Rangitira—book review

Rangitira, by Paula Morris

What a great book to follow my previous read, This Thing of Darkness. Both Thompson and Paula Morris’s book relate to the 19th Century notion of taking indigenous people from distant lands back to England to “civilise” them and show them off as curiosities. In Thompson’s book, Captain FitzRoy uplifts three Fuegians to ship home, and in Morris’s book the Rangitira travel voluntarily to England. Whichever way you look at it, this is manifest colonial exploitation.

Paula Morris is a descendent of Rangitira’s narrator, the wonderful Paratene Te Manu, Ngāti Wai, and she writes her tupuna with a sure voice. He comes across as a thoughtful and gracious man who, in 1886 while having his portrait painted by Gottfried Lindauer, relates the story of his voyage to England some twenty years before.

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This Thing of Darkness

This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Thompson

Sometimes you have to stick your hand up and here we go.
I hereby award This Thing of Darkness the title of my best book ever.

For sheer meatiness, immersion, characterisation, research, story telling, and adventure. For the immensity of history involved. For the reach of these lives and the illumination of their development over the years and the way things build and unravel – all understandable in retrospect but so uncertain and risky at the time. For all the surrounding stuff that comes with historical fiction and the extraordinary passing detail. For the way it made me re-evaluate my life and life in this century generally. For the way it made me feel.

Continue reading “This Thing of Darkness”

Ribbons of Grace – Book review

Ribbons of Grace by Maxine Alterio

Early this morning the sun rose round as an orange and hot as the fires of love, warming the already dust-dry ground outside Con-Lan’s schist cottage, while inside the whitewashed walls gleamed like skin on a pail of milk.’

Maxine Alterio’s writing is transporting. I copied phrases of this evocative elegance onto scraps of paper and peppered my desk with them. How’s this to set your mind soaring?

In the gorge the ice-heavy river resembles a mass of broken glass. On either side poppy seeds, dropped from the soles of boots worn by miners from California, germinate in pockets of dirt and shingle. Soon they will flower again and hang like coloured lanterns from the cliffs.’

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Half of a Yellow Sun —book review

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A brilliant story teller on the birth of Biafra and the war, the war, the starving millions. This is a hard book.

I was a child in Wellington during the Nigerian civil war. We learned about the starving children of Biafra and I am still haunted by those first images of black children with distended bellies, held by women with arms so thin they seemed to contain no flesh at all. I didn’t then know the reason for the big bellies but I do after reading Half of a Yellow Sun. The systematic malnutrition of babies and children by the Nigerian generals, aided by British weapons and ammunition was causing acute protein deficiency, leading to the condition known as kwashiorkor.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story is centred around five linked people, who lose all control over their lives as Nigeria erupts into civil war and they become “Biafran” for the three long years of the secessionist state’s existence. All are interesting and fully engaging characters and we walk with them as their stable and happy world disappears fast into chaos and brutality.

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The Dickens Boy – book review

The Dickens Boy, by Tom Keneally

Definitely my book of the year so far. I’m a Keneally fan (since Schindler’s Ark all those years ago) and a Dickens fan with a keen interest in Victorians and colonial history and here’s The Dickens Boy with all that wrapped up in a gloriously written novel. Keneally is a master storyteller with characters I can really care about and a honesty that makes me believe that everything here could be true (and quite a lot of it seems to be). Just goes to show you don’t need clever literary devices or pretentious language to write a captivating book, you just need to tell a bloody good story.

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Jerningham Wakefield, 200 today

Happy birthday, scoundrel

Colonial Wellington’s original wild boy, Jerningham Wakefield, was born 200 years ago today. The son of New Zealand Company founder Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Jerningham was a member of the advance party of the Wellington colony, arriving in Port Nicholson on the Tory in September 1839. He was nineteen years old and sent away from England by his father to keep him out of mischief. It was a mistake Edward Gibbon probably came to regret.

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Wellington’s 180th anniversary

Wellington turned 180 years old this week. Here are twelve facts about the foundation of the settlement.

  1. 22 January 1840 marks the arrival of the Aurora, the first ship carrying colonial settlers to the colony.
  2. The immigrants initially camped at Petone, a town they called Britannia. The proposed town plan was drawn by men with no local knowledge and looked very similar to London (pictured above). The Hutt River flooded. Continue reading “Wellington’s 180th anniversary”

Hurt Upon The Sea

Poetry in law

Where any Person,
being feloniously stricken,
poisoned,
or otherwise hurt upon the Sea,
or at any Place out of England or Ireland,
shall die of such Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt
in England or Ireland, or,
being feloniously stricken,
poisoned,
or otherwise hurt
at any Place in England or Ireland,
shall die of such Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt upon the Sea,
or at any Place out of England or Ireland,
every Offence committed in respect of any such Case,
whether the same shall amount to the Offence of Murder or of Manslaughter,
or of being accessory to Murder or Manslaughter,
may be dealt with,
inquired of,
tried,
determined,
and punished in the County or Place in England or Ireland in which such
Death,
Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt shall happen,
in the same Manner in all respects as if such Offence
had been wholly committed
in that County or Place.

__________________________
The Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Brickbat for Jerningham

For his 199th birthday

Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.

Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge.  For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.

It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”