Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Research on Charlie Douglas
Charlie Douglas (centre of photo above) lived on the West Coast of New Zealand from 1867 to 1916, exploring, surveying and mapping the mountains, bush, rivers, lakes and coastline. He was born in Scotland and for his outstanding work was referred to respectfully as Mr. Explorer Douglas. In the 1880s, Douglas built up an exploring companionship with Mueller, now chief surveyor. On a trip up the Arawata River, the two climbed Mt Ionia. They also walked through many of South Westland’s river valleys, such as the Clarke and Landsborough. The reports of ‘Mr Explorer Douglas’ in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives became important contributions to the knowledge of Westland’s geography.
Carrying his batwing tent, puffing on his pipe, and accompanied only by his precious dogs, first Topsy and then Betsey Jane, Douglas also climbed alone. He made an epic traverse of the northern Olivine Range, and travelled up the Waiatoto River in 1891. Between feats of courage and endurance in the mountains, Douglas drank heavily.
Showing his early education, Charlie Douglas liked classical names for mountains, such as Castor and Pollux. He also coined names for creeks on the west side of the Waiatoto: Lucky Rill, Tingling Brook, Ferny Rivulet, Whizzing Water, Thrill Creek and Madcap Torrent.
In 1893 Douglas developed an important partnership with another climber, Arthur P. Harper, son of the earlier explorer Leonard Harper. The two explored especially in the Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and Cook River regions. In 1897 he was awarded the Gill Memorial Prize by the Royal Geographical Society ‘for his persistent explorations during twenty-one years of the difficult region of forests and gorges on the western slopes of the New Zealand Alps’.1 He retired in 1906 after a stroke. (Thanks to Te Ara for permission to use some of this information above).
Over many years I have retraced a number of his journeys and done considerable research and have published articles and poems in the NZ Alpine Journal. Here is an article I published in the 1995 New Zealand Alpine Journal that may be interesting for people with afascination for early New Zealand exploration.
Charlie Douglas: his final years.
One of the best New Zealand books on exploration must be Phillip Temple's 'New Zealand Explorers - Great Journeys of Discovery.' The chapter on Charles Douglas is moving and gives a descriptive insight into his arduous trips in the Waiatoto Valley. Unfortunately Temple paints an incorrect picture of Charlies last years: He writes,
"In 1906, Douglas suffered a stroke from which he seemed to have recovered; but he was not to recover from the more massive blow which struck him down in 1908." From then, until his death in Hokitika in 1916 at the age of 75, Douglas lay paralysed, unable even to talk with his friends." (1)
Research I've conducted shows that Douglas did recover from his second stroke and was well enough to be camping by himself at Lake Kaniere in 1911 at the age of 71.(2)
Temple can certainly be excused for this mistake as he built on the research of the usually reliable John Pascoe. I began making the same mistake in writing a biography on Ebenezer Teichelmann until I started digging deeper. Interviews with two men who remembered Charlie well, were key in piecing together the last years of Douglas' life and the friends who supported him.
It has revealed that instead of a tragic stroke-ridden and paralysed Charlie Douglas portrayed by John Pascoe and repeated Temple, it is likely that Charlie Douglas' final years were among the best of his life apart from the period from October 10, 1914 to his death on May 23, 1916 where he was permanently hospitalised.
In two recent interviews with Hec Davidson (June 1993, three weeks before his death) and Ces Preston ( September 1993) it is clear that Charlie was seen out at Lake Kaniere in late 1911. He had his tent pitched near to Dr Ebenezer Teichelmann's batch. Neither Hec or Ces recall him looking paralyzed and he was certainly able to speak.
" I met him through going to the Lake with some of my cobbers - I was there with Hector Davidson who was three years older than I. Hec said, 'there's Mr Douglas.' He had a tent there. I saw him go to the tent and he said hello to us as he passed. The tent had a fly on it. I was told later by a very reliable source that the good doctor wanted Charlie to stay in his house, but he said, 'Oh no, I want to stay in the tent.' That would have been late 1911, " recalled Ces Preston. Ces said that in later life he dicussed these boyhood memories with his friend that day, Hec Davidson, and both "were clear in our minds that we saw Mr. Douglas at Lake Kaniere in 1911." (3)
Charlie had a second stroke either late in 1908 or early 1909. Around that time,Teichelmann "told Arthur P. Harper not to see Douglas as he would be upset at not being able to talk to him, and it was kinder to leave him alone." (4)
John Pascoe concluded from his research that after his second stroke , "He never recovered sufficiently to roam again in the bush or on the ranges." (5)But he was to roam in the bush again in a limited way, for he was seen walking on the shores of Lake Kaniere in 1911 which has bush down to the waters edge.
