Emily Harris and the Takaka Caves

By Jackie Cook

So what does Emily Harris have to do with caves?

From the 1890s to 1914, something of a vogue arose in Nelson for visiting caves. 

Four aspects of life in late nineteenth/early twentieth century colonial culture had intersected upon this rather unlikely spot. Taken in sequence, they help explain how an interest in caves emerged – and why, and how, Emily Harris became part of it. 

‘The beautiful limestone caves of Nelson, the ‘wedding cakes,’ Rawhiti.’ Otago Witness, 29 October 1913: 45

1. Land clearance in more extreme locations

As colonist families and ‘new chum’ settler arrivals moved further out and onto the challenging terrain of marginal lands, clear-felling for pasturage meant burn-off and machine-milling of forest and ‘scrub.’

Both techniques denuded the land, revealing its underlying geological formations. Next, add the incremental increase in mineral exploration, mining and quarrying – each prominent in Nelson Province’s contribution to the 1906 Exhibition in Christchurch, where Emily Harris showed her work, but where minerals dominated the industries on show.

Regardless of the purposes behind land clearance, the terrain itself was beginning to reveal hidden depths. A new form of the unknown was now ripe for exploration, and a new sublime, already deeply seated in European culture, began to inscribe itself.

So rapid was this process that the commercialisation of cave visits, beginning in the 1890s, quickly shifted to public notices threatening the closure of private-land cave access. Vandalism, and especially the removal of stalactites, the plundering of moa bones, and even destructive graffiti, were being reported as rife.

With reference to the proposed visit to the caves at the summit of the Riwaka-Takaka hills, which it is proposed to make next Sunday, Mr Thomas Pattie, the owner of the property, wishes to state that he has no wish to deprive persons of the pleasure of visiting the caves, but is very anxious that their natural beauties shall not be destroyed, and that unless empty-headed idiotic people refrain from destroying the picturesque stalactites and stalagmites he will be compelled to stop the traffic to the caves. Such a decision would be cause for regret and we trust, therefore, the destructive instinct will be checked in future. (Motueka Star 27 February 1903: 3)

Clearly, access to this new underworld was a contentious and contested issue, from the outset. It was particularly the case for women.

2. Increased leisure and social mobility

Early travel to the far-flung provinces had mostly been by sea, or river navigation. By the 1880s and ’90s however, coach roads and even railways were spreading across the map. Regular commercial services were advertised, routes re-engineered from bridle-paths to coach roads. 

Women were now able to drive a small gig or governess cart into quite distant communities, a few more intrepid types even taking up the new cycling craze. ‘Rational’ dress: full-length pantaloons under skirts and the relaxing of ‘stays,’ made it easier for women to travel. The twentieth-century fitness movement was already beginning to evolve, alongside increasing leisure hours produced by new labour-saving domestic and industrial appliances. Universal education had opened an awareness of outdoor activities such as tramping and cycling, promoted as a benefit to health, while new understandings of the natural world suggested a re-oriented and localised spiritual response to New Zealand outdoors. 

In the outlier communities of Nelson and Golden Bay however, where so many of the new cave discoveries were opening up, women’s independent social mobility was still fraught with problems, as a long advisory piece on cycling in the Golden Bay Argus makes clear:

Full knickerbockers should always be worn instead of underskirts, as the latter invariably “ruck up.” The dress skirt should be of short walking length, neat and plain, and not more than 3 yards wide.
A couple of strips of garter elastic 4 or 5 in. long, may be safely pinned inside the front some 2 inches apart, with a gentleman’s necktie clip on the free end of each. This should be clipped on to the tongue of the shoe before mounting; and the elastic, if properly adjusted, will not drag, and the dress will be safe from blowing or working up. (The Golden Bay Argus 11 June 1896: 2)

There appears to be no advice at all on how to dress when exploring caves – presumably because the actual exploration was automatically considered a male preoccupation, with women only ‘visitors,’ in their summer linen or muslin and lace ‘walking outfits.’ White stockings, several petticoats, shady hats – and of course, always – gloves.

3. Organised social events and ‘touring’

Community organisations were burgeoning. Churches, Friendly Societies, Labour Unions, al fresco choral performances or sketching parties, sports club excursions – everywhere you looked there were group outings being organised. Garden parties, tennis tournaments, hot-spring bathing, picnics, fishing trips, regattas, gymkhanas and race meetings – all began to focus upon this or that favourite, or newly-accessible, beauty spot.

