REVIEWS OF FIRST EDITION
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REVIEWS OF FIRST EDITION
I have just finished reading 'Looking Back,' a dainty little volume containing the personal reminiscences of the widow of a New Zealand pioneer settler. To say that I enjoyed the reading is but lamely to express the pleasure and interest which I found in every page. Mrs. James Duff Hewett's story is the story of the stormy early days on this coast, when the white man and the Maori were at daggers drawn, and when every outlying farmstead was a perilous habitation. Into eighty-nine small and neatly-printed pages there is crowded a wealth of incident and adventure, all related in the simple, telling language of one who cherishes a vivid recollection of the thrilling happenings of which she speaks, supplemented by delightful glimpses of the social life of the days long gone. The long, and at times sensational voyage out, the arrival as a child in a strange new land, the girlhood, marriage and young motherhood in the bush, the tragedy of a hard-won home reduced to smouldering embers, the patient and plucky building up of another home, the frequent alarms and many providential escapes, culminating, alas! in the tragic death of Captain Hewett on the threshold of his homestead--all recounted by a noble woman to whom every incident is still a living fact. Worth reading? Yes, by young as well as old Colonials.
The Wanganui Chronicle, May 20, 1911.
We have received from Mr. Wm. Park a copy of 'Looking Back,' an interesting book on the early days of New Zealand, and especially of the West Coast and Wanganui districts, by Mrs. Hewett, of Wanganui, mother of Mr. C. R. Hewett, of Palmerston North. Mrs. Hewett writes chattily and pleasantly of old times and people, from the days when as a child of ten she collected pennies in England for a Maori Mission, and later, when in 1854-5, she came to the Colony, there to find her fate as a bride of fifteen with Captain Jas. Hewett. People nowadays little realize the hardships pioneers had to face then, and they are brightly told by Mrs. Hewett in recounting her experiences as the fifteen-year-old head of her husband's farm home. We are given many a glimpse of those times, though it is hard to realize that Mrs. Hewett as we see her to-day could have gone through them. It all culminated in tragedy, Captain Hewett's headless body being found riddled with Hau-Hau bullets on his own farm --one of the terrible incidents of the Maori Wars. On this occasion
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the Maori murderers captured a sword which had belonged to Colonel Hewett, and been used at Waterloo. It was recovered years after, and is now in the possession of Mr. C. R. Hewett.
The Manawatu Daily Times, May 31, 1911.
'THE GOOD OLD TIMES'
There are many things to interest women in Mrs. Hewett's book, 'Looking Back.' What interesting folk these pioneer women were, and what fine families they reared. You can name them all over the country--the first native-born white families in their districts, sturdy men and women. The mothers had to face real hardships, and they faced them uncompromisingly. They rarely had domestic help, yet they dispensed unstinted hospitality, and met whatever came along, whether it was the burning down of a house or some terrible tragedy, with the same quiet, unflinching courage. Yet they entered most heartily into whatever festivities came their way.
Remember what Lady Broome wrote about early sheep-farming in Canterbury, and what Mrs. Gunn lately wrote of Central Australian pioneering in 'We of the Never-Never.'
The Manawatu Times, May 31, 19x1.
In these days 'the early days' are just a little overdone, and the rather intolerant youth of the twentieth century grows impatient at the mention of the deeds of the pioneer. It is consequently somewhat risky to launch out on a task of recounting the fortunes and misfortunes of the first settlers. In some parts of the country the pioneers had a prosy enough existence, which has well been summed up as 'mud, mutton, and monotony.' But there were districts, the story of whose transition from primeval grandeur to prosy prosperity is full of all the stirring action of a great drama. It was Mrs. James Duff Hewett, mother of a well-esteemed resident of Palmerston North, who coined the epigram quoted above. But such a prosaic trinity could never have described her own life, for Mrs. Hewett passed through all the romance and the tragedy which attended the settlement of the West Coast of this island, and especially of Wanganui. Mrs. Hewett, therefore, had no need to apologize for putting her recollections of 'the early days' in print, and we make no apology for recommending all sorts and conditions of people to read 'Looking Back,' a neatly-bound little autobiography of the widow of a New Zealand pioneer. Many attempts have been made to give the present-day New Zealander a true picture of the dangers and difficulties of early settlement, but few have succeeded so well as the authoress of this little book. The story of a brief, but vivid and varied, existence during the Maori trouble is told with a simplicity that is more compelling than many more ambitious
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works, and grips the attention of the reader from start to finish. A fine picture is given of the men and women who laid the foundations of the country's prosperity, and there have been few books which have made their readers realize the debt New Zealand owes to the heroes of half a century back. We are the most English of England's possessions, and the secret of our likeness to the Old Land is revealed in the pages of 'Looking Back,' for from splendid specimens of the breed called British the best part of the inhabitants of the Dominion have sprung. There are many charming glimpses of New Zealand's primitive glories, and they compel feelings of regret that so little remains to us of the splendours of our native bush. Those who would know the charm and tragedy of the pioneer life on this coast should read 'Looking Back,' which is on sale at Park's, booksellers.
