Touching the Taranaki Campaign
The Poems of Matthew Fitzpatrick August - November 1860
1 coming ashore
He was a visitor, a young man who arrived in Taranaki on a troopship in 1860, a soldier poet whose compositions appeared in the local newspapers signed ‘Matthew Fitzpatrick, Private, 65th Regiment.’ Is he among the 200 soldiers lining the decks of the ship approaching from the north on the morning of 1 March 1860? Anxious eyes watch from the surf-lines at New Plymouth:
Early on Thursday morning the return of the Royal Mail steamer Airedale put an end to the suspense that existed as to the course the Government would take on receipt of the representations forwarded to Auckland by that vessel on the previous Friday. The steamer was observed in the distance to be crowded with human beings, but the prevailing color of their dresses (scarlet) could not be discerned until the vessel neared the anchorage. Great was the delight and profound the feeling awakened by the spectacle, so much so that the Governor's flag was not noticed from the shore, and His Excellency landed in the bustle almost unrecognised. (Taranaki Herald 3 Mar 1860: 2)
A second vessel, HMSS Niger, arrives in the evening with artillery reinforcements, bringing the strength of the military presence in the town to over 400 men nine days after a proclamation of martial law. The disputed sale of land at Waitara ten miles to the north has triggered a show of force that will throw long shadows over settlers and Maori alike. Soon the troops will move out to Waitara, the skirts of their greatcoats tucked up for marching. They will build a camp and a blockhouse and get on with the business of conducting a colonial war. But in the moment before disembarkation, looking shoreward from the ship in the roadstead, there are other prospects, and perhaps other ways of looking at the place they have come to. A newspaper correspondent, making the same passage after ‘our twelve months’ war’ and in the wake of an armistice that pleased nobody, took pains to record the scene of operations for his Auckland readers. He started with an account of leaving Onehunga in bad weather that lifted as his ship cleared the bar at the entrance to the Manukau harbour:
Next morning, which was a lovely one, we turned out at an early hour. We were drawing leisurely along shore, Mount Egmont, at a distance of some 40 miles, developing its exquisite outline, whilst Tongariro, at a greater distance on the port bow, by its smoky outpourings, made itself conspicuous among the mountain ranges by which it is begirt. By noon, we had got sufficiently near to obtain a bird's eye view of the Town of New Plymouth and circumjacent country, and by 1 p.m., we anchored off the mouth of the Waitara, as close to the beach as the depth of water and a prudential knowledge of the coast would justify. (New Zealander 6 Apr 1861: 5)
But Private Matthew Fitzpatrick was not on board the Auckland sailing of HM 65th Regiment of Foot. He was part of the detachment the Airedale picked up in Wellington on her return journey, arriving off New Plymouth late in the evening of Friday 16 March 1860. The Airedale signals for boats to land the 98 men and their officers but her flares and guns go unheeded because every harbour boat is busy getting the rocket corps of the naval brigade and its two 24 pounder howitzers off to Waitara. The troops from Wellington go ashore early next morning and march to their quarters in the barracks on Marsland Hill at the rear of the town. It is St Patrick’s Day, and many of the Irish-born 65th are sporting shamrocks. News filters in from Waitara where the rest of the regiment, supported by guns, rockets and volunteer cavalry, is battering Te Kohia, Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake’s first fighting pa. A soldier and a volunteer die, the Te Atiawa men abandon the position and are well away by daybreak. The war has started, coincident with Matthew Fitzpatrick’s tour of duty in Taranaki. He doesn’t have to wait long for more action. New Plymouth is full to bursting with settlers and their families who have fled farms in the outlying settlements to north and south. Rumours of marches and counter marches by Te Atiawa and their southern Taranaki allies fly about. Farms are burning and stock is being driven off. Then three unarmed settlers and two boys are found murdered at Omata a few miles south of the town and a combined force of soldiers, volunteer militia and marines attacks Kaipopo pa near the Waireka Stream on 28 March. A great British victory is claimed against another empty pa. Fitzpatrick writes a letter to a clergyman friend in Wellington and it is published in a newspaper there:
A SOLDIER'S SENSIBLE VIEW OF THE WAR.
Rev. and Dear Sir,
If time permitted me to follow the impulse of my heart, I would have written to you long before this; but confusion, irregularity, hurry and bustle predominate among us; who, a few weeks ago enjoyed order and tranquility. Such is the difference between peace and war. One is a blessing, which, (like other good things), we cannot fully appreciate until we have lost it; the other is a curse whose horrors we have no idea of till we are subjected to endure its afflictions. But while our share of the evil is great, it is impossible not to sympathise with the poor country settlers who are forced to fly in fear from homes they established by long years of industry and toil and care with their terrified families into the garrison for protection, while the homes they leave behind are consumed by fire, and their cattle often seized upon or killed on the grazing ground by the enemy. It is only when we see venerable men with grey-hairs, wrinkled brows and care worn faces bearing arms to defend the land of their adoption, while their wives and children reluctantly leave them, (perhaps for ever?) to go to a more peaceful district, (Nelson) either to make room for others here or to seek peace and security for themselves, when we see these things and many others, we have not time to enumerate, – then we must be very dull if we cannot distinguish between the merits of PEACE AND WAR. But I know, Rev. Sir, that you will be anxious to know how our spiritual wants are provided for – we have a very small chapel, and a French clergyman, of whose merits I cannot give an idea that will do him justice. No one was ever more attentive to his duties, no one could be more assiduous in his endeavours to impress upon our minds the necessity of repentance, amendment of life, virtuous practices, and resignation to the will of God. In his exhortations he is most eloquent, and so animated that it is impossible to forget what he says. Although he is never short of words, I am sorry that his pronunciation is not quite intelligible to some of our men; but I am convinced that it is chiefly for want of strict attention on their own part. His discourses are the emanations of a soul full of the divine love which he endeavours to infuse and enkindle in our hearts, and his labors are those of one who never thinks he has done enough.
I would, Rev. Sir, speak more in detail of our affairs here, but I am too much pressed for time, (as you may judge from my scribbling,) and I fear I am already late for the post. I am sorry that we have not yet received any mail from Wellington, but trusting that you are all well,
I remain, Rev. Sir,
Your grateful friend,
P.S. – Dowling is attending the sick and wounded in Hospital, and desires to be kindly remembered to you. (Wellington Independent 4 May 1860: 3)
Printed above Fitzpatrick’s letter is an anonymous ballad entitled ‘The Battle of the Waireka,‘ to be sung to an air called ‘The Great Sea Snake.‘ It summarises the causes of the war, mocking the Government surveyors for running away from old Maori women making their claims on the Waitara land, then applauding the bravery of the marines from HMSS Niger who stormed Kaipopo pa, and mentioning the assistance they received on that day:
The 65th, and jackets blue
They dashed along pell mell,
The Rifles, and Militia too,
With Rockets, Shot, and Shell;
Until they came to Kingi's pah —
Which they began to pound.
The Rockets, Shot, and Whistling Dicks,
The Maories did astound.
Until they, &c. &c.
When they rushed in to work they went
As Blue Jackets always do;
The Maories were with panic seized
Whom right and left they slew.
They one 58th deserter found,
Who for quarter loud did roar,
And Jack his prayers did quickly grant,
By cutting him in four.
They one 58th, &c. &c.
(Wellington Independent 4 May 1860: 3)
Perhaps the ballad is Fitzpatrick’s, and his Reverend friend enjoyed a shanty as much as the next man, Catholic or Protestant. Whoever composed it is loose with the facts: Kaipopo was a Taranaki and Ngati Ruanui position not an Atiawa one, and the story of the deserter is apocryphal. The single victim of the Blue Jackets’ onslaught was an elderly Maori and the hundreds of enemies within the pa were a fiction.
