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Story: Scott, Thomas Henry and Scott, Margaret Allan

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Scott, Thomas Henry

1918–1960

Pacifist, psychology researcher and lecturer, essayist, mountaineer

Scott, Margaret Allan

1928–2014

Literary editor, librarian

This biography, written by Tim Shoebridge, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2021.

Harry Scott was a psychology educator and researcher whose work on the effects of isolation evolved from his own experiences as an imprisoned conscientious objector during the Second World War. He was a significant voice in debates about national identity in the 1940s and 1950s, and an intellectual of considerable promise who died in a mountaineering accident at the age of 41. After Harry’s early death his widow, Margaret Scott, built a career first as a librarian and later as a literary editor and transcriber. She dedicated much of her life to transcribing and publishing Katherine Mansfield’s manuscripts and later the journals of her friend Charles Brasch.

Harry’s early life

Thomas Henry (Harry) Scott was born at Featherston on 10 November 1918, the eldest of three children born to Marion Louisa (Louise) Burrows and her husband Thomas Scott. Thomas was a civilian worker at Featherston Camp, and at the end of the war he and Louise took up dairy farming at Glen Oroua, in the Manawatū district, where Thomas’s family lived.

Harry attended first Glen Oroua School then Palmerston North Boys’ High School, where he excelled both academically and on the sports field. He wrote in later life of growing up in an environment which lionised masculine pursuits such as hunting and viewed sensitivity or self-reflection as ‘soft’ or ‘chicken-hearted’.1 A maternal uncle had been killed at Gallipoli, inspiring in Harry ‘a child-hatred of Turks and the adamant certainty that they should all be punished.’2 His mother, by contrast, opposed war, and Harry’s ‘fanatical’ hostility to New Zealand’s First World War antagonists was soon tempered by the realisation that combatants on all sides shared a common desire to live. He came to abhor the killing of livestock and wild animals, though he feared the scorn of his schoolmates.3

Harry found support for his growing dread of warfare in the Methodist youth movement, which was then suffused with anti-war sentiment. Though he was raised a Brethren he attended the Methodist Sunday School and later the bible class and church, and the Methodist concern with improving society, and modelling personal behaviour on Christ’s example, appealed to him. A minister reassured him that his concerns about violence were valid and invited him to question whether military service was compatible with principled Christian living.

In 1936 Harry moved to Wellington to train as a teacher, supplemented by science papers at Victoria University College. He read widely and developed a strong interest in the social sciences, shifting the focus of his degree towards the humanities. He abandoned Christianity and came to view his revulsion with warfare in philosophical rather than religious terms. From the Munich Crisis of 1938 onwards he identified as a pacifist, believing that human society could not continue to be grounded in competition and conflict. He resolved to ‘achieve personal righteousness’ rather than seek popularity, a creed with pacifism at its core.4

The Second World War and internment

On completion of his teaching degree, Harry taught at Miramar, Khandallah and the Correspondence School between 1939 and 1941. He was called up for overseas military service in 1941 and appealed unsuccessfully for exemption on philosophical grounds; he was offered non-combatant service but refused. He was tried in April 1942 for failing to report for training and sentenced to confinement as a conscientious objector.

In mid-1942 Harry was transferred from civilian prison to a defaulters’ work camp at Whenuaroa, a remote and inhospitable spot on the Central Plateau, and to Whitanui, in Manawatū, in late 1943. He used his spare time to read widely in contemporary and classic literature and in a wide range of academic disciplines across the humanities and sciences. He wrote short stories and poetry, many drawing on his childhood, his preoccupation with death, and his feeling of disconnection from others.

Move into academic life

Released on appeal in January 1946, Harry began the difficult process of readjusting to society. Prejudice against conscientious objectors precluded a return to teaching, so he resumed his studies at Victoria instead, working towards a BA. His previous agricultural studies, and strong interest in rural life, led to his appointment in 1947 as lecturer in the Department of Rural Sociology and Economics at Lincoln Agricultural College, near Christchurch. His lectures drew upon his reading in the social sciences, examining the life of rural communities both across time and through the unique characteristics of different localities.

In addition to working with students and writing articles, Harry worked towards an MA in philosophy and psychology at Canterbury University College. In early 1948 his professor, Ivan Sutherland, persuaded him to resign from Lincoln to focus on his thesis, which studied the effects of isolation upon those incarcerated in wartime conscientious objector camps. In early 1949 he was appointed an assistant lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology.

