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  • Re-membering Tasman Lives1
  • Helen Bones and Karen Fox

FOR MANY YEARS, the missionary Samuel Marsden was generally revered as a founding figure in New Zealand and reviled as ‘the flogging parson’ in Australia. The case is not quite so clear today, as a New Zealand historiography that is largely unsympathetic to both his imperial role and his missionary aims has come increasingly to treat him with either criticism or indifference.2 Nevertheless, this divergent view shapes his representation in both countries’ national biographical dictionaries. The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) sums up his reputation as follows: ‘Posterity has tended to judge him adversely on three counts: illiberality towards the emancipists, cruelty as a magistrate and undue materialism.’3 The New Zealand equivalent summing up is more forgiving, describing him as ‘much misunderstood in his generation and just as often misrepresented’.4 While the two accounts each refer to the alternative interpretation of the other, neither is fully able to — as Andrew Sharp set out to do in his magisterial biography — ‘capture Marsden’s antipodean concerns as a whole’.5 David Lambert and Alan Lester’s Colonial Lives Across the British Empire is premised on the idea that to truly understand the motivations and impact of particular individuals, one must take into account their whole careers, which in many cases involved a number of postings in different colonial contexts.6 National biographies, however, may impede this kind of holistic understanding because they are designed to focus on the significance of historical figures to a particular nation. Partial renderings of people’s lives can create conflicting views of the same person from different angles. Going beyond ‘bounded notions of place’, Lambert and Lester argue, allows historical subjects to be understood not just in terms of the way ‘their embodied presences in particular places [...] served to shape their identities or ideas but also how other places could be present with them’.7

As the Australasian colonies were neighbouring outposts of the British Empire, colonial careers frequently transcended the eventual national constructions of ‘Australia’ and ‘New Zealand’. Prior to 1841, parts of the New Zealand colony were governed from New South Wales, and even after it became a separate colony that year ties remained close. In the late nineteenth century New Zealand considered joining a proposed federation of Australasian colonies, and New Zealand officials travelled to Australia to discuss the matter in the 1890s.8 Post-Australian Federation, when [End Page 67] New Zealand could no longer be so easily lumped in with the ‘Australian colonies’, the interconnected ‘Tasman world’ did not die away as James Belich has suggested, but was in fact strengthened through continuing ties of commerce, migration and cultural pursuits.9 Thus, while ‘Australasia’ as a geographical entity ‘was dismembered’ after Australia federated without New Zealand, regional ties survived and ‘need to be re-membered as well as recalled’, as Donald Denoon has argued.10 Although Trans-Tasman migration has been constant, the direction of the majority flow has altered over time. Before the 1960s, ‘more people moved from Australia to New Zealand than vice versa’; the opposite has been the case in most of the time since.11 Such shifts in migration patterns notwithstanding, the salient point for the purposes of this paper is that a significant number of people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had strong connections to both countries, because they had careers that spanned the Tasman world or spent considerable time on both sides of the ‘ditch’. There are 70 people who made sufficiently significant contributions to both countries to appear in both the ADB and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB).12 No doubt there are also others whose lives have yet to be included, since both of these publications are limited to considering those who have died and — in the case of the DNZB — mostly those who flourished before the 1960s.13 Still more may have had such Australasian lives and careers but have been overlooked for inclusion, or been featured in only one of these publications.

Dictionaries of national biography arose in Europe in the seventeenth century and flourished in the nineteenth, a period of emerging nationalism and nation building...


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