Story: History and historians

A. S. Thomson's chart of Māori progress, 1859

Arthur Thomson was a doctor with the British forces in New Zealand from 1847 to 1858. He wrote the country’s first history – The story of New Zealand (1859) – in which he was keen to show that the coming of European ‘civilisation’ had been a progressive development for Māori. His book includes this table in which Thomson sought to compare the situation among the ‘New Zealanders’ (that is, Māori) in 1770, 1836 and 1859, to show ‘progressive civilisation’. However, close attention to the table will reveal several questionable marks of progress – notably a decline in the population from an estimated 100,000 in 1770 to an estimated 56,000 in 1859 and the fact that tobacco and spirits were unknown in 1770, but by 1859 tobacco smoking was universal and spirits were ‘occasionally drunk’.

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Source: Arthur S. Thomson, The story of New Zealand: past and present - savage and civilised. London: John Murray, 1859, pp. 294-6

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'History and historians - Recording history before 1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 22 Oct 2014