Catton's novel brings old family links to life

HERITAGE HOKITIKA:  Bernard Preston’s family albums hold close links to Man Booker prize-winning book The Luminaries
HERITAGE HOKITIKA:  Bernard Preston’s family albums hold close links to Man Booker prize-winning book The Luminaries

It is reality mimicking art.

Wind the clock back to January 27, 1866, and see people walking Hokitika's streets with the surname Tauwhare, Frost, Pritchard, Balfour, Moody, Weatherall, Shepard and Staines.

Kiwi author Eleanor Catton's Man Booker winning novel, The Luminaries, is filled with the intertwining lives of 20 characters during the West Coast town's gold rush heyday of 1866 and 1867.

Earlier this month, life was unexpectedly injected into her novel's pages during her first visit to Hokitika since the book was published.

While at An Evening with Eleanor Catton at Hokitika's Regent Theatre, she confided to the 460-strong audience that the only character's surname she deliberately selected was Tauwhare.

She named Arahura Valley greenstone hunter Te Rau Tauwhare, his surname a real Poutini Ngai Tahu name of the era and meaning "House of Years", which suited her book's astrological theme.

During her stay, she met locals who shared surnames with the characters from her book at a powhiri on the Arahura Marae, near Hokitika, which she said was "trippy".

Arahura kaumatua Ned Tauwhare later said he was surprised to discover his family name in the book and said he was related to Piripi, Ria and Inia Tauwhare, who lived at Arahura Marae in 1866.

Catton's visit prompted many locals to have a closer look to see if their family names appeared in the 832-page book. "I'm delighted," said Hokitika 70-year-old Bernard Preston about his family's link.

His great-grandfather, Henry Staines, lived at Kaniere, near Hokitika, in the 1860s and was a gold miner. He died there in 1907, aged 78. His son, John Staines, was the Empire Hotel's proprietor at Kaniere in the late 1890s.

In the book, Emery Staines was also a gold miner.

Also, Preston's aunt was called Frances Wells, similar to Francis Wells, the pseudonym that character Francis Carver took in the novel.

He told Catton of his pedigree during question time at the Regent Theatre event.

She said she did most of her research while she lived overseas, aided by online newspaper archives from the National Library of New Zealand.

It was possible she stumbled on those names during her early name hunt "and they just kind of stayed", she said.

Fairfax researched online records of The West Coast Times in the 1860s and discovered others who lived in Hokitika back then with the same surnames as Catton's fictional characters.

Banker Charlie Frost: Two brothers, Robert and William Frost, lived in the Arahura area in 1866. Robert Frost put numerous advertisements in the newspaper in November and December 1866, seeking his brother, William.

In May 1869, a case from the Resident Magistrate's Court revealed William Frost had been assaulted in the upper Arahura and his brother, Robert, was a witness.

Chemist Joseph Pritchard: Records showed Pritchard and Galloway was the name of a drapers shop in Revell-street in Hokitika in 1865, which later was called Pritchard and Co. In 1868, a court case in the Resident Magistrate's Court was against someone who damaged Albert Pritchard's fence, the "owner of certain premises on Revell-street".

Alfred Chas Pritchard was named as an arbitrator in a Hokitika case in 1868.

The following year, the newspaper's shipping column noted the arrival from Melbourne to Hokitika of a Mrs AP Pritchard and child, Mrs AC Pritchard and children plus Mr AC Pritchard.

Many other Pritchards were mentioned in newspaper archives into the early 1900s in Hokitika.

Shipping agent Thomas Balfour: Scottish civil engineer James Melville Balfour came to New Zealand in 1863 and was based in Dunedin, becoming New Zealand's colonial marine engineer in 1866.

He spent time in Hokitika in about 1886 assessing its port as part of his review of the West Coast's ports.

"In his evidence before the Select Committee on the Westland petition, Mr Balfour gave information as to the rivers and harbours of the West Coast, with reference especially to the port of Hokitika, which he says he was sent down two years ago to inspect," a newspaper excerpt said in late 1867.

Balfour drowned in December 1869, aged 38, when a small boat capsized while attempting to reach a sailing vessel outside Timaru's port in rough seas. His widow, Christina, went back to the United Kingdom and remarried.

Their only child, Marie Clothilde Balfour, also headed back to the UK, married and became a well-known author.

Gold miner wannabe Walter Moody and prostitute Anna Wetherall: Emma Moody, eldest daughter of Hokitika produce merchant John Moody and his wife, Ann Weatherall, married James Cropper in Hokitika in 1869.

Two years later, the Moodys' other daughter, Mary Ann Moody, married William Homes in All Saints Church in Hokitika.

She is buried in Hokitika cemetery. In 1871, a Supreme Court case mentioned John and Ann Moody as Hokitika-based witnesses.

Jailer George Shepard: In 1867, the wife of a W Shepard gave birth to a son in Park St, Hokitika.

Shepard was a Cobb and Co coach driver and that same year, he appealed to the Provincial Council for compensation after he was badly injured while driving the coach through Hokitika.

The Press