Diary an intimate look at brothers’ 1850’s life

Diaries provide the reader with a valuable window into the past. Usually written in plain language, the writer often gives lively, fresh and intimate details about life. So much can be glimpsed within the closely written pages: hopes, worries, hardships, loves, losses and more.

In the Museum’s archive is a diary plainly titled: “The Illustrated Diary or Life in the Bush New Zealand” by brothers Alfred and Frederick Chapman. During June to November 1854, Frederick Chapman kept this diary while his brother Alfred, whose non-de-plume was ‘Alfred Steelpen’, illustrated it with pen and ink sketches.

In 1851, Alfred Chapman, Joseph Rhodes and William Rhodes applied for and obtained 25,000 acres of land east of Otane, which they named Edenham. The three men stocked the station with 1000 sheep, and Alfred, with the help of his brother Frederick, broke in and managed the property

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 newly born animals and weaker stock, presented an even greater problem. On one occasion nine sheep were found drowned in a creek which Frederick surmised had been ‘rushed in by a wild dog.’ Almost daily Frederick went hunting for pigs carrying ‘the young fat ones fit for meat’ back to the homestead while the older carcasses, used for dog meat, he retrieved at a later date. The warmth of Frederick’s words gives a telling picture of his close affinity with animals: including his faithful horse Nobs, the rooster he regretfully had to kill because ‘the pig bit it’, and in particular his dog Polly who died after giving birth. He was often called upon to act as a veterinary surgeon, having to bleed a ‘sheep bad with tictic’, and lancing the ‘swelled head & purse’ of a sheep from which ‘nearly a pint of liquor’ oozed.

His brother Alfred was an extremely talented artist, engineer and builder. He designed and constructed farm implements and tools such as sheep skin whips, pack saddles and dog kennels. Alfred’s engineering skills were evident in his design of a flour-mill: the building of it was a joint contribution but it was Alfred who thatched the roof and erected a ‘flag staff up by the mill house, with a wind teller on the top.’ The mill initially floundered because the sails were not large enough: undaunted by failure, Alfred merely enlarged and re-hemmed the sails and altered the plan of the mill by ‘putting the sails on the mill itself.

Music was an important part of the brother’s daily lives. Both were competent at playing wind instruments: Frederick the cornopean or cornet, and Alfred the flute.  Frederick expressed this love for music when he described the excitement of collecting his cornet from Ahuriri, and ‘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 practice whenever he could: ‘milked the cows, & went after the sheep, took my cornopean with me to hear the echo on the hills.’

Reading the Chapman diary and admiring the sketches allow you to experience an intimate glimpse into the rich tapestry of Frederick and Alfred’s daily lives; how they lived together; how they spent their leisure hours and how they successfully managed and broke in the Edenham farm property.

  • NZ Sign Language Taster Classes – Saturday 12th May
    9:30am – children under 13 years
    11:00am – adults (13+)
    Spaces are limited to 30 people per class, please RSVP to events@mtghawkesbay.com
  • Sign-interpreted Floor Talk – Saturday 12th May – 1:00pm to 3:00pm
    • Suitable for families. Please meet in the MTG Main Foyer.
      Free poi-making workshop following the talk

Diary_12 May 2018

Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 12th May 2018


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