‘The renowned Crusoe in the native costume of our adopted country’
Reading Robinson Crusoe in colonial New Zealand
in Worlding the south

This chapter examines the influence of British literary models on colonial and Indigenous readings practices. Robinson Crusoe was widely read in colonial New Zealand, and widely cited as a model for successful settlement. It was translated into te reo Māori (the Māori language) in 1852 in the hope that Crusoe’s qualities of industriousness and self-reliance might be influential. As far as can be gauged, Māori readers were cautious in their response. The colonist Henry Weekes hoped to emulate Crusoe when in 1845 he bought an island, Puketutu, in the Manakau Harbour, near Auckland. But, as he records in his journal, despite patronage and support from the local Māori of Ihumātao and the assistance of his ‘Friday’, a Pākehā (European) servant, his efforts were unsuccessful.

‘Ever since my first acquaintance with Robinson Crusoe I had a wish to live on an island, to feel gloriously independent, and to be monarch of all I surveyed.’ So wrote New Zealand colonist Henry Weekes in explanation of his decision in 1845 to purchase Puketutu, a small, volcanic, economically unpromising island in the middle of the Manukau Harbour, near Auckland. This, he conceded, might have been a ‘boyish’ fancy but ‘by a chain of circumstances I afterwards had my desire … even at this distance memory can vividly recall these pictures to the mind’s eye’.1

In his essay ‘Crusoe’s Books: The Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century’, Bill Bell asks:

How exactly does the act of reading reinforce or challenge the cultural assumptions of the reader far from home? What, in more general terms, is the connection between the circulation of texts and the preservation of cultural identity under strange skies?2

This chapter attempts to address these questions by examining the eponymous Crusoe in terms of what Peter Mandler refers to as the ‘throw’ of his text, ‘its dissemination and influence’, ‘distribution and reception’, in a particular reading community, that of mid-nineteenth-century New Zealand.3

Crusoe, Bell reminds us, recovers from the wreck of his ship practical objects but also books – ‘three very good Bibles’, ‘Portugueze books’ including ‘two or three Popish prayer-books’, and ‘several other books, all of which I carefully secur’d’, along with ‘pens, ink, and paper’.4 His subsequent reading is, by his own account, exclusively of one of the ‘three very good Bibles’. The ‘several other books’, whatever they might be, do not feature. The Bible is initially an inadvertent but efficacious remedy when he is ill; subsequently, reading the scriptures and reflecting on them becomes a central part of a purposeful reading programme.

‘Cultural memory,’ Bell asserts, ‘is in exile contingent on – even reinforced by – the continued practices of reading and writing.’5 The fictional Crusoe reads the Bible; the voluntary exiles of nineteenth-century emigration certainly brought their Bibles with them, but they also read more widely, and Robinson Crusoe was a central text in the production and maintenance of their cultural memory. In colonial New Zealand, the inventories of importers, booksellers, and stationers invariably include, alongside Byron, Scott, Irving’s Catechisms, and the anthology Mornings in the Library, copies of Crusoe – the original as well as the juvenile retellings.6 In ironic contrast to the reading habits of Crusoe himself, a commentator in the Wellington newspaper The Colonist observes that ‘Robinson Crusoe finds almost as many readers as the Scriptures’.7

Gail Lowe emphasises the central role of colonial newspapers in the construction of these complex networks of affiliation and reassurance, and the way in which they ‘enabled a local perspective on metropolitan news, politics and trade … speaking as they did to local concerns, audiences, and readerships’ while at the same time ‘help[ing] foster a nascent local literary culture’.8 In colonial New Zealand newspapers, there are repeated references to Robinson Crusoe. Paradoxically, while the adjective ‘inimitable’ is repeatedly applied to Defoe’s hero, the message of these various citations was to insist that he be imitated. But at the same time, the malleability of his narrative, its openness to widespread, heterogenous applications, is apparent. Not so much a template for settler life as a variety of templates, models, compacted shorthand allusions, and justifications, Defoe’s work was applied widely as a marker of a shared language of culture, literacy, and nostalgia, as well as a measure against which to narrate both the exigencies and the moral values of settlement.

In this, the Empire was replicating the reading habits of the metropole. In 1854, The New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait Guardian reproduced an article from the Liverpool Journal, ‘What do the people read?’, a survey from the Manchester Free Library, which found that Defoe’s popularity was exceeded only by that of Scott, and that Robinson Crusoe had been borrowed 239 times in the previous year. The author is conscious that reading fiction is still looked at with disapproval, and defends the genre:

Novels have a never ceasing attraction, for man is fond of the ideal; and those who call novels trash know nothing of the law of mind. The most difficult work in all the range of literature is a good novel, and hence it is that we have hundreds of good histories, thousands of good (brief) poems; but our language cannot boast of thirty good novels.9

