Charles Brasch

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Charles Brasch
BornCharles Orwell Brasch
(1909-07-27)27 July 1909
New Zealand
Died20 May 1973(1973-05-20) (aged 63)
New Zealand
OccupationLiterary editor, arts patron

Charles Orwell Brasch (27 July 1909 – 20 May 1973) was a New Zealand poet, literary editor and arts patron. He was the founding editor of the literary journal Landfall.

Brasch was born in Dunedin, the son of lawyer Hyam Brasch (who later changed his name to Henry Brash) and Helene Fels, a member of the prominent Hallenstein family of clothing merchants. He began writing poetry at Waitaki Boys' High School and entered St John's College, Oxford, in 1927 where he gained an 'ignominious third' in Modern History (to his father's disappointment[1]). His contemporaries at Oxford included W. H. Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis.

England, Egypt and travel[edit]

After Oxford he returned to Dunedin via Italy in 1931. Finding that working in the family firm (Hallensteins) "does not suit" he returned to England in 1932, and to three archaeological seasons in Egypt at Tel el Amarna between Cairo and Luxor.[2] England again in 1936, Dunedin in 1938 then he traveled by rail with Ian Milner east across America.[3][4] He taught at the Abbey School for "problem children" at Little Missenden in the Chiltern Hills and looked after his sister Lel (Leslie) who died after three years of illness in 1939.[5]

World War II in Intelligence[edit]

Firewatching and intelligence work: In May 1940 he acknowledges that he is no longer a pacifist, and registers for military service on 6 July. In February 1941 he was rejected by an Army medical because of emphysemia and started Firewatching duties. Then on 27–28 June 1941 he did his last firewatch. Through Colin Roberts a student friend from Oxford he obtained a "Foreign Office" job at the intelligence centre at Bletchley Park (BP) on 27 June 1941; "taking the oath" at BP on 3 July.[6]

He worked in the Italian section under Frederic Catty and Frank Hammond in the redbrick Elmers School building; he learnt Romanian and his position was described as Head of Romanian and Italian. His salary increased over the war from £350 to £450 plus a £60 war bonus.[7] He described BP as Kafkaesque; with rivalry and indecisiveness they could not replace an old unsafe stove until it set the room on fire. One wit declared that BP only needed a few eunuchs to resemble the last years of the Byzantine court. He shared lodgings with Roberts at the nearby village of Soulbury.[8]

In March 1942 the unit moved to the Diplomatic building in Berkeley Street, London. He moved into Lawn Road Flats, where Denis Glover had a bedroom when on leave from the Navy. He resigned from the FO from 31 August 1945, and arranged to return to New Zealand in December.[9]


Brasch returned to New Zealand in 1946, settling in Dunedin. He had held the ambition of publishing 'a substantial literary journal' in New Zealand for at least 15 years,[1] and in 1947 he founded Landfall, remaining its editor for the next 20 years.[10]

In later life he was a substantial patron of arts and letters, and was involved in the establishment of the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. He was also a patron and contributor to the Otago Museum; in this he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Willi Fels. His significant library, which reflected his interest in literature, art, history and religion, was donated to the University of Otago Library in 1973.[11] The wide and eclectic nature of his reading allowed him to achieve his own substantial output.[12] His archives[13] are housed at the Hocken Collections, where over 400 artworks gifted by him can also be seen.[14][15]

He died of cancer in 1973.


Memorial plaque dedicated to Charles Brasch in Dunedin, on the Writers' Walk on the Octagon


  • The Land and the People, and Other Poems, (1939) [16]
  • Disputed Ground (1948)
  • The Estate (1957)
  • Ambulando (1964)
  • Home Ground (1974)
  • Charles Brash in Egypt (2007)
  • Selected Poems (2015) Selected Poems


  • 1946: The Quest: Words for a Mime Play, London: The Compass Players[16]
  • 1966: Present Company: Reflections on the Arts, Auckland: Blackwood and Janet Paul for the Auckland Gallery Associates[16]
  • 1973: Such Separate Creatures: Stories, Christchurch: Caxton Press[16]
  • 1973: Hallensteins: the First Century, 1873-1973, Dunedin : Hallenstein Bros., 1973. (with C.R. Nicholson)[16]
  • Brasch, Charles (1980). Indirections: A Memoir 1909-1947. Wellington: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558050-8.
  • 1981: The Universal Dance: a Selection from the Critical Prose Writings of Charles Brasch, Dunedin: University of Otago Press[16] The Universal Dance
  • Brasch, Charles (2013). Journals 1938-1945 (Volume 1). Dunedin: Otago University Press. ISBN 978-1-877372-84-1. Journals 1938-1945
  • Brasch, Charles (2017). Journals 1945-1957 (Volume 2). Dunedin: Otago University Press. ISBN 978-09-47522469. Journals 1945-1957
  • Brasch, Charles (2018). Journals 1958-1973 (Volume 3). Dunedin: Otago University Press. ISBN 978-1-98-853114-4. Journals 1958-1973

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b [permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, p. 304.
  3. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, pp. 13,15.
  4. ^ Brasch Indirections 1980, p. 326.
  5. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, p. 42.
  6. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, pp. 15-17.
  7. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, pp. 281,283,589.
  8. ^ Brasch Indirections 1980, pp. 472,374.
  9. ^ Brasch Journals 2013, pp. 19,281.
  10. ^ Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in exile in the time of Hitler and Mao Tse Tung (Vintage 2003) James McNeish
  11. ^ "Charles Brasch Collection". University of Otago Library. University of Otago. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  12. ^ "I sat down in the evening to read..." University of Otago Library. University of Otago. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  13. ^ "Brasch, Charles : Literary and personal papers (1889 - 1973)". Hocken Heritage Collections. University of Otago. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Charles Brasch: In the Company of Artists 1 August – 10 October 2009". Hocken Collections. University of Otago. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  15. ^ "Selection of artworks gifted to the Hocken Library by Charles Brasch". Otago University Research Heritage. University of Otago. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Web page titled "Charles Brasch: New Zealand Literature File" Archived September 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine at the University of Auckland Library website, accessed April 26, 1980: Indirections: a Memoir, 1909-1947, Wellington ; New York: Oxford University Press