Friday, December 8, 2023

'Blood and Dirt' one of the best books of 2023!

Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand (BWB) has been out for four months now, and the positive feedback has been amazing. I've been overwhelmed by the response of readers who have emailed me their thoughts - thank you. Published reviews, videos and talks/podcasts about the book can be found on the BWB website here: 

To top this off, Blood and Dirt has been featured on a number of best books of 2023 lists. The only New Zealand history book to make the list and one of the few New Zealand nonfiction titles, The New Zealand Listener wrote:  
"Lively account of how crime and punishment, capital and labour, came together, in this reappraisal of incarceration since colonial settlement, prisoners’ efforts – streets, breakwalls, defence fortifications – hiding in plain sight."
On The Spinoff, Claire Mabey and Kiran Dass wrote:
Before this book I had never considered, or heard of, prison labour contributing to the built environment of Aotearoa New Zealand. This book is an essential history that will make you look with fresh eyes at the colonial project and the inequities of the justice system. / Claire Mabey

This book hits all the sweet spots for me – Aotearoa social history with a strong narrative drive. This is an important book about labour, capitalism, colonisation, and the crucial role that prisoners played in public infrastructure, with the idea that history should be challenging while leading to radical social change. Blood and Dirt is an exemplary example of what beautiful and intelligent publishing can look like in Aotearoa. / Kiran Dass, WORD Christchurch

The Sunday Star Times included Blood and Dirt alongside three other best local titles, noting:

With the incoming coalition government promising to crack down on crime, there’s no better time to acquaint yourself with New Zealand’s punitive system – measured in the very infrastructure laid by prisoners over the decades. As Jared Davidson writes, forced labour is evident in the country’s streets and urban spaces, from the Bay of Islands, to Milford Sound, to our biggest cities. Davidson told the Start-Times in September, “I think it will change the way we think about New Zealand and the places we take for granted today.”

And across the Tasman, the Australia Institute included Blood and Dirt on their 2023 Essential Reading List.

I was lucky enough to share my own best reads of 2023 with The Spinoff, including Audition by Pip Adam and The Financial Colonisation of Aotearoa by Catherine Comyn. Two others that could have easily made the list were The Words For Her by Thomasin Sleigh and Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History by Ryan Bodman.

Speaking of Pip Adam, a highlight of my literary year was being able to share a stage (and kōrero) with Pip as part of VERB Wellington. Pip recorded the session for her Better Off Read Podcast. Have a listen and support her work here:

There's some more talks and events to come in 2024, including the Auckland Writers Festival - details can be found on my website:

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Prison labour, history-making and power: Notes on Trouillot’s 'Silencing the Past'

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History was published by Haitian writer and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot in 1995. As I’ve written elsewhere, Silencing the Past profoundly shaped the way I understand archives and the production of history. It is a go-to text for writers, educators and students across the globe and continues to offer insights into why some stories are remembered and others are not, and how historical narratives are produced and reproduced.


In Silencing the Past, Trouillot is less interested in what history is, but how history works. He writes, ‘This book is about history and power. It deals with the many ways in which the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means for such production. The forces I will expose are less visible than gunfire, class property or political crusades. I want to argue that they are no less powerful.’


Trouillot begins chapter one with the example of the Alamo, which was won by Santa Anna in March 1836 but ‘lost’ in the longer narrative. A few weeks after the Mexican victory at the Alamo, Santa Anna was captured by the Americans at San Jacinto. The American victory was punctuated with shouts of ‘Remember the Alamo’. With their battle cry and its reference to Alamo, writes Trouillot, the men under Sam Houston doubly made history: ‘as actors, they captured Santa Anna… as narrators, they gave the Alamo story a new meaning.’ They reversed for more than a century the victory Santa Anna thought he had gained at the Alamo.


This is Trouillot’s way of introducing a key tenet of the book: the double meaning of the word ‘history’. The double meaning (or the double-sided historicity) he is interested in is history as what happened and history as that which is said to have happened. The first places emphasis on the sociohistorical process, while the second places emphasis on our knowledge of that process or the story about that process. As Trouillot demonstrates, neither are as straight forward as they seem.


From the Alamo through to the Haitian Revolution and the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Columbus, Trouillot examines the blurriness of this double meaning, tracking power and the production of history through multiple examples, especially their silences.


