WRIGHT, David McKee
Rabbiter, pastor, journalist, and poet.
A new biography of Wright, David McKee appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
David McKee Wright was born in an Irish manse. His father, the Rev. William Wright, had the Congregational parish of Ballynaskeagh in County Down, Ireland, but he was probably more interested in belles lettres than in the Shorter Catechism. His mother was Ann, née McKee. David Wright was born in 1870 at Ballynaskeagh, County Down, and was educated chiefly at home and privately in London. For better or worse, he found himself, as soon as he was able to think or to form impressions, a member of a small, exclusive, closely related circle. It did not help him to make any real decision about a career, and at 20 he emigrated to New Zealand.
Arriving in Otago in 1887, he spent 12 years as rouseabout and rabbiter on Central Otago stations. But he had other interests. He was an omnivorous reader, a keen observer of people and things, with evident ambitions of becoming a poet. At this time he wrote a fair amount of verse, chiefly dealing with the Otago landscape, station life, and the people he met. Most of it was published in the Otago Witness, but in 1896, when he had embarked on divinity studies at Otago University, his first volumes of verse, Aorangi, and Station Ballads, were published. The reception these were accorded, and two special University awards for poetry, greatly encouraged him in this interest, and when he was ordained as a Congregational pastor in 1898, like his father, he found poetry as absorbing as the pulpit. After 10 years of ministry at Oamaru, Wellington, and Nelson, during which time he mixed journalism with sermons, he began to develop a prose style to match with his versifying. It surprised nobody, therefore, when in 1909 he decided to move to Sydney in search of a better market for his pen. He attracted much attention both with prose and with verse in the Bulletin, and won substantial and remunerative recognition as a leader writer and critic for the Sydney Sun. He died at Glenbrook, N.S.W., on 5 February 1928, “a bland, successful gentleman”.
On 3 August 1899, at Dunedin, Wright married Elizabeth Couper, daughter of Robert Couper, a pattern maker from Glasgow.
Wright's prose, with its strong flavour of Dickens, was generally superior to his verse, but he displayed an uncommon facility in both. Sensitivity to impressions, especially to those of the Central Otago landscape, was perhaps his greatest gift as a writer and as a critic. It would be unkind to dissect his poetry too carefully. Its lilting jingle, for the most part correct in structure, suggested the disinterested passion of the journalist rather than the free ideas, images, and daydreams of the possessed poet.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- Down the Years in the Maniatoto, Cowan, Janet C. (1948).