An Introduction to The Boy Colonists by E. Simeon Elwell
The Boy Colonists, or Eight Years of Colonial Life in Otago, New Zealand carves a notch in colonial and literary history. Written by Edward Simeon Elwell in 1878, it details one boy’s brief farming career on the early sheep stations of New Zealand’s lower South Island. His story encapsulates the lifestyle of many British settlers that sailed to Australia and New Zealand, who then catalogued their experiences in stories for those back home. Elwell’s novel seems to most closely resemble a piece of colonial travel writing; therefore, it shall be largely discussed in the context of such literature. Although little seems to be known of the author’s history, the novel’s broader history of colonial writing is ripe for exploration. The story follows the lifestyle of the main character Ernest, as a meticulous retelling of his new life. It reads with an intention of sending the story back home to family, or to be shared with a wider public eager to learn of the new country. As a pasted combination of diary-like entries, letter excerpts, adventure passages and several echoes of a farming manual, The Boy Colonists follows the traditional format of nineteenth-century travel writing, and subsequently provides a raw insight into settler life in early New Zealand.Write your paragraphs inside these tags
I. Caveat Lector
Prior to exploring Elwell’s story, a caveat must first be identified concerning the challenges and limitations of analysing this book. The main character Ernest follows the path typical of several hopeful travellers from Britain to New Zealand, venturing to the colonies in the hopes of discovering a simpler way of life. The account provided by Ernest is so meticulously specific that it presents itself as true, to the point that we might infer it being a recount of the author’s experiences. Upon closer research, it appears that this is in fact the case: Elwell travelled to New Zealand with his friend Henry Willmot when they were sixteen and seventeen, respectively (C. Elwell). Ernest thus becomes a stand-in for the author, who changed his and Henry’s names when he chose to write about his experience. However, it appears that the author moved to New Zealand solely for his time on the sheep stations; he left next to no trace of his stay in the country, then moved back to England.
Little else is known of Elwell’s life. It is known that he was born in 1842 and died in 1925, but in between is more ambiguous (C. Elwell). Of his career until 1878, when The Boy Colonists was published, there is no information. Records begin to appear after this, concerning four religious texts that Elwell published across twenty years: A Plea for Infant Baptism (1882); The Abuse of Public Patronage in the Church (1893); The Elementary Education Question (1899); and Short Readings for Parish Visitors (1904), which can be found in the British Library Catalogue. It appears that, once Elwell returned to Britain after his stay in New Zealand, his focuses shifted to the Church and promoting religion.
The complication arises concerning the book itself. There is absolutely no literary scholarship linked to the book, and likewise no historical sources. Elwell left no footprints during his stay in Otago, breezing into the country and out again without significant ceremony, and nobody as of yet has ventured to explore The Boy Colonists further. This introduction therefore must cast its net a little wider than a discussion of just the author and the text itself. It is instead an exploration of nineteenth-century colonial life, and the travel writing that was inspired by such rural excursions to the colonies. By assessing the literary and historical contexts surrounding The Boy Colonists, perhaps it may be possible to glean a little more understanding from the story itself.
II. The Story
The Boy Colonists follows the life of a young British boy, Ernest, and his friend Harry, who travel from their homeland of England to try their hand at farm work in the distant country of New Zealand. Once there, their jobs cause them to continually part and come together again as they are taken across the Southland region, establishing colonial sheep stations and farm sites. The majority of the story follows Ernest’s experiences as he moves across these stations.
He finds the beginning of his work to be significantly discouraging, but he quickly learns to adapt to the rougher country lifestyle. The novel does not shy away from how gruelling, strenuous or mundane Ernest’s work sometimes might be; however, Ernest’s open-minded curiosity for this new country overcomes the initial dismay, and he learns to embrace the hard work. As he establishes one farm station and moves on to begin another, he meets a vast array of people – immigrants and indigenous tribes alike – and the novel gives a significant focus to his interactions. After working in the Otago Region of the South Island for eight years, Ernest decides to return home, at which time he reunites with Harry so they may leave together. Their journey back is depicted with the same energy as their journey to New Zealand, adapted for the now-older boys who have been transformed by years of hard labour. The novel poignantly concludes with Ernest boarding his train back to his family home in England, thus bookending his exciting stint as a New Zealand settler.
