This book is a collection of letters, diary entires and extracts from other publications. It tells us about what life was like for pioneer women in NZ from about the 1840’s until around 1900. It is broken into 7 main sections covering, First Encounters, The Longest Journey, Pioneering Life, Explorations, Conflict with the Maori, Natural Disasters and Different Paths.
The most fascinating story by far for me was that of Caroline Ngoungou, a pakeha girl who was kidnapped at the age of 8 and was raised as a Maori and lived among them for the rest of her life. It was only when she was 60 years old did she learn her real name and was reunited with some surviving siblings and their children. Her parents had died shortly after her disappearance.
The other thing that struck me was the hardship and very real chance of death on their long sea voyages to New Zealand. Sarah Harris wrote a letter from Taranaki in 1841 to her Father, in which she tells of her experiences. She had two young children and gave birth to another during the voyage after a 1 hour labour. (Interestingly she had been feeling ill for days previously and had wanted Castor Oil. It was scarce apparently so she was given another strong aperient which brought on strong diarrhoea for 8 days. The surgeon believed only bringing on the labour would save her life and an hour later a little girl was born.) The letter goes on to tell despite the care of a wet nurse (Sarah was too ill to nurse) the baby died just 5 days old ‘for want of nourishment’. There is just one sentence concerning their baby’s death and she then writes on about how they are settling in the new country. I found it striking that the death was dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. Such different and hard times.
I thought that this would be a great book to revisit with older children. The personal accounts make it very readable.