First, Trouillot offers a critique of the storage model of history, in which history is understood as the simple recall of important past experiences and events. In this model, history is to a collective what remembrance is to an individual, ‘the more or less conscious retrieval of past experiences stored in memory.’

Trouillot points out the flaws in this model, using the example of a person recalling in monologue form all their memories of a particular event, or even their life. ‘Consider a monologue describing in sequence all of an individual’s recollections. It would sound as a meaningless cacophony even to the narrator.’ And what about the events that shape us, but which we may not be able to remember or recall. The idea that the past is fixed and separate and can be accurately recalled at will is not only cognitively impossible, it does not form a history. As Trouillot notes, ‘the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present.’ In this sense, ‘the past has no content. The past – or more accurately, pastness – is a position.’


The problem of determining what belongs to the past is even harder when that past is said to be shared. When does the life of a collective start? How does a collective decide which events to recall, to include or exclude? ‘The storage model’ writes Trouillot, ‘assumes not only the past to be remembered but the collective subject that does the remembering.’ Who are the ‘we’ in this example?


Trouillot comes back to the double meaning of the word history and how the search for what history is has led people to either a) demarcate precisely and at all times the dividing line between historical process (what happened) and historical knowledge (that which is said to have happened), or b) to conflate them completely. Instead, Trioullot suggests that between the two extremes of a mechanically “realist” or positivist approach, or the naïve “constructivist” or relativist approach, there is a middle approach – one that asks how history works rather than what history is. ‘For what history is changes with time and place or, better said, history reveals itself through the production of specific narratives. What matters most are the processes and conditions of production of such narratives. Only a focus on that process can uncover the ways in which the two sides of historicity intertwine in a particular context. Only through that overlap can we discover the differential exercise of power that makes some narratives possible and silences others.’



Trouillot’s treatment of silences in the production of history are especially important. Rather than mere absences or presences – which are too passive for Trouillot – silence is ‘an active and transitive process: one “silences” a fact or an individual as a silencer silences a gun. One engages in the practice of silencing. Mentions and silences are thus active.’ Trouillot emphasises that history is constantly produced, that what we understand as ‘history’ changes with time and place, and that what is said to have happened as the recall of facts is indeed a process filled with silences. For Trouillot, it is not just a matter of what is remembered or forgotten. Silences are produced and reproduced throughout any telling of a story.


In one of the most important and oft-cited passages of the book, Trouillot writes that ‘silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).’

We will come back to these soon. But for now, he writes that these moments ‘are not meant to provide a realistic description of the making of any individual narrative. Rather, they help us understand why not all silences are equal and why they cannot be addressed – or redressed – in the same manner.’ In other words, ‘any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences, the result of a unique process, and the operation required to deconstruct these silences will vary accordingly.’


Hence the mention of power in the by-line of Silencing the Past. For Trioullot, power ‘does not enter the story once and for all, but at different times and from different angles. It precedes the narrative proper, contributes to its creation and to its interpretation.’ ‘Power is constitutive of the story’ writes Trouillot. ‘Tracking power through various moments helps emphasise the fundamentally processual character of historical production, to insist that what history is matters less that how history works.’


Archives 101 (or the moment fact assembly, the making of archives)

This is where an understanding of context is so important, and why provenance and original order are keystones to archival practice. It is context that allows us to make sense of a source and its creation, and to place it in relation to others. And context helps us to think about the four moments that silence can enter the historical process.


Like the word history, the word archive has a double meaning. There are archives as evidence, and archives as an institution or repository. Both have power to marshal narratives and make meanings. And stories are key to both.


At their most basic, archives are stories. Whether we’re talking about archives as evidence or archival institutions, all peoples use archives as stories, whether transmitted through speech, written in text, woven within tāniko patterns or embodied in tā moko, performed as ritual or shared in everyday practices, or displayed in objects or in the land itself. For Trouillot, ‘archives are the institutions that organise facts and sources and condition the possibility of existence of historical statements.’ These ‘historical narratives are premised on previous understandings, which are themselves premised on the distribution of archival power’. As Rodney Carter writes,


‘Archival power is, in part, the power to allow voices to be heard. It consists of highlighting certain narratives and of including certain types of records created by certain groups. The power of the archive is witnessed in the act of inclusion, but this is only one of its components. The power to exclude is a fundamental aspect of the archive. Inevitably, there are distortions, omissions, erasures, and silences in the archive. Not every story is told.’


