Journalist of Fiction, Author of Fact: A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu and the Enigmatic Robert Carrick, by Danny Bultitude.
To appreciate the complexity of A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu, one must first understand its author, Robert Carrick. Although a renowned journalist and historian, at the time of writing A Romance, Carrick had garnered a somewhat negative reputation for inaccurate, biased, and romanticised reportage of fact. Much of this can be related back to Carrick’s refusal to engage with an important requirement of the profession: to clearly distinguish between fact, fiction, and the subjective. A rather baffling anecdote illustrates this complication with Carrick particularly well.
In a late paragraph of A Romance, Carrick refers to a “recent arrival in Invercargill” who readjusted “sketch-plans of the Holy Land” to sell “as itinerant guides to the new El Dorado at Lake Wakatipu.”1 It is an interesting aside, but has little bearing upon the plot. However, eighteen years later, the ‘Itinerant Guide’ once again appears attached to an autobiographical piece entitled “First Footing the Wakatipu”2 which recounted Carrick’s travel between Invercargill and Queensland in 1862. He describes conquering The Devil’s Staircase, his companion’s “wild delusions” of being possessed by Satan, and working as a guard for delivery-vans alongside “Potato Jackson;” all while consistently referring to his “vivid remembrances” of said events . But he also describes an encounter with an “Israelite” who altered a map of “the Holy Land” and “transformed the [Dead] sea into Lake Wakatipu, the [River] Jordan into Jacob's river, and the Holy City . . . he named Invercargill.” The Israelite released this map as the “Itinerant Guide to the Wakatipu” and sold “hundreds at a pound and 30s apiece.”
Much of A Romance is set “during the memorable days of the sixties” and his reference to this ambitious Israelite in the later autobiographical piece adds a certain temporal validity to the novel in the process.3 However, less than a year after this autobiographical piece was published, Carrick provides notes for “Pioneer Recollections: History of the District,” a serialised segment in Mataura Ensign compiled by H. Beattie. Within these notes, Carrick refers to “First Footing the Wakatipu” and states: “The yarn about the 'ltinerant Guide' is a whimsicality, but in the main it is quite correct.”4
This nonchalant acknowledgement of a fabricated element of his supposedly factual, autobiographical piece is jarring, especially from a celebrated journalist. Carrick had even unconsciously foreshadowed his dismissal of the account in A Romance, introducing the scene as “One whimsical affair.”5 To further complicate this, Carrick himself advertised “a map showing the belts of gold” for the Wilson River in 1895, three years after A Romance, which an anonymous miner warned the public away from, stating that Carrick “cannot of his own knowledge say where it is to be found, far less show it in the map.”6 Carrick’s semi-factual novel featured a scheme that he later attempted to enact himself, referenced as an autobiographical anecdote, and indifferently dismissed as fiction after upholding the lie for over eighteen years.
Robert Carrick was born in Scotland in 1832, and served articles with a legal firm in Glasgow during his youth.7 Although this interest in the law would remain throughout his later life and writings, he abandoned law as an occupation and turned to press work instead. After a short stint in Scotland and Northern England, Carrick arrived in New Zealand in 1860 and famously walked from Dunedin to Invercargill before a road or coach service connected the two. In the relatively new colonisation of Southland, Carrick found ample opportunity for journalistic work, working for the Southland News for two years before establishing the Riverton Times in 1864 . This was the first of many newspapers which Carrick assisted in founding, including the Cromwell Argus and the Waikato Times.
At the high-point of the gold rush, Carrick returned to Otago to work closely alongside many of the significant figures of the period, specifically focusing on news surrounding the mining community. As the sixties came to a close, Carrick shifted around the country and worked for many local newspapers and as a parliamentary reporter, before acting as private secretary to Mr John Sheehan, Native Minister in Sir George Grey's Cabinet. In his later years, Carrick focused on freelance work, writing various journal articles, assisting with historical notes for other writers and editors, and compiling the book Historical Records of New Zealand South (1903). Robert Carrick died in Nelson on Christmas Eve 1914 after struggling with health issues for several years, and was promptly forgotten by general history.
