The makings of a man and a city


John Logan Campbell (ed R.C.J. Stone)
David Ling Publishing

As long as beautiful books like this get published the e-book will never win the format wars.

Reminiscences of a Long Life brings great credit to publisher David Ling who, enjoying financial support from the Cornwall Park Trust Board, has been able to produce the kind of book for which the word "sumptuous" was invented.

More than 300 large landscape pages give plenty of room to display uncluttered text and a comprehensive gallery of pictures of early Auckland.

Even were the book written in Egyptian hieroglyphics it would bring pleasure as a superb artefact, but the fact that John Logan Campbell was as fine a writer as he was a businessman makes his story a compelling and entertaining one.

In achieving such heights, Campbell owes much to editor Russell Stone, who is the long-established expert on Campbell and who has been able to bring together four sets of documents, some of which have not been published before and which add much to what we know from the earlier reminiscences in the widely-read Poenamo Campbell left much for a biographer to play with.

His Reminiscences of My Life is  more than 500 handwritten pages in the Auckland War Memorial Museum and covers the years from Campbell’s birth in 1817 to 1871 when he was already established as Auckland’s leading entrepreneur. He also wrote a memoir in later life as well as a history of One Tree Hill.

As a successful public man he also generated a wealth of newspaper articles and correspondence.

Add to this the fruits of Russell Stone’s extensive knowledge of the pictorial resources available covering the early days in Auckland and Reminiscences of a Long Life becomes a biography of a city as much as the life story of one of its great men.

Campbell wrote with verve and humour and brings alive the first stirrings of Auckland’s manifest destiny as a place where people make money. Seeking to do some "township buying" in Waitemata from the chiefs who were over the isthmus in Onehunga in April 1840, Campbell noted "the beautifully sloping shore of the magnificent harbour for the most exciting visions of townships to be bought up. Our unanimous cry became: ‘Ho for Onehunga, and the Native Chiefs!"’

By May 1841, his trading firm was established and his writings about the business provide insights into both commercial life and the parade of people and manners of settler society.

Campbell wrote extensively about the world travels he undertook once he was a man of wealth and the travelogues take up some chapters of Reminiscences of a Long Life, as indeed they should, but it is John Logan Campbell in Auckland which is the heart of the book.

For today’s non-Aucklanders, who may regard our largest city as a fast-expanding abomination, there is the pleasure of reading of a more attractive colonial town on the make and of its ambitious and squabbling citizens.

Reminiscences of a Long Life retails for $89.99 and so may sell best in Auckland, but southern readers would do well to get their hands on a copy just for the experience of enjoying a superbly-written history book produced to the highest standards.

Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.

Add a Comment