Toby Butland has recently published a children’s book based on an incredible tale passed down to him by his father Colin, a resident at Ryman Healthcare's Murray Halberg Village.
What It Takes To Wear Black, tells the story of Toby’s great grandfather Henry Butland who was selected to play rugby for New Zealand in 1893. Colin, a resident of Murray Halberg Retirement Village, says his grandfather Henry Butland was a proud West Coaster, a goldminer, and a real character.
The illustrated volume reflects a time when life was different, travel more difficult and a period before the national team had been renamed as the All Blacks.
Following a passing comment from Colin, Toby’s interest in Henry was piqued and he thoroughly enjoyed making the connections and finding gems of information that added into the story of his great-grandfather, particularly his endeavours on sporting fields.
In 1893 Henry, aged 21, was chosen for a national team set to tour New South Wales. This was just a year after the formation of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, but it was a heck of a journey before he got to play on Australian turf.
Toby, in the book, has added in details of a late 19th century world that most younger children would not know much about.
With illustrations from Katharine Hall, the book is for children of a young age. It has plenty of points of interest, including the fact that Henry made a 250km journey to Lyttelton, including a trek across the Southern Alps, just in time to board the ship to Australia. The story of Henry’s rugby adventure is followed by a ‘Life in 1893’ synopsis, which gives some factual information as to the origins of the game and how New Zealand worked as a country at the time.
Colin says he was aware of his Hokitika-based grandfather while growing up in Wellington.
“It’s excellent (the book). What finalised it for me was the tale of going across the Southern Alps… There was nothing to take him across, so he had to walk.”
He is proud of Toby’s work on the book and says it could provide a point of connection between residents of villages like Murray Halberg and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Toby has three boys, aged 10, eight and six, in his family and wants to reconnect them to the ‘past’, pre 21st century and the older generation.
Colin moved into the village just a couple of days before the first COVID-19 lockdown and both he and Toby are happy with the decision and the care he has received. Toby lives in nearby Henderson.
The book has been a point of discussion between the two of them but has also opened up connections to members of the wider family. Colin’s father Leigh was the brother to Jack Butland who founded NZ Cheese Ltd (later sold as Chesdale Cheese). Jack and Leigh’s brother, William Camille Butland, made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII on the battlefields of North Africa.
Colin says Henry was also a great supporter of others who’d found themselves in difficult circumstances on the West Coast.
“He financed a lot of gold prospectors up in the hills. They may not have had enough money to feed themselves… he looked after that.”
Much of the money was repaid, Colin adds.
With his family he visited the coast and was taken into a different world.
Henry Butland had in 1896/7 travelled to Alaska to be part of the Klondike Gold Rush, in the Yukon region of north-western Canada, and it seems, on his return to New Zealand, gold was in his blood.
Colin says he remembers his grandfather taking him as a 12-year-old to a river-based gold dredge. Henry and a group of his business partners had built it to sift through the river gravels in and around Hokitika. He recalls a time when Henry laid a bar of gold on the table saying, “if you can pick that up using just two fingers it’s yours”, knowing full well that he’d set poor Colin an impossible task.
Toby says it was stories such as these that he wants to help pass on to younger generations. He has already begun work on Fittall the Flyer, set in World War II.
“That is my passion: to preserve these tales. There’s bound to be many more out there.”
Information on the books’ availability is on the website backintheday.co.nz.