Item 30e - Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence

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Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence


  • [c. 2 June–c. 3 July 1898] (Creation)

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5 sheets (pp. 187–200), two of them (pp. 187–194) folded.

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Account of a journey via Colombo, Albany, Adelaide, Melbourne and Ballarat, Sydney, Blackheath, and Sydney.

(A continuation of 5/30d. The first sentence is ‘A fifth encyclical!’ This letter was begun after 2 June and finished about 3 July.)



A fifth encyclical! From the Antipodes! Ridiculously short stay. Percy also is writing what with doubtful financial accuracy he terms a circular note; &—must I reveal—referring constantly to his Murray. Tell it not!

[2 June.] A boat two days late starting from Sydney. {1} A somewhat scratch lot of passengers. A combined smell of kerosene oil & oranges. A steward who unnecessarily shuts our port hole & rouses us at dawn of day. Alas luxurious P & O what has† thou done for us that we have become so particular? Where is thy lengthy promenade? Where thy spacious saloon, thy sumptuous cuisine? Not here on the Talune of the Union S S Co. And yet are we not well cared for? Do we not feast on “ox palate” “pig’s face” & “sheep’s head”? Does not the company in its magnificence supply us with deck chairs at its own expense. The passengers starting as I have said from scratch, do they not come in well at the finish? Of musical talent there is abundance; & out of 5 nights we occupy 3 with concerts.

A New Zealand senator finding our interest in social questions, furnishes us with many particulars, & gives letters of introduction to many of the high & mighty. Grace is his name & graceful his actions. He writes us a letter to make us honorary members of the club.

[5 June] So we come in sight of the South Island on the fourth day & watch the snow mountains; then at length on the port side a conical cloud,—so it must be surely—; yet never a cloud so still, so stately; this is Egmont the highest, grandest mountain of the North Island.

To bed, to sleep, perchance to dream, two figures of men are seated on the couch, the electric light is on. Voices. Will you come ashore now? T’is midnight. These are our friends come down to welcome us, & we go ashore & sleep in comfort with no ruthless steward.

Our friends, but in the beginning Percy’s: one is young Atkinson son of a late Premier {2}, the other a friend of his, Evans {3} who runs a quasi settlement.

[6 June] On the morrow we arrange to stop at the club during our stay at Wellington; friends offering hospitality but admitting suburban residence inconvenient. Charming plan in New Zealand of putting up visitors as honorary members of club, & enabling them to make use of it as a very superior hotel.

Busy arranging interviews with the great. Percy is tremendous at obtaining information & makes great use of his letters of introduction to learn all about social & political affairs. To some I go with him & while he is with others I go & see the Bishop {4} an old Cambridge man who was proctor while I was there. Percy says the first man I go & see whenever we arrive anywhere is the Bishop! I also bear my (public &) private letter of introduction to the Governor {5}, but alas he is away touring & will not be back. I have been unlucky with Governors.

Shall I write you a discourse upon New Zealand politics & social matters? I have read Oceana {6}, & desist; out here the author is pitied not disliked.

Wellington is a very poor town “an English watering place out of season” though it is the seat of Government. Of course we didn’t say so. Nevertheless Wellingtonians apologised for it in advance; “you must remember it is all reclaimed land.” Magnificent harbour.

[7–9 June] Tuesday Wednesday Thursday all wet; business (in the shape of interviews) got through. Also high tea & argumentativeness, dinner & Maori tales. Fine intelligent people the Maoris seem to be & particularly to have been; in no way looked down upon as inferior by the white race. Best claim among them to title of land “this land belonged to the chief & people of the tribe X & behold now they are here & he strokes the lower part of his tunic”.

[9 June] Thursday a gathering at the settlement, of interested ladies & gentlemen to welcome ourselves & to hear of work in England. {7} I limit Percy—as he is away for his health—to 20 minutes, & add a few words myself. O marvellous day, & marvellous paper in which I am described as “modest & frank”.

[10 June] Friday to golf, & it is fine; glorious view of harbour; jolly to get first class exercise & jolly game: but our play; Oh the insufficiency of human speech!

Back to the town & to “at home” at the Grace’s†. Miss Grace: “I hear you thought I was 19” “Who told you that?” “Never mind” “Well how old do you suppose I am?” “34” “You are worse out than I was”—we are the same age to within a year. Dr Grace has kindly insisted on having us put up for the club at Napier & also at Auckland, & with renewed thanks to him & anticipatory good wishes to Miss G on her approaching nuptials we bid farewell.

