Gone to Pegasus – book review

Gone to Pegasus, by Tess Redgrave

I was recommended Gone to Pegasus because of my interest in colonial women. The setting is Dunedin, New Zealand and we are in 1892, on the cusp of the historic victory that gave votes to women in 1893.

The women in this story are not all flaming suffragettes. They come to their decision to support the legislation through personal circumstances and through necessity. I like the balance of this. They’re not fighting men, they’re just practical women who realise how they can best contribute to society. How obvious it seems now.

Between the rallies and the proselytising, there are three other topics in  this story which illustrate the historical context.

There is a man with mental illness, and Tess Redgrave’s handling of this is wonderful. She doesn’t shy from the Victorian description of the different as “lunatics,” but rather than the abusive treatment which is often a gratuitous cliché of the times, she has the man kindly treated in the asylum, by caring staff who offer rest and healing. Of course, there is no real understanding of what ails him and love and compassion only go so far.

There are explorations of relationships: the intimacy of women’s friendships, love, fidelity and the vagaries of marriage.

The cover of the book, with its wide keyboard, illustrates the main theme, which is the power of music for communication. There are some lovely pieces where our heroine, Eva, who is a shy bird, finds connections to people through her piano; her friendship with the wilder Grace comes from the giving and sharing of player and listener. Eva goes exploring to the romantic Cold Lakes and finds music everywhere. She “hears” the mountains.  I like to think this is synaesthesia – when she looks at the mountains she hears a sonata, but it might be the more literal sound of the wind and birds and streams that inspire notes and rhythm. Either way, it’s lovely. (I’m writing this looking over a bay to densely wooded hills and trying to hear their music).

There is quite a lot of back-story in this short novel, and we slip in and out of tenses as the spotlight goes back and forward in time. There writing is pared down to make these flashbacks little dips into memory, but I did occasionally find myself losing track of the main story as my interest grew in the women’s pasts. There is certainly enough here for a longer novel and I would have liked to spend a bit more time with Grace in India and get more insight into the relationship of Eva and her husband before his distress.

We have so few stories of early New Zealand women who feel authentic, and tend to draw our colonial women either as unlikely kick-ass heroines, or survivors of terrible suffering. But in truth, suffrage for women was probably won by hundreds of gentle, intelligent women like Eva, who voted for a bit more control over their own lives.

We can look back and thank them all.

Tramping the Abel Tasman

Packing for tramping feedback, what worked?

Well, everything worked, really.

The Abel Tasman is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and one thing we do well in New Zealand is walking. The National Park was nearly at full capacity, and while there are day trippers you’re not exactly tripping over them. There is plenty of space to breathe, a 60 kilometre trail winding through the bush. I tramp in a bit of a trance usually,  wandering along in my subconscious.

It was a glorious five days for the eyes: sweeping coastal vistas, big skies, intricate walls of ferns and a thousand shades of green and shapes of leaf. The tidal range leaves wide sandy banks and lagoons and there are high bush covered hills behind. Much of it is fairly recent regrowth: lots of fern and manuka scrubby stuff, with punga and nikau coming through, beeches, rata, kahikitea.

We struck a moody week for weather. The sea changed from sparkling turquoise to pewter grey many times during each day but was always inviting for swimming. We walked through low clouds over the hills and along sun-struck, sandy beaches. It rained overnight and a couple of days we packed up wet, but the afternoon sea breeze dried the tents for sleeping.

We walked from Marahau to Anchorage, to Bark Bay, to Awaroa to Totaranui, carrying tents and packs, and caught the water taxi back. A note about the water taxis, they offer a superb service. They will pick up and deliver people, kayaks and luggage from beach to beach. You can have as little or as much challenge as you want. Tramping snobs will say all that pandering makes the Abel Tasman adventure-lite, and it is! It’s wonderful!  The paths are smooth and well maintained. It is very accessible, though you need to be fit; the hills are steep. If you want more of a challenge, run a section barefoot. That’s exhilarating.

