Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

01 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 8. Captain Bruce’s House, Akaroa

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century.
I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


Early colonial days in New Zealand were a rich medium for larger-than-life entrepreneurs and opportunists who risked greatly, sometimes won handsomely but more likely and more often lost - with breathtaking resilience.

One such was Captain James Bruce whose name is written large in the history of Akaroa. He was a man of many interests; a mercantile sea-captain who, having managed another’s trading fleet, bought the brig Magnet then wrecked it on the south-west of Banks Peninsula in 1842 - thus giving the name to Magnet Bay. Where despair might have been understandable, the gallant captain’s response was to establish, with the help of a loan from a friendly whaler, The Bruce Hotel, on the corner of Beach Road and what later became Bruce Terrace, and to start a new life as inn-keeper and trader.

Akaroa is the oldest settlement in Canterbury, having its European origins with French immigrants in 1840 (ten years before the Canterbury ‘Pilgrims’ arrived at Lyttelton). At the time when Bruce set up his hotel, it not only offered safe harbour but also some of the more fleshpotty attractions to the sealers and whalers operating in New Zealand waters. Bruce knew them and their ways well, he tolerated them when they were unruly and helped them when they were in trouble; by all accounts he was respected in the town as a fair and kindly man.

He was a Scot from Dundee and although he made his life in Akaroa he clearly neither forgot his country of birth nor his kinsmen. One suspects that he was a sentimental man at heart for, in 1856, in a gesture reminiscent of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera uncle, he built a cottage each for his two nieces who had come out from Scotland. Perhaps he thought they might care for him in his old age but, alas, he died young aged 52 in 1858.

The totara-boarded cottages still stand on the corner of Aubrey Street and Bruce Terrace. The one I have illustrated has been added to but retains an historic ambience while offering accommodation that’s bound to be less riotous than Captain Bruce’s Hotel in whaling days!




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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.