From the MTG: Diary and sketches treasures of museum's archive

From the MTG: Diary and sketches treasures of museum's archive

One of the many fascinating treasures in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection is a small, simple handmade diary written by Frederick Chapman and illustrated by his brother Alfred, whose nom-de-plume was Alfred Steelpen.

The diary, written in a spidery, uneven hand, is peppered with illustrations providing fascinating and comical snippets of the day-to-day existences of the two brothers between June – November 1854.

In 1851, Alfred Chapman, Joseph Rhodes and William Rhodes applied for and purchased 10,100ha (25,000 acres in the imperial measurement of the time) of land east of Otane in the vicinity of Elsthorpe.

Alfred Chapman and Joseph Rhodes stocked the station with 500 sheep each, after which Alfred, with the help of his brother Frederick and two men named Stutfield and Ticehurst, worked and lived together breaking in the land.

The brothers named the station Edenham after the parish of Edenham, Elsthorpe and Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire, England, of which their father was vicar.

Frederick’s talents lay in animal husbandry and music. His main occupation was caring for and checking the whereabouts of the stock, which were continually disappearing because of the lack of fencing and density of bush.

Wild pigs and dogs, not averse to killing newborn animals, and weaker stock presented an even greater problem. On one occasion nine sheep were found drowned in a creek, which Alfred surmised had been “rushed in by a wild dog”.

Almost daily Frederick went hunting for pigs, carrying “the young fat ones fit for meat” immediately back to the homestead.

The older carcasses, which were used for dog meat, were left for collection the following day.

The warmth of Frederick’s words gives a telling picture of his close affinity with many of the farm animals: his faithful horse Nobs, the hens, the pet cock (who regretfully he had to kill because “the pig bit it”) and in particular his dog Jolly, who became very ill and subsequently died.

He was often called upon to act as veterinary surgeon, having to bleed a “sheep bad with tictic” after which treatment the sheep survived, and lancing the “swelled head & purse” of a sheep from which “nearly a pint of liquor” oozed.

When not searching for sheep and shooting pigs, Frederick spent countless hours digging a vegetable and flower garden, manuring the soil, weeding and forming a seed bed.

He planted a variety of vegetables including carrots, broccoli, potatoes, turnips, beans, cabbages and onions. Frederick was also fond of flowers, surrounding the edge of the seed bed with sweet peas and convolvulus.

Next to the garden he planted vine slips and sapling peach trees, which he had purchased from Māori at Patangata. He also transplanted gorse cuttings and carefully weeded around these to encourage unimpeded growth.

His brother Alfred, an extremely talented artist, engineer and builder, was constantly employed in designing and constructing farm implements and tools such as sheepskin whips, pack saddles and dog kennels.

Alfred’s engineering skills were evident in his design and construction of a flour mill, which he began by building a model, next assembling the spindles and drums for it, and finally sewing and hemming the calico sails.

The building of the mill was a joint project but it was Alfred who thatched the roof and walls and, with help, erected a “flag staff up by the mill house, with a wind teller on the top”.

He had to fine-tune his first attempt because, as Frederick records “Alfred tried the wind mill to ground a little flour, but the sail was not quite big enough.”

Undaunted by failure, Alfred merely enlarged and rehemmed the sails and altered the plan of the mill by “putting the sails on the mill itself”. The direction of the wind, required for the effective production of flour, was recorded each day by Frederick in his diary.

Music was an important part of the brother’s lives. Both, were competent at playing wind instruments: Frederick the cornopean or cornet, and Alfred the flute.

Frederick in particular had a great love of music. He described the excitement of collecting his cornopean, which had arrived by boat at Ahuriri, Napier: “breakfasted … after which I opened the box, was much delighted to find the cornopean was such a good one”.

Later that evening “he played a few tunes on the cornet for the first time”. He would practise at night and at any other opportunity: “milked the cows, & went after the sheep, took my cornopean with me to hear the echo on the hills”.

The diary entry connected with the drawing is captioned “The return from Ahuriri with the Cornopean” and dated Saturday 1 July. It reads: “Rose early. Got a load of sugar all ready for the pack horse, and started off, the day looking very threatening, reached home by 8 o’clock at night wet through with the rain which had fallen … The cornopean I carried on my back which sadly interfered with the fit of my waterproof coat as will be seen by the accompanying sketch by Alfred Steelpen.”

Most nights were spent entertaining themselves and visitors with music. One evening in particular they held a grand concert: “Tin dishes of all sizes, flutes, jew’s harp, cornopean and the voices of those who performed on dishes and harps, the least that can be said is that we made a stunning noise.”

Once completed, “The Illustrated Diary or Life in the Bush” was sent to the brother’s parents in England. The diary and sketches allowed family members an intimate and rare glimpse into the rich tapestry of Frederick and Alfred’s daily lives in 1854: how they lived, spent their leisure hours and successfully managed and broke in the Edenham farm property. It’s truly a treasure of the archive.

• Gail Pope is social history curator at the MTG.

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