The staple feature of his time in New Zealand is the attention given to the landscape through which Ernest traverses. As he works, he details the land in which he is immersed, discussing all the new flora and fauna he sees: the tui and kaka birds in the bush; the battering sea on the coast of Oamaru; the “very pretty” manuka wood used to furnish the new stations – each description adds colour to the vivid picture of New Zealand life and nature that Elwell paints across the novel (E. Elwell 62).
The publisher’s note preceding the book includes in its own overview a couple of hand-picked anecdotal events from throughout the book, as a method of enticing the reader. Each of these anecdotes involves to some degree the nature and new land that the boys enter, and the detriments and advantages they find upon their journeys. The country is as much a part of the story as Ernest, who often battles with nature and the elements in order to best do his job. While the examples provided in the publisher’s note are only a handful of Ernest’s experiences, they nonetheless begin to form a connection between his character and the audience, who read about events such as his “first attempt to milk a wild cow” and instantly desire to read on (publisher’s note, Elwell ii).
III. Life Beyond New Zealand: Concerning Publication
There was significantly limited access to press at the time of The Boy Colonists' publication. As mentioned at the beginning of this introduction, there is no criticism about Elwell’s single colonial text; even his aforementioned works for the Church of England are difficult to seek out. The publication of such a large body of work all within the same genre further complicates a reception of The Boy Colonists. Despite the fact that Elwell’s holistic literary catalogue covers a range of subjects – from colonial recount to Christian epistles – the lack of any scholarship or publication records about the former suggests a certain level of obscurity throughout his earlier career as a writer.
There is one newspaper excerpt detailing the novel’s publication, printed in The Star newspaper, on June 19th, 1878 in Canterbury in the South Island. Other than this small description and preview of the book, there is no easily-discernible material about The Boy Colonists in New Zealand other than varying editions of the book itself. Within the excerpt the story is described as “simply a brief and plain narrative of what occurred to a settler in the Province of Otago, New Zealand, during the years 1859 to 1867” (publisher’s note, Elwell ii):
While a similar announcement was also printed in England, this newspaper extract has become the only indication of The Boy Colonists being sold or promoted in the Southern Hemisphere.
Considering the links between Britain and New Zealand were quite substantial throughout the nineteenth century (especially with settlers migrating to New Zealand), Elwell’s lack of mention in Antipodean press is confusing. The “availability of British publishers was very signiﬁcant for New Zealand literature”, as it was the primary outlet through which their works could reach a wider audience (Bones 865)1. Elwell is an exception to this generalisation. He was neither involved with New Zealand for an ongoing period nor does he appear to be involved in press circulation. He therefore is a difficult author to place within the imperial relationship: since the rest of his works were all England-dedicated and England-published in his later life, he is clearly affiliated more closely with his home country than with New Zealand.
IV. A Note on Form
The form of The Boy Colonists is primarily dedicated to evoking a sense of wonder in the reader. Implicit and explicit comparisons to British living are woven through Ernest’s descriptions of his environment and lifestyle, which emphasise New Zealand’s exciting ‘foreignness’. A passage which most keenly encapsulates this sense of wonder – for both the reader and for Ernest in his experiences – is the account of his fellow farmer Isaacs suffering the effects of poisonous tutu berries (a native New Zealand fungus). Since the poisonous plant was new for Ernest, naturally so was the farmer’s reaction. The passage is both clinical and excited in tone, as Ernest witnesses Isaacs begin to “foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth, and run and jump about wildly” (E. Elwell 33). While explaining the berry and its effects on livestock, there is a sense of factual detachment, as if Ernest is trying to adopt the tone of a more experienced farmer. He is unflinching while discussing how cattle “never thoroughly recovered” from eating tutu, concentrating on science and technicality rather than the emotion related to losing so much livestock to a poisonous weed (34). However, the disbelief that a fellow peer would eat such berries and suffer the same ailment of the animals seeps through, making Ernest’s enthusiasm almost tangible. The personal bias that Isaacs appears “foolish” for eating the tutu – followed by surprise and admiration that he “bled himself” in order to alleviate the affliction – emphasises the ‘otherness’ of Ernest’s new lifestyle and the excitement of its novelty (34). The novel is focalised through Ernest’s eyes; the reader sees as Ernest does and is subject to his interactions. Therefore, the reader is naturally inclined to align their attitudes with Ernest’s feelings. In passages like this, it becomes easier to notice and respond to his feelings. This passage is emblematic of the book’s wider style, which translates the same wonder felt by Ernest on his journey to the audience’s reading of it later.
