Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection
Notes Books Authors
NOTES BOOKS AUTHORS
is edited by Trevor Mowbray
and published by
the Friends of the
Dorothy Neal White Collection
Copyright August 1991
The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection gratefully acknowledge the
assistance of the National Library of New Zealand in the preparation of this
issue of Notes‑Books-Authors.
How Names Become People
The aspect of research I like most is its creativity; the way every new
detail fills in or leads onto another part of the puzzle and how, eventually, a
mere name fleshes out into a fairly rounded person. This essay is an outcome of
this long research process, of gradually filling in the jigsaw about Edith
Howes (1872-1954) who came to New Zealand as a child, and later became one of
New Zealand’s most loved children’s authors.
I began this research by gathering information from published sources like
Who’s who, The New ZeaIand National Bibliography, and newspaper and
journal articles. I then wanted to enhance the sketch that resulted, to gain a
fuller picture of the person Edith Howes. This was achieved in various ways: by
conversations with her descendants and one of her former pupils1; by
access to collections of records about Edith Howes2; by responses
from people who knew her to a letter placed in The Press
(Christchurch), and by browsing and fossicking. My extra information came
particularly from unpublished sources like letters, family discussions, a tape,
and photographs, as well as newly discovered published material. There was also
an element of chance – like the time I came across an article by Howes that
explained the love of nature and careful research which underpinned her writing
The result of this work is that I now have a reasonably comprehensive
picture of the author. I can now imagine her physically and in character, and,
the following essay I document some of the activities she thought important or
enjoyed. My main sources of information in building a picture of Edith Howes
are indicated, where known, in the footnotes.
Edith Annie Howes
From 1910-1930, Edith Howes and her contemporaries Esther Glen, Isabel
Peacocke, and Mona Tracy made a real impact on the New Zealand – and Australian
– literary scene4. Their books were in demand because they offered
children stories set in their own country with characters, dialogue, and
natural life they could identify with, and relate to. This was an exciting
change from the staple diet of English books that were strongly didactic in
tone, with lifestyles and settings unfamiliar to New Zealand children. A survey
of children’s favourite authors by the Canterbury Public Library in December
1926 showed that books by Howes, Peacocke and Glen were especially popular with
girls.5 Howes ranked fourth – ahead of Charles Dickens – and behind
only Ethel Turner Angela Brazil, and L.M. Montgomery. Historically Glen’s books
are particularly important. Based on her family life including childhood
holidays on a South Island sheep station, these adventure stories are notable
for their lack of instruction, fresh, vigorous style, and humorous realistic
picture of children rather than the stuffy portrayal typical in children’s
fiction of the day. Mona Tracy’s writing was also innovative. Her racy,
romantic tales showed the influence of her early life amongst Maori families
and featured not only strong Maori characters, but the issues of mixed
marriages, loyalties and race.
Edith Howes came to write for children through her work as a teacher. Her
friend, Charles R. Allen noted ‘that the great body of her writing is coloured
with this didactic instinct’.6 Her aim in Nature-teaching was to
‘rouse interest… to give the children something simple and imaginative as
well as technically correct’.7 Between 1899 and 1917 (with the
exception of 1913 when she was granted a year’s leave of absence and a free
government railway pass to gather more information for her books)8
Howes was infant mistress and headmistress at Gore Public School. Inspired by
New Zealand landscapes, flora and fauna but lacking books to show children the
wonders and beauty of Nature, she wrote her own tales about local sea, plant
and insect life. Painstakingly and accurately researched but shrouded in fairy
fantasy, these stories lead the poetess Jessie Mackay to observe that Edith
Howes ‘clothed science in the green robes of Elfinland’.9
Howes’ first book, The Sun’s Babies (1910) was publicly acclaimed
by Dr. W. B. Benham, Professor of Biology at the University of Otago. Its
success lead to Howes being made in 1911, an honorary member of the New Zealand
Institute (now the Royal Society) and the motivation to write many books that
were not only popular at home but in demand internationally. They were also
recognised as textbooks by Commonwealth education authorities and used widely
in Australia and New Zealand.10 Some of the best remembered are
Fairy Rings (1911), Rainbow Children (1912), Maoriland Fairy Tales
(1913), The Cradle Ship (1916) – which conveyed ‘the facts of life’ in a
way thought a little ‘ultra’ by some at the time11 – ,The
Singing Fish (1921), The Dream Girl’s Garden (1923) and a real New Zealand
adventure story set around Stewart Island,Silver Island (1928). Howes
also contributed to the Whitcombe’s Story Books series for schools and wrote
stories, poetry and playlets for journals including the American World
Youth. Active in women writers’ groups and also writing plays for adult
magazines and newspapers, she received the MBE in 1935 and the George VI
Coronation Medal in 1937 for her literary work.
