William Golder

A Stra'ven Weaver Poet


REMARKABLE CAREER OF NEW ZEALAND EMIGRANT
Hamilton Adviser, Scotland 14 Nov 1931

In the old churchyard of Strathaven, under a stone renewed during the war by his New Zealand soldier grandsons, lies the remains of a Strathaven weaver, poet, and emigrant, who died with tragic suddenness just as he had returned to spend his declining years in the town of youth and early manhood.


William Golder, the subject of this sketch was born in Paisley in the year 1810. His father was a sergeant in the 91st Highlanders, then in garrison there. His mother, Jane Gardner, accompanied her husband through many of his overseas campaigns, enduring all the hardship and privation of a soldier's varying fortune with patient loving fidelity. Sergeant James Golder, after fulfilling his period of service, received his discharge with pension and settled in Strathaven. Here William and his younger brothers attended school, receiving the meager education thought sufficient in these days for working men's sons.


At an early age William began with his father to learn handloom weaving, the staple industry of the town. In this he ultimately became proficient, but had a much higher ambition. Though the working hours were long, he managed to attend classes at night where he greatly improved his knowledge. He very early displayed a love of books, spending most of his spare time poring over them, or in verse. Rhyming was his pastime, and at the age of thirteen he had written several poems.


When he was fifteen years of age weaving became very dull, so he was sent out to farmer a herd. This humble work was as little pleasing to him as weaving, but it was the point upon which his career afterwards turned. Returning to the loom, he worked patiently at it, but always he longed for a more congenial calling. Nature in all its varied forms of beauty had many charms for him, and his ardent fancy at this period of his life found an outlet in such effusions as "A Visit to Kype's Cascade," and "Reflections over a Lark's Nest." The former poem was a piece of over three hundred lines, describing the beauty of Kype Fall and the glen (the mill was not then built), and the latter full of touching, tender pathos hardly to be expected in a weaver lad of seventeen years of age.


After working patiently at the loom for several years, the opportunity he longed for arrived. The school in Clydeside village of Rosebank fell vacant. He applied for the appointment and was successful in securing it. He now had time to pursue his studies and qualify for a higher position. After three years at Rosebank he moved to a larger school at Bellshill. Here he married a local lady, and shortly afterwards removed to Glasgow, having been appointed a teacher in the Normal School, and subsequently took up a headmaster's position in a school in the East of Scotland.


He had not long entered on this, for the time, highly remunerative work, till an event occurred which changed the whole course of his life. His wife became a convert to the Roman Catholic faith, and as a consequence he had to give up his school and return to Glasgow. Let it be said here that while he remained a Protestant and a churchman to the end of his life, he never once blamed his wife for this reverse of fortune. They lived happily together, and so arranged the religious education of the family that each had liberty of choice on arriving at years of discretion. They all followed their mothers persuasion, and the two grandsons who visited Strathaven as soldiers of the New Zealand contingent were members of the Roman Catholic Church, and worshipped in the local chapel during their brief stay here.


For a long time Mr Golder was out of employment in Glasgow. No school would receive him because of his wife's change of faith. He turned his thoughts to literature and having secured a number of subscribers he sent his first volume of poems to the press. The book met with fair success, but now he began to turn his thoughts to emigration, and the broader freedom from religious intolerance such an adventure would give him. One day he saw a placard on emigration to New Zealand, but in the list of occupations he found neither teachers nor weavers stated. Shepherds were wanted, however, and remembering that he had once been a herd laddie, he sought for the chance offered by the government of the colony. He obtained the signature of two Avondale farmers as to competency, was accepted, and duly sailed with his wife and two children in the ship, "Bengal Merchant", from Glasgow.


Arrived at New Zealand, the emigrants were landed at Hutt Valley, then for the first time being colonized. Till they had felled trees and built houses they slept on board the ship, and received rations from the New Zealand Company's store. Having named his log house "Sylvan Grange" he began life of toil and struggle, clearing the bush, cutting roads, and working his croft. With his devoted wife he had many adventures. One night the torrent coming down from the hills flooded the whole valley and kept them isolated for days without food. He rebuilt his house, raising it this time on piles, but one day when cutting down an adjacent tree, it fell on an unexpected angle right on top and family having a narrow escape with their lives. Soon, however, with native grit he built another house and named it "Petoni", and in this he enjoyed a period of comparative comfort and prosperity.


While he made friends with aborigines; taught them how to till their ground and build better houses, and so gained their confidence. Other settlers, however, were not so kind and a native rising occurred in which two emigrants were murdered in their hut, and all the settlers farced to fly the village and seek shelter within the stockade. This experience ended Mr Golder's life in the bush.


In the Village of Hut he rented a house and worked whatever turned up. As there was no school there he ultimately built one, and soon had a large number of scholars. There was no church, so with others he erected a log building as a place of worship. Here he acted as ruling elder, preacher and precentor, and in an every way sought to care for the flock. While living in the village he again turned his thoughts to literature, and published in 1852, "New Zealand Minstrelsy", a book of poems and articles on colonial subjects.


Two years later he was able to purchase from the Government 75 acres of land. This was the goal of his ambition. Soon, however, he lost all his scholars, the parents having removed in the pursuit of gold found elsewhere in the colony. He named his new house "Mountain Home", and with the assistance of his sons cleared the ground, stocked his farm and turned what was once wilderness into a profitable venture.


In 1867 he published another collection of poems of great merit, and dedicated to the governor of the colony, Sir G.Grey K.C.B. With the proceeds of the sale of this book he purchased a printing press that he might in his leisure print his works as they were written. In 1871 he published a volume entitled, "The Philosophy of Love", written printed and published by himself..


When school boards were introduced into the country he, for the third time, became a schoolmaster, and carried on such work successfully for several years. At this time Mrs Golder died, and he felt lonely without her, for apart from religion they were as one on other matters. As his strength began to fail he decided to return to Scotland. His sons and daughter were prosperous, but he longed to see the home of youth, and to end his days in the old weaving town of Strathaven.


He sailed from New Zealand in February, 1876 and after a rough voyage lasting 103 days the ship arrived at London. He was on his way to Strathaven, intending to settle there, when he died at the residence of his brother Robert, in Govan. He was buried in Strathaven beside his forebears, in the old churchyard, on 22 June 1876. His family in New Zealand erected a stone to his memory, which his two grandsons, during the war, while on service with the New Zealand troops, renovated.


The family of Sergeant James Golder had a long connection with Strathaven. A son (brother of the poet), Mr Matthew Golder, was a well-known and respected spirit merchant at the Cross. Other sons were James and David who were weavers, the latter subsequently removing to the East Coast. Another son Robert, served his apprenticeship as a cooper in Strathaven. For years he left the district, his work taking him to Glasgow and Govan, but ultimately he returned to Sandford and started business as a cooper on his own behalf, which he carried on till his death 36 years ago. A son of the above Robert is now 85 years old and lives in the village.