Truth stranger than fiction in old Invercargill

MIKE FALLOW
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013

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A bishop's disturbing night in Invercargill's first hotel, the town's famed Black Doctor, and the pie-shop origins of Southland Museum all feature in Southland historian John Hall-Jones' latest work, Old Invercargill.

The illustrated history is his 33rd book, though his sense of excitement at its release is as strong as ever.

"I think possibly it's one of my most significant," he says.

It draws deeply on a collection of photographs and records bequeathed to him by his historian father, Fred, though the son's gratitude also extends further back to the town's pioneers "for their entertaining accounts. They link the photos of the buildings and bring them to life".

The ructions around Bishop Henry Harper's troubled night arose from a slumbering Irishman rudely awakened.

The Black Doctor was neither black nor - for all his sometimes grand mannerisms and polysyllabic utterances - a doctor. But he was a herbalist who cut a striking figure around town.

Andrew McKenzie's small pie shop in Dee St was wildly crowded by more than 1000 varieties of birds, beast, fish, and insects; which in time became the foundation for the town's museum, where, as a result of imperfect taxidermy, some of the collection became embarrassingly smelly.

"And goodness only knows what went into his pies," Dr Hall-Jones adds.

Other photographs came from part-time photographers as diverse as William Grigor, the late 19th century house surgeon at the Dee St hospital, and the modern boss of Mr Hall-Jones' long-time publisher Craig Printing, Rodger Wills, and his son, Tony, who contributed some of the more recent shots, among the more than 200 illustrations that book designer Ellen van Empel has used.

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