BIOGRAPHY:Early life and inspiration in his own words.
I was born in King Street, Kilmarnock, Scotland, on June 10th, 1851. This little circumstance took place in a tenement above what was then Dick's Guttapercha Shop. I do not remember the number, but it was well down toward the Relief Kirk on the right going from the "Cross". I was the oldest and the youngest of the family that morning! My father was at that time a brick-burner for a Mr Taylor, of Moorfield.
When I was about three years old, we shifted out to Gargistan and eventually to Moorfield Houses. It was there that my schooling began at Neaphill School. When I was about 8 1/2 years of age, we shifted into Kilmarnock, where I soon took on all kinds of work open to boys of my age. At 15 I was apprenticed to Rankin and Sons, bakers, Duke Street: and this trade I followed in Muirkirk, Lugar, Ochiltree, and Glasgow. Coming back to my native town, I worked for Mr James Adams, also a baker.
One Saturday afternoon, returning from my work, I was charmed and delighted to see a yound and lovely mill-girl in a new dress of lustre. She was the constant pal of my sister Maggie. My mother, all smiles, said to me, "Noo, there's a bonnie lassie for ye". And so it proved to be. It was not the pretty lustre dress, nor the lovely black locks that captivated me. It was the beautiful face, the deep blue eyes and the sweetness in her voice that made the impression on me that has remained ever since. These were the circumstances under which I for the first time met "Bonnie Maggie Broon". I took her soft, warm hand in mine and went away for a walk. That was a beginning of our walk through life.
Robert Burns, when asked by a friend what kind of wife Jean was to him, replied, "I can easily imagine a more agreeable companion, but I have never met her". What a compliment! But my imagination must be weaker than Robert's for I cannot imagine a more agreeable companion than Maggie Brown.
We were married at 10 O'clock on the evening of Saturday, July 29th, 1872, the nineteenth wedding that had been celebrated that day (Grozet or Gooseberry Fair) in Kilmarnock. Our baby was born in the 21st of the following May. In April, 1874, Maggie on a washing day caught a severe chill which, developing into pneumonia, caused her passing away at the end of the following month. We had our tickets booked to New Zealand, as the result of a lecture we had heard about the place, but maggie died the day we were to have sailed. I was able to transfer my passage to a year later, and in July 1875, I left my little boy in the hands of my mother, and sailed for New Zealand, the conviction deep in my heart that I was destined to be a pioneer. I did not see my son again until he was brought to New Zealand by my brother John, ten years later.
My ancestors on my father's side were followers of Richard Cameron and we belonged to what we called the Cameronians, but all went to the Reformed Presbyterian Church. My grandfather was a horn spoon maker, and carried on the trade till his death.
Of my mother's parents I did not know much. But I well remember my kind old grannie. She lived near the end of Fore Street and I played the "wag" one day at Moorfield to go into Kilmarnock to see her. She used to keep my few spare pennies for me, and sometimes I could go to a circus when my little pals could not.
My mother's maiden name was Jean Kyle. She had one brother Hugh, for whom I named. His family was well scattered.
I had two brothers and two sisters. Margaret passed away many years ago. John went to Coolgardie and never returned. Robert was in Westport, New Zealand and Isabella was in Kilmarnock.
We children were fed on the traditional food of Scotland - oatmeal porridge for breakfast, mutton broth and plenty of vegetables and potatoes for dinner, with maybe a dish of fried potatoes for tea. Sometimes we had "flaps" for tea, a kind of pancake thin and tough, with which we could swat of "flap" flies.
Rounders was the only game we played of an evening. Of course we all went to Church on a Sunday. My father earned only about 15s a week. We paid 2s for rent and on the rest all of us were reared and we each had a nice black suit for Sunday.
For myself, I have followed many occupations - a fusion of occupations as my verse is a fusion on many thoughts gleaned at these tasks. I have been a baker, master baker, farmer for 20 years, carpenter, sawmiller, bushman, roadmaker, music teacher, violin player, and many other occupations too numerous to mention.
