Crusoes of Sunday Island
Crusoes of Sunday Island is a factual account of the experiences and adventures of the Bell family on Sunday Island presented in story form. It is neither a documentary recital of their misfortunes and achievements, nor a personal history of the family, but is based on the actual happenings as related to me by Mrs. Bessie Dyke, Thomas Bell's's oldest surviving daughter, co-heroine of the story with her elder sister Hettie, the late Mrs. G. Gelderd.
Mrs. Dyke, now in her eighty-ninth year, possesses a remarkable memory, and has told in full detail the story of her extraordinary childhood and of her parents' heart-breaking misfortunes in the early years of their Sunday Island sojourn.
As the only surviving member of the family possessing personal memories of the ill-starred Denham Bay landing in 1878, and of the annexation of the island to New Zealand nine years later, she has given me permission to use the facts of her story as I see fit. Every episode related in the book, also the descriptions of Sunday Island as it was eighty years ago, are therefore based on fact, and follow as closely as possible Mrs. Dyke's own reminiscences.
It has obviously been impossible in every instance to record actual dialogue, but in many cases, conversations have been given in the exact words used by Mrs. Dyke. Elsewhere I have made a sincere attempt to suggest the manner in which this courageous family reacted to their often hostile environment, how they talked, and sometimes what they may have thought.
This story of an actual family's adventures obviously cannot be compared as a work of literature with Robinson Crusoe nor with the uninhibited invention of page 6 The Swiss Family Robinson. But I hope that its authenticity may win it a place of its own in the never-too-full shelf of desert island books.
The interest of the Bell saga lies in its grim realism, from the day Thomas Bell landed with his family on Sunday Island's surf-swept shore to his embittered departure thirty-five years later.
To my dear friend Bessie Dyke, I extend my thanks for her generous sharing of memories which have enabled me to put on record this story of Pacific pioneering. My thanks are also extended to her brother, Mr. Raoul Sunday (Roy) Bell, Norfolk Island, born on Sunday Island, for permission to use extracts from his diary.
A special tribute of thanks and appreciation is due to Dr. W. R. B. Oliver, D.Sc, F.R.S.N.Z, ornithologist and botanist, former Director of the Dominion Museum, for the loan of his Sunday Island diary and his complete file of data extending over a period of fifty years, together with his collection of photographs taken in the course of a scientific exploration in 1907-1908. Several of the illustrations in these pages are reprints from negatives thus made fifty years ago. These courtesies he has supplemented with much valuable information in personal interviews.
For assistance with descriptions of plant-life, thermal activity, and present-day conditions on the island, I wish to thank Dr. R. C. Cooper, botanist, Auckland Museum, who accompanied a second party of New Zealand scientists on a five-weeks' visit to Sunday Island in July 1956.
Among others to whom a tribute of thanks is due are Mr. J. W. Wray, author of South Sea Vagabonds; Mr. Tudor Collins and Mr. Ron Sutcliffe, and also members of the staff of Raoul (Sunday) Island Meteorological Station, for use of photographs and checking of descriptive detail.
E. K. M.