We met a school group at Bark Bay who were entertaining; a German/Italian pair who had just met and were falling in love (there are two people in the world who peel chickpeas to make hummus on a tramp and they met on my watch!); a pair of disparate school mates who drank gin with hot raro and carried a deck chair and got on famously although one was a neat nerd and the other a shambolic musician; French, Germans, an American and two Croats, Canadians and Australians. I was an odd kiwi (there were lots of bloody weka, though). I walked the lonely length of Totaranui beach as the light came up one morning and found my daughter’s bestie from home sitting on a log.

The packing list was good. Nothing missed. Nothing needed. Food lasted well, though couldn’t face the cup-a-soups and the frooze balls tasted like sick. Those dried tramping meals (half for dinner and other half in a wrap for lunch) were light, convenient and filling, but only just adequate – you have to be pretty hungry to enjoy them. Would like to find a home made alternative. But I’m not shelling chickpeas.

Camping hackOne tramping hack to share: turn the half-mattress into a full mattress by layering your clothes flat into your pack liner and trapping a bit of air in it. Keeps your legs off the ground.  So much more comfortable, and adds nothing to the pack weight.

Pack light, my lovelies. There’re hills.

Packing for tramping

What to pack for a 5 day hike

Packing for a multi-day tramp is all about balance. Mainly so you don’t fall over. We’re walking the Abel Tasman National Park, staying in tents, 6 days, 5 nights and it’s going to rain. I tried to get the pack under 10kg which I like for tramping, but with the tent and mattress this comes in at 12kg. I could leave out one bag of muesli and the mattress? Yeah, nah.

Here’s the list:

This is a summer tramp, so I am not covering up with wet-weather gear in an attempt to keep dry, I’m going to walk in the rain and get wet. It may involve putting on wet clothes in the morning. I’m going to harden up and be a woman.

Undies; 2 x long johns (one for day, one for sleeping); shorts for walking; longs for the campsite; 4 fast-dry T-shirts (no cotton on a tramp); 4x merino/fleece long-sleeved tops to layer and wear to bed if the nights get cold; wind/shower jacket; beanie; scarf; togs; rain poncho if it pisses down at the campsite. Crocs for the evenings because I’ve lost all shame. Socks and boots. I though about trainers, but with rain forecast it’s going to be a boot camp.

Self-inflating half-mattress (my bottom half may regret that decision); summer sleeping bag; silk liner (essential, adds warmth & luxury and weighs nothing); blow up pillow and pillow case (I can pad it out with extra clothes and they won’t wander off in the night); 2 fast-dry towels because, hey, it’s Abel Tasman and we’ll be swimming even if it does rain; a PLB (You can get them on Flybuys now); loo roll, 3x torches (head torch, hand torch and tent lamp, may be overkill); a tiny day pack for side-trips.

Light as possible for this tramp, so it’s all dehydrated stuff, and a big tin cup that multi-tasks as a breakfast bowl/pot, with a tin foil lid.  I’ll need to buy gas in Nelson as you can’t take it on the plane. The instant dinners are for 2 people so I’ll have half for dinner and will have the rest for lunch cold the next day. Wondering if I’ll regret that one, too.

Home made muesli for breakfast, milk powder, lots of tea and those nasty coffee sachets which taste wonderful when the nearest cafe is 30 kilometers away.
Leftovers in wraps for lunch, with pumpkin soup. There’s a pot of peanut butter & can of tuna for emergencies.
Nuts & dried fruit, chocolate almonds, frooze balls (yuk), oat bars (yuk) for snacks. Hoping I won’t get that hungry.
Freeze dried dinners.

Tramping pack


A good friend with a GSOH who knows lots of songs.


And that’s the lot. 12kg (not including the friend).

I’ll let you know what I forgot when I get back.

Edward Jerningham Wakefield

Died 140 years ago today

Dear fellow Wellingtonians

Here is a celebration of Jerningham Wakefield, a founding colonist of Wellington. He died 140 years ago today, aged 58, penniless and alone, in an alms-house in Ashburton.  But before the drink got him, in his early twenties, he had been an extraordinary young man, a journalist, a rip roaring adventurer, the Wellington wild boy of his time.

