A tangled web

Oosterman, Allison Lorna
Johnson, Mike
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Master of Creative Writing
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Auckland University of Technology

A Tangled Web is the story of 19th century radical New Zealand journalist, William Kitchen. Told as a fictionalised biography, the work follows his life from leaving Wellington as a 22-year-old for Otago until his death at 34 in Sydney. Showing early writing promise he became a journalist on working-class newspapers in Dunedin rising to become editor of The Globe. He won prizes for his short stories and was instrumental in establishing one of the country’s first literary journals. Kitchen was deeply involved in the burgeoning of working-class consciousness of the late 1800s and was an outspoken supporter of the Maritime Strike of 1890 and the first labour candidates contesting the election that year. His fervent socialism was treated with derision by conservative papers but he fought injustice as he perceived it, even if it meant taking on Truby King, head of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. His willingness to carry a fight, however, meant he alienated many conventional Dunedinites. When a suspicious fire burnt down The Globe offices, although uninvolved, Kitchen decided to leave New Zealand, his wife and children, and head to the Australian colonies. Landing first in Sydney, he applied for but failed to get the editorship of the Australian Workman. The working-classes here were also turning to the ballot box and Kitchen went to Melbourne and worked with prominent members of the labour movement leading up to the 1891 election. When journalistic work was unavailable Kitchen took to the stage under a pseudonym and it was during this time he met and then later married Lottie Hannam, an actress and palmist. Disguising himself and using another assumed name, he and Lottie travelled to New Zealand, visiting the southern provinces, but not before he inserted a notice in the papers saying Kitchen had died in Tasmania. He acted as Lottie’s manager, as she toured as Madame Aramanda. Despite his disguise he was recognised and finally conceded he was William Kitchen. Chased by the police he was captured boarding a ship at Bluff and taken to Wellington to face charges. These charges were dismissed and instead his first wife filed for divorce on the grounds of bigamy and adultery. Kitchen returned to Sydney and two years later remarried Lottie. He became embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute with John Norton, the editor of Truth, when Norton published an article labelling him a wife deserter and bigamist. Kitchen sued Norton for libel but two trials in 1897 saw hung juries. The case was eventually dropped, although Kitchen did win two contempt of court cases against Norton. Overcome by the effects of the trials and a serious stage accident suffered by Lottie, Kitchen took his own life in December 1897.

William Freeman kitchen , Journalist , Labour movement , New Zealand
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