In 1903, “The name of Ro. Carrick [was] familiar to [Western Star] readers” for he had “long been identified with the development of the Far West”8 and at the time of his death, he was regarded as “one of the oldest of New Zealand journalists”9 but his legacy largely ends here. Aside from a frequently quoted excerpt from Historical Records regarding an influenza outbreak in 1839, only two other archived newspaper articles mention Carrick following his obituaries. One of these articles discusses a piece Carrick wrote about an enigmatic grave on Campbell Island, and is ironically entitled “Romance of History."10 This modern dismissal of Carrick’s significance could be a direct response to this very question, a consequence following the considerable amount of negative press in regards to his often ‘romanticised’ form of journalism.
A particularly significant account stems from a Mataura Ensign article entitled “Justice to Rural Districts.”11 This article discusses how the Provincial Fathers – wealthy Scottish colonialists, mostly comprised of Free Kirk elders – bought 400,000 acres of land whilst ignoring the conditional land rights of the native Māori. A bill at the instigation of the ‘Fathers’ was “smuggled through parliament” in order for the purchase to be accepted, and they subsequently sold small rural sections “without even the bare necessaries of life” to turn a profit. This article marks a complete antithesis to the New Zealand newspapers twenty years prior, which “were reflecting settler antipathy toward the indigenous peoples who fought as their patrimonies were being taken by others.”12 Carrick responded to this article with an impassioned letter that recounted the “grand tableaux in deceit” which worked towards this land-purchase, as demarcated locations for “Native Reserves” were erased from the map, and grants were “signed improperly” or “done under mistake.”13 Carrick argues that at least one generation of Māori have lived “without a spot on earth they could call their own” due to this land bill, leaving only “the agonising cry of men entitled by every obligation in justice, mercy and truth, to inherit one tenth part of the wealth-producing province of Otago.” Engaging with his Romantic tendencies, Carrick delves into poetics, adding “...and what an awful cry it is, rising up to heaven for vengeance!”
Although “Colonial newspapers were vigorously iconoclastic and partisan” during this period, Carrick’s incendiary letter seems to have breached the boundary, sparking detestation rather than discussion.14 The following week, a response is published referring to the letter as “wicked and profane” and Carrick himself as “a rank Jesuit, seeking for an opportunity of introducing "the ante-Christ".”15 The respondent concludes his letter by recommending that Mataura Ensign “leave that wicked creature alone to be scourged by Satan” or they shall cancel their subscription altogether. That very same week, another response entitled “The Fictions of History”16 states that “Mr Carrick is wanting in most of the chief qualities of a historian: the taking pains to ascertain the true state of the facts; the capacity to record them in correct order; and an unbiased judgement for comment.” Carrick follows with another letter citing several documents and accounts that prove “the heartless dishonesty of these "Provincial Fathers"”17 as if to demonstrate his worthiness as a historian. Yet, as the case of the map-making Israelite indicates, it remains difficult to disavow all comments regarding Carrick’s validity.
One review may delineate his “painstaking and conscientious labors [sic]” towards accuracy in Historical Records of New Zealand South, acknowledging Carrick’s travels to areas throughout Australia “known to have had traffic intercourse with New Zealand.”18 But another article entitled “Where the Money Goes”19 disrupts this. The article regards a letter sent to the Government by one Mr. Herdman regarding the £250 sum paid to Carrick for Historical Records when it was published two years earlier. Although the financial focus lies at the centre of the piece, Herdman still questions “whether it is the case that such publication is full of inaccuracies, and, as a historical record, is absolutely worthless.” Upon receiving an official response stating that “No such representations have been made” towards the validity of Historical Records, Herdman provides “chapter and verse for some of the inaccuracies in the publication referred to.” The very same book that was acclaimed by a reviewer as a “very interesting and exceedingly valuable volume . . . [that] will preserve for all time important facts”20 is dismissed only two years later.
