The Reed Dumas Collection and the mystery of Madame Giovanni

One of the extraordinary collections at Auckland Libraries is the Reed Dumas Collection. This extends to some 3,350 volumes of printed works as well as over 2,000 sheets written by Alexandre Dumas (père) (1802 – 1870).

Image: Bookplate for the Reed Dumas Collection, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Iain Sharp’s essay in Real Gold, the library’s treasure book, provides an excellent introduction to the extraordinary Reed Dumas Collection.

Image: Items in the Reed Dumas Collection, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

This collection is a life’s work developed by Frank Wild Reed (1874 – 1953), a Whangārei chemist and avid Dumas collector. Bequeathed to Auckland Libraries after his death in 1953, it is a treasure trove dedicated to the larger-than-life polymath Alexandre Dumas. FW Reed was the brother of Alfred Hamish Reed, who established one of New Zealand’s first publishing firms.

The Reed Dumas collection can be explored through many paths. The first editions of Dumas famous works such as the Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo and the Black Tulip in French, Belgian and English are rare and interesting. There is correspondence between Frank Wild Reed and his fellow Dumas collectors, sellers and scholars. These include the London booksellers Howard and Dorothy Knott as well as Robert Singleton Garnett, the leading translator of Dumas into English, whose correspondence with Reed runs into three bound volumes.

The collaborative style of some of Dumas’ historical novels gives us another way into this collection. Dumas often championed lesser-known writers and sometimes developed their manuscripts into his own “collaborative” work. This was not uncommon in nineteenth century publishing. This is seen in Dr Felix Maynard’s Les Baleiniers (1907) which was later published in English as the The Whalers by both Dumas and Maynard.

“Collaborative publishing” is also demonstrated in the popular work first published in 1855, The Journal of Madame Giovanni. A recent study by the Australian academic Douglas Wilkie has painstakingly revealed the facts within the fictional character of Madame Giovanni. Truth does meet fiction here in Wilkie’s The Journal of Madame Callegari: the true story behind Alexandre Dumas’s 1855 Journal de madame Giovanni, some 160 years after the journal’s first publication. We learn that early in 1855 a Madame Callegari, then aged 36, approached Alexandre Dumas with an irresistible publishing proposal. Dumas went on to edit and publish her account of ten years travelling in Australia, the Pacific including Tahiti and New Caledonia, San Francisco and Mexico. He provided the pseudonuym Madame Giovanni and made judicious “edits”. The journal did well. It came out in Le Siecle on 31 March 1855 and was then republished in Dumas’s newspaper Le Mousequetaire with many monograph editions to follow. This type of publishing collaboration was not exceptional for Dumas. 

Image: Title page of ‘The Journal of Madame Giovanni’ (1856) Reed Dumas Collection, 843.7 J86 4 v. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Douglas Wilkie’s 2015 edition in Madame Callegari’s voice provides an historical context for the reader. There are contemporary illustrations so you’ll see Hobart Town in 1858 (p. 104), and details of the Tehuantepec Railway in 1869 which includes their massive farm in La Puerta Mexico (p. 232-233). The footnotes support Wilkie’s deep research in tracking Madame Callegari’s far flung adventures and the evidence of some of the truth and the fiction. His journal is in the first-person voice of Madame Callegari. The fashionable young French woman in London whose jewellery fraud leads to a guilty conviction at the Old Bailey inform us that:

“By Christmas 1842 I was on board the convict ship Margaret at Woolwich with another 160 female convicts.” (Wilkie, p. 82) 

And this was how she came to be in Hobart where the official Journal published by Dumas begins, and where she marries Pietro Callegari on 17 August 1844. 

The popular Dumas Journal of Madame Giovanni wasn’t published in English until 1944 when the American author Marguerite Wilbur edited the French and German editions into a substantial 404-page work, The Journal of Madame Giovanni / by Alexandre Dumas. Her title page describes the work as ‘A Novel by Alexandre Dumas’. Frank Wild Reed provides the introduction to this English edition. He corresponded with Marguerite Wilbur and helped authenticate or disprove some of the “facts” particularly in the New Zealand section. His ability to translate and describe nineteenth century New Zealand gives an insight into Madame Callegari’s personality. She may have been the Queen of the Ball, as the only French woman present, with real violets trimming her hat but she would not have been able to get from Auckland to the Bay of Islands by waka / canoe in one day.

“At dawn we took our places in our boat. This, like all canoes was an immense tree trunk that had been chiseled out into the shape of an enormous fish with a hollow back that swam with head and tail out of the wat er. Six rowers formed the fins of this enormous cetacean.”  (Wilbur, p. 70)
Image: Cover of the English edition by Marguerite E. Wilbur in the Reed Dumas Collection,
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

Madame Callegari did advertise for work in the local paper, the New Zealander.

Image: New Zealander, Volume 5, Issue 357, 20 September 1849, Page 1.

However she becomes bored with Auckland after about a month and they set off for the Society Islands on the Stevens:

“After sending aboard the usual furniture for our cabin, that is, my piano, my two Voltaire armchairs, and an excellent carpet, we embarked”. (Wilkie, p. 147)

Her standard advertisement will be placed in other countries as her travels continue. In Tahiti she walks across the island and notes:

“No more Voltaire armchairs and comfortable soft carpets! A mat, and two or three changes of clothing each, comprised our entire luggage. M. Giovanni took his double-barreled gun, his inseparable and faithful companion on all journeys. The first stages of the trip were like walking in a garden; and what a garden! Gracious Lord admit me into such a paradise and I will ask for nothing more for eternity!” (Wilbur, p. 93) 

The following chapter see her have an audience with Queen Pomare who ask her where she has travelled from. This goes well when she answers New Zealand and they proceed to discuss their mutual friend ‘Eki eki’ (Hone Heke) who Queen Pomare describes as the “Napoleon of New Zealand” (Wilbur, p. 100).  

Auckland Libraries has the unique perspective of holding all the editions of Madam Giovanni’s (who we now know is Madam Callegari) Journals, complete with Frank Reed’s unique 1925 typescript translation and his letters to Mrs Wilbur in California. They are part of the extensive Reed Dumas Collection, the most extensive archive of books and manuscripts relating to Alexandre Dumas outside of France. 

They repay close examination for the fantastic reporting on people and places in nineteenth century New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific, America and Mexico. Historians and film directors are welcome to visit, read and be beguiled by Madam Callegari’s tales.

To learn more about the Reed Dumas Collection at Auckland Libraries and Dumas’s publishing style you can listen to two interviews with Kate de Courcy, former Manuscript Librarian on the Auckland Libraries podcast channel:

Alexandre Dumas

Listen to the track here.

Frank Reed's Dumas Collection

Listen to the track here.

Author: Jane Wild, Rare Books Curator, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections


  1. Bored with Auckland, surely not! But what a life-affirming post. And what amazing kaitiaki are Auckland Libraries and their librarians.

  2. Especially
    Lisa Outwin librarian extraordinaire at Warkworth.


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