30th July 1867
With the first light of dawn it was obvious to everyone that this was an unprecedented storm. Snow still fell, piling high against walls and building up on roofs. There was very little wind to push it into drifts, so it lay where it fell, covering everything in a thick blanket. Inside the house they could hear the roof rafters creaking and groaning under the extra weight, but apart from that there was an unusual silence about the place. Wild creatures sought places to hide in hollow trees or under the barn roof while the farm animals found themselves surrounded by deep white walls of snow, their body warmth melting just a little bit of space around them.
The first challenge of the new day was to get out of the front door. Fortunately, it opened inwards, but James came face to face with a wall of sparkling white snow right up to the lintel. The shovel lay against the wall by the door, but it was going to be an impossible task to dig enough out to form a path. He was going to have to rely on the men in the barn to keep an eye on things until the snow began to melt, but it meant it was going to be a frustratingly long day. Sophia became more and more grumpy at having the family under her feet and the children were bored by lunchtime and desperate to get out in the snow.
On 29th July 1867 – 153 years ago today – the greatest snowstorm in history hit the South Island of New Zealand. Snow fell for six days, with but a brief respite on the fourth day, when temperatures rose enough to briefly turn the snow to rain. Coming as it did at the start of the lambing season, losses of stock were high, leading many farmers to sell up and move away. Those sheep who had not suffocated under the weight of 5-6 feet of snow were often found up to their fleeces in mud where the rain had filtered under the snow, drowning as they stood because their fleeces had grown too heavy to move. It is thought that 90% of the year’s lambs were lost and 50% of the adult sheep.
The storm affected Applecross Station and the neighbouring Combe Station. As you will see in Book 4, The Cedar Trees (due for publication late 2020) the Mackenzies and Lawtons approached it in different ways. Over the next few days we will relive the snowstorm with extracts from The Cedar Trees. Here is Day 1 :-
With a start, Sophia realised that James had got out of bed and was standing at the window. She turned over, privately enjoying his handsome silhouette against the light outside.
“What is it?” she asked. “Is it still raining?”
“No, my dear, come and look,” replied James, pointing out through the window.
She went to join him, shivering as her bare feet touched the stone cold floor. James wrapped his arms around her to keep her warm, and they stood together surveying the scene. The rain had turned to snow while she had been lying in bed thinking back over the last few years. Snow fell in huge clumps, like the snowballs the children would want to throw at each other later on. It was yet to stay long on the ground, falling onto the wet surface it melted almost immediately, but it wouldn’t take long for it to begin to build up at this rate. Though it looked pretty as a picture, James, with a farmer’s eye, saw it as nothing more than a curse.
“Come on, wife,” said James, reluctantly removing his arms from around Sophia’s familiar body and tapping her bottom as if he was issuing orders to a recalcitrant servant. “We all need a hot breakfast before we get to work today.”
To read more about the families of Applecross, go to www.amandagiorgis.com
Wāhine (/wɑːˈhiːni/) is the Maori word for woman.
Today I have been looking for Maori women’s names appropriate to the late 1800s. My favourite so far is Ngahuia which means ‘a beautiful girl who can sing’. Perhaps it comes from the same root as my all time favourite New Zealand bird, the Huia, sadly now extinct. Like all wattlebirds, the Huia sang beautifully too.
In the midst of my online searches I happened upon something really rather wonderful. I encourage you to follow the link to ‘Our Wāhine’ to see a wonderfully rich and diverse illustrated history of New Zealand’s extraordinary women, created by New Zealand artist Kate Hursthouse to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women’s suffrage in New Zealand in 2018. I wonder how many other countries in the world with a similar population could display so many women doing such great things, and coming from so many different backgrounds. Go on, take a look and click on any image to find out more about that person.
Anyway, back to my search for names – Ngahuia, Ngaire, Kare, Miria, Whina, Rangi, Rihi, Meri, Hera, Pania, Ruia, Niniwa, Heni, Akenehi, Miriama, Te Paea …….. what to choose???
Those of you who have made it to Book 2, ‘Shepherd’s Delight’ will know that birds feature in the story. Like most authors I write about things I like, and I have always loved birds in my garden. I inherited an enjoyment of birds from my parents, along with a love of photography from my father. He’s been gone many years, but would have taken to digital photography with great enthusiasm.
Anyway, I digress!
I should have been writing today. Cracking into the fourth book while we are in the middle of winter. But along came two precious wee visitors to the bird table to distract me from my laptop. I have been trying to encourage these little treasures to the table for a long time. Waxeyes (sometimes called silvereyes or tauhou in Maori), are such cuties, with their big eyes and cheeky personalities. Once they discover fruit is available, not much will stop them returning. Even the dogs and chickens were ignored, and they waded through two whole apples today! I spent much of the day with the long lens filling my camera with photos.
Tomorrow I promise to get back to Book 4. In the meantime, pick up your copies of the first three books in the Applecross Saga at all major retailers – details at my website.
Sign up for my newsletter and claim your free copy of Book 1 here.
I find myself between projects.
Book 3 of the Applecross Saga, ‘Guy Pender‘ is on sale on various platforms, the paperback version is ready to go to the printer and I haven’t quite got my ducks in a row to start No.4. All I know at this stage is that the 4th book will be called ‘The Cedar Trees’ and it starts in the great snow storm of July 1867, keys into the end of Book 3 and follows the fortunes of the ‘boys of Applecross’ as they grow into manhood. I’ve dabbled with a bit of research so far, and I am still recovering from the gruesome discovery that, until the freezing process was invented, sheep were useless once they had been shorn for their wool. (No, I’m not going to tell you what happened to them – you will need to read Book 4).
To be honest, I have been quite idle for the last few days. A combination of post-publishing let down and the miserable, gloomy weather that has descended upon New Zealand for the last week. Unusual for us. Our wintery gloom only lasts a day or two before the next glorious crisp, sunny day comes along. Only last week, we sat outside for coffee, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Gloom has even reached the news here, which, if truth be told, makes a pleasant change from media-frenzied virus claptrap.
Oh, and then there’s the lack of Wimbledon. Since we emigrated in 2008, I have given myself up to ‘upside down’ living at this time of year. Tennis starts at midnight here, and the good matches will often continue into breakfast TV time. I take to my armchair, wrap myself in a blanket, turn the volume down on the tv, log in to the live stream on my laptop and wallow in Wimbledon-ness for a blessed fortnight. I am missing it a lot this year.
Today, however, we woke to the sun shining. Blue sky behind crystal clear, snow covered mountains. Still chilly. It is, after all, mid winter here. But it cheers the soul with its breathtaking beauty. Even now, at the tail end of the afternoon, and the prospect of snow tomorrow, there’s just enough sun to cast a watery shadow.
Maybe it is because we are past that halfway winter solstice and heading towards the longer days, maybe that’s why I have been spurred into action today. I spring cleaned the laundry, a room connected to the garage, meaning that mice can make it their winter haven and there’s not much you can do about it. I found one poor wee soul, squished behind a cupboard, frozen in time like Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel in Ice Age.
And I cleaned out the fridge. Don’t laugh – how did I still have a container of yoghurt dated February? It’s an author thing. When I’m writing I can so easily ignore such things.
The big question is, will I clean the whole house before the urge to write kicks in again? I doubt it very much. The fire is lit, the forecast is for a freezing southerly to blow through. Now, where’s my laptop…….!