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Setting the Scene
In 1862 Charlie Brookes, his two brothers and 349 others set sail from England on the Matilda Wattenbach. The ship's passengers were destined for Albertland, a new settlement on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour. The trip out had been stormy and the journey on the rough roads between Auckland and Port Albert, near the present-day town of Wellsford, was a trial in itself. Charlie and his brothers wrote home to tell their parents of the ship's voyage, travels up country and their work on the land. The trio owned their own block before too long, and Charlie described it in a letter. 'At last we have got our land, and a beautiful place it is. The ground is covered with beautiful grass and green food, the stuff to keep a cow on. There are no less than one hundred varieties of ferns, ferns that we cut down and burn here, which would cost a guinea each in England. It is a jolly life, an emigrant's, to go through the beautiful woods and valleys and we can say – this is my own.'
Charlie, fourteen, Edwin, seventeen, and twenty-year-old Hovey left behind a comfortable English existence and set out in search of a new life. They had all the enthusiasm of youth, keen to seek their fortunes and to prove themselves in the wide open spaces of a new land. But life was not always easy. Charlie hinted at his own dislocation. He asked his parents for his sister Lizzy to be sent out from England ('she will have to come. Why? Because I say so'), and closed one letter thus: 'Goodbye. I remain your affectionate son, Loll.' The insistence that Lizzy join the boys, along with the childhood nickname, hinted at Charlie's broken attachment to home.
The experiences of these young migrants resembled and differed from those of others of a similar age. The stories of many boys and girls who sailed on the immigrant ships and settled ashore tell of work, cross-cultural contact, new and old friends, love, pleasures and hardships. Age played a significant and often overlooked role in organising these kinds of human experience during the early-and mid-nineteenth century. 'Youth', a broad and deeply gendered category, had a wide span and a soggy middle: a seven-year-old boy was a child and a twenty-one-year-old an adult, but the space in between was tricky to define. Often, physical labour was the yardstick: size, physical strength and mental capacity signified maturity. Girls were rarely included under the rubric of 'youth', an exclusion that reflected their ongoing domestic dependence on others, whether as daughters, wives or workers. This changed later in the century when girls became increasingly autonomous and the broad male category of 'youth' gave way to a more precise and inclusive concept: 'adolescence'.
The decades prior to 1870 saw young arrivals set up rudimentary, often temporary cultures. Loose social groups began to take shape on the immigrant ships, and very small numbers forged friendships in the fledgling schools of the new country that catered for a wide – and often undifferentiated – range of ages. A handful of mutual improvement organisations set the scene for the young people's leisure organisations of later decades. In a small and transitory society, though, connections were often fleeting and not well sustained, and the prototypical youth organisation tended to be short-lived. Many of those who shared the Brookes brothers' passage on the Matilda Wattenbach quickly scattered across the new landscape, and atomised youths wandered the countryside in search of work. Stability of circumstances and a coalescence of culture were some way off.
Migrations and Encounters
Young people have played an important role in migration patterns since the end of the eighteenth century, and their movements gave form to the new world. Adolescent boys were well represented among the sealers, whalers and ship-borne traders who set out from Australia for New Zealand waters. Many in this male-dominated world had been convicts, freed after they finished their sentences in Britain. Sealing gangs from Sydney established the first stations in Murihiku (the southernmost part of the New Zealand mainland) and set up onshore huts for shelter from the elements. Many boys visited over the decades that followed, and some stayed. Jacky Marmon, the son of a convict, first visited the Bay of Islands in 1807 as a seven-year-old mascot on a whaling boat. By the time he returned in 1811 he was – in his words – 'a strapping lad of twelve, strongly built, tall beyond my years, and having seen as much "life" as many a man of thirty'. 'Though I say it myself', he wrote in his memoir, 'I was rather an acquisition to the vessel, since I was acquainted with all the parts of the ship, the ropes, the spars, the yards, and could lend a hand, with some idea how best to give my assistance.'
Jacky Marmon's account highlights the importance of skill, size and physical strength in the transition from childhood to adulthood at the turn of the nineteenth century. As historian Thomas Hine suggests in the American context, physical capacity was a yardstick, an indication of the distance a youth had travelled along the road to manhood. Strength signified impending adulthood. Back in the South Pacific, Jacky asserted his presence as a physically capable twelve-year-old: he was 'strapping', 'strongly built', having seen much 'life'. Jacky worked hard and drank too: 'In the foc'sle, I soon became a favourite', he boasted. 'I could sing a good song, spin a fair yarn, and do a reasonable quantity of grog with any man aboard – in a word, I was the right stuff for a sailor.' Still, a degree of ambivalence remained. Jacky acknowledged his status as a kind of in-betweener as he compared himself to the men on board. We will shortly return to these definitional complexities: what was a boy, what did it mean to be in-between and what made a man?
