The Wives of Henry Oades
The Wives of Henry Oades is an engrossing late 19th-century tale of unwitting bigamy. Henry and Margaret Oades move from London to New Zealand with their four children in 1890. Margaret insists on a cottage on the outskirts of the squalid town of Wellington. In an act of retribution, she and her children are taken captive by a Maori tribe. Henry is prevented from searching for them, and as his lawyer later states in the second of three court cases, he leaves New Zealand, “loath to remain amid the sorrowful memories.”
Circumstances change Henry’s profession from accountant to dairyman. He marries Nancy, who has suffered a similar loss. Meanwhile Margaret and her surviving children endure a six-year enslavement with the Maori. When disease strikes the tribe, they are at last cast out and John, the eldest, leads them back to Wellington. Worn and bedraggled, and scarred with the marks of disease, first wife Margaret and her children make their way to Berkeley, California. Henry and Nancy have been married a matter of months when Henry’s first family appears on their doorstep. If these difficulties were not enough, the community turns on Henry and he is prosecuted for bigamy.
Henry and his two wives are each sympathetic, authentically portrayed characters. There are no villains here unless it is the communities; first the one that kidnaps Margaret, and then the intolerant community of Berkeley that makes the Oades’s lives unbearable. Based on a California court case noted by Johanna Moran’s father, The Wives of Henry Oades is a fine story of family, marriage, and commitment set in exotic New Zealand and California amid the changes at the turn of the 20th century.