The Story of Wild Will Enderby
Vincent Pyke was more than an immigrant from England, renowned for his political career and his passionate advocating for the miners of Victoria and Otago. As a pioneer writer, Pyke produced literary works that captured an early part of New Zealand’s history. Those early novels and literary works set in the New Zealand landscape and those also by New Zealand authors mark out the transition from the simple importing English literature to adapting their works into something that would develop into New Zealand’s own national literature.
Although long forgotten or underappreciated for the half and half state between its literary ties to English novel and a fully developed New Zealand Literary identity, The Story of Wild Will Enderby reveals Pyke’s connection to not just the early miners of the nineteenth-century, but also within his place in New Zealand history as a key figure in the establishment of modern New Zealand mining and the settlement of the Otago region.
Vincent Pyke was born in Somerset, England in 1827 to James and Mary Pike, his father a tinman and ironmonger.1 Pyke married Frances Elizabeth Renwick in 1846, and the couple had four sons and a daughter. Pyke only changed the spelling of his name after his marriage. After working as a linen draper in the Bristol he was initiated into the Royal Clarence Masonic Lodge in Bristol in 1850. As it was from the middle-class and upwardly-mobile working class that was recruited by the Masonry, Pyke’s sympathies for the striving of the lower orders was encouraged and strengthened.2 The Pyke family emigrated to Australia in 1851 and Pyke spent two years as a miner after learning of the gold rush in Victoria. He then became a storekeeper and immersed himself further into the mining community: it was here that his political career began.3 Pyke’s hands-on experience in the gold rush sparked his interest in advocating miner’s rights. His rhetorical skills won him the election to be their representative on the Victorian Legislative Council.
Caricature of MP Vincent Pyke, New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, 12 July 18904
Now in a position to influence the political and legislative processes of the mining community, not a week into his appointment Pyke submitted his proposal for the regulations of the Otago goldfields. Pyke targeted most passionately the infeasibility of the previous mining regulations, such as the process of claiming an area for mining, as the requirement was for claims to be marked with wooden pegs despite the scarcity of wood in Central Otago. This particular point is satirised in The Story of Wild Will Enderby. Pyke’s involvement in the reform of the Otago mining industry reveals the dedication he placed in the welfare of its people and his own affection for his new home.
Throughout Pyke’s career he presented himself as a bold character firmly involved within the community as well as a figure that shaped the establishment of gold mining in New Zealand. Pyke also supported and published his thoughts on wider social issues such as the battle for Women’s right to vote. An article titled Vincent Pyke on the Women’s Suffrage Bill featured in the Tuapeka Times, declares his support for Women’s right to vote. He expressed his sympathy for the cause with the clear statement that “the woman is quite as likely to be right as the man, and her vote on the right side will compensate for his on the wrong side.”7 It is only six years later that Women’s right to vote was achieved through the efforts of supporters such as the famous Kate Shepherd in 1893.
Pyke is remembered as “a vigorous debater,” that proved him to be a formidable opponent in his political battles. Although he displayed a blunt honesty, his at times uncertain temper also attracted attention, as one incident demonstrated when he championed the Central Otago Railway in 1880. Pyke reportedly argued his case with such vehemence that he was escorted out to cool his heels. Another account of Pyke’s exuberance occurred in a debate between Pyke and his continual adversary, Richard Seddon, in which Pyke brandished his walking stick threateningly at him but accidentally struck another MP and was once again hauled from the room shouting.8 Pyke led an immensely varied career that contributed not only to the formation of mining law and the mining industry, but he also focused his attentions on the people of the settlement of Otago. Pyke “mixed freely with all, including “the poorest miners in their frosty camp”, and indeed was held in genuine affection by Central Otago’s many small mining communities.9 For his efforts in his public works Pyke became one of Otago’s most effective politicians and advocate.10 On his death on the 4th June 1894, aged 67, Pyke’s tombstone was inscribed fondly: “in Grateful Memory of his many public services.” 11
When it came to putting pen to paper Pyke chose to write not of his native England, nor of his previous years in Australia, but the place of opportunity, New Zealand, where he had achieved a challenging and rewarding position in life. It would seem natural then for him to write of the community that he was so connected to. The Story of Wild Will Enderby, 1873, his first full goldfields novel, is a work of fiction that balances on the line between an adventure-romance story set in the gold rush, and a historical fiction. The attention to the inner workings of a mining community is vividly portrayed within the narrative.