He was the son of colonial mastermind Edward Gibbon Wakefield. His mother died shortly after his birth and his father turned away in his sorrow, always favouring Jerningham’s sister. “I shall love him bye and bye, I suppose” writes EGW, “as much as I do his sister.” But the sister later died and EGW never treasured Jerningham.

Jerningham’s defining childhood moments with his father must have been his visits to London’s Newgate prison, where EGW was serving time for the abduction of a 15-year-old heiress for political gain, stealing her from school and marrying her (after much trickery) at Gretna Green. The marriage was declared void and EGW spent his prison time working on his colonial plans. He sprung back with relentless political ambition, with schemes in Australia and Canada, before deciding to exploit New Zealand’s potential as a colonial utopia. When Jerningham was just nineteen EGW sent him away, off to New Zealand. The bright and observant boy must have had a skewed and extreme view of what constitutes manliness.

Jerningham arrived in Port Nicholson on the Tory, on 20 September 1839 with the advance party of New Zealand Company’s colonists.  On board were his uncle William Wakefield as agent, Charles Heaphy the draftsman, Ernst Dieffenbach the scientist, Dr Dorset and Captain Chaffers. They were the start of the organised colonisation that forced Queen Victoria to throw a blanket over the country hastily, before the NZ Company entrepreneurs built an empire of their own. Hard behind the Tory were the immigrant ships, with over 1,000 settlers waving certificates of sale for, as yet, non-existent colonial acres they had purchased from the Company before leaving England. Victoria tossed poor old Captain Hobson into the wilds to bring the Wakefields to heel and prevent them purchasing the entire country from the Māori.

Jerningham was instrumental in the Port Nicholson settlement, and other fast and dodgy major land purchases up the coast in Wanganui and Taranaki. He was phenomenally bright, eagerly engaging with local Māori to learn their language and customs, recording and remembering the names of places and people and their whakapapa to an extraordinary extent. He wrote everything down in a journal and wrapped the facts up in an exhilarating story of his exploits that later became a best-selling book. Adventure in New Zealand, published in London in 1845, was superb propaganda for Wellington’s prospective immigrants and created much land speculation in the colony. The journals are still quoted extensively, and much of what we know of early Wellington comes through Jerningham’s pen.

It is at this point that I should reiterate: the kid was nineteen, trying to prove himself to his fiercely ambitious father and New Zealand was a fascinating and novel playground to him. He was a reckless party boy, a hedonist, a known debaucher of Māori women (as the missionaries put it) and he fast became a drunk.  No one reigned him in and his uncle, William Wakefield, gave him responsibility way beyond his maturity.

Jerningham was fierce in promoting the Company’s anti-missionary and anti-government strategy as both bodies were a barrier to easy land purchase. He harassed the missionaries and actively fought them for influence with Māori, who were being aggressively wooed on all sides. He was a sharp thorn in the sides of New Zealand’s first governors, Hobson and FitzRoy, vindictive with his words and caustic in print, and was finally publicly stripped down so vehemently by FitzRoy he was sent home in disgrace. (As a side note, Hobson died in office of a stress induced stroke and FitzRoy later committed suicide.)

Jerningham returned to New Zealand with the Canterbury colonists in 1850, and had a poor career in politics. He was joined by his father and various uncles, and he ranted and raved and drank until he lost all his support and his family and came to a sorry and lonely end, his talent squandered by wild living.

But today, let’s celebrate Jerningham’s wonderful descriptions of Wellington’s beginnings through his journal.

On 1841 Wellington’s development: A road long in progress round the west side of the harbour had been completed by the Company’s labourers ; and Sam Phelps had been the first to drive his bullock-dray over it to Pitone. A bridle-road from Kai Wara Wara to Porirua was also in progress, as well as one from the town into an elevated valley of some extent, called Karori, situated a mile to the south-west. A wooden building of some pretensions in point of architecture had been erected as a Public Exchange at Te Aro, and a wharf had been run out into the harbour near the same spot by Captain Rhodes. New stores, houses, and fences, had sprung up in every direction ; and the clinking of the hammer and sudden apparition of new habitations still went on, day after day, with unceasing activity.