As his doctor, Ebenezer Teichelmann saw a lot of Charlie Douglas between 1906 after his first stroke, and up until late 1915 when he left for Egypt to serve in the First World War.(6)
Pascoe is also short on detail when it comes to writing about the people who cared for Douglas in his last years. Teichelmann saw to it that Douglas got the best possible medical care. For most of his last years Douglas was living with Mrs Jane Ward, the widow of Charlies deceased partner in exploration, Bob Ward, who drowned in 1881 crossing the Omoeroa River. Bob Ward and Douglas had done a number of survey trips together and he had got to know Jane Ward well over the years. What has been revealed recently is that Jane Ward lived at 20 Fitzherbert Street, which was either next door to G. J. and Mrs Roberts or two houses along from him. With the closeness of the relationship between Douglas and the Roberts, support was always on hand next door. (7)
Roberts writes of his relationship with Douglas as one between "two human beings who fully understand each other and, ignoring our many weaknesses, fully appreciate the remainder." (8)
Mrs Roberts had a soft spot for Charlie. In the winter of 1897 he had taken her on ice for the first time near the Bealey and later that year her husband refers to his wife and a lady climber from Greymouth going down to visit Charlie. He wrote, " Most probably when Douglas gets up the Waiho these two camerists will pop in at his Bat-wing for afternoon tea and consficate him for a few weeks." (9)
According to Jane Ward's grandson Tom Ward, his grandmother got on well with Charlie Douglas who lived in accomodation at the rear of the house.
" He was a very shy person, particulary with women, but this he overcome with time. His long association with the Wards meant that he could talk easily with Mrs Ward," recalled Tom Ward. (10)
" Charlie would have been well looked after, you wouldn't have got a better women than Mrs Ward, she was so kind and with her nursing training he would have got good care," (11)
Preston also wrote, " Another hospital attendant told me that when Explorer Douglas was hospitalised in old age the doctor saw to it that he had his hot toddies at night, as his rheumatics played up." The hot toddies usually were made up of whiskey and hot water. (12)
Ces Preston is quite adamant that Dr Teichelmann arranged for Charlie Douglas to go out to Lake Kaniere every Christmas/New Year period during the period 1906 up until he was permanently hospitalised. (13)
So instead of the tragic picture of Douglas that Pascoe and Temple write about from 1906 to his death in 1916 it is likely that some of Charlie Douglas final years were warm, comfortable and friendly ones, although he would have had bouts of pain and the frustration of poor speech , limited mobility and rheumatism some of the time. He certainly wasn't without friends. Tiechelmann was his doctor and friend, Arthur Woodham his old mining friend from Waiho assisted Mrs Ward in looking after him. and Mr and Mrs Roberts were neighbours. And, if that wasn't enough, Duncan McFarlane and his large family were regular visitors. (14)
What is equally interesting is that Teichelmann advised A.P. Harper not to come and see Douglas in 1908/1909 sometime after his second stroke. This statement intrigued me. I was tempted to leave it alone , but on talking to Dorothy Fletcher, daughter of Alec Graham, who knew Teichelmann well, I decided to probe further.
" I believe it is likely that Teichelmann and Roberts in particular, protected Charlie from Harper," said Dorothy Fletcher. (15)
The question that has to be posed is, did the Charlies West Coast friends - Roberts, Teichelmann, Woodham and McFarlane - close ranks to keep the rather boastful Harper away? Roberts opinion of Harper was "how unconsciously full of self the youthful Harper was" (16)
Harper, who a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club since its inception in 1894 and was later President for many years, was likely to be tarred with the brush of disdain that Douglas had for "that gang of amateurs called the New Zealand Alpine Club they have done nothing and explored nothing that wasn't known long before." He also said, " some crack brained idiot who wishes to make what he calls a record, and who's ambition is to be a small hero in a lecture hall, a drawing room, or even pot house..."(17)
Whilst Douglas' criticisms were in the main directed to Malcolm Ross and George Park, early members of the NZ Alpine Club, he and fellow West Coasters held a high degree of distrust and suspicion against the east coast amateur climbers, who came over and made exaggerated claims about their exploits in the west.
Pascoe writes, " His attitude was not uncommon in Westland and persists to this day; alpine feats are not ones about which to boast, and pretentiousness in any form is to be condemned." (18)
Even today on the West Coast there is a degree of simmering resentment towards John Pascoe, who from 1938 onwards made a number of trips to the West Coast, and took away valuable West Coast Archives and records of exploration.(19)
Fortunately not all the West Coast's archives were taken for in Hokitika we have a number of valuable historical resources on exploration and mountaineering:
The Westland Savings Bank has the origional copy of Charlie Douglas Journal 1892-1897 , the West Coast Historical Museum holds a number of Douglas sketches and archives on some West Coast explorers/surveyors/ mountaineers, some of Douglas field books are with DOSLI, The Department of Conservation in Hokitika and Franz Josef have a comprehensive photographic collection . Dorothy Fletcher has the best West Coast alpine archives known as the Graham Collection. I have also built up a lot of valuable references on West Coast. All these collections are well cared for and in good condition.
