Friday, 22 July 2016

Book Review: Pickles and Coleborne (eds), "New Zealand's Empire"

Katie Pickles, Catharine Coleborne, eds. New Zealand's Empire. Studies in Imperialism Series. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015. 288 pp. $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7190-9153-7.
Reviewed by Vincent O'Malley (HistoryWorks)
Published on H-Empire (July, 2016)
Commissioned by Charles V. Reed

Imperial Aotearoa
This collection of essays, published as part of Manchester University Press’s long-running and influential Studies in Imperialism series, sets out to challenge the notion of New Zealand as a periphery of empire. Exposing the country’s own imperial ambitions, both internal and external, the book examines New Zealand’s place within the British Empire. Despite its formal status as a colony until 1907 (and its belated adoption, in 1947, of the Statute of Westminster granting full independence), New Zealand was also a minor (sub-)imperial power in its own right, its administration of various Pacific islands and territories so inept that many islanders pleaded in vain for Britain to assume direct rule.

Building on recent analyses, such as Felicity Barnes’s work New Zealand’s London: A Colony and Its Metropolis (2012), editors Katie Pickles and Catharine Coleborne argue that attachment to empire was a distinctive element in the forging of a national identity. That stands in marked contrast to Australia, where assertions of independence from the “mother country” loomed larger in the emerging national narrative. For many white New Zealanders at least, co-ownership of the empire was a vital part of their self-image through the first half of the twentieth century as (in James Belich’s words) “better Britons.”[1]

Pickles and Coleborne divide the work into four parts. The first, “Empire at Home,” examines internal empire, which in practical terms meant the colonization and conquest of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand. Like the remaining sections of the book, there is no attempt to provide any kind of overview of this topic, with each essay author apparently given free rein to write on their preferred aspect of this theme. The results can be both idiosyncratic and illuminating.

Kenton Storey’s chapter examines the government-funded bilingual newspaper Te Karere Maori (The Maori Messenger), a vitally important propaganda weapon at a time (1855-60) when remarkably high literacy rates within Māori communities, combined with the oral transmission of its contents, gave the publication a wide reach. Revealingly, he notes that the paper’s circulation was doubled by the Native Department in 1860—precisely at the point when the Taranaki War (1860-61) saw British troops clash with Māori for the first time since the 1840s.

Mark Stocker tells the story of a carved wooden bust of Queen Victoria presented to the Te Arawa iwi (tribe) in the 1880s, and its subsequent appropriation by them as a symbol of indigenous loyalty (to the monarch but not necessarily her colonial governments). By the late twentieth century, that stance contained its own tensions as loyalty became conflated with collaboration, and this uneasiness manifested itself in the 1995 theft of the bust from its pedestal on the grounds of Papa-i-Ouru marae (tribal meeting place), close to central Rotorua. Although subsequently returned, the bust is now only brought out on special occasions, including the Duke of York’s 2007 visit to the marae. In this chapter especially, but at times elsewhere throughout the work, a glossary of Māori terms would have been particularly helpful for non-New Zealand readers.

Conal McCarthy’s chapter describes the pivotal role of Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) and Apirana Ngata—both members of what came to be known as the Young Māori Party and successful politicians in their own right—in ethnographic fieldwork in New Zealand and across the Pacific. He argues that, in collusion with their European colleagues, these Māori scholars (Buck went on to become director of the Bishop Museum) “invented anthropology in New Zealand, employing it to advance their position”—one that was based neither on unqualified acceptance of assimilation or resistance to it but rather a more elaborate “dance of agency” (p. 56).

Part 2 (“Imperial Mobility”) traverses the trans-Tasman world, including Anna Johnston’s exploration of imperial travel writing across the Australasian colonies. In Australia, she notes, Aborigines often went unnoticed, whereas Māori (who had forged their own lucrative tourist trade) were almost impossible to ignore. There were other differences, including travelers’ perceptions of the “boastfulness” and “self-glorification” of white Australians (p. 83), as opposed to the more loyal and respectable New Zealand colonists. Coleborne explores vagrancy laws within a trans-Tasman context (noting that under New Zealand legislation passed in 1866 anyone found to be consorting with Māori could be deemed a vagrant), while Molly Duggins turns to the botanical, considering the luxury bespoke “portable nurseries” that were fern albums (p. 106).

