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ROSLYN (Miss MARGARET ANNE SINCLAIR)

By Althea Barker

The townships of Shortland and Grahamstown on the Thames Goldfields were noisy, busy places. In 1873 they joined to form Thames; during these early years entertainment and recreation were important, demonstrated by the wealth and range of performances in the local halls and music venues. If you read old editions of the ‘Thames Star Newspaper’ at Paperspast, you will come across the name ROSLYN, a well known poet and writer. Whenever there was a local or national event of consequence, it was often marked by a poem in the local paper, simply signed ROSLYN. So who was the person behind these memorable lines?

Margaret Anne Sinclair was born 9 August 1861 in Auckland, the only child of Peter and Agnes Sinclair nee Taylor. Peter and Agnes had arrived in Auckland aboard the William Watson from London, 8 February 1859 and settled at Napier Street, Freeman’s Bay. Some discrepancies are noted regarding Margaret’s middle name varies from Ann, Anne to Annie.(1, 12) Peter Sinclair was a carpenter who moved with his family, to the goldfields during the 1870s. The 1875 Directory has the family living in Augustus Street; several references such as the 1885 electoral roll give Peter’s occupation as contractor, but generally he is recorded as a carpenter. By 1887 the family had moved to Queen Street, where they were still residing in 1901, when Peter Sinclair died.


Miss Margaret Ann Sinclair "ROSLYN'
New Zealand, 1907,as published in Webster (12).
Click to enlarge the photo.

When the suffrage petitions were signed in 1893, 32 year old M A Sinclair signed the petition at Thames and later that year voted in the 1893 elections.(13) The electoral rolls of 1893 and 1896 have the following details for Margaret: Margaret Anne Sinclair, occupation domestic duties. Her father Peter’s occupation was recorded as a carpenter and mother Agnes' as Domestic duties. (2) Their house was near the Shortland Wharf at the south end of town, between the Willoughby and Grey Street section of Queen Street (3) Around 1898, the family moved two blocks north in Queen street, in the centre of the Sealey and Richmond Street section. (Opposite where Danby field is located today.)

It appears that Margaret never attended any schools, instead was educated privately, at home by her mother. Mrs Sinclair is mentioned as being a school teacher, so it would appear she taught either privately or at a local school when the family arrived in Thames. (4) It is likely that this school was known as ‘Murphys Hill School’ and existed by 1872, run by a Mrs Sinclair. (14) Religion was an important part of the family’s life, and this appeared to have influenced Margaret. Webster wrote: “Roslyn wrote that her childhood was a solitary one being deprived of other children as friends and having no access to a wide range of literature. Her strict Scottish Calvinist parents allowed her to read only the Bible and ‘Pilgrm’s Progress.’ (12) In Thames, the family played an active part as members of the Presbyterian Church congregation, with Peter being noted as an elder of the church. (5)

During the 1890s, poems started to appear in the Thames Star newspaper, attributed to M A Sinclair of Queen Street, Thames. The titles were many and varied and included: 'To Maida'(1/10/1892), 'Demosthenes' (29/10/1892), and 'Deficit' (19/11/1892). A favourite for many Thames-ites, would have been this one about the wharf at Thames, published 22 April 1895(6) :

ON THE WHARF.

I sat on the wharf one evening,
The fish in the stream leapt high;
Orion's shining armour
Hung low in the western sky.

I sat on the wharf one evening
And looked on the eastern range,
Of hills, like tall masqueraders
Disguised in their costume strange.

While the well-known goldfields' music
Fell pleasantly on the ear,
The rhythmic beat of the stampers
From batteries far and near.

I watched from the wharf one evening
Till the silver moon was seen,
Fairy like, the Gentle Annie
And the Una hill between.

Waking visions of days vanished,
E’re the pakeha came here;
Only the moon and the mountain
Unchanged thro' each changing year.

Only the moon and the moreporks
Are now as they used to be,
When the echoes weirdly answered
To Ngatipo's revelry.

I gazed on the calm Hauraki
That bore on her heaving breast
The hero of a hundred fights
Long since. But he is at rest.

Those lights to northward gleaming
Alternately red and blue,
Shine from our Rotomahana
And not from a war canoe.

Then down on the wharf that evening
We chatted right merrily
Of men and women in plain prose,
Without hint of poesie.

Yet down on the wharf that evening,
Thus our complex nature wrought
In hearing, seeing, and speaking;
While hoarding a heart-deep thought.

Buried adown like the rich ore,
Which the trolls alone may view
Far too deep for the diamond drill
Let it screw, and screw, and screw!