A novel, he asserts, even one that is ‘trashy and foolish’ and read only for amusement, excites sympathy, ‘and God has so ordained it that sympathy bestows itself exclusively on virtue and goodness’.10 In the New Zealand setting, the republishing of this article points to an uncertainty – over the reading of fiction and, by extension, other cultural practices – born of distance. Charlotte Macdonald writes that although ‘[i]n colonial New Zealand, paper, books, carefully fashioned pictures, writing and reading were to be found in even the most incongruous places and circumstances’, there was a ‘pervading fear … that colonial life might be attended by a loss of culture [which] found reassurance in evidence of reading, writing, an appreciating eye, educated tastes and habits’.11

Reading Defoe’s work in colonial New Zealand, and, just as importantly, citing the novel in public discourse, were thus affirmations of cultural continuity. And at the same time, these repeated references were part of an exercise in memory and nostalgia – as Bell puts it, ‘the preservation of cultural identity under strange skies’. Thomas Bracken’s 1884 poem ‘A Paper from Home’ sets out the relation between memorialisation and emigrant reading:

A digger sat dreaming of times that were fled,

For mem’ry was painting old scenes, and recalling

Dear faces and forms from the realms of the dead.

His fancy renewed the old pictures long faded.

The sheet in his hand seemed a leaf from life’s tome,

Its paragraphs bright and its articles shaded –

He smiled and he sighed o’er that paper from home.12 (lines 1–8)

In evoking Robinson Crusoe, the memory of a pleasurable childhood reading experience is recalled; the place where that reading experience occurred – the pre-emigration home – is summoned to mind; while present-day access to the same book, or simply present-day communal referencing of that book, despite distance, imaginatively returns the reader to their childhood. It reassures that, separation notwithstanding, they are still within a cultural orbit which is not just literary but connected by reassuring networks of mutuality and familiarity.

Henry Weekes associates Crusoe with ‘boyish fancies’; to the columnist of the Wellington Independent, he is the ‘hero of our boyish days’.13 ‘How often in our youthful days have we pored over the pages of that inimitable romance, the “Adventures of Robinson Crusoe”’, writes a contributor in the Southern Cross,14 while the Nelson Examiner remembers ‘the romantic though fabulous adventures of Robinson Crusoe [which] so entranced our boyish days’.15 But Robinson Crusoe could also be read and referenced by the adult emigrant reader as a handbook and guide to the challenges of settlement, a text for the future rather than an evocation of the past. Mavis Reimer, Clare Bradford, and Heather Snell suggest it ‘stands as the touchstone for the narrative of colonial adventure and conquest’;16 the newspaper The Colonist puts it more prosaically – in Crusoe, ‘thoroughly practical lessons of political economy are embellished with the charms of fiction’.17

Refiguring Crusoe

In keeping with Miles Ogburn’s observation of ‘global networks’ of reading that are ‘local at every point’, ‘the immortal mariner’ is refigured in terms of the needs and aspirations of particular settler societies.18 In New Zealand newspapers, Crusoe is repeatedly pictured as a lesson in industry and self-sufficiency, an emblem of work, investment, and return. The Otago Witness asserts:

no colonization can be effected without capital. It is evident that a man must be supported till he can gather his first crop; and it is a matter of history, from Robinson Crusoe to that of the backwoodsman of America. The former had his food, seed, and implements from a wreck; the latter, generally with a young wife, starts, not only rifle in hand, but with a team and a well-loaded dray.19

The experience of the fictional Crusoe and the (presumably) realist backwoodsman are conflated. Character and attitude are presented as crucial settler attributes, with Crusoe emblematic of what is needed in the new colony. The Colonist describes Crusoe as

struggling with an invincible purpose, an indomitable self-reliance to become self-supporting, and compelling success by sheer force of character and inexhaustible fertility of resource. These were commenced when the immortal mariner committed his first seed corn to the prolific earth, and were securely perfected when he gathered the first fruits of his labor. His native good sense told him that there was no investment so safe and reproductive as that of industry in the cultivation of his native soil.20

‘Self-reliance’ and ‘force of character’ set against an ‘inexhaustible fertility of resource’ is the mantra of settler economic success, ‘safe and reproductive’ results of settler ‘industry’ the expectation. Crusoe is pictured as having both ‘native good sense’ and cultivating his ‘native soil’, ‘native’ in the first sense conveying his Britishness, ‘native’ in the second sense the appropriative transferral of ownership from Indigenous to coloniser. Defoe’s island has become the settler’s land claim while Crusoe’s character exemplifies not that of the often beset and improvisational castaway but that of the ideal settler, with, according to The Colonist, ‘the labors, the self-denial, the self-reliance, the perseverance, the cheerful adaptability to the circumstances, the thrift, the forethought, the ingenuity, and patient pluck’.21 Crusoe models ‘the direction to which [the settler’s] industrial efforts should naturally tend, both for his present sustentation, and in order to lay the foundations of future wealth’.22

In the Daily Southern Cross, a lecture by William Gisborne, ‘Footprints on the Sands of Time’, invites its readers to see the footprint on the beach not, as Crusoe did, as an occasion of fear, but as a metaphor for the New Zealand settler’s responsibility to posterity:

Shall we not then, in our brief journey, try to leave some traces of good behind us? Is there not in this country ample sphere for the effort? Placed in the midst of a semi-barbarous race can we do nothing to promote their civilisation? Have we not a wilderness around us to subdue, a Colony to create, political institutions, in which the humblest can share, to turn to best advantage?23

Even Crusoe’s ability to ‘reanimate his drooping spirits … [to sum] up the good points of his lot’ is, in the view of the Southern Cross, a salutary lesson to counter the pervading melancholy of colonial society.24 ‘You may be happy on Robinson Crusoe’s island,’ chimes in the Otago Witness, ‘you may be miserable in Paris or in London. It must depend on yourself whether you are the one or the other.’25

Crusoe is thus the standard against which to measure settler competence and success, both practical and psychological, prescriptive and descriptive. But at the same time, the dangers of inappropriate modelling and of irresponsible reading were also signalled. The novel might contribute to an overly romanticised view of settler life if read without discrimination. The Otago Witness warned:

the gentleman of limited means and a delicate wife, who have pictured to themselves the delights and felicity of the Robinson Crusoe sort of life of a colony, where they may walk hand in hand through lovely meadows and charming groves, is very apt to be disappointed, when the husband has to dig potatoes, and the wife do the ordinary domestic work; the romance of the thing soon wears off.26

In a lengthy piece titled ‘A New Zealand Robinson Crusoe’, published over several issues of the Otago Daily Times in 1862, an anonymous clergyman gives an account of being marooned for five months on a small island off the New Zealand coast, and compares, rather resentfully, the challenges of his actual experience against those of his expectations derived from his reading:

Unlike Robinson Crusoe, I had not even a dog or a cat for my companion, I had no wrecked ship wherefrom to draw any resources. I was totally unarmed. I had no tools wherewith to build, plant, or dig; I had no seeds to plant even if I had tools. I had no books to while away the long tedious hours, no means whereon to write even an account of my sufferings and fate, though perchance they might one day be read in my bones whitening on the beach.27

Not just his deprived circumstances but his own innate abilities suffer by comparison with his fictional model: ‘I remembered that Robinson Crusoe became swift enough of foot to run [stray goats] down,’ he writes glumly. ‘I much doubted my capability of doing so.’28 Vanessa Smith points to the number of autobiographical accounts of Pacific castaways who draw on Crusoe as a model.29 In this particular re-enactment – or perhaps reverse enactment – the clerical castaway’s natives are not Defoe’s hostile cannibal hoards or the subservient Friday but efficient and familiar – local Māori out on a fishing trip – one of whom credits the castaway’s survival not to the Robinsonesque qualities of an Englishman but to that of a native:

I proceeded to narrate my adventures of the last few months, in the course of which I was frequently interrupted by his savage ejaculations of astonishment. When I had done he said, ‘Ah, well, you would make a good Maori,’ that being the very highest compliment he could pay me.30

Modelling Crusoe

To return to Henry Weekes and his island: Weekes is a somewhat dilettante settler, largely untouched by the moralising agendas of local newspaper columnists. He preaches no lesson from his Robinsonade, apart from a final warning: ‘Moral. The life of early colonists, even under favourable circumstances, is not all rose-water.’31 His account is framed with literary epigraphs from Byron and Samuel Johnson, and he has a classical tag for every occasion. There is no reference whatsoever to any Christian mode of thought or purpose. He has no ethnographical interests. Nor is he shaped by any overt colonising ideology. He shows no awareness of the history of his island – he reports an amicable conversation with its previous Māori owner without comment; the narrative of his friend ‘Mr Fairburn’ of ‘many a thrilling story of native savagery’, whose family, under the protection of ‘a powerful chief’ in Northland ‘in a few years … became lords paramount in that part of New Zealand, acquiring large tracts of land’, is recounted with admiration but with no sense of a desire to imitate.32 Though he describes himself as ambitious to take a part in the founding of a new colony, at the same time he expresses the wish to lead ‘a country life’.33 Actualising his boyhood memories of Robinson Crusoe by buying an island, manufacturing his own Crusoe-esqe setting, and casting himself in the leading role, he uses Robinson Crusoe as a literary rather than a didactic model. His account exhibits that combination of modest heroism and wry self-deprecation, rueful and humorous, observable in Defoe’s text but also common in settler self-reporting and articulated in small narratives of comic ineptitude.