Elwell estranges New Zealand from Britain through these descriptions of New Zealand nature, emphasising the physical and cultural distance between the two countries. Ernest narrates his first encounters with several species of native wildlife, including a particularly enormous lounge of lizards. The lizards are described as being “so numerous” they seemed “almost to swarm” (22). Of course, the word “swarm” is based on Elwell’s personal standards. It would have been even more common in the nineteenth century to stumble upon such a large collection, when the country was wilder and less populated. However, Elwell is writing with British standards in mind, to an audience who is not accustomed to such an abundance of the species. Seeing a giant swarm would have been alarming for any visitor to the country, and similarly so for overseas readers. It is also an interesting text for New Zealanders to read back, since it depicts a pre-colonisation New Zealand, more abundant and lusher for the lack of civilisations. The later description of the Paradise ducks’ “splendid plumage” is also biased towards a British interpretation (22). The birds’ “hideous crying” is an objective description, as it is entirely based on the narrator’s judgement (23). However, it does emphasise the strangeness of Ernest’s environment and his isolation from home.
The nature in which the boy is immersed not only distances the character himself, but also increases the separation between the novel’s content and its readership. Throughout these passages, Elwell estranges what he is experiencing by comparing it to what is familiar to him. This estrangement would have further intrigued Elwell’s audience, as they could make comparisons between their own home and the world of the novel (like this group of lizards). Such comparisons were made to evoke a sense of wonder in the reader.
V. Nineteenth-Century Context: from the Motherland to Distant Lands
Throughout the nineteenth century, travel to New Zealand was becoming more frequent, alongside increasing British colonial development (Carr 71). The character of Ernest within The Boy Colonists is one of many young British hopefuls who were pursuing these new developments; as travel became both cheaper and easier, “a great many steamer passengers simply came to see for themselves what the prospects were, and to go around the world because they could” (Wevers Country of Writing 133). Elwell illustrates clearly from the beginning of his tale that Ernest, like these passengers, fancied “that when once set afloat in the world, and free to act on his own impulses, he should soon carve his way to fortune and honour”, independent of his home (E. Elwell 3). The ease of travel by 1859 meant that he could pursue these fancies and make his way to New Zealand to begin life as a settler.
Britain’s desire to cultivate colonies overseas was primarily affected by the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the inspiration to travel to more remote areas of the globe was instigated by “the popularity of pastoral poetry that evoked pictures of the countryside paradise the revolution was thought to have done away with” (Evans 19). Britain was circulating images of a ‘promised land’ for those wishing to escape the industrial centre and create a simpler life, and anything beyond the borders of Europe was depicted as exotic and fantastical. Ernest himself is described as having “a very bright view” of New Zealand “and the world outside his home” which motivated his travels and played into the general excitement the public was feeling about foreign shores (E. Elwell 3). Helen Bones, in her work A Book is a Book All the World Over, neatly summarises how this exoticism linked to public curiosity of colonial life:
The history of the exoticisation of elements of colonial life and experience began as soon as Europeans began to explore far-ﬂung parts of the world and brought back tales of curious lands and strange peoples. This cult of the exotic was tied up with the tropes of European Romanticism, modiﬁed in the nineteenth century... Curiosity about colonial life ‘did not necessarily translate into an appreciation of what was original and unconventional in the literary work coming from different parts of the Empire, but it did represent an opening that [colonial writers] could attempt to exploit’ (Bones 873).
Bones explains the cycle of travel and report: the more information about the colonies that fed back to the homeland, the more interested the public became in their daily lives and discoveries. This in turn created an opportunity for the settlers to report back even more of their findings in further corners of these countries.
Colonists were thus drawn specifically to New Zealand because it was a perfect example of such a curious land: a “wonderland of the new, a terra incognita of tremendous possibilities” yet to be discovered (Wevers, Country of Writing 3). Far away from the English metropolis, living in such an environmentally rich country was an opportunity for colonists to “escape the environmental constraints of a resource-poor and environmentally-depleted Europe” (Ballantyne 13). Yet one of New Zealand’s more stranger appeals was that it was considered to be a “Better Britain”: an ideal country for colonial exploration because it was far enough away geographically, but not so unfamiliar or foreign as to deter potential travellers (Wagner 2). Elwell occasionally touches on this transferred Britishness from the mother country into the New Zealand colonies throughout Ernest’s involvements with his various hosts - particularly ‘Mr. and Mrs. P.’, as they are addressed throughout the book. Ernest notes how these settlers maintain the same schedules and habits as they had done in Britain, albeit in worse conditions now than before. They nonetheless still “take tea” together at table, uphold religious practise to the best of their abilities and maintain lingering ideas of the class system (E. Elwell 31).