In part 3 (“New Zealand’s Pacific Empire”), the book explores more conventional forms of empire and imperialism through New Zealand’s engagement with its Pacific neighbors and related aspects. Patricia O’Brien examines the troubled history of New Zealand’s administration of Samoa (so bad that in 2002 Prime Minister Helen Clark issued a formal apology to the people of Samoa). In 1918, New Zealand authorities allowed a ship carrying the influenza virus to dock at Apia, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 percent of Samoa’s population. Then, in 1929, New Zealand police opened fire on a crowd of nonviolent Mau movement protesters who were marching through Apia, killing as many as eleven Samoans in what became known as Black Saturday. As O’Brien notes, the Mau protestors modelled their movement on New Zealand’s indigenous pacifist resistance movement at Parihaka and there were other interesting parallels (not least in the familiar accusation that scheming Europeans were behind the Samoans’ “imaginary” grievances).

Frances Steel’s focus is on the soft power imperialism of tourism and its links with trade and commerce, more especially through the New Zealand-owned Union Steam Ship Company. Adrian Muckle examines French perceptions of New Zealand’s role in the Pacific. He notes that New Zealand’s decolonization proposals in the wake of World War II troubled French officials concerned about a possible domino effect throughout the francophone Pacific. The war brought as many as two million Americans to the Pacific, more than doubling the population on some islands and leaving behind a lasting legacy in the many thousands of babies of indigenous women fathered by Americans. As Judith Bennett comments in her chapter on this topic, although fraternization was generally encouraged as a way of relieving boredom, mixed marriages were forbidden by American authorities unless the mothers could be proven to have at least 51 percent “white blood.”

The final section of the book (“Inside and Outside Empire”) considers internal and external perceptions of New Zealand from the twentieth century to today. Michael Dawson charts an evolving national identity through the three Empire/Commonwealth Games staged in New Zealand (in 1950, 1974, and 1990—the latter coinciding with the sesquicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi). Rosemary Baird and Philippa Mein Smith argue the case for Australia as New Zealand’s “western frontier” (or “west island”), highlighting the entangled histories of the two nations through an oral history of recent migrants across the Tasman. Pickles turns south, outlining the important place of Antarctica in national identity. As Pickles argues, not only did New Zealand offer a gateway to the continent, but its exploration also provided an outlet for an “increasingly separate imperialist mentality” in which Antarctica came to form part of New Zealand’s empire (p. 232).

In the last chapter, Giselle Byrnes examines apology, remorse, and reconciliation in more recent times. While the apology to Samoans is mentioned, along with another to the Chinese for a poll tax imposed on migrants from that country after 1881, her primary focus is the process of delivering redress to Māori for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. As Byrnes notes, in New Zealand this is referred to not as a form of reconciliation but instead “settlement,” implying closure and finality in preference to anything more ambiguous (and less finite). Although Byrnes does not mention it, across the Tasman large numbers of white Australians spontaneously said “sorry” to the Aboriginal peoples. In New Zealand, the expectation is that everything is left to “the Crown.”[2] New Zealand may be ahead of the game when it comes to settlement. But bigger questions about reconciliation and future relationships may still lie ahead.

New Zealand’s Empire is hardly the final word on the nation’s imperial entanglements, whether internal or external, but neither does it purport to provide that. While it does not offer a comprehensive introduction to the topic, the book rewards its readers with a series of original, varied, and sometimes intriguing essays into particular dimensions. Read alongside other recent works, the book complicates and challenges older stereotypes of New Zealand as a simple outpost of empire. In doing so, the editors succeed in their stated aim of opening up discussion as to how New Zealand’s own empire might be conceived.

[1]. James Belich, Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000 (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2001), 76-85.
[2]. Danielle Celermajer and Joanna Kidman, “Embedding the Apology in the Nation’s Identity,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 121 (2013): 219-242.

