Patron of the arts and literature, the Dunedin philanthropist and poet Charles Brasch established the literary journal Landfall in 1945, and went on to establish the prestigious Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago in 1958.
Charles Brasch lived from 1909-1973 and was born into an affluent Jewish family. His mother died when he was four, and he spent much of his childhood with his grandparents and cousins. He was particularly close to his grandfather, Willi Fels, who had a lasting influence on his life.
Against his father’s wishes Charles studied history, not law, at Oxford and in 1931 he came home with the expectation that he would go into the family business (Hallenstein Brothers). Instead, he became involved with New Zealand’s first literary journal, Phoenix. Determined to be a poet, he had a bitter showdown with his father and returned to London. For 14 years, he made brief visits home working with artists and writers including Denis Glover, Leo Bensemann, Ursula Bethell, Douglas Lilburn, Toss Woollaston and Rodney Kennedy. In 1939, his first volume of poetry was published by Caxton Press. Not fit for military service, he spent the war in London working in intelligence for the Foreign Office.
In 1945, Brasch returned to New Zealand and started the literary journal Landfall. As founding editor, he made a mammoth contribution to New Zealand literature for twenty years. He was also a well respected poet and patron of writers and artists. Reticent about publicity, in 1958 he anonymously established the Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. He also made substantial gifts of books, artwork and manuscripts to the University of Otago and Hocken libraries and funded book purchases. After his death, he left the rest of his book and art collection to both libraries.
A quiet and reserved man, his advice to writers was always kind and apropos, even while he was rejecting them. He was held in high regard by the best New Zealand writers and artists of his day.
Image header above: Portrait of Charles Brasch at his home in Heriot Row, Dunedin, 1960. Reproduced with the permission of the Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago. Photographer unknown.