The Teaching Autobiography, Contents: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
We arrived in New Zealand in the September of 1928 and settled in Plymouth on a small property five miles out of the town. It could hardly be dignified by the name of a farm, since it was under 18 acres but we kept seven milking cows and some young stock. The children and I milked and Anthony did the rest. He let me run the finances of the farm, a job I tackled with interest. The first year he let me take all the profits, while I paid out nothing and on this capital it was managed. We paid cash for it but unfortunately Anthony was persuaded a mortgage was good business. I always felt this to be a mistake. We had to learn to live on a third of our previous income and the sooner we did so, the better.
I wonder, had the slump not hit New Zealand then, if my life would have been different. We bought the place when butterfat fetched 1/1 or 1/2 a pound then the place could have been worked at a profit, had we lived as we should on Anthony's pension. Quite soon butterfat fell to 6d a pound. Even so I ran it with that capital and its own profits and added improvements. We subdivided the pastures and laid water to them. A cement silo was built and a new and good fowl house, whilst every year the land was both limed and later super was added. It also provided the girls and I with our pocket money.
The house stood on a gentle rise, with a foreground of pastures and trees. The sea ran into the middle distance and forty miles away a mountain range rose against the horizon ending in the point which separates Eastern from Western Bay. A range of lower hills behind us kept us warm and the broken country to the left was cut off by a still more distant mountain range at right angles to the first. Between the two ranges was a gap where at certain times of the year the sun set. In the winter when the mountains were snowcovered this view was magnificent. We used to flop into chairs on the wide front verandah, compensated by this view for the rather strenuous life we now had to tackle. The climate helped us, in Plymouth it is, to me, nearly perfect. Not quite the hard unbroken sunshine and heat of South Africa but with a maximum of sunny days and enough rainfall to keep the country green, except towards the end of summer when the hills turn to a golden fawn. In winter it was usually warm if wet but with sunny days if the nights were cold and frosty. Enough cold to ensure an English spring, heralded by the green of weeping willows, by daffodils and violets in August.
It was all a great contrast to our life in Africa, yet it was a happy though busy one. Michael and Susan went daily to the Boy's and Girl's colleges in Plymouth. Elizabeth who was seventeen, managed to persuade Anthony to let her stay at home and indeed I was glad of her help in the house where all the work was new and strange. The only help we could get was a weekly charwoman who was really wonderful. She did as much in that one day as we managed in the rest of the week. We had a great admiration for her, she was the most kindly person imaginable.
We were lucky in making friends with a great many people in Plymouth and it was through the influence of one family that my special experiences began. Major and Mrs Beaumont invited Susan and me to spend part of our Christmas holidays at their whare (3) the other side of Eastern Bay. While staying with them I learnt that they were interested in psychic matters and so one day trotted out my one and only ghost story. My father had been antagonistic to anything of that nature and poured scorn on all forms of superstition yet curiously enough, to his own discomforture, it was he and not my artistic, temperamental mother who shared this ghostly experience.
It was in Johannesburg of all unlikely places, while I was staying with them in the hot weather. They had recently moved into Parktown, one of the pleasant suburbs and it was my first visit to the new home. Mother knowing I liked space and air, had put me into a large room at the end of a passage rather cut off from their bedrooms. That night I woke up out of my first deep sleep hearing someone calling. Almost at once father came along to my room and said: "Did you call, Ann?" I said hurriedly: "No it must have been mother, hurry up." I thought she must be ill, for the impression both of us had, was of someone calling for help. Father came back to me after a few minutes and said mother was all right but must have called out in her sleep and without further worry, I went to sleep myself. I next woke up after a most vivid and horrible nightmare, in which I was attacked by a native boy but strangely instead of lying quaking in the usual miserable manner, I threw it off at once, with a: "Thank God it was only a dream."
Thoroughly awake, I switched on the light and read for some time. Eventually I must have dropped off to sleep with the light on, because the next thing I knew, was waking up to hear my mother walking down this passage with her rather short steps and her high heels tapping the floor. I wondered what she was doing so early and expected her to come in and ask why my light was on. She stopped outside my door and turned the handle of another door which led, I thought to the kitchen. Next day I found it opened onto a small courtyard in front of the kitchen. As she turned the handle she said: "That's all right, that's locked." Then I heard no more and thought she must have gone through into the kitchen and hastily slipped out of bed and switched off my light, so that when she returned, she would not fuss over my not being asleep. But she did not return and I thought she must have gone back to her room another way.
