccarton Road not far but over the railway line from South Hagley Park. Its roll reached over 400 in Frederick's last years, and peaked at over 900 before the establishment of new schools and demographic changes reduced the number of available pupils. In the early 1990s it was below 200, but by then the school was notable for its association with one of its first pupils, Rewi Alley, and was visited regularly by Chinese pilgrims, particularly from Gansu province.
This, of course, is looking into the future, but it is appropriate at this point to look ahead to see what was to become of the family that Frederick and Clara had started on its way, even though some of the events that are mentioned here will be dealt with in more detail later, as they impinge on Geoff 's life and work. Eric, who was 14 when the move to Wharenui took place, died in the First World War, but all the others were involved in education of one kind or another. Gwen became an innovative infant teacher and later developed a community centre with her husband, Crawford Somerset; she was also the first president, in 1948, of the New Zealand Playcentre Federation. Rewi's work in China, in the industrial cooperative movement and in the Baillie Industrial School in Sandan, bears page 22fruit today in the respect with which New Zealanders, sometimes to their surprise, are received there. Pip's initial career as a civil engineer in local government was followed by over 20 years of teaching in the University of Canterbury School of Engineering, where he was recognised as a brilliant engineer but found it difficult to get on with the authorities.27 Kath, who represented Canterbury at hockey while she was still at school, was also a gifted teacher. The last of the family, Joyce Amy (Joy), who was born in Riccarton on 30 March 1908, had a career as a district health nurse, during which she became a special friend of Sylvia Ashton-Warner, and then became a nurse instructor at the Postgraduate School for Nurses in Wellington.
Frederick's sister Amy (the redoubtable Aunt Amy to her nephews and nieces) was another teacher, remembered by a former pupil in her infant class at Sydenham as gruff but kindly. It was a joke in the family that even Henry, Frederick's brother, who followed their father's interest in horses, was an educationalist. His book, Education of the Horse, published in 1913 and 'especially dedicated to all true lovers of the Horse, and to all young farmers who wish to better the conditions of "Breaking-in" and to increase the ease of training the Horse to both saddle and harness', could be (and possibly is) used to advantage today. 'Yarding the colt should be done in as quiet a manner as possible,' he says. 'The great point is not to frighten the colt into the stable, but to edge him in quietly. In this simple operation a horse trainer will test his patience, that indispensable quality of a horse trainer – Patience.'
As well as being educators of one kind or another, Frederick's and Clara's children were all, in varying degrees, achievers. They were upright and honest, they were workers, their minds were well stocked, and whatever they set out to do they did. In some cases, what they did was innovative and important for society. In the eyes of their acquaintances (and indeed of themselves, to a large extent) Clara deserved most of the credit for their success. Frederick was a more shadowy figure, and much of the picture of him that has survived is pretty negative. And yet, it takes two to produce such a brood, and Frederick's influence on his children was so strong, in ways both positive and negative, affecting each of them in a different way from the way it affected the others, that it is desirable to consider his role also. Much that is puzzling, or even just interesting, about each member of the family can be traced back to Frederick's impact, and this is especially important in Geoff 's case.
First, though, a word or two about Clara. She was universally loved, and her children adored her. She was the kingpin of the family, according to one very old friend;28 one 'who for more than sixty years helped me by her example and wisdom', in the words of another.29 Willis Airey, in his page 23biography of her son Rewi, wrote of her as 'short in stature, active, a believer in deeds rather than words, described in one recollection as "a sort of spry Queen Victoria", though with a much richer sense of humour'.30 Oliver Duff ('Sundowner' in the New Zealand Listener), writing after her death, remembered her from way back as 'a perfect mother, neither a Martha nor a Mary, but a blend of both, competent and assiduous in all material ways, and at the same time unruffled by the stresses of mind and spirit that rack every parent whose children are originals and not patterns'.31 Rewi said, 'She loved ducks, bees, roses, cats, tramps and all kids', 32 and when Benjamin Spock, who had recently spoken to Rewi in China, met one of her granddaughters in the United States, he said, 'Tell me all about your grandmother.'33 She impressed herself on people's minds.
