3. James Cowan and the Frontiers of New Zealand History
3. James Cowan and the Frontiers of New Zealand History
The need to remember was a recurrent theme of James Cowan's writing as well as local history. Like local historians, Cowan exhorted his readers to keep alive memories of a noble past. Reminiscences were the major primary source of Cowan's histories, and his works often described the act of reminiscing. In Tales of the Maori Coast, Cowan described a visit he made to Maketu in the Bay of Plenty. The village reeked of history, with its tangled vines, its old tombs, and its carvings from an age when 'the Maori wood-carving art was … in its glory'. One Sunday, Cowan went to explore 'the tangled old churchyard'. Everything he saw there was 'antique-looking'. An elderly Arawa parson rang the churchbell, and then 'he sat down with me, and we talked of old Maketu, and inevitably about fishing'. Thus began an idyll about the good old times when there were more fish. Sitting on the bank, the parson and Cowan drifted away into drowsiness and reverie about the past, forgetting that one of them was due to give a sermon at any minute.1
The portrait of the old minister at Maketu touches on several important aspects of Cowan's work that I wish to discuss in this chapter. One of these is his attitude to New Zealand's past. Though there were some similarities between Cowan's depiction of elderly Maori and those of his friend C. F. Goldie,2 Cowan's position was more ambiguous: the parson is both a relic and a companion, a part of a very different past that stretches into the present. Moreover, Cowan sometimes wrote about 'heroic' Pakeha in the same terms. 'Gilbert Mair,' Cowan wrote in 1923, 'is of a page 38type that never more will be seen in New Zealand, for the conditions that produced and developed his peculiar fancies and the [course] of his life's work are vanished for ever.'3 Cowan persistently noted that the immense changes New Zealand underwent in the nineteenth century were still within the memories of those living in the first decades of the twentieth. The speed of such transformations, he wrote,
excites wonder among all who give a thought to our history…. We who are not yet old have seen blockhouses and redoubts …. Many a white veteran and many a Maori can still tell of battle adventures, of stormings and defences, of daring scouts and man-huntings, in country that is now disturbed by nothing more alarming than the railway engine's whistle or the motor horn of the well-off dairy farmer.4
Although this history was recent, it was not secure. Cowan blamed some of this on popular apathy.5 Those who had lived through New Zealand's 'pioneering period' were dying unrecorded. For Cowan, who believed that personal memories rather than official documents gave 'the real meat of history',6 the death of the participants meant the death of the history. Therefore, like local historians and ethnologists, Cowan devoted himself to collecting stories about the recent past for the sake of the future. These concerns of collection and preservation were the main ground on which Cowan and his supporters managed to talk the wartime government into commissioning his history of the New Zealand Wars.7
Why did these stories need to be preserved? One reason, which I will discuss later, is that the events of the nineteenth century created responsibilities for Pakeha in the twentieth. Another was that '[patriotism flourishes best upon the soil of history',8 and, for Cowan, New Zealand history was fertile ground. It abounded with whathe called 'frontier tales'—Wild West stories of danger, courage and page 39chivalry. It also offered more peaceful intercultural encounters, the heroic story of 'breaking in the land', Maori mythology, and the wonder of natural abundance.
The aim of this chapter is to examine how Cowan told his stories about this rich past. The focus is on some of the other matters raised by the image of the minister in the churchyard in Maketu: the issues of narration and the roles of Maori people in the stories Cowan told.9 Maori have a much bigger part in Cowan's work than in local histories or indeed any other historical works of the interwar period. Cowan's pioneers were not just farmers but also 'frontiersmen'.10 He was interested in the frontier between Maori and Pakeha. I will look first at Cowan's methods as a historian, and the style in which he wrote. I will then examine the narrative structures he employed, and consider his general narrative of New Zealand history and race relations. After that I will move on to the relations between Cowan's texts and their various contexts. Cowan's work was a syncretism of a wide range of contexts. Sometimes he managed to tame the differing voices in the contexts informing his work, and sometimes he failed. The tensions in Cowan's syncretism become most apparent in his Centennial volume Settlers and Pioneers, and I shall conclude with a discussion of that book.
