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Introduction to Old New Zealand

Introduction to Old New Zealand

Frederick Edward Maning is best known as an author, but he was also at times a trader and a judge of the Native Land Court. He was born in Dublin, Ireland on 5 July 1811 or 1812 and immigrated to Tasmania with his family in 1823. He lived in New Zealand from 1833 until 1882, when ill health forced him to seek medical care in England. He died in London on 25 July 1883, but was buried in New Zealand later that year. His Old New Zealand: A Tale of the Good Old Times (1863) is one of the few pre-twentieth century New Zealand literary texts that have not descended into obscurity with passing time. Historian Peter Gibbons describes it as

perhaps one of the best known and most widely read of all works on early New Zealand
(45) and it has often been reprinted.

A Background to Old New Zealand

Maning arrived in New Zealand from Tasmania in July 1833, disembarking at Pakanae on the Hokianga harbour. There he was welcomed by Moetara of the local tribe, Ngati Korokoro, an event which was later to provide the basis for the beginning of Old New Zealand. From there he moved to Kohukohu, where he negotiated the purchase of land and a house. While at Kohukohu, Maning engaged in trade and lived as a Pākehā-Māori, apparently fathering the child of a Māori woman. In 1837, however, he returned to Tasmania.

On his return to New Zealand in 1839, Maning purchased land and built a house further up the Hokianga, at Onoke. He also began to live with Moengaroa of Te Hikutu. Maning had four children with her, and he also became close friends with her brother, Hauraki. Maning’s experiences of this time are also reflected in scenes of Old New Zealand. He opposed the Treaty of Waitangi when it was brought to the area in February 1840, seemingly out of fear that the Treaty would lead to curbs on his commercial activities rather than from opposition to government per se; he applied for, but failed to achieve, a government position the following year. He also supported the government campaign against Hone Heke and Kawiti, 1845–6, desirous of protection for settler interests. It was during this campaign that Maning began to write his first book, A History of the War in the North Against the Chief Heke (1862).

Maning began to turn away from Māori society after the deaths of Hauraki (1845) and Moengaroa (1847). He became increasingly estranged from his children, while his expanding business interests transformed him from a trader with Māori to one of the largest employers of Māori in the region during the 1850s. He also began to desire Pākehā company and recognition. Maning therefore brought his business activities to an end in the early 1860s and sought to become more involved in government. Alex Calder argues that both A History of The War in the North and Old New Zealand were thus in part

bids for notice and patronage, and successful insofar as they assisted his 1865 appointment as Judge in the Native Land Court.
(6) Both were published in an environment of conflict between Māori and Pākehā — war had broken out in Taranaki in 1860 and Waikato in 1863 — that inevitably heightened the interest with which Maning’s authoritative words were received.

Some Comments on Old New Zealand

Old New Zealand is dominated from the start by the effusive presence of its narrator. He is prone to digression, has a lively sense of irony and appears to have few moral qualms.  The tale he relates is an attempt

to place a few sketches of old Maori life on record before the remembrance of them has quite passed away
(Preface), and he does this through relating his experience and knowledge of Māori character, customs and behaviour. Thus the narrative is also concerned with the consequences of contact between Māori and Pākehā, evident in the fact that it begins with his arrival on the shore of New Zealand. The mode of this arrival — being carried from ship to shore on the back of a Māori — is however far from triumphal:

I felt at the time that the thing was a sort of failure — a come down; the position was not graceful, or in any way likely to suggest ideas of respect or awe, with my legs projecting a yard or so from under each arm of my bearer, holding on to his shoulders in the most painful, cramped, and awkward manner.

(Chapter 2)

The situation soon becomes more farcical for his bearer slips and leaves him

wrong end uppermost, drifting away with the tide, and ballasted with heavy pistols, boots, tight clothes, and all the straps and strings of civilisation.
(Chapter 2) Such a self-aware sense of absurdity creates a feeling that the narrator may be trusted as an accurate observer, and this is powerfully reinforced by the authority of personal experience:
Pakehas who knew no better, called the muru simply ‘robbery’…. But I speak…
(Chapter 7). Thus, behind the text lies the reader’s knowledge of Maning’s life as a Pākehā-Māori — “A Pakeha Maori”, in fact, being the name under which it was first published — knowledge that lends it credibility.