Yet throughout the twentieth century, public archives were seen as passive, objective and neutral. The public archivist was an impartial custodian – interpretation was the job of those using archives and not that of the archivist. ‘The good Archivist’, wrote Sir Hilary Jenkinson, the grandfather of the Western archival canon, was ‘perhaps the most selfless devotee of Truth the modern world produces.’ Archives were the evidence from which Truth (with a capital ‘T’) could be found.


More recently, the post-custodial turn has challenged this view. A questioning of the profession’s objectivity has reframed or refigured archives and archival institutions. Archives are increasingly viewed as social constructs – they don’t simply ‘arrive or emerge fully formed, nor are they innocent of struggles for power in either their creation or their interpretive applications . . . all archives come into being in and as history as a result of specific political, cultural, and socioeconomic pressures.’ And for Trouillot, this is also true of the moment of fact creation – the making of sources, or archives as evidence.


Facts and Historical Facts (or the moment of fact creation and the moment of fact retrieval)

Following Trouillot and others, the evidential nature of archives as sources have been questioned: no longer can we think of sources as the simple bearers of fact or truth. Just as much as oral testimony, a written document reflects the biases and needs of its creator. It seems obvious, but it is important to note that sources are not neutral or natural but are created. And as Trouilott writes, ‘facts are not created equal: the production of traces is always also the creation of silences.’


‘Silences are inherent in history’ argues Trouillot ‘because any single event enters history with some of its constituting parts missing. Something is always left out while something else is recorded.’ The ‘facts’ people choose to record come with their own ‘inborn absences, specific to its production.’ Indeed, silences are necessary to any account, otherwise that account would be unintelligible.


Think back to the storage-model example. A similar process happens at the moment of fact creation, the making of sources. Trouillot uses the example of a sportscaster or commentator calling a game. If the commentator ‘told us every “thing” that happened at each and every moment, we would not understand anything.’ Things are left out. Some facts are ignored while others are highlighted. Silences are inherent (and necessary) at the moment of fact creation.


It's useful here to clarify that Trouillot is not arguing there are no such things as facts. Following Trouillot and others, Kevin Gannon gives the following example of how the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives) is an active process:


There are facts, and there are historical facts. Fact: lots of people crossed the Rubicon. Historical fact: Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE. A fact is embedded within a historical context that gives it historical significance and meaning. So when does a plain old “fact” rise to the level of “historical fact?” The short answer: when a historian decides it does. The fact and its context acquire historical meaning in retrospect, as they are recovered, interpreted, and presented by the historian.


In other words, ‘significance is not inherent, but bestowed’. For Gannon, ‘the myth of objectivity presupposes inherent significance’. Yet defining what fact is ‘important’ or ‘significant’ is contested, is wrapped up in cultural and political meanings, is shaped by relations of power that are themselves historical, and shifts over time. What is important to some people is not for others. ‘The assertion of “historical importance” is really a claim about things that matter, and more tellingly, things that don’t matter.’


It’s in this way that all writing and historical research is political. The topics we choose to study and the facts, stories and people we give significance to is not objective. The facts cannot speak for themselves, just as a historian cannot simply record the past ‘as it happened’. As I write in Blood and Dirt, all historians draw upon methods and practices within their ideological framework, including (and especially) historians who claim to be disinterested, even-handed and simply recalling the facts. The writing of history, argued Douglas Hay, ‘is deeply conditioned not only by our personal political and moral histories, but also by the times in which we live, and where we live’. Whether we acknowledge it or not, historians ‘take stands by our choice of words, handling of evidence, and analytic categories. And also by our silences.’ Or to echo Trouillot: ‘one engages in the practice of silencing. Mentions and silences are thus active.’


This brings us all the way back to archives as stories, history as produced by power, and the importance of context. And back to Trouillot’s four moments of silencing.

Matthew Conroy and the four moments of silencing

Recall Trouillot’s argument that silences can enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments. There are countless examples I could use to illustrate these from a book like Blood and Dirt, which charts the hidden history of prison labour in New Zealand and its Pacific. But perhaps a good start would be the story of Matthew Conroy.

