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Ditlev Gothard Monrad
November 24th 1811 - March 28th 1887

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".......if the Lord grants young Ditlev Monrad health then all of you who live long enough will see him,
by his ability, industry and ambition become a prominent man in our country."

Two hundred years ago, the opening of the 19th Century saw the small country of Denmark enjoying a period of great prosperity. Much of Europe was otherwise occupied with the war against France and their maritime resources were accordingly focussed. In this environment, Denmark had amassed a huge trading fleet, even to rival that of Great Britain - jealously supreme amongst the trading nations. Neutrality, however, did nothing to ensure peace for Denmark and Danish traders were forced to travel in convoy protected by naval men-of-war. So threatened did Britain feel that, on April 2nd 1801 and with much of the Danish fleet still laid up for winter, the Royal Navy appeared in large numbers at Copenhagen to commence the systematic destruction of Denmark's fleet of war ships.

This and further calamities almost brought this once prosperous state to its knees and it was into these uncertain surroundings that Ditlev Gothard Monrad was born in Copenhagen on November 24th 1811. His was not to be a happy childhood. Soon after his birth, his fathers health deteriorated to the stage that he was quite unable to provide for his family and they were compelled to break up. Ditlev, at the age of eight, was sent to live with an Aunt at Praesto in Zeland. Although there is no doubt that he was much loved and cared for by his relations, a deep belief in God and a passion for intellectual studies helped him fill those lonely early years.

In 1830 Ditlev entered theological school at the University of Copenhagen where he quickly distinguished himself in mathematics and the classics. It was here, also, that he developed an interest in the Liberal Movement and so, in politics. The ideas giving rise to the Liberal Movement had been born during the American War of Independence and the French Revolution and it's philosophies found natural foment with Ditlev and his friends at school. It was this environment that would enhance his natural compassion for his fellows and reinforce the formation of his future political interests.

In 1836 Ditlev met his future wife Emilie Lytthans, and they were married in May of 1840. This perfect union reinforced the common belief that "Behind every successful man....". Indeed in later writings and speeches, Ditlev was to continually draw illustrations from this background of home, marriage and love. Perhaps here, he was able to find the home life that circumstances in his early youth denied him. Politician, religious leader and scholar, Ditlev Monrad was dogged in his pursuit of that which he believed and that which he held dear. His God, his country, his family and his thirst for knowledge made this complex man eminent, respected and loved by his fellow Danes.

On June 5th 1849, the absolute monarchy that had ruled Denmark for over 1000 years came to an end and a new constitutional Government was formed. In the Autumn of that year, Ditlev was asked to be a candidate for the first National Parliament of Denmark. Back in the maelstrom of politics which he was to find no different from that he had experienced before, Ditlev set out with determination to improve the lot of the Danish people and of Denmark.

Immediately to the south of Denmark, however, the awakening of German nationalism was giving rise to a desire for German unification and power. The duchies of Holstein, with its predominantly German population, and Slesvig with its German/Danish mix were both under Danish control and subject to the Danish King. Feudally though, Holstein was German and with covetous eyes cast further north towards Danish Slesvig it was the desire of Germany to annex both territories. Germany claimed recognition of both states as one entity, Schleswig-Holstein, lending weight to their demands for its unification with the new German confederation. This situation gave rise to years of political wrangling and intrigue during which time Ditlev was to serve as his country's Prime Minister. Eventually, no matter what steps he took to prevent it, war broke out leading ultimately to the defeat of Danish forces. The end came, however, not on the battlefield but across the conference table. Hidden agenda's and petty squabbling, nationalistic desires and political jealousies dealt the final blow and the London Conference, so long delayed by Bismark in order that he achieve his military objectives, sanctioned the German annexation of Holstein and Slesvig.

Ditlev was made a scapegoat for his country's woes and it was partly through this and partly through political machinations that he became disillusioned with his country's future. He could see nothing left for his family in the Denmark of his day and, although it would break his heart to leave, he must consider the well-being of his family. 13,000 miles away on the other side of the world, New Zealand was a young, fresh country which surely would offer Ditlev and his family a recuperative start.

Boarding the ship Victory at London's Gravesend dock, Ditlev and his family set sail on December 16th 1865. But for a violent and memorable storm in the Bay of Biscay (this storm sank a steamer on which the Monrad family were to travel and all on board lost their lives), the journey was a pleasant one and three months later on March 24th 1866 they arrived at Lyttelton. Having investigated possible places to settle, the Monrads decided on Nelson and boarded the coastal steamer Airdale three days after their arrival at Lyttelton.

Nelson, however, was not to become home for the Monrad family and they began to explore other parts of the country for future settlement. The Manawatu district, newly opened to settlement so impressed his son Viggo that Ditlev decided to travel north and investigate it for himself.  In those days coastal steamers, in this case the familiar Airdale, steamed from port to port delivering and collecting passengers, cargo and distributing "the mails". Ditelv returned to Nelson from the Manawatu via Wellington, arriving for a nightly stop-over at the latter on May 14th 1866, where he stayed at Osgood's Empire Hotel in Willis St. At this time the Evening Post commented on his presence in Wellington. He had made up his mind that the Manawatu was the place to be and the family made plans to move north.

In the meantime Viggo had obtained a job at the Survey Office in Wanganui and the family stayed there for a time. On October 1st 1866, Ditlev travelled south to Karere in the Manawatu where his younger son Johannes and his friend Heie had moved to occupy Government land about six weeks previously. Ditlev travelled from here to Wellington and was successful in purchasing the land of his choice - sections 33, 34, 35, 36 and 39 on the shores of the Manawatu River at Karere. There followed a protracted period where Ditlev and Viggo, along with others who had arrived from Denmark, prepared the property and in particular the house for their ladies who had remained at Wanganui. On May 16th 1867, Emilie was able to ride majestically onto the property that was the be her new home for the best part of the next two years.

Good times and bad followed for the Monrad family in their new home but Ditlev always knew that he would return home to his beloved Denmark. In 1868 he wrote "We have hopes that there is a good prospect for our sons here. There is much work to do in this beautiful country...time runs very swiftly but when my thoughts turn to departure for home my longing is extreme." Plans and their departure were hurried along by uprisings amongst Taranaki Maori given vent through the fanaticism of Pai-marire or Hauhau. To ensure the safety of his family, Ditlev decided that they should leave Karere and travel to Wanganui before departing for London and Denmark.

On January 10th 1869, leaving the property at Karere in the care of his sons, Ditlev and his family sailed for London by the ship Asterope. This fleeting visit by one of Europe's foremost political figures did not cease to impact the country on his departure. Ditlev was to leave behind treasures that were as dear to his heart as any he had. His sons, Viggo and Johanne, were to ensure that the name Monrad remained a part of New Zealands future and his collection of etchings and engravings was bequeathed by him to the people of this new land (although the Government did not see fit to exhibit any of them for almost 70 years).

Not wanting to re-enter the turmoil of his country's politics, this great and gentle man returned to the life of a Lutheran Bishop and on the morning of March 28th 1887 in his study at home, Ditlev Gothard Monrad passed away peacefully. He had entered the highest realms of politics in his native Denmark with over 1000 years of its history behind him and he had cleared the dense native bush of New Zealand with his bare hands, creating a home in this new country of barely 30 years. He had known Chancellor Bismark and Governor George Grey and he had known the new settlers in a new and wild land as he had known the ordinary folk of Denmark. He knew and believed in the common working man and it would have been in him that he would have placed his faith and not in the elevated, shallow and distrustful world of politics between powerful nations. Ditlev Gothard Monrad  was a man of the people.

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

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