Pyke’s writing career began, ultimately, for fun - both for his own entertainment, and for the entertainment of his readers. It was also because of his overflow of passion and involvement within his community. His political career began in Victoria, Australia, but really gained in influence in Otago. His children also gained careers of distinction in New Zealand which only strengthened his bonds with his new land. Pyke’s appreciation for the land and the people could only have endeared New Zealand to him; evidenced through his other literary works. As a man of various talents, writing of his new home rewarded him with as much satisfaction as initiating the new mining legislation did, as he wrote both histories and guides to the region alongside his fictional work.
Pyke’s first published work was a guidebook The Province of Otago, 1868, in which Pyke brings to bear all of his rhetorical prowess to portray as inviting picture of Otago as possible, his audience were the potential immigrants much like he himself was. Pyke had further interest in the growing region as the Scottish settlers continued to influence the culture of Otago and according to George Griffiths, Pyke claimed to understand the ‘Lowland Scots idiom well enough to write in it.’12 In the friendly dispute the gauntlet was thrown down, and George Brodie, himself a Scottish settler, challenged Pyke to write a story for Brodie who would then send it to Edinburgh for publication should Brodie judge it worthy. Thus Lost in the Goldfields: A Tale of the Otago Diggings was published in Edinburgh’s Chambers Journal, the exact date unknown. The short story was republished in Dunedin in 1875 in The Southern Mercury, a journal edited by Pyke himself. This story is evidence of Pyke’s fictional talents, especially in the subject matter of the goldfields as it prefigures Wild Will.13
1873 stood out as a politically and literary significant year for Pyke as he moved to Dunedin after an unsuccessful run for the provincial council seat, but was elected to the colonial House of Representatives as a member for the Wakatipu region. It was also the year that Pyke published his first full length goldfields novel, The Story of Wild Will Enderby, and became editor for the Southern Mercury and Otago Guardian in the next year. He continued his journalistic career during the 1880s: often contributing to the humorous columns of these journals and papers while also serving as editor of the Dunedin Morning Herald in 1882.14
Pyke’s longer works include the History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago, 1887, regarded as a classic of New Zealand historiography. Pyke’s History also gives an account of Pyke’s own adventures in the South Island wilds.15 In August 1865, Pyke and a small expedition began their journey in Clyde and made their way past the Lake Wanaka region to the West Coast in the hope of encouraging the West Coast miners to settle in Otago. While largely a successful expedition, the return journey presented its own adventures as most of the party’s previsions were lost and Pyke returned a much slimmer figure, which was much remarked upon his homecoming to Dunedin. In a letter to Provincial Secretary Frederick Walker the narrative of Pyke’s voyage was later published which demonstrated Pyke’s literary skills as his descriptive language and dramatization of events anticipated his interest in writing fiction.
However, another fictional work highlights Pyke’s interesting literary career. Having already tried his hand at writing within Scottish idiom, Pyke published a novella in the Scottish dialect, Craigielinn, alongside other short stories during the 1880s. The story is of the pre-history of the Otago settlement, indicating Pyke’s interest in not only the immediate history of the goldfields, but also the establishment and shaping of the culture of the region. Pyke’s interest in New Zealand developed from his career in the politics of the mining region to his literary efforts, both fictional and non-fictional, reflecting this appreciation for the growth in the entire region from the earliest settlement, to the possibilities of the future.
The Story of Wild Will Enderby as Pyke’s first full goldfields novel enjoyed great success at its reception. While described as a ‘sprawling, vigorous and vulgar’ novel critics declared that despite this, or because of this, it ‘sold out three editions in its first year.’ 16 The favourable image of the Otago region that Pyke paints for readers is compelling, as it is not only written by a man who lived and worked within the setting of his narrative, but he also brings that first-hand account of New Zealand onto the literary stage. The sense that Pyke has invited the reader into an exploration of the gold fields of the South Island of New Zealand is sown through the descriptions of the landscape and of the reversal of men’s fortunes. Pyke’s intention for the novel was to create a fictional work that both entertained through its melodramatic and adventurous events and provided a glimpse of the lives of real settlers within an ever growing and developing settlement. It made for an encouraging image of New Zealand that invited more people to the land that was depicted as equally beautiful and prosperous.