Encounters between young Pakeha and Maori characterised these early years, especially in the northern half of the North Island where tens of thousands of Maori lived, but also around Wellington and in Murihiku. Back at Port Albert, Charlie Brookes and his brothers learned from Maori which places and practices were tapu, which local flora were edible – 'the fuschia berry makes first-rate pies' – and which items could be traded. When hungry locals arrived asking 'You got any kiki?', Charlie swapped flour for pork. They 'were quite taken with my red Garibaldie', Charlie wrote, but the hat was not for sale. The Brookes brothers and local Maori became close friends.
Romantic intimacies sometimes grew out of cultural contact. From the 1770s on, some Maori parents married their daughters to men on visiting boats. 'One sailor on the Discovery formed a mutual attachment with a young woman that was characterised by little verbal communication but much tender tactility and a desire for co-habitation', writes historian Angela Wanhalla. These were customary rather than legal arrangements. They began when members of extended families debated the merits of a match and concluded when they gave their blessing. Still, Wanhalla suggests, many marriages involving Maori were love matches.
Local legend and memoirs tell of inter-racial intimacies. In 1810, when chief Honekai and his warriors captured a boat crew from the sealing vessel the Sydney Cove on Stewart Island, the men killed five sealers but spared sixteen-year-old James Caddell. According to folklore the lad ran to the chief and touched his cloak, becoming tapu. James – or 'Jimmy the Boy' – spent the next decade living among southern Maori. Around the age of twenty-one he married Tokitoki, Honekai's niece, who appeared to be around the same age.
It is hard to chart the lives of young eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Maori in any real detail, and not only because written records are scarce. Few anthropologists and historians have explored the specific impact of age. We do know that some young Maori, girls as well as boys, played a part in a Pacific-wide trade network centred on Sydney, 'an important imperial sub-centre' through which New Zealand produce found its way to China and Britain. Tokitoki, James Caddell and 'Jacky Snapper', a Maori youth of sixteen, spent some time in Sydney exploring the possibilities for the flax trade, and others travelled there as crew on whaling vessels and boats ferrying flax, timber and other produce. A few young Maori stayed with missionary Samuel Marsden at Parramatta, learning about the British world as well as Christianity. These opportunities for travel and adventure proved irresistible to many Maori youth including Mowhee, a nine-year-old from the Bay of Islands. Mowhee learned of lands far away when he met a traveller recently returned from Australia. The boy talked his way onto a vessel, sailed the Pacific, and spent several years in Norfolk Island and Sydney. There Mowhee 'heard a great deal of England' and a desire to visit 'this land of wonders haunted him incessantly'. In 1815, at the age of eighteen, he worked his passage to London. Travel historian Jude Wilson suggests that such voyages, a chance to 'see the world', constitute the first examples of New Zealanders' 'great OE' (overseas experience).
Young Maori and Pakeha had more in common than we may think. Not only did the thirst for adventure bring British travellers into New Zealand and send Maori out, but the significance of a boy's size and physical strength also crossed cultural lines. Many Maori lads trained in weaponry from fourteen or so, and much the same was true of Pakeha. Gunfire rang out in every part of Taranaki in 1860 when land disputes escalated into war, and a steady stream of fifteen-year-olds found themselves in charge of guns and bayonets. At thirteen Robert Hughes was a little too young for active service, but his older brothers brought home stories of shootings, stabbings and tomahawk attacks. As far as the colonial government was concerned, strong and physically capable fifteen-year-olds were ready to fight – and die – alongside older men. Fifteen-year-old Robert Brickell, my own great-great-grandfather, arrived in Auckland in 1863 with his seventeen-year-old brother John; both intended a civilian future but government agents intercepted the boys on the wharves and sent them to fight in the Waikato wars.
Even though many boys in their mid-teens discharged adult responsibilities – soldiering and dangerous shipboard work were especially notable examples – they were not yet considered adults, a point Jacky Marmon tacitly conceded. Semi-independent from parents but not yet fully grown up, these lads fell under the broad category of 'youth'. British historian John Gillis suggests that the designation of 'youth', shifting in its meaning and imprecisely bounded, was common in British and Western European pre-industrial society. Some 'youths', including Jacky who left his parents to become a ship's mascot, and Mowhee who went to Norfolk Island and Sydney, were as young as seven or eight. Others in this category, including the scholar John Greenwood whom we will soon meet, were considerably older. Manhood and full autonomy arrived later for them, once they attained financial independence.
Young British settlers witnessed the powerful contrast between the old world and the new as they transitioned to manhood. Propagandists like Charles Hursthouse appealed to images of robust manly virtue and promoted migration as a prospect for the hardy. Hursthouse's 1857 guide for emigrants talked up the rugged encounter with nature that would quickly 'make a man' of those turning pale and pasty in an urbanising England. The voyage and the new life was not for the 'feeble-minded, the emasculate, the fastidious, the timid', Hursthouse insisted, and migration offered a way out of 'grinding, social serfdom, those effeminate chains'. If developing physical strength signalled the arrival of manhood, then New Zealand's rugged environment promised to accelerate the maturing process.