The majority of discourse falls into a similar category to that of “The Fictions of History” and “Where the Money Goes;” approaching Carrick’s work with a non-specific distrust and dismissal that refuses to provide direct examples for the inaccuracies submitted. Other publications vaguely refer to Carrick’s “ingenious attempt[s] to distort facts”21 and in 1873, a court case was brought to trial after the defendant publicly remarked that Carrick was “a b— — y skunk, a d— — d liar, and an infernal thief.”22 This issue of journalistic reliability may have pushed Carrick into obscurity after his death, but for the modern reader of A Romance of Lake Wakatipu, it is these very same tensions of fact and fiction which become the most tantalising hook.
There is undeniable romantic energy to the Otago gold rush: juxtaposing sublime landscapes, Byronic figures, and wealth attainable from nature rather than industry. Yet the ‘Romance’ of A Romance of Lake Wakatipu may have suggested something beyond romanticism or the “romantic scenery” and “historical romance” Carrick mentions in the preface.23 The structure of the title allows for one to consider this ‘Romance’ as not only a generic device, but as an example of Carrick “talk[ing] fancifully or hyperbolically” of Lake Wakatipu.24 This format also works for the subtitle: A Legend of the Lakes, as he works to turn the landscape of Otago “into the subject of a legend."25 Otago’s social landscape is also deftly mythologised, as Carrick populates his romance with an array of factual characters and events to offset the fictional elements.
The novel begins with Bill Fox, the prospector who first discovered gold in the Arrow River, witnessing an old bearded man walking onto his boat after hitting a whirlpool beside the Devil’s Staircase. The old man asks for a match and lights it, producing an incredible light that shines upon the man’s own corpse at the bottom of the lake and a satchel of gold hidden in a distant hut. Fox journeys to the hut, but rather than gold, he discovers a legal document: Josiah Begg’s will. Frustrated, he brings it to his friend, the lawyer Duncan Campbell, who sees the potential riches that could come from such a will. The two drink together at the Arrow Arms Hotel, and Campbell begins travelling towards Dunedin with the will in tow the following morning. On the journey and upon first arriving, Campbell encounters several factual figures whose testimonies and tales are represented in monologues or indirect discourse. While in Dunedin, Campbell searches through international files to discover that Begg’s will is worth “one and a half millions sterling” 26and is presently under litigation.
The narrative shifts, jumping to Scotland for a biographical sequence focusing on Josiah Begg’s life from the 1810s to his death in 1859. We follow his youthful enterprises towards wealth at the Glasgow fair, his time in San Francisco during the gold rush of 1848 and his journey towards becoming “a merchant prince of the golden city.”27 It is revealed that a lover of his has died after giving birth to his daughter – a death Carrick directly attributes to a shattering of health by the Kirk punishment for adultery: time upon the “stool of repentance.”28 The grandparents look after their daughter, but with distaste, due to the shame her birth brought to the family’s reputation. Begg returns to his hometown in Scotland, and hears a suggestive voice from his lover’s grave. Subsequently, Begg meets with David Barclay, a lawyer paralleling Campbell, and asks him to find his daughter. As he leaves, Begg comes to realise that his hometown has little passion for him, as he has always placed his quest for wealth above his humanity. Returning to San Fransisco, we meet Jean Stewart, Begg’s housekeeper, who is considering schemes to make Begg marry her so she shall receive his posthumous wealth. Begg scribes his will, leaving the money to his daughter, only to hear the “voice of reason and nature” approving his actions.29 Begg dies. Seizing her chance, Jean Stewart claims to have secretly married Begg while in Scotland. Stewart’s true suitor speaks to Iak, a Jewish gangster, about hiding Begg’s will. Iak tells Sam Perkins, an old bearded man with an extensive criminal history, to travel to Otago with the will in tow.
Perkins is told to keep the will safe and well-hidden, but upon realising that the will belongs to Begg, whom he once worked for, he too begins contemplating ways to make his fortune from the will. Upon moving towards Gabriel’s Gully, Perkins encounters Garret the Otago bushranger, who detains him but does not rob him, seeing that Perkins is a new arrival. Carrick then describes Garret’s later capture. Continuing his journey, Perkins assists Jock Graham in selling innumerable cats using the ‘Dutch auction’ system taught to him by Begg. Sam next instigates the ‘Blue Mountain rush’, telling the Gabriel’s Gully miners about a non-existent gold discovery which he leads many men to over the course of two days; all to bring potential customers to a storekeeper who chose the wrong spot to establish his business. Perkins is nearly lynched by the miners upon uncovering his ruse, but the storekeeper saves him while disguised as a police officer.