The plot of The Story of Wild Will Enderby is both simplistic in its motivations – for love, but also complicated by seemingly unrelated events and frequent narrator asides. It opens with an exposition on the landscape and scenery of the Otago countryside. The introduction of ‘Henry Grey’ as a young miner places him in the landscape itself. However, the peace is broken by the arrival of the American George Washington Pratt, styled after the George Hartley who struck gold first in the region. Pratt convinces Grey to share a claim to better work it, and so the ‘Co’ is formed. Immediately the claim is threatened as other miners see that it is rich and not properly staked out by pegs per regulation. Pratt staunchly defends the claim and the Goldfields Commissioner is called in who eventually rules in favour of the Co. Meanwhile, Grey having resupplied in town, spies unwelcome news in the papers and which results in him almost drowning in the river. Grey returns to the claim and Pratt in sympathy tells him that he came to the goldfields to make his fortune to marry a woman still in America. The narrative goes back in time to when Pratt worked in his uncle’s shop in America, where he fell in love with Ruth. The flashback ends and the fight for their claim renews as surrounding miners notice how prosperous the Co’s claim is. Pratt is rumoured to a bloodthirsty desperado after he drives off thieves by shooting at them.
Book two begins with the backstory of Grey – properly known as ‘Wild’ Will Enderby and his disastrous romancing of Florence, a widowed governess to Mable, his betrothed, in the Australian heat. He too is revealed to have come to the Otago goldfields to make his fortune for the sake of his love for Florence. Unfortunately, his object of desire is not as faithful as Pratt’s Ruth and it is the news of Florence’s marriage that caused Enderby to almost drown.
In book three the narrative is brought back to Otago, the Co guard their pile. That night while Pratt investigates the rumours of a new rush, Enderby stands guard, but the cry of ‘Murder’ is heard and a body is heard to fall into the river. Pratt continues to follow an exploration party deeper into the country. In the morning in Dunstan, the site of struggle is found at the Co’s camp and Enderby is nowhere in sight and the worse is presumed. Night once more and ignorant of the events back in Dunstan, Pratt sneaks about the new camp in upper Clutha area and he learns from a visiting sergeant about being wanted for questioning for Enderby’s disappearance and comes along willingly. Meanwhile, a body is found and confirmed as Enderby by the medico that saved him from drowning. Pratt argues his innocence to no avail. Late that night in the roughs Enderby stumbles into a shepherd’s hut and learns that Pratt is to be tried for his murder in the morning and makes all speed to return – stealing the constable’s horse in the process. The third book ends with ends with trial in progress and a wild looking Will Enderby arriving to declare Pratt’s innocence before collapsing deathly ill.
Book Four sees John Grey learning of his nephew’s illness and confession to murder and sends his son to aide him, and Mabel joins him in his journey to New Zealand. Enderby is believed to be dying and he reveals the truth of the story. While he was guarding, he was attacked by two men, one he ran off the other he hit who fell into the river. The terrified man fled but came back to help Pratt. The narrative draws to its conclusion as Enderby is left to recover in the tender mercies of Mable, exempt from the law for self-defence. George Washington Pratt continues his search for gold.
The plot, hectic and only paused by the chapters that explain past events, gave the narrative tone both of a rollicking adventure story as well as a dramatic romance of early Otago. The genre of the novel itself can be simply defined as a melodramatic romance because of both its colonial setting as well as the writing style. However, the narrative can also be classed as adventure fiction. The genre of adventure fiction blends in well with the goldfields setting as the plot of murder, mystery and the characters’ aims to improve their lot in life falls provides more than enough opportunity for plot points. Especially in the context of a novel written in New Zealand, far removed from ‘civilised’ England, even America.
There is a real sense of the lawlessness of the goldfields as a narrative space at the end of the world, as what authority figures that feature are shown to be just a hair above incompetent. Through his direct narration Pyke reveals the issues that he had personally dealt with during his tenure as Goldfields Commissioner. Throughout the novel, Pyke outlines for the reader the administrative processes miners had to follow in order to lay a claim on a particular area of land. Obtaining the legal rights to a claim marks the first conflict in the novel and Pyke, having lobbied for the reform of regulations in this area, paints the Commissioner in an incompetent light. “The Commissioner’s table was covered in dust; his ink was thick with it; his papers black with it; his temper apparently soured by it.” (Pyke, 27) Authority figures in Wild Will are particularly satirised, George Pratt starring the noble, yet wronged hero throughout the narrative.