As a counter to the pious editorialising of the newspapers, Weekes offers his audience amusement in narratives of the way his island resists all attempts at domination, cultivation, or domestication. The island is covered with ‘edible thistles and other weeds among the universal fern, and a flock of goats fat and frisky’.34 There is a ‘whare’, or hut, furnished with ‘simple articles of furniture’ and ‘backed up with a pretty shrubbery growing among basaltic rocks’.35 But daily life is basic. A chimney has to be built; cooking is ‘an open-air affair with camp-oven and gypsy kettles’.36 And the attempt to transplant both the reality and the atmosphere of home (i.e. England) is not successful: an apple tree brought out from Plymouth ‘unfortunately exhausted itself in the excitement of the tropics, and after sending out buds, each time nearer the root, at last gave up in despair’.37 There is a comic recognition, similar to that of his model Crusoe, of the clash between his idealised notion of control over his environment and the actuality of his island existence: ‘our first batch of bread’, he writes, ‘was a failure, looking very much like those loafs dug out of the ashes of Pompei’; the ‘much-loved garden’ is destroyed by sheep and cows after Peter the horse demolishes the fence while scratching his back; wild pigs eat the lambs; on a trip across the harbour to visit friends, the boat capsizes. Weekes writes: ‘The first object I saw on getting my head above water was my wife encircled by an inflated silk cape which acted as a float.’38

The loneliness of Robinson Crusoe is gestured to but not convincingly. Puketutu is, he admits, only barely an island: ‘about the time of low water it could be reached from the mainland by a shell bank having at each end a shallow channel with a soft mud bottom, the whole distance being about two miles’.39 It was in fact in hailing distance of the mainland. And far from being singular as was Crusoe, Weekes is accompanied by his wife. The couple are able to participate in pleasant and decorous social occasions; he writes, ‘we occasionally selected a fine day when the tide served for paying visits to our Onehunga and Auckland friends’, and the visits are ‘returned in the shape of a boating party, or by some sports man with his gun’.40

Crusoe’s encounter with natives is dramatic and frightening, as he contemplates ‘such a pitch of inhuman, hellish brutality, and the horror of the degeneracy of human nature’ displayed in ‘the shore spread with skulls, hands, feet and other bones of human bodies’.41 Henry Weekes’ is more benign but not without its uncertainties and misreadings. Soon after his arrival on Puketutu, he writes: ‘the sound of voices reached me from over the water and very soon a canoe rounded the point of our little landing-place with four or five natives. One Maori jumped out and came towards me with extended hand and a friendly “Tenáqui [Tena koe]”’. The Māori give ‘presents in token of their good will, and to show that we Pakehas belonged to and would be protected by the people of Ihumátu [Ihumātao]’.42 Weekes and his wife are soon enmeshed in a genial and mutually beneficial economy of gift and exchange, both pragmatic and ritualised. They are welcomed, sustained, protected, but also in a sense owned by the people of ‘Ihumátu’, their pet Pākehā. They are not exactly Pākehā-Māori, that designation from a slightly earlier period for Europeans who lived with Māori tribes, often intermarrying and facilitating trading links.43 It is difficult to see the economic advantage the amateur Weekes could afford the local Māori community although the relationship may have conferred prestige on the donors.

Weekes’ account is without the exotic, romanticised view of Māori characteristic of the later, Maoriland period. There is a sense in his account that he feels himself on the periphery of something not understood, for which he does not have the interpretive intellectual or literary models necessary to effect familiarisation. He chooses not to interpret. He is aware of ‘bad feeling’ between neighbouring tribes; one night he hears a volley of muskets and is visited by

an armed party of eighty men under the command of Te Kau on their way to the seat of war. This chief, the original owner of the island, was quite friendly … most considerate in his manner, and yet he had been an inveterable [sic] old cannibal … A chaunt used in rowing soon informed us that they were off, and shortly afterwards on ascending the nearest hill we saw two war canoes rounding the point of the island, the paddles glistening in the sun, moving like the legs of a huge centipede.44

Though not particularly aware of it, Weekes was observing a period of change. Ihumātao and its associated settlements of Awhitu and Pukekawa were part of the Tainui-Waikato confederation of tribes, at that time under the authority of Te Wherowhero, who later became the Māori king Potātau. Te Wherowhero’s presence was seen by the governor Sir George Grey as protection for the recently arrived settlers of Auckland against Ngā Puhi incursions from the north – which may be what Weekes witnesses. Tony Ballantyne points to the fact that ‘Indigenous social change was woven into imperial networks and global forces’, and certainly the increasing Pākehā presence in the area was met by local Māori with changes in their social organisation and agricultural practices as trade with Pākehā burgeoned. The gardens of Ihumātao, with its rich alluvial soil, had been cultivated since the fourteenth century, and was an important part of the growing Auckland market. Ballantyne writes:

the consequences of these transformations – increased agricultural surpluses and trade – were valued aspects of rangatiratanga (chieftainship). A central responsibility of leadership in the Māori world was overseeing the production, storage and distribution of food.

Weekes and his wife are the recipients of ‘manaakitanga – hospitality that recognises and enhances mana’.45 Ballantyne has used the terms ‘entanglement’ and ‘strategic intimacies’ to convey the complex nature of these links.46

Translating Crusoe

Weekes does not claim that his Māori visitors, either neighbourly or passing, are fellow Crusoe enthusiasts. But five years later they could have been. In 1852 Henry Tacy Kemp translated Robinson Crusoe and in 1854 Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into te reo Māori (the Māori language). The governor Sir George Grey considered the works would be ‘useful and interesting’ to Māori, and Kemp requested that the government printer issue 1,000 copies.

