Friday, May 30, 2008

She saw the Boyd burn
Terri Kessell – Cape Catley - $26.99

This is a first novel from Auckland social historian Terri Kessell whose special interest is in the early contact period of Maori & European in the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Given this special interest then it is not surprising that she has set her debut novel around the burning of the Boyd in Whangaroa Harbour on the Northland coast of New Zealand in December 1809.

While on a voyage from Sydney to England the Boyd anchored at Whangaroa Harbour to load kauri spars and allow Māori to disembark. During the voyage a Māori chief, Te Ara, had been badly mistreated by the ship’s captain, Captain Thompson. In retaliation for this, a group of Māori boarded the ship and killed the captain, crew and passengers, and looted the ship. A barrel of gunpowder was accidentally exploded, which burnt the boat to water level. Only four of the 70 people aboard survived.

Kessell tells the gripping story using Ann Morley, one of the survivors, as her protagonist. The research has been thorough and the two settings, Sydney and the Northland coast, are convincing and her narrative and characterization skills have combined to make for a great read, even if it is somewhat bloodthirsty at times.

She says in the author’s note, “all the main characters in this novel actually lived and took part in these extraordinary events”
She also notes that “after the Boyd incident, ships worldwide would be warned off from visiting New Zealand shores. New Zealand became known as one of the most dangerous places on earth”.
I hope to see more historical novels from this talented writer.

This title is published by boutique publisher Cape Catley - check out their website here.

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