The Airedale and other ships on the coastal runs continue to bring supplies and reinforcements to Taranaki through April and May, and to take news rather than agricultural cargos to Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and beyond. The provincial economy is in ruins and the weekly shipping intelligence shows that the twenty year old settlement is haemorrhaging its lifeblood. In March a handful of passengers travelled between ports on the west coast. By April, after Te Kohia and Waireka, the picture alters dramatically. On 31 March the Airedale leaves for Nelson with 60 passengers. The following day the steamer Wonga Wonga leaves with 54. On 6 April the Airedale ships 120 passengers, then 65 more on 11 April. The demographic of the evacuation is clear:
Passengers per Airedale for Nelson on the 6th inst.: — Misses Murray (3), Mrs Brown and eight children, Mr and Mrs Keleher, Misses Carrington (2), Mrs McKechney, Miss Tyrehurst, Master Wollaston, Mrs Horne and two children, Mr and Mrs Des Forges and two children, Mrs Marshall and three children, Miss Hirst, Miss Tatton, Mr and Mrs Alexander and four children, Miss Laird and three children, Mrs Pratt and four children, Mr and Mrs Scott and five children, Mr and Mrs R. W. Foreman, Mrs W. Foreman and six children, Mrs Foote and five children, Mrs Pellew and eight children, Miss Pellew, Misses Northcroft (2), Masters Northcroft (2), Mrs Collins and five children, Mrs James Jones and four children, Mrs R. Hart and seven children, Mrs Ward and three children, Mrs Street and five children, Mrs Baldwin and four children, Mrs Hurford and seven children, Miss Pope, Misses Smith (2), Mrs Holroyd and four children, Mrs Jury and child, Mrs Moon and four children, Mrs Rogers and six children, Mrs R. Coleman and six children, Mrs Moyle and eight children, Mrs R. Julien and seven children, Mrs Arden and seven children. (Taranaki Herald 14 Apr 1860: 2)
2 journalling the war
Garland William Woon, proprietor of the Taranaki Herald, was not given to printing poetry in the columns of his weekly newspaper. Other publications, notably the Nelson Colonist, the Lyttelton Times and the Otago Witness, ran poems and original prose regularly in the late 1850s. Woon, however, preferred to concentrate on Taranaki business -- political, agricultural and commercial -- and after March 1860 the paper was intensely focused on the war. There were long leading articles each week and reports from correspondents in the local hotspots. But it is Woon’s Journal of Events, detailing day by day incidents of the conflict and its impact that drew readers’ attention and led quickly to reprintings around the country (and later in Australia and Britain) as the colony struggled to assess the outbreak of racial violence taking place in Taranaki. The Journal of Events began in the issue of 10 March 1860. In April it could still be jaunty about the prospect of defeating the tribes and looked on Wiremu Kingi as an honorable if misguided local who would not stoop to the tactics of ambush and murder demonstrated by those who had come to assist him: ‘Sunday. — The Tasmanian Maid came up to-day from Waitara. W. King has intimated to the troops stationed there that he is ready to fight whenever they feel inclined to do so, and while they keep their white ensign flying will consider they do not wish fighting, but if they will hoist a red flag he will do so too, and will be ready for engaging with them in any way they may choose. Wait awhile E Wi, you'll sing to a different tune yet!’ (Taranaki Herald 14 Apr 1860: 2) A week later the Journal was reading more complexity into the standoff:
We hear from Waitara today that a horse belonging to an officer at the Camp, strayed away last evening, and being discovered by W. Kingi’s people, it was in the course of the day brought back to within 600 yards of the camp by one of W. King’s men, the rider holding in his hand a piece of calico tied to the top of his whip. One out of the camp advanced to meet him, when he tied the horse and retired step by step as the European advanced. We must express our conviction that this is a positive proof that W. King does not participate in the murderous conduct of his southern allies. We must give him credit for an act that proves that this rebel foe is actuated by a manly feeling in thus restoring the strayed horse of those who cannot do otherwise than chastise him for his past and present folly. On the other hand, W. King is a wily chief, and he may have done the above to prevent us from appropriating his numerous horses and cattle running about the country. (Taranaki Herald 21 Apr 1860: 2)
In May Woon went head to head with military authorities who claimed the Journal of Events was giving the enemy information about defence arrangements in the town. A paragraph was removed from the partly printed edition of 12 May and Woon ran the commander’s letter and his response to it in the subsequent issue, observing that the enemy was possessed of such information without needing to see it in print: ‘they are always, through their own spies, well informed on every movement of the forces, and the strength and position of every picket.’ (Taranaki Herald 19 May 1860: 2) Whatever strategic leaks may have occurred in the pages of the newspaper, the southern tribes found a more direct military use for the Herald on at least one occasion: ‘The mail seized by the Warea natives the 19th ult. was, after all, destroyed last week, after a consultation by the two tribes. The letters were burnt, but the newspapers (and there were 24 Heralds of the 17th ult. from this Office posted to our Wanganui and Wellington subscribers) were used for making cartridges’. (Taranaki Herald 21 Apr 1860: 2)
In late June the disastrous defeat of British forces at Puketakauere near Waitara (30 killed, 34 wounded) changed the European perception of Kingi and increased calls for decisive action against the chief and his allies. Among these calls, printed below the week’s Original Correspondence under the heading Original Verses, appeared Matthew Fitzpatrick’s first contribution to the Herald:
Come, soldiers, march to battle, and wreak vengeance on the head,
Of every savage rebel, for our comrades that are dead;
There is a sacred tomb that marks the ground whereon they fell, --
The blood they shed for England’s flag, their deeds of valour tell.
Oh! those who fell were gallant men, but thousands still as brave,
Have sworn to avenge them – or find themselves a grave;
Each deed of barbarous murder, on defenceless men and boys,
Must also be atoned for, – their blood for vengeance cries.
Come, soldiers, march to battle – let the rebel maori dance,
To excite himself to fury, while boldly we advance;
We care not for his savage yell, his tomahawk or spear,
His shouts will be his own death-knell, when British lions are near.
Come, soldiers, march to vict’ry, – let the rebel maories know,
‘Tis vain to put their trust in Pas, when Britain strikes the blow;
The cause of war rests not with us – ‘twas they provoked the fight,
Then let us to the battle go, and God defend the right.
(Taranaki Herald 4 Aug 1860: 3)
The poem is adroit, addressing brother soldiers who will avenge the deaths at Puketakauere, then alluding to multitudes poised to wreak vengeance on behalf of murdered settlers whose blood also demands restitution. By the time the poem makes its second and third calls to arms, soldiers and settlers appear bound in common purpose against a foe whose war dances and fortifications will be useless in the face of divine justice and the British army. Fitzpatrick’s verses were reprinted in the Wellington Independent (24 August), the Lyttelton Times (29 August) and the Otago Witness (8 Sept), in each instance bearing the date ‘30th July 1860.’ To read the Herald’s Journal of Events for July is to uncover specifics that illuminate the rhetoric of the poem. Reinforcements were arriving by the week from Auckland, from England via Sydney and from Melbourne, and a further large contingent from Sydney was on the horizon. These are the ‘thousands’ (actually closer to 1500 fighting men) who will avenge Puketakauere and the ‘defenceless men and boys’ killed at Omata. The tribes, aided by Waikato and Maniapoto war parties from the north, were also preparing for action. Reports from Waitara of several new pa close to the camp and ten others on the hills around Omata provoke the poet’s claim that these will be of little use in the coming battle. But it is news of another settler death 28 July that seems to be the immediate inspiration for Fitzpatrick’s poem and its focus on civilian as well as military vengeance. On page 2 of the Herald that prints Fitzpatrick’s poem on page 3, the Journal of Events covers the death and funeral of militiaman Corbyn Harris in unusual detail:
Sunday— We have sad intelligence from Waitara to-day, brought up by Archdeacon Govett. Mr. Hugh Corbyn Harris, attached to the camp, while carting driftwood from the beach yesterday was shot dead by a party of rebels in ambush. We have received from Waitara the following particulars relating to this brutal murder. "You will be sorry to hear that a poor fellow named Harris, a carter, and most respectable young man, was shot dead from the bush near the beach about 1300 yards south of the blockhouse, only yesterday. He had gone for wood, accompanied by a private of the 40th, neither of them armed, and although the beach close to the Waitara point is one mass of timber, he wished, it appears, to find some which was better suited for culinary purposes, and as no Maoris, excepting the friendly ones had ever been seen in that direction he apprehended no danger. Five or six shots were fired — and one ball passed through poor Harris' head, killing him instantaneously. No attempt to plunder his body was made, and his cart and bullocks remained uninjured. The man of the 40th states that he was under the impression that the Maoris were some belonging to the Waitara pa when first he saw them coming towards the beach, but on seeing them nearer he called to Harris, who was 70 or 80 yards from him, without Harris apparently hearing him." Corbyn Harris is the only son of an old settler, and was a most exemplary young man, and the main support of a family of sisters. (Taranaki Herald 4 Aug 1860: 2)
Monday’s Journal entry continues: ‘The boat from Waitara returned this morning, and brought up poor Harris' body in a shell. It was carried up by several young men personal friends, to the Chapel at the Kawau pa. We are told that Harris has also a bullet wound through the chest, near the heart, and that the shot fired at his head must have been from a distance of a few inches, as his hair was singed, and eyebrows blown off!’ The funeral took place the following day: ‘Tuesday. — Weather still beautiful. C. Harris was buried to-day, followed to the grave by a large number of his friends and Militia and Volunteers and some Military. A firing party of Volunteers and the Volunteer Band preceded the body.’ The Journal also published the family’s acknowledgement of their loss, heaping up sympathy for the bereaved and incidentally strengthening the call for vengeance expressed by Fitzpatrick’s poem on the facing page:
The afflicted Parents of the late Hugh Corbyn Harris desire to offer their warmest thanks to the Volunteer Rifles, Militia, and other numerous friends, who manifested their respect and esteem for their departed Son, by following his remains to their last resting place. As they are not able to make their acknowledgments in person, they take this opportunity of gratefully assuring them that their voluntary demonstration of kindness and sympathy has afforded much comfort and consolation to his surviving relatives, who mourn the loss of an only and affectionate Son and Brother, but who do NOT "Sorrow as those who have no hope." New Plymouth, 31st July, 1860.
