The Author spent some time in New Zealand researching George Dixon’s two visits to the antipodes: the first for a couple of years in the 1850s, the second for a few months late in 1888. Very little indeed is known about the first visit, but the second is well chronicled. Indeed, his letters home constitute by far and away the most extensive correspondence which survives today. Including travelling time, he was away from the United Kingdom for almost half a year, despite being a Member of Parliament – a situation facilitated by the fact that the Parliamentary season lasted barely six months a year.
The journey would have been demanding for a man of 68 years. But he wanted a break from his political activities at home in the immediate aftermath of the split in the Liberal party over the issue of Irish Home Rule; he needed to take stock of the sizeable £100,000 investment portfolio of the Dixon Investment Company; he wished to find out more about living conditions in the country and the prospects for English agricultural workers; and he would have welcomed the opportunity to catch up with his Taylor relations, even though one of them, Waring, had been involved in one of the largest scandals of the day. Whilst in New Zealand, he could not refrain from inspecting local schools.
One of the borrowers mentioned in the accounts of the Dixon Investment Company was Sir John Hall, one-time Prime Minister. As a back-bencher, Hall was responsible for guiding through the legislation which gave the vote to women in 1893. Hall and Dixon had much in common but there is no record of their having met, even though their wives both stayed at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne whilst convalescing. How Hall came to be indebted to Dixon is something of a mystery, a topic covered in the book.
Hall’s great-granddaughter Kate Foster and her husband Richard have spent much time preserving the records of Hall at Terrace Station, Hororata. The author spent several days researching in these delightful surroundings in 2003/4, noting that Hall spent long periods in the United Kingdom and had much to say about the contemporary political scene.
Kate has written most recently of Out of Birmingham:
“… fascinating: there were so many similarities to the life of John Hall – his ecumenical outlook, his opposition to patronage, his careful accounting of money spent, his good works … These were great men of their times and I doubt if we will see the
same again. Today, it often seems to me, those who have sufficient money to be
philanthropists usually like the sound of trumpets along the way!”
Dr Garth Cant, at the time of my visit to New Zealand for research purposes, working in the Geography Department at the University of Canterbury, wrote to say that he had enjoyed reading the book:
“Well done for producing a volume that is sensitive, scholarly, well organised, and well polished. And, well done you and Brewin Books for such an attractive format”.