Monday, May 30, 2011

Edward's Legacy

The Elworthys of South Canterbury

David Elworthy and Ros Henry
Henry Elworthy Ltd.
Limited Edition of 600 copies.

This handsome hardback book was launched last week at the University Bookshop, Canterbury and The Bookman was fortunate enough to be able to attend. In fact this was the second launch as a separate family launch had been held at  at Craigmore on Sunday 15 May with about 100 people there.

UBS manager, veteran bookseller Philip King, welcomed the 100+ guests and then after the authors had each spoken Canterbury historian Gordon Ogilvie  addressed the audience and formally launched the book.

Here are some excerpts from Gordon Ogilvie's entertaining and thoughtful address:

Edward’s Legacy is about the founder of the NZ branch of the Elworthy family, who arrived in Canterbury with his wife Sarah in 1864; and founded Holme Station up the Pareora River, just south of Timaru. The book’s about Edward’s ancestry, his farming empire and his descendants. It is a very handsome volume, wonderfully well illustrated, full of colourful characters and racy anecdotes, and is elegantly & stylishly written. David and Ros have spent a lifetime editing and publishing other people’s stories. Here they, at long last, have a go themselves, and with spectacular success.

Other notable farming dynasties in Canterbury – such as the Rhodeses, Deans, Macfarlanes, MacDonalds, Aclands, Tripps, Studholmes, Halls and Rutherfords -- have been well dealt with already. But the most extensive, successful and diversely talented rural dynasty of them all – the Elworthys of South Canterbury – have long needed to be included, and in Edward’s Legacy they get the full treatment.

This is a thoroughly professional job. Those in the history business, especially Canterbury history, don’t read books in the normal way. We’re not normal people. We read the bits at the front, the bits at the back, and if these are up to scratch, we then read the chunk in the middle. If the end bits aren’t impressive, or aren’t there at all, we put the book back in the shelves and look for something more competent by Geoffrey Rice, Ned Bohan, John Wilson, Jim Gardner or Colin Amodeo.

I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the front and back bits are spot-on: generous acknowledgements, a witty introduction, plus index, bibliography, appendices, chapter notes and a most helpful section on how to get genealogical help on internet – a matter on which Ros has already published a very useful book. It’s nice to see gratitude being expressed to two local experts in book production, Quentin Wilson and Anna Rogers, without whose skills at design and editing a whole lot of NZ books would not be the success they are.

The chapter notes are splendid reading in their own right. Mercifully free of the usual ibids and op cits, they are packed full of fascinating and amusing material that – much of it anyway – could well have appeared in the main body of the text. It is among these notes that we are made aware of a family phenomenon known, especially among Elworthy in-laws, as ‘the Elworthy multiplier’. This is a tendency to enrich an already good story with extra flourishes. Those who have known David for a while will no doubt be able to give examples.

Most family histories are pure hagiography, carefully purged of vice, sin, sex and violence, in order to give the best impression possible. Not so with Edward’s Legacy. It’s a warts and all effort: and with such huge families, plenty of sex. Though very thoroughly researched – indeed it’s a very scholarly book – it is fast-moving, often hilarious and packed with great stories. It gives the impression that David and Ros hugely enjoyed the job they were doing and couldn’t wait to share the fun with readers.

Edward Elworthy died in 1899 leaving an estate of ₤200,000 – an absolute fortune in those days – and a huge property of nearly 40,000 acres freehold capable of carrying 100,000 sheep. This property was described in Edward’s obituary as ‘one of the finest in the colony’. But it had not always been that way.
The Elworthy land was initially inaccessible and a semi-wilderness of tussock, flax, cabbage trees and wild pigs. It took nearly four decades to knock it into shape.

Edward and Sarah came of prosperous wool and cotton milling forebears, of non-conformist stock. They were both well set up financially before they arrived here, but it was their ambition, energy and forsight that really counted. Not to mention Edward’s management & farming skills.

When Sarah, as a young bride from a very comfortable background, first arrived at the farm and alighted from her buggy in front of a wooden shanty with a tin roof, she sat down on her luggage and cried. Yet her spirit, personality and inner strength saw her quickly adapt to colonial life. She and Edward eventually produced 11 children and thus established the dynasty that readers will marvel at in this book. The book’s introduction states that if there is any single talent shared by the Elworthy men, it is their ability both to marry and to breed strong women. And setting the standard was the first of them, Sarah Elworthy.

The bulk of the book is taken up with an account of Edward and Sarah’s children and their descendants, the real legacy referred to in the book’s title. Four of their original 11 children died young; those that survived were Maude, Edith, Arthur, Ethel, Herbert, Percy and Muriel. After Edward’s death, his oldest surviving son, Arthur was left the homestead block.
His second surviving son, Herbert, was given Craigmore. His youngest surviving son, Percy, got Gordons valley. And in case you’re trying to figure out where our David fits in, he’s a grandson of Herbert.

David and Ros have made very sure that in the several generations they cover, no Elworthys have missed out. About 133 are listed in the index and there seems to be a story about each of them.
I must  confound David by mentioning notables in his own branch of the family. His twin brother, Jonathan, after serving as MP for Waitaki and Minister of Lands and Forests became involved in social issues such as prison visiting and serving on the Human Rights Tribunal. I met Johnny a time or two. He was a real character. His older brother, Sir Peter Elworthy, gave much of his life to farming politics, was knighted for his service to agriculture in 1988 and was admitted in 2004 to the NZ Business Hall of Fame for his contribution to farming and business leadership. There he joined his great-grandfather, Edward, who had already gained posthumous membership. A rare double-honour for the Elworthy family

Then there are his twin sisters, Kate and Jane, who were at varsity the same time as Libby and myself and (goodness knows why this isn’t mentioned in the book) were the first New Zealanders to appear on television. When Canterbury University’s physics department put together NZ’s first television set and transmitter, it was the Elworthy Twins – the finest sight in Christchurch at the time – who were filmed, and all the university’s lustful male students packed into Stud Ass to have a look. Kate also became a champion jet-boater and skier.

I’ve heard David say that for years he was regarded as the black sheep of the family because he wanted to write poetry and publish books rather than farm. Well he’s now blacker than ever. He and Ros must be acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s most notable writer/publisher family partnerships. In Edward’s Legacy, they have produced a marvellous book, one that should be on the shelves of all who are interested in Canterbury history, one that is of award-winning quality.
David Elworthy and Ros Henry are very well know and respected identities in the book trade in New Zealand. I have known David since I first started bookselling in Napier more than 40 years ago. One of the features of Edward's Legacy are brief biographies of many of his descendants, the following is an example:

Harold’s second son David was not destined for farming, and after gaining a degree at Cambridge he joined New Zealand’s diplomatic service, serving in London and New Delhi. After 10 years as a diplomat he went into book publishing, first as an editor for A.H. & A.W. Reed, where he rose to the position of editorial director before joining Collins as publishing director in 1978. In 1984 he and his second wife Ros Henry founded Shoal Bay Press, which they ran first from Auckland and then, rather over-ambitiously, from the Coromandel bush. In 1992 they moved to Christchurch where they published successfully until they sold their company in 2004. A published poet and short story writer, David has been an adviser for Creative New Zealand and a judge of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
David and his first wife, Jenny North, had a son, Luke, and two daughters, Kate and Sophie. He and Ros have a daughter, Harriet.

Photo taken at launch - left to right - Philip King, David Elworthy,Ros Henry, Bookman Beattie
Quentin Wilson and The Bookman in conversation

Gordon Ogilvie addressing the 100+ at Edward's Legacy launch

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