Author(s): David Hastings
'Dreadful murder at Opunake', said the Taranaki Herald, 'Shocking outrage', cried the Evening Post in Wellington when they learned in November 1880 that a young woman called Mary Dobie had been found lying under a flax bush near Opunake on the Taranaki coast with her throat cut so deep her head was almost severed. It is a murder story, starting as a whodunit then becomes a whydunit. It takes the reader on a journey across the landscape of social and political tensions in the couple of years leading up to the invasion of Parihaka in 1881: Pakeha feared it was an act of political terrorism, Maori thought it would be the cue for the state to use force against them. Was it rape or robbery, was the killer Maori or Pakeha? It is also, in a sense, a sequel to Over the Mountains of the Sea. Mary Dobie features prominently in that book through her sketches and paintings of life on a migrant ship as well as the diary she kept with her sister. Illustrations by Mary are an important part of the new book as well as diaries and a memoir written by her sister.
This interesting, well-illustrated book looks at the murder of Mary Dobie, a young Englishwoman who went for a walk from Opunake one fine morning in November 1880, intending to do some sketching and painting. When she failed to return, searchers found her body lying under a flax bush on the coast. David Hastings uses the hunt for the killer to illustrate the social tensions of the time. Mary and her sister Bertha, who had arrived from England to visit relatives, were thought to be rather forward young ladies, not quite fitting the Victorian ideal of the time. Was it rape or robbery? Was the killer Maori or Pakeha? Pakeha feared it was an act of terrorism in response to the government's determination to take the land of the tribes in the region. Maori thought it would be the cue for force to be used against them, especially against Parihaka. The author investigates all the possibilities for the 'many deaths' of Mary Dobie, and in doing so really brings to life the New Zealand of the time. - Jan
David Hastings holds an MA (Hons) in History from the University of Auckland. A former editor of the Weekend Herald, he is the author of Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the Migrant Ships, 1870-1885 and Extra! Extra! How the People Made the News, both published by Auckland University Press.