Saturday, 22 June 2013

Katherine Mansfield and the Wellington storm

The storm that just swept through Wellington brought down power lines and trees - a lovely one just opposite our house, ripped off roofs, scoured out railway lines, sent waves crashing across roads, demolished sea walls and generally caused a heap of damage. A week before, we'd been watching the film on the sinking of the Wahine at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. Thankfully there was no such tragedy this time, although one of the ferries spent what must have been an uncomfortable day out in the harbour, monitored by a small watchful tugboat, until it could be safely moored again.

Sadly, it seems that one of the houses that has suffered the greatest damage is a small seaside cottage in Day's Bay, once owned by the Beauchamp family, where Katherine Mansfield (then Kathleen Beauchamp) used to spend holidays as a child.

A few years ago, I went on a Day's Bay literary walk, led by Don Long, who took us round to see a number of houses in the area owned by past or present writers. One of them was this wee cottage, and the owners kindly let us have a look inside. You can read more about the house on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust website.

Today's paper reports that it has been so badly pummelled by the waves, it may be a write-off.

Sarah Gilbert

Don commented presciently that "the waves still sometimes break against – virtually over – the house on Downes’ Point during storms." He explained that Sir Harold Beauchamp bought the land in 1906, and it was Kathleen’s "bolt-hole" from then until she left for London in July 1908, aged 19. Memories of it stayed with her forever and infused her writing of one of her most famous stories, "At the Bay". You can read it online here, thanks to the Katherine Mansfield Society.

On 4 March 1908, Kathleen wrote, “The sea has never seemed so high – so fierce.  It dashes against the rocks with a sound like thunder.”



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