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Friday, September 17, 2010


For 85 years White Wings: Fifty Years of Sail in the New Zealand Trade has been required reading for anyone researching New Zealand history and the story of trade in southern seas.

Back in the 1920s, shipping reporter Henry Brett wrote a couple of articles for the Auckland Star, to clear up an argument about the quickest passages made by sail.  Intense interest and public demand led to two books, volume one and volume two of White Wings, complete with ship portraits and bloodcurdling descriptions of narrow escapes that are a testament to great seamanship.

A fascinating man, Brett arrived in Auckland in September 1862 on board the Hanover, having arrived from England on his own set of white wings.  He was offered work on the Southern Cross before he even stepped off the ship.  A stint on the New Zealand Herald followed.  In 1870 he helped found the Auckland Star, a liberal paper that owed a lot of its success to his innovative use of carrier pigeons.  He was Mayor of Auckland in 1877 and 1878, Commissioner for New Zealand at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, and the recipient of a knighthood in 1916.  Unfortunately, this remarkable man did not live to see the publication of the second volume of White Wings in 1928.

This book and its companion have been harder and harder to locate, as library copies fell apart, and collectors clung onto them jealously.  Now, however, they have gone online, courtesy of NZETC, and the whole maritime research community can heave a breath of relief.  Even the vital illustrations are there, to add to the immense value of the work.

The extraordinarily valuable NZ Electronic Text website has separate pages for VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO.


Caron Dann said...

Thanks, Joan, for that fascinating story and link. I've started reading White Wings and can't stop! I'm sure my grandfather had it in his bookcase (and probably had both volumes). He loved maritime history and often used to sit on his deck in Glendowie, 1960s-1980s, binoculars on, watching the yachts and other vessels go out to sea.

World of the Written Word said...

Caron, your grandfather sounds as if he wished he had lived a couple of generations earlier! White Wings is a compulsive read, I agree. The newspaper-like style seems to fit the subject so well.