In 1834, twenty-four year old Isabella Campbell
left England for India, and within two weeks of
joining her brother in Bengal had married his best
friend. A dashing cavalry officer in the East India
Company, Charles Gascoyne swept her on a tour of
garrisons, hill stations and vast military cavalcades,
to battlefields and beyond.
But after the birth of her ninth baby, Isabella
fell ill, and Charles insisted the family should
leave India. Not rich enough to buy land back Home,
instead he persuaded her they should embark on
a new life as pioneers in a nascent British colony
on the other side of the world: New Zealand.
For the sake of her health, Isabella was sent
back to England, while Charles went ahead with
the children and their governess. When Isabella
joined them a year later she found that far from
being welcomed, the governess had taken over both
the household – and Charles’s heart.
Buried in the bush, they were soon mired in scandal,
and caught up in a power struggle that would tear
the family apart.
While battle clouds massed over the Gascoyne family,
so New Zealand itself disintegrated into war as
British settlers fought the native Maori – and
very nearly lost. For Isabella the public became
personal when her son Fred was caught up in a massacre
perpetrated by a notorious Maori warrior-prophet.
When the Gascoynes were joined by their nephew
Bamber, more terror lay in store.
Now, 150 years on, Helena Drysdale has uncovered
a remarkable collection of surviving documents
and woven together the facts and fabric of the
Gascoynes’ life to create an engrossing,
intimate map of one family’s journey. This
romantic and ultimately tragic tale, set against
the little-known turmoil of the Maori Wars, traverses
oceans and continents to touch three corners of
the empire at the moment that empire was taking
shape. Strangerland, a true story, spans two generations,
while at the same time vividly illuminating the
story of their times.