Highly acclaimed award-winning author, historian and film-maker Peter Wells has died.

The 69-year-old passed away in Auckland's Mercy Hospice on Monday surrounded by close friends and his long and devoted partner Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins.

He had been battling prostate cancer after being diagnosed in November 2017 — it was a battle he shared with the many readers of his Facebook page, and he also used it as the subject of his final book, Hello Darkness.

Wells was nationally and internationally acclaimed as an author, and acclaimed in Hawke's Bay as having been one the driving sparks to ignite the popularity and recognition of Art Deco.


Back in 1985 a leaflet was put out by the Napier City Council and the then Hawke's Bay Museum called "Take a Walk Through Art Deco Napier".

A modest voluntary trust was put together to oversee the walks, and four months later the remarkable world of Art Deco captured the country's attention, thanks to Wells.

He created a television documentary titled Newest City on the Globe and it was a major boost for Napier, and the growth of interest in Art Deco.

"That was a major catalyst in forming the Art Deco movement," fellow historian and writer, and board chair of the Art Deco Trust, Michael Fowler said.

"It was a pivotal moment in beginning the interest in Napier."

Fowler said he last saw Wells at his final book launch last year.

"I told him that I always got nervous when I met him and he asked why?"

To which Fowler sincerely replied "because I am in the presence of true literary greatness".


Wells had a strong passion for history and also for Napier, where he and partner Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins set up house on Napier Hill — within sight of the historic Napier Hill Cemetery.

HBT18172301: Wells, at right, with members of the Greening the Graveyard group after a vandal attack at the Napier Hill Cemetery last September.
HBT18172301: Wells, at right, with members of the Greening the Graveyard group after a vandal attack at the Napier Hill Cemetery last September.

It was a rolling slice of history he was very protective of and he was a member of the Greening The Graveyard group which cared for the old graves.

Last September he was left upset and angry in the wake of vandals having cut up plants and flowers planted by the group.

He had also been actively involved in running tours of the cemetery with fellow historian Gail Pope which were sparked up in 2008 in the wake of Somebody's Darling screening at the MTG — it was a thoughtful background film about the many stories surrounding the graves across the site.

Wells' passing has sparked a deluge of messages of tribute across social media, many of them from people involved with the Auckland Writers Festival which Wells co-founded.

One summed Wells up perfectly — noting him as "a writing luminary".

Another wrote that he was "one of the most honest voices in New Zealand writing".

He was born in 1950 and grew up in Point Chevalier in Auckland.

He studied at Auckland University and also the University of Warwick in England, before returning to New Zealand and sparking his writing and film-making career.

Wells was one of the country's first openly gay writers and explored such themes in novels like Boy Overboard and collection of short stories Dangerous Desires — the latter winning the Reed New Zealand Book Award in 1991.

He also co-wrote and co-directed the 1993 film Desperate Remedies.

He made a profound mark in the literary world with what has come to be known as his "Napier Trilogy" — books he wrote while living in Napier.

It comprised the highly lauded book about William Colenso titled Hungry Heart, followed by Journey to a Hanging and Dear Oliver: Uncovering a Pakeha History.

In 2006 he was announced as a member in the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and film.

Fowler said he felt honoured to have known Wells who he described as a "complete gentleman".

Yet while he was polite and well mannered he would stand up strongly and staunchly speak out for what he perceived as injustices, Fowler said.

"And the body of work he has left will always be there — that is so valuable."