Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 3 - breaking into academic life

James Pilkington Belshaw at 18, Mayfield, South Island. He was now following brother Horace and sister May into teaching

In my first column in this series I said that the Pacific Belshaw were an academic family.

In 1983 my father took a certain pride that on his calculations the three children of James and Mary and their direct descendents had somehow managed to accumulate 27 university degrees, including seven doctorates. There were four university professors, a senior lecturer and two senior public servants among them.

As with many working class families in Australia and New Zealand, the teaching profession provided the initial vehicle for advancement.

Horace Belshaw. Described by John Maynard Keynes as the brightest student ever to come to Cambridge from the Dominions, Horace blazed the trail into teaching and then academic life. 
Horace was the first. He matriculated from Christchurch Boys' High School at 15 and went pupil-teaching at his old primary school until he was old enough, at 17, to go to training college. May followed Horace to the training college and then, with a lag, came the younger Jim. I will call him Jim from now on since that is how he was to be known in Armidale.

Horace was ambitious. Following war service, he enrolled for a BA at Canterbury College, studying extramurally. He had intended to focus on geology, but switched to economics under the influence of James Shelley and J. B. Condliffe.

Horace graduated in 1920 In that year he also married Marion Lilian McHardie, a nurse he met when she nursed him while he was recuperating in hospital. The couple would have two boys, Cyril in 1922 and then Michael in 1928.  

In 1921, Horace was awarded an MA with first-class honours for a thesis on the dairy industry. He was then offered and accepted a Workers Education Association/Cantebury College position to give tutorial class lecturer in economics, first on the West Coast of the South Island and then in Timaru,

The move upset his father who saw Horace giving away a secure teaching position for an insecure contract position. However, in 1924 Horace was awarded a scholarship to study at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. There he came under the influence of J. M. Keynes who brought him into the vigorous discussions of the Political Economy Club.

In 1926, Horace completed his doctorate on agricultural fluctuations and published an important article based upon his research. He was appointed to a temporary lectureship at Cambridge in 1926–27 and then, at the age of 29, to the foundation chair of economics at Auckland University College.

Meantime, the much younger Jim was following a very similar path to his older brother. He had wanted to be a journalist, a move vetoed by a father already worried by his elder brother. Instead, he went to training college and then completed his BA extramurally while teaching.

Now he too enrolled in an MA. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 January 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017, here 2018 

No comments: