When Whanganui writer Laraine Sole heard that Kevin Luff was researching the early hotels of Whanganui, she thought: "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."

Little did she know then that she would take his research, add many hours of her own and find "the elements of a best-selling TV series".

The Early Hotels of Old Wanganui was launched at the Wanganui RSA on Saturday to an enthusiastic audience of about 50 people.

Some audience members were descendants of those early publicans, and several copies of the limited-edition book were purchased as gifts for family members. The book has the distinctive sepia-tone cover of Ms Sole's previous books on Castlecliff and Aramoho.


The latest book, published by Hanton-Anderson, has a first print run of 300 copies, which are available at Paige's Book Gallery and Aramoho Mags and Lotto.

"To me it is really exciting to share these stories and wonderful old photographs that capture an age when everything was designed for beauty as well as practicality, and the publicans (both men and women) held a unique position in society."

Ms Sole said tuberculosis was a prolific killer in Whanganui's early days and some of the publicans died of TB, leaving their wives to manage the hotels on their own.

"Managing a hotel in those days would have taken some exceptional courage, and there were some very brave women," she said.

Then there were the women of the temperance movement, who managed to close down some Whanganui hotels during World War I.

"It was the soldiers coming home from the war who managed to outvote the temperance movement and keep some of the hotels open," said Ms Sole.

She said local historians and descendants of Whanganui publicans had been very helpful, and she especially thanked historian and RSA manager Kyle Dalton for his help with research and the launch event.