New Zealand history

Coal: the rise and fall of King Coal in New Zealand
David Bateman Ltd, Auckland 2014

From hero to zero, coal has taken New Zealand on a rollercoaster ride since its glory days as the hero fuel of colonial-age New Zealand. Coal was pivotal to the country’s growth, even as everybody grumbled about the mess.

The men who dug it out of the ground had to keep digging, come what may, but were widely feared to be planning the overthrow of society. Even when coal was dislodged by electricity and clean-burning gas, the stuff lurked behind the scenes.

Then, as the twenty-first century rolled around, coal changed its face again, becoming the demon-child of climate change. Its hero journey was over, and into that mix came the tragedy at Pike River, reminding the nation that coal mining was as dangerous as ever.

Buy online from Fishpond:

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Paperback, 200 pp
ISBN 978-1-86953-723-4

Living on shaky ground: the science and story behind New Zealand's earthquakes
Penguin Random House, Auckland 2014

This is the story of New Zealand's turbulent tectonics, how earthquakes are measured and described, and how scientists are predicting future shakes across New Zealand. It features some of New Zealand's lesser-known quakes, such as the most powerful quake ever recorded in New Zealand, quakes that have had deadly consequences, and the most recent tremors effecting Wellington and Marlborough.

Accessible text with in-depth science explains why New Zealand is effected by earthquakes and how damage is caused, with accompanying diagrams and data from GNS Science. It  includes the long history of New Zealand's earthquakes with gripping photographs and personal accounts.

The must-have guide for anyone affected by earthquakes in New Zealand, those curious to know what's next in-store, or anyone studying the evolving science behind them.

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Living on shaky ground: the science and story behind New Zealand's earthquakes
Paperback, 240 pp
ISBN 9781775536888

The New Zealand Wars: a brief history
Libro International, Auckland 2014

From 1845 to 1875, New Zealand experienced a succession of conflicts that stretched from the Bay of Islands to Wellington. What they meant has been debated ever since. To some they were land wars, to others, the Maori wars; lately we are calling them the New Zealand wars. Why were they fought? Who really won them?

In reality these wars were fought over both land and sovereignty. In the process, the British, settlers and allied Maori ended up fighting other Maori, and by the late 1860s the wars had really become a civil war. And the fighting was tough for all who fought in them. Matthew Wright outlines what happened and why.

First published in 2006 as Fighting Past Each Other, this brief introduction to the wars is completely re-written and updated for readers of all ages.
'Magpies' described the earlier edition as:
'The perfect introduction to the causes, events and results of the New Zealand Wars... well written in a fresh and accessible style, with a language level pitched nicely at young reader'.

Buy online from Fishpond:

The New Zealand Wars: A Brief History

Kindle edition soon.

Paperback, 88 pp
ISBN 978-1-877514-68-5

Bateman Illustrated
                              History of New Zealand cover

Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand
David Bateman, Auckland 2013

"Books of this sweep, length, and immensity of topic are often described as "ambitious". That it certainly is, but it is an ambition emphatically realised. Both author and publisher have done a great job ...  Everyone who lives in this country would benefit from reading this book, and would enjoy it." Graeme Barrow, Northern Advocate

"Wright has covered a lot of ground, engaged with the best of current historical and archaeological thinking and served up a lively, sound general history of New Zealand for the general reader. Bateman should also take another bow, the $49.99 RRP is a bargain these days for such a massive, profusely illustrated book." Gavin McLean, Otago Daily Times

"...an extraordinarily accessible journey through our arguably short but undeniably rich history.  I recommend it to anyone who has an active interest in the past or has simply been looking for an excuse to learn more about the events that shaped this country." - Lemuel Lyes, 'History Geek' blog.

Experience the past. See our journey. Understand the now.

Embark on a unique one-volume voyage of discovery through New Zealand's exciting, turbulent and always fascinating past.
Six hundred photographs and artworks combine with Matthew Wright's interpretative text to bring the past to life, from the arrival of Polynesia to discovery by Europe, race relations, jingoism, world wars, the Pavlova paradise, tour protests and beyond.

