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The Nissen Family


The Nissens in my book Not the Faintest Trace were part of my family. Hans Christian Nissen emigrated to New Zealand from Schleswig, arriving there in 1874. He landed in Napier and went on to Palmerston North, where he first worked in a sawmill, and then owned his own sawmill. His son Claus, my grandfather (the newborn baby in the book), joined him at the mill, but they went bankrupt in 1901 when they attempted to set up a sawmill up in Norsewood.


One of my grandfather Claus's stories about the mill is covered in the book in the chapter entitled The Posse: Claus told a story about a man whose hands were cut off in an accident, who then threw himself on the saw. I don't know if the man had a wife, and the date it happened was much later than 1877, but it was a true story.


Johanna Nissen emigrated to New Zealand around the same time as Hans Christian and they married in Palmerston North. The family story says they met on the boat, but I can find no evidence that they were on the same boat. My mother used to say that Johanna, her grandmother, took in a lodger after Hans Christian died, but the lodger wasn't really a lodger. I discovered that Johanna married a younger man after Hans Christian died. The story about the neighbours' argument came from an article I found on Papers Past for which Johanna was a witness in court. Interestingly, the younger man that Johanna later married was one of the neighbours: the five year old who was sent next door to retrieve the axe.


Paul Christensen Nissen and Jens Lund were also real. It is their story was the genesis of my novel, with the addition of other storylines and fictional characters. An article about the coroners' jury, also found on Papers Past, was the basis for this story. The boys crossed the river on a log on July 26, 1877, and were found on October 3, 1877. Imagining how the family would have dealt with the tragedy gave me the impetus to write this book. 

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