Writing about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Isabel Hofmeyr identifies ‘translatability’ as ‘an a priori assumption in the Protestant mission world … Driven by universalistic theories of language and evangelical ardour, mission organizations held that any and every text with the “right” message was translatable.’47 Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim’s Progress were obvious choices for colonial translation projects, following their widespread popularity in the metropole, and particularly with working-class readers. Jonathan Rose, in his history of nineteenth-century British working-class reading, writes that ‘three books in particular stand out: the Bible, of course, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. In the memoirs of common readers they are frequently discussed together, and men from humble backgrounds … remembered reading Pilgrim’s Progress or Robinson Crusoe as literal truth’.48 Describing them as ‘the best sellers of Hanoverian Britain’, Rose suggests that ‘all told essentially the same story … thrilling tales of adventure, about amazing journeys and terrific struggles, and memorable heroes who, with the help of God, miraculously prevail’.49

Kemp’s translation was only half the length of the original – no different in this from many English editions in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, where condensation was more the rule than the exception.50 In Kemp’s version, Crusoe’s journal and inventories were left out. And there were, perhaps inevitably, places where the official nature of the project and its governmental sponsorship trumped accuracy or literary values. Lani Kavika Hunter discusses a number of these, most intriguingly the transposition of Friday placing his head under Crusoe’s foot in the original to Crusoe himself doing so in the te reo version: ‘This simple but explicit act of physical subordination installs a strangely bizarre political stance which will be reproduced both openly and covertly by Pakeha writers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’51 But it is difficult to discriminate between the two versions as images of colonial power: in the te reo version, Crusoe imposes his will on the subservient Friday; but in Defoe’s original, Friday is shown as being if not the initiator then at least collaborative with that act of subordination. In the te reo version, Crusoe then addresses Friday – Hunter states, ‘the Maori text adds several lines wholly absent from the Defoe original’ – and makes an undertaking that Crusoe will treat Friday with love (aroha). In return, Friday must be obedient to Crusoe as his master.52 It is here that the ideological underpinning of the translation projects seem most overt – as the Colonist might put it, the transactional ‘embellished with the charms of fiction’.

The Pākehā reception of the te reo Robinson Crusoe reflected the familiarity and affection in which the original was held. A review in the Wellington Independent exclaimed:

So Robinson Crusoe after having gone through editions innumerable in his native tongue, and been translated into most of the known languages of the world, has at length, by the able assistance of the Native Secretary, Mr Kemp, made his first appearance in the vernacular tongue, on the Maori stage! And right glad we are to greet the renowned Crusoe in the native costume of our adopted country; his new clothes become him well, he is still the hero of our boyish days, the veritable adventurer at whose feet we have often so long and partially sat to listen to his simple, yet wild and wonderous story!53

The writer may have been partial – the Independent was the printer of both Crusoe and Pilgrim’s Progress. But there is sense of confidence and satisfaction that the enjoyment of the original will be shared by Māori readers. Crusoe may have been chosen because of its capacity for practical application – to imbue Māori with those qualities of self-reliance and hard work the newspaper commentaries hoped for in the Pākehā settler, a tool of assimilation. This was not necessarily a colonial imposition. As Lachy Paterson points out, such values ‘reflected changes Māori were themselves trying to effect or cope with’.54 But there is also a sense that the imaginative and pleasurable aspects of the text were an incentive for the translators and something that they wished to pass on to their readers. The Independent reviewer of Kemp’s translation continues, perhaps a little defensively:

It may be objected that Robinson Crusoe is inferior in point of religious or moral interest to many others which might have been selected for the purpose of promoting the education of the aboriginal population. To which we answer, that we may publish, and distribute book after book, containing the most valuable information, filled with the sublime truths of religion, and adorned with the most beautiful moral precepts, and yet to those who are unable to read, or who have no taste for reading, such books must necessarily remain a dead letter. They will never be read until a taste for reading has been implanted and nurtured.55

This end, ‘it was thought would be most likely effected by enlisting their sympathies and interest in the pure though exciting narrative of De Foe’s inimitable hero’.56 Reading is conceptualised as pleasure rather than (or as well) as indoctrination. In a later account of his translations, Kemp says that they were intended for ‘the benefit and amusement of the Maori people’. He continues, ‘[t]he dearth of light literature has been a long-felt want with the Maori people. It is true that they have the Bible, Prayer and hymn books, with a few other minor religious publications’ and concludes that Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim’s Progress ‘found a ready welcome with the Maoris’.57

However, the Māori response to the te reo Crusoe is in fact difficult to gauge; there are only second-hand Pākehā accounts of its reception, often written some time after its publication and usually in a self-congratulatory mode. Māori early enthusiasm for literacy and reading is a common observation.58 Hofmeyr, writing of translation and the nineteenth-century empire generally, claims that ‘shared ideas of literacy as a miraculous agent and books as magical objects grew up as a field of discourse between missionary and convert’, and this was true to a certain extent with Māori, although the practical, economic aspects of literacy as a tool of modernity were also important.59 Kemp’s preface to the first edition of Crusoe and the Independent review both claim that one of the guarantees of the translation’s success is that ‘the manner in which the story is told, corresponds entirely with the manner in which the Maories themselves are in the habit of relating events of any great importance’.60 But it is difficult to know what is meant by this. In 1900, Thomas Hocken wrote, ‘as Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe were exactly suited to native taste they were in high favour, until the inevitable Killjoy made it known that they were allegories, and then all interest ceased’.61 Again, it is unclear what ‘exactly suited to native taste’ means, and Hocken’s use of the term ‘allegories’ must refer to Pilgrim’s Progress, surely, rather than Crusoe.