Previously published as the best selling Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand, this second edition is fully revised and updated with completely re-written text and revised photographic selection, updated and re-cast for the twenty-first century

Available in print from good bookstores, and online from:

David Bateman Ltd's online store


Kindle, Kobo and iBook editions coming soon.

Paperback, 488 pp
ISBN 978-1-86953-841-5

Convicts: New Zealand's hidden criminal past
Penguin, Auckland 2012

‘As Matthew Wright acknowledges, although “generations of historians have told and retold the tales, openly and happily”, the true story of convict involvement has been ignored by many New Zealanders who have sought to differentiate themselves from their Western Island… Although some academic reviewers use the word “prolific” as a pseudo-insult, Wright combines a scholar’s mastery of the sources with a journalistic skill at communicating complex messages to lay people, all sharpened by the experience of writing nearly 50 books.’ - Gavin McLean, Otago Daily Times, 11 August 2012.

'...great reading, full of specific real-life personalities and daring escapades, some horrifying, to be measured and understood against the background of Maori and British cultures of those decades of the nineteenth century. This is the first time the tale of New Zealand's convicts has been told to this detail, in a single book - one destined to become a New Zealand classic.
- Jo Keppel, Greymouth Evening Star, 26 July 2012

'Wright has done a great job of exposing activities which society had considered best forgotten, and made it interesting reading to boot'.
– Graeme Barrow, Northern Advocate, 23 July 2012, and Wanganui Chronicle, 16 August 2012.

‘…an entertaining and informative account of some of the larger-than-life characters who made this country their home in the early 19th century…’
- Alister Browne, Manawatu Standard, 17 August 2012.

‘…adds to the colourful tapestry of New Zealand’s early settlement.’
- Mana, New Zealand, 1 September 2012.

‘Wright has carved out a niche for himself in pre-Treaty New Zealand history, from which very few written records survive. It’s not an easy field to research.’
- Mike Houlihan, D-Scene, 5 September 2012.

This rollicking tale of white crime takes us to pre-1840 New Zealand, a riotous age when lawlessness leaked from the periphery of Empire – in this case, the penal colonies of Australia, established in 1788.

Prisoners stowed away on boats, escaped in boats and otherwise made their way across the Tasman – where Maori looked on most of them with disdain. Some left as soon as they could. Others stayed.

They were joined by others, former prisoners with ‘certificates of freedom’ who had done their time and crossed to New Zealand where they became whalers, sealers, ne’er-do-wells and traders.

Curiously, the biggest criminals weren’t convicts – they were sea captains, supposed upholders of the law who became involved in all kinds of skullduggery around New Zealand’s coastline, ranging from cannibalism to genocide. They were bad, some of them were mad - and it all happened in just a few exciting decades in a tiny corner of the South Pacific.

This is the first time the tale of these people has been told in this detail, in a single book.

Paperback, 256 pp
ISBN 13: 9781742532493 ISBN 10: 1742532497

Print copies available direct from the author

Historic Hawke's Bay and East Coast
David Bateman, Auckland 2010

'Wright has succeeded in his goal of showing New Zealand society in microcosm as it evolved from a frontier world to what it is now'.
- "JEJ", Gisborne Herald, 19 November 2010.

'These pictures, showing people from all walks of life, speak volumes...it's like walking through the family photo albums of several generations'.
- Heritage Matters, Issue 25, Summer 2010-11.

Hawke's Bay and the East Coast were settled by pakeha during the heady days of the mid-nineteenth century. And they brought their cameras with them. Over the next 150 years, tens of thousands of images recorded the life of the districts.

In Historic Hawke's Bay and East Coast, Matthew Wright has selected 150 iconic images of people and places, as their lives evolved and changed over 150 years, from the earliest colonial days through the tragedy of earthquake to the triumph of the lifestyle provinces that emerged in the early twenty-first century.

