Photograph taken by unknown photographer of Katherine Mansfield and a group of friends in front of their tent at Eskdale in the Hawkes Bay. Katherine Mansfield is sitting with her back to the wagon in front of the tent.

“Woman and daughter – the man – their happiness – forgive Lord – I cant” 

This is a note from New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield’s Rough Notebook, written while she was on a 19-day camping journey from Hawke’s Bay as far north as Rotorua, and back, in November/December 1907.

Some years later,  the same note is thought to have been a seed for one of Mansfield’s famous, beautifully-crafted short stories, “The Woman at the Store”.

As year-long celebrations were launched around the globe this week to mark the centenary of Mansfield’s death (she was born in Te Whanganui-A-Tara/Wellington on 14 October 1888 and died in Fontainebleau, France on 9 January, 1923) it is worth noting the special Hawke’s Bay link to her own, short life-story. 

Anne Estelle Rice <em>Portrait of Katherine Mansfield<em> oil on canvas 1918

Mansfield was 19 years old when she was invited by Millie Parker, with whom she played piano duets and trios  in Wellington, to join Millie’s relatives, the Ebbett’s of Hastings, on a 19-day camping trip into Aotearoa’s heartland. 

The adventurous Mansfield must’ve been excited when she learnt that George Ebbett, a Hastings solicitor and experienced camper and Māori speaker with a considerable knowledge of Māori history and ethnology, was the party’s leader. And further, that he was planning to lead his group into Te Urewera as far as Mataatua Marae at the head of the Ruatahuna Valley. 

On the 16th November 1907 Mansfield and Millie Parker boarded the train in Wellington bound for Hastings. From that first day, Mansfield wrote descriptions of her journey in what she called her ‘Rough Notebook’ — now published as the Urewera Notebook with an introduction by Ian A. Gordon. “Everywhere on the hills – great masses of charred logs – looking for all the world like strange fantastic beasts a yawning crocodile, a headless horse – a gigantic gosling – a watchdog – to be smiled at and scorned in daylight – but a veritable nightmare in the darkness – and now and again the silver tree trunks like a skeleton army invade the hills.”

After a night staying at the Ebbett’s home in Hastings, the camping party of eight including others from HB, travelled in roofed coaches (with open sides) and camped their first night in Petane in the Esk Valley. Men and women slept in rows on either side of the large framed canvas tent.

Travelling down from Gisborne last week, I got close to Bayview and Eskdale and tried to pin point where that first night’s camp might have been. But of course the landscape has long been re-configured by the 1931 earthquake and all I could settle on was somewhere near the Petane Domain.

Mansfield wrote of that first night camping: “I got up and slipped through the little tent opening. The grass was full of clover bloom I caught up my dressing gown with both hands and ran down to the river – and the water flowed on – musically laughing …”

Later she wrote to her mother, “This is the way to travel – it so slow and so absolutely free and I am quite fond of all the people – they are ultra-Colonial but they are kind and good hearted and generous.”

It took four nights for the party to reach Rangitaiki Hotel and store which was where Mansfield sensed some marital discord between the landlord, his wife and daughter and scribbled the genesis of “The Woman at the Store”.

By Sunday November 24 1907, Ebbett’s camping party were heading towards Ruatahuna in Te Urewera. At that time prophet Rua Kennana Hepetipa was building a ‘new Jerusalem’ at Maungapohatu beneath Tuhoe’s sacred burial mountain. The Urewera was remote and impenetrable and not many young unmarried Pakeha women would’ve had the chance to venture there as Mansfield did.

“…it is all so gigantic and tragic –  and even in the bright sunlight it is so passionately secret,” she wrote of the Urewera forest of matai, rimu, rata and tawa.  

As Ruatahuna township loomed in the distance “across the paddock several whares clustered together like snails upon the green patch.” Mansfield wrote, with the help of George Ebbett, about the local Māori, “their conversation – E ta Haeremai te kai”. And “there is one great fellow I see who speaks English black curls clustering round his broad brow – rest almost languor in his black eyes – a slouching walk and yet there slumbers in his face passion might and strength”.

After three nights camping in Te Urewera at Umuroa and Te Whaiti, the Hawke’s Bay party left for Rotorua and Taupo and arrived back camping a final night again at Petane on 15th December, and then to Hastings on the 16th. There, Mansfield wrote out her writing work programme for the days ahead: “6 -8 technique, 9 -1 practice, 2 – 5 write”.

On the 17th December, Katherine Mansfield and Millie Parker were on the train back to Wellington.  “… has there ever been a hotter day – the land is parched – golden with the heat.” 

The following year (1908) Mansfield left New Zealand never to return, establishing herself as a modernist, hailed by  The Wall Street Journal  as “one of the geniuses of 20th-Century literature.” Today, 100 years on, her works are celebrated across the world, and published in 25 languages.

George Ebbett (1872 – 1954) went on to become the Mayor of Hastings 1919 -1921. Ebbett Park, including the whare and Māori carvings, which George and his wife Eliza gifted to Hastings in 1927, is a permanent reminder of his contribution to the region. 

For more on the New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Centenary celebrations see: www.Km23.co.nz

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Image credit: Anne Estelle Rice, Portrait of Katherine Mansfield, oil on canvas, 1918. Purchased 1940 with T G Macarthy Trust funds. Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (1940-0009-1). Link here.

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2 Comments

  1. Why oh why has the use of the definite article become so commonplace when referring to Hawke’s Bay? This author writes “Eskdale in THE Hawkes Bay” in the picture caption, but not later when she writes “journey from Hawke’s Bay. . .”
    The province of Hawke’s Bay, unlike (for example) the Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sounds, has NEVER had a ‘THE’ as part of it’s title – it is Hawke’s Bay pure and simple. To insert one here and there, as the mood takes the (ignorant) writer, is completely wrong and infuriating. No true native of Hawke’s Bay would use this construction and I wish editors and proof-readers (do they still exist?) would eliminate it from every page of the Bay Buzz forthwith and forever!

    1. Hi Rose, when a caption is supplied with an archival photo, we do not believe it appropriate to edit the caption. That aside, when BayBuzz is the author, we are conscientious about not using the definite article ‘the’ when referring to our region, Hawke’s Bay.
      The Editor

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