Corbyn Harris’s father was Edwin Harris, an artist, farmer and former surveyor with the New Zealand Company. His watercolours and drawings survive in several collections, most notably at Puke Ariki Museum and the TSB Bank in New Plymouth and at the Turnbull Library in Wellington. Early works show coastal profiles of Marlborough and Taranaki as Harris and his family arrived in New Zealand in March 1841 aboard the William Bryan. There is a watercolour sketch of Harris’s New Plymouth home on Frankley Road, with a woman and child on the front path and three figures on horseback nearby. Five of the works on paper at Puke Ariki concern the war of 1860. One shows the Volunteer Rifles going on duty in the centre of the town. Another depicts troops from the 40th Regiment disembarking HMVS Victoria on 3 August 1860. The Airedale, the paddle steamer Tasmanian Maid, the brig George Henderson and a schooner are part of the busy scene. Three more Harris works show the same event, this time from Marsland Hill looking out to sea across the town as surfboats bring the soldiers ashore. A record for one of these views asserts that the sketch was made just prior to the artist’s departure, presumably for Nelson. Whatever else they might be, Edwin Harris’s multiple versions of the beachfront landing are a memorial to his son and a hope for redress. If the living Corbyn Harris is one of the volunteers going on duty in his father’s painting, his burial is represented by the inclusion of several graves in the churchyard of St Mary’s at the foot of the hill where Edwin sits sketching the arrival of imperial troops. Another version of the hilltop view, this time moonlit and showing women and children as well as soldiers, is part of the TSB Bank collection. Moon, army tents and the windows of houses and St Mary’s church have all been cut away to allow light from a source behind the painting to embody the artist’s affirmation of order and serenity in the town.
Matthew Fitzpatrick’s first Taranaki poem was written 30 July as Corbyn Harris’s body was returned to New Plymouth for burial. His second Herald poem follows closely the form and content of the first, this time from within the entrenched town itself as the guns on Marsland Hill signalled an imminent attack on the morning of 4 August. The Journal, which had noted with satisfaction the arrival of more forces and a new commander the previous day, was at pains to show how efficiently the threat was being dealt with even as the paper was being put to bed:
Saturday, 1 p. m. — At 10 o'clock this morning the alarm guns from Marsland Hill and Mount Eliot were fired, and the bugles called together the troops and militia, a messenger having arrived in town reporting that the natives were in force in rear of the Colonial Hospital in the Town belt, and that a combined movement was to be made on the town. Intelligence also in town that the troops were engaged on the Bell Block. The troops and militia under arms in readiness to move to any point. The women and children flocked to the barracks from all points. A reconnoitering party of friendly natives report that the rebels have fallen back in the bush after pillaging several houses and stripping a large quantity of lead from the house of T. W. Richardson, Esq. at Waiwakaiho. (Taranaki Herald 4 Aug 1860: 2)
Fitzpatrick commemorates the fever of war, asserting his presence in the garrison that day:
A GLIMPSE OF TARANAKI ON THE 4TH OF AUGUST, 1860
Loud warning notes of war throughout our streets were sounding,
Our signal guns were fired – each soldier’s heart was bounding;
Each Briton mann’d his post, – we heard the foe was near us,
We had vengeance to repay, and the hope of doing it cheered us.
Aged men forgot their years, – in the foremost ranks they mingled,
For high in patriots’ breasts, the warrior’s fire was kindled;
Like lightning through the town our mounted couriers flew,
And eager for the fight our ardent soldiers grew!
I saw a timid child clasp’d by its trembling mother,
In agonizing fear they clung to one another.
Then anguish pierced my heart – quick from the scene I turned−
And warmer than before my thirst for vengeance burned.
But the foe did not appear, or he heard our war gun firing,
An ere he came too near, show’d wisdom by retiring;
His lawless tribes must know they cannot catch us sleeping, −
While a soldier shuts his left, strict watch his right eye’s keeping.
We’d spread flowers o’er the plains, but the rebel chose the sword,
And for his foolish pains, he’ll have his just reward;
The Shamrock and the Rose will make bullets through him whistle,
If he’s not content with these, we’ll prick him with the Thistle.
(Taranaki Herald 25 Aug 1860: 3)
The poem was reprinted in the Wellington Independent of 11 September. The Herald published two more Fitzpatrick poems in quick succession, both elegies for fighting men struck down in ambush. The first eulogises Richard Brown of the Taranaki Militia. Brown was Captain of the Native Irregulars at Waitara, a force of Government friendly Maori who had supported the land sale there, and he had been badly wounded in late May when he was attacked at the Waiongana River while searching for a missing horse. He was also an editor for the Herald and is identified as the Waitara correspondent who reported the ambiguous return of a strayed horse to the camp in April. The Journal of Events supplied constant reports on Brown’s state of health, now in decline, now rallying, as he lay in hospital at Camp Waitara, too sick to be moved to town. When he died 22 August during a week of bad weather and heavy skirmishing that cut communication between Waitara and New Plymouth, the Herald ran a full obituary and particulars of his death appeared over several days in the Journal of Events. The entry for Friday 24 August adds a late item: ‘4 p.m. — Tasmanian Maid unexpectedly made her appearance with her flag flying half-mast high, and a signal that Mr. Richard Brown was dead. The immediate cause of his death, which took place on Wednesday at 2 p.m., was influenza. Every respect was paid to his body by the troops at Waitara when it was put on board the steamer. The bluejackets at Mount Eliot, under Commodore Seymour, with a gun carriage on the beach, and a guard of honor, received the body and conveyed it to the deceased gentleman's residence in the town. When the coffin was placed on the gun, the guard carried arms, and the numerous assemblage fell in and joined in the cortège.’ The details of an inquest and the accolades of the British commander are also noted, but the symbolism of Brown’s end does not go unmarked by his obituarist, who points out that the military command has disbanded the Native Irregulars despite their loyalty to Brown and the unremitting care they had shown in helping to nurse him at Waitara: ‘One of the first to set foot in Taranaki, his energies and resources were always devoted to its progress, and his influence, which was considerable, was unselfishly employed towards the advancement of his fellow colonists. He flourished with the settlement, and his death, at the present juncture, is in sad harmony with its ruined condition.’ An extract from a private letter published in the same issue completes the picture of bodily ruin: ‘The doctor had just come to dress Mr Brown and noticed a great change in his looks as he turned him on his side to get at the wounds, and so he laid him again on his back, and in a few minutes he was dead, without a groan or struggle. They opened him, and found the ball (which had occasioned so much anxious speculation) had passed round the left lung, which was shrunk to half the natural size, and then fixed itself firmly in the backbone.’ (Taranaki Herald 25 Aug 1860: 2)
Fitzpatrick’s elegy holds up a mirror to the grieving settlement, showing it one who was a natural soldier in defence of his adopted land. The poem is dated 27 August 1860, the day after Brown’s funeral with full military honours:
ON THE DEATH OF THE LATE CAPT. BROWN, T.M.
We need no badge of mourning to mark our deep-felt grief,
In yielding back to Earth, our old, our well-tried chief;
For Freedom sheds a tear, to the hero that defended
Her sacred laws and rights, and in her struggles ended!
The tomb is o’er him closed, but the grave can never hide
A patriot’s well-won fame, − a Briton’s noblest pride.
When British laws were slighted, his ready sword he drew,
To assert Britannia’s rights, and God’s, and Freedom’s too!
Though his hair was gray with years, he played a soldier’s part,
For ‘neath his manly breast, there throb’d a Briton’s heart;
His hand was ever foremost, where danger seemed most near,
And oft his daring spirit, fill’d the rebel’s heart with fear!
No selfish thought e’er nestled within his gen’rous breast,
‘Twas when he toiled for others he felt himself most blest!
To our province he was ever a true devoted friend –
His purse was to advance it, − his arm, to defend!
Thou brave, thou noble soul, receive our last adieu –
Our hearts are living urns for patriot sires like you,
You’ve won immortal fame, and we hope (what is more dear−)
A crown of bliss divine, in God’s own heavenly sphere!
(Taranaki Herald 1 Sept 1860: 3)
The poem was reprinted in the Wellington Independent of 14 September. Most interesting here is Fitzpatrick’s insistent use of first person plurals to begin and end his encomium. ‘We need no badge of mourning to mark our deep-felt grief, / In yielding back to Earth, our old, our well-tried chief’; the lines cement community bonds, and once again the poet speaks as part of this community of soldiers and transplanted Britons. His final address claims Brown as a patriot and a father: ‘Thou brave, thou noble soul, receive our last adieu— Our hearts are living urns for patriot sires like you.’ The poet soldier looks at the soldier settler and affirms undying kinship in this place of transplantation that is not Britain and by no means settled.
Fitzpatrick’s second elegy is for a fallen comrade from the British ranks. In the same few days that brought news of Corbyn Harris’s death at Waitara and the false alarm that put New Plymouth on high alert, two men went missing in the hills around Omata and were later found dead from bullet, spear and tomahawk wounds. One man was a settler named John Hurford and the other was a gunner with the Royal Artillery who had accompanied Hurford to check on his outlying farm. The gunner’s body was found and brought to town. The settler’s body was recovered two days later as Gunner J Gaffney was buried, and it is the contiguity of events that once again doubles the focus of Fitzpatrick’s verses.
A SOLDIER’S FUNERAL AT TARANAKI
ON SUNDAY, 5TH AUGUST, 1860
It was a Sabbath day, − church bells were tolling loud,
The sky was mantled o’er with a sable mourning cloud,
And a shower sometimes fell, as if Heaven dropt a tear,
In pity for our woe, as the funeral hour drew near.
The plaintive wail of fife, and low roll of muffled drum,
Pour’d sadness on the breeze, as slowly to the tomb,
A soldier’s last remains with measured step we bore,
And many a sigh we breathed, to think he’d march no more.
What most increased our grief, he died not in the field,
Of battle’s open strife, where he’d rather fall than yield;
Nor in the fever’d bed, where kind friends would gently smoothe
The pillow ‘neath his head, and try his pangs to soothe.
They were ambushed rebel maories that made his life blood flow,
They saw he was unarmed, and they struck the coward blow;
And with him fell another − a man whose children’s tears,
Will mingle with his widow’s, nor be dried for many years.
