Whanganui author Murray Crawford made a fascinating find in a Victorian chest of drawers he purchased at a Hayward's auction - a handwritten manuscript penned by a British soldier who fought in the Taranaki Wars of the 1860s.

The tale of the discovery is an outright lie - there was no manuscript, however, Crawford used the fictional discovery as the basis for his 2015 novel Rooster McGurk: Unsung Colonial Hero (and Reluctant Virgin).

"Although I published the book a couple of years ago, I never launched it at the time and as next week is the 150th anniversary of the war known as the South Taranaki Campaign, I thought it would be a good way to mark the occasion."

Auctioneer Brian Hayward has given Crawford a spot to launch the book before the auction on September 9.


Crawford has set Rooster McGurk's story against the background of the conflict which is also referred to as Tītokowaru's War.

Tītokowaru of Ngā Ruahine was the warrior reputed to have killed mercenary soldier Gustavus von Tempsky and Crawford has combined poetic licence with his historical knowledge to place his character Rooster McGurk at the centre of the conflict.

Auctioneer Brian Hayward and author Murray Crawford making a discovery in a Victorian chest of drawers. Photo/Liz Wylie
Auctioneer Brian Hayward and author Murray Crawford making a discovery in a Victorian chest of drawers. Photo/Liz Wylie

The colonial soldier is captured by Tītokowaru and forced to take up arms against his own countrymen.

"In the midst of all that he is desperately trying to lose his unwanted virginity," says Crawford.

"The book comes with a warning that it is not for the squeamish or the easily culturally offended."

McGurk uses the vernacular of his time which Crawford says would be unacceptable today but it puts him firmly in his historical context for the authenticity of the story.

Brian Hayward says he has never found a manuscript in a furniture item submitted for auction but he has found a number of valuable items like some that belonged to Whanganui aviatrix Jane Winstone.

Winstone died when her plane crashed during a WWII mission in 1944 and Hayward says he was asked to handle the deceased estate of one of her family members many years later.


"There was a lot of rubbish in the garage and I was asked to dump it but I went through it and found a lot of Jane Winstone's papers.

"There was some significant stuff - her flight logs, letters from Jean Batten and Kingsford Smith."

Hayward said there have been a number of estates where families were not aware of valuable items and he always takes a thorough inventory.

Rooster McGurk: Unsung Colonial Hero (and Reluctant Virgin) will be launched at Haywards Auction rooms, 129 Guyton St on Sunday, September 9 at 10am.

A $5 donation from the sale from the sale of each book will go to support Wanganui SPCA.