The Naturalist

Ernst Dieffenbach is the inspiration for Thom Conroy's novel

Thursday 28 August 2014, 10:15am - 12pm

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Join Thom Conroy, author of The Naturalist, talking about the interplay between reality and fiction in his latest work that evokes the compelling story of Dr Ernst Dieffenbach.

Dieffenbach, the charismatic and free-spirited German was appointed as naturalist on the controversial 1839 expedition to New Zealand to buy land from Maori.

It is a sweeping, wonderful story of a remarkable man who was so important in the settler years of this country.

Of The Naturalist, Conroy says, “I wanted to reintroduce readers to a man whose ideas sound closer to ours than those of his own era, and I hoped to contribute to a new way of looking at the history of New Zealand and its connections to the world”.

Dieffenbach had strong views on colonisation which cut across the thinking at the time and made for heated debate during the three-month voyage aboard the Tory with the Wakefields and Charles Heaphy. On arrival in New Zealand he learnt Maori, investigated local flora and fauna, ascended Taranaki and advocated equality between Maori and Pakeha, arguing – despite much opposition – that ‘savages’ are of equal intellect and sensibility to ‘civilised’ members of society.

Ernst Dieffenbach studied New Zealand’s people, plants and wildlife. Conroy explores Dieffenbach himself: his views, his discoveries and his personal life. He brings this fascinating man to life and offers a vivid depiction of a New Zealand on the cusp of widespread colonisation.

Thom Conroy is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University.  The Naturalist is to be published on 1 August.  Following the talk, join Thom for coffee and book signing.

Hear Kim Hill interview author Thom Conroy on Saturday 9 August

Feature image:  Detail of the cover illustration of The Naturalist, courtesy of Random House