Case bound, 160 pp
ISBN 978-I-86953-779-1

Buy this book from David Bateman Ltd
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Old South: Life and Times in the Nineteenth Century Mainland
Penguin, Auckland 2009

‘A really significant contribution to our history' 
– Harry Broad, Radio New Zealand National, 10 September 2009.

‘Fans of Keith Sinclair and Michael King will likely be or become fans of Matthew Wright as well. Like King and Sinclair, Wright has a profound knowledge of his subject and uses lucid prose to convey it. And, like King's, Wright's knowledge extends equally to Maori and Pakeha. He is deeply interested in the why of things, in the complex interplay of environment, economics and personalities...this vibrant history has, in Matthew Wright, a worthy and very able scholar to explain it.” 
– Fritz Logan, Timaru Herald, 21 November 2009.

'In this book, Wright attempts to meet Leo Tolstoy's challenge as expressed in War and Peace: the subject of history is the life of peoples and of humanity...' 
–  Vic Evans, Nelson Mail, 25 November 2009.

Old South is a book of triumphs, tragedies and earnest hopes. In its pages, noted historian Matthew Wright paints a vibrant picture of the rise and fall of social idealism in the old south – the tale of the greedy, idealistic social engineers who dreamed of a bigger, better Britain freed of its social ills, a world built around religious conviction and pure private-enterprise ideals.

He explores their world – and the rise and fall of its successor, a colourful, vigorous frontier of gold and wool. The South Island emerged instead as a colourful world of social climbers, would-be aristocrats and ambitious ne’er-do-wells. Their deeds and hopes shaped the nineteenth century south for a generation.

Paperback, 416 pp.
ISBN 9781742288178 | 1742288170

Print copies available direct from the author.

Big Ideas: 100 Wonders of New Zealand Engineering
Random House, Auckland 2009

Big Ideas: 100 Wonders of New Zealand Engineering offers an exciting glimpse of New Zealand's engineering history. Through a hundred projects covering more than 150 years, Matthew Wright recounts some of the triumphs, innovations and hard work that have given New Zealand some of its greatest bridges, buildings and inventions.

This book was one of the top ten best selling non-fiction books in New Zealand during August and September 2009.

240 pp
ISBN 9783069791070

Out of print.

Fantastic Pasts: Imaginary adventures in New Zealand history
Penguin, Auckland 2007

"...a great philosophical read, and the possibilities are endless..."
- Graeme Cass, Hawke's Bay Today, 2 June 2007.

Let's suppose New Zealand's past was a little different.  That Polynesians didn't discover New Zealand.  Or that the Spanish did. Imagine a New Zealand where prohibition held sway.  Or where a volcano erupted in Auckland in 1932.  Suppose Japan invaded us in 1942.  Or imagine if somebody had been killed during the 1981 Springbok tour.

Matthew Wright explores these possible worlds and others in a collection of imaginary histories that portray a very different New Zealand from the one we know - another country filled with steam-powered racing cars, gourmet moa roasts, llamas and garrulous politicians.

ISBN 978 014 302053 0

Out of print.


The Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand
Reed, Auckland, 2004

"[Wright's] well informed, substantial and thoroughly readable text tells a coherent story of the human occupation of this land. A meticulous production and excellent value for money.'
- The Dominion-Post Weekend, 6-7 November 2004.

Matthew Wright extends his award-winning interpretation of our colonial past in this popular and accessible account of New Zealand’s life and times since around 1800. Why do we want to own our quarter-acre slice of paradise? Where did our ideals of equality come from? And why has the ‘cultural cringe’ taken so long to overcome? Matthew Wright tells us why in his lively, accessible narrative that recounts our headlong journey through peace, war, suffrage, beer and ultimately cafes up to late twentieth century. His text is complemented by more than 600 images from the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, painting the essential picture of our past over the past hundred and fifty years. These images bring to reality the people, the places and the themes that have made New Zealand what it is today. This is a book to read, to dip into, to browse, and to enjoy - a celebration of the strength and diversity of New Zealand's remarkable history. An 'essential Reed' for every New Zealand home.