Printable Version:
Citation: Vincent O'Malley. Review of Pickles, Katie; Coleborne, Catharine, eds., New Zealand's Empire. H-Empire, H-Net Reviews. July, 2016.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000

My new history of the Waikato War, which draws its title from one of Wiremu Tamihana's several petitions to Parliament in the aftermath of the conflict, will be published by Bridget Williams Books in October. Visit the book's webpage for more details on the contents, and events connected with the work (or to make preorders), as the publication date draws nearer. 

No te taenga ki te kohuru i Rangiaohia, katahi au ka mohio he tino pakanga nui tenei, no Niu Tireni

When it came to the (time of the) murder at Rangiaohia, then I knew, for the first time, that this was a great war for New Zealand
Wiremu Tamihana (1865)

A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863–64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840.

Spanning nearly two centuries from first contact through to settlement and apology, ​Vincent ​O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath. Based on many years of research and illustrated throughout, The Great War for New Zealand is a groundbreaking book written in the conviction that a nation needs to own its history.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates Online

Although important sources of New Zealand historical information such as the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, newspapers, British Parliamentary Papers and other items have been available online for some time, until recently there was at least one important omission, New Zealand Parliamentary Debates.

I was pleasantly surprised to recently learn, via a Twitter announcement from Dr André
Brett (who was instrumental in the move), that the NZPDs for 1854 to 1968 have recently been scanned and are now available to view through the Hathi Trust digital library. See the catalogue entry for them here.

A fully searchable version on a New Zealand platform, such as the National Library website or DigitalNZ is the obvious next step (DigitalNZ link to the Hathi Trust holding of NZPDs on their own website). But for now this is a very welcome development in making important primary sources more accessible to a wider audience.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Gate Pā and the Māori Rules of War

The New Zealand Wars fought between 1860 and 1872 were a time of acute tension and conflict in the nation’s history. But the wars were not without genuine examples of mutual respect among the contending Māori and British troops, along with occasional acts of great compassion and kindness towards enemy fighters.

In the Tauranga district a remarkable document that bore some striking similarities with the First Geneva Convention signed months later in Switzerland also emerged during this period. In January 1864 several hundred British troops landed at Tauranga in response to reports that local iwi were providing support to Waikato Māori who had been under attack since July 1863.

It soon became apparent that the war was almost certain to spread to Tauranga. Local chiefs accordingly issued a series of challenges to the British, in accordance with Māori beliefs that fighting should be conducted in an open, honourable and brave manner.

Along with these invitations to fight came a letter setting out the laws that would be respected in any clash. Sent to the commanding officer of the British troops at the end of March, it set out that wounded soldiers would be spared so long as they made it clear they no longer wished to fight and that those who surrendered would also be saved. Civilians, including all Pākehā women and children, would not be harmed.

Henare Taratoa, by Horatio Gordon Robley (A-033-011, ATL)

These rules were drafted by Henare Wiremu Taratoa, a young lay reader in the Anglican Church who had been educated at St John’s College in Auckland. Taratoa had spent time at the Otaki mission station before returning to Tauranga when war seemed likely.

British troops did not know quite what to make of Taratoa’s rules, but they were closely adhered to by Māori when fighting occurred at Gate Pā (Pukehinahina) on 29 April 1864. Although the British suffered a heavy defeat, including many killed, wounded soldiers were unharmed. 

Heni Te Kiri Karamu (1/2-041822-G, ATL)
Heni Te Kiri Karamu, also known as Heni Pore (Jane Folely), risked death in order to take water to one of the British officers who lay dying inside one of the trenches. This gesture was later immortalised in a famous memorial at the Tauranga Mission Cemetery. It depicts senior chief Rawiri Puhirake’s command to honour the rules of fighting agreed by Tauranga Māori, while in the background water is carried towards the wounded soldier. (Some versions have it that Henare Taratoa or a man named Te Ipu was responsible for taking water to the officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Booth. It seems likely that several similar acts of this nature were shown towards British soldiers wounded at Gate Pā).  

Marble Freize on the Memorial to Rawiri Puhirake, Tauranga Mission Cemetery (Tauranga City Libraries)
Henare Taratoa was killed when British troops clashed for a second time with the Tauranga tribes and their allies at Te Ranga on 21 June 1864, resulting in over 100 Maori casualties. A copy of the rules of warfare he had drafted was found on his body, headed by a Biblical quotation – ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink’ (Romans 12:20).