December 1863, Bill Fox appears at an out-station, starved but possessing much gold from a new site discovered. The man at the out-station, Rees, takes responsibility for the find and receives £2000 from the Government. The excitement which follows this find brings about an Israelite map-maker, a disastrous excursion train incident, and “the abolition of Southland.”30 Perkins has been living in exile, and eventually becomes an acquaintance of Fox, who provides him with provisions intermittently. Iak and his accomplice Con arrive in Otago and cannot find the will. Con kills Perkins atop the Devil’s Staircase and his body falls into Lake Wakatipu. We return to Campbell in the narrative present, who manages to provide the information of the will to solicitors in San Francisco. Jean Stewart and her accomplices escape while Begg’s daughter receives the estate promised to her.
Considering that A Romance of Lake Wakatipu was serialised anonymously in the local newspaper, Otago Witness, in 1892, and largely set a mere 29 years earlier, Carrick seems to invite discussions on legitimacy from the moment of publication. It is no surprise that the only published response to the novel explicitly warns that “the author is taking some rather fanciful liberty with our history, geography, and some other facts,”31 as, to an uninformed reader, it is very convincing. Several other pieces from this period have a habit of “Entwining legend and fact, romance and realism” but what is known of Carrick’s past adds complication. 32. The majority of characters who appear in the New Zealand sequences are significant real-life figures who presumably would be known to the intended audience of A Romance. William ‘Bill’ Fox, Sam Perkins, Vincent Pyke, Garret the Otago Bushranger, Yankee Bob, Rev. Thomas Burns, and Jock Graham all make appearances. This suggests historical reliability and simultaneously plants seeds of disbelief, for Carrick includes enough minor divergences and discrepancies – as the previously cited reviewer acknowledged – to supply the local reader with cause for doubt. For example, there is no evidence of a lawyer named “Duncan Campbell,” or even the “Arrow Arms Hotel” he performed his business in, no Joe Langley who worked as a road manager for Cobb and Co, and as it appears, no Josiah Begg which by conjunction means no will and thus, no narrative.
As if the convergence of imagined characters and genuine figures did not place enough tension between the spheres of fiction and reality, Carrick also replicates the stylistic and rhetorical techniques associated with journalism and historiography throughout the entire novel. The journalistic rhetoric is immediately recognisable: a distinct formality of language, a focus on testimony, and an unseen narrator who is visibly concerned with distinguishing between evidence and conjecture. To encounter such a form in a novel is alarming, posing an entirely different set of concerns than those raised by a story-world populated with fictional characters, an omniscient narrator, and a cohesive structure of certainty. Concepts of authenticity and the construction of legend are brought to the foreground, leaving thematic concerns aside. Carrick operates solely within the middle-distance, incorporating equal amounts of reality and fiction before playing the role of a detached journalist within his own story-world. The narrator explains that “According to local computation the gorge is fifty miles in length,” that “by authentic record” the gaol held only three people, or that the “material available for a biographical sketch of [Sam Perkins’s] life and adventures is largely culled from police reports.”33 Because, be they true or not, these uncited and potentially non-existent pieces of evidence are integral to promoting a sense of authenticity within the text. Carrick is not writing a novel, but writing a legend, a ‘romancing’ of reality.
Regardless of the fictional core of the central narrative, A Romance of Lake Wakatipu rarely seems like a fictional novel, instead operating in a form comparable to folklore, or the modern conception of ‘urban myths.’ Even at points which clearly act as an intentional break from journalistic regulations – namely explorations of the subjective and the supernatural – the dominating response remains one of credibility. As previously mentioned, this is achieved by having a narrator who simultaneously acts as sceptical journalist when encountering the narrative. In utilising many discrete perspectives and testimonies, limited examples of direct narration, and an avoidance of absolute statements without providing evidence; Carrick generates an internalised tension between certainty and uncertainty which embeds equal amounts of doubt and confidence in the reader themselves.
