Vancouver Island author unearths rare Victorian-era manuscript

Dean Unger was doing research for his new book at the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives in Lake Cowichan when he uncovered an incredibly rare manuscript.

Manuscript written by English author Andrew Haggard, brother of novelist H. Rider Haggard

The manuscript was written by Victorian-era English novelist Andrew Haggard. (Submitted by Dean Unger)

A Vancouver Island author found the find of a lifetime at his local archives while doing research for an upcoming novel. 

Dean Unger, based in Lake Cowichan, was digging through the archives for his upcoming book. The project is a sequel to his first, A Garden of Thieves, which is set during colonial times in British Columbia. 

"I like to be up on the families and all of the historical events that happened over time that kind of get lost in the archives," Unger said. "They're lost in notes and journals diaries and papers and photographs that ... hopefully get donated to museums."

But Unger also wanted to follow up on an intriguing tip from a friend. 

The town of Lake Cowichan, a community of almost 3,000 located at the east of end of Cowichan Lake on the southern end of Vancouver Island, boasts an impressive pedigree of literary connections. 

Unger's friend mentioned that the family of Bram Stoker — the Victorian-era novelist most famous for writing the Gothic novel Dracula — once had an estate in Lake Cowichan.

"I was shocked to hear that [and] I started researching the museum here, the Kaatza Station Museum, and immediately discovered that it was true," he said. 

The family of Bram Stoker (1845 - 1912), who wrote the classic horror story Dracula in 1897, had an estate in Lake Cowichan. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But that wasn't all. 

Andrew Haggard, an author in his own right as well as brother to the more famous Victoria-era author, H. Rider Haggard, also spent time in the area in the 1890s and early 20th century.

H. Rider Haggard is best known for works like King Solomon's Mines and She: A History of Adventure, still in print today. 

"I think it was a second or third day I was researching at the museum, I pulled this grey box and and recognized it as a manuscript box, pulled it down there's a red tag that said Haggard manuscript," Unger said. 

Unger says he hopes a benefactor can step forward to help the museum preserve the manuscript properly. (Submitted by Dean Unger)

It turned out to be a handwritten manuscript for Andrew Haggard's book Louis XVI. And Marie Antoinette..., considered one of his more famous novels.

"I was just floored that this thing was here in my hands," Unger said. 

Haggard had started coming to the area regularly on fishing trips starting in 1893 and finished the manuscript in 1905, Unger said.  The first edition of the novel was published in 1906.

When Unger found the manuscript, there was a letter on top of the manuscript that indicated the family who bought the Haggard estate in the early 1900s, the Greens, had heard a rumour that a manuscript might exist in the garret — the tiny attic — Haggard used to write in. 

Dean Unger found Andrew Haggard's manuscript about Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, depicted here. (Wikimedia/Kaho Mitsuki)

"[They] enlisted the help of an English teacher at the high school here ... in the mid 60s, I would guess," Unger said. "And they wound up finding it hidden ... in this garret."

It's not known how the manuscript wound up at the museum, but Unger says to discover a manuscript from the Victoria-era is an especially rare find. 

"There are very few examples, not just from Andrew Haggard, but from any writer of that period," Unger said. "So the scarcity of it and the importance of it can't be understated."

The manuscript is still at the museum for safe-keeping, but Unger says he hopes a benefactor from the community or district can help provide some aid to help preserve the manuscript properly and have it displayed for researchers. 

"[Finding it] is a once in a lifetime experience, it really is," Unger said. "I'm still flying."

Listen to the interview on CBC's All Points West:

Dean Unger found a manuscript written by English author Andrew Haggard, brother of novelist H. Rider Haggard. 9:14

With files from All Points West