Book Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

What’s it about?

In the long voyage to New Zealand lay the promise of a new life for Margaret Oades. That promise was quickly broken…

Arriving from England in 1891, the entire Oades family, Henry, Margaret and their four children, are swiftly overtaken by a horrible misfortune. Margaret and the children are kidnapped by Maoris as revenge for their appalling treatment at the hands of fellow settlers.

After five years of enslavement a strange saviour comes for them – smallpox. Cast out and ill, they return to town to find Henry gone three years, apparently broken-hearted and convinced of their deaths. But Margaret is nothing if not determined, and she and the children begin a search that, gloriously, ends in San Francisco with the family Oades reunited.

But who is this with the no longer widowed Henry? His new wife Nancy, complete with young child.

My thoughts

The main theme of the book is the moral and legal dilemma of an accidental bigamist. It was based on a bigamy court case in America in the late 1800’s and was discovered by Johanna Moran’s father in the 1940’s. As historical novels go, this isn’t bad and I enjoyed it.

What happens when you truly believe your wife and family to be dead? Henry grieves for years and finally re-marries. What’s should happen then when the first wife turns up alive on your doorstep. Was Henry to turn her away? He didn’t, but then is faced with bigamy charges and persecution from the community. Should he have turned Margaret away? Didn’t she have the right to be reunited with him as his first and therefore legal wife but then would happen to Nancy and her child?. These are all issues that are discussed and therefore this novel makes for a good book club read.

Margaret’s resolve and strength of character to be able to survive the Maori camp, Smallpox, the voyage to America was certainly admirable and what was it all for…to find that her husband has moved on and has a new family. I can’t imagine how difficult this would have been. I did feel so sorry for. Even though you might feel you shouldn’t, it’s hard not to like Nancy though as she’s had a rough time also. Then there’s Henry, stuck in the middle, you have to feel sorry for Henry aswell, he is placed in an impossible position through unfortunate events and isn’t really going to win whatever decision he makes.

Moran took a small unknown court case and then created the rest of the story on what she thought could have happened. It would be interesting to know the real facts…maybe one for later. This is an easy read and moves at a good pace…read if you’re into historical novels or choosing for your book club.

Have a look here where the author, Johanna Moran gives us the ‘story behind the story’.

Paperback and Kindle version available from Amazon The Wives of Henry Oades

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