This is the gateway to books by
Michael Whitfield Foster

This web site provides information on various books that I have written from 1998 to the present time. They begin with genealogy, the two Comedy of Errors books that have become the authoritative sources on the English system of registration of births, marriages and deaths, books based on unique access to the General Register Office in Southport. It is possible to find many other internet references to the Comedy books by using the search-string "nz/mikefost". This little segment of my URL brings up hundreds more references from a huge number of sites, mainly on A Comedy of Errors but also some on others of my books.

Then there are five oil-industry histories, based on my family's long service in and around the Shell Group, motivated in large part by the extraordinarily large number of errors that the contracted historians made in writing the commissioned histories of Shell in New Zealand (2004) and of the overall Royal Dutch Shell Group (2007).
My first venture into oil history was a book about New Zealand's oil refinery at Marsden Point, a story that had never been fully recorded apart from a slim book by Mike Paterson that dealt with the politics of the system and not its actual operation. Indeed it contained a number of factual errors. My work on Stormy Petrol was put on one side when the Shell histories of 2004 and 2007 appeared. I hope to proceed with this book in the near future.


I wrote a critique of the 2004 history, noting and explaining its hundreds of errors, both major and minor. The 2007 history, astonishingly, had far more errors, many of them errors of real substance, and my much longer critique is now held by some of the world's principal libraries, including the British Library in London. I progressively rewrote the 2004 history, at least doubling its story content, beginning with "She'll be right" and eventually "She'll be right at last". Finally, based on primary sources from the turn of the century I was able to write a supplement describing the very early days of motor vehicles in New Zealand. Thanks to records held in New Zealand's Turnbull Library, I was also able to tell the true story of Big Tree, the oil venture by A S Paterson, based on Paterson's own documents. It was dramatically different from the story in Shell's 2004 story. This little 50-page supplement is packed with stories that have never before been published.

These books are not books of mere passing interest. "She'll be right at last" and its smaller supplement may well come to span the "age of oil". It is the use of oil that has fuelled the extraordinary development of technology through the 20th century, providing efficient and inexpensive transportation on a huge scale, including the huge development of aviation. There is now (2011) a real possibility that peak oil is on our doorstep and that the forces of supply and demand may bring that dynamic oil age to its knees, perhaps with political factors even over-riding the purely economic factors. It is not a good backdrop to the growing concerns about climate change. "She'll be right at last" ventures into all these topics. It is a book for our time.

Along the way there was a book describing the unique tidal system that surrounds New Zealand. It has proved to be of great interest to those involved in the complex waters of Cook Strait, boaties, divers, fishermen, even swimmers. I have yet to come across anyone (except one person from NIWA) with any knowledge whatsoever of this strange system, even those who teach geography and related subjects in our schools. It would be a fascinating addition to the curriculum, and with an added relevance because of current interest in tidal power generation. Thus this too is a book of current and ongoing interest.

In 2009 and 2010 I found myself researching New Zealanders in the Boer War in South Africa, leading firstly to "Karori and the Boer War", and then to three smaller books of "Soldiers' Tales", stories about dozens of men who fought in that war, often at great cost to themselves. These books are a unique addition to Boer War literature and also, because of new access to primary material, reveal much that is incorrect in previous publications. These books are among many other recent works that are revealing more of the personal stories of soldiers in early wars.

Further research into the Karori district has led to another book "People of Karori and district", an attempt to identify and describe as many people as possible who had a presence in Karori, Makara or Ohariu at any time in the 1800s.

All these books are dealt with in detail in separate sections of these web pages, including details of purchase. It can be pointed out here that my books are all sold on the basis of covering costs with minimal margins. They have been written because of personal interest and certainly not as a source of income.

There are also two minor books, one on an index of East Anglian names (of interest to family history researchers) and a history of the bowling club in Wellington, New Zealand, to which I belong. In addition to these various books, I have made indexes over the years to a substantial number of books of genealogical interest, many of which I have on my bookshelves, and I note in this web page the names of most of those books. They are not books that I can supply but I am very happy to receive any enquiries from family history researchers who may be looking for information. Also, unpublished, I have a draft of a third book in the Comedy of Errors series, and I would like at some time to make some of this genealogical material available as a CD. Finally, the writing of our extensive family history stories has suggested a new thought, that in this age when so much research is being done on the internet, putting some of our "loose ends" on this web site may perhaps result in a felicitous "hit" by another researcher and lead to a link between that research and our own. The chances may be small but many people "win big" in lotteries with vanishingly small probabilities. We welcome enquiries.



Please click one of the following links. Each will take you to the full information on one or more of the various books. From those locations you can then return to this home page.

Background to the Comedy of Errors books
Prices and purchasing for Comedy of Errors
Comedy (1998) - summary of contents
"Comedy Act 2" - summary of contents
"That's Shell . . . ?
She'll be right at last - a new history of Shell in New Zealand
The Rise and Fall of Cook Strait (NZ tidal patterns)
A Shellman's view of the 2007 centenary history of the Royal Dutch Shell Group
Stormy Petrol - history of Marsden Point and the coastal tanker operation
Boer War histories (and more research on Karori people)
Minor books, genealogical indexes, reference books, etc
How green is our valley - the illustrated story of the return of two weka to the Karori sanctuary valley
These names are in our family tree. Are they in yours as well? If so, could we be linked? They may well have descendants that we are unaware of.
A brief bibliography