Cowan wrote about New Zealand's raw, colourful past in a style that fitted together so neatly with his methods as a historian that it is impossible to say which 'caused' the other. The two key features of his method were his use of oral history and his love of stories and anecdotes. Cowan constantly collected stories. Some were sent to him,11 others he elicited from the mariners, veterans and old settlers whom he met in his travels around the country. Upon hearing a new story, he would transcribe it, publish it in a newspaper and later recycle it in a book. Cowan's papers in the Alexander Turnbull Library abound with newspaper cuttings of his work that have been glued onto blank paper, with their background material crossed out and a chapter heading attached. Scarcely edited, these newspaper stories would appear in a subsequent book.12 Cowan's books on Kimble Bent and Hans Tapsell began their page 40lives serialised in newspapers. While Cowan was working on Settlers and Pioneers, Oliver Duff, then editor of the Centennial publications, told Cowan that he hoped that none of the anecdotes to be used in the book would appear in newspapers beforehand.13 Fifteen years earlier, Cowan had felt stung when a clerk in the Department of Internal Affairs rejected his request for further payment for personal losses incurred during the editing of the wars book. The clerk told him that while working on the war history at government expense, Cowan had had the opportunity for collecting material for future books. Cowan's response was not to deny the charge, but to assert that this bonus was 'more than offset by the fact that this History is not merely the product of the short period I was under Government engagement on contract; it embodies the result of many years' work, practically a life-time of note-gathering on the subject'.14
Cowan got most of the 'real meat' of his histories from oral sources and their near analogue, diaries and reminiscences. While he did not rely solely on oral sources, he privileged them over official documents, and even over written memoirs. On numerous occasions he rejected written accounts as inaccurate in the light of oral accounts. More surprisingly, though, he sometimes rejected Pakeha texts in the light of Maori oral accounts,15 or declared that a Maori oral testimony was more accurate than European ones.16 On occasions where his sources were hopelessly contradictory, he simply juxtaposed the conflicting testimonies.17
Buick and most local historians saw value in oral sources, but other historians did not, and at times they crossed swords with Cowan. One of these was the Wellington historian and bibliophile Horace Fildes. He and Cowan had a spirited argument over oral sources and the history of Gate Pa. Cowan appealed to the personal directness of his sources: 'My information came from those who fought in the battle.' Fildes disputed the worth of testimonies given 'about 45 years after Gate Pa'.18 Neither Fildes nor Cowan budged. Fildes insisted that the mere dust of 'contemporary record' was 'worth 1 oz troy of Reminiscence', and Cowan defiantly asserted the superiority of his oral sources over 'hearsay talk garbled in the page 41newspapers of the day & in books such as [J. E.] Alexander's & repeated by one pseudo-historian after another after another as in our school histories & mission chronicles'.19
Two years after this argument, S. Barton Babbage, who had just completed an MA at Auckland University College, dismissed Cowan's account of the battle of Moutoa as unfounded. In place of Cowan's claims, Babbage offered only one piece of 'hard evidence': 'A certain amount of information is given on the inscription on the monument erected on Pukename Hill in Wanganui, which I have seen. The inscription reads: "To the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa, 14th May, 1864, in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism."'20 Cowan took the criticism as an assault on his oral history work altogether, and declared, 'My best authorities are—or were, "human documents", not other people's books.'21
Cowan's interview notes are written up as narratives rather than as question-and-answer sessions. This makes it difficult to explore the dialogics of his interviewing practice. However, some mundane points can be made. Cowan was bilingual and claimed some affinity with Maori people. Though his texts are strewn with racist comments, Cowan had sufficient familiarity with and respect for Maori people for his large numbers of Maori informants to trust him enough to share their stories with him.22 Sometimes, this trust came with time. For instance, when Cowan first talked to Peita Kotuku, he 'gave, with a little hesitation, something of his life history'. Some years later, when Cowan spoke to him again, Kotuku 'very frankly narrated his remarkable war-trail adventures, and answered many questions'.23 Kaumatua would take Cowan to old battle sites, which were often unmarked, and tell him how things had been at the time of the battle.24
Cowan's methods as an oral historian carried over into his texts, many of which read like analogues of the masculine yarns that flourished in frontier New Zealand.25Cowan's penchant for the immediate and the personal led him, like local historians, to tell many of his stories by direct quotation, rather than by means of a synthetic narrative written in an indirect style. Instead of breaking up his source-page 42material Cowan strung together large chunks of eye-witness' testimonies, with bridging paragraphs of his own. Anecdotes or brief adventures were the building blocks of Cowan's works. In the short-story genre, this kind of structure was common: a large number of New Zealand and Australian stories took the form of a single narrative or anecdote, often using direct speech with an authorial frame explaining how the author came to hear the story now being relayed to the reader.26 What is unusual about Cowan is that he used the anecdote or 'adventure' format even in his most serious historical works.
