Gilbert Leov with a copy of ‘The King of D’Urville Island’. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Memories of a D’Urville life


Gilbert Leov says it takes a special type of character to live on D’Urville Island.

He was taken to the 150km2 island in 1944, when he was nine-years-old.

“I saw a whole heap of changes in that time.”

Those changes have now been documented in an updated book recounting his family’s life there.

Originally published in 1968 by Gilbert’s father Len, this new version that fills in much of the historical detail. It has been spearheaded by Gilbert’s daughter Christine, who was driven to complete it as an 60th wedding anniversary present to him and his wife Barbara.

The pair now live in a retirement village in Stoke but the memories of D’Urville loom large.

“It was an interesting life, but my education was very much depleted,” Gilbert says. “I managed to survive because I had a good range of practical skills.”

The book starts with the family’s patriarch Charles Augustus Leopold Leov who came to New Zealand from Pomerania in the early 1850s. He became a citizen, married and tried to settle down.

The story that is documented in ‘The King of D’Urville Island’ is about Charles’ “restless progeny who were pioneers with true grit,” according to Christine.

Those children sought their fortunes in the gold fields and farming hostile of the region. The title of the book comes from a newspaper report from the 1960s, which attributed the name to Len when the island started to get roads.

Included is some of the 20th century history of the island farms, Greville Harbour and Port Hardy, where Gilbert lived.

After he came back from school in Wellington he was put to work straight away, managing thousands of sheep and cattle on 1500 acres.

“It’s all steep hill country,” he says. “You have to have a special character to live out there. It’s not for just anybody.”

Barbara says it was a hard and lonely life for a wife and the pair eventually came back to Nelson after they started raising their own family.

Gilbert tells it somewhat differently.

“I was too busy to be lonely.”

To purchase a copy of The King of D’Urville Island, call Barbara on 03 5380090.