What may be considered the most important part I have played amongst my fellows may be that of a poet. I was told by a friend recently that if a letter bore the address "Hugh Smith, New Zealand", it would find me, and that may be quite possible.
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
The questions have been put to me, "When, where, and how do I write?" My first bits of rhyming consisted chiefly of post-scripts in verse to almost every letter I wrote. I got into this habit, I believe, by the little bits of praise I recieved at times from the recipients.
The poem I have always considered as my first was written when I was about 17 years of age, "Whaur Granny leeved Lang Syne". I used to sing it to the tune of "John Anderson, My Jo", and I still do, A little lass and I went for a walk one Sunday afternoon along the Dundonald Road and, when about a mile out of Kilmarnock, she showed me the corner of a field where once stood the cottage "Whaur Granny Leeved". A new railway had been formed and a spark from the engine was blown on to the thatched roof, setting fire to the cottage. Auld Grannie had barely time to escape from the flames. Not a vestige of the cottage remained to mark the spot, the plough having passed over the site of the old home. She informed me she spent many a happy night at the old fire-side and of the many pleasures she had had "Whaur Granny Leeved Lang Syne". I was then in my 18th year, and on the way to Muirkirk next day composed the poem.
Shortly after this walk with the young lady, I went to Muirkirk and worked for Mr John Hogg. It was there I met the lovely lass Mary Campbell (My Highland Mary), who is mentioned in some of the poems written about this time. Here I stayed with a most intellectual old lady of about 70 years. She had been a servant girl for the Duke of Buccleugh in her young years. She presented me with a small manuscript book and said to me, "Man, Hughie, when you fill that wee book, ye'll hae a lot of songs and poems", Old Janet Boyd's book was full up when I left Greenock for New Zealand, at 24 years of age.
Though I was born in dear old Scotland and tho' the Scottish bluid leap's in a' my veins, it is as a New Zealand poet that I always think of myself. I landed on its shore at Port Chalmers, from the good sailing ship Auckland, on October 28th 1875, after a voyage of 87 days. Strange faces, circunstances and employments kept the "Loviest Little Nymph" of the Tuneful Nine (The Muses) from teasing me. It was only now and then that she tickled me about the "Middle Rib".
As to how and when I write, I may state it is practically all done after what may be termed my beauty sleep. My place of abode is a most suitable one for reflective, thoughtful mind, and my bed is a very confortable one, large enough for only one, with a tick well stuffed with feathers and plenty of pillows to prop me up when writing. On a little shelf at my head is a piece of candle.
When anything occurs that I want to write, I light the candle and write it on a sheet of paper which is always handy. I then blow out the candle. Down goes my head to the pillow again; and so on until the whole thing is finished.
On the night previous night to the big Murchison earthquake, in just this way I had written the poem "To the Early settlers of Otago". I then fell asleep and was awakened next morning by the smashing of crockery, the falling of shelves and books, till there was not room to put my feet on the floor for the paraphernalia!
LIFE IN EARLY NEW ZEALAND
On his arrival in New Zealand, at Dunedin, on the evening of October 28th, 1875, when Hugh Smith was taking his first walk with a few young shipmates along Princes Street, he noticed on a two-storeyed building in the vicinity of Cargill's monument a signboard with the inscription "Skene's Labour Excahnge".
He climbed the stairs, was confronted by Mr Skene himself and was immediately impressed by his kindly and interested manner. Hugh gave Mr Skene the usual fee of 2s 6d and told him he was a baker, but would take any work offering.
The same day, Mr John Reid, of Elderslie, arrived in Dunedin from Oamaru in search of a cook for his sheep station. Mr Skene asked Hugh if he would take the job and he replied that he certainly would. Fancy the presumption of a man of 24 years who had never cooked a dinner in his life taking a position as a cook on
But so it was, and Hugh sailed in the ship "Samson" next day for Oamaru. An "Express" was waiting for him and towards evening landed him at the large cookhouse. A person called Dr Mene, who for some reason had got away from his profession, had kept things going in the kitchen till a cook should be installed.