Yet this self-deprecatory tone endorses a specific and carefully constructed version of Māori culture. This attributes to Māori negative qualities that it claims have become irretrievably ingrained as a result of the environment they live in:

As for the Maori people in general, they are neither so good or so bad as their friends and enemies have painted them, and I suspect they are pretty much like what almost any other people would have become, if subjected for ages to the same external circumstances. For ages they have struggled against necessity in all its shapes. This has given to them a remarkable greediness for gain in every visible and immediately tangible form. It has even left its mark on their language.

(Chapter 6)

Those “external circumstances” have resulted in a society governed by violence, superstition and greed.  Maning’s propagation of this view during a time of war between Māori and Pākehā leads Gibbons to suggest that the popularity of Old New Zealand

in large measure rested on his carefully crafted production of the stereotypical Māori that the settler society wanted to believe in — cunning, shrewd, lacking in compassion, careless of life, unregenerate.
(Gibbons, 46) K.O. Arvidson is also critical of Maning’s portrayal of Māori for similar reasons:

No comparably literate book could have done more to impress upon the minds of literate settlers a picture of Maori savagery, inhumanity, and duplicity, so magnified as to become in sum a portrait of Evil. Maning’s descriptions of the Maori priests, the tohunga, who appear to have obsessed him, continually reinforce this notion of Evil


Yet it can be argued that the text is more divided in its loyalties than Gibbons and Arvidson allow. For instance, while the narrator

felt a curious sensation at the time, like what I fancied a man must feel who had just sold himself, body and bones, to the devil
(Chapter 8) while the tohunga lifted the tapu upon him, soon after it is
The perfect coolness of my old friend … as well as his reasoning, [that] began to make me feel a little disconcerted.
(Chapter 8) Simon During argues, upon the basis of Maning’s discussion of tapu and mana,
For him there is not even any way of finally judging whether the Pakeha or the Maori ought to win.
(774) Such ambivalence is most clear at the end of Old New Zealand, when the narrator confesses:

I get so confused, I feel just 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, and set the law upon its legs, which is the only way to do it. I therefore hope the reader will make allowance for any little apparent inconsistency in my ideas, as I really cannot help it.

(Chapter 15)

It is the expression and acknowledgement of this “apparent inconsistency” that helps Old New Zealand stand out from its contemporary texts and ensures it is of continuing interest.


Arvidson, K.O.Cultural Interaction in the Literature of New Zealand” in Only Connect: Literary Perspectives East and West, eds. Guy Amirthanayagam and S.C. Harrex. Adelaide and Honolulu: Centre for Research in the New Literatures in English and East-West Centre, 1981, pp. 265–289.

Colquhoun, David. “Maning, Frederick Edward” in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: Volume I, 1769–1869, ed. W.H. Oliver. Wellington: Allen & Unwin and Department of Internal Affairs, 1990, pp. 265–266.

During, Simon. “What was the West?” in Meanjin 48(4), Summer 1989, pp. 759–776.

Gibbons, Peter. “Non-Fiction” in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, ed. Terry Sturm. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2 ed., 1998, pp. 31–118.

Maning, F.E.Old New Zealand and Other Writings. Ed. Alex Calder. London and New York: Leicester University Press, 2001.

A more detailed introduction to Maning’s career and works and a bibliography of relevant criticism can be found in Calder’s edition of Old New Zealand and Other Writings.

Selected Links

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Extensive biographical essay on Maning by New Zealand historian David Colquhoun. http://www.dnzb.govt.nz

LEARN: New Zealand Literature File. Online bibliography of Maning’s works, and of reviews, theses, articles and books relating to his work. Hosted by the University of Auckland Library. Last updated in October 2002. http://www2.auckland.ac.nz/lbr/nzp/nzlit2/maning.htm

Timeframes. Searchable database of pictures from the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington containing two portraits of Maning. Hosted by the National Library of New Zealand. http://timeframes1.natlib.govt.nz/;internal&action=dialog.search.action

Haven. A website of an exhibition exploring cross-cultural contact in Tasmania. Features an artistic response to Maning by New Zealand jeweller, David McLeod. Site hosted by Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania. http://www.kitezh.com/haven/maning.htm and http://www.kitezh.com/haven/artists/david.htm

The New Zealand Wars/Nga Pakanga Whenua o Mua. A website dedicated to the history of the New Zealand Wars, within the context of which Maning lived and wrote.  Site maintained by Dr Danny Keenan, School of History, Philosophy and Politics, Massey University, New Zealand. http://www.newzealandwars.co.nz/

The Treaty of Waitangi. Information on The Treaty of Waitangi from Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. http://www.teara.govt.nz/newzealandinbrief/governmentandnation/1/en