The Manawatu Evening Standard, June i, 1911.
IN THE EARLY DAYS
'Looking Back: Or Personal Reminiscences by the Widow of a New Zealand Pioneer Settler.' St. Albans: The Campfield Press. Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs.
Mrs. Ellen Hewett's name is well known as that of a much and justly respected lady who has been prominent in temperance and evangelistic work. The widow of the late Captain James Duff Hewett, who, with his widow, will be well remembered by many of the older generation of settlers in the Wellington Province, especially in the Wanganui district. Mrs. Hewett has written an unpretentious but very interesting record of her experiences in the earlier part of her life in New Zealand. In 1854 she came out with her parents to Melbourne when a child, on board the Earl of Sefton, of the White Star line. From Melbourne she came on to Nelson, in 1855, in a small brig which her father had chartered, and soon became personally acquainted with the special exigencies of an early settler's life, for her mother returned to England for a while, and upon the girl of fourteen was cast the responsibilities of household management. Three weeks after her fifteenth birthday the young lady was married to Mr. James Duff Hewett (afterwards better known as Captain Hewett), who had a farm near Wanganui. Mrs. Hewett gives us a simple but most interesting description of the life of the settlers in the early days, and many names crop up in the narrative which were as household words a few years ago in Wanganui. Her brother, Mr. James Baker, of Fordell, married a daughter of the late Mr. Shafto Harrison, a man of striking ability, who was at one time a member of the Provincial Council of Wellington, of which body Captain Hewett was also a member. Captain Hewett met his death at Kai Iwi, behaving with conspicuous gallantry. There was another European present. This man told Mrs. Hewett 'that about fifty Maoris had hidden in the bush near the house, and at midnight he heard his dog barking. On looking out he saw two or three Maoris with
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guns prowling about. He roused my husband, who immediately slipped on some clothes, and said, "Don't be afraid; I'll go and speak to them." But they did not give him the chance of speaking. They fired a volley from the bush, and he fell to the ground wounded by five bullets. He said to the man, "Go, I am done for; save yourself; make for the bush at the back of the house." Seeing the man hesitate, he repeated, "Go!" and as some Maoris were coming near, the man ran for his life. He was saved by catching his foot in leaping a fence. This sent him into a ditch, where he remained covered by some gorse, and the Maoris passed over his head without seeing him.'
The natives were Hau Hau's, and carried before them the victim's head, taking also the heart. Some years afterwards these remains were recovered by Rev. Archdeacon Sam Williams, of Te Aute, and were placed in Captain Hewett's grave. His sword, which his father, Colonel Hewett (the very last of the Waterloo officers to survive), had given him, was lost for over forty years, when it was found by a Maori woman in a rata tree and placed in the Hawera Museum, whence it was returned to the widow. It is now in the possession of her second son, Mr. C. C. R. Hewett, of Palmerston North. In consideration of her husband's services to the Colony the Government granted the widow 400 acres of land for herself and children and a pension of £50. Mrs. Hewett describes her long and busy life in some detail, dwelling specially upon her religious experiences. The little book is one which does credit to the author's heart and literary abilities alike. Portraits are given of the author, of Colonel Hewett, and Captain J. D. Hewett, and there is also an illustration of the sword referred to above.
New Zealand Times, June 10, 1911.
'Looking Back, or Personal Reminiscences by the Widow of a New Zealand Pioneer Settler' (Campfield Press, St. Albans), is one of those little books of old-time reminiscences that picture a New Zealand--a land of primeval forest, vocal with lovely birds, and of trouble with tattooed Maoris--which recent comers can never conceive, and which, to the younger descendants of pioneers, is now a tradition. Mrs. Hewett, 'a great-grandmother at the age of fifty-six,' whose husband (for a time a representative of Wanganui in the Wellington Provincial Council) was killed in the Maori wars of the sixties, has written her little book in response to many requests from different friends, and it is marked by that straightforwardness and simplicity which is effective and convincing, and gives first-hand memories of events that have become historic. She writes at times with unusual absence of reserve, alike in domestic matters and religious experiences. But there is a genuine appeal in a record so unaffected and sincere; and it is pleasant to know that the descendants of these brave pioneers, to the fourth generation, are honoured and prosperous dwellers in our land, where the good lady passes a calm old age among her children's children and their little ones.
The Evening Post, June 10, 1911.
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A fine old identity of New Zealand is Mrs. Hewett, of Wanganui, whose husband, Captain Hewett, was killed by the Hau Haus on his farm, near Wanganui, in the Maori war. Mrs. Hewett came to New Zealand away back in the middle fifties. She has seen an immense deal of the ups and downs of Colonial life, and many of her reminiscences she has embodied in a just-published book, called 'Looking Back.' Mr. C. R. Hewett, of Palmerston North, is a son of Mrs. Hewett.
The New Zealand Free Lance, June 10, 1911.