When High arrived, the doctor very kindly informed him of what would be required the following day:Thirty-six rouseabouts would be in for breakfast 7 a.m.; bread would be supplied by the baker from the township of Weston; milk and meat would be left in the dining room by the station milkman.
In a short time the shearers and harvesters arrived and with this increase Hugh had often a hundred to cook for,
A "new-chum" Italian was procured from the immigrants' barracks at Oamaru to assist him, and they got on well, So pleased were the hands, that every shearer and woolclasser when leaving presented Hugh with a crisp, new one
pound note. Hugh recalls that wages and emoluments amounted to nearly fifty pounds in the five months he was at Elderslie.
The Kumara gold rush took place in 1876 and on April 1st of the following year Hugh landed at Greymouth, having engaged beforehand as a baker for Mr James Lock, storekeeper at Orwell Creek.
An incident well worth relating occured about this time. When Hugh arrived at Ahaura by coach and was getting out to walk the eight miles to Orwell Creek, Mr Johnny Gilmer, manager of the Gilmer's Hotel, noticed the neck of Hugh's violin projecting from the end of his bulky swag and immediately wanted to know he played the fiddle. Hugh told Mr Gilmer taht he amused himself in that way at times, and it was arranged that Hugh should play at the local hospital ball in There was to be a concert first, commencing at 8 p.m. High left Orwell Creek on his eight mile walk a little after 5 p.m. When he was only half-way, torrential rain set in, drenching him to the skin. The manager of the hotel generously lent him a black to change into. "Can you imagine my predicament?" Hugh asks, recalling this affair. "He weighed only eight stone, but I was twelve stone and my legs were wet. However, after many little pulls and big objurgations, I got the trousers on as far enough to think that they might serve; but during my first humorous item on the West Coast I was thoroughly frightened that some of the stitches would give way".
The death of Mr Lock put Hugh Smith out of employment but in a few days he took over a shop and bakehouse in the thriving township of Ahaura, becoming master baker at the age of 26. After his first appearance on the concert platform he was frequently called on to lend an assistance at public functions.
The Greymouth Hospital was maintained chiefly by miners' tickets and liberal contributions from every township on the west Coast; and, as Hugh was almost the only musician between Brunnerton and Reefton, he was kept on the move. His business, too, throve.
At this time there came to live in Ahaura one Henry Francis, a bridgebuilder, carpenter, and sawmiller, who became benchman at the sawmill two miles from the township. Mr Francis brought with him from Hokitika his two daughters, the elder Evelyn Agnes and the younger Henrietta. Evelyn was a dressmaker and was considered by many to be the sweetest singer who had ever swayed the hearts of a West Coast audience. Old diggers would walk four or five miles from the back of the gullies on winter nights to hear her sing. The hospital committee at
Ahaura requested her to assist at their annual concert. There she and Hugh met.
They were married in the little Anglican Church at Ahaura in 1879 by the Rev Mr Root, of Reefton. Forty-one years later Evelyn Smith passed away.
Soon after the wedding an old, but most interesting man became a frequenter of the home of Mr and Mrs Smith. His name was John Garrison, more familiarly known as Indian Jack, though how he came to be so called Hugh was never able to fathom, as he was understood to be of Portuguese extraction. Garrison was dark complexioned, had been around the world a couple of times as a ship's carpenter, was an accomplished player of the flute and possessed great sensitivity where music was concerned. One evening when he had been sitting before a cosy fire for three hours and it was near his time for going home, he asked, with a sweet smile on his face, if Evelyn would sing for him.
In 1898, Mr David Harold, of Harold Bros., storekeepers of Reefton, passed away, and Hugh was offered the management of his bakery business. This he carried on for eight years, after which he went on the land, purchasing Mr Daniel Anderson's farm two miles from Reefton. Some years later he disposed of this and rented a property belonging to the late Mr J McClymont. Through this period, the Smith family had increased largely and then despersed, the son Hugh and all the sons and daughters marrying and becoming scattered far and wide.