'Adventure' dominates Cowan's narrative structures to the point where it becomes a kind of literary commodity independent of character. Cowan's stories give virtually no sustained sense of the personalities of their protagonists. The main characters of The Adventures of Kimble Bent and A Trader in Cannibal Land exist as locations of adventures rather than personae in their own right: Hans Tapsell and Kimble Bent matter because of the events they were caught up in, rather than for their personalities. There is a considerable irony in this. Ever keen to point out the human essence of history, in his own work Cowan did little justice to the personalities of the people he wrote about. This lack of what James Clifford calls the 'minimal narrative of identity' essential to biography makes The Adventures of Kimble Bent almost as diffuse as the story collections: the book is a collection of adventures which have some connection, often only a minimal one, with the titular hero.27
This narrative diffusion persists in The New Zealand Wars, even though that book was an official history and contained few of Cowan's usual declarations about how adventurous New Zealand's past was. Cowan's poetic of adventure continued to govern the structure of his writings even when stripped of some of its trappings. The book was organised more at the level of the chapter than as a whole. It had little overall structure, which hampered the thorough analysis of the interrelations between the different wars that the book was supposed to provide.28 Indeed, The New Zealand Wars was even more de-centred than Cowan's other books, because it was so compendious. As the writer of an official record, Cowan was obliged to chronicle every engagement of the wars, right down to the 1863 shoot-out at the Pukekohe East church stockade.29page 43
Nevertheless, Cowan's works were loosely bound together by an overall narrative, one which acted less as a structural unifier than as a criterion by which he chose which stories to tell. This general narrative told how New Zealand was made through racial interaction. Cowan was always keen to show that Maori and Pakeha were one people. In his ethnological writings, he sometimes endorsed the view that Maori were 'a branch, though a distant one, of the Caucasian race'.30 In his historical works, however, Cowan argued that Maori and Pakeha had become one people through a dialectical process of interaction. The New Zealand Wars were central to this process. The wars and the attendant period of settlement, he said, 'were the most vital period of [New Zealand's] national existence.'31 In Cowan's schema, the wars bred mutual respect: Maori and Pakeha came to admire each other's tenacity and chivalry, as enemies or as allies.32 Here Cowan diverged from his American influences, which treated racial war as a journey into a 'savage' underworld and back, a journey that was redemptive for the white participants only.33 Cowan's argument, in contrast, was summed up in a famous sentence in the first chapter of his war history: 'The wars ended with a strong mutual respect, tinged with a real affection, which would never have existed but for this ordeal by battle.'34
Cowan's story of New Zealand and the role of Maori in that story differed sharply from other contemporary or earlier Pakeha histories of New Zealand. Most historians writing at the same time as Cowan treated New Zealand history as a history of European endeavour, whether it be the pioneering of local history, or the establishment of British sovereignty that some academic works dealt with. In these histories, Maori were assistants, impediments, or 'environmental factors'. In generic terms, this narrative was a comedy. Cowan's racial-harmony-through-war plot was a tragicomedy: the tragic events of war generated a journey from which the protagonists emerge reconciled, and better people. In the settler histories of local historians, academic historians and most of the Centennial writers, Europeans were the actors and Maori were the props. In Cowan's story, not only were both Maori and Europeans actors, but both were also a grateful and inspired audience.
The Maori characters in Cowan's story were stereotypes, but no more so than the Pakeha ones. The conflict-driven nature of Cowan's plot meant that Maori do enter the narrative as forces in their own right. Cowan rejected the idea that Maori page 44defeat in the wars was inevitable,35 and to some extent he recognised Maori agency, autonomy and dynamism. However, his awareness of Maori innovation was largely confined to military technology, and did not extend to political and religious developments.36 Pai Marire was always 'fanaticism'. Cowan described its incantations and cannibalism in 'exotic' detail, but never gave any sense of why all this should inspire fanatic responses. However, even when he found Maori practices objectionable or unfathomable, he often admired the way Maori showed commitment to them. Cowan rejected the cliche that Maori were unable to adapt,37 but accepted its rosy cousin, the idea that they were committed and tenacious. Whether contemporary Maori retained this spirit or had gone 'soft' was something he could not decide.38
A curiosity with Cowan's work is how he managed to maintain his belief that the wars bred respectful race relations even after he had talked to a lot of veterans who had shot at one another years before. For plenty of the European troops, the wars bred contempt rather than respect.39 Part of the answer may lie with the people Cowan interviewed. Perhaps those who were bitter about the wars did not want to contribute to a project commemorating them. Cowan's informants seldom expressed bitterness or hatred against the people they fought—not just in his books, but in his interview notes as well. When his Pakeha informants abused their enemies, they tended at the same time to praise their kupapa allies.40 Both Maori and Pakeha informants come across as nostalgic and interested rather than angry. Cowan often introduced old enemies to each other for the first time, and they got on. Such intense enactments of Cowan's myth of racial harmony could only serve to convince him of its general applicability. Thus Cowan often seems to have reiterated the views of a certain kind of old veteran.
Cowan acted this way most of all for a small group of European veterans: Gilbert Mair, Thomas Porter and, to a lesser extent, G. A. Preece. Cowan quoted page 45these people again and again.41 Mair and Porter lobbied the government to commission his war history. Preece and Mair read the galley proofs of The New Zealand Wars and brought about many amendments.42 After their war service these men retained an involvement with Maori people, as resident magistrates, Native Land Court judges, or tourist guides. Porter married a Ngati Porou woman. It would be too much to say that they lived Cowan's myth, but their lives and their interests certainly made it an ideal. They wrote about their war experiences, dabbled in history-writing, and wrote articles and books which combined reminiscences with syrupy treatments of Maori mythology.43 Porter and Mair observed that one of the perks of being on the Native Land Court was the stories one got to collect.44 They were collectors of culture. Their values and even their phrasing percolated through Cowan's texts.45 The immediacy and intensity of Cowan's familiarity with them and their texts goes some way toward accounting for his race-relations myth.46
Cowan's informants constituted an important context of his work, but by no means the only one. Others included understandings of Pakeha masculinity, ideas associated with World War I, and American writing that ranged from Wild West pulp fiction to the historians Francis Parkman and Theodore Roosevelt. Rather than deal with these and other contexts one by one, I will discuss the interaction of some of them in Cowan's account of the 1845-6 War in the North. Cowan's treatment of this war can be seen as an encounter between his race-relations myth, ideas associated with World War I, and conflicting voices in his primary sources. The conflict in the sources is between the defence mechanisms of what James Belich calls 'the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict', and the evidence that those mechanisms attempt to brush aside.
