Friday, 11 November 2011

J H Coleman: lust for land

LUST FOR LAND is written by Adrian Coleman. It is a record of J H Colemans life from arrival in New Zealand in1859 until his death in 1928 aged 94; acquisition of pastoral land in Hawkes Bay; very early sittings of the Maori Land Court in Hawke's Bay; Royal Commission into land dealings, particularly concerning the Heretaunga block (James escaped); the making of his fortune; his commercial and philanthropic activities; the lives of his four privileged step-children; division of his wealth; the lives of his own children and grandchildren.
Retired solicitor Adrian Coleman always hoped to pen a book. So when his muse came by way of a descendant's deeds box 20 years ago, the Hastings property lawyer decided its contents merited a mention.While he initially intended to write a biographical piece on the box's former owner - great-grandfather James Henry Coleman - his research led to a much broader project.The deeper he delved into his descendant's land dealing in what was then described as New Zealand's "wild west", the more the book's brief veered from a purely biographical account of his family, to a deeper understanding of some of the area's earliest land transactions.The broader scope "created quite a conundrum" for the 70-year-old, who admits he originally set out to write "primarily for my family". Yet the result, Lust for Land, James Henry Coleman - His Life, His Fortune, His Descendants, is, he believes, a "delicate fusion" and a scholarly and colourful history of his family and the province."Because I'm a lawyer I'm interested in land issues and how lawyers of the day dealt with these issues."So what has changed in a property lawyer's role between the mid 19th century and now? "Hardly anything actually. The law doesn't move very fast."And even outside legal transactions, there were other similarities between now and then. "I remember one Maori woman, a client of mine, weeping as she signed away a small flat in Flaxmere. That occurred only about six years ago. When the great Hawke's Bay chief Karaitiana had his land eased from under him he went into a long and deep depression. The Maori attachment to land was, and still is, palpable."The book, launched last month in Havelock North, was also a family affair. "I had my son, James Hayes Coleman, great-great-grandson of the old man, and his son Jacob Howard Coleman, great-great-great-grandson, beside me, which made it a special occasion."As for family affairs, don't miss the story of a future son-in-law's fighting off the cannibals of Rwanda, of a daughter being courted by a succession of impecunious impostors, all claiming to be titled Europeans, love and heartbreak in two world wars, and the impressive social functions which wealth made possible.