Matthew Conroy was a United Irishman, an Irish political prisoner who was transported to Australia for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. When Matthew and close to 300 other male convicts arrived in New South Wales in February 1800, the Irish political prisoners were seen to pose a serious threat to the balance of power. Several plans for an armed uprising were afoot, and Matthew was firmly in the middle of them – he was said to be a ‘principal Ring leader’ and part of a secret group that met on 23 August 1800 to discuss ‘the Business’, including hiding pikes at Parramatta and recruiting convicts to the cause. A lack of evidence appears to have saved him from the 300 lashes and banishment to Norfolk Island that was handed down to the other ringleaders, and by 1814, he had joined the mission to New Zealand as a convict sawyer.

The moment of fact creation (the making of sources)

Yet in all his letters and journals, Samuel Marsden leaves Matthew Conroy off the Active’s passenger list for November 1814, despite Matthew advertising his intention to sail to the Bay of Islands in the Sydney newspapers and despite Marsden acknowledging the importance of his pair of sawyers in subsequent letters. What’s more, Samuel Marsden knew Conroy – it was Marsden who had led investigations into the plot of August 1800.

Samuel Marsden to Josiah Pratt, 28 November 1814 (Hocken)

Writing to Josiah Pratt on 28 November 1814, Marsden outlines the passengers aboard the Active and its historic mission:


‘When I wrote the last hasty Line I hoped to be near New Zealand before this time— we have been lying at the mouth of the Harbour detained by contrary winds ever since till, this morning— we are now leaving the Heads of Port Jackson with a fair wind— The number of Souls on Board men women and Children are 34— Europeans, Thomas Hansen Master, and his wife— Messrs Kendall Hall & King and their wives, and five Children John Hunter Carpenter— Alexr Ross mate Henry Shaffery Sailor- Richd Stockwell, Servant to Mr Kendall Thomas Namblton Cook— Wm. Campbell weaver— and Flax dresser— Walter Hall Smith.’


In other letters (later compiled as Marsden's account of the 1814 sailing), the passenger list is different again:

On Monday the 28th we weighed Anchor, and got out to sea, the number of persons on board (including women and children, were thirty-five— Mr Hanson, Master, his wife and son, Messrs Kendall, Hall, and King with their wives and five children;— 8 New Zealanders— two Otaheitans and four Europeans belonging to the vessel, besides Mr Nicholas, myself, two Sawyers, one Smith, and one runaway convict (as we found him to be afterwards)

Here, at least, the presence of two sawyers aboard the Active are mentioned. But why is Matthew Conroy never named in these sources? There are several possibilities. For one, Marsden hated Irish convicts. Was Conroy’s transportation as an Irish rebel and his role in the 1800 plot the reason Marsden left his name off the historic passenger list? Marsden names other convicts as passengers, including the ticket-of-leave seaman Henry Shaffery. Is this an example of the dialectics of silences Trouillot observes in the story of Sans Souci, where naming one thing actively silences the other (in other words, by naming Shaffery the convict seaman, Marsden silences Conroy the Irish rebel)? Or did he simply forget Matthew Conroy was onboard when he penned this first list?


The moment of fact assembly (the making of archives)

As a convict, Matthew Conroy did not leave his own account of his passage in the form of manuscripts or diaries. In the words of Trouillot, he was an actor but not a narrator. His convict status and working life contributed to the inequalities of his historical narrative at the source. The content of the traditional archive, shaped as they are by power and the preservation of certain voices over others, cemented this fact. Yet he is present in other archives such as newspapers (which recorded his presence aboard the Active on the November 1814 sailing). And reading Marsden’s own archive for silences reveals Conroy’s presence too.


Upon his return to Sydney, Marsden wrote that: ‘The following number of persons were left at Runghee Hoo [sic]. Mr & Mrs Kendall 1 Servant and 3 boys – Mr and Mrs Hall and 1 Boy – Mr and Mrs King & 2 Boys These belonging to the Society. One pair of Sawyers and a Black Smith bound for a time’ [my emphasis]. The pair of sawyers were William Campbell and Matthew Conroy, who were some of the first people ashore when the Active arrived. In the same letter Marsden writes: ‘I have since sent over the Wives of the Smith, and one Sawyer (the other being a single Man) and 2 Children.’ These are Eleanor Hall, wife of the blacksmith Walter Hall, and Ann Kelly, wife of Matthew Conroy. Both are listed as intending to sail on the Active in April 1815 to join their husbands, who were already in New Zealand, having sailed on the Active in November 1814. Campbell, Conroy and their families would soon move to Waitangi, where they built the first ever European structures on the site.