However, while individuals like Ernest may have been motivated by their private desires to ‘make a living’ overseas, their travel and work in the settler countries was part of the bigger colonialism scheme that saw Britain’s reach permeate the Commonwealth. The appeal of the settler life was seen through the lens of “imperial potentiality” – that is, the travellers’ and colonists’ assessment of the “land and resources” at their disposal within the framework of “an imagined imperial future” (Ballantyne 12). These new countries became extensions of Britain to use or develop in the name of the Crown. Of course, discussing the implications and connotations behind these ideas – and of New Zealand colonialism in general – is worthy of an entirely separate introduction all on its own, so intense and deep is the subject. While it is not the focus of Elwell’s text, it is necessary to at least momentarily address it in order to contextualise some of Ernest’s relationships and interactions on the sheep stations. Particularly when Ernest is discovering more of New Zealand’s history, and the “vast different between the Maories [sic] of the North and those of the South”, the country’s tribal history is brought to the foreground (E. Elwell 20). While Ernest himself does not experience any personal ramifications of the tension between settlers and Māori, and only “takes notice” of the New Zealand Wars from a distance, he does find himself in conversations with various individuals who are staunchly opinionated about the fresh history of European migration (95). Thus, the ambition and implications of cultivating a ‘British’ colony go somewhat hand-in-hand with the life that Elwell paints for his audiences, as Ernest makes his way across the South Island.
VI. Colonial Living, and Writing from the Colonies
The representation of colonial living in The Boy Colonists is unflinchingly accurate. Elwell’s account of station-building in the South Island is as honest as it is meticulous. Life is detailed exactly as it happened – almost as a play-by-play – rather than written with embellished fact or the need to create a sensational, plot-driven account – something more along the lines of what audiences might read today (such as a Jack Reacher thriller, or a Danielle Steel romance). This accurate focus is primarily down to the fact that depictions of colonial living – and building new societies overseas – were gaining traction throughout the 1800s. This was due to it becoming a popular reading topic, particularly for those whose loved ones actually were carving new futures or civilisations across the seas. New Zealand material, in particular, was “a very marketable commodity”, being so far away from the industrial centre of Europe (Bones 873). Of course, the family and friends of those who had travelled were in contact in the form of letters, but this still left a large population of the British public keen to learn about the New Zealand lifestyle.
Ethnographic writing in particular was the starting point that provided the British with understanding of new cultures, which the settlers had garnered from personal interaction and then recounted in the written word2. This ethnographic approach in New Zealand was pioneered by the first French Marists and the British Anglican missionaries who made their way to the country, tasked with reporting their observations back to England. The missionaries took the tradition of ethnographic writing with which they had been armed, inspired by “a unique combination of colonial expansion and intellectual transformation”, and morphed it into more accessible, experience-based accounts (Rubiés 243).
While the depictions of these new settlements employed “many of the set-pieces and conventional tropes of exploration narratives”, the writing was different in its conflation of British social practises in a wilder, newer setting (Wevers, Country of Writing 34). It meant that writers were still intensely thorough in detailing every aspect of their findings, in order to maintain historical, colonial and scientific accuracy for audiences overseas, but now injected that with personal experience. Due to the monotony of early settler life in New Zealand, “initial reports” back home were “almost unbelievably boring, with their details of wool and tallow production” (Evans 20). Several accounts varied very little between each other, as each man encountered much of the same thing. However, tales from a ‘new world’ were still so extraordinary to hear about across the Pacific that a market for the content was steadily growing (21).
Concerning The Boy Colonists, the missionaries opened up a new facet of writing to feed back to their home countries from which Elwell was able to draw. Beyond simple nineteenth-century “exploration narratives” came the depiction of a specific way of life (Evans 20). These stories assessed both the writer’s external environments and the people they found within them, and Elwell was able to draw from this new style in writing The Boy Colonists. The hints of ethnographic writing – or a close resemblance – come in the descriptions of places and nature mentioned in the summary. Ernest consistently “examined the country around the hut[s]” he stayed in, describing in detail the native land (E. Elwell 36). While he begins his journey in Christchurch, Ernest’s work for the sheep stations takes him all across Southland in the South Island, often stopping in small settler towns to help expand their farmland. In these moments, several paragraphs are dedicated to explaining the changing landscape – from forest bush “full of birds” (29), to “table-land” rife with “large holes and chasms” (79). Even though Elwell discloses that Ernest (he) “knew nothing of geography”, he still writes to the best of his ability to detail his surroundings and situate the reader in the country (76).