Howes’ approach to writing stemmed largely from the influence of her younger
brother George (William George), a naturalist involved in establishing the
marine biology centre at Portobello on the Otago Peninsula, and a Fellow of the
Entomological Society known for his fine, meticulous work. Edith and George
Howes enjoyed a life-long bond; George was Edith’s ‘great chum’.12
Following her brother’s example, Edith Howes spent much time observing and
recording the plants and creatures she wrote about. Later she verified her data
with the help of microscopes and authoritative texts. For The Singing
Fish, a story of seasshore life, she spent many months exploring the
beaches and rock pools around Wellington and Stewart Island.13
People remember her at the Island sitting on rocks, gazing intently at the sea
life around her and taking notes. The author always stayed with the Thomson
family at ‘Greenvale’ boarding house, in a room upstairs with a fireplace,
basin and running water, and a glorious view across Halfmoon Bay. On one visit,
Howes befriended the Thomson’s ten-year-old grand-daughter, Enid.
Edith wanted to make an aquarium to study sea creatures for a book she was
writing, The Singing Fish. I rowed her to the islands in the bay and
we collected all the little sea creatures and took them back to Greenvale
where we had a large glass tank about two feet square and fairly deep. We had
baby octopus, sea slugs, sea anemones… We fed them on pieces of fish at the
end of a long hatpin…they put out their tentacles and pulled the fish
Night excursions to the bush with George gave Howes some of her most magical
outdoor experiences. In the following passages, she conjures up the
William George Howes collects insects at night
The Entomologist said: “Come collecting with me tonight.” I watched his
preparations. Into a satchel went a brush and a jar of treacle and stale beer
mixed – a heady allurement, the ‘sugar’ of entomologists; into it went also a
chloroform bottle to bring swift and painless death to the captives, with
small boxes and tubes to hold caterpillars, beetles, eggs… An acetylene
lamp on his bicycle, and a butterfly net of green muslin with a jointed
adjustable handle completed his equipment. We set off on our bicycles for the
nearest edge of the bush. Its scents stole out delightfully as we left
bicycles and the setting sun behind us…Through the darkening tracks we
waIked softly…Dusk deepened, grew stiller, more fragrant…
Edith Annie Howes, author and teacher
A swoop of the great muslin net and a dozen moths fluttered in its green
depths of gauze. The brilliant light of the lamp shining through the
glistening mesh disclosed unexpected loveliness: tremulous moths exquisitely
made, fine-limbed and feather-feelered and rose-eyed, fairy-like small
inhabitants of the night, all gleam and grace and balanced poise.
The Entomologist turned his lamp on a tree trunk. In the broad viscid
streak left by his brush, tawny moths fed, eagerly sucking up the odorous
sweetness of the lure…” There is so much to explore” he said…”here’s
another world out in the dark…and it’s crammed with fascination.”
He talked in his quiet voice of the lives of the insects, of their dangers
and vicissitudes, the marvels of their metamorphoses, their tragedies and
triumphs until the darkness became a pulsing worId of enchantment and
This description is also indicative or the ‘romanticised
science’16 by which Howes introduced children to biology and botany
(but which eventually dated her work). When Charles Allen suggested that this
approach was foreshadowed in Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies, he received a
‘Dear Stodge (C.R.Allen), Do l like to be called the Charles Kingsley of
New Zealand?. I do not, nor the anybody else of New Zealand. I like to be
just myself, not aspiring to high places, Doesn’t it strike you that there is
a tinge of depreciation in such a title?. As if one were being labelled a
copyist, or, at least, as if one wrote under the undue influence of someone
There is, of course, the name of my first book, The Sun’s Babies… I have
neglected to count the times someone has said, “O, Yes, Miss Howes, you wrote
the Water Babies didn’t you”. …One grows tired of repudiating such high
honours…Egoism you think? or the desire to retain some spark of
individuality in an overpowering world.