M. A. Sinclair. Queen street Thames.




The use of other pseudonyms was also employed by Miss Sinclair, who wrote regularly as ROSLYN, other names included TUI and HEATHER BELL. Several poems relating to the Boer (South Africa) War appeared in the Thames Star newspaper from Roslyn (Miss M A Sinclair). These included: 'The Price of Peace' (1/3/1900), 'Haere Mai' (21/12/1900) and 'A Wreath of Ferns for our Soldiers’ Grave' (8/3/1902), her words expressing her love and thoughts about her country and the men who served in the war.


THE PRICE OF PEACE.

'The many men so beautiful —and they all dead did lie.'
'Twas a gala, day when our boys went out
To conflict on Afric's strand;
And our souls were stirred as our glad ears heard
The strains of the merry band.

Now our eyes are dim, and our laughter's o'er
They are falling day by day.
The bold and the brave, to a soldier's grave,
Where the lone veldt rolls away.

Friend or foemans hand in the sunny rand
Heaps the turf above each head;
Profoundly they sleep, while the heavens keep
Starry vigils o'er their bed.

They gave their all when they gave themselves
To their country and their Queen.
But alas! for the hearth devoid of mirth
Alas! for the might have been.

Sweetheart, mother, sister, daughter, and wife
Our tears fall for yours, for you:
Yea, the wide world weeps for the lost life tide
Ebbed out on the dry karoo.

To the land once strange, to the land grown dear,
Where our boys are lying low;
Our spirits shall yearn, and our thoughts return
As the seasons come and go.

For not all the gold of her fabled mines,
Nor the diamond beauty craves,
Could have printed Afric on British hearts
Like our gallant soldiers' graves.

ROSLYN

It is difficult to do justice to the volume of works published by Miss M A Sinclair, and for readers wanting more on these, I would urge consultation to the research work carried out by Webster. (12) For example, 1897 saw the publication of ‘The Huia’s Homeland,' a copy is noted as being held at Auckland war Museum. A review published in The Otago Witness gave an overview of contents and highlighted the variety of topics. (15)

In 1899, when the first editon of the New Zealand Illustrated Magazine was published, it was noted in the Thames Star 2/10/1899, that amongst the contributers was Miss M A Sinclair. Included was one of her short stories. (8) Subsequently there were many mentions and articles in this publication, as well as the inclusion of photographs of Margaret Anne Sinclair. (1/12/1902 and 1/8/1903).

In the Edition 1/12/1902, it was written:

'M A Sinclair has contributed poems under her own name, and also her favourite nom-de-plume of Roslyn, to a number of New Zealand and some English papers and periodicals. She has also published a volume of poetry entitled 'Huia’s Homeland,' which was well received and revewed. Being a New Zealander, much of her work has the true local colouring, not the spurious article attained by the inclusion of a few of the best known names of our birds and trees.' (page 165)(9)


Miss Margaret Ann Sinclair, aka 'ROSLYN'
as published in The New Zealand Illustrated Magazine
1 Dec 1902 page 164. (9)

The Sinclair’s life in Thames began to change in 1901, following the death of Margaret’s father. Peter Sinclair died at his Queen Street residence 25/11/1901 and his body was taken to Auckland via the SS Wakatere later that same day. (10) The burial took place at Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland the following day.

In May 1902, Miss Sinclair wrote to the Thames Borough Council 'requesting that her name should be placed on the burgess roll as the owner of a property in Queen Street, in place of the name of her father, now deceased. Request granted.' TS 30/5/1902 (11)

The following month,the Thames Star 20/6/1902 reported that Mrs Peter Sinclair and her daughter had left Thames, the previous day aboard the SS Terranora, bound for Auckland. The paper wrote: 'Miss Sinclair possesses poetic gifts of a high order...The British Weekly spoke very highly of Miss Sinclair’s ability.'

With Margaret and her mother supposedly in Auckland, Margaret reappears in Thames in 1903. The Thames Star 18/8/1903 reported that she had taken over the agency for the New Zealand Illustrated Magazine. Two months later the paper reported that Miss Sinclair of the ‘Haeremai Tearooms,' had moved to more central premises in Pollen Street, next to Mr Court’s. (TS 16/10/1903) The 1904 Directory has Miss M A Sinclair at her tearooms in Queen Street, called ‘Hinemoa Tearooms.’ So whether there was more than one business in operation at the one time remains unclear. By 1905 Margaret had moved back to Auckland and set up a book and stationery shop in Mount Roskill Road. In 1910 Margaret moved to Khyber Pass and opened ‘The Grafton Bookroom,’ which had living accommodation attached. It was here that Margaret’s mother Agnes died on 31/10/1913. (12). In about 1917, Miss Sinclair moved to Devonport and ran a business there.