Cowan began his account of the Northern War with a scene-setting chapter on 'Kororareka beach in the war-brewing "forties"',47 He acknowledged its 'all pervading flavour of licence and lawlessness' but deemed this state of affairs 'red-page 46blooded', not requiring self-righteous condemnation.48 The chapter was conscientiously picturesque. It shifted into the present tense and led the reader around on a tour: 'Follow the stores-buying captain or chief officer … into one of the weatherboard trading-houses, blue with strong tobacco smoke'; 'Now board one of those whaleships lying out yonder at an easy anchor'.49 Gibbons has written: 'Cowan's evocation of a concealed assault party and the unsuspecting defenders at Kororareka during the night before the early morning attack in March 1845 is probably inspired by Parkman's account of the attack on Deerfield'.50 The description of Kororareka itself recalls Parkman's chapter on Deerfield, which also took the reader through the layout of its village, and described what its inhabitants were 'no doubt' doing before the attack.51 Though his accounts of battle are spiced with statements about heroism and danger, Cowan's prose, unlike Parkman's, becomes much more mechanical in the battle-scenes.
Many people writing after the war and many contemporaries blamed British failings in the war on the British commanders, especially Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Despard. The assumption was that Maori would not be able to fight in a tactically and technologically credible way—that a British commander would have to be an idiot to fail. Cowan took notes on contemporary denunciations of Despard by settlers who got their news second-hand,52 and he was told by a nonagenarian veteran that Despard 'did not know his business'.53 Cowan himself portrays Despard as impatient and as reckless with his men's lives,54 but in Cowan's view, Despard's failings were not the most important factor in the war.
For Cowan the course of the war had more to do with the Maori tactics and fortifications than it did with Despard's competence. In public Despard complained about a lack of equipment at Ohaeawai; Cowan said that he would still have failed even if he had had such equipment.55 Cowan devotes considerable space to the construction and workings of the pa at Ohaeawai and Ruapekapeka.56 The commanding position of the pa, the strength of the outer fortifications, and the safety of the inner bunkers, explain the British defeat at Ohaeawai for Cowan. The page 47fall of Ruapekapeka comes about only by a surprise attack when the defenders are praying on a Sunday morning, and it is Ngapuhi scouts, not Despard's men, who are responsible for the victory. The main evidence upon which Cowan bases this account consists of contemporary British survey plans of the different pa,57 personal visits to the battle sites, and interviews and correspondence with elderly Maori and Pakeha veterans.58 He also drew upon Despard's description of Ruapekapeka to Governor George Grey and Despard's comment that '[t]he extraordinary defence of this place [Ruapekapeka], particularly in its interior defence, far exceeded any idea [that] could have been formed of it'.59
Cowan's treatment of the war in the North shows how unreliable it is to assume that historians in the past 'found what they were looking for'. With the evidence he had, Cowan could have written another account which would have fitted in with his overall story just as well. Cowan was certainly not above extravagant criticism of imperial commanders. He could have saved face for the British by scapegoating Despard. He could have lauded Ngapuhi enough by emphasising only their valour, without praising their 'soldierly genius' as well.60 Maori courage and tenacity were essential to Cowan's story; Maori intelligence was not. In these chapters, however, evidence of Maori innovation displaced any ideological inclination to shortchange that innovation.