For the first time this included the ‘wonders’ of newly-discovered cave sites. What is more remarkable though, is how their public display was rapidly appropriated into the repertoire of the performative sublime. An 1891 report from Nelson newspaper The Colonist shows something of how the allure of caves was being intensified:

… after a sumptuous repast, the whole party proceeded to inspect the first cave, the mouth of which is covered in foliage. The candles were lit, and the procession, numbering 70, moved on. On entering the sight was a most imposing one; on all sides were seen beautiful and fantastic shapes, pillars, arches, and galleries, all of the purest white limestone. About 100 yards from the mouth, the cave widens considerably, and far above was seen a spacious gallery, looking as if hewn out of pure marble. About sixty of the party ascended by an easy path, and one of the ladies, accompanied on the violin, sang an old and favorite song, “The Old Folks at Home,” in the chorus of which the whole company joined. The music seemed most enchanting, rendered, as it was, in such a “dim, religious light.” (Colonist 12 May 1891: 3)

Nor was music the only art to be taken into newly-discovered caves.

Entrance, Rawhiti Caves. Manson Photo. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, O.005061.

4. Photography and local press coverage

Hand in hand, local newspapers and the growing mobility of photography worked to publicise and expand public demand for visits to these exotic, yet accessible, locations. By the 1890s Nelson papers were filled with advertisements for day-excursions to newly discovered or ‘opened’ spots, while in 1898, Nelson photography business Tyree Studios used the other arm of its Trafalgar Street enterprise: acetylene gas lighting, to produce extraordinary photographic images of the caves at Rockville in Golden Bay, where studio co-founder Frederick Tyree was living. 

The public picnic to The Caves held on Tuesday last attracted quite a crowd of people, and a very pleasant day was put in in this fascinating resort of picnicers and tourists. Mr Tyree’s acetylene gas was taken into the Caves and the light produced among the myriads of stalactites and stalagmites was very effective indeed. The camera was brought into requisition in the Caves and by the aid of the gas a photo of the picnicers was taken from “the Balcony.” In the evening a social dance was held at the Hall and formed a very enjoyable windup to the day’s outing. (Golden Bay Argus 6 January 1898: 5)

The rise of a new industry

Once you put together these four elements: exotic locations, social mobility, increased demand for organised social events, and the new tools of public promotion – what you get is tourism. New Zealand has claims to be the first country to acknowledge it as an industry, appointing Joseph Ward in 1906 as Minister for Tourist and Health Resorts.

All that remained then was for each region, competing to promote its own beauties, to find its way to a suitable mode of branding. What did each have that made it distinctive?

In Nelson, caves were being considered as a possible regional theme for this nascent tourism industry. The ‘Nelson Hall’ at the 1906 Christchurch Exhibition had included postcards of paintings of caves – and the motif seemed to be catching on. The phrase ‘Fairyland of Caves’ was being bandied about: one that had evolved around the wonders of Waitomo, Rotorua, and the Pink and White Terraces of the North Island.

But why fairies?

One way forward in building allure around new sorts of destinations is to laminate onto them the signs of an interesting exotica, using existing cultural themes. The sublime, the adventurous, the as-yet-unexplored – each has its particular appeal.

With caves, there is a hint of treasures yet to be found. This is partly the remnants of gold-rush fever; partly the narrative threads of fantasy underworlds. Buried pirate treasures or ancient coin-hoards; leprechaun coffers; ‘lost world’ motifs – all are taken up by eagerly by New Zealand’s newly-mobile third-generation settlers, who have less access to destinations from the heroic era of exploration, and so fewer ways of ‘leaving their mark.’

They begin to dig deeper than before.

The combination of the exploratory, scientific and recreational caving which Nelson speleologists know today began only in the late 1950s, when Harwood’s Hole, a 200 metre pothole and cave system entry on Takaka Hill, was accessed. From the 1890s on, however, easy-access caves such as Rockville and Rawhiti in Golden Bay, were being visited by large parties, and what might now seem an odd array of activities organised. Choirs performed. Musicians took advantage of the acoustic effects. ‘Light shows’ and multiple candle-lit excursions accentuated the stalactite and crystalline formations. From early on, weddings were conducted.

‘The little known wonders of the Nelson province.’ The New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal 17 May 1911: 20. From the  Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19110517-0020-01

Local caves were, it seemed, readily coded into the public imagination as spaces of high romance. Representing these caves – even new ones, with no narratives attached, or at least none in the cultural repertoire of Anglophone colonists – borrowed heavily from existing European themes.

A theatre review of a Nelson Pantomime in 1893 uses imagery so close to that of newspaper reports of actual cave visits, as to reveal how and where these themes were arising, and how they were intertwining their imagery to optimise the sorts of allure tourism required – especially those directed at women. 

The scenery throughout is gorgeous, but nothing could be more exquisitely beautiful than the representation of the “Caves of Jewels,” the walls of which are made to sparkle in the lime-light with a thousand tints of amethyst and emerald, and the scene became weird in the extreme when the dragon appeared in the centre, and numerous goblins, demons, and sprites commenced to dance around him in wild fantastic measures, Aladdin meanwhile appeared hovering on a white horse between earth and heaven. (Nelson Evening Mail, 25 May 1893: 2)

Compare that to an account of an actual visit to the Rawhiti caves, published in 1914:

Guarding the entrance to the cave, which consists of three chambers, in all about 2310 feet in length, is a mammoth dragon, its head thrown forward as if defying man to enter. Standing outside the entrance, one feels something of the childish thrill of awe and expectation in which you stood in imagination with Ali Baba outside the cave of the Forty Thieves; but no magic password is needed for the open sesame. You simply follow the track, and almost immediately are gazing on a wonderful scene…. A wonderful sight meets the eye of fantastic shapes formed by the stalactites and the stalagmites. Here is “Mr. Punch” as plain as day; over there animals take definite shape; hideous monsters of fairy tales are seen —in fact every fantastic shape and likeness the whimsical imagination can give name to. Passing out of the opening chamber we press forward to the dark beyond, and feel our way along a narrow passage. Then we descend several steps, and stand in a second chamber. The light of our lantern and the flare of the guide’s magnesium wire reveal a scene of glorious dazzlingness. The walls and roofs are fringed with snow-like stalactites, suggesting in the shadowy dimness quaint fancies, grotesque shapes, delicate shawls, blankets and rugs hanging in graceful folds, long slender, shapes as fine as needles, noble pillars, and fretted ivory. And at our feet lies a huge wedding-cake, frosted and tiered as if waiting for the bride to cut it. (Nelson Evening Mail 11 March 1914: 5)

Together, these descriptive connections between caves and fantasy reveal a kind of cultural mining. 

In the late-Victorian/Edwardian era, with the burgeoning of story-books for children after the Universal Education Acts of the 1870s, writers began working with the new-found cultural resources released by the ethnographic collectors of central and Northern Europe, such as the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or their ‘Celtic Twilight’ equivalents, Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats. Meanwhile ‘boys’ own adventure’ publications were spreading their net of ‘ripping yarns’ settings much wider, finding exciting locations across the British Imperial map.  

Successful New Zealand children’s author Edith Howes, for instance, consciously migrated European gnomes into New Zealand cave settings for her stories  – their mining and grinding activities said to be the generators of earthquakes (Fairy Rings, London, Cassell and Co., 1911.)

Fairy Rings by Edith Howes

Just two years earlier, as Nelson writer Sarah Rebecca Moore set out to produce a New Zealand based children’s book, and asked her neighbour Emily Harris to illustrate it, she too had annexed the tropes of European romantic mythography.

Cue the underworld fairy princess… After all, in 1898 an anonymous Nelson author had already obliged.

A TAKAKA ROMANCE. (Written for the ‘Evening Mail.’)
“Magnificent,” exclaimed Rose Raybourne, as she entered the wonderful caves at Motupipi. “This is only the first chamber, wait till you have seen them all, Miss Raybourne,” said Lea Caxton. “You will be charmed, I assure you,” added Garrick Davis. “This is like fairy land, how can anything be more lovely! What do you say, girls?” continued Rose, “Are you all spell-bound?”
She glanced back at her companions as she spoke. “We are in raptures,” came from several voices. “I call this a fairy cave, and you girls are the fairies,” said Rose, smiling on the six bright faces of the girls round her, each girl carrying a light. “Then we will christen you the ‘Fairy Queen!'” said Kitty Thorp
(Nelson Evening Mail 2 July 1898: 3)

Sarah Rebecca Moore, ‘Mrs Ambrose E. (Eyles) Moore,’ responded in kind. Her 1909 New Zealand Fairyland: A Story of the Caves, centres on all the fantasy tropes of the day: castaway heiresses to Scots baronial fortunes; Dutch seafaring smugglers; foundling babies raised by fairy-folks; and even the classic fairytale ‘frog-becomes-prince’ ending – albeit with a tuatara standing in, for as Sarah Rebecca Moore states in her Preface:

… it is sufficient for me to know he belongs to New Zealand, and is interesting from his rarity. The picture shown of him is a true study from Nature. I have also introduced into my story as many different birds as I could, as I wish my various stories to contain birds, flora, mountains, forests, and everything true to Nature and New Zealand.

It is interesting to think about how both Sarah Moore and Emily Harris came to confront a tuatara – ‘interesting for his rarity’ – although not quite as rare then, as now. It may not have been as difficult to find a specimen to describe and to draw ‘from Nature’ as we might expect. In 1896 the Nelson Evening Mail had made mention of an interesting discovery in the inner-city Collingwood Street garden of Mrs Emily Trask, Mayor Francis Trask’s wife:

In connection with lizards, it is worth noting that the New Zealand tautara [sic] is becoming a domestic pet in many places. One at the Invercargill Museum likes to be hugged by the caretaker, and there is an old bachelor tautara in the grounds of Gunnersbury House, Nelson, (Mr Trask’s). He lives in a hole by day and comes out to feed by night; and though he is apt to startle strangers who meet him unexpectedly in the dark, he is quite polite and warranted harmless. (Nelson Evening Mail 16 April 1896: 3)

Chapter XI, ‘The tuatara’s soliloquy’ from New Zealand Fairyland: A Story of the Caves. Illustration by Emily Harris.

Was this the very tuatara which ‘modelled’ for Emily Harris? Sarah Rebecca Moore’s husband, Ambrose Eyles Moore, was Returning Officer for the Nelson City Council. The Mayor’s wife must have known the Moores. There is also a hint of further evidence in the oral tradition – for around 1900 my own grandmother, Inez Frank, then about five years old, was helping roll down an
awning to provide some outside shade behind her parents’ house – and a tuatara fell from the canvas and startled her. She lived just around the corner from the Trasks. Her father, himself a life-long political organiser, knew whose home to return it to.

Sarah Rebecca Moore, like Emily Harris, had a confirmed interest in setting her work firmly within a New Zealand context:

Why should not the children of New Zealand have fairy stories all their own, like the little German children, and children of other old countries? is the question I asked myself, so I sat down to write them some (New Zealand Fairyland, preface, p. 5.)

The children of New Zealand, of course, already had plenty of fairy stories. But they were in a language which settler society was actively suppressing.

Plate I from New Zealand Fairyland: ‘Fairy children amusing Cavina’. Illustration by Emily Harris

Not for another generation does Māori narrative – agonisingly slowly – emerge into the Anglophone consciousness. Literary commentator James Cowan, pointing this out in the 1920s, could almost have been speaking of Sarah Rebecca Moore when he says:

It was unfortunate that a writer with so sympathetic a muse had never heard of the Maori’s rich store of fairy legend and wonder-tale, of endless folk-talk about the supernatural, the sprites of the woods, the elusive Patu-paiarehe, the mysterious wild men of the mountains, the strange spirits that haunt great pools at river-sources, and streams and lakes. For all this in endless variety we have in New Zealand. There is not another country, not even Ireland or the fairy-ridden Isle of Man, so full of folk-memories and primitive beliefs of this kind. The only reason that the pakeha does not know of it is that very, very few have gone to the trouble to delve into this class of myth and tradition and preserve while there is yet time the curious and poetic tales which crystallize for us the old Maori belief in unseen presences and the fairy folk that haunted many a lofty mountain and many a shadowy wood (James Cowan, Fairy folk tales of the Maori, Auckland, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1925, p. 2.)

Mrs Moore too had drawn on a European fairyland to people her stories of caves, despite the fact that, for instance, the Ngarua Caves on Takaka Hill, one of the first to be accessible to picnickers and day-trippers, and today part of a vast formation still under exploration, was connected to the great taniwha, Ngārara Huarau. Having retreated into Harwood’s Hole, this being was said to be the cause of the earth tremors and deep rumbling common to the region. Rather than the underground grinding of migratory German gnomes, water within the mountain cave system, shifting rocks and stones, was explained as the angry thrashing of this enraged taniwha, and the sharp ridges of what is called ‘razor karren’ karst rock, the scales he shed as he burrowed into the earth.

Golden Bay too, its topography and geology and water-flows also engineered around caves, knew it had heroic – and romantic – pre-colonial stories of its own. It was even in the habit of referencing them in regional newspapers.

The Colonist tells its readers the story of star-crossed lovers Tuki and Tui, whose names are still associated with Takaka’s Abbotsford caves.

In the early days when the pakeha was unknown in the land, a Maori chief named Tuki, together with his tribe, possessed much of the land in the Takaka Valley. This young chieftain was of great prowess, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion. A neighbouring tribe and his had many a fierce and bloody encounter, but they stood in awe of Tuki’s spear and tomahawk (mere), which made many a warrior to bite the dust. Tuki like all of his kind, was susceptible to the charms of lovely woman, and he fell in love with a handsome maiden whose name was Tui, but who also was the daughter of the greatest enemy of himself and his tribe….
… On seeing him enter the cave they pressed forward confident of securing him. Tuki, however, took to the cave on the right, and on his pursuers seeing the two entrances they hesitated to proceed till they had secured torches (how they obtained these is not told). In the meantime Tuki passed through the hole which is still known as Tuki’s escape, with the intention of entering the other cavern. On reaching its entrance, however, he was dismayed to find some of his enemies at its mouth…
(The Colonist 8 August 1889: 5 (Supplement)

Like all such tales, this one is no fairy-story. It ends badly. 

Earlier this year I invited members of the Nelson Speleological Society to try to identify the actual cave chambers that Sarah Moore reports Emily Harris as having ‘spent many hours’ in sketching, drawings which furnished the five cave-interior illustrations for New Zealand Fairyland

The artist to whom we owe the illustrations, some time previously had been visiting in the vicinity of these caves, and spent many hours in taking these sketches. Finding I was writing Fairy Stories, she kindly offered me the sketches, and peopled them for me according to the requirements; so we have the caves just as they are, having borrowed nothing from the imagination but the figures. (New Zealand Fairyland, preface, p. 5.)

This identification of cave interiors is still a work in progress – although local cavers have already suggested that the illustration facing page 11, of character ‘Fayette’ approaching a cave entry, is most likely Rawhiti Caves, their double-chamber entry clear from the illustration, even if the perspective makes them look smaller than in reality. 

Plate 2 from New Zealand Fairyland: ‘Fayette finds shelter from the rain’. Illustration by Emily Harris

Also a key indicator of Rawhiti is the image’s inclusion of slanting sunbeams, this being a cave system unusual for being lit by sunshine. In the early twentieth century it was often called ‘The Sunshine Caves.’ It was also considered relatively accessible: one of the reasons for its early popularity. Only three weeks after its discovery in May 1908, the Nelson Evening Mail reported that ‘ladies’ had already been through. 

Most compelling however is the way newspaper articles published not long after the appearance of New Zealand Fairyland describe the Rawhiti cave’s entry and its curious horizontal stalactites in terms markedly close to how Emily Harris portrays them:

There are ferns and wild flowers and leafy trails of greenery clustering about the opening, and from overhead the sun shoots fitful silvery shadows from a cloudy sky. (Nelson Evening Mail 11 March 1914: 5)

Light-leaved saplings of lace-bark and other trees make a screen, and the sunlight shining upon them and through them is reflected into the cavern, if so dull a word may be used to describe this immense, imposing and spacious place. It is more like a great arch of a mighty cathedral. From the roof long stalactites, grey and weathered by exposure, reach down and outwards in long, twisting shapes. For some reason and by some process of nature they have grown towards the sunlight, as branches of trees would do. (Colonist 30 January 1919: 2)

Both these descriptions and Emily Harris’s sketches reveal what is known as ‘phyto-karst,’ the result of long, slow interactions between the mineral sedimentation and crystal formation that builds stalactites, and the corrosive action of light-activated algae on their ‘sunny side,’ slowly skewing a stalactite from the vertical to the horizontal or lateral, as shown in the New Zealand Fairyland cave images. Globally, phyto-karst is a relatively rare formation, and Rawhiti is an excellent example of it – the most compelling evidence so far that this is where Emily Harris produced her sketches.

Plate 3 from New Zealand Fairyland: ‘The fairy queen of the cave finds a mortal child’. Illustration by Emily Harris.

While we wait for further identification of exactly which cave chambers she portrayed, it is however worth asking one final question.

Why, if the promotional interest in caves had been so strong for two decades in Nelson, were the images produced from Emily Harris’s sketching ventures into the caves of Golden Bay taken up commercially only as the scenery for Mrs Ambrose E. Moore’s fairy stories? Why did she have to – quite literally – do a form of ‘clip-art’ to get these works published, pasting sketches of rather Edwardian fairy figures onto her earlier cave paintings?

