The Odd Disappearance of Violet D’Ath and New Zealand’s First Gothic Novel

I’m currently working on a top secret, wonderful project and was deep into some research when something quite odd happened… I stumbled upon an obscure article referencing New Zealand’s first Gothic Novel ‘The Ice Station’, written in 1912 by Violet D’Ath.

The storyline sounded so good I immediately decided to find a copy and read it. But it wasn’t that easy, as you can probably tell by my title.

Firstly, there is a Violet D’Ath mentioned in New Zealand, but it’s clearly not the same Violet – different islands and birth/death dates. Secondly, I can find no reference to ‘The Ice Station’ either. Considering its status is mentioned as ‘New Zealand’s first truly Gothic novel’, I find the complete silence on the internet very bizarre. Surely it would be referred to more than once?

Despite the article giving the novel’s plot, details of Violet’s life, and very specific facts about her death, I just can’t track this author, or her book, down.

Appreciating that there is still a lot of stuff that isn’t searchable on Google (What?! Yes, it’s true!) I decided to enlist the help of my favourite bookseller, Kevin at Molly’s Little Bookshop, Kerikeri. And guess what…? No trace.

Here is the article in full (with my added exclamations of annoyance!):

. . .

Violet d’Ath (1901—1932)
Novelist, author of The Ice Station

‘and the wind’s breath moving across the bay, carrying the memory of icebergs . . .’

Daughter of the lighthouse keeper at Point Medusa <no such place>, Violet D’Ath <no such person> claimed to have seen a mermaid in the autumn of 1910 while walking to meet the mail launch from Bluff. Eighteen months later, she published her remarkable novel, The Ice Station <no such book>. Described as ‘New Zealand’s first truly Gothic novel’ <where? no reference found>, The Ice Station is the story of Thora Sars, daughter of the manager of a whaling station on South Georgia. Thora, the only child on the station, is haunted by the spectral figure of a woman dressed in white. The novel leaves unresolved whether the figure is the spirit of her dead mother, a figment of a lonely child’s imagination, or an incarnation of the South Pole itself, which Thora visualises as the guardian spirit of the whales and other sea mammals that the men of South Georgia hunt and render for blubber.

The novel has been admired <by…?> for its unflinching depiction of the brutality of life on a whaling station, where the water occasionally turns red with blood, and the stench of rotting carcasses and rendered fat contrasts with the stark beauty of the sub-Antarctic surroundings. It is also notable for its portrayal of a father who loves his daughter, but is unable to communicate with her or to meet her emotional needs.

Violet D’Ath was working on another novel when, while walking to a dentist’s appointment, she was struck by a tram in Princes Street, Dunedin <no record despite the specifics>. Rushed to hospital where an examination revealed no major injuries, she died a week later from the effects of a dislodged kidney. Several Dunedin residents have claimed to have seen an ethereal figure, robed in white, at the intersection of Princes and High Streets where the accident occurred. <yep, no reference to that either>

. . .

If this is article is ‘fake news’ then I bow down to Alison Glenny, author of the piece, because I was completely taken in. And I REALLY want to read ‘The Ice Station’, dammit!

If you do happen to have any information about any of the ‘facts’ in the article, please get in touch. If you know Alison, please get in touch. But meanwhile, the search goes on…

Mysterious Violet D’Ath, if you were ever truly flesh and blood, I hereby vow to hunt down you and your beautiful book!


Cover Image: Spermaceti Whale, engraving by William Home Lizars

Second Image: 1940s: Point Atkinson Lighthouse, West Vancouver. Archives# Out N140.


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