Elsewhere in Cowan's account of the War in the North, contemporary ideological currents and his own metanarrative did drown out primary sources. In the diary of the missionary Robert Burrows, Cowan had come across some post-war episodes that complicated an assured view of the peace. One was the icy meeting of Heke and Grey at breakfast at Burrows' house after the war. Another was the time when Captain Everard Home of the Calliope met Kawiti soon after the war. When Home said, 'Well, Kawiti, it is peace now,' Kawiti replied, 'It is for you to say if you have had enough, then we will say we have had enough.'61
Later, Home visited Ohaeawai, and was introduced to Pene Taui. Burrows wrote:page 48
'Oh,' said Pene to me, aside, 'this is the captain who supplied the shot we have lying about here;' and giving a hint to a youth standing by, the lad started off and in a few minutes returned with a bag on his shoulders holding something of considerable weight. At a nod from Pene he rolled some half dozen 9 lb shot at Sir Everard's feet, the chief asking him at the same time if he had seen them before. Sir Everard was greatly amused, and much pleased with his visit. He asked Pene if he felt the place to be his home again. Pene replied, 'It is only now you have paid me this visit that I begin to feel I am on my own land.'62
These three episodes from Burrows' diary make the conclusion of the war in the North look either tense or strangely comic. Cowan, however, concludes his account of the war in the North by praising Grey's decision not to confiscate land, and by pointing out that the flagstaff did not go back up. So everybody won. Moreover, he wrote, 'Ngapuhi have ever since 1846 been loyal friends of the whites', and later sent hundreds of their young men to fight at Gallipoli.63 Thus the story finishes with a synthesis of Cowan's line on racial harmony and the then-nascent myth that tensions between Maori and Pakeha dissolved as '[t]heir blood … commingled in the trenches of Gallipoli'.64
In this section of The New Zealand Wars, then, Cowan manages to tame the stories he told. This was not always the case. Cowan's admiration of the European invaders sat uneasily with his admiration of the indigenous people. Settlers and Pioneers, Cowan's volume in the series of Centennial surveys, is one work where the conflict between contexts is not resolved. The book was supposed to be a history of rural settlement in New Zealand by Europeans, With a retrospective glow it depicted settler farm plenitude in rich, sensual detail. But the book was overwritten and even more diffuse than Cowan's other works. In a memorable put-down, D. O. W. Hall of the Centennial staff described it as a 'wickedly episodic bundle of papers'.65
For the Centennial staff, though, the biggest problem with the book was its chapter on the Waikato War, which, Cowan pointed out, was a precondition of much of the European settlement of the Waikato. This chapter was removed by the editorial staff and the under-secretary for Internal Affairs. However, a fragmentary draft of the chapter exists in the 'Miscellaneous Typescripts' section of Cowan's papers in the Turnbull.66 It makes for incendiary reading.page 49
Cowan started by observing that 'Waikato's story began in a series of errors of judgement—to put it very mildly—and developed into a tragedy, the ruin of a people.' Then he moved away from this position and came close to breaking with the prevailing tradition of explaining the evils of colonisation by referring to the misdeeds of individual Europeans (the Waitara 'blunder' being a classic example). Cowan damned the whole conduct of the war and its aftermath, and brought in individual European participants only to show that they too recognised its injustices:
The New Zealand Government of the early 'sixties—one administration after another—treated the Maoris of Waikato more cynically and brusquely than the Italians treated the Abyssinians. Italy at least left their surviving opponents on the land. But the revenge for acts of so-called rebellion in Waikato was wholesale dispossession and eviction. There is no denying the basic facts; they have been acknowledged officially in recent years, but even more than sixty years ago they were admitted by that fair-minded Native Minister Sir Donald Maclean, and by Sir George Grey, who had been one of the prime war-makers himself.67
In September 1939, comparing previous New Zealand governments to fascist Italy was staggeringly provocative, especially in an official publication. Furthermore, in the formative stages of the Centennial historical project, Joseph Heenan, its director, had urged that the New Zealand wars 'should not be stressed'.68 So it was hardly surprising that the chapter was removed. Cowan told E. H. McCormick, by then the editor of the Centennial surveys, that he wanted to discuss the Waikato war 'forcibly in order to bring the facts of history home to the readers—& especially Waikato pakehas who are an ignorant lot; like most farmers they don't read anything but the newspapers. This book being a centennial occasion, they might read this.'69 I. L. G. Sutherland commiserated with Cowan: 'I think it is disgraceful page 50that you were not permitted to tell the truth about Waikato. How can good relations between two peoples be maintained on the basis of falsehoods, or the suppression of the truth?'70
Cowan's insistence on recalling 'the whole truth' of 'a country's past' reveals another dimension of his conception of the past as persisting into the present. He could see the consequences of the raupatu or confiscation in the Waikato of the 1930s: 'There are Maori men and women and children working in Chinese gardens to-day whose immediate ancestors were stripped of their homes and land seventy-five years ago.'71 Most of the time in Cowan's work, the past lingered on to offer lessons or food for inspiration. But it also created obligations, which could be evaded only with grotesque hypocrisy. As Cowan put it in a wry passage:
I wish the insensitive Englishman of Waikato could have heard the views of a certain Maori friend of mine on the subject of the raupatu. The good old man had a sense of humour strongly developed for a Maori; he thought it was a beautiful joke asking the evicted tribes to come back and sing jubilee hymns of praise in a Church built with the timber that they had freely given for it, with their labour, in the district that had been seized from them. 'The pakeha,' he said, 'is willing to let bygones be bygones, but does he offer to give me back my potato ground?'72
In its final form, the book offered only two oblique paragraphs on the Waikato war.73 One of them read in part: 'The tragedy of war, like so many far greater wars before and since, could have been avoided. At any rate, the frontier settlers and the Maori farmers were not the war-makers.'74 Rather than making colonisation troublingly ambiguous, this paragraph partially exonerates 'the pioneers'. This way, the book reads like a mildly generous version of the standard pioneer tribute. It makes a token acknowledgement of the suffering caused by colonisation, but does so without enough detail or emotion to call into question the valorisation of 'the pioneers'.
