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Old tales revived by descendent

A Wairarapa woman has revived the words one of her ancestors wrote more than a hundred years ago in the hope it’ll now reach a wider audience.

A book published this month by Martinborough-based author Rosy Fenwicke is the most recent version of a work originally penned by one of her forebears, John Inches Thompson.

Called Voyages and Wanderings in Far Off Seas and Lands, it was originally published in 1912 and describes Thomson’s travels across the globe.

The work was in the family archives, as well as the national libraries of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, and Fenwicke dusted off the old copies and breathed new life into the tales.

An early Otago settler, Thompson arrived in New Zealand from Scotland in 1861 and headed to the goldfields with his brother. He later settled in Dunedin, where the pair owned and operated sailing ships. The book chronicles his adventures, especially at sea.

“His story is really factual. He and his brother owned ships, and they travelled around the south coast of New Zealand, and then backwards and forwards around the world doing trade from Port Chalmers,” Fenwicke said.

“He was from a family of ship owners, and so they were used to travelling.”

The book describes historical figures Thompson met, as well as some swashbuckling tales of long ago.

“This is a story about his adventures and wanderings. It’s really exciting the things that he did.

“He was one of the first Australasian people to cross America by train. His descriptions of the sea are particularly impressive,” Fenwicke said.

“He and the crew of the schooner he owned were shipwrecked on McQuarie Island in the winter of 1877 for four months.

“He was also quite a philosophical man, interested in religion.

“He relates about five or six near-death experiences that he had on ships, including near shipwrecks and stories of other ships. It was a really exciting life.”

Thompson died in Dunedin in 1933.

While the book was about the experiences of one of her own family members, its narrative covers some of the history of New Zealand.

“No one has really read it because there wasn’t a lot of marketing done, and very soon after that his wife died and they came back to New Zealand. What I have done is gone through the book and researched everything that he said he did.”

Fenwicke has added an introduction to the book, which includes some general historical context for the period and additional information on Thompson’s family history.

The book has taken about 18 months to complete, and Fenwicke described the writing process as “really hard work”.

“Writing is an occupation of revision after revision after revision,” she said.

The book is currently on sale at the Martinborough Bookshop and at Hedley’s in Masterton, and will soon be available online.

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