According to William Swainson, again with no supporting evidence, ‘[t]he story of “Peter the Great,” which has been written for them in Maori, is read with avidity; while “Robinson Crusoe” has no charms for them, because it is not true’.62 But, as noted, it was common for all kinds of readers – Māori and Pākehā, New Zealand and British – to read Crusoe as fact rather than fiction. The title of Kemp’s te reo translation, He kōrero tipuna Pākeha no mua, ko Ropitini Kuruho, tona ingoa / na Te Kepa i whakamāori, means ‘A Māori translation of a tale of a historical Pākehā of time gone by whose name is Robinson Crusoe’, suggesting that readers were explicitly invited to view the account as nonfiction – and Defoe’s original text is certainly complicit in that mode of reading. While the te reo Bible was widely popular and sought after, there is evidence that Māori readers could be as disapproving of fiction in general as Victorian Pākehā.63 A Māori newspaper complains that ‘such tales as that of Robinson Crusoe and other trivial things’ have edged out political news.64 In the 1880s, the imprisoned Māori prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi rejected Robinson Crusoe in favour of the Bible. Their jailer John Ward wrote:

As neither of the prisoners have anything to read, I proposed to get them translations of Robinson Crusoe, and other light literature, but neither of them would hear of it. The books I mentioned were fables, they said (korero nuka), but they would like a Bible (Paipera) very much.65

For the Māori reader, as for the Pākehā, the Bible supplied a range of literary forms – history, mythology, genealogy, theology, narrative, poetry, and polemic – many of which seemed to speak to their own literatures. But this way of reading was also in keeping with British readers, where, according to Rose, both ‘the Bible and Bunyan … were both read through the same set of interchangeable frames: literal, fictional, allegorical, spiritual, political’.66

Peter Lineham argues that ‘Māori were accustomed to prophetic words, and the scripture seemed similar, although this was not how the missionaries explained it. Thus Māori culture became, at least briefly, intensely literal in its use of the Bible.’67 Judith Binney, Vincent O’Malley, and Alan Ward describe Biblical forms as striking ‘a rich vein of cultural identification’.68 And even Swainson conceded that although ‘the modern New Zealanders [i.e. Māori] are essentially a practical matter-of-fact people’, ‘[t]heir songs and poems, both ancient and modern, abound, in fact, with poetic imagery’ which is ‘occasionally highly figurative, and sometimes so obscurely so as to be intelligible only to a few’.69 George Grey wrote in the preface to Polynesian Mythology, that Māori

frequently quoted, in explanation of their view or intentions, fragments of ancient poems or proverbs, or made allusions which rested on an ancient system of mythology … the most important part of their communications were embodied in these figurative forms.70

In introducing Māori to ‘light literature’ Kemp and his sponsors were perhaps engaged in a more complex and lengthy project. In its review of Kemp’s Crusoe translation, the Independent makes an overt comparison between potential Māori readers and the generations of British working-class readers who were ‘painfully’ aware of ‘their want of mental culture’, and ‘more highly appreciate the advantages that knowledge confers’, but who for various reasons had not had the opportunity to acquire ‘a taste for reading’, whose ‘habits and occupations have removed them far away from communion with books’. The reviewer concludes ‘that it is but reasonable to suppose that the same hindrance to the diffusion of knowledge, at least to some degree, exists among the native race’.71

If none of Henry Weekes’ Māori visitors brought with them a copy of Kemp’s translation, then neither did they resemble the Indigenous figures in Defoe’s novel. Weekes’ neighbours are confident actors in a complex web of mutually sustaining, sophisticated economic practices; they exhibit a shared civility and a sense of host responsibility based on the traditional practices of Aotearoa, but in concert with the changing circumstances of mid-century New Zealand. In Robinson Crusoe, the natives are bestial cannibal hordes or the grateful and subservient Friday. Weekes’ Indigenous are his genial though tough-minded neighbours and the tangential passing war party that pays him no concern. He does not attempt to conscript either group into his Robinsonade fantasy of Puketutu Island.

