In August 1907, English woman Grace Oakeshott went swimming while holidaying in Brittany.

That was the last her husband Harold ever saw of her. With just a pile of clothes left on the rocks, she was presumed drowned. However, it wasn't a long swim around the headland and out of sight until Grace was picked up by friends and she was reunited with her lover Walter Reeve. They made their way to Marseille where they boarded a ship bound for New Zealand.

An obituary stated that Grace Oakeshott was "one of the most capable younger workers for the industrial progress for women".

Two months later Dr Reeve and Grace, now going as his wife Joan, arrived in Wellington.


They initially settled in Gisborne. Walter set up a medical practice and Joan gave birth to three children.

In 1918 they moved to Havelock North where they became much respected members of the community.

Dr Reeve pushed for the building of the Havelock North swimming pool and was invited to take the first dive in at the official opening in 1921.

The author tells her character's stories through narrative non-fiction and thorough research into a time of social and cultural upheaval in Victorian England.

Robson's interest in women's history is clear as she documents Grace's social activities with the Women's Industrial Council, highlighting her plight with anedotes such as being told that women were mentally and physically incapable of more skilled work by employers.

This is more a thorough snapshot of society rather than an in-depth romantic tale of two lovers going to extreme measures to be together.

* Radical reformers and respectable rebels: How the two lives of Grace Oakeshott defined an era.
* By Jocelyn Robson
* Published by Palgrave 2016
* Reviewed by Tracey Chatterton