While not having the space to do justice to the works of Miss Sinclair, special mention needs to be made of the music. Her words were the basis of many published songs. These include: ‘The Sun is Westering’ (TS 1/12/1901), ‘Welcome to HMS New Zealand’ (Observer 5/7/1919), a collection of songs published as ‘Fairyland Fancies’ (Fielding Star 24/5/1915). Webster (12) notes that eight songs were written by Roslyn, which included a 'song published in Chicago, entitled 'Brown Eyed Susie.'

The songsheet for HMS New Zealand
From the collection of The New Zealand Military Museum

Miss Sinclair died at Devonport on the 5th May 1924, and was buried (7/5/1924) at O’Neill’s Cemetery, Bayswater, Devonport. The plot location is Row D, plot 37 and the monumental inscription reads:

IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MARGARET A. SINCLAIR
(ROSLYN)
DAUGHTER OF THE LATE PETER & AGNES SINCLAIR
OF THAMES
DIED DEVONPORT
5th MAY 1924
MIDST EARTH'S FAST FADING FLOWERS
WE SMILE AND WEEP
SLEEP, LADY, SLEEP
ERECTED BY A FEW LOVING FRIENDS

Part of this comes from one of Roslyn’s poems called ‘Burial at Sea’ : Midst Earth’s fast fading flowers we smile and weep. Sleep, lady, sleep.


Miss Margaret Ann Sinclair's Grave at Devonport 1924.
Click to enlarge the photo.

OBITUARY

'The death took place in Auckland this week of Miss M.A. Sinclair ('Roslyn'), whose poetry had made her many friends outside as well as in New Zealand, Miss Sinclair was born in Auckland, but in early life removed with her parents to Thames, where she was educated by her mother, herself a lady of considerable attainment in the educational world, and where the greater part of her life was spent, states, a writer in the Auckland 'Star'. Contributions from Miss Sinclair's pen under her nom de plume of "Roslyn" have appeared from time to time in various papers. Although she never travelled outside the Auckland province, she had an Australian and New Zealand reputation as a poetess of no mean merit. A volume of her poems under the title "The Huia's Homeland," was published in London in 1897, and 'Echoing Oars and Other Verses' in 1903, while examples of her work appear in several collections of Australasian verse. Miss Sinclair's generous and kindly nature ensured for her a large circle of warmly attached friends among those with whom she came into contact.'
Evening Post 10 May 1924 pg 14 (4).

A copy of Miss Sinclair’s will dated 27 March 1918 is available at Auckland Archives NZ. Details are given of how her possessions were to be dispersed, including the copyrights to her works.


Margaret Ann Sinclair's Will
dated 27 March 1918 Devonport.
Click to enlarge the photo.

It is noted that Miss Sinclair never ventured further than the Auckland district, but her fame was to spread around the world. This is still evidenced today with libraries around the world holding works by M A Sinclair aka Roslyn. (7) This is one example, which shows 10 works in 14 publications, held in 56 different libraries around the world. Titles can be found at The National Libraries of New Zealand and Australia, as well as a file held at Takapuna Library, New Zealand containing clippings and other reference material written by John Webster. (12)

When beginning the search to find out who ‘Roslyn’ was, it was never envisaged the amount of information that was available, let alone that there was a publication already in existence (Webster, 2006, Ref 12) Margaret Anne Sinclair aka Roslyn, was an early Thames-ite and her passion for the town was without question. While being recognised on a national and global level, let us now also take a moment to recognise locally, a very special Thames lady.

Special thanks to: John Webster and Takapuna Library for their assistance.

References:

  1. Auckland Digital Library
  2. NZSG Electoral Roll CD’s - available at The Treasury and from NZ Society of Genealogists.
  3. Thames Directories - available at The Treasury
  4. Evening Post 10 May 1924
  5. Thames Star 20 June 1902
  6. Thames Star 22 April 1895
  7. WorldCat Identities Sinclair Bibliography.
  8. Thames Star 2 October 1899
  9. New Zealand Illustrated Magazine 1 December 1902
  10. Thames Star 25 November 1901
  11. Thames Star 30 May 1902
  12. John Webster, Takapuna. Reference Notes and article 'Rescuing Roslyn' (2006), Copy available at The Treasury and The Takapuna Library.
  13. New Zealand History online
  14. Thames Star 1 August 1917
  15. Otago Witness Newspaper 10 June 1897


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