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Reviewed by:
  • Old New Zealand and other writings
  • Michael P. J. Reilly
Old New Zealand and other writings. By F.E. Manning. Edited by Alex Calder. London: Leicester University Press, 2001.

Old New Zealand and the other writings by F. E. Maning (1811–1883) describe the early colonial period in Aotearoa New Zealand, where Maori still outnumbered Pakeha settlers and exercised their traditional autonomy, while managing their interactions first with individual settlers such as Maning, and subsequently, the early colonial administration. The editor, Alex Calder, has brought together Maning’s two major works, History of the War in the North of New Zealand and his Old New Zealand, together with a selection of unpublished papers, notably excerpts from Maning’s letters as well as his paper on ‘The Native Question’. This last selection gives an insight into particular incidents in his published works and Maning’s attitudes to Maori around the time he wrote his books. Overall, Calder presents us with sensibly edited texts, and helpful explanatory notes on cultural and historical references for the reader.

According to Calder, the History was begun in 1845 not long after the war it describes was concluded, with final additions included in the early 1860s, shortly before first publication in 1862. Old New Zealand followed in 1863. As Calder points out, while the works describe an earlier period ending in the mid-1840s, they were written or revised in the context of the series of increasingly bitter wars fought between Maori and the Imperial Government. Like other settlers, Maning believed that English hegemony had to be successfully asserted over Maori autonomy, by force if necessary.

The History is retold from the perspective of a Maori chief aligned with the colonial authorities in their fight against Hone Heke and his ally Kawiti, who contested the British Crown’s control of the land and autonomy of Maori chiefs and their people a few years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Such an alliance with the Crown was not unusual, reflecting chiefly calculations based both on traditional intertribal animosities and a realistic political appraisal of which side would be the more likely winner. Maning himself called it a ‘little tale’ and an ‘imperfect sketch’ (18). Calder notes that it is based on Maning’s own eyewitness accounts as well as information obtained from Maori participants. In effect it is an interpretation, from a partial but well-informed participant-observer. As Calder concludes, ‘Maning’s version . . . though tendentious, though biased, is not only more insightful as history than the dozens of less varnished accounts, it may also be regarded as the first work of lasting literary value published in New Zealand’ (5).

Old New Zealand is a more ambitious work altogether, presented as a factual record of the author’s early life as a settler amongst a larger Maori community in the Hokianga, but always slyly slipping out of the purely biographical, ethnographic or historical form of narration. In effect, it becomes a yarn, based on actual experiences, but enlarged upon with each subsequent retelling. Calder goes further and considers it ‘a satire most of all, in which individuals appear as examples and events illustrate generalities’ (3). In its presentation of Maning’s relations with Maori as much is not said as stated, but overall the slippery narrative captures the ambivalences that many settlers such as Maning experienced, but which Maning represents better than others in prose. Here we begin to appreciate the strange love-hate relationship between Maori and Pakeha in early colonial New Zealand society with its mutual identifications, antipathies and misunderstandings running all together; a relationship repeated in later periods between members of each group. At the end of Old New Zealand Maning himself refers to this ambivalent state, declaring: ‘I feel ... as if I was two different persons at the same time. Sometimes I find myself thinking on the Maori side, and then just afterwards wondering if ‘we’ can lick the Maori ... ’ (198).

For Calder, this kind of remark is most telling, suggesting a better way to read Maning’s work today. Rather than accept it as history or ethnography in the strict sense of those terms - a fault previous scholars...

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