A youngster's relationship to serfdom and freedom, though, was not a matter of brawn alone. It also reflected his cultural capital, that is, the knowledge and training he needed for social advancement. Jerningham Wakefield, the son of colonist Edward Gibbon Wakefield, was one welloff young man with a taste for adventure. Eager to leave England for antipodean shores, Jerningham first visited New Zealand in 1839 at the age of nineteen. He assumed the role of secretary to his uncle William Wakefield whose New Zealand Company scoped out the would-be colony. Jerningham's memoir Adventure in New Zealand records the details of his travels. He set off from Wellington bound for Taranaki and met Whanganui chief Te Rangi Whakarurura at Waikanae en route. The chief offered Jerningham eight lads, including seven slaves, to accompany him and carry the baggage. Jerningham, Konatu (one of the slaves), Puke Totara (a free man, 'strong, tall and good-humoured') and their six companions set off to the north, marching over steep hills and along the shore, staying the night with local Maori or camping under trees. At Waikanae the group swapped the seaside slog for a canoe:
We at length hoisted our sail before a fresh southerly breeze, amidst the discharge of muskets and sounds of haere! 'go!' about an hour before noon ... E Ao, or 'the air,' a son of E Rangi, and half-brother of Kuru Kanga, was in command of the craft. Besides him, six young men, among whom was Puke, worked their paddles; and Konatu steered with a paddle ...
Jerningham Wakefield spent three more years travelling around the lower North Island reporting on political events, the relationships between Pakeha and Maori, and a range of 'struggles and perils'. Did Jerningham measure up to Charles Hursthouse's standards? Probably not. Something of a libertine, he led a life of sensuality. Governor Robert FitzRoy accused him of 'singing lewd hakas', squatting nude 'in the warm baths of Taupo' in the company of young Maori women, and 'debauching' more than fifty before returning to London to continue his dissolute ways there. Jerningham's account of his early years evokes the considerable differences between an urban English life and the open, adventurous landscape of New Zealand. It also reveals the privileges available to a few: a paid passage to New Zealand, Maori youths to carry him around the country, and the money and ability to return to England. As a well-off youth Wakefield had a degree of freedom denied the military conscript or the slave, while he enacted a kind of masculinity that was at odds with the image promoted by the propagandists. Jerningham's experiences underscore the differences between colonist and colonised, centre and periphery, and different forms of youthful manhood.
The Trip Out
By 1840, a year after Jerningham Wakefield's peregrinations around the lower North Island, only 2,000 non-Maori lived in New Zealand. They truly were 'a small minority on the fringes of the Maori world', as historian Barbara Brookes writes. Soon, though, a wave of immigrants swamped New Zealand's ports. The 2,000 became 20,000 by the early 1850s, and 250,000 by 1870. The ships' human cargo arrived in a range of different circumstances. Many young passengers came with their families, some alone and others in pairs.
This is the 'log of the Haddon Hall on her voyage from London to Otago in 1874', drawn by thirteen-year-old Harold Hooper. The trip took ninety-eight days, each represented by a dot on the line. The ship made slow headway near the Equator but sped through the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Haddon Hall did not call ashore even once: there was nothing to relieve the social pressure-cooker effect of life on board for either adolescents or adults.
A range of social distinctions took hold on board ship, and these had profound impacts on young immigrants. The well-off cabin class passengers, who called themselves 'colonists', had their own private compartments, while the rest (the 'emigrants') travelled below decks in the cramped confines of steerage. Just as the cabins and steerage quarters separated passengers by class, the rules of steerage drew tight lines of gender and looser demarcations of age. Steerage passengers were divided into three groups, each accommodated in a separate section: married couples with children aged eleven or younger, single women, and single men. Families with children over the age of twelve were split up and the youngsters allocated to the single women's or single men's sections. These parts of the ships housed passengers of a low average age; most of those in the single women's and men's quarters were in their teens and early twenties.
These lines of age and gender persisted on the ships' outside decks. On the Lady Egidia, for instance, which sailed between London and Otago, ropes divided male from female sections of the deck with a four-foot buffer in between. 'A strict watch was kept up so that no indecent conduct might be in the ship', a young male passenger noted in his diary; 'if all things are true their [sic] are only five out of the seventy females on board who have not suffered from young men before.' The young women were locked below decks at eight o'clock every evening. This strict segregation was enforced even when the Lady Egidia's sailors struck up a band: 'the fiddles started up music and there was a dance got up by the young men but they had to confine it to themselves as the girls were not allowed to dance with them'.
Excerpted from "Teenagers"
Copyright © 2017 Chris Brickell.
Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Finding the Teen Age,
Chapter One Setting the Scene,
Chapter Two Adolescent Stirrings,
Chapter Three Jazz Age Youth,
Chapter Four The Teenager is Here!,
Chapter Five Milk-Bar Cowboys and Rock 'n' Roll,
Conclusion Back to the Future,