Fitz: The Colonial Adventures of James Edward Fitzgerald,
by Jennifer Roberts (Otago University Press, RRP $40):
The subject of this biography is an important figure in the settlement of Canterbury. He was the province’s first superintendent, a politician, a watercolourist and founder of the Christchurch Press. He was ahead of his time with such forward thinking ideas as plans to help the famine sufferers in Ireland, ideas for successful colonization, and he was an advocate for the Maori.
The author is a descendant of her subject, her research is meticulous and believe it or not, the story of her ancestor reads like a novel. I read part of it aloud to our three year old and for the next few nights he continued to ask for ‘the shipwreck book’. There is no shipwreck but it was a fairly harrowing sea journey to New Zealand as most probably were in the 1850s. Stories of on deck snowball fights can only delight the reader, young or old.
Fitzgerald was a complex man who often perplexed those around him. Most possibly tolerated him for his brilliant mind and stunning ability at public speaking along with his supreme self confidence which could in turn give them confidence in him. Hardly anyone would have recognised his extreme highs and debilitating lows often involving hypochondria, and tendency to change his mind even mid sentence to be the result of a chemical imbalance in his brain over which he had no control. Today he would be diagnosed as bipolar and given drugs to temper his behaviour.
I’d like to write more about what this book has to tell about Fitz and his accomplished wife, but – when to stop? If you are interested in New Zealand history, politics and pioneering then this is a definite page-turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Excellent value for money.