At breakfast I asked her what she was doing wandering about so early in the morning but she promptly denied anything of the sort and when I explained in detail what had happened, she looked disturbed and said: "Well it wasn't me, I never left my room." Then my father suggested I must have been dreaming. It had all been so matter of fact, that I had just assumed it was my mother, but they did not seem to want to talk about it. Later mother suggested I should move into a smaller room near my father's room. I agreed to change, feeling a dislike for the room in which I had had such a horrible nightmare.
The following night I read a while, as I always do before sleeping and had just put out my light to settle down when someone rattled violently once or twice the brass handle of the room I had left and a minute or two later there were a couple of loud knocks on the verandah door of the room I was sleeping in. I hopped out of bed to the door of my father's room and said triumphantly: "Well you must have heard that." A series of grunts and mutters showed me father had already dropped off to sleep. I told him what had happened and that I had thought he would still have been awake, half expecting him to be irritable. He paused a bit but answered quietly enough: "Look here Ann, it's no good talking about or taking any notice of these noises. Your mother doesn't hear them. I do and have sat up once or twice to investigate but I have never found anything or anyone there. It is probably an echo from off the road, which you know curves almost round the house. There is nothing to worry about but if it makes you nervous you had better arrange to go and stay with friends."
I went back to bed puzzled but more satisfied for although I felt his theory about echoes did not carry much weight even with him, at least he admitted there were noises and didn't pretend I was dreaming. I was nearly asleep again when there was a most horrible rumble and the room seemed to shake a bit. I felt it was the last straw and that I couldn't stand it or get any sleep in the wretched house. When I reported this at breakfast neither parent had heard it and father said again that I should have to decide for myself what I had rather do. Hating to show the white feather, I decided to stay another night but it was a great relief to me when at a tennis party that afternoon I heard everyone discussing one of the biggest mine tremors Johannesburg had ever had. I had never experienced one before and I felt much easier because the thing that really had scared me, had a natural explanation. So I decided to stick it out and as far as I remember heard no more.
It was after I returned to Port Melville and related the tale to a friend, that she showed me a possible explanation. She did not consider all psychic experience rubbish but had no belief in horrors, or in the existence of any personality. Her own experience which she told me, had also at the time seemed perfectly natural. On arriving on a visit to some friends she had noticed, in passing, a woman in brown, cutting roses in their rose garden. Expecting to be the only visitor then, she asked her hosts who the woman in brown was and was amazed to hear she had seen the family ghost. My friend suggested that the nightmare which had taken place in that room had occurred to the little woman I heard walking down the passage and speaking outside my door. The rattled handle and contemptuous bangs that I had heard the following night were just what a native might do after leaving his victim and going away. It sounds feasible but the only thing I am sure of are the facts as I have related them.
I feel there is probably a natural explanation of these things not yet discovered. Perhaps when the human mind is pitched to a certain key of emotion, either through fear, hate, or love, an impression may be left, that under certain conditions and by some individuals can be picked up again. That would account for the purposeless repetition of these things.
The Beaumonts at that time were interested in psychic research and had attended séances. It was whilst talking idly of such things that I told her that, when I was about twelve, I had taken part in a game that had really been an attempt at telepathy. Under the unspoken but willed thought of two people, I had crossed the room, put out an oil lamp, picked up a newspaper from a table, crossed the room again, opened the lid of a coal scuttle and put the newspaper inside. My friends were triumphant at their success but I remember feeling bored and rather headachy. Later, recounting this tale to a family recently arrived in our village, one of them remarked that I should make a good medium. I did not know what that meant but not being overburdened with accomplishments I told my father with pride of this possibility. At the time he teased me about it but he, having a strong prejudice against spiritualism, took care I had little more to do with that family. The only other time I was consciously involved in telepathy was an amusing incident at Port Melville. We were dining out and after dinner our hosts produced a planchette. It belonged to a Greek girl who was staying with them. I tried it out with her and it answered a number of questions, and for these I was innocent of direction. Anthony was asked what he thought of it. He said that he would not find it convincing unless it answered unspoken questions. So the girl urged him to try one. After a minute, he smiled and said he had done so. Almost immediately the word 'very' came into my head as plainly as if it had been spoken. Although it did not appear to be an answer, so distinct had it been that I took control of the board and made it spell 'very'. Anthony began to laugh and admitted his question had been: "Is my wife still fond of me?" The incident closed amidst general amusement and surprise. I did not want to try any more.
(3) Whare is a Maori word and means house or flat. Maori are the pre-European inhabitants of New Zealand. Back to text.