Contrasting with his view of 1841 Auckland:a doleful account of the stagnation and despondency produced there by the various experiments in founding and governing cities. The people of Auckland, consisting of a few mere land-sharks or hangers-on, attracted from Sydney and the Bay of Islands by the expenditure of the Governor and his suite, and the approaching land-sale, vented their ill-temper at the disappointment of their hopes, by the expression of undisguised hostility and vulgar jealousy towards the thriving settlers of Wellington. 

On the joy of sailing: We had been hove-to for half-an-hour when a fresh breeze from the south east sprang up and Arthur, who knew the sailing qualities of the Tory, told Captain Chaffers that he might ‘put her at it’, and we rattled in against a four-knot tide. We flew past the southern head, on to which you might have flung a biscuit, with the rip tide fizzing and smoking on either side of us.

On Te Rauparaha: His features are aquiline and striking; but an over-hanging upper lip, and a retreating forehead, on which his eyebrows wrinkled back when he lifted his deep-sunken eyelids and penetrating eyes, produced a fatal effect on the good prestige arising from his first appearance.

On a canoe adventure through the surf. This extract alone must have inspired many second sons of the English gentry to emigrate, the forebears of many of Wellington’s citizens: All hands now took to the paddles; two at the bow and two at the stern assisting the manager of the steer-oar to keep her square before the sea. A ” smooth” or favourable moment was seized, and we dashed along on the top of a foaming roller, with our liveliest stroke and a cheering song. Tena! tena! or ” hurrah ! hurrah ! ” shouted the steersman. Kia tika ! or “keep her straight ! ” yelled the others ; and the roller broke on either side of us, and roared along towards the shore. As the surf extended nearly half-a-mile from the beach, this was repeated several times ; and the operation of landing was very well performed, excepting the conflicting advice which was given by all hands at once in the shrillest tones every time a roller passed. The moment we touched the sand, my two supporters lifted me up with a jerk, and pitched me high and dry on to the beach. Before I had time to recover myself, they had all jumped out into the water, and hauled the canoe out of reach of the next wave.

Early Wellington, when the whalers are in town: During six weeks or two months, Wellington becomes a Portsmouth in miniature. Every public- house has its fiddle and hornpipe going ; a little theatre fills once a-week ; and the weak constabulary force of Wellington suffers from various practical jokes. Boat-races, on which heavy bets sometimes depend, come off, and an occasional fight, arising from the profound contempt which the whaler expresses for the “lubber of a jimmy-grant” as he calls the emigrant, completes the programme of the amusements during the period. 

Jerningham left Wellington in 1844, despising FitzRoy’s government and hoping that  some really great man might be despatched in time to remedy the evils which were accumulating for both white people and natives. A firm and unwavering course of foreseeing philanthropy could alone lay sound foundations for a gentle and permanent union. Retrospectively we read this as a racist and naive hope but at the time Jerningham was one of the few who had engaged with the Māori on their terms and didn’t see Christianity as a pre-requisite to civilisation.

As it turned out, colonialism went its inevitable way and there was no great visionary,  man or woman, Māori or Pakeha, missionary or lay, to create a gentle and permanent union, either in New Zealand or any other colony. Colonialism just doesn’t work like that.

RIP Jerningham, the original wild child of Wellington.



Wakefield, E. J. (1845). Adventure in New Zealand, in 2 vols. London: John Murray.
Temple, P. (2002). A sort of conscience, The Wakefields. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

The Smuggler’s Wife – book review

Kitty, Amber & Band of Gold, by Deborah Challinor

These books are a lot of fun. I defy anybody to read just the one. And I’ve just seen there is a fourth, published after a six year (and at least 5 book) gap. Hooray! I’m going back in.

This is the world of the beautiful and spirited Kitty, and while the stories are thrilling yarns with strong heroes and corrupt villains who cut an adventurous swash through the colonial antipodes, the stories are drawn on a meticulous painting of our history. The detail is impeccable and the many historical characters who brush up against our heroes are put faithfully in real events and exact geographical settings. Was there ever a girl as modern as Kitty in 1840s Paihia? Take that leap of faith and you’re off.

