1927 - Saunders, A. Tales of a Pioneer - XLI. NOT FORGOTTEN, p 219-228

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  1927 - Saunders, A. Tales of a Pioneer - XLI. NOT FORGOTTEN, p 219-228
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O living friends who love me!
O dear ones gone above me!
Careless of other fame,
I leave to you my name.

WHEN it became known that Alfred Saunders had passed onward, the newspapers throughout New Zealand gave ungrudging recognition in their leading columns to the splendid public service that he had rendered to his adopted country. The general trend of the obituary articles may be summed up in the words of "The Spectator," November 2nd, 1905:

"The late Mr Saunders did not possess those qualities that tend to popularity, but he possessed in a remarkable degree those nobler ones which command respect, and he has left a record of public services that stamps him as having been one of the real founders of New Zealand."

Of his work for Womanhood Suffrage, Mrs K. W. Sheppard, Alfred's friend of thirty years standing, wrote in "The White Ribbon" of December, 15th:

"My own friendship with Mr Saunders dates from over thirty years ago. From the very first I was greatly impressed by his remarkable courage and straightforwardness. Yet with all his strength, equally noticeable was his reverence for women, his tender thoughtfulness for children, and his gentle and humane care for and treatment of animals. In many ways, to know him was an education, for his breadth of view, his advanced opinions, his unselfish and unflinching devotion to principle, well qualified him to be a mentor and guide.

"The veneration with which he regarded his mother broadened into a profound esteem and respect for women, and for more than sixty years he advocated their

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claims to citizenship. In matters pertaining to hygiene he took a deep interest, and for almost two generations he practised and urged the practice of natural methods of living and healing. Indeed, I think no stronger proof of the acute and penetrating nature of his intellect--of his clearness of vision--could be found than in the fact that almost all the social and political reforms which agitate society to-day, found in Alfred Saunders an able exponent sixty years ago . . . . . .

"His work in connection with our enfranchisement should be gratefully remembered by us. The fact of the championship of the measure being in the hands of a Conservative while he himself was a Liberal did not take from his helpfulness and enthusiasm. But this was characteristic of him throughout his career. He was no party politician. He and Sir John Hall worked vigorously together until victory was the result and our women possessed the vote.

Personally, I acknowledge my deep indebtedness to him for his unvaryingly wise counsel in many puzzling and crucial situations during my term of office as Franchise Superintendent of the W.C.T.U. at that period. Outside of Parliament, too, he proved himself a doughty champion, giving frequent addresses on the franchise question. In these he always laid down the proposition that where woman's presence and influence were wanting, things were radically wrong. He instanced the whaling ships of older days, and the diggings on the gold-fields before the advent of women, and described them as scenes of almost inhuman vice and wickedness. And, he declared, as woman purified and made home-like those dark places, so would she purify the dark corners of political life. We never could, however, induce him to assent to women being elected as members of the House of Representatives. Not that he considered them incapable of acquitting themselves well in that position, or that it would be at all unseemly for them to hold such an office. But he thought that the best men would always give preference to women in speaking, and as the less refined would not do so, the result would not be for the country's good. His proposition was that there should be a Revising Chamber composed solely of women, whose decision on legislation should be final.

"That he received little support in his adherence to this idea mattered to him not one whit. Indeed, it was

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curiously indicative of his great strength that, although extremely sensitive and keenly appreciative of sympathy in his work, he could steadfastly plough a lone furrow. A frequent complaint against him was that he did not understand the necessity for compromise, and this unblendable trait frequently caused him to be a lonely figure in the House. The truth is that he was essentially a nation-builder on ideal lines--nothing less than the best would satisfy him. It is known that he refused office on more than one occasion, fearing a consequent curtailment of freedom. Had he only been successful in his efforts to establish an Elective Executive system of Government in New Zealand, it is certain that he would have held a portfolio in the Ministry, and thus have done the country still further service. He constantly advocated the Hare system of election, and one of his most ardent desires was to see it established in the Colony.

"The formation of the character of an individual is always a most interesting study. There is no doubt that the early influence of his mother, and his friendship with members of the Society of Friends, had a profound effect on the character of Mr Saunders. He was much too original to allow anyone else to do his thinking for him on religious questions, and held that the spirit of Christ's teaching was much more important than the letter-- a view which often caused him to be misunderstood. His, however, was essentially a reverent mind, and the Fatherhood of God was to him a very real relationship. A kind parent, a staunch friend, a man brave, full of resource, given to hospitality, he stands out in my mind as a fine type of the Anglo-Saxon pioneer settler of the Nineteenth Century."