'The mystic cord of memory.' How it refuses to allow our life to be separated into severed and fixed periods! The adumbrations of the years retain the tints and colours of the recent or the distant past as clearly recognizable, if not as marked and made as distinctive, in life's continuity as the strand of dyed thread which, passing through it, indicates the cable of the British Navy. More than one reference has been made in the columns of the Chronicle to the small book appearing in the shop windows, the cover of which is chaste and simple in its taste and style. In golden letters in a pale-blue ground, with a stripe of white to blend, are the words, 'Looking Back,' with the sub-title, 'Personal Reminiscences by the Widow of a New Zealand Pioneer Settler.' As an inexpensive and most interesting record, though brief and partial, of the troublous past, we think this delightful brochure most suitable to send as a small remembrancer to friends in Europe and Australia. It is well that 'Looking Back' should have been issued almost concurrently with 'The Wanganui Chronicle Coronation Souvenir,' the two creating a contrast, each with their respective excellencies, of Wanganui past and present. Together, they make up a postal packet which should prove distinctive and entertaining to friends near and far.
When examining a new book for criticism, Sydney Smith's witty remark comes to my mind: 'I never read a book before reviewing it: it prejudices a man so.' But the reader of Mrs. Ellen Hewett's book will lay it down with the satisfaction which comes through meeting and communing with something that bears upon its own face the stamp of artlessness and sincerity as well as healthful candour. The personality of the author alone would be likely to secure some amount of public notice for the little volume, for Mrs. Hewett is known beyond her large circle of friends as a lady of gracious habit and striking personality. By many of those who know her more intimately she is regarded as one who has emerged out of sorrow's shadow with a face smiling towards the morn. The very fact of going with a message of Love and Evangel for some three years to the Maori race, despite the grim memory of her husband's fate at their hands, is sufficient to strike the imagination and kindle aspiration. It is not our intention, however, to beggar this timely production by making it lean for success upon the personal qualities of the author. That is unnecessary. 'Looking Back' takes you into the heart of the
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primeval forest of Old New Zealand, with its profusion of spreading fern and native undergrowth. You see dwelling amid its fragrance and beauty human beings who, through alternating sweets and sorrows, exhale the glowing wealth of love and hope with charming naturalness. Especially is interest caught up and held by the two young home-founders with warm lifeblood singing in their veins, whose task, like that of the others, is to blaze the track for the advancing civilization.
Please note that we do not claim for the book any unusual literary characteristics. Its recommendation is that there is not a line in the whole production which seems to strain at any such effect. It is a homespun style, not one manufactured by the mechanical dexterity of the book-builder, nor put upon the markets to meet the demands of the bookseller's methods. The sense of humour and romping vivacity of the earlier chapters, such as 'A Bride of Fifteen,' 'Bush Life,' or 'An Impromptu Ball,' is much in evidence. Even at this far remove the writer's smack of relish is obvious as she describes the hearty and unsophisticated manner in which the brave pioneers of New Zealand entered into the fun and frolic with which they variegated the stern business of founding a new country. There is a buoyancy of feeling and an exuberance of spirit in the record of those early days which seems to fill the uncultivated woods with native heart-melodies as of carolling songsters. Not more manifest is this than the hardiness with which, at that period, the young family life of the settlers stood up, certainly with forebodings, to the frowning Maori face. That countenance from the without of understanding--true mother of fear and hate--looked through the window of the English home. The tragic butchery of Captain James Duff Hewett, and the inner pictures of those uneasy times, tend to make more interesting and realistic to the youths and maidens of Wanganui the Lion in Queen's Park, the marble Maori statue in Matua Gardens, as well as the relics of our far too little prized Museum. The Christian testimony, later on in the book, to a sustaining faith seems so naturally to evolve in the story that even the man in the street will be likely to read with respectful sympathy rather than impatience. About this sort of reading so frankly and simply stated in the book one is almost inclined to apply the last words of the Earl of Rochester in the seventeenth century, with reference to the Bible, that the only objection against it is a bad life. This, with reference to this work, we do not declare; but we believe there are few people who would not be glad to see springing up out of the soil of the record--a soil into which has entered much sorrow, tears, and blood--the flowers and fruits of a calm confidence and acquiescence in a Divine Will.
Therefore, 'Looking Back' reminds us that dormant memories may be recalled, not as serpents that when warmed lift their heads to strike, but that even the bitter memories of the Maori war days can from within thus be recalled and told out without resentment, revealing how the rough roadway may be smoothed and bordered with flowers. It shows that when life can be reviewed by devout hearts its relationships can change. Under the right
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influences 'the chill of Arctic enmity' may give place to 'the tropical atmosphere of noble friendship? The desire expressed in the foreword, that the book will be useful, is sure to be fulfilled. Science tells us that the falling of a leaf or the vibration of a song affects the universe, and the book from the pen of this lady, still a resident of our town, will also influence the life around us, and it is a pleasure to believe the result will be so good in its effects.
The Wanganui Chronicle, July 7, 1911.
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THE CAMPFIELD PRESS,