Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Location: Owaka, New Zealand
|Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2009 8:23 am Post subject: Catlins Bound
|Not a book most of you are likely to come across since there were only 1000 printed but it might be of interest to some of you.
It was written (over seven years) by a local carpenter here and is about the ships his great-grandfather built as a pioneer in the area. William McPhee came to NZ from Nova Scotia as an 18-year-old having served an apprenticeship as a shipbuilder. His family originated two generations earlier forced off the Scottish Highlands. He left Nova Scotia without letting his family know and they considered him dead until his marriage about ten years later when his wife insisted he write home.
The author Mike McPhee had intended to write a history of his ancestor but the information about him was sparse and the stories of his ships fascinating, so that is where the book, a beautifully produced book, went.
He built some 11 small ships - schooners, cutters etc. They traded up and down the coasts of New Zealand during times when places were opening up for farming and when the gold rushes operated in the 1870s. All but one of these ships ended up being wrecked - it was a dangerous time and place for small boats and their crew. McPhee's very first boat, Nora, was eventually bought by its captain, and his first trip as owner was his last. The boat sailed out of harbour and no trace of it or its crew was ever seen again. Weather conditions, dangerous bars and difficult seas all made travel by sea round NZ difficult, and drowning was known as 'the New Zealand death' in its early years (rivers played a part in this too).
As well as giving details of sailing ships and how they operated this book gives a history of the ordinary lives of people trying to make a living, as well as providing geographic details of the coast of New Zealand. It also provides much information on travel round the country, trading and economic issues, early capitalistic ventures in New Zealand, relationships between Maori and European, and between men of the sea and of the land (often at different times the same). Just reading of the cargoes gives a flovour of the times: one lots had 'eight hogsheads of beer, 40 cases of brandy, 900 bags of flour, horse fodder, mining tools and hardware'.
It does not tell you a lot about the women of the period, though Mike, a man with three daughters and sensitive to these sort of things, would have done his best in this regard. There just isn't much information about women at the time, and it wasn't a woman's lifestyle. They waited at home. One mention of a woman is in the following passage: "On his return trip Hayward picked up 55 bales of wool from Port Molyneux and made Dunedin on 7 January 1864, just in time for his wedding to Agnes Lees."
This is the sort of book I can pick up, read the chapter on a particular ship and then put down again while I read another book. Since I own it, it doesn't have to be read quickly. It came with a CD of maritime songs.