From the many valued letters received by Alfred's children after his passing, the few that have been selected for publication here indicate the kind sympathy and generous appreciation of their father's life work which formed the keynote of them all. The following letter to Alfred's son Samuel is placed first because, apart from its intrinsic interest and value, it seems appropriate that this chapter should contain Sir John Hall's name, since, though he and Alfred often differed widely on public questions, they were always united in taking care of the

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public money as if it were their own, and in their efforts to secure the franchise for the women of New Zealand, and thus remove from them the injustice of being classed, for purposes of citizenship, with children, lunatics, and criminals:

30th October, 1905.

My Dear Mr Saunders--

It was a matter of real concern to me that the news of your father's death reached me too late yesterday to enable me to take the evening train to town, and so be able to show once more, at his funeral, my sincere regard and respect for him--I could only telegraph to you.

Except for a few days, some years since, owing to a misunderstanding, we were always excellent friends, though differing greatly on many public matters. I never could quite understand why he took so kindly to me, grating as many of my doings and sayings must have done upon his sturdy democratic views. And what I never can forget is that when I was misrepresented and unfairly abused anent my precious gridiron, he stood up to defend me and to put the matter fairly.

May I say that I think the "Lyttelton Times" obituary notice hardly does Mr Saunders full justice? Perhaps it was difficult for you to do so. but a freer hand might have said more, besides his remarkable independence, of his utter unselfishness, and his incessant industry in public work. Even in the Old Country I understood that this latter never ceased.

It was a great pleasure to me to visit him there on two or three occasions, and to see how happy his domestic life was until illness broke in upon it. His wife told me that his thoughts still lived in New Zealand, and about his children, and that his interest in the Colony never seemed to flag.

Forgive this tedious letter. I am anxious to say why I was unable to be present at the funeral of my old friend, and to show my regard for him. Will you kindly mention to your sisters why I was absent to day.

Believe me,
Sincerely yours,

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The Hon. William Montgomery telegraphed:

"The news of the death of my dear old friend grieved me very much. I valued his friendship very highly; he was so frank and true, and such an able, fearless, honest politician and valuable public servant."

Sir Maurice O'Rorke telegraphed:

"Deeply deplore your father's death. We entered Parliament together, and always endeavoured to protect the rights of the people, resisting centralisation."

Alfred had always a great respect and admiration for the Hon. William Rolleston. He and Rhoda often spoke with pleasure of a dinner party they once attended at Mr Rolleston's house when that gentleman was Superintendent of Canterbury. The point about this entertainment that pleased them so much was the fact that Mr Rolleston's young sons acted as attendants at the dinner table, a departure from ordinary custom of just the kind that always delighted them both. When she heard of Alfred's passing onward, Mrs Rolleston sent the following kind letter to one of his daughters:

October, 30th, 1905.

Dear Miss Saunders--

May I offer you and your family my sincerest sympathy in your recent loss. The friendship and mutual respect that existed between your father and my husband over such a long period of years would be my excuse, if indeed any is needed, for we must all lament the passing of our famous men who have loved and served their country so well, and among whom Mr Alfred Saunders's name will always be pre-eminent.

Believe me,
Sincerely yours,

The following letter from Mrs W. Carlton-Smith {now of "The Knoll," Tauranga) was of especial interest and value to Alfred's children because that lady is the

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daughter of Mr George Snow, mentioned in chapter 24, who acted as guide to the strenuous expedition therein described:

5th November, 1905.

Dear Miss Saunders--

I do not know how to express my sympathy with you in your loss, for, while fully understanding how you will miss your dear father, yet I think we should not grieve over the passing on of a noble life at a ripe age. Your dear father had been spared so many years, and had influenced for good so many other lives, that, although the outward garment has gone from us, there is that of him which still lives and which you will have with you always.

The esteem in which your father's memory will be held by so many thousands in various parts of the world must be a wonderful comfort to you all.

With deepest sympathy,
Your affectionate friend,

Sir Robert Stout wrote:

"I was sorry to see by the paper this morning that your father has passed away. He is one of the last of our early pioneers who took part in founding the Colony and future historians will honour his memory. He was strenuous, imbued with a great public spirit, and ever anxious to see our political and social life lived on right lines. We miss men of his calibre in our political life to-day. His regard for the simple life, and for thrift and economy in our public life, is not, I am afraid, felt by a majority in our Colony. He passed away honoured by all who knew him, and what greater consolation for his loss can his descendants have?"

Professor J. Macmillan Brown wrote to Alfred's son, Samuel:

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October 30th, 1905.

My dear Mr Saunders-

Would you allow me to express a word of sympathy with you in the loss of your father. I have only recently come to see what a noble fight he fought all his life and how few there are of such upright independence in politics, if not in life itself. And I can sincerely mourn with you now over the loss of so fine a spirit, such a manly lover of his country and still more of freedom and humanity.