In the draft chapter, Cowan had written: 'in the process of glorifying the hard-toiling pioneers who made the way easy for the present generation, some of the page 51most important facts of the pioneers' beginnings are apt to be overlooked, not to say ignored.' But, of course, Cowan himself participated in 'the process of glorifying the hard-toiling pioneers'. And although Cowan now said that while Maori remained dispossessed it was 'idle to say that pakeha and Maori are one people', he himself had made such idle claims often. In Settlers and Pioneers, as in his other books, the authorial voice seems unaware of the incompatibility of the two stories, Maori and Pakeha, it tells so passionately. But in Settlers and Pioneers, the conflict between the two is acted out more explicitly than elsewhere.75 Cowan felt violated by the excision of the Waikato chapter, but the act of censorship did him the service of obscuring the tensions at the heart of his work.
Cowan's attempt to combine two strategies of indigenisation failed, but that does not detract from his importance. More than anyone else in interwar historiography, he accorded Maori an agency commensurate with that of Pakeha. His textual contradictions indicate the boundaries of Pakeha constructions of the wars, race relations, and 'New Zealand'. The reception of Cowan's work also sheds some light on these boundaries. With his extensive exposure in newspapers as well as in books, Cowan had a very wide audience, but his metanarrative did not become a lived-in national mythology. He and his informants were fighting a losing battle. The Centennial organisers did not want to know, and notable Pakeha discussions of New Zealand identity written in the thirties and forties displayed a remarkable amnesia about the wars.76 In interwar historiography, Cowan was himself out on a frontier.
2 In the 1930s Cowan and Goldie made plans to collaborate on a glossy book of Goldie portraits with biographical essays by Cowan on the subjects. The book, to be titled "Noble Relics of a Noble Race' never eventuated, because Goldie was not satisfied with the quality of reproduction in any of the printers' samples that Cowan obtained. Goldie to Cowan, 10 June 1935; Goldie to Cowan, 30 September 1935; Eileen Cowan to Eric Ramsden, 15 July [1944?], Ramsden Papers, MS Papers 196/266, ATL. In 1901, Cowan had written a booklet of biographical sketches on each of the Lindauer Portraits in Henry Partridge's collection. James Cowan, Maori Biographies: Sketches of Old New Zealand Compiled by James Cowan: Descriptive Catalogue of Maori Portraits Painted by Herr G. Lindauer, Auckland, 1901. See also Leonard Bell, Colonial Constructs: European Images of Maori 1840-1914, Auckland, 1992, pp. 198-9.
3 James Cowan, untitled typescript, 1923, James Cowan Papers, MS Papers 39/41E, ATL. This piece was to be the preface to Mair's Reminiscences and Maori Stories, Auckland, 1923, but the increasingly addled Mair lost his copy of the preface: Violet Mair to Cowan, 24 October 1923, Cowan Papers, 39/41E. The preface that appears in the published book is written by Henry Brett, and is very similar to Cowan's.
4 Cowan, 'Chapter I: The Old Race and the New', nd, Cowan Papers, 39/42C. This passage is from a draft of the first chapter of Cowan's The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period, 2 vols, Wellington, 1922-3 (page references are to the 1983 reprint). The passage quoted here does not appear in the finished version.
7 H. Hill to W. Massey, 1 October 1917; J. Allan Thomson to J. C. Hislop, 1 December 1917; T. W. Leys to G. W. Russell, 1 February 1918, IA1, 4/2/13; Hislop to R. F. Bollard, 4 January 1924, IA1 126/8/23; Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, H-22, 1918, p. 8. H. D. Skinner argued the case for James Herries Beattie's collection of 'information about the South Island natives' in very similar terms to those used to justify Cowan's New Zealand Wars. See Anderson, 'Introduction' to Beattie, Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Maori, p. 14.
9 I am focusing on Cowan's historical works, not on his more explicitly ethnological writings, or the material he wrote for the Department of Tourism and Publicity. Where relevant I shall bring these writings into my discussion of Cowan's historical works, but they are different enough to make it misleading to discuss them as if they were of a piece with the histories.
11 Cowan's A Trader in Cannibal Land: The Life and Adventures of Captain Tapsell, Dunedin, 1935 is based closely on the MS autobiography of Tapsell narrated to the local Resident Magistrate by the dying Tapsell. Tapsell's great-grandson sent the MS to Cowan in 1920. John McAlister to Cowan, 13 April 1920, Cowan Papers, 39/32. Another example is the story of 'Black Tom', a runaway slave from Delaware who became a Pacific whaler: G. E. L. Westbrook to Cowan, 21 May 1926, Cowan Papers, 39/2.
12 For example, 'How Tapsell Bought His Flax', Cowan Papers, 39/33. The gratuitous repetitions in Cowan's The Adventures of Kimble Bent: A Story of Wild Life in the New Zealand Bush, London, 1911, may be a residue of this process.
13 Cowan to Duff, 1 December 1938, IA1, 62/110/2.
15 Cowan, To Add Puke-taukere Chapter: The Swordsman in the Swamp: An Incident of the Waitara War', undated typescript, Cowan Papers, 39/42F; Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 2, p. 54.
