Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 37, September 1993

By C W Malcolm

I continue to be fascinated by Bret Harte's poem, "Dickens in Camp" - an American gold mining camp whose miners were entranced by the reading of Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop".

Harte was an American author who became Consul for his country in Scotland and who finally lived in England. What could he have written had he known of the mining camp at Karangahake where volumes of Sir Walter Scott's great novels were read by the miners who named their claims from his titles - Woodstock, Talisman, Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, Peverill of the Peak and Rhoderic Dhu.

The lure of gold at Karangahake broughtmyfather from Australia in November 1897 when he found employment at the Woodstock mine in the deep Waitawheta Gorge. I now recall his mention of accommodation in a mining camp, possibly the one where Scott's volumes were treasured!

Would not Scott's "Woodstock" be a favourite tale though it was based in England on Woodstock Royal Lodge with its contrived ghostly spell to frighten Cromwell's men? Miners of English descent would be enthralled by its complications while those of Scottish extraction would be nostalgically away with Scott himself on the Scottish border.

Harte, in Scotland, would be well aware of Scott, and in England, of Woodstock. What would he have written had he known of this striking parallel of great writers treasured in distant mining camps?

I have, from a long felt urge, actually attempted it! I have retained as far as possible every choice word of his, merely substituting KarangahakeforAmerica and Scott for Dickens:

SCOTT IN CAMP

Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting,

The river brawled near by,

Old Karangahake far above uplifting

Its peak to the night sky.

 

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 the shelf's scant treasure,

The "Woodstock" 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 of Woodstock's spell.

 

The pine trees, gathering closer in the shadows,

Listened in every spray,

While the whole camp with Scott on Scottish borders

Wandered and lost their way.

[see also in Journal 36: Karangahake Miners - E]