The loss of his keen judgment and grand common sense will be felt by you for many a day. I have been regretting these past months that I never came to know him personally; I now feel how much even I, a stranger, have lost by lack of acquaintanceship with him--now that the chance is irrevocably gone.

But even from my distance I bow the head at the passing of a really noble New Zealander.

Yours most sincerely,

Sir Charles Bowen wrote:

"I had a great respect for your father as an able and candid public man, and I appreciated the loss the Legislature sustained when he retired from active political life. Personally I missed his presence in the Legislature, because, notwithstanding our frequent differences of opinion, we were always friends, and were able to discuss questions of public interest freely and without reserve.

"For his own sake, death at such a ripe old age can scarcely be regretted; and I feel sure that his family will feel some consolation for their inevitable loss in the universal recognition throughout New Zealand of the distinguished life-work devoted by him for so many years to the best interests of his adopted country."

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Mr Weston, his old friend and colleague for so many years on the North Canterbury Board of Education, wrote:

"I often--very often--regard with no ordinary pleasure the friendship that existed between Mr Saunders and myself, and go back to the days when, with one mind and heart, we together worked in the hope of benefiting the institutions of the Colony and the people amongst whom we dwelt. He was an excellent colleague, a man of power and of strong will. It is a pity there are so few like unto him as he was."

Miss Jessie Mackay wrote:

"One by one the noble old pioneers are dropping away; and well it becomes us to lament them, we who have entered into the goodly heritage their unselfish labour bestowed upon us.

"It must comfort you to think that, while you mourn a father, New Zealand mourns a brave and fearless nation-builder. We women most particularly regret a strenuous friend and advocate, to whom we owe much of our later freedom."

Mr William Hutchison, a dear friend some months older than Alfred, wrote:

"At Mr Saunders's age there is no call for any profound display of grief; he had lived beyond the allotted span of life, a life of noble endeavour and strenuous and comparatively successful action--and he has fallen like a shock of corn fully ripe.

"Although of very different temperaments, we became fast political friends; for a number of years he was 'my guide, philosopher, and friend,' it was more than a political alliance; we became warmly attached to one another. In his private life and conduct, Mr Saunders was placid, unassuming, cheerful, and most considerate. His conversation, like his writing, was racy, full of useful and curious information and often of anecdote. In public life he was too independent and too rigidly conscientious to attach himself strongly to any political party; he was broad and free, patriotic and unselfish; every genuine reform had his earnest support. As a liberal educationalist and a well-informed historian he

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has left an excellent record. I speak of what I know, and for a long time none had better opportunities of knowing. His memory is very fragrant in my remembrance."

Alfred's niece, Sarah Withell, wife of the "John" whose kind care enabled Alfred to return to New Zealand in safety, wrote:

"I can imagine what a comfort it would be to Uncle to have you about him. John says the thought that he was returning to his children, was what sustained your father all through the voyage out. What a different thing it would have been, if the call had come at Home. When I heard of the dream about one of the dear ones who have passed onward calling him by name, I could not help thinking how lovely it must be to be near enough to the other world to hear the voice of our loved ones. I am so thankful to hear from mother of the calm, peaceful passage from this earth to 'the land that is fairer than day.'

The music of that life is not yet hushed;
Its fragrance is not scattered:--it is well
While memory lingers yet, to track the path
Which, brightening ever to the perfect day,
Onward and upward led, till all the light
Of Heaven was mirrored in the wondrous calm."

In the House of Representatives, Alfred's life and work were affectionately and respectfully referred to by many old comrades.

In the course of a speech in support of the Premier's motion "That this House desires to place on record its high sense of the distinguished services rendered to New Zealand by the late Alfred Saunders, etc, etc," Mr Lewis (Courtenay) said:

"The attributes which I shall always associate with his memory were the sturdy independence of his character and the extreme simplicity of his life. The Right Hon. the Premier has referred to a number of occasions on which the late Mr Saunders occupied public positions. I trust I will not be misunderstood when I recall a statement once made in this House--that few honourable gentlemen had seen so many reverses in their public career as the late Mr Saunders. In that

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respect the late honourable gentleman resembled the late Mr Rolleston, whose name we all hold in reverence. I believe this resemblance was due to the fact that each of them preferred the consolations of an honourable defeat to the rewards of what he would have accounted a dishonourable victory. In the person of Mr Saunders, we lose one more of the ex-Superintendents, each of whom was a link, and a strong one, to the chain which binds us to the past . . . . . Let us hope that we of the present generation may so shape our public life that when it is our time to fall we may leave behind us memories which, if they may not be as lasting, shall at least be as pure as those of such men as the late Mr Alfred Saunders."

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