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150-year-old letters by a young German in Wellington

August 6, 2012

150-year-old letters by a young German settler give exciting look at Wellington’s past

Letters home by a 22-year-old German settler in 1859 give a rare and exciting look at Wellington of the time.

Friedrich Krull, who hailed from northern Germany, arrived with a friend after a four-month voyage on a Swedish ship, the Equator. His letters, which were intended to provide information for potential German immigrants, have now been published as An Indescribable Beauty by award-winning Wellington publisher Awa Press.

The company’s publishing director, Mary Varnham, was given the letters by one of Krull’s descendants. ‘I started reading them and was completely enthralled,’ Varnham said. ‘They transport you to Wellington and its hinterland on the verge of the New Zealand Wars. Māori outnumber Pākehā, there are so many birds their song is deafening, and most of the countryside is still in a state of extraordinary natural beauty – although one of the first sights that greets Friedrich Krull is the burning of bush on Hutt’s eastern hills.’

The young man gives detailed descriptions of Wellington, including the difficulty of finding affordable places to rent, the high cost of food (‘Although we take only two meals a day, our weekly expenses come to about £2’), and the town’s notorious earthquakes (When we were having breakfast the other morning, all of a sudden the table began to shake so the plates fell off … it lasted about 50 to 60 seconds).

Intelligent and adventurous, Krull also travelled on foot and horseback to the Wairarapa, and up the west coast to Plimmerton, Paekākāriki, Waikanae and Ōtaki. Unlike most settlers, he was eager to experience and understand traditional Māori life. He sought out Tamihana te Rauparaha and Mātene te Whiwhi, founders of the Māori King movement – he even provides vivid descriptions of their homes, journeyed with Te Ātiawa paramount chief Honiana Te Puni-kokopu, and visited Māori villages.

An Indescribable Beauty includes paintings, drawings and photographs of the places and people Krull encountered. An excellent introduction by historian Oliver Harrison gives an overview of German settlement in New Zealand, which was wide-ranging, from Houhara in Northland to Gore in Southland. Many New Zealand families have German ancestry.

Friedrich Krull married, had six children, became a Wellington city councillor and member of the Wellington Harbour Board, and in 1871 was appointed first German Consul by Kaiser Wilhelm I. Later in life he moved to Whanganui. Many of his descendants still live in New Zealand. His grandson, Eric Krull, was a naval officer at the D-Day Normandy landings.

An Indescribable Beauty will be released by Awa Press on August 11; RRP $38.

German-speaking settlements and communities in 19th-century New Zealand

Northland: Houhora, Awanui
Auckland: Pūhoi, Pukekohe
Waikato: Ōhaupō
Taranaki: Inglewood, Midhirst, Stratford, Eltham, Kaimiro, Rātāpiko, Tarata
Hawke’s Bay: Norsewood, Napier, Takapau, Makaretu
Wellington-Rangitikei: Marton, Rongotea, Halcombe, Carterton
Nelson: Ranzau (Hope), Sarau, Rosental, Neudorf, Hanover, Schönbach
Westland: Jackson’s Bay, Smoothwater Valley, Hokitika
Canterbury: Germantown, Waimate, Hanover Valley, Marshlands, Oxford, German Bay
Otago: Waihola, Allanton, German Hill
Southland: Gore, Germantown


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