(Taranaki Herald 8 Sept 1860: 3)
The poem was reprinted in the Wellington Independent of 18 September. Both printings are curiously truncated at four stanzas and seem to lack Fitzpatrick’s signature flourish in the final quatrain. Perhaps Garland Woon was pressed for space or perhaps a compositor missed the last four lines of Fitzpatrick’s manuscript, because a reprint of the poem many years later adds the following lines:
We’ve paid our last sad rite – we’ve fired the farewell shot,
Peace, joy, and Heavenly bliss be now their happy lot.
And the stamp of blood all red is on the murd’rers brow
But Heaven will soon avenge the brave that we mourn now.
(St James’s Chronicle 32 [20 Oct 1879]: npag)
There are other, smaller variants in the later text (‘rebel Maories’ become ‘savage Maories,’ ‘widow’s’ tears become ‘mother’s’ tears) but it seems clear enough that the poem in its original form was conceived as five stanzas rather than four, and that Fitzpatrick like many poets before and since found his work published with less than perfect accuracy. There is more to say about the reprintings of 1879, but not before looking carefully at the remaining poems published by the Taranaki Herald and other papers in 1860. Fitzpatrick’s calls for vengeance and his elegies for European victims of the conflict constitute a measured progress through July and August 1860, each poem indexed to a date and recognisable situations as securely as any entry in Woon’s Journal of Events for the same period. The Herald audience had all the necessary information to appreciate Fitzpatrick’s compositions as the making of songs about a war in which they were intimately engaged and as yet frustrated in the outcome. And it is as song as well as another dated event that Fitzpatrick’s next poem appears in print, giving a clue to the status of his earlier offerings with their steady rhythms and singable lines. This time the occasion of the poem is the concerted but ultimately unsatisfactory move made against the Te Atiawa positions near Waitara in September 1860 as part of reprisals for Puketakauere. 1400 British troops marched against a series of evacuated fortifications, among them the pa at Huirangi held by Kingi’s fighting chief Hapurona, who ambushed one of the divisions from a grove of peach trees skirting the road. The action is sharp (one soldier is killed and his body removed by Hapurona’s men) but it is also limited and does not culminate in the rout so sorely needed to assert British superiority. How to sing about strategic retreat?
ASSAULT ON KINGI – 11 SEPT. 1860
(Air) “The young Crusader.”
O’er Waitara’s broad and lovely plains, all clad with verdant green,
The British trump’ of war is heard, and British troops are seen,
With firm step advancing quick, upon the rebel foe,
While the sun shoots down his brightest beams, to gladden all below.
Like wolves into their covert lair, to the bush the rebels fly, –
Too well they know that on the plains, to meet us is to die.
To the forest verge we follow them, led by our General brave.
Oh! let them show us fight, to-day − ‘tis all, ‘tis all we crave.
Now from the British forces bold, loud sounds of cannon rise,
And quick as Heaven’s lightning-flash, the fiery rocket flies!
The shells burst forth like thunder-peals, and spread destruction wide,
While fierce consuming flames arise, from pahs on every side.
Now from the wood-clad hills on high, now from the ravine deep,
The flash of Maori musquetry, through smoke is seen to peep;
But the rebel hands that fire them shake, with paralyzing fear, –
‘Tis hard to take a steady aim at Britons though they’re near.
Again the roar of cannon loud, is shaking earth and skies,
And with unceasing random shot, the Maori still replies,
Protected by his giant trees, he thinks (in vain), to vie,
With all the force of Britain’s pow’r − and has boldness to defy.
The storm of war now rages wild, our hearts are bounding high,
For vengeance on the rebel tribes, and victory seems nigh,
But though the sword is lifted up, we’re made withold the blow,
And from the glorious battle-field, reluctantly we go.
Then proudly wave the British flag, throughout New Zealand’s coast, −
United let us round it stand, and vie who loves it most,
We have soldiers and militia bold, brave tars and Volunteers,
Who would bear that flag to Kingi’s pah, and hoist it with three cheers!
(Taranaki News 4 Oct 1860: 4)
The poem does not appear in the Taranaki Herald, and its publication in the rival Taranaki News, with a composition date of 18 September 1860, was ascertained by consulting physical copies of that newspaper at the Turnbull Library. However, the poem also exists as an unsourced, unattributed clipping pasted into a copy of WI Grayling’s The War in Taranaki, During the Years 1860-1861. The book was once owned by Taranaki settler William Tatton and is now in Special Collections at the University of Auckland. The clipping pasted into Tatton’s copy of Grayling’s book is an important artifact. Though it is not possible to say who inserted it, or when, it brings Fitzpatrick several steps closer to the settlement he writes about, because William Tatton was a Lieutenant in the Volunteer Rifles and William Irwin Grayling was one of the Herald’s most prolific correspondents during the war, contributing reports from Omata, Waitara, Kairau, Huirangi and Te Arei as well as supplying entries for the Journal of Events. Grayling’s own manuscript journal of events April 1860 through April 1861 survives in the collections at Puke Ariki and is the source material of the book published under Garland Woon’s imprint in 1862. Grayling was present as one of 50 Volunteer Rifles who assisted in the 11 September operation against Kingi’s pa at Ngataiparirua, Kairau and Huirangi, and the report he filed matches Fitzpatrick’s poem detail for detail. After fulminating about the missed opportunity of showing the enemy once and for all the force of British firepower, Grayling goes on to describe the country inland of Waitara, the nature of the (empty) fortifications encountered and the measures taken against them:
The first pa was weak compared with the second; the former being surrounded on all sides with protection both from rifle shots and shell. After having destroyed this, we marched towards the stronghold of Wiremu Kingi. [...] A skirmishing party from the 40th was sent, and demolition commenced on the Huirangi pa, when, perfectly unexpected, a volley was fired from the bush, one man on our side falling, but few being there, an immediate retreat was made upon the support, after which, skirmishing parties being thrown out right and left, an endeavour was made to obtain the body of the missing man, but unfortunately without success; after which heavy volleys were continuously fired from the rifle pits and platforms in the trees in the bush, notwithstanding which the pa was fired, the smoke of which prevented us from seeing what was going on in front. Whilst the pa was still burning, a 24-pounder howitzer was brought from the front to the right of the support, from whence a continuous fire of canister and shell was kept up. From the 65th, in reserve, 40 men of the Light Company were thrown out to the right to destroy a small pa about a few hundred yards to the right of Huirangi. In the meantime the guns and rockets were kept constantly at work. After a heavy fire from the natives, the retire was ordered, the volunteers, in conjunction with some of the 40th, covering it. Although tired and weary there was not a man amongst us who did not regret the return home, particularly as it fell to our lot to hear whizzing around us plenty of bullets without an opportunity of returning one, the order having been given not to fire without we saw something to shoot at. [...] As the rear guard reached the Kairau pa three several volleys were fired by the rebels in token of defiance, and many of us longed to turn back and shew that the retire was a collective and not willingly an individual one. (Taranaki Herald 15 Sept 1860: 2)
3 a scene and two exiles
The rest of September 1860 proved relatively uneventful. Kingi’s allies, laden with plunder from settler houses and farms, had gone home to north and south to plant spring crops. Te Atiawa were planting further inland at Mataitawa and other bush settlements. The Europeans were keenly aware of their own need to grow food for themselves and what remained of their stock. Grayling, who was a farmer and a professional soil analyst as well as a contractor for the army Commissariat, is probably the leader writer in the Herald urging the military authorities in New Plymouth to allow the planting of root crops close to the entrenched town in order to defray the cost of an ever greater volume of imported supplies. The writer’s advice to make the most of resources at hand is finely tuned to the practicalities of martial law in an agricultural province:
This might be undertaken by farming men, who could be exempted from militia duty whilst so employed. The opportunity for getting fencing stuff from the bush was unfortunately neglected, but this difficulty might be got over by surrounding the land by a deep ditch and bank with a single rail on top. It will, perhaps, be argued as an objection to the work, that the rebels may again surround the town and destroy the crops. But such only as cannot well be destroyed need be grown — potatoes, turnips, mangolds, carrots, parsnips, &c. Wandering cattle would, in our opinion, be the enemy to guard against; but surely we are not to lose the season for raising food on the chance of any enemy laying it waste. We cannot look forward to a prolongation of the war without feeling apprehensive for the health of the people cribbed up, as they are, within the limited lines of defence. (Taranaki Herald 8 Sept 1860: 2)
No record exists of such cultivations, and the dangerous work of gathering what could be saved from the spoliation of pa and farms in the surrounding district continued. But Matthew Fitzpatrick, perhaps quartered in the barracks on Marsland Hill with its fine views of coast, bush and mountain, was taking a more optimistic outlook. In the absence of war news and the advent of spring, Woon published the last of his poems to appear in the Herald, and the only one to register the full impact of the celebrated local scenery:
TO THE RISING SUN. (Scene - Taranaki)
Hail glorious orb! resplendent light!
All Nature greets thee with delight, -
In gold and purple robes all bright
By thee she’s clad!
Thy rays have chased the gloomy night,
And ushered day to cheer our sight
And make Earth glad!
Mount Egmont proud, sublime, and bold,
Though wrapt in snowy mantle cold,
Now blushes ‘neath a wreath of gold,
Its gift from thee!
And down its virgin breasts, behold!
A thousand sparkling streams are roll’d,
By thee set free!