Clara was very well-read and, as her activities in the National Council of Women indicate, an original and independent thinker. Increasingly, as the family grew older, her home became one that was visited by the literary and intellectual élite of Christchurch. She was suspicious of affectation of any kind, and Gwen remembered her saying, when asked how one should behave when visiting, 'Think of other people's feelings and you will not go wrong. Just be yourself and don't put on side.'34 She was, on the other hand, something of an élitist, and hankered for the English life she had left behind, and she found it hard to express affection physically. In build she took after her father, on a small scale, with a long back and short legs; this build she passed on to some of her children, including Geoff (on a large scale). Clara will appear at a number of points throughout this story, but now Frederick needs to be considered in some detail.
Frederick shared many of Clara's pluses, as well as having some of his own. He also had a greater share of minuses, and it was the combination of the two that made such an impact on his children. He was, as Clara had said in her pre-marital comment, 'a man with a few ideas'. His rejection of a comfortable career in the church was not untypical of the kind of high seriousness which he imbibed partly from his mother, partly no doubt from his own temperament, and partly from the kind of stiff-necked independence of the Irish Protestant, whether Presbyterian or Anglican. The rejection did not imply any kind of hedonism. In fact, in the view of one younger associate of the family, he lost his faith but not his zeal; in the eyes of another, he was a victim of circumstances, who desperately tried to do something to improve the world around him. In a way, he tried to use his children as instruments in furthering his ideals. His own stern sense of duty, which had positive effects outside the family, was in many ways a burden to those within it.
Frederick's causes included the improvement of educational theory and practice, extending into the promotion of reading and the arts, and the page 24reform of land laws. He was more successful in the former than in the latter. His general stance was that of an admirer of Richard Seddon and of the Liberal government's reforms, but of one who was ready to accept the Labour movement when it became organised; he subscribed to the Maoriland Worker, which was connected with the Federation of Labour.
Like many serious people with liberal views, he did not allow his liberalism to extend to interested consideration of opposing views. There are stories of his sitting at the breakfast table giving his opinions on current events without allowing any opportunity for other contributions to be made, but this was, of course, consistent with his ideas, fairly typical of the time, on the role of the head of the family, another matter on which he held very serious views.
'His real friends were his books,' his daughter Gwen wrote, 'Carlyle, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, and the American poets, Whittier, Emerson and Lowell.'35 Joy remembered Oliver Wendell Holmes as another favourite, and of course he read seriously in educational theory and philosophy. His love of singing, especially Irish songs, led him to membership of the Competitions Society and to other kinds of music and drama.
As a teacher Frederick was strict, innovative, and inspiring. He used corporal punishment a good deal – who did not in those days? – but he was genuinely concerned to help his pupils and to ensure that the brighter ones won scholarships to secondary schools. In his pamphlet Something Wrong Somewhere, published in 1911, he wrote of the contrast between the first five years of life, when 'the child can form a sentence in a language that has taken tens of thousands of years to evolve', and the deadliness of the next five years at school,36 and said, 'Let us "begin young" with the subject that harmonises most with the child's mind, and delete from the early part of the school syllabus all that violates the law of economy of effort, i.e. part (only) of arithmetic, writing with a pen at too early a stage, the useless parts of drawing and premature handwork, the unnatural teaching of language apart from its context.'37 He was drawing on Pestalozzi's ideas on how education was intended to develop children's powers, to draw out what they possessed already at birth, and to develop a love of nature and of music. Following these principles, his method of teaching natural history was to take children outside, to consider the lilies of the field, as it were, when many teachers relied mainly on text books.