Occasionally Elwell also elaborates on the function or history of certain aspects of the nature Ernest encounters, teaching his readers about his findings – a common practise in ethnographic writing. Audiences were not familiar with the content and appreciated in-depth explanations about form and function (Rubiés 237). Extensive passages are given to the “several purposes” of raupō reeds (E. Elwell 36), or the insect delicacies of the bush that Elwell feels “deserve some notice” in order to properly educate his readers (38). Even the job of sheep-shearing – which Elwell “thought to be miserable work” – is described in detail, so that the everyday consumers back in England would understand the processes of “tailing” or “waving” as they read (49). In these moments, Elwell refines the blend of ethnography and personal encounters that was pioneered by the first missionaries; it becomes a more holistic genre that both depicts the settler lifestyle and elaborates on the country that the settlers inhabited. The focus on nature and the physical experience within which Ernest is immersed is almost certainly inspired by the missionaries’ earlier work doing the same thing.
This increase in ability to write about the colonies was also somewhat attributed to the widening cohort of settlers who chose to depict their travels. Alongside those who travelled with the intention of recording their findings, were the large cohort of hopeful settlers who ended up doing the same through correspondence with their families. The publisher’s note that precedes The Boy Colonists notes that Elwell’s goal in writing this story was "‘to inform friends of the real nature of colonial life in the early days of the settlement of that Province” and is characterized by a cheerful acceptance of the hard work, primitive conditions, and the isolation endured on the sheep-stations” (E. Elwell ii, emphasis added). Settlers desired their writing to be truthful for the benefit of their families, which often lead to similar meticulous descriptions of the day-to-day that occur in Elwell’s story. The overall aim was to “provide a more realistic representation of what it ‘means’ to be [somebody living in New Zealand]”; therefore, texts written around the same time as The Boy Colonists also translated this emphasis on accuracy and peaceful acquiescence of a physically difficult life (Bones 863). It stemmed from a desire to reconnect with the homeland, to prove the legitimacy of their travels and to keep a relatively up-to-date log of their living conditions, which manifested in the written word.
VII. The Sweep of Travel Writing
This colonial representation of life overseas developed into the genre of travel writing, to which writers and travellers alike turned in order to depict their journeys. These types of narratives were “all the rage” throughout the nineteenth century, again owing to the fact that “the experience of travel became less unusual” and more accessible (Wevers, Reading on the Farm 37). Travel writing was seen as facilitating “an intersection between a distant culture and a present enterprise”, with the authors acting as mediators between the places they came from and the places they ventured towards (2). The expectation was that travel writing was a simple and detailed collection of the writer’s experiences or interactions, reproduced for literary consumption. In The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, Roy Bridges eloquently defines the genre as being “a discourse designed to describe and interpret for its readers a geographical area together with its natural attributes and its human society and culture” (Bridges 53). Since the audience was distanced from the author, the level of intrigue increased, but also the need for accuracy. Thus, travel writing became a process of collecting and redistributing information.
As mundane as a regurgitation of facts might seem to modern readers – readers who are motivated by a driving plot – audiences of the nineteenth century were eager to learn about the day-to-day activities of those stationed so far away. ‘Report’ and ‘account’ were “[frequent] descriptions of nineteenth century travel writing” (102). To understand the settlers’ routines was to have the gap bridged between traveller and audience, for reasons of comfort or desire for knowledge. There was a strong attraction of being confined to countryside Britain and still reading about distant places or peoples in specific detail. Indeed, The Boy Colonists is described as a “valuable record of people and places” rather than a fictional story (E. Elwell ii). Elwell translated his travels exactly, rather than focusing on fictionality and embellishment. For the writers themselves, engaging in travel narratives became an act of processing their surroundings “through ethnographic or geographic observation”; their unusual endeavours could make more sense once chronologically documented or passed on for others to discover (Wevers, Country of Writing 79). The growing population of these writers meant that travel writing gradually moved from “synthetic relations… written for practical purposes”, to more elaborate versions that dealt with personal events (Rubiés 245). ‘Realist’ tales of everyday characters or adventures became the more dominant literary form.