Now ‘neath thy rays old Neptune’s breast,
Seems all with sparkling diamonds drest,
And sea-birds quit their rocky nest
And hungry brood,
While, by thy genial presence blest,
They skim o’er ocean’s wave in quest
Of finny food.
And hark! the feathered tribes resound
Thy praise from hills and valleys round,
While joyful lambs skip, leap, and bound,
Pleased at thy sight!
And mountains with thy glory crown’d.
And crystal rivers seaward bound,
Reflect thy light!
Each leaf, each flower, each plant, each tree,
Exults, its source of life to see,
And offers incense sweet to thee
On breath of spring!
Called by thy beams, the dainty bee,
Sips honey from wild blossoms free,
Then off takes wing!
But though to all the world thou’rt dear,
‘Tis those who shed affliction’s tear
That most rejoice to see thee near,
Thou type of bliss!
For when thy golden rays appear,
The spirit soars to a happy sphere,
Far, far from this!
Then shine, celestial orb! still shine,
May light refulgent still be thine,
Emblem of faith! and brightest shrine
Of hope and truth!
Thou’rt formed by Nature’s God and mine,
And worlds shall praise His power divine,
Both age and youth!
Private 65th Regt.
(Taranaki Herald 13 Oct 1860: 4)
It is not clear why Fitzpatrick’s name appears partially anonymised in this ecstatic address to the springtime sunrise that symbolises renewed hope for the European inhabitants of Taranaki. And it is worth noting that the poem appears on the back page of the issue rather than on page 3, perhaps because its more than usual length corresponded with a shortfall in the week’s paid advertising. But the surprise here is Fitzpatrick’s launch into a form more elaborate than the rhyming couplets that characterise his earlier publications. The repeated rhymes of each stanza (aaabaab) build a hymn of praise to the rising sun. Wherever the eye falls on the scene the ear hears good things (five times over) with a twice heard variation that heightens the implied narrative effect: light / delight / bright / clad / night / sight / glad. The strategy is that of the song-writer or anthem maker, and in adopting it Fitzpatrick shows his intentions for the poem. No less than his other compositions, ‘To the rising Sun‘ is a product of the war and a call to its audience to take new hope. The aggregating of single rhymes within a stanza punctuated by differently rhymed short lines was used by Robert Burns and was sometimes called the Burns stanza or Scotch stave. Burns used a six-line stanza (aaabab) which Fitzpatrick seems to have modified by the addition of another a rhyme, bringing the stanza to seven lines, and running the poem to seven stanzas.
By mid October parties of Waikato were beginning to reappear in Taranaki and Fitzpatrick’s panoramic optimism must have seemed at odds with the reality of life in New Plymouth. The hilltop barracks were only one of many army accommodations and the troops lived cheek by jowl with the remaining townsfolk, among them Woon and his compositors who got the paper out each week between militia duties. The Journal often reflects the nervous tedium of the war:
Thursday, Oct. 18. — Two natives rode in this morning from Waitara, and report that the Waikatos have not arrived at Waitara, but are still at Pukekohe, waiting the arrival of 200 who are daily expected. We hear that the Waikatos intend to hold a congress amongst themselves, the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui tribes, and Wi Kingi, to decide upon a course of action for the future. The usual muster in the trenches to-day. The forces were inspected by the General. The Wonga steamed to Waitara this morning, and returned at 10 a.m. No boat could communicate with her, as the surf was high and the wind strong from the N.W., but she signalled "No news of importance." The different companies of the 65th at the barracks in Brougham-street, Fort Niger, and in the tents at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kawau pa, and rear of this office, were relieved to-day, other companies taking their places. (Taranaki Herald 20 Oct 1860: 2)
It is the all-important beach front, site of so many comings and goings in the beleaguered settlement, that provides the setting and the pathos of the poem Fitzpatrick published next. If his springtime panegyric presents a scene without a single human being, Maori or European, this one concentrates on the unfolding human tragedy of death and dispossession:
THE TARANAKI REFUGEE
The Sun had gain’d the zenith, and from his lustrous crown
Upon the lucid waters, his dazzling beams fell down;
The deep, blue, boundless sea, in grandeur seem’d to vie,
With the broad expansive arch of the cloudless azure sky!
The zephyr blew so light, its gentle breath resembled
Some whisp’ring lover’s tale, – half earnest, half dissembled.
Glad ocean-birds were sporting in circles o’er the main,
And universal peace through nature seemed to reign!
While on the beach I stood, enjoying the sunny hour,
There came a lovely maid, more beauteous than a flow’r
When fresh with Heaven’s dew each bright leaf is unfolded,
And wears the stamp supreme of the God by whom ‘twas moulded!
Her golden yellow hair hung o’er her lily brow,
Like the gilded cloud of’t seen on Egmont’s crest of snow;
And from her large blue eye, there fell a pearly tear,
A diamond of affection from her heart’s deep font sincere!
The waves of’t kissed her feet, while in grief profound she stood,
Now gazing tow’rd the town, now viewing the ocean flood.
Deep is her source of woe; she sees her native land
Deserted, wasted, ruined, ‘neath war’s consuming hand!
Her childhood’s happy home, where Eden’s bliss she found,
Is now no longer seen, ‘tis burnèd to the ground.
Her noble brother fell, contending with the foe;
And her aged father’s heart soon broke beneath the blow!
Like a troubled ocean wave, her breast now heaved now fell,
While a youth of noble mien approached, and said “Farewell!”
The maid with sighs replied, “’Tis cruel thus to part,
From home, FROM YOU, from all: ‘twill break, ‘twill break my heart!
More welcome were the grave; but my hapless widow’d mother
Has now but me to sooth her anguish for my brother.
’Mong strangers we must seek a home beyond the wave,”
And a burning tear-drop fell, as she added “perhaps a grave!”
“Oh! speak not words like these,” her soothing lover cried;
“Look up, and hope in God, His Providence is wide.
His angel spirits guard each heart where virtue dwells,
And they will vie in throwing ‘round thee their blissful spells.
Though vengeance just and heavy awaits the savage foe,
With Eve’s fair daughters near, how can we strike the blow?
It probes my soul to part from all my heart holds dear;
But soon you will return, the dawn of peace is near.”
She would have made reply, but her anguish was so keen,
No words, no sighs, no tears, had power t’ express her pain.
The surf-boat now arrived, and touched the glist’ning strand,
And the maid is called to leave her dear adopted land.
With falt’ring step she goes, yet a smile she tries to borrow,
To hide from rude observers her soul’s desponding sorrow.
As in the boat she stepp’d, her lover seal’d a kiss
Upon her trembling hand, saying “Love, remember this!”
Now o’er the swelling wave the boat is lightly skimming,
Unconscious of the tears the fair one’s eyes are flinging
In showers upon the sea, as she views each hurried sweep,
Of the quick propelling oars that guide her o’er the deep.
“Farewell, farewell,” she cries, “my own beloved land
I never may return on thy lovely shores to stand.
Farewell, thou noble youth, I know thy heart is true,
To thee I give this tear, all hot with love. Adieu!”
(Nelson Examiner 24 Oct 1860: 4)
The poem was reprinted twice in the Wellington Independent (2 and 6 November), and many readers in Nelson and Wellington must have looked for a basis of fact in the plight of the young woman obliged to leave her home. Is she the sister of Corbyn Harris, killed at Waitara 28 July, who was an only son and the brother of six sisters? Or is she sister to John Sarten, mortally wounded at Waitara 17 March, whose father Edmund Sarten died in New Plymouth 21 August of apoplexy? But the superabundance of Edenic motifs and the pathos of multiple afflictions seems to indicate a composite figure rather than an individual history. She is Venus in reverse, being taken offshore by her attendants, or she is a nascent Eve removed from Paradise without the comfort of an Adam who must stay behind to attempt its defence. Most of all she is the precious cargo of those who would lay down their lives to protect a refugee princess. Her golden hair, ‘lily brow’ and blue eyes mark her as the type of English beauty. In a noonday setting of blue and gold between earth and sky or sky and ocean, she is the virgin Queen of Heaven who carries in her person the generations to come. Fitzpatrick’s poem catches all of these layers, from the literal to the symbolic, and it is easy enough to visualise the speaker on the beach at New Plymouth on one of the fine days in early September as the Airedale and the steamer White Swan loaded more refugees for Nelson. Families who had elected to stay after the exodus in April had been summarily advised in a series of proclamations that their presence was endangering military operations and that they should be ready to leave as soon after 1 September as possible. By no means all of the 1000 potential deportees were resigned to their fate, and Fitzpatrick’s rendering of the beachfront farewell contrasts strongly with reports coming out of the province that show the deadlock between angry settlers and frustrated military commanders. The most detailed of these reports comes from the Nelson Examiner’s correspondent in Taranaki and is dated 7 September 1860, one day after the White Swan sailed for Nelson with another 170 refugees:
Simon Andrews, yeoman, declined to let his wife leave, and be separated from her. He was at once ordered to the guard-room by Colonel Carey, for having breathed such treason. The husband, thus got rid of, Major Herbert, commanding the militia and volunteers, was desired to furnish a party to fetch the wife, which, to his credit, he refused. A fatigue party of soldiers were then ordered down, and Captain W. C. King, of the militia (son of Captain King, R.N.), placed under arrest by Colonel Carey for refusing, when called upon, to accompany the soldiers on their mission. These were now sent up in charge of one of their own sergeants, and returned with the poor woman, who yielded to the powerful demonstration, which only needed " the point of the bayonet" Colonel Carey is reputed to have threatened a settler's wife with, should she contumaciously prefer to remain under her own roof. To return to Mrs. Andrews. An opposition of a far more formidable nature than that offered by her husband, and not looked for by the military authorities, now interposed in her behalf. The harbour boatmen, one and all, declaring their determination not to put any female on board against her consent; but this Mrs. Andrews had given, as her bed and baggage were already shipped, and left her no alternative. The embroilment did not end here. Other families, encouraged in their opposition by yesterday's proceedings, still refuse to go; and of the two courses open to the Colonel, I fear he will continue in the wrong one. (Nelson Examiner 11 Sept 1860: 4)
The last of Matthew Fitzpatrick’s poems published in 1860 indicates that the poet has had enough of his Taranaki posting, and is tired of New Zealand itself. As his thoughts turn homeward he makes a comparison of past and present surroundings, and his words are to be sung to an Irish folksong:
THOUGH LOVELY THE VALLEYS AND HILLS OF THE MAORI
(Air - Norah McShane)
Though lovely the valleys and hills of the Maori,
Though his plains are all fertile, his climate all balm,
Though grand are his forests of giant-like Kauri,
And his broad-spreading fern-tree rivals the palm;
Though sweet is the chime of his bell-bird each morn
When the Sun’s golden glow gilds the wood-covered hills,
Though the air breathes the fragrance of flow’rs newly born
And each mountain gives birth to a thousand bright rills!
