About the Burke Manuscript

Origins and scope of the manuscript

The manuscript is the work of William Ellison Burke, a bailiff at the Christchurch Court who was later jailed for embezzlement. The text is almost unique, in that it is gossipy personal comment written in a lively manner about local individuals. The period covered in depth is 1850s and 1860s - the settlement years of the colony. The text is interspersed with hundreds of cuttings from books and magazines. Many cuttings are portraits or caricatures, not always of the person described but regarded by Burke as having their characteristics.

The original manuscript was written in pencil but at some time overwritten in ink by the same hand. A typed transcript has been prepared for each page of the manuscript (see Transcription notes below).

R. C. Bishop, head of the Christchurch Gas Company, bought the W. E. Burke manuscript from its author. Bishop lent the item, for copying, to Johannes Carl Andersen. From the original Andersen copied sections which met with his approval.

Andersen took the sanitised version with him when he became first head of the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1920. This version, known by Turnbull as the E. J. Burke manuscript, was used by Andersen for his Old Christchurch, by A. Selwyn Bruce for his Early days of Canterbury and by G. R. Macdonald for his dictionary.

In the early 1980s Turnbull donated a copy of his version to Christchurch City Libraries. Since then Christchurch City Libraries has obtained the original and put it online.

Transcription notes

The following protocols have been followed in transcribing from the original manuscript:

Spelling, capitalisation, punctuation and underlining is as shown in the original.

[sic] has been used to confirm that an error is shown as it appears in the original eg Rigt [sic] for Right

Transcriber's notes are added in square brackets:

  • [illegible] word exists but cannot be deciphered
  • [missing] word is not provided in the original, perhaps because edges of pages have been torn
  • [erased] word has been erased in the original
  • [?] word may not be correct. Every effort has been made to read the word but some uncertainty exists.

No attempt has been made to lay out the text to match the original layout (where, for example, names of buildings have been written below the matching sketches.)

The endpaper remarks, in a different hand "Burke in gaol."

Page 1 ~ About the Burke Manuscript ~ About Mr. Burke