Book Review: Pioneer Women, edited by Sarah Ell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pioneer_womenPioneer Women is the first title in The New Zealand Series. These books aim to support Intermediate and Secondary students, following the Social Studies Curriculum. This first book looks at the lives of 18 European women as they lived and travelled in the early days of settlement. The book explains that while there are no Māori women included, they too were pioneers in the settlement and survival in a new land.

The greatest blessing of the book is the light editorial hand of Sarah Ell. She has used letters, journals, sketches and photos from a variety of sources. After a short introduction about each writer, Ell lets the women tell of their experiences first hand with very little editing. The voices are varied and authentic. Each Chapter deals with a different aspect of early life from The Voyage, A New Life, Adventure and Exploration, Disaster and War, to Work. Three or four women are included in each chapter. The very first writer, known only as Maggie, succinctly summarises the sort of people who should or should not take the offer of a new life. This is honest, heartfelt advice and would be a brilliant starter for a classroom discussion on who should go and who should stay.

However, my favourite story comes from Jane Maria Richmond who arrived in Auckland in 1853. It is subtitled, “In my element”. She writes about the joy of hard work, the freedom from social constraints and the delight she feels in coming to New Zealand. In her words, “I can say most emphatically that I am disappointed in no single particular, that as far as I can see we acted most wisely in coming here”. Hers is a story of the success many women made of the terrible conditions through hard work and a dogged persistence.

As a short read, this book is a window into the world of our early New Zealand pioneering women. It shows fortitude in the face of hardship and delight in the comfort and happiness of families. For students it provides material to begin the search into their own journey to New Zealand.

reviewed by Kathy Watson

Pioneer Women
Edited by Sarah Ell
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506599

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