With all this wild grandeur, these beauties and charms
There’s an Isle in the West by far dearer to me, –
Like a stray child that sighs for its Mother’s loved arms
This heart fondly yearns dear Erin for thee!
Bright lakes, noble rivers, rich plains and bold mountains
With valleys enchanting, are the least of thy spells, –
Thy daughters’ fair bosoms are love’s purest fountains
And of all earth holds lovely, their beauty excels!
Thy sons’ boyant spirits are light as the sun-beam
That sports on the ocean, but breaks not the wave,
Love and mirth from their hearts teem, wit and fun from their eyes gleam,
And foremost they stand in the ranks of the brave!
Thy soul-thrilling music enkindles each passion
That warms the heart of the bold and the free, –
Can inspire Love or joy, – Call forth hate or compassion,
Or with fury enrage, as a tempest the Sea!
I miss the sweet lark, and his loud song entrancing
When he pours out the joy of his soul to the Sun,
While cheered by his wild-notes, glad peasants go dancing
O’er flow’r spangled meadows, where purling brooks run.
Oh! give me once more the lov’d scenes of my child-hood –
The river, the lake, the old abbey and tower,
The green fields and vales, and the haunts through the wild wood,
Where love-tales are whispered in beauties’ sweet bower.
(Wellington Independent 20 Nov 1860: 3)
‘Norah McShane’ was a well known song and its lyrics as well as the tune itself signal Fitzpatrick’s yearning for his native land. The ballad has many versions but all of them begin by naming a home place and the girl who lives there:
I left Ballymoney a long way behind me,
To better my fortune I crossed the wide sea.
I’m sadly alone, not a creature to mind me,
And in troth, I’m as wretched as wretched can be.
I sigh for the buttermilk, fresh as a daisy,
The beautiful hills and the emerald plain,
And oh, don’t I oftentimes think myself crazy
About that young black-eyed rogue, Norah McShane.
(Huntington and Herrmann 207)
The ballad dwells exclusively on the past (‘sweet Ballymoney and Norah McShane’) and dreams of making both its waking future: ‘And if God spares me health till the sun shines tomorrow, / I’ll go back to ould Ireland and Norah McShane’.’ Fitzpatrick’s poem, by contrast, gives a full eight lines to the beauty of his present location before conjuring scenes of Irish life and landscape. There is a vivid sense of here in the evocation of there. His sweetheart is the mothering land and she is directly addressed (‘dear Erin’) as the personification that is also a girl’s name. And because she is an embodied symbol, the poem can extend itself to praise the qualities of all Irish men and women as her wandering children. If this is Matthew Fitzpatrick’s poem of exile, it is also the song of one who is an Irishman in the service of an imperial power that can send him where it likes, to fight wars in colonial trouble spots the world over. Perhaps it should come as no surprise to find that the ‘valleys and hills of the Maori,’ lovely and under threat, remind the poet so strongly of another country with a long and troubled colonial history.
4 vanishing points
Almost twenty years later passing mention of work in a recently established literary journal in Auckland brings Matthew Fitzpatrick’s poetry to light again. A column in the Auckland Star of 21 July 1879 commends the 18th issue of the St James’s Chronicle and notes among its contents: ‘a poem, by Matthew Fitzpatrick, deceased, touching the Taranaki campaign.’ The New Zealand Herald of 22 July also notes the contribution: ‘The "Poet's Corner" is occupied by a war song, written by a deceased soldier who served in H.M. 65th Regiment, and whose profession of arms did not incapacitate him from diligently cultivating the muse.’ The poem, the first of eight to appear in the St James’s Chronicle between July and November 1879, is ‘Attack on the Rebels – 11th Sept. 1860 (New Zealand).’ On the following page the provenance of the poems is explained:
In the Poets’ Corner this week, will be found a poem of some merit descriptive of a scene in the Taranaki campaign. It is one of a collection which we have received in the original M.S. from one of our supporters, who came across it accidentally. They are from the pen of an Irish soldier, of the 65th Regiment, named Matthew Fitzpatrick, who — life’s fitful fever o’er — has passed to that bourne whence no traveller returns. We have made some enquiries respecting him, but the result has not been crowned with any appreciable success. It seems, however, that his possession of poetic power gained for him quite a celebrity amongst the men of the various regiments stationed in Auckland fifteen years ago, and that he was accustomed to give public readings of the compositions which he wrote from time to time on local topics and abstract subjects. He appears to have cultivated the muse to some effect, for his efforts, though by no means ambitious, give unquestionable evidence of that divine afflatus with which the true poet is endowed. The posthumous publication of these pleasing little waifs of poesy may, at any rate, assist in rescuing from undeserved oblivion the memory of an humble but talented poet. We shall make it our endeavour to gain sufficient material for a biographical sketch of the tuneful Irishman, and, in the meantime, our readers will have the opportunity from week to week of criticising the poems of a writer who has descended to his grave ‘unhonoured and unsung.’ (St James’s Chronicle 18 [14 July 1879]: npag)
The Chronicle editors make no reference to the 1860 publication of Fitzpatrick’s poems, and their proposed biographical sketch did not eventuate. The vignette of the poet’s celebrity in the ranks and his public recitations in Auckland is intriguing but difficult to substantiate, as is the assertion that he is dead. To date no record of death or of an army discharge has been found, so the later cache of poems remains the point of focus in determining a longer view of Fitzpatrick’s 1860 publications. What turns up in 1879?
‘Attack on the Rebels – 11th Sept. 1860 (New Zealand).’ Chronicle 18 (14 July 1879)
‘Elegy on a Mother’s Death.’ Chronicle 20 (28 July 1879)
‘Though Lovely the Valleys and Hills of the Maori.’ Chronicle 28 (22 Sept 1879) ‘
‘Lines to My Sister.’ Chronicle 29 (29 Sept 1879)
‘A Glimpse of Taranaki, During a False Alarm – (August 4, 1860).’ Chronicle 30 (6 Oct 1879)
‘A Soldier’s Funeral at Taranaki on Sunday the 5th August 1860.’ Chronicle 32 (20 Oct 1879)
‘To the Rising Sun (Scene – Taranaki, New Zealand).’ Chronicle 36 (17 Nov 1879)
‘My Mary.’ Chronicle 37 (24 Nov 1879)
Three poems from 1860 are missing here (‘Come, Soldiers, March to Battle,’ ‘On the Death of the Late Capt. Brown, T.M.’ and ‘The Taranaki Refugee’). But three others have appeared (‘Elegy on a Mother’s Death,’ ‘Lines to My Sister’ and ‘My Mary’), making a total of 11 poems in Fitzpatrick’s New Zealand oeuvre. The newly added poems share a personal and domestic focus that distinguishes them from the work published in wartime Taranaki. Unlike the war-related compositions they carry no dates or reference to datable events. It is possible that all three belong to the same 1860 epoch as their companion pieces, but unless they are discovered in print there is also no way of assigning a more precise date than their appearance in the Chronicle in 1879. Stylistically, each of the three poems is consistent with the rest of Fitzpatrick’s work. All are formatted in quatrains, the elegy for a mother longest at 36 lines, the poems for a sister and a sweetheart 28 lines each. Mary’s poem follows a less complex version of the ababb rhyme of ‘How Lovely the Valleys and Hills of the Maori: ‘Oh! who would care for fortune’s frown / Possessing such entrinsic bliss! / I would not change for Fortune’s crown / My Mary’s sweet ecstatic kiss!’ The poem to a sister follows the simple aabb rhyme of Fitzpatrick’s war poems: ‘With power to die – with choice of shot or steel – / Oh! who would live, life’s thousand ills to feel, / But that we believe there is a world of bliss / And love divine to compensate for this?’ The elegy for the poet’s mother takes an abab rhyme and fits it out with feminine line endings: ‘My soul is steeped in grief’s profound affliction, / My noon of life with sorrow’s mantled o’er; / No more, I’ll know a mother’s pure affection, / That priceless gem, now lost, who can restore?‘
In their content the three poems addressed to women important to Matthew Fitzpatrick affirm the soldier poet’s affectionate heart. He loves the angelic Mary and brings her verses of devotion. He loved his mother who is dead beyond the sea. Only in the lines to a sister does some darker material occur, and though it is swiftly brushed aside by the opportune sight of a star, still the association of soldiering and suicide lingers. The attitude might be one of romantic convention, but such a poem was not going to find easy publication in the columns of a wartime newspaper:
LINES TO MY SISTER.
