Young Jane: A tale of New Zealand in the Sixties Eileen Soper, ill Evelyn Clouston, Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch NZ, 1955, 148 pages, hardback.
‘It is possible,’ thought Jane, as Uncle Toby lifted her onto the seat of the bullock wagon, ‘that at last I shall have an adventure.’ Jane (9) has lived a quiet life with her grandparents, her uncles and her aunts, without other children for company on their Otago sheep station
Then the twins, Rusty (Josiah) and Tilda, arrive. “Jane, for the first time in her life, had the companionship of children.” The twins and their mother will be staying in a tent at the station while their father is off to the diggings. Jane is delighted especially when she finds that they share the identical birthday, October 21st, Trafalgar Day. Trafal-trio becomes the three friends’ password.
Cousin Caroline, a young lady newly arrived from England, provides an interesting contrast to local views, disapproving strongly of Rusty’s family as not only steerage passengers but also as people involved with the goldfields.
The three friends do have adventures. They explore an island, meet Old Matthew, the self-proclaimed half-hermit, and help with the preparations for Christmas.
The twins’ father goes to the Otago goldfields but later returns disappointed. The trio have more luck panning in the river with Old Matthew. From her grandmother, Jane learns the tale of how her parents and Uncle James all perished together in a drowning accident, so common at the time. The two girls also come close to drowning but are rescued by Matthew, and later learn the story of how Matthew’s wife died because a doctor could not be reached in time.
The story includes a charming description of a colonial mid-summer Christmas dinner. Other period detail includes a two page catalogue of Jane’s library, including Papa’s Tales about the Sun and Stars, The Butterfly’s Ball and Tea Table Dialogues between a Governess and Mary Sensible and Eliza Thoughtful.
Young Jane was noted by literary historian Betty Gilderdale as the first book to give a child’s-eye-view of European settler life in New Zealand “rendering sensitively the period atmosphere and day-to-day life of a sheep station.”
8 April 2008
In: Sydney, Australia
Died: 27 Oct 1989
In: Macandrew Bay, Dunedin
Eileen Soper (nee Service) was born in Sydney but raised and educated in New Zealand, at Otago Girls’ High School and Otago University. Graduating with a B.A. in 1924 she became a journalist on the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin, where she was the first women’s page editor. Later, on the Otago Witness she was beloved by a generation of young people as ‘Dot’ the editor of the children’s page. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s she reviewed books, produced a wide range of articles and encouraged many young writers. She later wrote a number of non-fiction books. In 1955 she wrote her best-known children’s novel Young Jane, a girl’s-eye view of the life on an Otago sheep station in the 1860s. This was followed by The Month of the Brittle Star (1971). Eileen Soper died at her home in Macandrew Bay, Dunedin on 27th October 1989, aged 89.