Blog Archives

Chalk and cheese William Brandt

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth-century New Zealand
David Hastings
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781869408374

The Scene of the Crime: Twelve Extraordinary True Stories of Crime and Punishment
Steve Braunias
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775540830

Tourism has certainly come a long way. When in 1878 Mary Dobie made the trip from England to New Zealand, travelling in the company of sister Bertha (has that name ever been fashionable?) and mother Ellen, it took her three months. Not surprisingly after such a big investment of time and effort, the women planned a stay of three years – time to attend the wedding of émigré brother Herbert and still fit in a tour of the North Island, taking in, among other places, the fabled Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana. In special travel outfits of their own design (“a stout dungaree petticoat and a loose blouse bodice of thin cotton stuff”), the intrepid trio even visited Fiji and Samoa. “No white woman had ever been there,” journalled Bertha, with some pride, of a caving expedition to the Yasawa Islands.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review and Sociology

Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Making women visible, Katie Pickles

A History of New Zealand Women
Barbara Brookes
Bridget Williams Books, $70.00,
ISBN 9780908321452

Locating women in history is difficult. New Zealand women are present through the occasional mention in books, official records and newspaper stories but, because they were not considered the stuff of proper historical knowledge, capturing their substance poses many challenges. Their lives, work and thoughts were deemed of secondary importance to men’s, with only a few famous women being known by name. Women’s many and varied contributions were underplayed at the time and through the years, with significant traces of them only remaining in oral traditions passed down through the generations.

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Posted in Gender, History, Non-fiction and Review

Tales from the colonial crypt, Jock Phillips

Unearthly Landscapes: New Zealand’s Early Cemeteries, Churchyards and Urupa¯ 
Stephen Deed
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322185

A confession: I am a cemetery buff. On arriving at any New Zealand settlement, it is not long before I find the local burial ground and spend an hour or so walking slowly along the lines of headstones perusing and reading every one. This is not some ghoulish addiction. It is because there is no quicker or more intense way to encounter our history. You learn intriguing personal stories, you confront tragic drownings or the loss of infants in epidemics. Unusual family relationships are suggested which leave you yearning to know more; and you wonder at the moral values inscribed in stone in tributes to leading citizens. The design of headstones offers insights into architectural history and bears a fascinating relationship to domestic styles. Cemeteries are beautiful, peculiarly peaceful places.

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Posted in History and Non-fiction

The thing-ness of history, Cherie Lacey

The Lives of Colonial Objects Annabel Cooper, Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla (eds) Otago University Press, $50.00, ISBN 9781927322024 The Lives of Colonial Objects seeks to tell the history, or rather a number of histories, of New Zealand’s colonial past

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Māori and Crown relationships  Rewa Morgan

Kūpapa – The Bitter Legacy of Māori Alliances with the Crown  Ron Crosby Penguin Random House, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573111 Recently, we as a nation have experienced more commemoration and public history about New Zealand’s military history than ever before. We

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

“The messy abundance”, Lydia Wevers

Entanglements of Empire: Missionaries, Māori, and the Question of the Body   Tony Ballantyne Auckland University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781869408268 Tony Ballantyne is famous throughout the world of imperial and colonial history for his invention of the very useful term

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

A shadowy part of the country’s history, Paul Moon

From Alba to Aotearoa: Profiling New Zealand’s Scots Migrants 1840-1920 Rebecca Lenihan Otago University Press, $45.00, ISBN 9781877578793 Migration, Ethnicity, and Madness: New Zealand, 1860-1910 Angela McCarthy Otago University Press, $45.00, ISBN 9781927322000 The 12th century; 1642; 1769. These are

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

The colony’s resident expert of choice, Simon Upton

James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader
Simon Nathan
Geoscience Society of New Zealand, $45.00
ISBN 9781877480461

Simon Nathan’s biography of Sir James Hector fills a major gap in the nation’s historical bibliography. The reasons why the gap remained unfilled for over a century following Hector’s death are worth pondering. A cursory glance through Nathan’s bibliography reveals full length biographies of several of Hector’s scientific contemporaries, McKay, Haast, Buller, Davis and Murchison among them. But Hector’s life, despite his towering public stature in the development of 19th-century New Zealand, remained confined to an MA thesis in 1936 and a more recent doctoral thesis devoted to his early life.

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Posted in Biography, History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Science

The thinking man’s cartoonist, Dylan Horrocks

Brockie: A Memoir in Words, Cartoons and Sketches
Bob Brockie
New Zealand Cartoon Archive/Fraser Books, $39.50
ISBN 9780958232074

David Lange called Brockie “the thinking man’s cartoonist”. Which is pretty nice of Lange, considering that Brockie had drawn him on various occasions being pissed on by a giant bulldog, with his head cut off, naked and (very frequently) in drag. Mind you, Lange was far from alone. Robert Muldoon, Jim Bolger, Colin Meads, Kim Dotcom and even Keith Holyoake have all, at various times, been stripped and humiliated by Brockie’s pen, which has been scratching away at public reputations for more than 50 years.

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Posted in Art, History, Memoir, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review
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