This was not an isolated case of assertiveness. Edith Howes can be seen as
an early feminist, a member, for example, of ‘that pushful circle’18
the New Zealand Penwoman’s Club who gave much time to the promotion of women’s
writing. One event she organised was the ‘remarkable’ collection of women’s
work on view at the South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1926.19
Howes showed too, in her award-winning play Rose Lane which was first
performed in New Zealand in Dunedin in 1936, that she was mindful of the
extreme hardships endured by women plucked from their British homes and thrust
into the stark primitiveness of pioneering New Zealand.
Letters from people who knew Edith Howes picture her as a dainty woman with
a crown of red-gold hair, shining eyes, and bright step. She is said to have
had a ‘Peter Pan’ quality,20 to be not unlike a fairy
herself.21 Her warmth and infectious smile are especially remembered
by former pupils. She was also however, a disciplinarian who gave Alex Dickie
his first ‘strap’. He recalls;22
What the misdemeanour was all about I just don’t remember.. but the sequel
has certainly stayed with me… Way back in 1912 when we were passing back
into our own room from Miss Howes singing class session, a girl comes up to
me, places her hand on my forearm and looking up at me with her sweet little
face said, ‘You got the strap’ (it didn’t really hurt) …that expression of
sympathy from Winnie Cullen was to remain with me all through the years.
Edith Howes’ teaching skills showed early. In 1888 at age sixteen she became
the pupil teacher at Kaiapoi Borough School. During her four and’a half years
there, ‘she did her work excellently…[and] showed very commendable diligence
in her teaching’. On her departure,’her sterling principles… thorough
trustworthiness and skill as a teacher’ were recommended23
These qualities were further in evidence at Gore Public School. Here Howes
managed classes of 220 children assisted by only five or six young women whom
she had to train herself. She also learned and gained official acceptance for
Montessori teaching methods and introduced other innovations for the benefit of
her young pupils. Alex Dickie remembers her getting a local building firm to
make small individual chairs, and tables to accommodate four pupils – a big
improvement on the old-fashioned forms and desks. The action concert by Howes’
pupils to raise funds for these was ‘an event in itself. The boys and girls all
dressed in white made a colourful spectacle as they went through their action
and marching songs’.24 Songs were an important part of Howes’
teaching programme. Some of her own featured in scrapbooks of games and songs
she made up for the younger members of her family. In tone these ranged from
the heavily instructive The Bad Little Bird) to the ethereal,
Snowdrops, snowdrops, did the snowflakes make you?
Does the spring wind come to you,
And lift you, and shake you,
And peep in your shy white bell?
Did the sunbeams play round you,
And laugh when they found you,
And whisper they would not tell?
Several letters about Edith Howes refer to her attractive homes and love of
gardening. In Gore, she had her home built near the reservoir on the top of
Gore Hill. Though squarish from the outside, the house inside was intriguing
with a central room leading to others which captured the sun and housed hot
plants. Howes built sod walls rather like stone walls in England, around this
house, and grew daisies and primroses all over them.26 Later in
Dunedin she lived in a long cottage at 35 Rawhiti Street, Sunshine, a ‘bright
little home that seemed to speak of her personality.27 Here, Howes
hosted dances and play readings for both younger and adult circles. Roey Winn
recalls that the property’s steep section was terraced and gay with
nasturtium-coloured flowers… the same shades were in the house and in the
glassed-in porch…There were hanging baskets of nasturtiums.28 At
her last home in Motu Street Dunedin, Howes created a smaller but similarly
Gardening and entertaining were just two of her loves. She also found time
for woodwork, to sew, paint, cook. and latterly, to play bridge. It seems that
Edith Howes was a woman of ‘rare charm’29 and enterprise who loved
life, made the most of it and brought much pleasure to others, particularly the
young readers of her books. While her books are saccharine by modern standards,
it has to be remembered that with Esther Glen, Isabel Peacocke, and Mona Tracy,
she paved the way for an indigenous literature which has gradualy blossomed
into the exciting developments in New Zealand children’s books that are very
much in evidence today.
1. The assistance of Mr. E.T. Beardsley in taping a discussion with his
mother, Mrs Connie Beardsley, an early pupil of Howes, is gratefully
2. The co-operation of Mrs Dorothy Thomson, Mrs Claire Schoon, and Sally Schoon
is gratefully acknowledged; also the assistance of material by the late Eileen
3. Howes, Edith ‘An Enchanted Evening’ The Wooden Horse Vol. 1. No. 2
4. I have written biographical essays on Edith Howes, Mona Tracy, and Isabel
Peacocke for the Book of New Zealand Women and I am currently
preparing an in-depth profile of Esther Glen.