16 Cowan, Adventures of Kimble Bent, p. 61; New Zealand Wars, vol. 2, p. 209, In 1922 Cowan told a fellow historian that he knew that von Tempsky 'was not shot from a tree. There are many versions of his end published, & the pakeha ones are mostly wrong. I obtained good narratives some years ago from two of the six or seven Maoris who fired at him at a few yards['] distance—they were not in a tree but crouching on the ground beside the little watercourse at the pa.' Cowan to Horace Fildes, 16 December 1922, Fildes Papers, box 34.
17 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, pp. 392-3; Adventures of Kimble Bent, ch. 15.
18 Cowan to Fildes, 19 December 1935; annotations to this letter by Fildes, Fildes Papers, box 34.
19 Fildes to Cowan, 22 December 1935 (copy by Fildes); Cowan to Fildes, 28 December 1935, Fildes Papers, box 34.
21 Cowan to T. W. Downes, 10 November 1937, Cowan Papers, 39/5. Downes, a Wanganui resident, was an active member of the Polynesian society and a collector of Maori oral traditions: Gibbons, '"Going Native"', pp. 289-90, 301, 303; Sorrenson, Manifest Duty, pp. 65, 77, 90.
23 Cowan, 'A Hauhau Warrior's Story: The Adventures of Peita Kotuku, Last Survivor of the "Rifleman" Escapees (Notes taken by J. Cowan, 23/2/21)', Cowan Papers, 39/41A.
24 Cowan to Fildes, 30 July 1935, Fildes Papers, box 34.
25 Phillips, Man's Country?, pp. 32-4.
26 For New Zealand examples see O. N. Gillespie, ed., New Zealand Short Stories, London, 1930, and, for an earlier period, Ray Hargreaves and Peter Holland, eds, The Duel on the Creek and Other Tales of Victorian New Zealand, Dunedin, 1995.
29 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, ch. 30. For small engagements like this, which were not widely known, Cowan had to rely exclusively on oral testimony or records of such gathered by others. For the Pukekohe engagement, his principal source was narratives collected by a Mauku settler, Mrs B. Crispe: drafts and source notes in Cowan Papers, 39/41B.
30 Cowan, The Maoris of New Zealand, Christchurch, 1910, p. 30; Cowan, The Maori Yesterday and Today, Auckland, 1930, p. 24. The words quoted appear verbatim in both books.
32 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, pp. 2-3.
34 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, p. 3.
36 See, for example, ibid., vol. 1, pp. 54, 390.
38 Compare Cowan, The Maori Yesterday and Today, pp. 10-12, and Cowan, 'Te Araki te Pohu: Warrior of the Arawa', 1908, Cowan Papers, 39/53A. ('He was an old, old man … a product of the days when every Maori was a trained soldier … long before the flabby days of peace had taken the tang of life from the warrior race.')
40 For an example from one of Cowan's regular informants, see G. A. Preece, 'Pursuit of Te Kooti through the Urewera Country', in F. J. W. Gascoyne, Soldiering in New Zealand: Being Reminiscences of a Veteran, London, 1916. Cowan, however, does not appear to have used this particular piece in writing The New Zealand Wars.
42 Proofs in Cowan Papers, 39/43B-C
43 Mair, Reminiscences and Maori Stories; Mair, The Story of Gate Pa: April 29th, 1864, Tauranga, 1937 (first pub. 1926); T. W. Porter, Legends of the Maori and Personal Reminiscences of the East Coast of New Zealand, Christchurch, 1925; Porter, The History of the Early Days of Poverty Bay: Major Ropata Wahawaha N.Z.C., M.L.C.: The Story of His Life and Times, Gisborne, 1923.
44 Mair, Reminiscences and Maori Stories, p. 54; Porter, Legends of the Maori and Personal Reminiscences, p. 61. See also [W. E. Gudgeon], The History and Doings of the Maoris, from the Year 1820 to the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Auckland, 1885, p. 94. This book, like several of Gudgeon's other books, was published under his father's name, Thomas Wayth Gudgeon.
45 For clear examples, see Mair, The Story of Gate Pa, pp. 10, 16, 19, 30.
46 Cowan also drew heavily on writing by and advice from another ex-veteran, Native Land Court judge and writer, W. E. Gudgeon, but the treatment of Maori in Gudgeon's works was seldom replicated in Cowan's texts. See, for instance, Gudgeon, Reminiscences of the War in New Zealand, London, 1879, pp. v-vii.
47 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, p. 7.
49 Ibid., p. 10.
50 Gibbons, 'Non-fiction', p. 62.
53 Testimony of W. H. Free, Cowan Papers, 39/41D, quoted in Belich, New Zealand Wars, p. 48. I have been unable to find this document in Cowan's papers in the Turnbull, though I have read a different account by Free in Cowan's papers.
54 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, pp. 61, 82.
55 Ibid., p. 70.
56 Ibid., pp. 51-5, 76-9.
58 Cowan, 'Ohaeawai', Cowan Papers, 39/42D; 'The Ohaeawai Battlefield: Rihara [K]ou's Narrative', Cowan Papers, 39/41; 'The Forlorn Hope at Ohaeawai: Corpl. Free's Experience (Additional)', Cowan Papers, 39/41; 'Ruapekapeka Pa: Colonel Mundy's Description', Cowan Papers, 39/42D.
