Hector Bolitho Collection

Hector Bolitho was born in Auckland on 28 May 1897 to Henry Bolitho, a hairdresser who also designed and printed the world’s first airmail stamps, and Etheldred Frances (nee Bushe), the daughter of a New Zealand schoolmaster.

Though his mother hoped Hector would practice medicine, a teacher at Seddon Memorial College, Auckland, inspired in him a love of English Literature.

Bolitho left school at 15 without seeking permission from his parents, and joined the staff of the New Zealand Herald. He moved on to the Auckland Star in 1915.

Bolitho became a corporal in the New Zealand Army at the outbreak of World War I, and was stationed at Featherston Military Camp near Wairarapa where he met Christian educationalist and founder of Reed Publishing, A. H. Reed.

The two men kept in touch throughout Bolitho’s life, and it was through Reed that Bolitho agreed to donate a collection of books and archival material to the Dunedin Public Library.

After the war, Bolitho wrote The Island of Kawau (1919), the first of 59 titles he would pen.

When the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, arrived in New Zealand on an official visit in April 1920, Bolitho was invited to travel on the royal train to report the tour. This provided material for his book With the Prince in New Zealand (1920).

In 1923, Bolitho moved to London where he worked as a freelance journalist until 1926 when the Dean of Windsor invited him to live in the cloisters of Windsor Castle, where he helped the dean to edit two volumes of Letters of Lady Augusta Stanley (1927 – 1929), Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting.

His access to the royal archives led to his first international bestseller, Albert the Good (1932), which, according to the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Bolitho, is widely regarded as the most important royal biography since (Giles) Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria (1921).

During the Second World War Bolitho served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, where he edited the Royal Air Force Weekly Bulletin, and later the Royal Air Force Journal.

Bolitho’s literary achievements included non-fiction, plays, radio broadcasts, ghost stories, and popular speaking tours.

After Bolitho’s death on 12 September 1974 in Brighton, England, his long-time partner Derek Peel continued negotiations with A. H. Reed, and then City Librarian Mary Ronnie after Reed’s death in January of 1975.

The Bolitho collection of more than 100 books and approximately three linear metres of archival material were transferred to the Dunedin Public Libraries in January 1976, and now reside among the Reed Special Collections.

Hector Bolitho Collection