Give Your Thoughts Life: William Colenso’s Letters to the Editor
Compiled by Ian St George
Otago University Press, $65
The release of this book coincided with the bi-centennial events celebrating the life and work of William Colenso, who spent the majority of his life in Hawke’s Bay.
Colenso was a missionary, an explorer, a botanist, was ﬂuent in the Maori language and defended the rights and equality of Maori, later a politician and Inspector of Schools.
Colenso was a proliﬁc and forthright writer and enjoyed debating current issues of the time via more than 200 letters to the editors of a range of newspapers, but particularly to the Hawke’s Bay Herald.
He wrote mainly for Hawke’s Bay readers. These letters, often several columns at a time, offer insights into Colenso’s wide ranging knowledge and expertise on many subjects. He did not hold back and launched many attacks on those he considered bigots, racists and who were generally ignorant of the public affairs of the day.
He was well known for his opinions and he gave them freely either in response to published letters from members of the public or to editorials.
Published collections of letters can be tedious but this is certainly not the case here. This is because the compiler of these particular letters, Ian St George, is the editor of e-Colenso, the newsletter of the Colenso Society and knows a great deal about the life and writings of Colenso.
His knowledge of Colenso shines through within the comprehensive introduction to the book and to the helpful timelines included with each chapter to enable the reader to better place the published letters within the context of Colenso’s eventful life.
The letters are arranged chronologically starting in 1847 and the helpful index guides the reader to series of letters on similar topics. This makes the book are [a] useful reference work offering as it does ﬁrst-hand accounts of the details of local and national political issues, religious debates, New Zealand history, Maori, land, botany and of course, Christianity and temperance, two of Colenso’s favourite topics.
The book concludes with a well selected range of obituaries written in 1899 summarising the signiﬁcant life and achievements of William Colenso.
Kay Morris Matthews