5. Is Yours Here?. Children’s Favourite Authors’ Sun (Christchurch) 16
April, 1927. p.20.
6. Allen. C.R. ‘Miss Edith Howes M.B.E.’ Newspaper clipping. unsourced. Likely
source Otago Daily Times ca.1935-1936. Collection of Dorothy Thomson.
7. M.E.F. ‘Miss Edith Howes’ The Lone Hand 2 Februay 1914. p.171.
9. Art in New Zealand March, 1929. p.165.
10. Grinling. A.H. ‘Edith Howes’ The Bookman December.1914. p.70.
11. Allen. C.R. op. cit.
12. Grinling. A.H. op. cit. p.69 Also, Dorothy Thomson has repeatedly mentioned
this special bond.
13. Phillips, Enid B.V. ‘New Zealand’s Rich Store of Children’s Books’ New
Zealand Journal of Agriculture December, 1948, p.631.
14. Enid (surname unverified) Letter to Eileen Soper. 3 July 1983.
15. Howes, Edith op. cit. pp. 18, 19.
16. Allen. C.R. op. cit.
17. Stodge ‘A to Z in New Zealand Letters’ The Wooden Horse Vol.2,
No.4 , p. 18.
18. The Recorder ‘Progress of a Penwoman’ Aussie October 15 1926, New
Zealand Section, p.VIII.
19. Taraire ‘Edith Howes’ Aussie April 15 1926, New Zealand Section,
20. Winn, Roey (Aroha) Letter to Celia Dunlop 22 December 1989.
21. Robertson M.B. ‘Edith Howes. M.B.E.’ Woman Today Vol.2 no. 1 1938
22. Dickie. Alex Letter to Eileen Soper, 16 July 1983
23 Chairman. Kaiapoi Borough School Testimonial, 8 October, 1894
24. Dickie, Alex op. cit.
25. Howes, Edith From a family scrapbook. Collection of Claire Schoon.
26. Beardsley, Connie A memory, recorded in a letter from Eric Beardsley to
Celia Dunlop. 7 January, 1990.
27. Allen, C.R. op. cit.
28. Winn, Roey (Aroha) op. cit.
29. ‘Edith Howes – The Fairy Godmother’ Newspaper clipping, unsourced
Collection of Dorothy Thomson.
EDITH ANNIE HOWES (1874-1954)
A bibliography of her works for children
Compiled by Joan McCracken, 1991.
With thanks to Mary Atwood and David Reeves for their assistance.
This bibliography lists all the books for children by Edith Howes that could
be found in theNew Zealand National Bibliography, the Australian National
Bibliography, Ian McLaren’s Whitcombe’s story books: a trans-Tasman
survey (Melbourne. 1984 and Supplement. 1987), and the catalogues of the
Alexander Turnbull Library and the National Library’s Children’s Historical
Collection. The holdings of both of these collections have been noted. Many of
Edith Howes’ stories were published as Whitcombe’s story books and reprinted a
number of times. Often these reprints had different covers although the text
and illustrations remained the same. The Whitcombe’s numbers for these separate
printings (eg G3605) are given at the end of the entries. McLaren’s
bibliography gives a full history of Whitcombe’s story books and a full listing
of their dates of publication. Other Edith Howes’ books were also reprinted in
formats different from their first editions. These reprint dates are given
|Cradle ship,illustrated by Florence May Anderson. London: Cassell
Reprints: 1916, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1930
|ATL DNW 1916 1916 1936|
|Cradle ship, illustrated by Florence May Anderson. 1st Australian ed.
Melbourne: Cassell. 1944 3d Australian ed. Melbourne: Cassell. 1946
|The dream-girl’s garden, [illustrated by D. Osborn]. London: Ward
|Drums of the sea: the story of Captain Cook. [illustrated by D.
Gibson]. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs  (Whitcombe’s story book
|The enchanted road, illustrated by Janet Smalley. New York: William
Morrow, 1927 Reprints:1927,1928,1929,1934
|Fairy rings, illustrated by Frank Watkins. London: Cassell, 1911
Later reprints including 1 921
|ATL DNW? 1911 1911 1921|
|The golden forest, illustrated by M. Lee Thompson. London: Dent, 1930||ATL DNW|
|Little make-believe and other stories, illustrated by Alice Polson.