The mention of sawyers in Marsden’s later correspondence does not make it through to the various online archives that list the Active’s passengers. Entries on genealogical websites such as WikiTree and Yesteryears reproduce the lists and sources without Matthew Conroy present. In doing so, these online archives reproduce the original moment of silencing and shape the narratives that will make use of them.

Screenshot of the entry for the Active on Yesteryears (accessed 20 August 2023)

The moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives)

Nearly every account since has continued this silence which, for such a pivotal event in New Zealand’s history – a Mayflower- esque, birth- of-the- nation moment for some – is telling. It was continued at the time by a fellow passenger and friend of Marsden, John Liddiard Nicholas, in his Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand: Performed in the Years 1814 and 1815 in Company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden (Hughes and Baynes, London, 1817). And it has continued into the present, from Robert McNab and John Rawson Elder to Judith Binney and Anne Salmond.

Passenger list for the Active in Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand (ENZB)

Of course, to focus on Matthew Conroy is to silence the presence of the other convicts, Māori rangatira, missionaries, women, children and crew on board the Active. Instead, my narrative of Hohi centres Matthew and places him aboard the Active in November 1814 for several reasons. First, the lists of those said to be aboard the Active and who arrived to found New Zealand’s first mission are wrong. That which is said to have happened is incorrect. Second, the fact that Irish convicts like Conroy helped found New Zealand’s first mission is important to my argument: that convict labour was not marginal but core to the colonisation of New Zealand. Third, it connects New Zealand (through Matthew Conroy) to Irish political and social struggles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that’s just plain interesting!


The moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance)

What others will make of my narrative about the role of prison labour in New Zealand is yet to be determined. I believe the role of convicts like Matthew Conroy is significant, for it shapes our wider understanding of the use of convict labour in the making of New Zealand from the very beginning of Pākehā settlement. From 1814 onwards, the unfree labour of workers such as Matthew Conroy have contributed to the making of modern New Zealand in important-yet-overlooked ways. The example of Matthew Conroy speaks to these moments of silences, to the various makings of sources, archives and narratives that in turn shape the making of history in the final instance. But as Trouillot would no doubt remind us, nothing is final in history.


These notes come from a talk I gave for the Kapiti WEA, 19 August 2023. Some of the content is republished from my Overland article on Silencing the Past, as well as my chapter for Public Knowledge. The edition of Silencing the Past I reference is the Beacon Press anniversary edition.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

From Crew to the Chain Gang: Seamen, Prison Labour and ‘Improvement’ in Nineteenth Century New Zealand

In this rare photograph taken in the late 1860s or early 1870s, the Lyttelton hard-labour gang are working at Officers Point. Lyttelton Museum

Lyttelton in 1865. At Officers Point, seven of the Tudor’s crew scratch at the cliff face, the dust and scree a constant companion, their tools a rudimentary set of pickaxes, carts and dynamite. The men had signed on in Liverpool, refused duty on board and were sentenced to hard labour in Lyttelton, where they found themselves improving a harbour.1 Two years earlier, a commission of inquiry had recommended the construction of a breakwater – increased shipping would bring prosperity to the province. So, for close to a decade, gangs of imprisoned men were marched out of gaol and put to work bludgeoning a headland. By September 1866, imprisoned workers had moved over 21,000 cubic metres of earth, used 2,000 kilograms of explosive powder and fired 877 shots into the hillside. The rubble became a breakwater, and the breakwater became Gladstone Pier in 1874. Today it services a major international port.

That imprisoned crew of the Tudor were part of the hard labour gang is unsurprising. In the maritime world that was nineteenth-century New Zealand, much of its Pākehā population were seamen. Around 1,500 overseas ships visited New Zealand ports in the 1840s, 3,000 in the 1850s, and over 8,000 in each decade of the 1860s and 1870s. That’s around half a million seamen.2 For the New Zealand state, this transient motley crew performed an additional service in the form of unfree labour. Barred from importing convicts by the British government and faced with an ‘idle’ environment that, from a colonial-capitalist viewpoint, demanded ‘improvement’, the state forced prisoners out of gaol and onto the colony’s nascent streets and public works.

In this paper I touch on how imprisoned seamen contributed to the making of nineteenth century New Zealand, from their class struggle on board to their unfree labour on land. The shift from crew to the chain gang (and back again) also shows how labour is a continuum of coercion rather than separate worlds of free and unfree. A key thread within this continuum is the capitalist imperative of improvement and its injunction against idleness.3


As a social relation that is premised on (and reproduced through) a logic of separation, capital must turn all of life into work for its own reproduction, from care work to cheap nature to colonialism. Land, prison labour and the ideology of improvement is crucial to this reproduction.