In the changeful events of this working lifetime, the Muse visited Hugh at frequent intervals and his manuscript book became bulkier and bulkier. At length it was placed in the hands of the printing firm of Wilkie and Co., of Dunedin, and soon the thousand copies of the first editions of "Poems by an Aryshire Scot" were in circulation. Hugh took a stall at the Hokitika Exhibition and two years later at the Dunedin Exhibition, at the close of which he had disposed of every copy. A second edition of another thousand copies was printed in 1932 by Mr Robert Stiles, of Nelson, and in 1939 Hugh had only a few copies left. Thus he had sold through his own hands two thousand copies of his poetical works, which is probably a record for new Zealand.
After the Dunedin Exhibition, in May, 1926, Hugh removed to Inangahua Junction, rented a small piece of ground near the railway station and built himself a cosy little place where he, till his death, resided.
On January 8th, 1943, the "Wee Hoose" was destroyed by fire, and at 91 years of age, the poet rushed into the flames and rescued the manuscripts which form this book. (The Poetical Works of Hugh Smith, edited by Berta Sinclair Burns, 1946) He recovered from shock and burns to be with us another year.
The public soon replaced his home with another, cosily furnished, and there he resided till a short time prior to his passing. This took place on May 16, 1944, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs Heslop, at Reefton, from heart failure. In his own words, he was "fair wrocht oot".
Fine poetry in West Coast Collections
The poetical works of Hugh Smith(the bard of Inangahua) edited by Berta Sinclair. (Hugh Smith Jnr Papanui)
This collection of poems of Hugh Smith who was known throughout the West Coast during his long life time and who became known to a wider public following the publication of his `Poems of an Aryshire Scot' is very welcome, in that it preserves in permanent form, poetry that is deeply imbued with the spirit of the writer, and his native land Scotland. It is poetry, too, that reflects something of the wealth of beauty that nature has bestowed upon the West Coast, for Hugh Smith took the land of his adoption to his heart, and wrote of it feelingly. Born in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1851 he sailed for NZ in July 1875. He was in Kumara in 1877, the days of the gold rush, later living in Ahaura and going to Reefton 1898. After the Dunedin Exhibition in 1926 he went to Inangahua Junction where he resided until his death in May 1944. His earlier works were published and sold at the Hokitika and Dunedin Exhibitions as `Poems of an Aryshire Scot'.
The Resemblance to Burns
In many of his sentiments that he expresses and the verse forms that he adopts, he resembles his great countryman Robert Burns. Like Burns, he was gifted with an acute sense of humor, while he is in deep sympathy with all his fellow creatures. He has succeeded in expressing the feelings of the ordinary man, of the West Coast miners, in many examples of joyous verse. Loveliest perhaps of all the offerings in the book, is the beautiful `Where the Inangahua Flows' which gives an effective picture of the glories of the scenery on the West Coast. Other delightful poems are `Wee Flora' written in honor of the daughter of Mr McLean, then chief of the Scottish Society, Greymouth, on seeing her dance the sword dance and the highland fling at the concert, the `Denniston Burns Supper'. `The bushman and his axe' `Now then' (Written on the well known mannerism of the late Rt Hon M J Savage) `The lassies twa barefeet' and `Two Shibli Bagarag'.
IN MEMORIAM:(A tribute by Berta Sinclair Burns formerly "Aunt Hilda" of a Christchurch newspaper)
O! wad my pen some better rhyme
could weave for this besaddened time
Kindly honest upright Hugh
O! could we view in a its worth
the clean straight life he lived on earth
We'd surely know that such as he
are with us still eternally
Gentle brave and happy Hugh
I'll nae be saddened yet be greetin'
for weel I ken his ain he's mettin'
A concord grand to grasp his hand
the dwellers of a better land
Triumphant he-a risen Hugh
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