Robin Hyde (19 January 1906 – 23 August 1939) is one of New Zealand's major poets. She was born Iris Guiver Wilkinson in Cape Town, South Africa to an English father and an Australian mother and taken to Wellington, New Zealand before her first birthday. She had her secondary education at Wellington Girls' College where she wrote poetry and short stories for the school magazine. After school she briefly attended Victoria University of Wellington. When she was 18, Hyde suffered a knee injury which required a hospital operation. Lameness and pain haunted her for the rest of her life. In 1925 she became a journalist for Wellington's Dominion newspaper, mostly writing for the women's pages. She continued to support herself through journalism throughout her life.
While working at the Dominion, she had a brief love affair with Harry Sweetman, during which she fell pregnant. Sweetman left her to travel to England, dying soon after his arrival. Hyde resigned from the Dominion in April 1926 and moved to Sydney, Australia. It was there that she lost her unborn son, Robin, whose name she took as her pseudonym. The trauma of losing both her lover and her child led to Hyde being hospitalised at Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs, back in New Zealand. After a period of recovery, she began to write again, publishing poetry in several New Zealand newspapers in 1927. She was also engaged to write columns for the Christchurch Sun, and the Mirror. However, she became frustrated at the lack of creative input, as the papers merely wanted a social column. Social columns or women's pages were the main outlet available to women journalists during the period. These experiences contributed to her treatise on journalism in New Zealand, Journalese, published in 1934.
In 1929 Hyde published her first book of poetry, The Desolate Star. Between 1935 and 1938 she published five novels: Passport to Hell (1936), Check To Your King (1936), Wednesday's Children (1937), Nor the Years Condemn(1938), and The Godwits Fly (1938). A manuscript of her unpublished autobiography was given to Auckland Libraries by Dr Gilbert Tothill.
In early 1938 she left New Zealand and travelled to Hong Kong, arriving in early February. At the time, much of eastern China was under Japanese occupation, after the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Hyde was meant to travel to Kobe then Vladivostok to take the trans-Siberian railway to Europe. When the connection was delayed she made her way to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, where she met fellow New Zealander Rewi Alley. Various peregrinations through China followed, including Canton and Hankow, the latter of which was the centre of Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation. She moved north to visit the battlefront and was in Hsuchow when Japanese forces took the city on 19 May.
Hyde attempted to flee the area by walking along the railway lines and was eventually escorted by Japanese officials to the port city of Tsing Tao where she was handed over to British authorities. Shortly after she resumed her journey to England via sea, arriving in Southampton 18 September 1938.
Robin Hyde died by her own hand with an overdose of Benzedrine in England in 1939, and is buried in Kensington New Cemetery, Gunnersbury. She is survived by a son, Derek Challis.
© 2016 The New Zealand Portrait Gallery Trust