Novelist and poet.
A new biography of Satchell, William Arthur appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
William Satchell, elder son of Thomas Satchell and Hannah, nèe Mordey, was born on 1 February 1860 in London, where his father was a high civil servant with literary interests, who edited several books and two magazines, and became Surveyor-General before his death in 1887. William was educated at Hurstpierpoint and Heidelberg University. His friend Allan Fea recalls him returning from Germany in “a velvet coat and smoking cap” to set up as a publisher in London. But the business failed after he had put out books of poems, essays, and sermons, including his own Bedlam Ballads and Straitwaistcoat-Stories (1883) and Will o' the Wisp and Other Tales in Verse and Prose (1883).
As these youthful publications had little success, Satchell sailed for New Zealand in May 1886 with Elmer J. Brown. After inspecting land in the Waikato and Whangarei districts, they took up a Maori block at Waima, Hokianga. On 15 November 1889, Satchell married Susan Bryers (died 1937), a grand-daughter of Joseph Bryers. Two years later he gave up the farm because its title was invalid, becoming storekeeper at Waima until 1893, when he was forced out of business by the depression and returned to Auckland.
In April 1894 his humorous tale, Why I Came to New Zealand, was the first of many stories and poems in the New Zealand Graphic over the pseudonym “Saml. Cliall White”. He also contributed to the Sydney Bulletin and was influenced by the Australian “bush” school of writers of the eighteen-nineties. His book, Patriotic and Other Poems (1900) was well received in Auckland, and during the following year he edited The Maorilander, a shortlived literary magazine, most of the contents of which he wrote himself.
Satchell's first novel, The Land of the Lost (1902), was a realistic story of the North Auckland gum-fields, drawn from his experiences and observations at Waima. It was followed by a second masterly study of pioneer Hokianga settlers, The Toll of the Bush (1905), and a third novel, The Elixir of Life (1907), which was based on incidents during his voyage out. These books were deeply rooted in their colonial setting and showed a considerable advance in fictional technique over earlier New Zealand novels.
In 1909 Satchell became secretary to the Auckland Horticultural Society, and in 1920 accountant to the S. P. Gibbons Timber Co. During these years he lived mainly at Mount Roskill, Auckland, where he raised a family of nine children. His novel of the Maori Wars, The Greenstone Door (1914), was based on long research and personal inspection of the battle areas in the Waikato. It has been continually reprinted and is now recognised as a classic of the period, with its authentic historical portraits and its passionate plea for better understanding between the two races.
Satchell was a small, shy man with an aristocratic demeanour which led to him being known to his friends as “the little Duke”. In 1939 he was awarded a Civil List pension. He died in Auckland on 21 October 1942. His poetry is largely popular and satirical, but in fiction his outstanding qualities of literary craftsmanship, his sense of humour, deep understanding of pioneer and racial problems, and sustained narrative skill establish him as the first major New Zealand novelist.
by Phillip John Wilson, M.A., Author, Wellington.
- Recollections of Sixty Years, Fea, Allan (1927)
- The Maorilander — A Study of William Satchell, Wilson, Phillip (1961).