The importance of true language teaching, the teaching of language in context, was, he wrote, that 'the more words and ideas a child acquires, the faster becomes his progress. Every word added to his vocabulary brings others in its train, but with a constantly increasing speed.'38
In the same pamphlet, Frederick gave his rather candid views of school page 25inspectors in their role as 'experts'. 'They are generally,' he wrote, 'tactful, shrewd, and business-like enough to advance to success along the line of least resistance, i.e. the line that wins most approbation from superior officers whose criticism matters. …It is a business arrangement by which the keenest minds obtain leadership and power, but as a road to educational reform the system is a failure, handicapping out of the race alike the mature mind of the older teacher, and the ardent enthusiasm of the younger one, for with both the question is not "What is right?" but "What will please?"'39
Frederick clearly did not overdo the tactical pleasing of inspectors, but whether because they were innately tactful or merely shrewd, those who inspected his schools do not seem to have been unduly affected by his published remarks. 'Work directed with ability and energy, and the methods aim at developing intelligence' (1909); 'Impression of capable control combined with vigorous teaching. Methods employed are stimulating and calculated to develop intelligence' (1911): these are typical pre-pamphlet remarks.40 Later reports varied from year to year, some being more critical than others, but in 1912, after the publication of the pamphlet, the inspector said, 'The results of the inspection give proof that earnest and unremitting attention is being given not only to the educational interests of the children as expressed in the requirements of the syllabus of instruction, but, also, in that higher field of work which has for its object the training and development of the character of the children.'41 The 1916 and 1917 reports were critical, the 1918, 1919, and 1920 ones complimentary.42 On the whole, the inspectors seem to have been pleased with Frederick.
The Wharenui school history says that 'Mr Alley, of a shy, retiring nature, was possessed of a sound judgement, was just and fair, and had a good sense of humour. He was a splendid headmaster'.43 Old pupils of his have confirmed this description, but have added that they felt sorry for his own children, who, they thought, were treated very roughly by him, and there is no doubt that terms such as 'tyrant', which have been applied to him by family members, had some justification. He was not, however, a bad parent in the sociological sense. Everything that he did in relation to his family was intended to be for their benefit, and in many cases what were seen to be his faults could also be seen as virtues carried to excess. It is also very likely that he wished to ensure that his own children got the kind of start in life that had been made difficult for him by his father's early death. His intentions were good, but good intentions unalloyed sometimes produce unfortunate results.
Frederick's treatment of Sundays illustrates his way of managing his family. He would not allow his children to attend Sunday school because he did not want them to have beliefs forced on them before they were able page 26to make decisions for themselves. Instead, part of every Sunday, and indeed parts of other days, had to be spent reading improving works, including the Bible, and learning and reciting, with clear enunciation, selected passages from them. Geoff was remarkable throughout his life for his ability to pluck quotations out of the air, and this is where it started.
The learning of texts was only part of the régime that Frederick imposed on his family. There was a constant pressure to learn, to achieve physical fitness, to carry out numerous jobs, all under the stern watchfulness of father. 'He could produce thick blue tension all through the house,' according to Gwen.44 He often made arbitrary decisions affecting members of the family without considering whether they wished to be moved like pawns on his chessboard. Above all, he insisted not only that Alleys should do their best, but that they should be the best, and that a good runner-up was not good enough. This undoubtedly indicated some kind of anxiety in Frederick's make-up, but it was a terrible burden to place on any child, particularly a sensitive one, and it certainly harmed more than one of the family. And yet – they did emerge as individuals, as workers and as achievers. Who knows how they might have developed under a different kind of régime?
Eric was assessed by his father as 'a good all-rounder'. Gwen, Pip and Geoff seem to have borne the brunt of his attention because he regarded them as especially promising material, though Gwen got off more lightly because he treated the boys more seriously than the girls. Rewi, who was fairly laid back and would look into the distance and think before answering a question, when his father expected a quick response, was written off as 'a Norfolk dumb-bell' and managed to evade attention,45 and this could account for Airey's comment that 'there is a vast difference between Rewi Alley's inability to be idle when there is something to be done and his father's deification of work'.46
Gwen's reaction to her father's régime was to become dogmatic and forthright; in later years 'she was in no doubt at all that she had influenced the world for the better'.47 Geoff, on the other hand, who had an Alley temperament in a Buckingham body, was badly affected by his father's expectations, and also, as time went on, developed the same kinds of anxieties. His very close friend Jim Burrows gives a rather poignant picture of him as an immensely strong man, 'a giant of a man', seldom willing to speak about anything in his father's presence.48
Joy, the youngest daughter, has said that, 'If my father has been described as a formidable person he was never seen in that light by me, I was never afraid of him',49 and Geoff told a friend, in his later years, that he thought the family all forgave his father in the end.50 This might have been true of most of them but Kath, in letters and discussions, described him as a 'monster' to the end of her life. The most affectionate account of him is page 27Rewi's article in the New Zealand Monthly Review,51 which can be accepted as a dispassionate account by one who had ducked from under.