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs E1 91 9]
|Little make-believe. [illustrated by Alice Polson]
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs [ca.1921] (G37235) Whitcombe’s story
book no.205) Reprints: 1924(G42454),1925(GQ3521),1933(G339)
1939(G1623), 1945(G2990), 1948(G3526)
|ATL DNW 1939 1945 1948 1948|
|Lizzie Limpet and other stories, [illustrated by M. Matthews].
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs  (G43284) Whitcombe’s story book
|The long bright land: Fairy tales from southern seas, illustrated by
Dorothy P.Lathrop. Boston; Little Brown, 1929
|The lovely lady and other stories. [illustrated by M. Mathews].
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs  (G43282) 1928 Whitcombe’s story
book no.337) Reprints: 1939(G1620)
|Maorland fairy tales. London: Ward Lock 1913
Reprints: 1913, 1916, 1920, 1936, 1939, 1950, 1952, 1958
|ATL DNW 1913, 1916, 1920, 1936, 1939, 1950, 1952,
|Mrs Kind Bush, illustrated by Anne Anderson. London: Cassell
|More tales of Maori magic. [illustrated by M. Inglis] Auckland:
Whitcombe & Tombs  ([G48428]) Whitcombe’s story book
|ATL DNW 1931, 1953, 1953, 1957, 1957|
|Out in the night, [illustrated by M. Matthews]. Auckland: Whitcombe
& Tombs  (G43283) Whitcombe’s story book no.534)
|The poppy seed and other nature stories [illustrated by B.J.
Parlane]. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs  (G39733) Whitcombe’s
nature story book no 213) Reprints: 1926(G46557) 1928(G50013) 1937
|ATL DNW 1928 1928 1937 1943|
|The rainbow, [illustrated by Gwyneth Richardson] Auckland: Whitcombe
& Tombs [ca 1922] (G39380) 1924 (G42451) Whitcombe’s story book no
105) Reprints: ca. 1923(G39380), 1924(G42451),
|ATL 1922 1927 1936|
|Rainbow children, illustrated by Alice B. Woodward. London: Cassell.
|Riverside Family, illustrated by McGregor Williams. London Collins
|Safe going, [illustrated by M. Matthews] Auckland:Whitcombe &
Tombs 1931 ([G52452]) – Whitcombe’s story book no.543)
|Sandals of pearl, illustrated by Audrey Chalmers. London: Dent
|Silver island: a New Zealand story, illustrated by Kathleen W.
Coales. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1928
|Silver island. [illustrated by Gwyneth Richardson]. Auckland:
Whitcombe & Tombs  (G 1257) 1938 (Whitcombe’s story book
no.553) Reprints: 1944(G2744) 1951(G3732)
|ATL 1938 1944 1951|
|Silver island. illustrated by Alan Gilderdale. Auckland: Hodder &
Stoughton, 1983 (Kotare Books)
|The singing fish. illustrated by Florence May Anderson. London
Cassell [1921 ]
|Snowdrop [retelling] [illustrated by Gwyneth Richardson] Auckland:
Whitcombe & Tombs. [ca.1922] (G37400) (Whitcombe’s story book
no.103) Reprints: ca. 1923(G38965) 1924(G42431), 1926(G45541)
1934(G379) 1939(G1 460),1944(G2858)
|ATL DNW 1939 1939 1944|
|The sun’s babies. illustrated by Frank Watson. London: Cassell, 1910
|ATL DNW 1910 1910 1922|
|Tales of Maori magic: Book 1, illustrated by M. Inglis. Auckland:
Whitcombe & Tombs  (G47182) (Whitcombe’s story book no.428)
Reprints: 1938(G1383), 1953(G3724)
|ATL DNW 1928 1 953|
|Willie Wagtail and other tales. [illustrated by M. Mathews].
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs  (G43286) (Whitcombe’s nature
story book no.430)
|Wondewings and other fairy stories, illustrated by Alice Polson.
Auckland: Whitcombe 8 Tombs 
|Wondewings and other fairy stories, illustrated by Alice Polson.
Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs [ca.1921] (G32658) (Whitcombe’s nature
story book no.203) Reprints: ca.1921 (G33066) ca.1921 (G37234)
1924(G42391) 1925(G43526),1927([G47870]) ca.1932(G246), 1939(G1393)
NB: The word ‘fairy’ does not appear in the title of all – reprints
|ATL DNW 1927 1939 1939|
|The world so full. London: Cassell, 1922||ATL|
|Young pioneers. [illustrated by G. M. Richardson] Auckland: Whitcombe
& Tombs  (G52671) (Whitcombe’s story book no.545) Reprint:
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