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The Boy Colonists

II. The Story

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).