With power to die – with choice of shot or steel –
Oh! who would live, life’s thousand ills to feel,
But that we believe there is a world of bliss
And love divine to compensate for this?
As I guarded my post in the dead of the night,
Whilst nature lay sleeping – not a star to give light –
My heart grew so full of sad thoughts about thee,
That I knew you were hapless, and thinking of me.
I bethought of the tears of deep sorrow that fell
In streams down your cheeks, when I bade you farewell,
I remembered the last loving words that you spoke,
While your heart heaved with sighs till I thought it was broke.
I bethought of the hope that allured me away
From the land of my birth, – but I saw it decay
Like the first lovely primrose that welcomes the sun,
And droops its sweet head ere his race is half done.
Then my heart felt a sadness I could not control,
And dark as the night came despair to my soul; –
I gazed wildly around, crying “Why should I live,”
While this world has for me but sorrow to give?
But I looked toward the sky and beheld a bright star
Peeping down through the clouds from behind them afar,
And it seemed like an angel, smiling down from above,
To inspire me with hope in the God of all love!
Once more the dark clouds hid the star from my sight,
But the bright lamp of hope left my spirit so light
That I sent up a prayer, it was all I could do,
Asking God and his angels to watch over you!
(St James’s Chronicle 29, 29 Sept 1879: npag)
The other poems of Fitzpatrick’s 1879 appearance, all republications from 1860, make interesting reading. Some titles have been emended to clarify an incident or a location. ‘Assault on Kingi – 11th Sept., 1860’ has become ‘Attack on the Rebels – 11th Sept. 1860 (New Zealand).’ ‘A Glimpse of Taranaki on the 4th of August, 1860’ has become ‘A Glimpse of Taranaki, During a False Alarm – (August 4, 1860).’ It is just conceivable that these emendations are editorial, but taken with the significant textual variations between 1860 and 1879 it seems more likely that the changes are authorial. A final stanza makes sense of the truncated narrative in ‘‘A Soldier’s Funeral at Taranaki on Sunday, 5th August, 1860.’ A stanza added to ‘A Glimpse of Taranaki, During a False Alarm‘ emphasises female response to the prospect of an attack on New Plymouth:
Fond woman’s fair soft breast alone felt panting fear
Not for themselves – ah no, but for those they held more dear,
And oft to Heaven they sent fond prayers that God would save
A father, brother, son – from war’s untimely grave.
In other poems lines are rearranged and single words or phrases alter between versions. From the frequency and type of the variants, it seems clear that whoever brought Fitzpatrick’s poems to the St James’s Chronicle in 1879 was holding manuscripts revised by their author. But who this person was, and where Matthew Fitzpatrick himself might have been (alive or dead) in 1879 remains obscure. The search for Fitzpatrick has been a long one. Early in 1889 several newspapers around the country printed the names of a dozen persons known to have come to New Zealand and whose families were seeking information about them. The enquiries were extracted from a column called ‘Long Lost Relatives’ in a widely-circulated London paper:
The following are from Lloyd's Weekly of December 9 and 16—
William Smith was last heard of in 1883 at Washington Valley stores, Nelson, New Zealand. His brothers and sisters ask.
Thomas Edward Brown is sought by his mother. When last heard of he was at a grocery store in Hastings - street, Napier, New Zealand.
William Cannon (Walter J. Gilbert) sailed .. for New Zealand in 1875. His father seeks him.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, who served in the 65th Regiment during the New Zealand war, left the army when in Auckland, and has not been heard of for 17 years. His sister Mary Ann would be glad of any news. (New Zealand Herald 29 Jan 1889: 4)
Will later researchers fare better than Mary-Ann Fitzpatrick and the gentlemen editors of the St James’s Chronicle? The National Archives at Kew in London do not hold a digitised service record for Matthew Fitzpatrick, so tracing his army career becomes a matter of piecing together entries in the muster books of the 65th Regiment over more than a decade. An outline emerges that begins to account for his elusiveness in the public record, but it is still fragmentary and raises as many questions as it answers. The story starts simply enough. Matthew Fitzpatrick was recruited to the 65th Regiment of Foot 19 January 1851 in Cork, Ireland. He was 18, a clerk, born in Kilkenny in the parish of St John. The England and Wales Census of April 1851 locates him at the regimental Depot in Chatham, Kent, and over the next few years he was promoted from Private to Corporal (1852) and then to Sergeant in 1854. He sailed with the Regiment for New Zealand on the Euphrates, arriving in Auckland 26 April 1855 and spending the next two years on detachment at Russell in the Bay of Islands. There are some periods of hospitalisation noted in England and New Zealand but nothing unusual until mid 1856 when Fitzpatrick was demoted to Private and began spending time in confinement for misdemeanours that appear to include brawling. By September 1857 his detachment was back in Auckland, and on 15 October he deserted and was not caught until October 1858. A 68 day jail term March-June 1859 and forfeiture of pension rights ensued. Then in November 1859 Fitzpatrick was transferred with seven other soldiers to the 65th garrison in Wellington, making the six-day voyage from Auckland by the White Swan. The next four months were peaceful enough, to judge by Fitzpatrick’s retrospective comments to his clergyman friend published in the Wellington Independent of 4 May 1860. His time in Taranaki, March 1860 to April 1861 is also free of infringements apart from a week in the cells in December 1860. Then on 30 December 1861, a few months after being transferred to the Land Transport Corps, he deserted in Auckland for a second time and the trail ends abruptly. No further mention in the muster books, no record of leaving New Zealand with the Regiment after the conflict of 1863-65. The last official glimpse of Private Matthew Fitzpatrick seems to be an entry in a supplement to the New Zealand Gazette of 13 March 1863 (124) listing military deserters wanted by the authorities. It is also the only moment in Fitzpatrick’s history likely to render his physical appearance to posterity as well as to those intent on finding and punishing him:
Color of complexion
Date of desertion
Place of desertion
Date of enlistment
At what place enlisted
30th Dec. 1861
19th Jan. 1851
Parish and county in which born
[eg. tattoos, scars]
Coat or jacket
5 touching the Taranaki campaign
Matthew Fitzpatrick disappears from view, leaving only a handful of poems in papers and journals to mark his passage. His tour of duty in Taranaki extends into the summer of 1860-61 as the British pushed Te Atiawa and their Waikato allies over the plains of Kairau and Huirangi, then sapped their way to Te Arei below the old Te Atiawa stronghold of Pukerangiora. Garland Woon, Irwin Grayling and others continued to record campaign details but Fitzpatrick’s voice is not heard again and the only poem to appear in the Taranaki Herald through the summer is an anonymous elegy for Captain Richard Brown. (22 Dec 1860)
A few days after Te Atiawa and Waikato agree to an armistice 19 March 1861, a correspondent from the New Zealander tours the devastated district, taking an overnight passage from Onehunga to Waitara. The traveller does not identify the friend who meets him off the boat early on the morning of 25 March and escorts him to the Waitara battle sites. He is described as one ‘not only familiar with the ground, but intimately conversant with and a participator in almost every action that has taken place.’ At Omata the traveller is shown the graves of the five murdered settlers and visits the stockade ‘garrisoned by a detachment of Taranaki Militia, ruined farmers, graziers, and traders, who have manfully performed their duty.‘ Coming to New Plymouth he encounters on every hand the heavy impact of military occupation:
In working up along shore, one could not but be struck with the appearance of the numerous blockhouses and fortalices everywhere observable, as well as the disconsolate aspect of the few deserted dwellings that were spared, and the remnants of those that had been destroyed. [...]
Now, the few standing cottages with dilapidated outhouses and torn fences present a touching picture of desolation, whilst stockades on commanding eminences, and a belt of blockhouses encircling the town, convey a mournful impression of the sad extremity to which it was reduced. New Plymouth itself is at present confined within a very narrow compass, the lines, as they are called, being formed partly by embankments and trenches, partly by palisades. Much of the former is so indifferently constructed as to be easily surmountable by any young and active man, whilst the latter for strength and security are incomparably inferior to an ordinarily well constructed stockyard. [...] At present, the aspect and attitude of New Plymouth is essentially that of a frontier garrison town during the heat of war — everywhere on the qui vive to guard against assault or surprise. There are some excellent shops and warehouses, but, at present, the best of these are occupied as Commissariat, Ordnance, and other Military Stores, and in every street you stumble upon some military post or encampment, occupied by the 57th or 65th, or by Volunteer Rifles or Militia. (New Zealander 6 Apr 1861: 5)
But it is at the Waitara front on the first days of his visit that the New Zealander’s correspondent comes up against the smoking gun of the recent conflict. He and his local informant work their way from Waitara and Puketakauere to the front line a few yards below Te Arei:
The ground, though cleared of fern and coppice, is rugged and broken, and was encompassed by wavy circles of rifle-pits, which belched forth their murderous hail upon every occasion. The scenery on every hand is magnificent. On the right it stretches in beautiful perspective far away towards the uplands, whilst to the left the Waitara winds its secluded serpentine course, amid a succession of tangled thickets, open forest land, and belts of rich fern, which will some day be converted into luxuriant and lovely pastures. (New Zealander 6 Apr 1861: 5)
The land itself lies devastated: ‘the ground was planted with thousands of our own and the enemy's bullets, as well as with fragments of shot and shell which had ploughed up the ground and torn the limbs from the trees all around.’ There is an extraordinary exchange taking place in the redoubt at Huirangi as the combatants wait for the Governor’s boat to arrive and hard negotiations to begin:
Now, the white flag floated from all the advanced posts, the truce was faithfully observed on both sides, and in token of the existing amity the natives on the one side and the soldiery on the other decorated their caps with white feathers.
