New Zealand history
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.
Available in print and e-book.
Paperback, 256 pp
ISBN 13: 9781742532493 ISBN 10: 1742532497
Visit this book at Penguin
Buy the print edition from Fishpond
Buy the Kobo edition from Fishpond [coming soon]
Matthew Wright's latest books
Historic Hawke's Bay
and East Coast
in his goal of
showing New Zealand society in microcosm as it evolved from a frontier
world to what it is now'.
David Bateman, Auckland 2010
- "JEJ", Gisborne Herald, 19
'These pictures, showing people from all walks of life, speak
volumes...it's like walking through the family photo albums of several
- Heritage Matters, Issue 25,
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
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
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
Buy this book from Fishpond
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
– 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.
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
of its social ills, a world built around religious conviction and pure
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 |
Out of print
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
This book was one of the top ten best selling non-fiction books in New
Zealand during August and September 2009.
See this book at Random House
Buy this book from Fishpond
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
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.
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.
Out of print
Quake Hawke's Bay
75th commemoration edition
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
-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
See Matthew Wright's books at Penguin
|| New Zealand's
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
ISBN 0 7900 0690 1
Out of print
|| Working Together - The
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.
Not commercially available
Napier - City of
Photography by Clive Ralph
Random House, Auckland 1997
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
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.
Hawke's Bay - The History of a Province
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
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