Famous New Zealanders

Elsie Locke

Born: August 17 1912, in Hamilton, New Zealand
Died: April 8 2001, in Christchurch, New Zealand

Early life

  • Grew up in a small town, Waiuku, near Auckland, the youngest of six children.
  • Her parents were William John and Ellen Farrelly.
  • Elsie started writing while at school and had some articles and stories published in the New Zealand Herald.
  • She completed a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University in 1933.

Adult life

  • Elsie Locke was a feminist and socialist who also campaigned against nuclear weapons and wrote more than 20 books, including a number of historical novels for children and several social histories of New Zealand.
  • She married John (Jack) Gibson Locke, a meat worker, and was the mother of four children, two sons and two daughters. Jack had been born in England and immigrated to New Zealand when he was 19 years old.
  • Elsie and Jack moved to Christchurch during World War II, and found the small cottage in the Avon Loop where they lived the rest of their lives.
  • Elsie set up a women's magazine which became a leading feminist publication, and helped to found the Sex Hygiene and Birth Society which later became the Family Planning Association.
  • In 1959 she won the Katherine Mansfield Award for non-fiction for an essay in the journal Landfall.
  • Elsie was also writing for children as well as adults. Her first novel for children was The Runaway Settlers, which was published in 1965. This was followed by other historical novels for children.
  • In 1987 Elsie had an Honorary Doctor of Literature conferred on her by the University of Canterbury for her work in children's literature and history.
  • The Canterbury Council of the New Zealand Reading Association awarded her the Nada Beardsley Literacy Award in 1992, the same year she was awarded the Children's Literature Association Award for distinguished services to New Zealand literature.
  • In 1995 she was awarded the Margaret Mahy Lecture Award by the New Zealand Children's Book Foundation for her contribution to children's literature, and in 1999 she was awarded the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book for The Runaway Settlers (1965).
  • She was a regular swimmer at Centennial Pool. She had two artificial knees as a result of arthritis which altered her favourite swimming stroke (which was breaststroke but changed to side and back stroke). When the pool was upgraded in 1997 the adjoining park was named The Elsie Locke Park after her.
  • Elsie died in Christchurch on 8 April 2001.

Runaway Settlers coverThe Runaway Settlers

  • Is the novel that Elsie Locke is best known for. It is based on the true story of the Small family.
  • The novel describes the conditions the Small family were facing that lead to emigration and follows their first impressions of New Zealand, the struggle of surviving in an unforgiving new land and the outcome of these trials.
  • The Canterbury setting of the novel has remained popular in Christchurch in particular, with children able to recognise the geographical locations of the family's adventures.
  • Descendants of the Small family are still living in Governors Bay today.
  • The strengths of the novel are the accuracy of Elsie's research, with every detail true to life, and the believable characters.
  • Elsie researched thoroughly to find out about the time and place the novel was set in, and with her imagination weaves this research into an exciting account of colonial life in Canterbury.

Other Works

In her own words

Her first real success was with The Runaway Settlers - part of which "came to life through her own family history… Family history has been shown to be very important, and is often the only source of information for women's history".


Elsie Locke has been described as peace campaigner, environmentalist, novelist, historian, community worker and national treasure. She was an activist with strong political views and campaigned for many causes from the banning of nuclear weapons to forming the Avon Loop Planning Association which successfully limited commercial development of the area.


  • Recognising Elsie Locke for writing and social reform. Richard Cresswell. The Press, May 27 1987
  • Beneath Southern Skies: New Zealand Children's Book Authors and Illustrators. Tom Fitzgibbon. 1993. Auckland: Ashton Scholastic.
  • A bird in the hand. Bruce Ansley. Listener, April 20 1996.
  • Elsie locks kids into great yarns. Matt Conway. Sunday Star Times, 18 February 1996
  • Elsie's doing just swimmingly. Stan Darling. The Press, May 15, 1999.
  • Contemporary Authors online. The Gale Group, 2000.
  • 'National Treasure' Elsie Locke inspired her community. Glen Scanlon. The Press, 9 April 2001.
  • Elsie Locke (1912-2001) Jo Noble. Magpies New Zealand, No. 4, September 2001.
  • The Christchurch Writers' Trail. Gordon Ogilvie (ed.). March 2002.
  • Little lady had an immense presence. Mike Crean. The Press, 12 April 2002.