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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


HOCKEN, Thomas Morland


Bibliographer and collector.

A new biography of Hocken, Thomas Morland appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Thomas Morland Hocken was born on 14 January 1836 at Stamford, Yorkshire. His father, John, was a Wesleyan minister, and his grandfather had been vicar of Oakhampton, rector of Lydford, and chaplain to George, Lord Lyttelton, Baron of Frankley, in his native Cornwall, where the family had been small landholders for generations. The Rev. John Hocken of Oakhampton had received a crest and coat of arms from the College of Heralds to commemorate the bravery of his grandfather, an earlier Thomas, in repulsing a French privateer off the Cornish coast in the reign of Queen Anne.

T. M. Hocken was educated at Woodhouse Grove School, near Bath, for the sons of Wesleyan clergy, and at the College of Practical Research in Newcastle where he won a silver medal for botany, an interest he retained throughout his life. He studied medicine at Durham and Dublin Universities, completing his training as junior to a distinguished physician, Dr Septimus Raine of Newcastle. In 1859 he was admitted to membership of the Royal College of Surgeons and the London Society of Apothecaries. In 1860 he was advised to escape the English winters and took employment as a ship's surgeon with a company trading between England and Australia. In 1862, by agreement with his employers, he quitted their service at Melbourne and sailed in the ship Chariot of Fame for Dunedin where he began to practise his profession. The following year he was appointed coroner, a position he held for 22 years until 1884 when practising medical men were excluded from holding that office. A leading member of his profession, he was appointed honorary surgeon to the Benevolent Institute and also to the Dunedin Hospital, and he was several times president of the Otago Branch of the New Zealand Medical Association, and the first lecturer in clinical surgery in the Otago Medical School.

During his time as ship's surgeon, Hocken's strong intellectual curiosity was stimulated by the story of Pacific exploration, and he found the history of the Otago settlement romantic. He feared that the rapid changes since the discovery of gold would destroy the knowledge of the past, and he began to collect books and other records of the pioneering era as well as copious notes of his talks with early settlers. By 1864 he was extending his researches to the broader fields of New Zealand history and ethnology, and showed a collection of moa bones and one of South Sea costumes at the Dunedin Exhibition of 1865. He joined the Otago Institute in 1869 and was an office bearer for 30 years, contributing papers on ethnology, history, and bibliography. Other learned societies to which he belonged included the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Historical Society, and the Linnean Society of which he was made a fellow in 1884.

He was chairman of the Early History, Maori, and South Seas Section of the 1889 Exhibition, contributing an introductory historical essay to that part of the “Official Catalogue”, as well as exhibiting historical and ethnographic material. In 1898 he was a commissioner of the Otago Settlement Jubilee Exhibition and his Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand: Settlement of Otago was published in the same year to commemorate the occasion. For many years he spent his holidays in visiting the sites of early settlement, collecting records and information. A true collector, he was untiring in his zeal and possessed an instinctive appreciation of the historical importance of apparently trivial items, many such being gleaned from a voluminous correspondence with early settlers and their descendants, and other collectors.

In 1903 he sailed with his wife and daughter for an overseas tour, visiting Japan, Egypt, and Greece for ethnological and archaeological studies, and Great Britain for historical research. In Britain he visited former New Zealand colonists and their families, always eager to collect information and material. He worked at the Public Records Office for some months, sorting and listing the papers of the New Zealand Company which he tried to acquire for New Zealand, believing that they would be better appreciated there. He was unsuccessful in this attempt but he did secure the transfer of all documents regarded by him as of secondary importance, including duplicates of dispatches from the company's agents in New Zealand and many drafts and notes written by E. G. Wakefield. At the Church Missionary Society he worked through the papers relating to the New Zealand Mission and persuaded the society to give him these. After three years abroad he returned to New Zealand where he began work on his Bibliography of the Literature Relating to New Zealand which was published in 1909 and remains the classic work on the subject. Projected works included an edition of the letters and journals of Samuel Marsden and a new edition of Robley's “Moko”.

Hocken offered his historical collection of books, pamphlets, newspapers, maps, paintings, and manuscripts to the citizens of Dunedin in 1897, on condition that it be suitably housed. In 1906 subscription lists for a building were opened, to which the Government added a pound for pound subsidy. After lengthy negotiations about the site and administration of the library, Hocken agreed that the building should be erected as a wing of the Otago Museum and administered by the Council of the University of Otago as trustees for the nation. On 23 March 1910 the building was formally opened by the Governor, Lord Plunkett, though Hocken, who had been in failing health, was too ill to attend the ceremony. Before the library was open for use, he presented his magnificent collection of Maori ethnographic material to the Otago Museum where it forms the foundation of the ethnological collections.

Barely 5 ft in height, Hocken was a neat, dapper little man with a short-clipped beard and dark, lively eyes. Bustling, energetic, intensely industrious, he had a winning personality and infectious enthusiasm. A devout Anglican, he was a synodsman and churchwarden of St. Paul's Church, Dunedin. Kindly and sympathetic to all in trouble he did an immense amount of unobtrusive social and philanthropic work and left bequests to the Anglican and Methodist churches and the Salvation Army for welfare purposes. A member of the Council of the University of Otago from 1883, he was appointed vice-chancellor a few months before his death.

Hocken married, first, Julia Annia Daykne Simpson of Waikouaiti in 1867 and, second, Elizabeth Mary Buckland in 1884. His second wife was a well-educated and gifted woman who helped him greatly with his literary researches and the organisation of his collections. He died on 17 May 1910.

by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

  • T. M. Hocken – Personal Letters and Papers, 1859–1910 (MSS), Hocken Library
  • Medical Practice in Otago and Southland in the Early Days, Fulton, R. V. (1922)
  • The Fascinating Folly – Dr Hocken and His Fellow Collectors, McCormick, E. H. (1961).


Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.