I found the Redoubt crowded with Maori men and women, heavily laden with peaches, melons, potatoes, pigeons, and other presents for the " Hikity-Fift," with whom they were fraternizing with the utmost cordiality and confidence — a cordiality by no means so conspicuous with the other corps. (New Zealander 6 Apr 1861: 5)
The scene at No. 6 Redoubt and the legend of the 65th Regiment’s connection with local people is confirmed in the reports of other correspondents present at Huirangi during the armistice. Te Atiawa’s cordial relations with the soldiers of the 65th were a consequence of the regiment’s long stay in Taranaki, where detachments had been posted since the erection of the barracks on Marsland Hill in response to trouble over land titles in 1855. Matthew Fitzpatrick was not part of the old corps, but perhaps he was present at Huirangi and met some of the owners of the pa and the famous peach grove central to the operation of 11 September 1860. Or perhaps he was among the troops paraded next day as the New Zealander’s correspondent observed a military inspection:
On Wednesday, the 27th, the 65th assembled for parade, mustering to the number of between 300 and 400 men. It was a gratifying sight to contemplate these noble fellows, whose gallant bearing shone forth through all the motley and parti-colored array of their well worn, threadbare, curiously clouted raiment — scarce two jackets were alike, and of the whole there were but two of the scarlet hue; caps with the regimental number were at a discount, whilst a trusty cutlass in many cases did honorable duty for the officers' holiday swords. A finer body of men it would be difficult to meet with, and I would willingly have given a trifle to have seen them paraded, just as they were, along with some of the swell corps before Her Majesty in Hyde Park. It will readily be imagined what a sensation these war-worn heroes would have created. (New Zealander 6 Apr 1861: 5)
By the time the New Zealander ran its report on Taranaki under the heading ‘The Waitara and the War. From a Civil Point of View,‘ preparations were underway for removing the imperial troops to Auckland. A new commander, and then a new Governor, wanted increased protection for the capital as uncertainty about the intentions of the Waikato tribes persisted. Before long the troops, an increasingly disaffected Matthew Fitzpatrick among them, would begin navvying on a military road intended to support the British invasion of the Waikato in July 1863. But for a moment (here, now) it is 16 April 1861, and as 298 men of the 65th embark HMSS Niger through the boiling foam at Waitara, it is possible to imagine among the stores and baggage in the surf boats a bundle of handwritten poems going offshore in a soldier’s kitbag. Hurried sweep / Of the quick propelling oar.
I wish to thank the staff of Special Collections at the University of Auckland Library and their colleagues from Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Central City Library for assistance in locating traces, textual and biographical, of the fugitive poet Matthew Fitzpatrick. The staff of the Taranaki Research Centre at Puke Ariki Museum in New Plymouth have also been generous with their time in answering my questions. Taranaki resident Clive Saleman and Jeremy Spencer, Canberra, read and reported on materials at Puke Ariki for me. Most of all I am grateful to Fredrika Van Elburg for her dedicated support of this and other projects undertaken in physical and digital archives. The present essay is a report from the largely unexplored field of nineteenth-century New Zealand newspapers and the rich contexts they contribute to an understanding of the poetry of settlement and contest. Postgraduate students Amy Bedwell, Annette Docking and Arna McGuiness contributed their research to a preliminary index of newspaper poems drawn from the National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past website, and I thank them for their perseverance and infectious enthusiasm.
Matthew Fitzpatrick poems and prose in New Zealand journals and newspapers
4 May 1860. ‘A Soldier’s Sensible View of the War.’ Wellington Independent 3. Letter to unnamed Wellington clergyman.
4 Aug 1860. ‘Original Verses. Come, soldiers, march to battle.’ Taranaki Herald 3. Rpt 24 Aug 1860. Wellington Independent 5. Poem dated 30 Jul 1860. Rpt 29 Aug 1860. Lyttelton Times 5. Poem dated 30 Jul 1860. Rpt 8 Sept 1860. Otago Witness 3. Poem dated 30 Jul 1860.
25 Aug 1860. ‘Original Verses. A Glimpse of Taranaki on the 4th of August, 1860.’ Taranaki Herald 3. Rpt 11 Sept 1860. Wellington Independent 5. Rpt 6 Oct 1879. ‘A Glimpse of Taranaki, During a False Alarm – (August 4, 1860).’ St James’s Chronicle 30, npag. Additional stanza in this version.
1 Sept 1860. ‘Original Verses. On the Death of the Late Capt. Brown, TM.’ Taranaki Herald 3. Poem dated 27 Aug 1860. Rpt 14 Sept 1860. Wellington Independent 5. Poem dated 27 Aug 1860.
8 Sept 1860. ‘A Soldier’s Funeral at Taranaki on Sunday, 5th August, 1860.’ Taranaki Herald 3. Rpt 18 Sept 1860. Wellington Independent 3. Rpt 20 Oct 1879. St James’s Chronicle 32, npag. Final stanza present in this version.
4 Oct 1860. ‘Assault on Kingi -- 11th Sept., 1860.’ Taranaki News 4. Poem dated 18 Sept 1860. [4 Oct 1860] Unsourced and unattributed clipping of poem pasted into William Tatton’s copy of WI Grayling, The War in Taranaki, During the Years 1860-1861 (GW Woon, 1862). Rpt 14 July 1879. ‘Attack on the Rebels – 11th Sept. 1860 (New Zealand).’ St James’s Chronicle 18, npag. Note on preceding page entitled ‘Fugitive Poetry’ concerns provenance of MSS supplied to the Chronicle by an unidentified supporter.
13 Oct 1860. ‘Original Verses. To the rising Sun. (Scene — Taranaki.’ Taranaki Herald 4. Rpt 17 Nov 1879. ‘To the rising sun (Scene – Taranaki, New Zealand).’ St James’s Chronicle 36, npag.
24 Oct 1860. ‘Original Poetry. The Taranaki Refugee.’ Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 4. Rpt 2 Nov 1860 and 6 Nov 1860 Wellington Independent 3 and 5.
20 Nov 1860 ‘Original. Though lovely the valleys and hills of the Maori.’ Wellington Independent 3. Rpt 22 Sept 1879. St James’s Chronicle 28, npag.
28 July 1879. ‘Elegy on a mother’s death.’ St James’s Chronicle 20, npag.
29 Sept 1879. ‘Lines to my sister.’ St James’s Chronicle 29, npag.
24 Nov 1879. ‘My Mary.’ St James’s Chronicle 37, npag.
Matthew Fitzpatrick Entries in Muster Books of HM 65th Regiment of Foot, 1851-62. National Archives. Kew, London.
WO12/7420, folio 262. (1851)
WO12/7421, folio 184. (1851)
WO12/7422, folio 285 (1852)
WO12/7424, folio 239 form 4, folio 280 form 3. (1854)
WO12/7425, folio 40. (1855)
WO12/7427, folio 156, folio 191, folio 202, folio 223, folio 258, folio 263. (1856-57)
WO12/7428, folio 125 form 3, folio 140, folio 204. (1856-57)
WO12/7429, folio 142. (1857)
WO12/7431, folio 201 form 6. (1858)
WO12/7433, folio 25 form 30, folio 71, folio 123, folio 171 form 30, folio 189. (1859-60)
WO12/7435, folio 71. (1857-58)
WO12/7436, folio 119, folio 175. (1859-60)
WO12/7437, folio 158. (1860-61)
WO12/7440, folio 97, folio 263 form 6, folio 290 form 30 (1861-62)
Works cited or consulted
Belich, James. The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. Auckland: Auckland UP, 1986.
Cowan, James. The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period 2 vols. Wellington: Government Printer, 1922-23.
Death notice and obituary for Edwin Harris. Nelson Evening Mail 25 May 1895: 2.
‘Death of Mr. William Tatton, Senior.’ Taranaki Herald 7 Aug 1886: 2.
‘First Victim of the Taranaki War: The Sarten Family Grave at St Mary’s Church, New Plymouth.‘ New Zealand History Online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 2-Sep-2014. URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/first-victim-taranaki-war
Grayling, WI. The War in Taranaki, During the Years 1860-1861. New Plymouth: GW Woon, 1862.
---. ‘Journal of events of the war at Taranaki April 1860 - April 1861.’ Papers of William Irwin Grayling. Puke Ariki Museum, New Plymouth. ARC2001-48, item 1.
Huntington, Gale, and Lani Herrmann, eds. Sam Henry's Songs of the People. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.
‘Report of Deserters from Her Majesty’s Forces Serving in New Zealand’.’ New Zealand Gazette. Supplement to no 11, 13 Mar 1863. 102-28. Auckland: Printed by Robert J Creighton and Alfred Scales for the New Zealand Government.
Seffern, WHJ. ‘Forty Years History of the Taranaki Herald.’ Taranaki Herald 27 Aug 1892: 5-8.