Take for example, the treatment of Bill Fox’s surreal vision in the opening chapter, stating: “as Bill himself describes it…”;“That explanation he deems absolutely requisite…”;“…if Bill can be believed on his word of honour…”34 Rather than occupying a position of narratorial authority, Carrick attributes this to an implied and unquoted testimony from Fox himself, amplifying the subjectivity in the same manner as a reporter would when depicting such an uncanny observation. At points, the narrator explicitly expresses disbelief in Fox’s narrative, describing that “as an embodiment of all the facts of the case, his observations were somewhat faulty” before taking account of what little ‘evidence’ he retains: “a tin box of wax vestas from which one match at least has disappeared.”35. The representation of the event in direct relation to the testimony regarding the event – alongside the dismissals of it being “an optical delusion” and his rebuttal describing said evidence – emulate journalism in a manner rarely seen36. In other scenes, the ‘implied testimony’ rhetoric again appears, and does not falter when encountering fictional characters either; explaining what Joe Langley said “[w]hen approached on the subject,” what the landlord of the fictional hotel “appealed to on the point,” or Campbell’s testimonial shortcoming regarding the nature of a bad investment he “never particularised” to the implied author.37
This shortcoming from Campbell, is only one of the innumerable ellipses which Carrick places into the narrative, presumably derived from other testimonial or evidential failures in the storyworld. Carrick allows the narrator to admit when they “have no means of ascertaining” the conclusion to a tale, that “no one knew” how a character survived, or that they are simply “unable to say” how long a character felt undecided about the future.38 One elliptical break in information is even shown as a journalistic failure because of the novel’s serialisation, as a significant fact “not generally known” is introduced too late in the novel, and the narrator must admit that “hitherto no mention of it has been made of it in these pages.”39 These details could break the narratorial coherency, but they create such a convincing imitation of the ways in which we represent truth and avoid conjecture, that they utterly enhance the experience. Carrick has a clear understanding of what shall be considered convincing to his readers, and acknowledging which pieces of information are unattainable or unverifiable is integral to journalism. By utilising the rhetoric which we associate with truth and reality – inevitable shortcomings included – Carrick turns this romance into something considerably more multifaceted.
The complexity of A Romance of Lake Wakatipu mostly stems from its jarringly close proximity to reality, but come Chapter X the narrative moves away from the sixties, New Zealand, and the factual altogether. As a decidedly local novel: serially published in the Otago Witness, before being compiled into a book by Wellington based government printer, George Didsbury; the concerns with retaining credence are lessened for the seven chapters which leave the country. It seems as if Sam Perkins – who only gains significance once the narrative moves back to New Zealand in Chapter XVII – is the sole character who is not fictitious during this narrative detour. But Carrick does not lose sight of his prior intentions towards creating a faux reliability and internal logic, and rather than emulating testimony-based reportage, he moves towards an imitation of the historical biography form. Take this sequence from the first page of Chapter X:
He was, accordingly, born somewhere in the first decade of the present century, and at the time of his death had advanced some years beyond the half-hundred. He was of Scottish descent, having first seen the light of day at a small weaving village named Crossford, on the banks of the Clyde, in the upper ward of Lanarkshire.”40
Losing some of the narratorial doubt shown previously, the rhetoric becomes more confident and focuses on the important events and milestones within this fictional character’s life. Carrick attributes Begg as being both “president of the Board of Trade” and “president of the Young Men's Christian Association” and even states that Begg “introduced for the first time in Scotland the "Dutch auction" system.”41 Having extended beyond the general knowledge of Carrick’s intended audience, he can definitively state that a trip to the fair by the young Begg “was remembered for many years in Crossford” without needing to relate to factual figures and their faux testimonies to attach a sense of truth to the narrative.42 Carrick instead uses the aforementioned biographical element to shift the focus and structure as a means to further enhance the sequence’s believability.