Kitty is the story of a well brought up English girl who is sent away with a missionary uncle and aunt to the ends of the earth to get over the shame of a naughty liaison. She lands in the Bay of Islands just as the Treaty of Waitangi is being signed. The world is made up of flimsy English government officials, persuasive missionaries, corrupt whalers, traders & escaped convicts and Māori on the cusp of change — history just as it ought to be — and they all come together where the mission houses look across the bay to the whore houses of Kororareka.  The local chief’s daughter is sent to the mission for learning and gets a nasty lesson, Kitty is wayward and the handsome Captain Rian Farrell steps in as Mr Love Interest. I get that. There is a crisis and an escape to Sydney. I’ve never been to Sydney but I feel I have after reading this and I expect the muddy lanes of the Rocks still to smell of fish heads and slaughter.

The second book, Amber returns us to New Zealand after Australian shenanigans with aboriginal burial grounds, stowaways and hopeless love. Kitty is sent to Auckland to keep safe from the anticipated fighting between Hone Heke’s Nga Puhi and the British government and the flagpole is repeatedly chopped down. This is all history we have read in school, but so much more compelling and gutsy when told by Challinor. All the details you didn’t want to ask your teacher are in here.  In Auckland Kitty picks up an urchin, and finds it impossible to put her down, even when it comes to riding to the rescue of Rian who cannot help but get caught up in the war. The pair constantly rescue each other.  Shit happens. The lovers cope stylishly.

I was in Melbourne when I moved on to Band of Gold, a happy coincidence as the action goes between Melbourne and the goldfield at Ballarat. I was visiting museums and walking the city during the day, and in the evenings finding the history popping back at me from the pages of this book. Did I mention the extraordinary research behind these stories? The backbone of this novel is true: the protesting colonial gold diggers being screwed by the government and clashing with the high handed military, played out with imperial arrogance and devastating consequences. Challinor gives us the squalor, danger and camaraderie of the mines along with the inherent racism and inequalities. And the story weaves on, with new and old characters, as Kitty finds love in many forms: unrequited and hotly requited, platonic and regretted. There are death defying hijinks and gold and brothels and Chinese businessmen, vendettas and loyalty. It all adds up to very satisfying reading.

In the Captain’s bathroom

On board the Polly Woodside

It’s rare to walk around a museum in a ship. The Polly Woodside is just that; it is a wee historical treasure berthed on the South Bank at Melbourne. At first glance she looks uninspiring, locked in with boardwalks and surrounded by restaurants and bars, a big iron hulk of a thing with shabby paintwork and painted gun ports. It’s hard to get a sense of her scale and grace when you’re peering over the fence and the music’s blaring. We walked past her a couple of times before deciding to go back.

The entry hall shows an exhibit of the Polly Woodside, with photos and memorabilia and a good short film based on a diary by the ship’s carpenter. There are ropes to pull and wheels to turn  and you can lose your balance in a tunnel with a swinging horizon.

Past this, you climb on board the ship. I get pretty excited by tall ships, but a land-locked ship is not particularly inspiring and this one lacks sails, and rigging and top masts. She’s a three masted sailing barque, with a 59m deck and 9m beam, which makes her twice as long as Cook’s Endeavour and a little broader.  My family came to New Zealand from Norway on the Hövding in 1872 on a smaller ship with 376 passengers, plus crew. You get a feel for how cramped the conditions would have been if they all came on deck at the same time.  But you get no feeling for being at sea when you’re on a deck overlooking a  busy public walkway.

So we went below, to the cabins. That’s where the magic begins.

The captain had a bathroom. With a fair sized bath. It fits snugly into the curve of the stern and is deep enough to soak in. (I know because I climbed in – not sure if that was allowed). How glorious, to come below after a freezing watch battling the elements and soak in a hot tub. I’m hoping he had bath salts and a fluffy towel.  His cabin was as smart as a little cottage bedroom, a good sized bunk over a bank of drawers (they were little men back in the day), a wide desk, a comfortable chair. A sofa. After all the legends of deprivations at sea, here was a man who travelled well!

