Page 1: Biography
Pope, Charles Quentin Fernie
Writer, journalist, poetry anthologist, war correspondent
This biography, written by Brian O'Brien, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998, and updated in May, 2020.
Charles Quentin Fernie Pope, known as Quentin, was born in Whanganui on 21 October 1900, the youngest of seven children of Charles Quentin Fernie Pope, a master mariner, and his wife, Lillian Taudevin. Quentin was educated in Whanganui, but when he was 12 his father died and he left school to support his mother. By 1917 he was working in a shipping office in Wellington.
For the next decade Quentin Pope was actively involved in the life of Victoria University College, although it is not certain whether he ever enrolled there. He took an active part in the debating society and the Free Discussion Club and in 1919 won the Union Prize for best debater of the year. An observer noted that he was 'always well supplied with matter – often too well supplied'. He acted in and co-wrote the 1921 Capping Carnival Extravaganza, played tennis and wrote articles on sport.
Pope had published poems in Australian and New Zealand magazines since 1917 and was a frequent contributor of poems and articles to the college magazine the Spike. The best of his poems, such as 'The song of the open road' and 'The song of speed', showed some skill in versification, although when Pope tried to be profound he was merely sententious. As a political commentator, however, he showed an independent turn of mind: a 1923 article, for instance, attacked the government's unquestioning support of Britain in the Chanak crisis.
At some time in the 1920s Pope became a journalist on the New Zealand Times, later moving to the Dominion and the Evening Post. He continued his interest in literature, publishing poems and writing reviews for weekly literary supplements. Pope had an air of natural reserve but was likeable when this was broken down. In 1929 he was described as 'a rare young literary bird in that he can write just as effectively for the daily press as for high brow publications'. He was said to be working on 'a massive book on the theatre' and a jointly authored study of modern architecture. He wrote a novel, which was not published.
By 1929 Pope was assembling the material for the poetry anthology Kowhai gold. He may have decided to compile this as a response to W. F. Alexander and A. E. Currie's A treasury of New Zealand verse (1926). This collection had been criticised for omitting such names as Dick Harris, Bartlett Adamson, Charles Marris, Dulcie Deamer and others; all were to appear in Kowhai gold. The process of compilation was not without controversy: D'Arcy Cresswell was omitted after a public dispute with Pope about the proposed choice of poems.
The anthology, published in 1930, showed a lack of discrimination in its selection (Pope had previously written that Seaforth Mackenzie was 'easily the greatest' of New Zealand's poets). It included some poets still read today – R. A. K. Mason, Eileen Duggan, Katherine Mansfield, A. R. D. Fairburn, Robin Hyde – and some competent versifiers. But there was too little genuine poetry being written to justify such an anthology, and much of the verse is written in an enervated 'poetic' language. Kowhai gold attracted some praise at the time, although it was noted that 'There is no national stamp upon the work, and most of it could easily have been written in England or anywhere else but New Zealand.' It was to be regarded with scorn by later generations of New Zealand poets and critics.
Pope contributed articles on New Zealand writing to the Bulletin into the 1930s; otherwise he was now done with literature. He had married Isabel May McLennan at Wellington on 29 October 1930; they were to have two sons and a daughter. He continued working as a journalist, becoming the New Zealand representative of the Chicago Daily Tribune and the New York Times around 1931. After American military forces arrived in New Zealand in 1942, Pope fought a long and unsuccessful battle in New Zealand to gain accreditation from their authorities as a correspondent. As the war progressed he objected constantly to censorship of his dispatches. Pope's outspoken criticism of some aspects of the allied war effort angered officials of the New Zealand Legation in Washington and the Department of External Affairs. They referred to his 'mischievous material' and his lack of fairness, objectivity and accuracy. One official wrote that Pope 'caused us more trouble than all the other Press correspondents put together'. Many of his dispatches had been critical of the Labour government and of socialism, and when censorship ended after the war this became a pronounced antipathy.
Early in 1946 Pope was appointed manager of International News Services in Sydney. He continued working as a foreign correspondent for American papers, covering the civil war in China, the Korean War, the Indo-China War and the anti-colonial struggle in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), where his dispatches were disapproved of by the authorities.
Pope never entirely severed his connection with New Zealand. He had been a founding member and committee member of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, and on visits to New Zealand he lectured to them on printing. He collected examples of fine printing; after his death, Isabel Pope presented 200 of these books to the library.
In his final years Pope suffered from ill health. Nevertheless, he travelled extensively in Europe. From 1958 he was based in Hong Kong, and became a freelance correspondent for Time and Newsweek. He and Isabel divorced in March 1956, and on 2 July, in London, he married journalist Daphne Valentine Staff. He was completing a book on China when he died at Kowloon, Hong Kong, on 7 March 1961.