In describing a character who was born in the 1810s and died by 1859, four years before the events of Chapter I, Carrick justifies this shift to the biographical through the time disparity itself. As the anonymous writer of “The Fictions of History” states: a worthwhile historian must hold “the capacity to record [events] in correct order”43 – but Carrick brilliantly inverts this, using spatiotemporal discontinuity in a way that essentially forms a cyclical narrative. Peter Brooks famously considered “the anticipation of retrospection as our chief tool in making sense of narrative”44 which Carrick quite literally enacts by assigning the temporal midpoint as both the beginning and end of the narrative, foreshadowing narrative past and future. Aside from a conclusory sequence on the final page, the novel creates a complete cycle, beginning with the spirit of Sam Perkins indicating the location of Begg’s will, and ending with Perkins’s death and the loss of the will. Josiah Begg’s lost will is positioned as the central influence on causality through this unconventional styling: its discovery in the 1860s prompting the shift back to Josiah’s life between the 1840s and 50s in order to explain its creation and eventual appearance in Otago.
Another unconventional method which keeps this entirely fictional sequence plausible is through an emphasis on the realist and the banal. This technique acts as an impressive example of how the novel can offer “forms of life that seem realistic, sometimes more realistic than the lives that actual historical people and peoples have lived”45 through the use of near-suffocating realism once entering the utterly fictional. If Otago embodies the sublime, San Francisco and Scotland embody the picturesque. In these ‘picturesque’ chapters, certain themes, character archetypes, and entire scenes are repeated from the earlier portion set in New Zealand. Each feature a gold-mining boom, protagonists focused on their own financial gain, unkempt lawyers, and possible supernatural interference from the dead; yet during Begg’s narrative, the spectacle is absent.
Take Bill Fox’s incredible vision in the opening chapter, depicted in all its vivid glory: featuring a whirlpool, a dead man singing a choral song, and the light of a match which “far exceeded the sun, moon, and stars in their combined efforts at illumination.”46 This sequence is depicted in brilliant detail: directly quoting each word spoken and sung by the deceased Sam Perkins as the narration becomes lost in the natural and supernatural sublimity. This acts as one of many settler descriptions of the New Zealand landscape which “emphasize the ephemeral and transcendent operation of the literary imagination” while retaining the realism of the “new lands, rivers, and mountains of colonial settlements.”47 In comparison, the equivalent vision experienced by Begg, is solely the act of hearing “a still, small voice” emanating from his lover’s tomb which “spoke so low, its accents were alone audible to Josiah’s ear.”48 Unlike the visual spectacle of Fox’s vision, Begg’s is entirely auditory and the supernatural voice is only alluded to, rather than being directly represented as that of the posthumous Perkins. It is also worth noting that this sequence takes place in a ‘picturesque’ landscape, featuring: “a rolling river, rich luxuriance of foliage, soft but romantic surroundings”, and a “grassy knoll” littered with “heather-bell and honeysuckle.”49 A far cry from the sublime, transcendental landscape of the New Zealand South.
Later on, in the banal location of Begg’s home, the voice returns as “a strange hallucination” and is directly quoted as saying: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.”50 This biblical speech from Mark 1:30 is directly attributed to “the still small voice of reason and nature,”51 negating the spiritual aspect implied through the earlier picturesque scene beside the tomb and further driving home the suffocating realism of these scenes away from Otago. The tonal incongruence between these parallel narratives of space are emphasised upon witnessing similar characters and events in the heavily regulated, picturesque spaces of San Francisco and Crossford. Considering Carrick’s own upbringing in Scotland, this sequence acts as an imagined return to his homeland, dramatizing “how often returnees found the ‘old country’ dull and disappointing”52 by reducing the antipodean romance offered by New Zealand. Following Begg’s death the narrative returns to Otago with Sam Perkins, and the disparity is again illustrated bluntly as Sam immediately encounters Garret the bushranger and his gang of thieves. The narrative cul-de-sac biographing Josiah Begg’s life and death is one of the few entirely fictional parts of the novel, but through the novelistic use of anti-romance and biographical language, the plausibility is retained.