A merry evening at the Atkinson’s† with many a tale, & the last day of our stay in Wellington comes to an end. Many have been the friends we have made even in so brief a visit.

On the morrow we are to start our tour—our grand tour of a week—through the island to Auckland, & to commence with a 12½ hour train journey to Napier.

[11 June] So Saturday morning while it is yet dark we rise & breakfast, & reach the railway station in time to catch the 6.50 train; there to bid us adieu is the kindly indefatigable Atkinson.

A 12½ hour journey is usually dull especially when you are only covering a little over 200 miles, but this fact does not admit of mathematical proof. We were very lucky in meeting a cousin of Atkinson’s at about 9 o’c who was travelling all the way to Napier, so we were not at all dull.

Hospitable club at Napier; I forget whether I told you that as Percy is away for his health I have to keep him amused; it is very trying having to play billiards with him in the evenings when there are so many other things we might be doing; under my able tutelage he is rapidly learning to beat his tutor—“till at last the old man ..[”] but by the way he is the older of the two, though my few remaining locks are blanching & falling off.

From Napier we are to coach thro’ the island for several days doing 160 miles in all, & see the sights.

[13 June] So Monday we make another early start, the coach leaving soon after 6.30; a bright frosty morning. Percy & I are the only passengers & have box seats. The total distance is 52 miles for the day, but the greater part of it consists in going up & down hills, getting magnificent views. So though only an hour’s stop for lunch darkness has set in before we arrive at Tarawera Percy & I have been able to get some exercise & keep ourselves warm. {8}

I haven’t much to tell you of Tarawera, because it is merely a small inn right among the hills; & as we had been out in the open all day & were to make another early start next morning, we turned in soon after our evening meal.

[14 June.] Before the coach, a start to get warm; & for 3 or 4 hours our experience of the previous day is repeated, then up on to the plateau, a plain 2000 [feet] above sea level. So to drive across it during the rest of the day with an interval for lunch. Up on the box seat; an endless stretch of dead level, treeless, barren, hideous. Uninterrupted monotony is only broken by the sight of what appears to be the steam from an engine: “that” says our driver “is a blowhole”.

So at last about 5 o’clock to Taupo[.] Time to have a hot bath in the grounds before dinner: for here we are in the hot lake district. Stay in some time playing about, & not unnaturally catch something of a cold. Not much to see at Taupo & [15 June] early next morning drive on to Weiraki {9}.

Geysers: little geysers: big geysers: water geysers: mud geysers: bubbling pools: champagne pools: blue pond: green pond: purple pond. Why here’s pool which actually has cold water! So dinner & to bed to dream of all things imaginable.

[16 June.] Once more to coach over the plain, all day, interminable: then as darkness descends, Rotorua, a railway terminus, & civilisation. A walk, dinner, & pills {10}—of ivory—& so to bed.

[17 June.] A lake, a legend, a spring starting[,] a river, the fires of h—, & so back by coach. Another day is concluded.

[18 June.] A wet day on the way to Auckland; train goes at such a rate we fear it will be bad for the engine; stop at one point because a cow is on the line in front of the train; a few miles later another stop is made because the same cow is in the way again. Nevertheless the enormous distance of 170 miles is covered in only a little more than 12 hours & we drive up to the Northern club {11}.

[19 June.] We have one day to spare in Auckland, which we employ in climbing to the top of Mt Eden from which the view of the whole place is charming—as of course it ought to be—& in crossing over the harbour & duly admiring.

[20 June] The next morning in accordance with Percy’s dictum I go & call on the bishop {12}; & the boat leaves in the afternoon {13}.

O trip of 4 days back to Sydney with what a light heart were you started upon, with what piteous discomfort were you enshrouded from start to finish.

A big list, a big roll. Two deck chairs lengthwise against the edge of the boat. Two prostrate figures. A minimum of good accomodation†. Unpleasantness & leave-untouchedness of diet. Draw a veil.

[24 June.] The day of our arrival in Sydney {14}; a bit more cheerful, walking up and down: what were we discussing think you, on our return from that land of experiment; that land where social problems are dealt with after their manner, that land of the triple 8 [Footnote: ‘8 shillings a day, 8 hours a day, 8 hours for play’], that land where the working men rules†? I will tell you: we were discussing the probability of the boat getting in in time for dinner at the Australia hotel; & it did by a second. So carnal are the minds of men.