Furthermore, the novel also lends itself to the melodramatic romance genre as not only the love interests of the two men serve as the instigating factor for their arrival in Dunstan, the narrative also sways wildly between adventures, rhapsodising about the landscape and the moralising passages. Perhaps as the alternative to the Victorian ‘detective fiction’ found in England, the narrative follows the sensationalist style that transported local readers to see their familiar environment to that in which great feats of drama is possible. Jane Stafford and Mark Williams in their introduction to their work Maoriland Introduction: "A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent" introduces the discussion of nineteenth-century New Zealand literature. The topic of genre sees Pyke’s novel form a blend of the romantic and the factual yet dramatized adventure and pioneer genres. Stafford and Williams summarise the trend in genre shift: “in Britain, this period shows a shift in fictional style from the realism of the first half of the nineteenth-century to a revival of romance by the 1880s.”17 They explain that authors of New Zealand novels were influenced by these ideas which resulted in styles of writing that ranged from the “almost prosaic and autobiographical and to the fanciful and romantic.”18 Pyke’s style of writing can be described both in romantic and autobiographical terms as his goldfields stories hold factual accounts of the mining community in Dunstan Otago much like his guide to the goldfields, yet has all the drama and adventurous exploits of a romance.
Just as Pyke treats the people in his novel with sensationalist Victorian melodrama, so too does he paint a sublime picture of the Otago landscape. The idea of the sublime rises from the eighteenth and nineteenth sensibilities of the landscape painters in Europe. The treatment of landscape painting became preoccupied by the awful and terrifying beauty of the natural world. Pyke translates that tension of describing the beauty of the New Zealand landscape through the lens of a pseudo American Frontier romance. He begins with “Far away in the interior of Otago,” already assigning a removed, unreachable and different space to a place that was on the other side of the world as far as readers outside of New Zealand was concerned. “A strange, wild scene. Bleak and desolate enough….Huge, unshapely masses of rock weather beaten geological veterans blackened and seamed and scarred by I know not how many centuries of conflict with the elements.” (Pyke, 1) Pyke portrays the Otago landscape through the sublime language that conveys a sense of the geological processes that established the natural resources of which the novel revolves around. The land itself presents a place of opportunity, the prospects of finding gold and achieving a greater living for oneself.
A unique aspect of the novel is its narrative voice. While Pyke’s personal style of writing is one that clearly gives a sense of writing being his hobby, it is in Wild Will that the tendency for his narrator to take on the characteristics of Pyke’s personal views. As Pyke’s livelihood was so intertwined with the workings of the goldfields, his style of writing was also imbued with the same familiarity of how the goldfields shaped the people, which in turn fuelled his rendering of the characters. This conversational omniscience runs throughout the novel to inject the sense of a very real presence of the narrator. The reader is given the impression of Pyke’s involvement as the author as narrative description often gives way to commentary from the narrator himself. The resulting tone of the narration proves his reliability through the explanations of factual descriptions or the setting as well as the processes involved in a mining community. It is clear to the reader that the narrative is told through the voice of Vincent Pyke despite the fictional nature of the character and events surrounding their actions.
Instances where Pyke breaks through the narrative events and descriptions to insert his voice within the novel go beyond simple narrator omniscience. For example, initially he places Will Enderby and George Pratt in Dunstan, a gold mining township and describes the landscape and it inhabitants from their point of view. However, he also writes from his own retrospective point of view as he makes a point of naming it Dunstan “I prefer the old name” in memory of the “fine, pungent dust” (Pyke, 15) by which the town acquired the moniker ‘Dusty Dunstan.’ The narrator here steps forward beyond the story and injects a temporal aspect that is used solely for the purpose of establishing the setting as a ‘pause’ before continuing with the story.