And yet Puketutu does have a Friday. It is not one of the Māori locals; it is Weekes’ white servant Edwards, who is referred to by this name – ‘My man “Friday”’.72 The narrative treats Edwards as a comic turn – a ‘lazy fellow’ who soon becomes ‘practically his own master’. Weekes asserts that ‘to a stranger he appeared “half-saved”’ – that is, simple-minded – ‘yet he would now and then give evidence of much good sense’.73 The Weekes’ social inferior, he is nonetheless efficient, practical, knowledgeable (even of the Māori language in which he is proficient), and indispensable to these frankly amateur Crusoes, who feel lonely when he is absent. He is ‘native’ – as Weekes’ description of him as ‘Friday’ implies. The Colonist describes Crusoe’s ‘native good sense’ and his ‘native soil’. Edward may not display much of the former: his negligence burning fern leads to the destruction of the house and Weekes’ final decision to sell the island. But in terms of the latter, being in the process of acquiring a ‘native soil’, Edwards/Friday models the process of settler Indigenisation which looks forward to a time when the Māori inhabitants of the Manakau Harbour will have been displaced.

After the wars of the 1860s, 1.2 million acres of land were confiscated from Waikato-Tainui, including the gardens of Ihumātao. The Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Deed of Settlement, signed by Queen Elizabeth and the Māori Queen Dame Atairangikaahu on 22 May 1995, included $170 million and an apology for past Treaty breaches, ‘something which’, according to Richard Hill, ‘held tremendous significance for the claimants and which created both national and international precedents’.74 But the principle of private land not being subject to Treaty claims meant that Ihumātao itself remained in the possession of the Pākehā farming family it had been granted to on confiscation. When that family sold it, and despite promises that it would be included in the nearby historic reserve, the land was rezoned as a Special Housing Area and in 2016 was sold to a property developer. A protest, occupation, and negotiations between the government, the Auckland City Council, and the Maori king Tūheitea Paki are continuing.