Of our time in Sydney on our return I shall not write at length: of our letter of introduction from Sir J. Abbot† the Speaker}, & of how we sat in the House, & listened to a discussion & of how we were afterwards introduced to Reid the Premier: of how we went out to lunch with an elderly lady & met 7 other elderly ladies & 2 men: of our dinner with Mr & Mrs Wise {15} the former of whom will probably be a minister in the next government[:] of all these I will say nothing {16} but will bring you on to [30 June] Thursday morning, to the time of our departure from the capital {17}. We are to spend the day in travelling up to Quirindy, on the way to Brisbane, & there we are to see all over a sheep farm. So man proposes but …: for when we arrive having been fortified in our tedious hotel by the thought of the instruction of the morrow, we learn that owing to the rain, it is impossible to drive along the road, so a sheep farm is not to be one of the sights seen by F.W.L. Instead, our friend takes us up into a mountain & shows us all the k—I mean we ride up & he instructs us as to the country we see around. Also we get a little exercise by chopping wood for the fire.

[1 or 2 July.] {18} So playing pills we catch the 2.40 A.M train & travelling for the rest of the night & all the next day with some friends to amuse us, we arrive at Brisbane from which this the concluding portion of my fifth encyclical is written. Albany, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane; so have we made the circuit of the capitals, & Brisbane is one of the brightest of them all. Of other parts of Australia do we know much? Now we start upon voyages untold till at last we shall reach U.S.A. For the voyages we have laid in great stock of chairs & a table & expect to do an immense amount of reading, who shall say?

One thing I have not mentioned, Sydney harbour of which the inhabitants are justly proud. No words of mine can adequately describe its glory its beauty & its magnificence.


{1} Lawrence and Alden sailed to New Zealand on board the steamship Talune, 2020 tons, of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. It left Sydney on 2 June and arrived at Wellington on the evening of the 6th. See the Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June, p. 4, where a list of the passengers is given, and 8 June, p. 6. A short article announcing Alden’s imminent arrival was printed in the Wellington Evening Post on 6 June (p. 4).

{2} Sir Harry Atkinson, the former Premier of New Zealand, had five sons, named (in the order of their birth) Harry Dunstan, Edmund Tudor, Alfred Charles, Samuel Arnold, and Harry Temple. An Arthur Richmond Atkinson, best known as a temperance campaigner, was closely associated with W. A. Evans in the Forward Movement (see next note) and spoke at the meeting held for Percy Alden on the 6th.

{3} The Rev. W. A. Evans, a Congregationalist minister, was born in Wales but went to New Zealand for the sake of his health, where he founded the Forward Movement, a philanthropic and educational body, at Wellington in 1893.

{4} Frederic Wallis. He was senior proctor at Cambridge in 1892.

{5} Lord Ranfurly, an alumnus of Trinity.

{6} J. A. Froude, Oceana, or England and Her Colonies (1886).

{7} This meeting, which, as indicated, was styled a ‘welcome’ to Percy Alden, was held at the Forward Movement Hall, Manners Street, at 8 p.m. It was announced the previous day (the 8th) in the (Wellington) Evening Post, which carried both a small notice and an advertisement stating that ‘All Friends of Reform’ were invited (p. 4). On the 10th the same newspaper printed an account of the meeting (p. 1) and a related editorial (p. 4), which alluded to the limit im-posed on the length of Alden’s speech for the sake of his health. The source of the compliment to Lawrence’s speech is unknown; the Evening Post described it as ‘humorous and sympathetic’.

{8} The ink changes here.

{9} This place-name is now usually spelt Wairakei.

{10} i.e. billiards.

{11} A gentleman’s club in Princes Street, founded in 1869.

{12} W. G. Cowie, an alumnus of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

{13} Lawrence and Alden sailed from Auckland aboard the steamship Waihora on the evening of Monday, 20 June. See the Auckland Star, 21 June, p. 4, where some of the passengers are listed.

{14} The boat arrived in the evening of the 24th, ‘in time’, as Lawrence notes, ‘for dinner’. See the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June, p. 12.

{15} B. R. Wise and his wife Lilian.

{16} It may be added that Alden addressed a meeting of the Toynbee Guild at the School of Arts on 28 June (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June, p. 9).

{17} Lawrence and Alden left their luggage at Sydney to be put aboard the Omi Maru when it called there. See 5/30f.

{18} It is not clear how much time was spent at Quirindi.

† Sic.

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