Celebrity English writer visited Queenstown

Celebrity English writer visited QueenstownQueenstown in 1872. Credit: Lakes District Museum

Anthony Trollope 1872 he came, he saw, he commented

The novelist, Anthony Trollope, was a Bill Bryson of his day, and caused locals some suspense. As the Lake Wakatip Mail put it, ‘Such a distinguished tourist as Mr Trollope must be looked upon as a good authority, and we shall anxiously look forward to his opinion of the residents and the scenery of this land of lakes and mountains’. Would they be delighted or humiliated?

Trollope was one of the Victorian era’s most famous novelists and is best know now for his ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ series. He was commissioned by his publisher to visit Australia and New Zealand in response to the increased interest in travel from the public, some of whom might consider visiting or migrating to the colonies on the new faster and more comfortable steamships. 

Mr Trollope landed in Bluff in the winter of 1872 – not the ideal season. He wrote that travelling in New Zealand was ‘uncomfortable’ as their portmanteaus could not come overland with them but were shipped on to the next port, so he didn’t have his dinner suit with him. (Goodness, how could he eat?) He left Invercargill by coach ‘with great misgivings as to the weather, but with high hopes.’ After a night at an inn, they reached Kingston and caught a lake steamer for Queenstown. Rain began in earnest and the temperature plummeted. He later wrote, We could feel that the scenery around us was fine, that the sides of the lake were precipitous, and the mountain tops sharp and grand, and the water blue; but it soon became impossible to see anything. We huddled down into a little cabin.(Otago Daily Times 19 June 1873)

The next day the visitors took a trip up the lake in the steamer Jane Williams (later renamed Ben Lomond). Trollope recounted: It was a bright clear cold day, with the temperature at freezing point from morning to evening. There were two ladies in the party for whom cloaks and opossum rugs were very necessary. I myself spent a great part of the day within the genial influence of the funnel.

But I enjoyed it greatly. .... The mountains for the most part are bare and steep....One set of peaks after another comes into view. They are sharp and broken, making the hill-tops look like a vast saw with irregular gaps. Perhaps no shape of mountain-tops is more picturesque than this. ... The mountains themselves ... do not look to be so big as the Alps. ... But the effect of the sun shining on the line of peaks was equal to anything I had seen elsewhere. The whole district around is, or rather will be in coming days, a country known for its magnificent scenery. (LWM 9 July 1873)

queenstown historical society queenstown community blog anthony trollope 1872 2Caricature by Frederick Waddy (Wikipedia Commons)

No doubt the residents were gratified by this praise, and encouraged by his prediction that tourism would flourish.

Perhaps not so enticing to tourists from Europe was his description of the town which had about 2000 inhabitants: It is built close down upon the water, and is surrounded by mountains – on all of which the snow was lying. There are many towns so placed in Switzerland, and on the Italian lakes – which in position this New Zealand mining borough much more closely resembles that anything at home; but the houses, and something in the fashion of the streets, the outside uses and bearings of the place, declare it to be unmistakably English. The great drawback to ... travelling in New Zealand comes from the feeling that after crossing the world and journeying over so many thousand miles, you have not at all succeeded in getting away from England. When you have arrived there you are, as it were, next door to your own house, yet you have a two months barrier between yourself and home. (LWM 9 July 1873)

We hope that he was satisfied with his accommodation in Queenstown which was more substantial than some of the inns he encountered. In his book he provides an anecdote about a corrugated-iron hotel somewhere between Queenstown and Clyde: Every word uttered in the house can be heard throughout it .... And yet the owners and frequenters of these iron domiciles seem never to be aware of the fact. As I lay in bed in one of these metal inns on the road, I was constrained to hear the private conversation of my host and hostess who had retired for the night. ‘So this is Mr Anthony Trollope,’ said the host. ‘Well, he must be a __ fool to come travelling in this country in such weather as this.’ Perhaps, after all, the host was aware of the peculiarity of his house, and thought it well that I should know his opinion. He could not have spoken any words with which at that moment I should have been more prone to agree. (LWM 25 June 1873)

Ah, well, we can’t prevent winter weather, but it seems that in most respects our celebrity visitor came, saw, and approved.

Lake Wakatip Mail and Otago Daily Times accessed via PapersPast www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz www.nzhistory.govt.nz

queenstown historical society queenstown community blog anthony trollope 1872 3

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