59 Despard to Grey, 12 January 1846, transcript in Cowan Papers, 39/41; Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, p. 86. In the book the quotation was amended to 'the extraordinary strength of this place, particularly in the interior defence, far exceeded any idea that could have been formed of it'.
60 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, p. 76. The context of the sentence makes it clear that 'genius' here means great intelligence, rather than nature or character.
61 Cowan, 'Heke and the Governor (Rev. R. Burrows' Diary)', nd, Cowan Papers, 39/41E. The translation of Kawiti's reply is by Burrows.
62 Ibid. The punctuation is as in Cowan's notes.
63 Cowan, New Zealand Wars, vol. 1, p. 87.
65 Hall, 'Mr Cowan's Survey', 8 September 1939, IA1 62/110/2.
66 Cowan, The Settlement of the Waikato', unpaginated typescript, 1939, Cowan Papers, 39/54D. The cutting of this chapter has been discussed before, most notably by Denis McEldowney in 'Publishing, Patronage, Literary Magazines', in Sturm, ed., Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, p. 571, and Antony James Booker, 'The Centennial Surveys of New Zealand, 1936-41', BA(Hons) research exercise, Massey University, 1983, pp. 35-6. As neither of these works discusses this draft of the chapter, I should explain why I think this is indeed a fragmentary draft of the missing chapter. The manuscript of Settlers and Pioneers (Wellington, 1940) is scattered through folders 53C, 53D, 54A, 54B, and 55B, of the Cowan Papers. The chapter typescripts in these folders are all typed on the same size paper in the same format (title in capitals underlined in red)—a format not used by Cowan on any other drafts that I have seen. Secondly, the typescript fits neatly into the structure of the rest of the book (between chapters three and four). Thirdly, the draft was filed away in October 1939. Fourthly, the typescript has a handwritten note at the end saying 'rest of chapter is typed', indicating that this typescript is part of a book, not a stand-alone newspaper piece.
67 Cowan, 'The Settlement of the Waikato' (italics added). Cowan spelt McLean's name Maclean because that was the way McLean's son spelt it: Cowan, Sir Donald Maclean: The Story of a New Zealand Statesman, Dunedin, 1940, p. viii.
68 Minutes of a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Historical Committee, 13 April 1938, IA1, 62/8/1, part 1. The previous year, when Guy Scholefield had suggested a Centennial survey on 'Native Affairs', Heenan had replied that this was a 'delicate' matter, and deferred it. Minutes of Standing Committee meeting, 21 June 1937, IA1, 62/8, part 1.
69 Cowan to McCormick, 24 October 1939, IA1, 62/110/2.
70 I. L. G. Sutherland to Cowan, 2 September 1940, Cowan Papers, 39/3. Compare Cowan: 'it is impossible to reconcile the two races completely … until the old crime of "muru-whenua" … is atoned for.' Cowan, The Settlement of the Waikato'.
71 Cowan, 'The Settlement of the Waikato'.
72 Ibid. For similar protests by Cowan, see 'Memento M(a)ori', Auckland Star, 16 October 1937, and 'The Facts about Te Kooti: How Injustice Made a Rebel', in Cowan, Tales of the Maori Border, Wellington, 1944.
73 After Cowan had removed the offending chapter from the proofs of Settlers and Pioneers, E. H. McCormick wrote to him saying that the 'connecting link' that Cowan had just written for 'the Waikato section … is very impartial.' This seems to refer to the paragraph quoted here. McCormick to Cowan, 26 October 1939; Cowan to McCormick, 24 October 1939, IA1, 62/110/2.
74 Cowan, Settlers and Pioneers, p. 21.
75 It is difficult to say whether Settlers and Pioneers constitutes a climax in Cowan's work. In the 1930s, Cowan increasingly spoke out against injustices to Maori. Several people who read an earlier draft of this chapter suggested that Cowan may have felt safer about being outspoken after the government awarded him a special pension in 1936. However, the pension did not solve all Cowan's worries. It did not allow him, his wife (who was twenty years younger than he was) and their two sons, to live especially comfortably. Cowan must have known that he would not be able to support his family for long. Moreover, Cowan's corpus abounds with both repetitions and inconsistencies, which make it difficult to view his work as developing in a linear way. In any case, the importance I have attached to Settlers and Pioneers rests on the extent to which the contradictions in his work are made explicit, not on whether the book is a climactic moment in Cowan's work.
76 Holcroft, Deepening Stream; Curnow, 'Introduction' to Curnow, ed., Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45; and, infinitely less substantially, Oliver Duff, New Zealand Now, Wellington, 1941. For an example that infuriated Cowan, see Gillespie, 'Preface' to Gillespie, ed., New Zealand Short Stories, pp. v-vii. An exception is Hyde, 'Singers of Loneliness'. The idea of amnesia is suggested by James Belich in his New Zealand Wars, pp. 320-1, and 'Riwha Titokowaru', in Oliver, ed., Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, p. 545.