Kāpiti history captured in Letters book

Of interest to local historians is the recent publication from boutique publisher Awa Press titled ‘An Indescribable Beauty; Letters home to Germany from Wellington, New Zealand, 1859 and 1862’, by Friederich August Krull. Friederich arrived in New Zealand from Germany in 1859 as a young man in his early twenties and soon became the country’s first German Consul. Before departing, he had been asked by his brother-in-lay Ernst Boll, a well-known Neubrandenburg historian and natural scientist, to send reports of life in the new colony. Along with Karl Hartmann, a friend and fellow traveller, Friedrich made several excursions from Wellington through the Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, and Kāpiti districts, as well as to the German settlement of Ranzau near Nelson. The letters of these journeys, which he addressed to his mother, have been translated and supplemented with historical images of the period, including many of people and places that Friedrich visited.

Friedrich talks of walking to Waikanae, where he saw the remains of a whare partially destroyed in a battle between Maori and British troops nine years earlier. There were altars where white people had been butchered. Bones and skulls had been collected in small heaps and were covered with shells. Further along in Ōtaki, thousands of gulls and other seabirds would dip down into the water to catch mussels, which they would then drop from a great height to open. Near the Ōtaki River were thousands of beautiful nikau palms, huge bushes of acacias, and herds of pigs, cattle and horses. Friedrich tells of meeting with two chiefs: Matene Te Whiwhi and Tamihana Te Rauparaha, founders of the Maori King movement.

This book is a colourful, descriptive snapshot of the wider Wellington region in the mid 19th century. It is an easy read, with Friedrich relating the aspects of his travels that captured his interest, as a curious and informed tourist rather than as a historian or natural scientist. It would have been interesting to have learned more of Friedrich in his later life, as he went on to become a successful member of the business community in Wellington and, later, Whanganui. However, this is not so much a biography as a glimpse of Wellington as it was: an indescribable beauty.

An Indescribable Beauty

Awa Press, 2012

RRP: $38

Reviewed by: Alex Taylor