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Talking books . . . Natalie Wilson has been researching local literary history ahead of Oamaru's Victorian Heritage Celebrations. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

What is more Victorian than Charles Dickens?

This year’s Oamaru Victorian Heritage celebrations will have a special guest with a Dickens connection – his great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Hawkesly, an author and historian.

The theme for this year’s celebrations is literature and, in a modern twist, Ms Hawkesly will be beamed in via zoom from her home in London to the Grainstore Gallery on the Saturday evening.

Ms Hawkesly was invited to speak by Oamaru Society of Pre-Raphaelite Enthusiasts member Natalie Wilson.

The society celebrates the works of a group of 19th century artists who focused on medieval and nature scenes, and rebelled against the norms of the times.

Ms Hawkesly is an expert on pre-Raphaelite art, as well as having a broad range of knowledge on literature and art, especially Dickens, Ms Wilson said.

She hoped the audience would be able to ask her questions in an interactive setting.

“If it wasn’t for Covid we wouldn’t be doing this,” Ms Wilson said.

“There are so many things you can do virtually now, so I just reached out to her.”

Ms Hawkesly accepted the invitation and, while arranging the talk, the pair began discussing a possible connection between Robert Winter, a popular swagger in North Otago also known as Barney Whiterats, and Dickens’ character Short Trotters.

Ms Hawkesly said she was intrigued by the similarities between the two characters, and was investigating to see whether there was a real-life inspiration.

At the evening event, Ms Wilson would present her findings from “rabbit holes” she had been down in recent months.

In keeping with the literary theme of this year’s celebrations, and her own background in local history, she had been researching local writers in, and literary visitors to, Victorian Oamaru.

One of her discoveries was a semi-autobiographical piece by Rachel McPherson, The Mystery of the Forecastle, written in Oamaru in 1889, which Ms Wilson found online on the National Library of Australia’s website.

The author lived a varied life travelling around the world teaching cooking, and she spent several years in North Otago.

The book was not known well locally, if it all, she said.

“It’s not great literature, it’s interesting for the fact it was written here,” she said.

“People are more interested in New Zealand and local history than they used to be.”

She had also researched the visits to Oamaru of 19th century literary giants such as Anthony Trollope and Mark Twain.