Pyke also provides for his foreign readers footnotes that detail the names and brief description of names, places and native flora. As seen in chapter three as he establishes the setting of Dunstan and especially the surrounding area. “Note As I have no desire to mystify readers unacquainted with New Zealand flora, I append a brief description of shrubs mentioned.” (Pyke, 16) Separate from the narrative, this break in the story telling is more for the benefit of Pyke’s readers who are unfamiliar to New Zealand such as he and other prospectors drawn by the gold rush or those reading from overseas. Pyke also goes to great lengths to incorporate Maori place names for the flora and fauna, if only to add to the exotic and foreign description.
It is interesting to note that Pyke actively supported Women’s right to vote, and this is shown in The Story of Wild Will Enderby. This translates into the novel in the few female characters that drive the romantic plot. Both Pratt and Enderby arrive in the goldfields as a result of their thwarted love life, Ruth unobtainable without wealth in Pratt’s case and Will Enderby’s inappropriate longing for another woman, Florence, while betrothed to Mabel. At first Pyke’s portrayal of women is one of a plot device, however, the narrator casts doubt as to the simplistic characterisation as in the later chapters of the novel, a certain spirit is seen in Mabel which causes her to break from the societal norms. When Philip Grey is sent from Australia to New Zealand to aid Will Enderby, Mabel travels with him to ease her ill health. When faced with a long coach journey to Dunstan Philip refuses to listen to Mabel’s entreaties, believing himself to be in the right. This passage in the novel seems oddly disjointed from the rest of the narrative as Pyke particularly emphasises the exchange. “But Philip was deaf to entreaty, and set off by himself in the morning…. Yet as the coach ascended the hill above Dunedin revealing a magnificent view of the town...Philip’s conscience smote him, for that he had robbed his sister of a great pleasure.” (Pyke, 206) The rest of the passage is a continuation of poor Philip chastising himself to the brink of self-loathing for his high handed manner that adversely affected not just his sister, but himself as well, “his remorse was complete, and his condemnation was great.” (Pyke, 207) On one hand the small conflict between brother and sister could simply serve as a point to add to the melodrama of the novel.
On the other hand it is the first instance of a woman treated as a character in her own right in the novel without being attached in some way as the wife, the daughter or the source of marital disharmony. After shedding the servant girl disguise, Mabel transforms not just in her brother’s eye, but also in the reader’s eyes from the timid girl emotionally abused by Enderby’s inattention, to a woman determined to achieve her goals. It is implied that through Mabel’s removal from her parents’ house in Australia, she grows in character strength and stands equal to her brother, to the benefit of both parties. Pyke says as much in his ‘memo’ below this passage that “on the whole, I am inclined to think that a man is wellpleased to be outwitted by a woman, especially when the manoeuvre tends to his own gratification.” (Pyke, 208) Pyke here makes the argument that for man to be happy, women must also be happy and suggests that their wishes are not dissimilar, which echoes his arguments in the Taupeka Times.19
When presenting the draft to his editor, Professor Murphy Maguire, Pyke recounts the solemn tone in which the question was asked whether the events were all true or not. Somewhat flattered Pyke writes in his introduction to the republished edition, “If my rendering of life on the New Zealand Gold fields in the early sixties, was so faithful as to cause the learned Professor to hesitate to regard the story of ‘Wild Will Enderby’ as fact or fiction, I must certainly have achieved a success.’20 (Pyke, v) Pyke’s recreation of the early days of the gold rush ‘he claims’ is faithful, some accounts borrowed from experiences of people he was acquainted with.
For example, as far as the descriptions of the region, the place names and the processes of mining are concerned, Pyke could only have written from his own knowledge as a past miner and as the Goldfields Secretary. Also, Pyke’s casual use of the occasional Maori name for native plants and places is partially explained by Jane Stafford and Mark Williams in their introduction: A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent. They termed this use of local names as ‘Maoriland’ “The beliefs, practises and traditions of the Maori are contextualised and universalised for the European reader unfamiliar with such intriguing barbarisms.”21 The inclusion of maori names gave Pyke authority as the author as he had knowledge of the places and name that results in the reader placing greater trust in the reliability of the narrator.
