Although I have flown over, ferried into, and holidayed in the Marlborough Sounds many times, before reading Helen Beaglehole’s new book I knew little about the area’s intriguing past, or the people who have chosen to live there.
Historian Beaglehole knows the Sounds well, having sailed, cycled and hiked in the area over many decades. She covers a broad range of topics, many in considerable detail, including how settlement in the region has influenced or been influenced by colonisation, conservation, geology, tourism, agriculture, technology, land claims, regulations, religion, and infrastructure (or the lack of it).
Beaglehole observes that “tensions around land use, land conservation and financial gain” have persisted. She mentions that there are currently 3909 permanent residents in the Sounds, around 10% of whom are Māori. The number of permanent residents has increased over time, although some areas (such as Kenepuru Sound) are more populated than others.
The “hundred havens” of the title is taken from an 1862 promotional handbook and refers to the multiple locations in which fruit and vegetables could be planted, fish caught and timber grown “to sustain flourishing little communities”. Beaglehole points out that these “seductive narratives” overlooked the many challenges of the environment. In reality, it was often very hard to establish a farm or homestead on inhospitable and remote terrain. To this day, boats are still required to reach homes in bays without road access.
The book is around 500 pages long, well-researched and an absorbing read. As Beaglehole notes in the Introduction, “There are many strands to the history of the Sounds”. She focuses on four key time periods covered in ten chapters, beginning from the time of the first known human settlement. She covers both Māori and Pākehā history, having delved into published and unpublished narratives, official reports, and other material, as well as drawing on museum archives. Beaglehole does an excellent job of weaving extracts from letters and family papers into many chapters, and these accounts provide valuable insights into daily life, and the fears and hopes of settlers.
She interviewed people who have lived in the Sounds, including Rangitāne kaumātua Richard Bradley. Acknowledging that she writes from a Pākehā perspective, Beaglehole documents the many losses that Māori have faced, such as the loss of land and kaitiakitanga following the arrival of Pākehā. Individual Pākehā or the government of the day took over many places of great significance to Māori history and identity. She also describes further disruptions caused by migration initiated by Ngāti Toa rangatira Te Rauparaha. Now, she reflects, “Treaty of Waitangi settlements are enabling cultural renewal and exciting new futures for many Sounds iwi”.
Beaglehole notes that there are differing accounts of when the Sounds were first inhabited, although it is known that there was a large settlement in Te Hoirere, at Titirangi Bay, around 1300. With reference to the relevant Waitangi Tribunal report (Wai 785), she outlines the movement and settlement of iwi into the area, including several from the North Island. There was frequent intertribal conflict to establish dominance. The book draws on archaeological and geological evidence to offer information about early diets (which included plentiful fish), crops, shelter, and agricultural techniques.
Beaglehole writes of the “ingenuity, resourcefulness, strength and determination” settlers required. She brings to life the challenges faced by both Māori and Pākehā settlers, particularly given the remote and isolated nature of the region. Wild winds and seas (“the wrath of Tāwhirimātea”), steep and often infertile land, and other environmental factors made life tough. She describes the difficulties workers faced developing tracks and roads, first for horses, pedestrians and cyclists, and later for vehicles. Floods, landslips and other natural hazards created havoc, and funds for roading were invariably insufficient. Despite this, the stunning beauty of the Sounds has always attracted people keen to live there. The sub-section titled “post and phones” outlines advances in technology. Telegraphs and party lines are now long gone, although the mail boat is still an essential delivery service for homes without road access. Beaglehole also mentions other ways that residents have kept in touch with the outside world, including an unsuccessful attempt to establish pigeon post.
There’s information about the many and varied industries that have flourished or foundered in the Sounds over time. Tourism has always played a key role, and other industries have included, for example, whaling, forestry, gold-mining, farming, aquaculture, hunting, fishing, boat-building and adze-head production. Beaglehole reports that canned whale meat was once touted as a nutritious and tasty source of protein, and Picton’s Federal Hotel had whale pie on the menu.
Beaglehole explains that it was often hard to recruit teachers, doctors and nurses, despite incentives such as free board and lodging. As a consequence there was limited access to medical care, and although there were tiny rural schools and Correspondence School lessons, it was not always a given that Sounds children would receive an adequate education. Beaglehole observes that a lack of teachers, or low roll numbers, frequently resulted in “educationally disruptive patterns of temporary or permanent [school] closure”. She quotes Lizzie Hope’s worry in 1886 that her children were “dunces” who were unable to read as there was no one to teach them.
Although settler life in the Sounds was not easy, Beaglehole describes the benefits of the Sounds way of life, including the strong sense of community. Carnivals, weddings and other celebrations brought people together, and dances with music provided by the Love whānau were popular. Political gatherings, tangihanga, regattas and other sporting events also provided opportunities to meet up. The book includes photos of some of these events, for example the large crowd gathered for the 1910 Axemen’s Carnival in Waitata Bay.
The many images include maps, sketches, and photographs. Most are black and white, although there is a small section with coloured images. Book designer Megan van Staden includes a surprise under the dust jacket – the book cover is a reproduction of Webber’s 1777 aquatint etching of activities taking place in Queen Charlotte Sound. The image also features within the book and depicts a scene from Cook’s third voyage to New Zealand. Elsewhere in the book, Beaglehole discusses Cook’s voyages to the Sounds, considering the impact on the people already living there.
Beaglehole excels at making history accessible. Her book would appeal to anyone who has spent time in the Sounds, especially bach or home owners, or others who regularly visit the area. It would also be a great resource for people interested in settler life and New Zealand history, and for students or researchers exploring one of the many other topics covered. It complements – and cross-references – other written works focusing on life in the Sounds. Beaglehole provides extensive appendices with additional references for readers wanting more information. Throughout the book, her deep appreciation of – and respect for – the Sounds’ “land, light and water”, and for its people past and present, is evident.
Reviewer: Anne Kerslake Hendricks
Massey University Press