THE LATE GERSHOM CURTIS
(By One Who Knew Him)
Naturally enough few among the present generation would know much of the late Mr. Curtis. In common with our older colonists he belonged, as it were, to a bygone period of our history. Hence it is that the works of our pioneer settlers are too often unappreciated. Though they have each borne a part some of them a conspicuous part in the great work of colonisation, it is not pleasant to remember that the only event which nowadays awakens even an ephemeral interest in their labors is the announcement that one or the other of them have "crossed the bar."
No matter how keenly we may regret the loss of our friends and acquaintances, we cannot deny that, after all, death seems like a merciful dispensation, at least in the case of the aged.
The great majority of their contemporaries have passed away, and they, even in the midst of their fellows, lead a desolate existence, because none of those around them remember their achievements or appreciate the vicissitudes they have undergone.
It is not possible to depict, though some of us may imagine, the utter loneliness of old age. The hopes of early life vanished and perhaps bitterly disappointed, the old man can have little to interest him in this busy, thoughtless world of ours, and we may be certain that not infrequently he looks upon the approach of death not only without apprehension, but without regret or fear.
Since the writer was a mere child he enjoyed the pleasure, and he will add, the advantage of a close acquaintance with the late Mr. Curtis. A more perfect type of the true gentleman he never met. Judged perhaps by the standard of those who look upon "success in life" as the best proof of human worth, Mr. Curtis fell below the average of his fellows.
But those who knew him best know that he possessed qualities which would adorn men who have achieved much greater things.
His acquaintances can say with truth that a coarse or ungentlemanly remark was never heard from the lips of the old man whose mortal remains were laid to rest at the Orowaiti Cemetery on Sunday last. On the contrary, his conversation was always edifying and his manner at all times graced by that politeness, when not affected, as in his case, constitutes one of the most exquisite ornaments of human character.
A native of Prince Edward Island, Mr. Curtis was born 83 years ago. In 1854 he came to New Zealand with his wife and family, and made the journey to this colony in his own yacht, the Lady Grey.
To follow the "ups and downs" of his career in New Zealand is not my purpose which is rather to write a brief appreciation of an old friend than to attempt a biography.
Suffice it to say that Mr. Curtis had more than his share of misfortune. Perhaps captious critics will say that he had faults. Well, who has not? But if the old man had a proportion of those failings which alas are our common inheritance he also possessed qualities which too few possess.
In addition to high educational attainments the late Mr. Curtis was endowed with fine intellectual powers, and in earlier years he evinced a warm interest in social and political questions.
Well do I recall how he fired up with animation in describing how the Liberals of his native land prevented some greedy person from obtaining a Crown grant over the seashore of Prince Edward Island and how they compelled the Government to make permanent reservations for the poor fishermen.
As a boy I have learned from him the masterpiece of English poetry, Grey's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." I have heard from him the story of the siege of Troy, as related by Homer in the "Iliad", but never once have I ever heard him utter anything rude or unbecoming. To how many could such a tribute be paid? What better recollection could one hope to leave behind him.
I could fill pages about my old friend, but there is no need to tell the story further. Let me add in conclusion that I am pleased to learn that in his last moments there were not wanting kind friends to minister to him.
To speak the last the parting word
Which, when all other sounds decay,
Is still like distant music heard,
That tender farewell on the shore
Of this rude world when all is o'er,
Which cheers the spirit ere its bark
Puts off unto the unknown dark.
Wellington, June 25
The obituary was published in the Westport Times and Evening Star newspaper on 1st July 1901. The writer is thought to be a High Court Judge in NZ at that time or a reporter on the Nelson Paper later to become Chief Justice O'Leary.