Stafford and Williams also note the transition of New Zealand literature during this period adapted from the “Newly indigenised, late-colonial authors could turn their minds to the modern – the brave new world of women’s suffrage, innovative social legislation, and the construction of a modern, albeit still colonial, economy.” Pyke’s Wild Will definitely shows itself as a novel that is more concerned with the developing colonial region of Otago through the gold rush. The idea of the modernisation through women’s suffrage and legislative reformed have been proven goals of Pyke’s through his other literary and political efforts through his articles to the newspapers and his own submitted mining laws.
A review in the Star advertises the re-issue of Pyke’s Wild Will as colonial literature and the opportunity for readers to read a story of the early days of the goldfields. Re-issued through Whitcombe and Tombs, the review had this to say of the novel: “There is in it much of moving incident, there are many touches of pathos, there is genuine humour, and there is throughout a naturalness which must conduce greatly to the reader’s enjoyment.” However, of equal interest it seems to the reviewer here is the nature of a bargain of such a novel that ‘in so cheap a from’ no matter the quality, will “have a quick sale and an extensive one.”22
Another lengthier review of the novel in the Otago Witness begins by bemoaning the dearth of quality Colonial literature and attributes this to the materialistic tendencies of the Colonialists. The reviewer rather scathingly questions whether the appearance of “an exceptionally clever work” would do well in sales as the Colonists are “so earnestly struggling for wealth that they have no inclination for other matters” or that they simply have no “faith in the talent of Colonial authors.” Hardly a promising introduction to Pyke’s novel, the reviewer nonetheless hopes that Wild Will Enderby “will disabuse the minds of those people who entertain the erroneous belief that the colony can boast of no talented writers.” After outlining the events of the first book, the reviewer pronounces that the descriptions of scenery are excellent, quoting the first glimpse of Dunstan from the first chapter, “proving Mr Pyke to be an enthusiastic lover of Nature.” However, this review is concluded with summary that “Mr Pyke may feel proud of his production” that the novel can “teach us to honour honesty, manliness, and perseverance.”23
After the acclaim Pyke won for Wild Will, his second instalment, The Adventures of George Washington Pratt, of the digger’s adventures in Otago, New Zealand was published the following year. The focus shifts to George Washington Pratt as he was left alone by Will Enderby at the end of the previous novel and promises to regale the reader with more tales of daring adventures. Pyke begins as he did in Wild Will with a rapturous description of the New Zealand landscape which is purposed to generate the beginnings of national pride, at least on the part of the author himself.
Pyke establishes this idea through his setting of the scene in which Pratt and Enderby stake a claim in Dunstan. Pyke depicts a township that echoes the pioneer and adventurous spirit found in American Wild West stories. “Goldfields, like Chinese citizens, undergo sundry mutations of name at successive stages of their growth. First comes the miner...and bestows on his campingplace…. close upon his heels follow the storekeeper and the purveyor licenced or otherwise. These form a street, more or less crooked, and assign a more speak able application to the new township.” (Pyke, 13) Here Pyke outlines the process by which one imagines the very beginnings of a township. He creates the setting for the novel from the ground up in a sense, achieving the pioneering and adventurous spirit by incorporating the development that has led to the character’s situations in the narrative. An element of historical importance is emphasised through the goldfield setting as not only is it important to the narrative, the adventurous aspects are rooted in the narrative space of the goldfield, but also as it was of significance to the author himself and the significance it played in New Zealand history. The shaping of the South Island cities and source of wealth was of importance to Pyke as he himself was instrumental to economic and township growth through events such as the development of the railway to Wanaka and authorship of mining legislation. 24
A talented politician, author and advocate, Vincent Pyke contributed to the history of New Zealand not only through his public career, but also his literary works. Pyke’s public persona both quick and generous revealed his passion for the improvement of miner’s rights and the continual growth for the Otago region. His literary efforts in newspapers, journals, guides, and of course his novels, exemplified by The Story of Wild Will, were a testament to his dedication to New Zealand as his home.
2 Lawless, 59
3 Lawless, 55
5 Lawless, 56
6 Lawless, 56
8 Lawless, 61
9 Lawless, 61
12 Lawless, 60
13 Lawless, 60
15 Lawless, 56
16 Lawless, 58
18 Stafford, Jane, Mark Williams
20 Pyke, Vincent, Wild Will Enderby, Christchurch: Caper Press, 1974
21 Stafford, Jane, Williams, Mark
24 Hearn, T. J, 'Pyke, Vincent', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 8-Jan-2014