Saturday, January 3, 2009

John Mason -- an early colonial stormy petrel

A "stormy petrel" is said to be one fond of strife, derived from the name of the seabird thought to be the harbinger of storms. James Mason, who sparked my curiosity after the Whau meeting report of 1875, appears to have been just such an aficionado of strife, of the political kind. Or simply, a man who liked to say his piece -- often in the most trollish ways possible. He was a forceful supporter of Sir Julius Vogel, and author of strange letters to the newspapers, and even odder telegrams to his hero.

(Southern Cross, 3 June 1874)
At a public meeting of the education tax at the Mechanic’s Institute …

Mr. John Mason said he simply asked the meeting as a favour to hear what he had to say, but the meeting declined to hear him …

[A little later …]

Mr. John Mason again essayed to speak, but the meeting would not listen to him, and he went through the operation known as " cocking a double lunar" at the audience.

[Still later …]

At this stage of the proceedings Mr. John Mason was forcibly ejected from the meeting by Sergeant O'Connor.
(Evening Post, 19 August 1874)
[At another Mechanic Institute meeting, where a Mr. Rees criticised Vogel’s policies …]

A man named John Mason created a disturbance which was soon suppressed.
(Otago Witness, 22 August 1874)
Many of your readers will remember John Mason, of the Dunedin Journal of Commerce, when that paper was first started. They will also remember the telegram from him read last session by the Premier, in favour of the substitution of the ad valorem duties. The Star says that Mr Mason yesterday telegraphed to the Premier again, and gives the telegram as follows : — " To Hon. J. Vogel — Pin flag to mast. Unity of Provinces North Island. General Government absorb all land revenues. Auckland with you. Stand or fall, otherwise dissolve. Support Von der Heyde." Upon my word, if I wrote columns I don't think I could give you a better indication of public opinion than this queer telegram conveys.
(Southern Cross, 24 August 1874)
To the Editor : Sir, — It appears to me that the tomfoolery of last night was cruelly initiated to introduce to public notice Williams's celebrated fire kindlers, During the magniloquent ceremonial there were two or three other fire kindlers on the spot, containing more gas than gum kauri. The ridicule some men bring upon themselves by attempting to be too smart — too eloquent, while breathing the breath of fury, or, rather, pouring out a phial of wrath, which might likewise be sermonised upon, is concealed, most especially with men of common sense. There can be no doubt that the working classes — and I am one of them — possess the last element and I am convinced that they are not such arrant ignoramuses as to be led by the nose or pulled by the nose by caterers for the public in any respective calling. The Premier of Now Zealand knows how to pull the strings, and the dunces of Auckland should be careful what they are about: fortunately they are very few. — I am, &c , John Mason.
(Evening Post, 19 August 1875)
The city is in a roar of merriment tonight at the publication of the following telegram despatched to-day by a well known eccentric individual whose message on ad valorem duties was read in the House by Sir J. Vogel, and became a standing joke: —"The Hon. Dr. Pollen, Wellington. All the meetings in Auckland were packed by people in favor of immediate abolition. Be firm and no surrender. Reserve forces for final charge. Up guards and at them. John Mason."
(Southern Cross, 9 September 1876)
To the Editor : Sir, — Contempt for one or other of Auckland members, representatives in the (General Assembly, is shared by me with gentlemen with whom I have the honour to be associated. I have lived long enough in the world to be able to probe individual feelings. To my mind, and it is comprehensive, I have never m my experience witnessed such blackguard treatment in the General Assembly. I recollect when Messrs. Francis and McCulloch raised £18,000,000 sterling to carry out Victoria's essentialities, which culminated its progress. These two gentlemen have everlastingly deserved praise, and now occupy a magnified position. The dignity of New Zealand is debased by such men as Messrs. Rees and Stout, and whatever my occupation may be, I am prepared with either to throw down the gauntlet — literary or otherwise. It is, in my opinion, simply a disgrace that we are so misrepresented. Education is debased is, in point of fact, degenerated into a morbid mind, which a few in Auckland never can accept. There are wise men left who can accept a difficulty, and conquer it too. I am one of them. — I am, &c, John Mason.
Nothing further, so far, is known about him.

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