ISBN 0790009552

Out of print.


Town and Country - The History of Hastings and District
HDC, Hastings, 2001

The history of Hastings and district can be traced back to the earliest days of settlement in Hawke's Bay. Enthusiastic settlers eager to build a new society established a boisterous town which quickly became a focal point of the surrounding countryside. In an accessible and well-referenced narrative, Matthew Wright traces the development of a town and district from the 1860s to the turn of the twenty-first century, linking events into the broader sweep of New Zealand history and showing how and why the district developed as it did over the years.

ISBN 0-473-07662-4

Out of print.



Quake Hawke's Bay 1931
75th commemoration  edition
Reed, Auckland 2001, reprinted 2006

"...[an] unrivalled blend of compelling scholarly detail and poignant human interest...'
- Wairarapa Times-Age, 10 June 2006.

"...all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster...a fascinating depiction of horrific destruction, tragedy, heroism and survival..." 
-Hawke's Bay Today, 31 January 2006. 

On 3 February 1931, Hawke's Bay was shattered by the largest earthquake ever recorded in New Zealand. It was a disaster of national proportions, a catastrophe that killed 256 people and seriously injured more than 400. 
Fresh pictures, diaries and eyewitness accounts have continued to emerge since, painting a picture of immediacy that spans the decades. Scientific analysis has revised most of the previously accepted details of the seismic event, including the strength of the quake - revised down in 1981 to a magnitude of 7.8.
Drawing on eyewitness accounts and rare photographs of the quake, Matthew Wright brings the tragic events of February 1931 to life in this illustrated and solidly researched account of New Zealand's most destructive natural disaster. 

This edition, produced for the 75th commemoration, includes 40 new images, some previously unpublished. 

ISBN 0 7900 0776 2

Out of print.

New Zealand's Engineering Heritage
Reed, Auckland 1999

"...a really excellent history of engineering in New Zealand... a stunning record..."
- Gretchen Kivell, e.nz,, March 2000.

New Zealand has an impressive engineering heritage, recognised by the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand in a series of awards given to prominent engineering achievements. This well-illustrated book commemorates the IPENZ award-winners from Kaitaia to Bluff. Over 65 projects, spanning more than 130 years, feature in this record of engineering works that have contributed to the shape of New Zealand today.

ISBN 0 7900 0690 1

Out of print.


Working Together - The History of Carter Oji Kokusaku Pan Pacific Ltd, 1971-1993

Carter-Oji Kokusaku Pan Pacific Ltd was one of the first international joint ventures in New Zealand, and has been acknowledged as one of the most successful. This book is about Pan Pac during the years of that joint venture, tracing the history of the company from a simple comment made during a chance meeting, to the establishment and development of a company that became a major player in the New Zealand timber processing sector.

ISBN 0-473-05378-0

Not commercially available


Napier - City of Style
Photography by Clive Ralph
Random House, Auckland 1997

This well-illustrated overview of Napier paints a portrait of New Zealand's premier art-deco city, from its origins as an 1850s colonial town, through the disastrous 1931 earthquake to its rebirth and renaissance as a modernist city.

ISBN 306941 313 X

Out of print.


Havelock North - The History of a Village
HDC, Hastings 1996

Havelock North was more than just a small Hawke's Bay town. For three generations it was 'our village', a place with a sense of community, a home to colourful independent philosophers, writers and artists whose influence shaped a community unlike any other New Zealand had seen. In a lively and well-referenced narrative, Matthew Wright traces 150 years of history, from the first European efforts to buy land in the Te Mata district through to the 1989 local body reforms.

ISBN 0-473-03962-1

Out of print.

Hawke's Bay - The History of a Province
Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1994

In this award-winning book, Matthew Wright outlines the broad historical patterns that shaped Hawke's Bay from pre-European days through to the last decade of the twentieth century, focussing in particular on the elite society of the day.

ISBN 0 8649 306 6

Out of print.

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