Polly Woodside bathroom Polly Woodside Captains cabin Polly Woodside ship Melbourne

Next to the Captain’s cabin was a tidy and well appointed cabin for the cook. I’d thought a lowly cook would lodge with the workers on the fore deck, but he was tucked behind a neat pantry and I’m guessing may have whipped up the odd post-bath snack. The accommodation details were lovely: the “fiddles” or small rails on the edges of tables to stop the captain’s dinner tumbling into his lap, the dark wood furnishings, the bucket next to the dunny which I assume the cabin boy would keep filled with salt water, the hanging lamps to keep the flame upright in a swell, the bunks stepped into the curve of the ship. There were unexpected things, too: an open fireplace in the saloon, pretty frosted glass, the generous proportion of the cabins.

Launched in Belfast in 1885, near the end of the sailing ship era, the Polly Woodside circumnavigated the world seventeen times, loaded with wheat or coal. If you’re in Melbourne, go and have a look. Below decks, she’s fascinating.

William Curling Young

I went to the Nelson archives to find Captain Arthur Wakefield, agent of the New Zealand Company and uncle to Jerningham (about whom I’m writing a book). There are folders of transcribed letters, mostly from Arthur to his brother William Wakefield. I passed over the stiff official missives, but there are lots of gossipy, friendly letters, all signed yours affy, as if the word “affectionately” was too formal for such brotherly love. They are intimate letters and even a hundred and seventy-seven years later feel immediate, the sentiment easy to read. Arthur has a mixed retrospective reputation but I like him and he has a seat at my table any time he wants to show up.

But I got side-tracked by another story in the archives.  Filed between Arthur’s letters were those of William Curling Young, writing home to England from colonial Nelson. William was 28.

His father was a director of the New Zealand Company and young William went out to the colony arriving in Nelson in 1842 on the Mary Anne. I don’t know why he went, perhaps he was the second son and had to find his way in the world. It was the very early days of the settlement, the land courts and the Wairau massacre were still ahead of them, and the considerable challenges of building a town were approached with hard work and optimism. He wrote home to his family and his collected letters are irresistible reading (see the transcript above).

4 April 1842, he wrote to reassure his mother:
We are going ahead so fast, I sometimes laugh to think, how you think of us all at home and how little of the Savages we have. I am in such a hurry, or I would describe our Tent House here, you would think it the most elegant thing in the world – a library of about 3 or 400 books. Boards crossed as to form pegs for caps, and belts, guns &c. in front of the book shelves. Drawers, Tables, Sofas, Couches, ottoman like, and our dinner parties, fancy our dinner parties.

27 April 1842, to his brother:
My dear Fred, My house was burned down yesterday. and my papers were either burned or destroyed. …  My books are gone, Bacon 10 vols.
Your little pencil case – half of it at least – was picked up this morning, quite spoiled. I have saved my mothers miniature – my father’s is gone. …But these things sit lightly on the heart of a colonist.
You would clap your hands if you could see what great things we are doing here. … It is something to be here, and to be doing what we are, and to be what we are. I love you all as much as ever I loved you and should like to see you all again; but my hope is in Nelson and my place is here.

By 5 May 1842 he had absorbed the NZ Company distrust of the government and he wrote to Governor Hobson declining an appointment as a Magistrate, not because he was insensible to the honour, but because it implied a forfeiture of the right to publicly express opinions which may happen to be opposed to those of the government.  Perhaps a bit of Wakefield brainwashing going on.

I flicked through the papers to find his next letter, but there was none. Instead, this, from Arthur to William Wakefield:

17th August 19842: We have had a most melancholy occurrence here which has thrown a gloom over us all, in the death of poor Young by drowning, in an attempt to ford the Wairoa a river so named which runs into the Waimea just above the surveyors station. He was examining the sections & after a fatiguing days walk attempted a bad ford when the strength of the stream took his companion & himself off their legs the former managed to scramble back to the bank but Young never recovered himself and sunk in a hole where there was 12 feet water, neither of them could swim.

He was buried in Nelson. I am glad to learn about him and remember him. I hope he’s resting in peace.

IMAGE REF: Letters from Nelson, 1842. [Vol. 1]. 1842. Nelson Provincial Museum, Bett Loan Collection: Bett2012.4.423.