Plans are currently underway to establish regional archives in Hokitika of a national standard where most of these collections will be housed together. It also will present an opportunity to bring back a number of important West Coast collections that are housed elsewhere. Heritage Hokitika has a committee called the Carnegie Building Restoration committee which is developing a strategic plan to restore the Carniegie Building which for many years functioned as a public library. It has the backing of the Westland District Council, NZ Historic Places Trust and numerous other local and regional organisations. (20)
1 Philip Temple, New Zealand Explorers - Great Journeys of Discovery, Whitcoulls Publishers. Christchurch , 1985, p 163
2 Ces Preston, personal conversation, September 1993
3 Ces Preston and Hec Davidson, personal conversation, June 1993 and September 1993
4 John Pascoe, Mr. Explorer Douglas, A.H. & A.W. Reed. 1957, p 66
5 John Pascoe op. cit., p 65
6 Bob McKerrow, Ebenezer Teichelmann, Unpublished book 1993
7 Tom Ward, Letter, 9 July, 1993
8 John Acheson, Mr Surveyor Roberts, NZ Alpine Club Journal, 1973, p 110
9 John Pascoe op. cit., p 110
10 Tom Ward, op. cit.
11 Hazel Kelly, personal conversation, August 1993
12 Ces Preston, op. cit.
13 Ces Preston, op. cit.
14 Dorothy Fletcher personal conversation and Graham
15 Dorothy Fletcher, personal conversation.
16 John Acheson, op.cit., p110
17 John Pascoe, op.cit, p 78
18 John Pascoe, op. cit., p 78
19 Dorothy Fletcher and numerous others, too many to list.
20 Carnegie Building Restoration Committee HeritageHokitika, Restoration Strategy, 1993
I was pleased to note that when John Pascoe's New Zealand Classic 'Mr. Explorer Douglas' was revised by Graham Langton in 2000, the Chapter 'Last Years' was ammended to include the new information I discovered in the article above.
For those of you who have read this far, I post a poem I wrote a few year ago for the NZ Alpine Journal on Charlie Douglas:
So what was the inner spring that made you tick ?
In valleys where snow, ice, water and mica mix
Incessant rain and slippery logs
Mosquitoes, sand flies bush and bogs
And ah, paradise lurking in those hot pools
Stripped your rags far way from ’those fools’
As you soaked your matted beard and ropey hair
And a moment of thanksgiving, a silent prayer
Strong, sinewy and stringy as Weka meat
After years of amazing geographical feats
You lay awake, dreaming year after year
Many thought you were a man without a care
But you were putting the world together
While stranded for weeks in nor’westerly weather
Puffing, sucking the old brown brair
In your batwing tent you kindle a fire
No mortgage family possessions houses or barns
You are a free-wheeling man with only socks to darn
A river to cross and a range to measure
Keeping a watchful eye on the wild weather
Weeks of rain and sodden clothes
Notebooks full of maps, observations and prose
Your thrills came from discovery and not wiley tarts,
Betsy Jane at your side, obedient and fast
Never answered back when you got it wrong
The tuis, bellbirds and robins kept you in song
Your footprints were the first in many places,
Mountain top, gorges river and glaciers
The whiskey jar at the Forks, Okarito and Scotts,
Discussing the world with fellow Scots
The jar was your best mate on the binge
You were one of those living over the fringe
Banking almost got you, wife kids and all
But marriage to you was like a pall
Your dreams wafted like smoke from your pipe
Slabs of rata your company during the night
The cursed danps got into every joint
Did you ever ask ‘whats the bloody point ?'
Was it you Charlie or the others who were the fools ?
Your maps, sketches and diaries over which generations drool
No Charlie it was a good deal you got
Harper, and others, you never tolerated that lot
Alpine Club braggards you named them true
Canterbury amateurs who stole feats from you
It was Roberts McFarlane, Bannister and Teichy
They were soul mates of a similar physie
Staunch and modest friends who knew your strengths
Overlooked your weaknesses and came to your defence
The final years in Hokitika with Mrs Ward
Wife of your mate in the mountains who died at a ford
After the stroke you were seen camping at Kaniere
With batwing tent, maps, diaries but without a penny
Possessions and money had no meaning or dues
It was the uncharted land that was treasure to you.
Copyright. Bob McKerrow 2007