Name: Susan Lapham
ALIA: Susan Nugent /Wood/
Birth: 21 AUG 1836 in Lisdillon, Great Swan Port, Van Diemen - s Land (Tasmania), Australia.
Death: 30 NOV 1880 in Riverton, Southland, New Zealand
WOOD, Mrs Susan Nugent Bush Flowers from Australia. By a Daughter of the Soil. London, James Nisbet, 1867
Small quarto, handcoloured frontispiece, all edges gilt: fine in modern half morocco.
First edition, finely bound.
Susan Nugent Wood, one of Victoria - s first female poets, celebrated the tragic expedition in an essay titled - The Last Page of a Tale that is Told - . In flowing Victorian verse she relates her feelings on meeting her friend Burke for the last time. Major historical occasions have always inspired poets to publish eulogies and this is an excellent example of the genre, illustrated with a lavish coloured frontispiece.
Not in Ferguson.
Susan Lapham was born on 21 August 1836, at Lisdillon, Great Swan Port, Van Diemen - s Land (Tasmania), Australia. She was the youngest daughter of Susan Butler and her husband, Samuel Lapham, a farmer, and later deputy sheriff of Portland, Victoria. On 9 February 1854, at Portland, she married John Nugent Wood. They had two sons, and probably three daughters who did not survive infancy.
Of her childhood Susan Wood later wrote: - Born and reared in a most remote district, where the means of education were almost unattainable, I pored over old books, and dreamed my own dreams about the outer world - . Despite her lack of formal education, she was to become well known in southern New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s as a writer of verse, feature articles and short stories.
One of Susan Wood - s poems alludes to an event which occurred within the first year of her marriage, possibly the loss of a pastoral property interest, which destroyed the young couple - s prospects, although no details are known. Nugent Wood subsequently took up a position on the staff at the Bendigo goldfield, in Victoria. Their first daughter was baptised at Emerald Hill in 1857. In mid 1861 the couple moved to Otago, New Zealand, where Nugent Wood was appointed to the newly opened Gabriels Gully goldfield. Several of Susan Wood - s brothers appear to have later followed her to New Zealand, including her younger brother, Henry Lapham, who was also known as a writer and newspaper contributor.
Over the next decade Nugent Wood held various official positions on the Otago goldfields. The family is known to have lived briefly at Gabriels Gully, Queenstown, Nokomai and Naseby, and then for some 10 years at Switzers (Waikaia), Southland. In January 1871 Nugent Wood was appointed resident magistrate for Southland. At the end of the 1870s the family moved to Riverton.
The harsh conditions on the goldfields were not easy for a married woman raising a family. Winters were extreme, housing inadequate, supplies unreliable and expensive, social conditions rough and amenities non-existent. The couple - s first son, John, was born in 1863 in a tent, at Kingston, at the foot of Lake Wakatipu, at 4.30 in the morning, after a wagon journey to the lake. The family were then rowed up the lake to Queenstown in an open boat. Their second son, Robert, was born at Nokomai in 1865 but baptised at Pentridge, Victoria, the following year, indicating a trip back to Australia at that time.
Susan Wood was a regular contributor to the Otago Witness , the Saturday Advertiser and the Australian Journal. She published three collections: Woman - s work in Australia (Melbourne, 1862) and Bush flowers (London, 1867) under the pseudonym - A daughter of the soil - : and as Mrs Nugent Wood, Waiting for the mail (Melbourne, 1875), including work by Henry Lapham. Much of her writing reflects her personal circumstances and emotional state. She found life in New Zealand difficult and was painfully homesick. Memories of - happy Australia - s delicious summer days - provided a bitter contrast to the - bleak, dreary winter of Otago, amidst cold, poverty, and desolation. -
The tragedy of her daughters - deaths is recorded, as in the poem - My Birdie - s birthday - which appears to refer to her first child, Mary Susan, who died in Melbourne at the age of six months. There are references to financial problems, to illness, possibly foreshadowing her own premature death from tuberculosis, and to an unnamed event in the late 1850s: - a shadow deep and chill, / More cruel than the grave…that great load of sorrow, wrong, and shame / Which treacherous hands had heaped upon my heart. - Her marriage came under strain, but survived as a source of strength and mutual support. A major theme of her poems is the spiritual meaning which reconciles the writer to the painful events of her life, but a lighter tone is also evident at times in her description of family life. Her articles and short stories reveal her belief in the virtues of simple pleasures, hard work, and the importance of religion and family.
Susan Wood - s style favours the mannered sentimentality of the Victorian age, and her verse is constrained within strict limits of metre and rhyme. There is real warmth, however, deriving from the close link between the subject matter and the writer - s own experience. Her work provides insight into the life, aspirations and social attitudes of one pioneer woman and into the popular literary tastes of the time. Susan Wood died at Riverton on 30 November 1880, at the age of 44.
The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Vol. 4. Christchurch, 1905
Obit. New Zealand Public Opinion, Sportsman and Saturday Advertiser. 11 Dec. 1880
HOW TO CITE THIS BIOGRAPHY:
Smith, Rosemarie. - Wood, Susan 1836 - 1880 - . Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 16 December 2003
The original version of this biography was published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Volume One (1769-1869), 1990
© Crown Copyright 1990-2005. Published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington, New Zealand. All rights reserved.
Father: Samuel Lapham b: 1808 in Ireland
Mother: Susan Butler b: 1813 in Ireland
John Nugent Wood b: BET 1821 AND 1833 in a Magistrate CENTRAL OTAGO NZ
9 FEB 1854
in Portland, Victoria , Australia
- Daughter 1 Wood b: ABT 1861 in Emerald Hill
- John Wood b: 1863 in Kingston, at the foot of Lake Wakatipu, at 4.30 in the morning
- Robert Wood b: 1865 in Nokomai baptised at Pentridge, 1866