Reading on the Farm: Victorian Fiction and the Colonial World
by Lydia Wevers
Victoria University Press, NZ$40 pb, 339pp, 9780864736352
At the centre of Reading on the Farm stands a large colonial library of just over 2000 volumes. The library belonged to Brancepeth Farm, a sheep station in the Wairarapa Valley of New Zealand, which, at its height in the late 1890s, employed more than three hundred staff. Brancepeth’s library, consisting principally of contemporary Victorian fiction, about half of it written by women, was considered by its users to be one of the best station libraries in its day, certainly superior to the publicly funded library at Masterton, the nearest town. Remarkably, Brancepeth’s library was never dispersed or culled but has survived intact, gifted in 1966 to Victoria University of Wellington by the Beetham family. The literary and artistic Beethams emigrated from England in the 1850s and became some of New Zealand’s greatest ‘sheeplords’ in the late nineteenth century.