In applying these parameters to Elwell’s work, The Boy Colonists becomes a synthesis of the majority of travel writing circulating throughout the nineteenth century, representing that previously determined wider cohort of passengers armed with the hope of forging a new life. Split into a combination of daily recount, letter excerpts, and a couple of eventful narrative passages, it is motivated by contact to one’s family and the desire to inform about a settler’s way of life. This was a typical starting point for many more amateur works of travel writing, as “writing letters or keeping a journal [was] a print-acculturated response to experience” (Wevers, Country of Writing 155). As a result, their writing style was seen to be more literarily accessible, since it was so personal and anecdotal in tone. The “trivial” narratives of everyday occurrences on the ships, farms and colonies – “the sort of stuff a hobbledehoy who has never been abroad before would write home to his sisters”, as Wevers claims – hit far closer to home for the majority of the audience that consumed travel writing (Wevers, Reading on the Farm 37-8).
The above quote encapsulates much of the content in Elwell’s narrative, as Ernest is very focused on depicting both his day-to-day and his adventures. As the story unfolds, readers can observe the increase in letters addressed back to Ernest’s home which exhibit that anecdotal nature of more personal travel writing. He includes the excerpts asking his “dear Mama” for “brown holland hats” and jam in the same novel that also details his discovery of a man washed up in the creek (E. Elwell 117). This is a text where it appears that the sensational and the sensitive are combined. In his exploration into the first New Zealand travel writings3, William Jennings asserts that “the best example of travel writing are found in letters to friends and family… where the writer was more likely to forget himself a little and reveal more of his thoughts” (Jennings 346). Indeed, the emotional aspect of Ernest’s character is no more evident than when he is writing home to his mother about these hat sizes or new boots (E. Elwell 117). Elwell’s travel narrative thus comes to bridge an emotional gap between audience and narrator, with Ernest serving as the embodiment of young settlers documenting their lives. Despite the gruelling work shearing sheep or building huts far from home, he is still deeply connected to his family and place of origin; he does not shy away from exhibiting this throughout the text.
For all the implication that Elwell depicts a relatively mundane and very difficult lifestyle for Ernest,The Boy Colonists illustrates some wildly exciting events. However, in the pursuit of communicating the accuracy of New Zealand life, Elwell does not seem to be specifically focused on how much he can embellish Ernest’s experiences. Its clinical descriptions of both people and excursions push it closer towards the parameters of ethnographic writing instead: everything is depicted exactly as it is, without being dressed up in grandeur or fantastical detail. The excitement comes from the nature of the situation and allows the events to speak for themselves instead. To take a prime moment from the novel as an example, Ernest and his horse attempt a river crossing which results in their near-peril (123). However, Elwell illustrates how “Ernest recovered himself instantly”, with his clear state of mind and simple execution of saving himself and the horse. Typically, Victorian travel writers embellished what they saw in their writing and thus created a more extreme or exciting account than what may have actually unfolded. However, rather than embellishing Ernest’s experiences, writing in a way that “fictionalised what was seen even before it was described”, Elwell sticks closely to the facts of Ernest’s (read: his) New Zealand life (Evans 21). The events he depicts align audiences closer to the places and characters they read about, ultimately fulfilling what nineteenth-century audiences desired from travel literature: a fostered, informed connection with a person or place.
Despite its critical obscurity, The Boy Colonists is able to significantly inform its audience about the colonial trends of the nineteenth century. The rising travel writing genre and the new colonial lifestyle are presented to us in both content and form throughout Elwell’s intriguing novel. It is interesting to involve Elwell’s obscure biography into an assessment of his story, but ultimately what we are presented with is a pleasurable and detailed settler’s tale. Beyond the considerations of the author’s own connections to the text is an unflinching and richly detailed story of Man in a new land, packed with both the trials and triumphs that such an experience inevitably brings. As Elwell paints his picture of a rugged country, The Boy Colonists becomes not only a travel writing taster, but a poignant depiction of New Zealand as a traveller’s destination: a place where every day becomes an unexpected adventure.
1 While Bones situates her argument in the time between 1890-1945, her statements are still applicable to the literary circulation occurring twenty years prior, as inter-country literary relationships were gaining strength.
2 Ethnographic writing is the term relating to the scientific description of peoples, cultures and places with their customs, habits and mutual differences ("ethnography, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, www.oed.com/view/Entry/64809). It was a mode of writing first used by travellers and writers to detail the events of their expeditions across foreign countries.
3 Travel Writing and the First Marists in New Zealand, 2010