The example set by Tauranga Māori came to be widely admired and celebrated over time, helping to challenge earlier stereotypes of Māori as ‘uncivilised’ or barbaric. Instead, Gate Pā and the rules of warfare drafted by Henare Taratoa became a byword for chivalrous and dignified conduct at a time of great destruction and damage.

[First published as ‘Maori Rules of War at Gate Pa’, Wars, Laws and Humanity: New Zealand’s Engagement with International Humanitarian Law, New Zealand Red Cross, Wellington, 2015, pp.4-5]

Monday, 7 March 2016

Waitangi Tribunal 40th Anniversary, 1975-2015

The Waitangi Tribunal has released a special edition of its Te Manutukutuku newsletter marking the 40th anniversary of the Tribunal’s founding in 1975.

The special edition features articles and interviews from thirty current and former participants in the Waitangi Tribunal’s process, including Tribunal members, iwi leaders, historians and lawyers.

Contributors include former chairperson Sir Edward Taihukurei Durie, former chairperson Justice Joe Williams, the Minister of Māori Development the Honourable Te Ururoa Flavell, former Māori Party co-leader the Honourable Dame Tariana Turia, former chairperson of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board Sir Tipene O’Regan, and lawyer Annette Sykes.

Justice Joe Williams (left) and Sir Edward Taihukurei Durie (source:

I was also asked to contribute and noted as part of my piece the importance of ensuring that the research commissioned for the Tribunal process is made accessible to iwi and the wider public. While the Tribunal's own reports eventually end up on its website, the thousand or more research reports commissioned by the claimants, Crown and Tribunal over the past few decades are usually much harder to access for those outside the claims process.

It is time, I suggested, to give consideration to how these might be made more freely available, perhaps with an online digital repository backed up by hard copies at a suitable institution like the National Library.

The special edition also includes a feature article from Tribunal member Dr Ann Parsonson on the history of the Waitangi Tribunal.

Current chairperson Chief Judge Wilson Isaac writes in his introduction: ‘As the Tribunal moves towards completing its inquiries into historical claims and addressing kaupapa (thematic) and contemporary claims, this edition of Te Manutukutuku highlights the contribution the Tribunal has made towards restoring and sustaining the Treaty-based relationship between Māori and the Crown.’

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Waitangi Rua Rautau Lectures 2016

I was recently one of a number of speakers at the Waitangi Rua Rautau Lectures for 2016, held at Victoria University of Wellington's Te Herenga Waka Marae. After the first address from Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick discussing the council's recent partnership agreement with Te Arawa, the second part of proceedings focused in particular on the role of historians in the Waitangi Tribunal process.

My own talk was a tribute to the late Professor Alan Ward, who passed away in December 2014. As I noted, I first met Alan in 1993, when I came to Wellington from Christchurch on a three-month contract to research claims for the Crown-Congress Joint Working Party, where Alan was the chief historian. Within six months of that, the CCJWP was defunct, but more than two decades later I'm still here doing more or less the same thing. And although there were times after that when we had less to do with one another, Alan and I worked closely together again on his final major publication, jointly revising and reworking Judith Binney's draft chapters for Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History.

The main part of my talk examined Alan's A Show of Justice: Racial 'Amalgamation' in Nineteenth Century New Zealand, a monumental work of scholarship and (as I noted in my talk) still more than four decades later a kind of Bible for Treaty researchers. Although I was already very familiar with it, I had an opportunity to consider the book in more depth when I was asked to contribute a chapter to Texts and Contexts: Reflections in Pacific Islands Historiography, edited by Doug Munro and Brij V. Lal and published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 2006.  The two seminal texts in New Zealand history I was invited to consider were A Show of Justice and Keith Sinclair's Origins of the Maori Wars, first published in 1957.

The lectures were recorded by Radio New Zealand. You can listen to what I had to say here (my contribution starts around 40 minutes in). Judge Caren Fox, Shonagh Kenderdine, Professor Michael Belgrave and Sir Edward Durie are also featured in the recording.