The most likely answer is that the usual practices of sequestering women’s creativity into the realms of the domestic and the decorative were once again in play.

For both Sarah Rebecca Moore and Emily Harris, this meant harnessing ‘the sublime,’ alongside the hyper-romantic, to established and legitimate veins of feminisation. Nelson’s caves were already being described as displays of ‘wedding cake’ stalactites; ‘jewel-like’ crystalline formations, with art-linked ‘galleries’ and ‘balconies’ and ‘amphitheatres.’

They still are, this descriptive repertoire appearing to have suspended them permanently inside the theatre of the late-Romantic imaginary. Even today, this imagery is fixed to the names given to newly discovered cave chambers and rock formations.

In the Bulmer System cavers and geologists refer to crystalline formations in terms of jewels: ‘angel hair,’ ‘moon milk,’ ‘cave pearls’ – and there is even a passageway of intricate formations named ‘One For the Girls.’ (See Neil Silverwood’s extraordinary photographs of these in M. Thomas and N. Silverwood: Caves: Exploring New Zealand’s subterranean wilderness, Wellington, Whio Press, 2017. There are further examples of these ‘fantasy’ naming urges in a New Zealand caving online edition of National Geographic Magazine: see Derek Grzelewski, ‘Tales of the Underworld‘).

New-found underground discoveries are still being pulled into the personification tropes of fantasy today, albeit from sources which update the fairy tropes of the early 1900s and reference more modern fantasy landscapes. See for instance the names given to recent discoveries in the Nettlebed cave system in Nelson’s North-West: ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ ‘The Big Friendly Giant,’ ‘Diamond Alley,’ ‘Neverland,’ ‘Camelot.’  Takaka Hill’s Middle Earth system has ‘Hobbit’s Hole’ and ‘Kanga’s House.’

Caves today are also still being used as wedding venues, as well as being ‘bucket list’ locations for accessing the adventurous life. They are as much feminised, and fantastic, now, as then. It was the late-Victorian positioning of women’s creativity, however, which pushed women writers and artists away from their adventurous side, and into the little-examined and sentimentally-saturated fields so many came to occupy. 

This was an era when scorn was still heaped on women attempting to write at all – let alone in the realms of exploration or high adventure. It is hard for us now to imagine the effects of such sustained attack – or the intensity with which it was levelled. In 1903, for instance, Alfred George Stephens (1865-1933), Australia’s first literary critic, who wrote reviews for the Red Page of The Bulletin, and later the Wellington Evening Post, captured with a well-honed and commercially successful pen, the dominant contemporary view on what women’s writing ‘was,’ how it ought to be received, and how all that could be expected were ‘small illuminations.’

On Sunday evening, after church, is a favourite composition time. Then you may see the plump and rosy maiden… a little withdrawn from the massed family, polishing off the idea that came when she wasn’t listening to the sermon. The metre may be borrowed from the hymn-book, the matter from The Otago Witness and Annie S. Swan, the noble and uninspiring sentiment is all the maiden’s own… Next Saturday week, if one is fortunate, there will be a small illumination of the poet’s corner of The Canterbury Times … and ‘Perdita’ or ‘Celia’ will glow, and dream, and wonder if He will see it, and what He would say if He knew, and whether… (G. Stephens, Otago Witness 3 June 1903: 70.  See also ‘Our Own Grand Inquisitor, A. G. Stephens made Australian Literature,’ The Age 24 May 1947: 9.)

Seen from that perspective, the creative collaboration between Sarah Rebecca Moore and Emily Harris which produced New Zealand Fairyland, reduced as it is to working with disregarded genres, re-used materials, and dark spaces on the farthest edge of things, becomes a miracle of perseverance. 

‘Small illuminations,’ it seems, can sometimes access very dark corners. 




2 thoughts on “Emily Harris and the Takaka Caves

  1. What an entertaining and erudite post. Thank you so much Jackie for your ‘small illuminations’ and your meticulous research. You have linked the fairy cave culture of Nelson with solid geological science and have solidified the evidence that Emily Harris was consistently authentic in all her work, despite the severe financial pressures. Along with the very specific advice for cycling dress and the image of an unexpected tuatara tumble, I will treasure the phrase ‘late-Victorian positioning of women’s creativity ……..in little-examined and sentimentally-saturated fields’.

  2. Incredible insights into a world I hadn’t noticed until I read this article! Thank you Jackie.

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