Amidst the meticulous treatment of the fictional aspects of A Romance of Lake Wakatipu, the factual elements become enigmatic and oftentimes baffling. The two most important factual characters are Bill Fox and Sam Perkins, who both make appearances in the opening chapter. In 1863, Bill Fox wrote: “I still contend that I was the first man that got gold in the Wakatipu district”53 which, while opposed, certainly makes him a thematically appropriate character to include as the protagonist for ‘a legend of the lakes’. Bill died in 1890, two years before A Romance was published, which may explain his significance in the text, acting as a form of remembrance from Carrick who seemed to be a relatively close acquaintance of Fox’s.
As for Sam Perkins, however; a great deal of creative liberty was taken when casting him in A Romance. Sam Perkins is introduced as a supernatural hallucination while his murdered body lies in the bottom of Lake Wakatipu. Fox states that “if sceptics would take the trouble of dredging the lake, he has no doubt the body of the little old man with the grizzly beard would be fished up;”54 which contextualises Sam’s body as confirmation of the vision’s validity. However, Sam Perkins “drowned while fording the Titiroa Stream”55 more than 200 kilometres away from Lake Wakatipu, with no indication of foul play. This fictional end attributed to a historical figure would likely have been deliberately included as a means of indicating the false nature of the narrative to the local community. After committing the Blue Mountain Rush hoax that also appears in A Romance, Sam Perkins became infamous, the gully which he led the miners being named as “Sam’s Grief” and his name becoming one which “scarce needs an introduction”56 even in 1909. Yet the discrepancies regarding Perkins do not stop with his death, for Carrick represents him as a well-established small-time criminal before arriving in New Zealand even though “down to the date of his goldfields escapade nothing prejudicial was known of [Perkins].”57 This appears to be an acknowledgement of the text’s fictionality which only his local audience shall immediately recognise; the Blue Mountain Rush being a notorious event to the local community, but not the country.
As the well-researched factual details and the 30,269 word appendix affixed to the compiled novel proves, Carrick remains a non-fiction writer at heart despite this delve into the romantic. The appendixes hold every detail that the imagined reader may want to know of the social and natural geography of Southland: maps, statistics, portraits, and historical anecdotes. Potentially one may have wanted to learn that Otago dairy produce included “3,566,150lb. of cheese” in 1889, read a quote from a 1863 report regarding “the benefits to be anticipated from the adoption of the wooden rail instead of iron lines,” or a 700 word elaboration on the “Bloody Clavers” which are mentioned once in passing during A Romance.58 Unless it is another elaborate piece of meta-fiction from Carrick, the most likely justification for this would be regarding a prospective overseas retailing, to an audience who may wish to know the statistics and history of each New Zealand city represented.
The appendixes remain a truly odd addition, ultimately containing more words than the novel itself while providing very little towards elaborating questions or validating claims. The two appendix notes which are remotely useful towards discovering more about the narrative itself both relate to Bill Fox: a testimony on him from the station shepherd at the time, and a short narrative regarding the transport of the “Nancy” to Kingston by two men. This second note is important as Carrick reveals midway through the narrative: “the fact is I was of the luckless pair.”59 This event also appears in “First Footing the Wakatipu” alongside the ‘Itinerant Guide’ whimsicality, albeit without any mention of the “Nancy” or Bill Fox. Carrick may have argued that the Itinerant Guide was the sole fiction within this autobiographical piece, but this discrepancy is again difficult to justify when looking upon it 100 years removed.
In refusing to remain in the sphere of fiction or journalism, Carrick becomes an enigmatic and unruly subject, but his motivation remains clear. While providing additional information for another reporter’s piece, Carrick writes: “I have been prompted by no motive other than a desire to see the rare historical romance of New Zealand South—its raw material—rescued from oblivion and put on correct lines, leaving time and circumstances to work out the historical narrative.”60 While this is most certainly true of Carrick’s controversial journalistic endeavours, it is difficult to attribute to a historical romance which Carrick has formulated himself. Why would Carrick have retained such a heavy focus on journalism and factuality when finally free from the shackles which so often caused issues for him? We may never know, but to consider Carrick’s reasoning we must return back to that pesky “Itinerant Guide.”