Today, when we think of improvement we usually think of gradual betterment – of making something better. Its original meaning was very different, and points to the dialectical nature of capitalism and prisons. Both were deeply concerned with the inverse of improvement: idleness. Rooted in the Germanic word for worthless, to be idle is to squander something that could be turning a profit. In England during the sixteenth century ‘improvement’ meant to do something for profit, especially to make profit from land.4 According to one dictionary published in 1613, improve meant to raise rents and an improver made land productive and profitable.5 As Brenna Bhandar writes, improvement ‘produced and reflected new conceptions of value in relation to land, goods, commodities, and the value of human life.’6 This imperative to create and constantly improve property is evident in the birth of agrarian capitalism and in ongoing settler colonialism. Land and territory outside of capitalist social property relations were deemed to be waste, and in need of improving. So, too, was idle labour power.7

Hence the attack on idleness and waste. As Jessie Goldstein argues, waste ‘became a dual injunction against not working for a wage in the case of people, and not being worked upon by wage laborers – not being improved – in the case of land.’ In nineteenth-century New Zealand, so-called unimproved spaces were simultaneously landscapes of wasted potential and pregnant with the possibility of profit. At the same time, ‘idleness in prison meant waste’, and according to the criminologist John Pratt, ‘waste, in this early colonial society, was more criminal than crime itself.’8 The gendered use of unfree labour outside of the gaol – and the gendered work of women within it – addressed both.9

The use of prisoners for colonial improvement was also heightened by labour shortages, inadequate and overcrowded gaols, and a prohibition on importing convicts set by the Colonial Office. So, to meet the needs of New Zealand’s commodity frontier, incarcerated men shuffled out of gaol, were harried onto hulks or ferried by rail to a range of prison workscapes. ‘There was too much to be done on the frontier fringes to think of leaving untapped labour behind some hastily erected fences,’ wrote the historian Robert Burnett.10 In colonial New Zealand, the insatiable need for outdoor labour was the overriding imperative.11 And that included the labour of imprisoned seamen.

From crew to the chain gang

Seafarers were prominent among the state’s early prison population. Between 1841 – 1844, an average of 300 prisoners passed through New Zealand gaols each year.12 If they weren’t unpicking the oakum needed to plug the hulls of ships, then they were put to work outdoors. A Wellington gaol return for July 1842 recorded 18 hard-labour prisoners, nine of whom were seamen making and widening drains and forging roads from Lambton Quay to The Terrace.13 An 1844 return for Auckland Gaol showed eight seamen at work building stone jetties – an entire pirate crew, in fact. The Hannah was being fitted up for a whaling expedition in the Chatham Islands when it was seized in a blaze of gunfire. The pirated ship was eventually captured off the Coromandel coast and its crew imprisoned – including the carpenter John Bacon, a native of Kennebec County in Maine who claimed no part in the mutiny.14

The number of seamen in gaol remained steady as the volume of transnational shipping increased and the Merchant Shipping Act 1854 came into force. Seamen made up a fifth of the country’s prison population between 1860 and 1864 (2,810 of the 12,938 people committed to gaol, or 21.7 per cent).15 In the southern port of Dunedin between 1851 and 1861, 355 of the 677 prisoners were seamen.16 Lyttelton also experienced high numbers of detained deckhands. In August 1858, its prison was overrun with crew from two recently arrived ships. In a gaol designed for a maximum of 21 prisoners, the 18 seamen brought the number to 34.17

The unfree labour of seamen was extremely useful for the developing colony. They joined other prisoners making roads, levelling hills, draining swamps, diverting waterways, building bridges and retaining walls, creating foundations for schools and universities, forging harbour forts, planting trees and maintaining cemeteries, reserves and botanical gardens. In the soon-to-be capital of Wellington in April 1861, progress was attributed to ‘the wholesale criminality of the crew of the John Bunyan. They have been made very serviceable in forming and repairing much of the streets.’18 In 1863, over half of Lyttelton’s 335 inmates were seamen at work on its main roads, drains and retaining walls, while in Auckland, nine of the 30 hard labour prisoners recorded in October 1851 were sailors making roads.19 Two decades later, seamen from the Carisbrook Castle were quarrying at Auckland’s Mount Eden Stockade, where they were joined by crew of the John Rennie who’d refused to obey a lawful command.20 The stone they quarried was used for buildings, ballast for train tracks and rubble for roads, all sold to local councils, private contractors and government departments at reduced rates.

