Book on “sassy” NZ woman has SIT connection
Publish Date: Tuesday, 16 April 2024
Book on “sassy” NZ woman has SIT connection
Annabel Schuler researched the life of Constance Barnicoat for five years while working as a SIT2LRN facilitator and supervisor, and says the little-known New Zealander should be celebrated as a leading journalist of her time. Photo: Andrew Bunker.

Nelson-based author, Annabel Schuler, has written a book about the life of little-known New Zealander Constance Barnicoat (1872-1922), a pioneering journalist and mountaineer.

The book, A Cool Head and a Sharp Pen, was a five-year project, with the research component supported by SIT through the SIT2LRN Research Committee. Ms Schuler worked as a SIT2LRN facilitator and supervisor (2014 – 2023), facilitating Levels 5-8 journalism and communications papers, and supervising undergraduate research reports. With a previous career in journalism, Ms Schuler made the move from full-time journalist to teaching in 2002, while running the Waiariki Polytechnic Journalism programme in Rotorua. Her freelance work in magazines, plus a gardening column “my other passion”, continued up until 2022. “From then on, I concentrated on writing the book,” she said.

Ms Schuler felt she had to tell Constance Barnicoat’s story after discovering her while writing an article for the Nelson Historical Society’s journal in 2019. “This did not do justice to Constance, who became a multilingual journalist based in England, then Switzerland in World War I. She was far more interesting than I first realised,” Ms Schuler said.

She recalls telling her partner, “There’s a book in this and I’m going to write it. That was my eureka moment,” and with support from SIT, she continued delving into Constance’s life. The first three years were research, research, research, and a lot of sifting, which opened up more gaps and questions. “I had to learn how to recognise Constance’s writing style; bylines weren’t a thing back in those days.” Plus, “getting a feeling for Constance’s remarkable personality” was important, she added.

Ms Schuler acknowledged the work of Constance’s husband, Julian Grande - who wrote a “glowing biography” in the 1930s - as her main source, largely because Constance’s own diaries had been lost. Described as sassy, strong, opinionated, brave, meticulous, and very intelligent, Constance’s story was one that was “begging to be told”, said Ms Schuler. “She could speak four modern languages plus Latin. She was very clever but also well-rounded.”  Constance was an accomplished mountaineer who climbed for relaxation and was the first woman to summit several challenging peaks in Europe, as well as being among the first European women to traverse the South Island’s Copland Pass. She was also a keen botanist. 

Initially Ms Schuler wanted to focus on Constance’s journalistic achievements “but her mountaineering feats have resonated with a lot of people too”.

Ms Schuler acknowledged she could not have written the book without support and encouragement from SIT, who contributed to research for the original journal article, as well as the research and writing of the book to manuscript stage. “Constance’s story captivated people on the faculty research committee and beyond.” Support from SIT’s Research Office was invaluable, Ms Schuler added. She also spoke about the fascination of research at SIT2LRN workshops, “hoping to inspire others to do the same”. 

Quoting the well-known author Isabelle Allende, “Write what should not be forgotten”, Ms Schuler stated “and that’s what I’ve attempted to do. Constance should be celebrated as a leading journalist of her time, but she is unknown to most people. I hope this book will shine a light on her achievements.”


Where to buy Annabel’s book: 

RRP $30 Email:  or go to:

Also available through Amazon, Fishpond and Volume’s online bookshop.