Frederick was also what Geoff recalled as 'a victim of the land-hunger that so many of the new settlers and their progeny seem to have had in their make-up'.52 He needed to have a patch of soil to feel that he belonged to mother earth. He helped his mother, when possible, on her farm, and he and his sister Amy each bought a block at North Beach when that area was a wasteland: sandhills, no roads or paths, and little sign of human habitation. It was a marvellous place for family holidays, as was the Southland farm which he bought subsequently and to which we must pay some attention later.
The North Beach block was eventually broken up into six or more sections, each of which sold for more than the cost of the original block,53 but on the whole Frederick, as a landowner, was not a worldly success. His name does not stand alongside those of Rutherford, Robinson, or Rhodes in the annals of Canterbury; nor did he accumulate acres to arouse envy in the breasts of others, to be broken up or hung on to.
Perhaps because he was not entrepreneurially very successful, Frederick developed ideas on land policies which he pursued with determination but without having a marked effect on public opinion. He was one of the Press's regular correspondents and between 1918 and 1935 published three pamphlets on the subject, in the second of which54 he promoted the interests of (a) men with little money, to be a new class of state leaseholders with long, renewable leases, and (b) the industrialised large farm, 'the main hope of agriculture', and argued for an 'advances to settlers system, a state monopoly in all land sales, urban and rural, and a heavy tax on unearned increment aimed at speculators in land'. Rewi, writing in 1967 from a Beijing perspective, found these arguments beguiling.55
Frederick's main investment in land was a farm near Lumsden in Southland, which he bought in sections in 1905 and 1906 after some shuffling of purchases made in the immediately preceding years, and which he held until his death in 1936.56 It comprised some 460 acres on the south side of a road, now known as Keown Road, running off the present Te Anau highway and back towards the Oreti River opposite Lumsden. It had originally been part of the huge Castlerock station, formerly known as The Elbow station. The Elbow is a feature of the Oreti River, which crosses a stretch of flat land from Mossburn and then takes a 90-degree right-hand turn where it strikes the Linley Range. The original road from Dipton to Kingston ran up the western side of the river to cross it at the Elbow, and in the early days there were hotels at that point, one of which was used by Frederick as living quarters until it was burned down in 1912 and replaced by the nucleus of the present house. Ploughing still throws up page 28horse shoes at the site of the hotel. Plans for a township at the Elbow had been abandoned when Lumsden, on the eastern side of the river, became a railway centre in 1876 and the main road was developed on that side.
The land in the crook of the Elbow is very stony, with hard pans which prevent natural drainage. Most of it has now been drained, but in Frederick's day the thin layer of soil was boggy in winter and too dry in summer. He ran sheep on it, with some cattle, but seldom had more than 400 of the former, the maximum being 1092 in 1924, compared with 221 in 1923 and 130 in 1925.57 Even in the 1990s, after draining, fencing, top-dressing, and tree planting, it supported only some 1500 sheep and 20 cattle. This is somewhat below the level expected of a prosperous Southland farm.58
The farm was, in fact, an awful one. Frederick did not have enough capital to make it economically viable, and he had great difficulty in finding managers for it. But it was very important to him personally and he loved it. Even though the winters are harsh, the area, on the road to Te Anau and the west, with rivers like the Oreti and the Mararoa on that road, and the road to Lake Wakatipu going north, is widely and handsomely beautiful. And it was a piece of land. Frederick would go off there as often as possible, accompanied sometimes by all or some of his family at holiday time.
Frederick was something of a crank, and the crankiness became more marked in his retirement years, when Clara blossomed as the kingpin of the family,59 but he was basically a good man. He was short on tact, but tact can be overdone, as we can see in the synthetic sincerity that is offered by so many public figures. It is perhaps best to let Rewi sum him up: 'Of wild Irish stock, born a New Zealander, he left, like all good teachers do, his imprint on many a youthful mind. As kids, we were scared enough of the "Old Man", for he was always strict though not always just. But yet none of us, throughout our lives, ever forgot him.'60