In Dunedin, gangs were based on prison hulks that could be moved about Otago Harbour. The hulk Sarah and Esther was declared a prison in December 1874 and fitted up especially for runaway seamen. Not only did they make roads on both sides of Otago Harbour that are still used today, they also formed the massive Aramoana Mole, protecting shipping and adding to the city’s commercial viability.21 From October 1867, imprisoned seamen also manned Dunedin’s dredge, whose work reclaimed a harbour and made way for a thriving portside city.22 As well their work at Officers Point, in Lyttelton imprisoned crew like those of the Westland, charged for desertion and embezzling cargo, made roads, reclaimed land and laboured on other harbour works in the 1870s and 1880s.

As late as the 1890s, seamen were forced to forge roads and the colony’s harbour forts. Irish seaman Edward Williamson laboured at Devonport’s North Head, digging gun emplacements and underground bunkers; an Italian seaman named Emanuel Silva and an African-American seaman named John Williams helped establish a track at Milford Sound, now the shopfront of New Zealand tourism and billed as the finest walk in the world; Nils Jacobsen, a red-bearded seaman from Finland, battled heavy seas and loose scree to build Rocks Road in Nelson.

Nineteenth century New Zealand was part of a global maritime world. Port Chalmers, Dunedin. Alexander Turnbull Library

A continuum of coercion

Improvement and the imposition of carceral spaces and carceral work regimes point to ‘unfree labour as a relational category’, one that forms a wider continuum of coercion. As Jairus Banaji put it in ‘The Fictions of Free Labour’, wage labour is also subject to coercion. This springs from the reproduction of capitalist social relations and a ‘set of legal rights, privileges and powers that place one person in a position to force another person to choose between labour and some more disagreeable alternative.’23 For Robert Steinfeld, free and forced labour don’t exist in separate worlds. ‘It is more accurate to think about labour relations in terms of degrees of coercive pressure that can be brought to bear to elicit labour.’24 A growing body of literature explores how all forms of capitalist labour – whether free, indentured or unfree, waged or unwaged – involve a set of disagreeable alternatives that are pervasively shaped by law, gender and racialized violence.

The working lives of seamen are a good example. As well as their onshore experience of class and crimping, many seamen were ex-convicts that had already rubbed up against the carceral state in Europe or its colonies. As David Haines and Jonathan West note, convicts and seamen in the Tasman world shared multiple overlapping identities. ‘All transported convicts knew something of the sea, and of ships and sailing. One in five early convicts was a seaman’, and ‘seafaring skills were in demand in Sydney, so former convicts possessing them rose to prominence.’25 Indigenous seafarers and crewmen of colour also brought their own experiences of coercion with them.26

This broader experience was compounded by the nature of maritime labour. Historians such as Marcus Rediker illustrate how seamen were not only subjected to the discipline of the wage – prefiguring the industrial factory – they also experienced legal and extra-legal punishment specific to their industry.27 Because of a ship’s articles, the fixed-term employment contracts that bound seamen to the ship’s master or owner, the enacting of workplace perks (otherwise known as theft), as well as assault, disobeying orders, withdrawing one’s labour through desertion, strikes and other forms of work refusal were all punishable by hard labour. As ‘the judicial dice was usually loaded against them’, resistance to drunken captains, dangerous working conditions or long, tedious hours were punished in the courts with vigour.28 Resistance also met swift retribution onboard, through violence, manacles and confinement. Class struggle contributed to the regular imprisonment of seamen, complicating tidy divisions of free and unfree.

