William Golder

Lower Hutt's first Poet


Retired photo-journalist GEORGE KAYE of Lower Hutt
has come across the interesting story of Lower Hutt's first published poet.
Article from the Hutt News written in 1982

Ask anyone in Lower Hutt or Petone, who was William Golder? Chances are no one would be able to answer the question. William Golder was a Scottish weaver and schoolmaster. With his wife and family he arrived at Wellington from Glasgow on the Bengal Merchant, February 20, 1840. He landed on the beach at Petone; made his first home from logs and called it "Sylvan Grange". A great flood swept across the valley, isolating the small Golder family. William rebuilt his house on high piles. But a large tree crashed on it. This was the end of "Sylvan Grange".


William's next house, which he called "Petoni", was built in the bush. While living there a tense situation developed between some of the settlers and a number of hostile Maoris. The Golder's, together with other families, were forced to take refuge in Fort Richmond, the stockaded blockhouse on the east bank of the river, near the bridge.


Because of the touchy situation in the valley at this period, William decided it was unwise to live in an isolated area.  renting a house in the village, he lived there from 1846 to 1852. During this time he built a small school in which he  taught. He also helped to put up a log building for use as a church. Until regular services were held, William took a leading role as elder, preacher and lay reader.


In 1854 he purchased a large tract of land in the Boulcott-Melling area and with the help of his sons turned it into a productive farm. He named his house, "Mountain Home".


By and large William Golder's experiences were not greatly different from those of other early settlers in Lower Hutt and Petone. Bush-clearing, home-building, difficulties with some of the Maori people and so on.


However, it was not as settler, schoolteacher, weaver, preacher or farmer that William Golder left his mark. Before he emigrated to New Zealand he had shown considerable promise as a poet.


But it was at the Hutt where he wrote the verses hat have gained him a place in Scholefield's "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography" and entitled him to the distinction of being the Hutt Valley's first published poet. And who knows he may even have held the key to the solution of a minor mystery associated with the competition held on the Bengal Merchant for the best poem.


No record of the name of the winner survives. Was it William Golder? On balance the answer is surely yes.


Copies of William's books are now collectors' items. The Turnbull library has some; Upper Hutt and Wellington Public Libraries have one each but neither Lower Hutt war Memorial Library nor Petone Public Library has any.


His major work was probably "The New Zealand Survey". A poem of about 2070 lines, it deals in part, with aspects of the Hutt River. In more than 7000 words of accompanying notes, he refers to New Zealand as "the second Great Britain of the world" and suggests "if Wellington can mind her Ps and Qs she may become the London of the South".


We discover an obscure facet of local history when William informs us that "periodic flooding of the Hutt River resulted in a few of the inhabitants of the village clubbing together to try the experiment of casting up a dike or mound along the bank of the river for a few chains."


William relegates the great earthquake of January 23 1855, to 1854 and suggests that because the course of the  river was greatly changed by the earthquake "the floods of the Hutt in regard to their general overflowing may yet only exist in the history of the past".


In the writing of these floods, he refers to "acres of newly planted seed potatoes, together with all surface soil, swept away by the river".


"Signs of the Times 1853", a poem about 500 lines indicates his political awareness, the opening lines : Good morning to you, brother Dunce! Soaping well the list'ning crowd.


In a footnote, he takes the "Wellington Independent" newspaper to task for its political bias and explains "such was the opinion of some village magnates who nightly met at a certain store in the Hutt to discuss the disclosures and politics of the times".


William doesn't reveal the name of the store, or the identity of village magnates who assembled for their nocturnal meetings. The store was probably Burts' , which in 1851 stood on the west side of the main street, slightly north of today's Family Hotel.


"The New Zealand Survey" also includes "Stanzas to the Memory of William Swainson. Departed hence, December 7, 1855".


William Swainson, naturalist and artist who left many drawings and sketches of early Lower Hutt and Petone, is buried in St James Churchyard.


With an eye to the future and a shrewd sense of publicity, after the preface to his "Survey", William writes: "�. Minstrel's Budget not yet emptied. If all is well by New Year, may be expected another offering containing 'A Descant on Thought'; 'The Great Problem of 1861', a dream in the Hutt stockdade; 'The Teapot and Brandy Bottle', an allegory, with poems and lyrics of local interest."



Publishing

Profits from the sale of the "Survey" enabled him to buy a printing press. He used this to produce "The Philosophy of Love", a small- format book of 210 pages. Apart from any literary merit this book has particular local interest, because it was printed, bound and published by William Golder "at his amateur press, Mountain Home, Hutt"


In a "prospective" at the end of "Philosophy of Love" he writes: "As the printing of this work consisted in much of experiment, I would crave the indulgence of friends, but having made considerable improvements in the press, I hope in future to show a better typography".


William itemized 14 errata in his work but he missed one, which, with hindsight, strikes a note of humour that he would certainly not have anticipated. " A Lay on Wanganui" tells us in the sub-heading, that the verses "were suggested by a visit to the district, in February, 1897". That was all very well but William died in 1876.



Relatives

Another William Golder, cousin of the poet, made a name for himself in a different sort of way. He took to drink and gambling. Things became so bad , the authorities decided to arrest him. Though it may be taken for granted that he never looked as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, he avoided arrest by hiding in a large churn. Shortly after, still at least one jump ahead of officialdom, he absconded to America.


If William the poet had not confined his verse to topics of a gentile, reflective and philosophical nature, he may have used the life story of his erring cousin as the basis of a best selling saga.


William Golder's only surviving grandchild, 89 year old Miss Teresa Golder, still lives at Upper Hutt, in the 100 + year old house in which she was born.


Teresa is proud of her grandfather's literary talent,though she openly admits she understands only a few of his poems.


Two great-grandsons, Frank Golder, live at Lower Hutt. Frank retired several years ago from New Zealand Railways as District Traffic Manager, Wellington. John, though he admits he's no poet, has followed a literary career. He has been a journalist all his working life and is at present editor of the New Zealand Racing Calendar.