Harry impressed those he met with the scope of his learning and his complex views on New Zealand society, and was soon active in the emerging post-war literary scene. In 1947 pacifist friends introduced him to poet, critic and editor Charles Brasch, with whom he formed a close friendship and shared a flat during Brasch’s regular visits to Christchurch. Brasch was then in the process of launching Landfall, the most important literary magazine of its era, and counted Harry among those who helped make it a success. He later described Harry as ‘one of the outstandingly able men of his generation’.5

Harry contributed several of Landfall’s early essays, meditations on New Zealand society which drew upon both his own experiences and his academic studies, and which established him as a serious social commentator. The two-part ‘From emigrant to native’ (1947–8) examined New Zealand society through the prism of life in Glen Oroua (which he called Te Whenua). He saw the community and, by extension, New Zealand, as living in thrall to the material aspirations and outdated cultural assumptions of its original Pākehā colonists, and argued that modern New Zealanders should embrace ‘a new way of life which is our own’ by engaging with the lived reality of their unique landscape, climate and social setting.'6

In ‘South Island journal’ (1950) he attempted to infuse the inscrutable vastness of the South Island landscape with human meaning through analysing Māori cave art in remote locations. He viewed pre-contact Māori as more attuned to the landscape than the Pākehā who now farmed it for profit; ‘they knew it and possessed it in the elemental human way tribesmen may have possessed continents – fiercely, spiritedly, fearfully, yet deeply and nobly, feeling the wind and the sky consciously, with no constriction of the spirit.’7 The essays reflected cultural anxieties shared by other Pākehā literary and artistic figures of the time such as Monte Holcroft, Bill Pearson and Eric Lee-Johnson.

In 1947 friends introduced Harry to second-year university student Margaret Bennett. The two shared intellectual interests and began courting in 1949, though Margaret initially struggled to break through Harry’s remote and cerebral exterior to form a more intimate bond.

Margaret’s early life

Margaret Allan Bennett was born at Te Aroha on 27 January 1928, the eldest of five children born to Pearl Allan Brash and her husband, general practitioner Francis Oswald (Os) Bennett. Os ran a private practice in Te Aroha before moving the family to the West Coast mining town of Blackball shortly after Margaret’s birth, and then to Greymouth in about 1932. They settled permanently in Christchurch in 1933, where Os continued in private practice and joined the honorary staff at Christchurch Hospital in 1940 on a part-time basis. They were soon a well-known and respectable middle-class Christchurch family.

Margaret attended St Margaret’s College and later Christchurch Girls’ High School, when her father was serving overseas in the Second World War; she recalled herself as ‘a difficult teenager, and up against my mother’s disapproval most of the time.’8 She commenced a BA at Canterbury University College in 1946, majoring in English and psychology. Her studies under English professor Winston Rhodes deepened her love of good literature, and she was drawn to writers and writing for the rest of her life. In March 1949, after a year in Wellington, she commenced work as an assistant vocational guidance counsellor for the Department of Education in Christchurch.

Margaret and Harry married at her parents’ Christchurch home on 11 February 1950; they agreed they would raise their children to share their intellectual curiosity and to celebrate the life of the mind.

Montreal and Auckland

Harry commenced doctoral research on the effects of isolation on the human mind, and in 1952 he and Margaret travelled to Montreal, Canada, where he continued his research at McGill University. Margaret resigned from her vocational guidance job, and from early 1953 worked as a social worker with the Children’s Service Centre in Montreal. Harry’s thesis, submitted in August 1954, concluded that without sensory stimulation, ‘efficient behaviour cannot be maintained’ and ‘a profound disturbance of behaviour occurs, both cognitive and motivational.’9

The couple returned to Christchurch in 1955, where their first child, Rachel, was born in November. Harry’s career trajectory was in the ascendant; he was promoted to senior lecturer at Canterbury in late 1955 and then appointed head of a new psychology department at Auckland University College in 1957. He set to work recruiting lecturers and building a strong psychology department at the country’s largest university, arguing that the study of psychology would be strengthened by rigorous engagement with other disciplines. He assisted the work of outside organisations in applying psychology to workplace accident prevention and treating mentally-ill children, and played the part of the public intellectual in protesting against the lowly status of universities in New Zealand life. He and Margaret enjoyed the company of a wide range of artistic and intellectual friends, including Eric McCormick, Keith Sinclair and Colin McCahon.

Mountaineering and Harry’s death

Harry had been an enthusiastic mountaineer since his university days, a natural expression of his fascination with the New Zealand landscape; he and Margaret even spent their honeymoon climbing. He joined the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1949 and played a supporting role in the production of the New Zealand Alpine Journal. Among his more notable expeditions was the first ascent of the ‘Black Tower’, an unclimbed peak in the Southern Alps, in January 1956.

