As a novice biographer, I got obsessed with trying to unearth the lost years of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s father, Tom Prichard, in Levuka, Fiji. Like many other young men, he left the Victorian goldfields in about 1868 as part of the ‘Great Fiji Rush’. I found a ‘Tom Pritchard’ who went on trial for ‘blackbirding’ (which is to say, slavery) in Fiji and thought I’d found an incredible revelation. It wasn’t him though. Our Tom eventually became editor of the Fiji Times, the job he held when he returned to Melbourne to marry Katharine’s mother, Edith, in 1883. In December of that year, Katharine was born in Levuka.

One of the reasons I cared about the Levuka years so much is that Katharine focuses on them in such detail in her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane. She had trouble keeping perspective on what was interesting for others. Her editor at Angus and Robertson managed to convince her to edit down what she had written. Katharine was trying to redeem her father posthumously, to keep his legacy alive after his suicide. She was still trying to get his stories about Fiji published a few weeks before she died herself. The truth is, they’re hard to read and not as good as she wanted them to be.

Yet the glimpses of colonial life in Levuka are fascinating. He told stories to Katharine of shipwrecks and treasure chests. The archives include this water-colour painting of Tom in costume as Mephisto in a Levuka dramatic production.

Levuka was the colonial capital of Fiji until 1882. It was in decline by the time Katharine was born in 1883. She claims she was born in the middle of a hurricane, her house the only one left standing and that the Fijians proclaimed that the baby was the ‘child of the hurricane’. The truth is more complicated but interesting in its own way, as you can discover in chapter 1 of the Red Witch, ‘Origins’.