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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 47

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

22 January 1842

New Plymouth, Taranaky.
New Zealand.
22 January 1842.

My dear Severn,

The Plymouth New Zealand Company have grievously disappointed us, and I intend to proceed, soon as I can, to return to England viâ Sidney (as the cheapest way) perhaps leaving Carlino behind me, at least for a short time.

Our letters, it is surmised, have been opened, and, if found to be unfavourable to the New Zealand Colonies, they never reach their destination. We now entertain better hopes of our letters; and should this arrive at your hands, you will be of essential service in causing it to be printed in the public papers as a caution to others not to put faith in representations made by New Zealand Companies.2

No one letter can contain our grievances; but it is enough to tell you at present that this place has not a port except Port Hardy, 100 or 110 miles off, in D’Orville’s island, nay, has not a roadstead, and is so dangerous to approach that, after wrecks and various disasters, ships no more attempt it, and we are left unsupplied, possibly; at last, to live on the fern root, which would soon kill me. I was promised a Port by the Company for my money, and I intend to protest against receiving any Sections of land on this coast, and to bring an action against the Company for their non-fulfilment of the contract between us, I claiming a return of my money paid to them, together with every expence to which I have been put, and damages of all sorts which the law will allow.

In the mean time, though much injured in "mind, body and estate",3 I shall not be a pauper, and, looking at your hearty invitation just before I quitted England, it is my intention, should my health and time of life permit me outlive the voyage, to offer myself at your threshold as your guest, — at any rate, for a moderate period.4

My health and strength are certainly improved since last month when I feared I was irretrievably sinking under my grievances; but since that time I happily discovered a document from the Company, perhaps inadvertently granted to me, though a very common one, and that seems to promise me the fullest justice. Without it, I had not any thing but verbal promises, verbal representations — which are nothing in a legal point of view.

Think of our being compelled to take shipping to go to our Port! the impudence of such an attempt to fulfil a contract is scarcely imaginable. But I have proof that my sections of land were engaged to be at the Port of New Plymouth. Accordingly I demand to be conveyed to Port Hardy (the declared Port) and there to take my Sections of land; but first the Company must carry land thither, as it is little more than a naked, steep rock, enough of land, at least, for our 201 acres; but though I expressed our willingness, at a public meeting, to go thither, no answer was returned, all looking aghast at the unexpected though reasonable turn I gave to their discussion as to the best means to be adopted for obtaining a Port.

Carlino, I am glad to say, is well and in good spirits. I have written much of my "New Zealand Hand-book";5 not New Zealand Guide, because I cannot conscientiously guide any one to it.

Remember me most kindly to Mrs Severn, and believe me,

ever your’s truly,
           Chas A. Brown.6

Notes

1 Printed: Sharp 197-198 with minor errors, and reproduced in Stillinger 418-419. Above the salutation, Sharp has penciled, "Last letter / d. in 1842." Brown’s identification of Severn in the address reflects the switch in Severn’s artistic practice on his return to London into the lucrative world of portrait painting. Address: 4) / Joseph Severn Esqre / Portrait and Historical Painter / <Burlington Gardens> / London / 21 James Street / Buckingham Gate. Postmarks: PAID {...} SYDNEY 1842 {...} 14; R 23 AU 23 1842; pd 3d. [Return to the letter]

2 Brown wrote in similar terms to Edward Trelawny the following day with a request to publicize the grievances of the Taranaki Bay settlers. While Severn took no action, Trelawny secured the anonymous publication of Brown’s letter to him in the Times 31 Aug. 1842 (Stillinger 420). Brown’s complaints met with two rebuttals by figures closely associated with the New Plymouth settlement (see Times 16 Sept and 7 Oct.). For an account of Brown’s travails in New Zealand, see McCormick 198-212. [Return to the letter]

3 "Morning Prayer. A Prayer for All Conditions of Men" (The Book of Common Prayer). [Return to the letter]

4 See 21 Mar. 1841, n3. [Return to the letter]

5 Some early passages of this work appear in Brown’s logbook of his journey to New Zealand at the LMA (K/MS/01/011). [Return to the letter]

6 Charles Brown died in New Plymouth of a stroke on 5 June 1842. On hearing the news Severn wrote that "his sense of youth had gone forever" (Sharp 201). This is the only extant letter to Severn where he signs with his middle initial. Brown adopted his mother’s maiden name, "Armitage," after the publication of his study of Shakepeare’s sonnets. [Return to the letter]

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December 2007