Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 36, September 1992

INSPIRED BY THE CLASSICS

C W Malcolm

The article on page 18 of Journal 20 [see Journal 20: Karangahake Goldfield (continued) - E] contains a statement of remarkable significance from the past that should be brought again to the light.Itthrows an illuminating ray upon our conception of those "rough" mining days of our early history.

The article states that there was in the miners' camp a set of Sir Walter Scott's novels that were read with interest by the men. Many today find these works "too heavy" and turn to much lighter reading. Not so our Pioneer miners! It is no wonder they named their claims from the titles of Scott's books, Ivanhoe, Woodstock, Kenilworth, and Talisman.

How I wish I had known this in my teaching days! But instead I taught of another mining camp in far off America where another set of classics enriched the lives of the diggers for gold. It is enshrined in a poem by Bret Harte, himself the youngest gold-miner in the camp, and it is entitled "Dickens in Camp."

What an epic has been missed by a New Zealand poet! See the parallels with the Karangahake mining camp in a brief selection of some of the verses:

"Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting,

The river sang below ....

 

"The roaring camp-fire with rude humour painted

The ruddy tints of health

On haggard face and form that drooped and fainted

In the fierce race for wealth.

 

"Then one arose, and from his pack's scant treasure

A hoarded volume drew,

And cards were dropped from hands of listless leisure

To hear the tale anew.

 

"And then, while round them shadows gathered faster,

And as the firelight fell,

He read aloud the book wherein the master

Had writ ....

 

"But, as he read, from clustering pine and cedar

A silence seemed to fall.

 

"The fir trees, gathering closed in the shadows,

Listened in every spray,

While the whole camp with Nell* on English meadows

Wandered and lost their way."

The book, in this case, was Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop" containing the English story of Little Nell. But so vividly can I see a similar scene in a Karangahake mining camp as the men were gripped by the great stories of the Scottish Master and were inspired to adopt titles as names for their claims.

[see also in Journal 37: Sir Walter Scott and Karangahake - E]