On 1 February 1960, Harry and Jim Glasgow, the climber he was tethered to, lost their footing near the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook and fell an estimated 1200 metres down the east face of the mountain. The climbers accompanying them reported the fall, and despite a thorough search the bodies were not located. A coroner’s inquest subsequently declared Harry dead, aged just 41.

Widowhood

Margaret Scott found herself a widow at 32, with three preschool children to raise; Jonathan had been born in 1958 and Katherine followed a few months after Harry’s death. ‘My life stopped’, Margaret later recalled. ‘Everything I had done and thought and enjoyed and struggled for and aspired to had been centred on him. He was the achiever; mine was a support role … I was ill-equipped to manage by myself’.10 She sold the family home in Titirangi and returned to Christchurch, where she and her children were sustained by her widow’s benefit and the support of her parents. She later described the 1960s as her ‘bad decade’, spent struggling with depression and alcohol.11

Margaret never remarried or had another long-term partner. Her most enduring and intimate relationship was with Brasch, who provided ‘immeasurable’ support, both moral and financial, in the wake of Harry’s death.12 Brasch was usually attracted to men, but he and Margaret had an intermittent sexual relationship and briefly considered marrying in the early 1960s. They remained close until Brasch’s death in 1973, when Margaret helped nurse him through his final illness.

Margaret remained connected to the literary world, serving a brief stint on the editorial board of the New Zealand Monthly Review and contributing reviews to Landfall. She socialised with many of the leading writers of the time, forming a particularly close bond with poet Lauris Edmond from the early 1970s. She found solace in literature and, like Harry, experimented with creative writing. In search of distraction and intellectual stimulation, she agreed in 1964 to write a critical study of the writer Robin Hyde for the Twayne’s World Authors Series on the recommendation of English professor James Bertram. She pursued the project for several years but eventually abandoned it after turning her attention to Katherine Mansfield.

Balancing the demands of solo parenthood with paying the bills remained a constant tension in Margaret’s life. In 1966, after her youngest child had started school, she moved her family to Wellington so she could take a one-year training course to become a librarian. At the end of that year she was appointed the first full-time manuscripts librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, a position she loved and which helped her overcome her depression and to see new opportunities ahead.

Katherine Mansfield scholarship

In mid-1967, Oxford University Press asked Margaret if she was interested in editing a prestigious three-volume edition of Katherine Mansfield’s collected letters; McCormick had recommended her for the role. Margaret readily agreed. She had been a devoted fan of Mansfield’s work since her schooldays, and had drawn such comfort from it in the wake of Harry’s death that she had named their final child Katherine in the writer’s honour.

The Turnbull Library had already established itself as a key repository of Mansfield material, and Margaret, as its manuscripts librarian, had ready access to this archive. She also sought out material in public and private collections overseas, and the Turnbull Library acquired a number of significant Mansfield manuscripts as a result of her inquiries. Chief Librarian Graham Bagnall supported and encouraged her work, and Margaret published a number of her transcriptions in the Turnbull Library Record.

Some of Mansfield’s contemporaries and correspondents, including two of her sisters and her confidante Ida Baker, were still living in the late 1960s, and had to be approached delicately for access to manuscripts still in their possession or held under embargo in public collections. It was a time-consuming and laborious process, sometimes lasting years, and obtaining photocopies was expensive.

Margaret had no experience of editing scholarly reference works, and educated herself by studying the work of others and discussing style questions with her publisher. She managed to decode much of Mansfield’s infamously difficult handwriting through close and repeated readings, realising that previously-published transcriptions – including those by Mansfield’s husband John Middleton Murry – had high levels of inaccuracy which sometimes altered Mansfield’s intended meanings. Margaret believed that being both a woman and a New Zealander gave her an advantage over Murry and other previous researchers.

In 1970 Margaret was awarded the inaugural Winn-Manson Menton Fellowship, which allowed her to spend the following year working in Menton, in the south of France, where Mansfield had lived in later life. More importantly, it enabled her to visit England and meet key figures such as Baker, Murry’s widow Mary, and Mansfield’s sister Jeanne Renshaw. A subsequent research trip to Canada and the United States, funded by a Turnbull Library grant, allowed her to access key archival holdings and meet Mansfield’s other surviving sister.

Margaret resigned from the Turnbull Library in 1973 to work fulltime on the Mansfield letters, funded in part by an annuity from Brasch’s estate. She had largely completed the transcriptions by 1975 but felt increasingly overwhelmed by the task of bringing the project to completion. She was relieved when, in 1977, creative writer and academic Vincent O’Sullivan agreed to help her at the invitation of Oxford University Press. In 1979 he was officially appointed her co-editor, taking charge of researching and annotating the letters while Margaret focused on perfecting the transcriptions.

