Oscar Kightley looks back at Mark Twain's New Zealand trip

by Russell Brown / 25 January, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Following Twain Oscar Kightley

Following Twain with Oscar Kightley. Photo/Supplied

In 1895, 60-year-old American Samuel Clemens set out to see the world. Not because he wanted to, but because even though – as Mark Twain – he had become one of the best-known writers in the English language, he was deeply in debt and needed to make some money.

So it was that, in what might be considered the colony of New Zealand’s first fling with celebrity culture, Twain arrived with his wife and daughter and spent 39 days on a feted speaking tour. His visit is well-recorded, but, understandably, not common knowledge in 2019.

It was news to TV director Jane Andrews when she picked up a copy of Twain’s account of his travels, Following the Equator, at the old Hard to Find bookstore in Onehunga. She was intrigued and began work with her production partner, Melanie Rakena, on an idea that reaches our screens this week as Following Twain with Oscar Kightley (TVNZ 1, Saturday, 8.05pm).

“I had no idea!” says the presenter of Following Twain, Oscar Kightley. “When Melanie told me I was just, like, what? When did he come to New Zealand?”

Although Twain’s itinerary provides the structure of the eight-part series, it’s really more about where the young country was at in 1895. In the first episode, Kightley finds Invercargill, the scene of Twain’s first gig, a surprisingly lively place where people were busily inventing instant coffee and eggbeaters. Twain, an inveterate investor (it’s what got him into debt in the first place) even put money into local innovator Ernest Godward’s new spiral hairpin design.

But if the series showcases colonial vigour, it has relatively little to say about Māori.

“Our way in was what he wrote and he didn’t write about any encounters with Māori,” Kightley says. “I don’t know whether that’s because they didn’t take him to meet any. He describes Māori, in the way of the time, as noble savages – and he was actually full of admiration for them, especially the tattoos, but there’s nothing at length about any encounters he had.”

Twain was, however, subject to one great New Zealand set-piece: he was asked what he thought of the place.

“That’s the hilarious thing – because one of the first interviews with him was by a journalist on the boat from Melbourne. Mark Twain did not know this guy was a journo, but among the questions he was asked was ‘what do you think of New Zealand?’ before he even got here!”

This article was first published in the January 26, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate
104784 2019-04-18 08:52:29Z Politics

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate

by The Listener

A New Zealand-developed super-grass that appears to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions might be blocked in this country by the Green Party.

Read more
Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital gains tax u-turn as victory
104803 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital ga…

by Jo Moir

The National Party is calling the u-turn on a capital gains tax a massive failure for the Prime Minister.

Read more
John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Breakfast show
104860 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Television

John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Bre…

by Noted

The TV network is switching things up - again.

Read more
John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about a barricaded Britain
104431 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Books

John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about…

by Catherine Woulfe

The Wall may be speculative fiction, but it feel like it's just round the corner.

Read more
Why we should take care when we talk about drug side effects
104426 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Psychology

Why we should take care when we talk about drug si…

by Marc Wilson

If we find that up to 10% of people report insomnia after taking Panadol, does that mean it was a side effect of the drug?

Read more
Capital Gains Tax debate should have been a godsend for Simon Bridges
104754 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Capital Gains Tax debate should have been a godsen…

by Bevan Rapson

Talk of a capital gains tax hits a particular nerve, but changing the tax system doesn’t always have to be like pulling teeth.

Read more
Government abandons capital gains tax plan
104759 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Government abandons capital gains tax plan

by Noted

No consensus was reached over the capital gains tax recommendation.

Read more
How tough is it for the middle class in New Zealand?
104675 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Social issues

How tough is it for the middle class in New Zealan…

by Pattrick Smellie

Money worries have set off a wave of populist politics in most Western democracies, but not here. Pattrick Smellie investigates why.

Read more