BOOKCASE : Logan Campbell’s Auckland: Tales from the Early Years

RCJ Stone • Auckland University Press • RRP $45

RCJ Stone, retired doyen of Auckland commercial world historians, has produced handsome and diverting volume. John Logan Campbell may now be best known as the great-great-great-grandfather of golfer Michael Campbell, but he was towering figure in early Auckland.
He arrived there, recently trained doctor, in December 1840, one of the few non-government settlers who pitched their tents on the Waitemata shoreline. He was soon leading figure. “He retained that dominance in his adopted town,” Stone writes, “until his death over 70 years later.
“In the forefront of its early provincial, municipal and parliamentary politics, he remained – until afflicted with blindness and the infirmities of age – at the heart of Auckland’s business, banking (trustee-savings and commercial), insurance, education and cultural life.”
In Logan Campbell’s Auckland, and drawing on 50 years of research, Russell Stone recounts stories about the quirkier side of Auckland and its beginnings that would not have fitted, certainly at the length here, in the academic histories he has authored.
Sir John Logan Campbell’s long life in New Zealand, beginning in 1840 and continuing – with 13 years living in Europe – until 1912, is the unifying thread for these diverse and diverting essays that give flavour and atmosphere to Auckland’s pioneering decades.
The book begins with potted history of Auckland – its geographic spread, commercial development, an infrastructure struggling to keep pace, and concern about public spaces – from Campbell’s arrival from Scotland until he died at the age of 95.
Succeeding chapters cover topics as varied as the more than one tree atop One Tree Hill, duels fought or avoided, the country’s strangest newspaper, the Army and Navy presence in early Auckland, the Orpheus disaster, novelist Anthony Trollope’s visit, and the first rugby matches played at Eden Park.
Stone writes that Auckland’s reputation as place apart is no recent thing. “The story of Auckland in Campbell’s time serves to remind us that the city’s commercial and entrepreneurial character is no modern phenomenon but as old as the settlement itself, and indeed part of the region’s distinctive heritage.”
And history evangelist that he is, Stone notes that knowledge of the past is essential to fully understand the present. Without it, he says, “we become community without memory, distinct possibility in city adopted by so many incomers whose cultural roots lie elsewhere”.

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