Progress accelerated, and the number of projected volumes in the series increased to four in 1980 and five in 1984. By the time the first was published that year, however, the editors’ relationship had broken down over a variety of professional disagreements. They were named as co-editors in volume one, while volume two (1987) named O’Sullivan as sole editor and Margaret only as transcriber. At Margaret’s insistence her credit as co-editor was restored for the remaining three volumes (1993–2008). The Letters were well-reviewed despite their editors’ troubled relationship.

As Margaret’s role in the letters project gradually diminished, she turned her attention to transcribing Mansfield’s notebooks, among the least legible of all Mansfield manuscripts. The 1989 National Library Research Fellowship gave her a desk at the Turnbull Library where she could transcribe the notebooks in their collection, and where she used a personal computer for the first time. A subsequent New Zealand Arts Council grant enabled her to consult the notebooks held by the Newberry Library in Chicago. The two-volume Katherine Mansfield notebooks was published by Daphne Brasell Associates and Lincoln University Press in 1997.

Retirement and Charles Brasch journals

In 1997 Jonathan Scott published Harry’s absence: looking for my father on the mountain, a reflective biography-memoir which alternated chapters about his father’s life and about his own youth some 30 years later. In 2001 Margaret too published a memoir, Recollecting Mansfield, which chronicled her 30 years of locating, transcribing and editing Mansfield’s manuscripts and the logistical and financial complexities it entailed. The book was generally well-received, though her revelations about her relationship with Brasch, and the public airing of her disagreements with O’Sullivan, irked some reviewers.

Margaret sold her Wellington apartment in 1999 and retired to Diamond Harbour in Canterbury. She turned her energies towards Brasch’s manuscripts in the Hocken Library, which became publicly accessible in 2003. Dissatisfied with the cuts made to his posthumously published memoir Indirections (1978), she unsuccessfully searched for a publisher for the full manuscript. She edited an excerpt for publication as Charles Brasch in Egypt (2007).

Margaret turned next to Brasch’s journals, which she spent two years transcribing. She intended to edit them for publication, but illness prevented her from completing the project. Otago University Press published them in three volumes between 2013 and 2018, the first annotated by Andrew Parsloe and the remaining two edited and annotated by Peter Simpson.

Margaret was afflicted by dementia in her final years, moving to rest homes first in Christchurch in 2008 and then Dunedin, near her daughters, in 2013. She died there on 4 December 2014, aged 86. C.K. Stead lauded Margaret as ‘a major figure’ in the world of Mansfield scholarship, ‘someone whose intelligence I admired, and whom I thought of always as one who could be “temperamental”, but generous, sensitive, herself a stylist of refinement, an entirely appropriate person to be dealing with K.M.’13 Speaking at her funeral, Jonathan Scott described his mother as ‘a woman of great courage’, ‘indomitable, perceptive, witty and warm. She was also stroppy, moderately improper and not always terribly well behaved.’14 Her years of diligent research and transcription work helped lay foundations for future research into the writers she loved.

Footnotes:
  1. T.H. Scott. Untitled typescript working notes for ‘The citizen and the war’, page unnumbered. MS-Papers-6309-14, Alexander Turnbull Library. Back
  2. T.H. Scott. ‘The citizen and the war’, page unnumbered. MS-Papers-6309-28, Alexander Turnbull Library. Back
  3. Scott. Untitled typescript working notes for ‘The citizen and the war’, page unnumbered. Back
  4. J. Scott. Harry’s absence: looking for my father on the mountain. Wellington, 1997, p.47. Back
  5. C. Brasch to director of the Library School, 27 July 1963. MS-Papers-9733-060, Alexander Turnbull Library. Back
  6. T.H. Scott. ‘From emigrant to native’. Landfall, v.2 n.2, June 1948, p.132. Back
  7. T.H. Scott. ‘South Island journal’. Landfall 16, v.4 n.4, December 1950, p.294. Back
  8. M. Scott. Recollecting Mansfield. Auckland, 2001, p.160. Back
  9. Scott, Harry’s absence, p.174. Back
  10. Scott, Recollecting Mansfield, p.8. Back
  11. Ibid., p.32. Back
  12. Ibid., p.11. Back
  13. C.K. Stead. Shelf life: reviews, replies and reminiscences. Auckland, 2016, p.102. Back
  14. J. Scott, eulogy for Margaret Scott, 2014. Private collection. Back
How to cite this page:

Tim Shoebridge. 'Scott, Thomas Henry and Scott, Margaret Allan', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2021. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/6s7/scott-thomas-henry (accessed 6 December 2021)