Summer Reads: The Runaway Settlers by Elsie Locke

Our third book in the summer reads with a family history theme is a famous Kiwi classic – The Runaway Settlers by Elsie Locke. It’s a sturdy read for children - a great one to read to them before bed, a few chapters at a time. It rocks along with loads of adventure, although it is written in an older style (it was published in 1965).  Interestingly, it's based on a real family, and author Elsie Locke spoke with descendants of that family in her research. Thus this is a true "family history" (albeit fictional) story about settler New Zealanders in the mid 1800s.

The Runaway Settlers begins in 1859 New South Wales - the story of Mary Small and her children Archie, Emma, Mary Ann, Bill, Jack and Jimmy. Mary has been squirreling away money, waiting for the chance to escape her violent husband, and when he leaves home for a cattle sale, she takes the opportunity to get out.  She and the children make their way to Sydney to find a ship to take them away.  They end up in Governors Bay in the South Island and begin their new life.

Here's an excerpt from after they've arrived in New Zealand:
"A bar of sunlight woke Jack in the morning. He edged away from the sleeping Archie and stepped outside. Every piece of him ached with stiffness and his shoulder reminded him of its old bruises. He moved out into the centre of the clearing and looked around at its encircling trees, at the Sugarloaf towering above, and at Mount Bradley with its squared-off crags, like the Egyptian Sphinx he had seen in a book; and a joyful thought came surging up inside him.
Father will never find us here."


This is a story of settler life that takes place over several years, with everything that goes along with it - from farming and food production, a new community, the lure of the goldfields, not to mention the coming of age of the older children. Historic events are included, such as the discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully, and the Otago goldrush.  
Gabriel's Gully during the goldrush of the 1860s.
From 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19110601-2-1 '
There are of course rough times and sadnesses - the pets! It's always the pets! - but its a story of forging a new life and leaving behind an old one. Its also the story of a plucky woman who waited for the perfect opportunity to change her life around - and succeeded.
Auckland Libraries have several copies of this classic, and you can also check out more about Elsie Locke on the NZ Book Council website.  And if you're still fascinated, take a look at a biography written about her a few years ago - Looking for Answers  - available throughout Auckland Libraries.

Happy Reading
Joanne.

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