Page 1: Biography
Fildes, Horace Edward Manners
Postmaster, book collector, bibliographer
This biography, written by Kathleen A. Coleridge, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Horace Edward Manners Fildes was born on 5 October 1875 in Temuka, South Canterbury, where his father, John Gifford Fildes, was the manager of the Bank of New Zealand. Horace was the fourth child of his father's second marriage, to Jessie Sophia Taine. The family moved around, and Horace attended school in Blenheim and Greytown.
Fildes entered the Post and Telegraph Department in Wellington in February 1893. He rose through the ranks to become chief postmaster in Westport (1924–25), assistant chief postmaster in Christchurch (1925–26) and assistant chief postmaster in Wellington in April 1926. He was acting chief postmaster of Wellington when he retired in 1929. His career was interrupted by three years on war service with the pay corps of the Otago Infantry Regiment. He served nearly a year in France as sergeant, returning to the Post and Telegraph Department in late 1919.
His formal career was much less important than his passion for the collection, annotation and indexing of books and papers on the early history of New Zealand. This began about 1896, was interrupted in 1909 when (for reasons unknown) he sold some 200 volumes to the Palmerston North Public Library, but was taken up again almost immediately. By the early 1920s he was eagerly collecting additions to T. M. Hocken's bibliography of New Zealand literature, and about 1925 he began a manuscript 'Supplement to Hocken'. Like Hocken, he included brief articles and works with short references to New Zealand in a text primarily concerned with other matters; he also incorporated items he did not own but had seen reported in booksellers' catalogues. In his own collection he indexed all references, however slight, to the many early residents and visitors in whose careers he was interested. Cumulated into a set of index volumes, these references continue to provide an invaluable aid to researchers.
During his life Fildes used these indexes to assist amateur and professional historians. Not everyone showed the gratitude he expected, and considerable bitterness resulted, especially when he wrote to point out the errors of detail left by careless writers. It was this habit that led Guy Scholefield to describe him as one 'who for many years acted as voluntary corrector of the press to all who ventured on historical publication in New Zealand'. Scholefield did not appreciate being corrected; others who did, and remained good friends, included Elsdon Best, James Cowan, J. R. Elder and A. H. Reed.
In addition to his book collecting, Fildes corresponded with such survivors of early New Zealand settlement as he could find. Among these was Major General H. G. Robley, veteran of the battle of Gate Pa, whom Fildes met in London and assisted to compile his memoirs. Fildes also worked on Charles Armitage Brown, the friend of John Keats who came to New Plymouth in 1840. Fildes's book on Brown was rejected by Oxford University Press, but has been used by subsequent researchers (notably E. H. McCormick). The same pattern occurred in most of Fildes's other research: a single newspaper article might appear, but the bulk of his material remained only in manuscript to be drawn upon by others. He published two pamphlets, one on the history of Methodism in New Zealand, the other The last of the Ngati Mamoe. He was on the executive of the Wellington Provincial Historical sub-committee for the 1940 centennial celebrations.
On 9 September 1931 at Wellington, Fildes married Florence Gertrude Harris, a young woman in her 20s; they had no children. Fildes died at Wellington on 7 October 1937, survived by his wife. He left nearly 2,000 volumes to the Victoria University College Library, as well as more than 120 paintings and prints to the Dominion Museum.