When the guide appears in A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu, there is no indicator for the reader to consider it as being false. It is represented in a single nonchalant paragraph, another example of a futile scheme set directly beside the factual failure of Southland’s wooden rail system. As the seven chapters away from New Zealand indicate, the rhetoric of journalism paired with relative narrative restraint makes one considerably more receptive to absolute falsehoods Only two chapters earlier, the arguably more whimsical account of Jock Graham and Sam Perkins selling unwanted cats by attributing them with an honourable origin is represented; and appears to be factual . Yet there is one important falsehood Carrick adds to the cat sales: Sam Perkins is stated as using “the Dutch auction” system he learnt “in the employment of Josiah Begg.”61 How is a reader expected to respond when fact and fiction are so tightly bound together that each consumes the other?
A Romance of Lake Wakatipu is a work which wants to be recognised as fiction just as readily as it wants to be mistaken as fact, and Carrick’s incorporation of elements from both sides of the equation work towards crafting this impressive, unusual book. Looking at A Romance from the twenty-first century, his modern anonymity is sobering but unsurprising. History favours the artist or the journalist, but the writer who chooses to blur the line between the two often becomes inadequate in either sphere. Many of the scenes in A Romance simply cannot be proven or refuted due to Carrick’s wavering between both spheres, and while this negates much of the value as a historical text, it heightens the meticulous artistry on display. With many colonial writers, “fiction became an important means of reasserting a mastery of the landscape”62 and A Romance showcases this in a fascinatingly multi-faceted manner. Carrick recognises his own reputation as a skilled journalist with a proclivity for ill-chosen conjecture, and with this novel he self-reflexively embraces it. He is no longer a journalist when he writes A Romance, Carrick becomes a documentarian of legend, albeit a legend he has created himself.
As the novel closes with the direct, conclusive statement “so ended the last act in what is still remembered as the Lake Wakatipu Tragedy,” Carrick envisions a landscape where his mythology is “still remembered””63 and shall continue to be. Perhaps this is why the Itinerant Guide returns eighteen years later in his own autobiographic piece, for the legend became indiscernible from Carrick’s own personal history. Yet at this very moment, Carrick’s legend has become history, literary history but history nonetheless. The landscape Carrick envisioned in that final sentence, the landscape in which his romance of lost wills and gold-rushes is still remembered, is now a reality. For here you are, with A Romance of Lake Wakatipu directly before you. All you need to do is keep on reading.
1 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 88 in original text.
3 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 1 in original text.
5 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 88 in original text.
12 Byrne, Jeb. “The Comparative Development of Newspapers in New Zealand and the United States in the Nineteenth Century.” American Studies International, vol. 37, no. 1, 1999, pp. 55–70.
14 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams. Maoriland: New Zealand Literature 1872-1914. Victoria University Press, 2006.
23 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu Preface.
26 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 35 in original text.
27 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 42 in original text.
28 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 42 in original text.
29 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 59 in original text.
30 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 87 in original text.
32 Blythe, Helen Lucy. The Victorian Colonial Romance with the Antipodes Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
33 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 25, 2, 69 in original text.
34 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 4 in original text.
35 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 5, 6 in original text.
36 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 6 in original text.
37 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 25, 23, 12 in original text.
38 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 22, 89, 56 in original text.
39 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 55-56 in original text.
40 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 36 in original text.
41 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 53, 39 in original text.
42 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 37 in original text.
44 Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Harvard University Press, 1992.
45 Freedgood, Elaine. "The Novel and Empire." The Oxford History of the Novel in English: Volume 3: The Nineteenth-Century Novel 1820-1880, edited by John Kucich and Jenny Bourne Taylor, Oxford Scholarship Online.
46 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 4 in original text.
47 Blythe, Helen Lucy. The Victorian Colonial Romance with the Antipodes Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
48 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 44 in original text.
49 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 44 in original text.
50 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 58 in original text.
51 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 59 in original text.
52 Wagner, Tamara S. Victorian Settler Narratives, Pickering and Chatto Publishers, 2011.
54 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 6 in original text.
58 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu pages 98, 135, 125 in original text.
59 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 108 in original text.
61 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 79 in original text.
62 Wagner, Tamara S. Victorian Settler Narratives, Pickering and Chatto Publishers, 2011.
63 Carrick, A Romance of the Lake Wakatipu page 94 in original text.