1 Memorandum Book, 1855–77; XTS.130.1, Puke Ariki, New Plymouth, New Zealand; Henry Weekes, ‘My Island’, The Establishment of the New Plymouth Settlement in New Zealand, 1841–1843, eds J. Rutherford and W. H. Skinner (New Plymouth: Thomas Avery, 1940), p. 115. In te reo Māori, ‘puke’ means hill and ‘tutu’ a shrub. Although Weekes refers to his island as Puketutu, it was for a period known as Weekes’ Island. It is now referred to as either Puketutu or Te Motu a Hiaroa, named for Hiaroa, the sister of the Tainui navigator Rakataura. See James Cowan and Maui Pomare, Legends of the Maori, vol. 1 (1930; Papakura: Southern Reprints, 1987), pp. 43–4.
2 Bill Bell, ‘Crusoe’s Books: The Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century’, in Bill Bell, Philip Bennett, and Jonquil Bevan (eds), Across Boundaries: The Book in Culture and Commerce (Winchester: Oak Knoll Press, 2000), p. 116.
3 Peter Mandler, ‘The Problem with Cultural History’, Cultural and Social History, 1 (2004), 96–7.
4 Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719; Penguin: London, 2012), p. 61.
5 Defoe, Crusoe, p. 61.
6 A. K. [Anne Knight], Mornings in the Library, Being a Collection of Short Extracts from Various Authors, with Introduction and Poems by Bernard Barton (London, 1830?).
7 Anon, ‘Agriculture – the Basis of Colonial Prosperity’, Colonist (28 December 1858), p. 3.
8 Gail Lowe, ‘Book History’, in Ralph Crane, Jane Stafford, and Mark Williams (eds), The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volume 9: The World Novel to 1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 15.
9 Anon, ‘What Do the People Read?’, New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait Guardian (25 March 1854), p. 4.
10 ‘What Do the People Read?’, p. 4.
11 Charlotte Macdonald, ‘Beyond the Realm: The Loss of Culture as the Colonial Condition’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 12 (2011), 2.
12 Thomas Bracken, ‘A Paper from Home’, collected in Lays of the Land of the Maori and the Moa (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1884), p. 148, but published earlier in various New Zealand newspapers.
13 Anon, ‘Review’, Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
14 Anon, [Editorial], Southern Cross (13 November 1847), p. 2.
15 Samuel Stephens, ‘Sketch of an Excursion from Nelson, through Queen Charlotte Sound and the Waitoi Pass to the Wairau Plain, &c’, Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle (29 March 1845), p. 13.
16 Mavis Reimer, Clare Bradford, and Heather Snell, ‘Juvenile Fiction’, in Crane, Stafford, and Williams (eds), Oxford History of the Novel in English: Volume 9, p. 280.
17 Anon, ‘Agriculture – the Basis of Colonial Prosperity’, Colonist (28 December 1858), p. 3.
18 Miles Ogburn, Indian Ink: Script and Print in the Making of the East India Company (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007), p. 11.
19 William Cargill, ‘Dunedin Mechanics Institution: Lecture Delivered by Captain Cargill’, Otago Witness (30 July 1853), p. 3.
20 Anon, ‘Agriculture – the Basis of Colonial Prosperity’, Colonist (8 December 1858), p. 3.
21 Colonist (28 December 1858), p. 3.
22 Colonist (28 December 1858), p. 3.
23 William Gisborne, ‘Footprints on the Sands of Time: A Lecture’, Daily Southern Cross (14 August 1857), p. 3.
24 Anon, [Editorial], Southern Cross (13 November 1847), p. 2.
25 Archibald Michie, ‘Colonists Socially, and their Relation to the Mother Country’, Otago Witness (24 March 1860), p. 2.
26 Anon, [Editorial], Otago Witness (3 January 1857), p. 3.
27 Anon, ‘A New Zealand Robinson Crusoe’, Otago Daily Times (29 August 1862), p. 6.
28 Otago Daily Times (29 August 1862), p. 6.
29 Vanessa Smith, ‘Crusoe in the South Seas: Beachcombers, Missionaries and the Myth of the Castaway’, in Lieve Spaas and Brian Stimpson (eds), Robinson Crusoe: Myths and Metamorphoses (London: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 62–77.
30 Otago Daily Times (29 August 1862), p. 6.
31 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 131.
32 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 130.
33 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 115.
34 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 116.
35 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 117.
36 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 118.
37 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 121.
38 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 127.
39 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 116.
40 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 122.
41 Defoe, Crusoe, p. 160.
42 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 119.
43 See Trevor Bentley, Pakeha Maori: The Extraordinary Story of the Europeans Who Lived as Maori in Early New Zealand (Auckland: Penguin, 1999).
44 Bentley, Pakeha Maori, p. 125.
45 Tony Ballantyne, ‘Christianity, Commerce, and the Remaking of the Māori World’, in Kate Fullagar and Michael McDonnell (eds), Facing Empire: Indigenous Experience in a Revolutionary Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), pp. 193, 203, 207.
46 Ballantyne, ‘Christianity, Commerce’, p. 207; Tony Ballantyne, ‘Strategic Intimacies: Knowledge and Colonization in Southern New Zealand’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, 14 (2013), 4–18.
47 Isabel Hofmeyr, The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of The Pilgrim’s Progress (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 13.
48 Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 93.
49 Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, p. 94.
50 Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, p. 107. For example, an eighteenth-century chapbook version was, according to Rose, eight pages long with Friday appearing in the final paragraph.
51 Lani Kavika Hunter, ‘Spirits of New Zealand: Early Pakeha Writers on Maori’ (PhD dissertation, Auckland University, 2004), p. 97.
52 Hunter, ‘Spirits of New Zealand’, p. 98.
53 Anon, ‘Review’, Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
54 Lachy Paterson, Colonial Discourses: Niupepa Māori, 1855–1863 (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2006), p. 35.
55 Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
56 Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
57 Henry Tacy Kemp, Revised Narrative of Incidents and Events in the Early Colonizing History of New Zealand from 1840 to 1880 (Auckland: Wilson and Horton, 1901), pp. 7, 11.
58 See, for example, Shef Rogers’ discussion, ‘Crusoe among the Maori: Translation and Colonial Acculturation in Victorian New Zealand’, Book History, 1 (1998), 183–4.
59 Hofmeyr, Portable Bunyan, p .13.
60 Anon, ‘Review’, Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
61 T. M. Hocken, ‘Some Account of the Beginnings of Literature in New Zealand: Part I, the Maori Section’, Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 33 (1900), 488.
62 William Swainson, New Zealand and Its Colonization (London: Smith, Elder, 1859), p. 45.
63 C. J. Parr, ‘A Missionary Library: Printed Attempts to Instruct the Maori, 1815–1845’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 70 (1961), 436–40.
64 Frith Driver-Burgess, ‘Korero Pukapuka, Talking Books: Reading in Reo Māori in the Long Nineteenth Century’ (MA dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington, 2015), p. 20.
65 John P. Ward, Wanderings with the Maori Prophets, Te Whiti and Tohu; Being Reminiscences of a Twelve-Month Companionship with Them, from Their Arrival in Christchurch in April 1882 to Their Return to Parihaka in March 1883 (Nelson: Bond, Finney & Co., 1883), p. 7. ‘Nuka’ means ‘deceptive’ or ‘trick’.
66 Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, p. 160.
67 Peter Lineham, Sunday Best: How the Church Shaped New Zealand and New Zealand Shaped the Church (Auckland: Massey University Press, 2017), p. 136.
68 Judith Binney, with Vincent O’Malley and Alan Ward, Te Ao Hou: The New World, 1820–1920 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2018), p. 20.
69 Swainson, New Zealand and Its Colonization, p. 45.
70 George Grey, Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race as Furnished by Their Priests and Chiefs (Auckland: H. Brett, 1855), p. x.
71 Anon, ‘Review’, Wellington Independent (29 May 1852), p. 3.
72 Weekes, ‘My Island’, pp. 121, 127.
73 Weekes, ‘My Island’, p. 131.
74 Richard Hill, Maori and the State: Crown–Maori Relations in New Zealand/ Aotearoa, 1950–2000 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2009), p. 259.

Worlding the south

Nineteenth-century literary culture and the southern settler colonies


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