Another blurring of the free/unfree binary was the use of prisons as labour clearing houses. Neill Atkinson shows how captains and local merchants, fearing their crew would jump ship, favoured imprisonment due to the difficulty of finding replacements and the potential for costly delays.29 A crew’s stint at hard labour matched the time needed for a ship to refit and make ready to sail: indeed, a rider added to the terms of a seaman’s sentence allowed captains to collect his imprisoned crew when required.30 Take the hands of the Indiana, whose work refusal in 1858 saw them landed in the Lyttelton gang until their ship was reprovisioned.31 Or the eight men of the Isabella Hercus who refused to leave port until their seriously undermanned vessel found more crew. Sent to Dunedin Gaol in February 1856, four of the prisoners went aboard a month later when the ship was ready to sail. However, four refused and served out their three-month sentence.32

These acts of working-class self-activity highlight the scope for agency within a world of coercion.33 For example, a crew’s dislike of a particular captain, the desire to seek better wages and conditions under a different master or article, or to migrate by jumping ship meant some took their chance with the temporary hardship of hard labour. In December 1852, the commander of the government brig Victoria complained that all but one of his crew had deserted in Auckland, ‘in consequence of the high wages given to seamen out of this port.’34 The colonial secretary fired off an urgent letter to the sheriff of Auckland Gaol: were there any imprisoned seamen willing to ship out? The two seamen in his charge preferred prison and declined, forcing the brig’s commander to raise his rates.35 Likewise, five imprisoned seamen in Wellington Gaol were offered the chance to return to their vessel and shave two months off their sentence. The men refused.36 In Napier, five crew of the Winchester chose forced labour over returning to their vessel; three months later, six of the Bebington’s crew also defied their captain and rebuffed the offer to reboard. ‘Napier seems to present wonderful attractions to English sailors’, quipped a reporter.37


Prisons were said to be run like a ship for good reason. Hierarchy, violence and coercion stalked the decks and shaped the seagoing experience of sailors. As Peter Methven notes, prisons like Wellington’s Terrace Gaol were managed as though they were ships, ‘with strict adherence to the regulations and heavy punishment for infractions.’38 The work refusal of prisoners were known as mutinies not strikes, and like seamen, prisoners were confined and flogged for insubordination.

Yet as I hope this paper has shown, such comparisons mask a deeper relationship embedded in the imperatives of improvement and a continuum of coercion. Prisons and their unfree work regimes were part of colonisation’s quest to bring unruly bodies and the land itself to order – to transform and ‘improve’ Indigenous space. As Clare Anderson, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Michael Quinlan, and others note, ‘by appreciating the importance of convicts for expansion and colonization,’ the history of punishment ‘was not so much characterized by a developing immobilization of prisoners within the walls of jails but by their ongoing geographical mobilization as forced labour.’39 Faced with coercion on and off the ship, the example of seamen shows how this labour was fluid, not fixed.40

Despite its absence in New Zealand historiographies, the use of prison labour was crucial to colonisation, stamping an indelible mark on the social and material development of the colony and its infrastructure. Like the prisoners peeking out at us from the edge of this Napier scene, it may be a hidden history, but prison labour is deeply connected with the flow of people and profit through the modern-day city or port, as well as the productive force of the sea itself.

This paper was presented at the 2023 Australian Historian's Association Conference and subsequently published in the LHP Bulletin 88, August 2023. Many thanks to Haureh Hussein, Felix Schürmann and the participants of the Maritime labour practices in colonial contexts workshop held in Trier in May 2023, whose feedback on an earlier version of this paper improved it considerably.

1. The men’s names were John King, George Smith, Robert Moore, James Henry, William McKenzie, William Stirlick [?] and Thomas Farley. They were sentenced to six weeks imprisonment with hard labour except for James Henry, who received 12 weeks. See the entry for 14 October 1865 in ‘Lyttelton Record of Proceedings’, CAHX 20591 CH132 Box 640/ 640, Archives New Zealand Christchurch Office.
2. James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century, Penguin, Auckland, 1996, p.428.
3. For more on these themes, see Jared Davidson, Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2023. For more on seamen and coercion in a New Zealand context, see Conrad Bollinger, Against the Wind: The Story of the New Zealand Seamen's Union, Seamen’s Union of New Zealand, Wellington, 1968; Neill Atkinson, Crew Culture: New Zealand Seafarers Under Sail and Steam, Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2001; David Grant, Jagged Seas: The New Zealand Seamen's Union, 1879-2003, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2012; Tony Ballantyne, Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2012, especially Chapter 6, ‘Sealers, Whalers and the Entanglements of Empire’; David Haines and Jonathan West, ‘Crew Cultures in the Tasman World’, in Frances Steel (ed.), New Zealand and the Sea: Historical Perspectives, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2018. Not to mention an older historiography on whalers and sealers, such as work by Robert McNab and others. James Belich has also written about crew cultures and their work on the colonial frontier in Making Peoples. For women aboard whaling vessels in New Zealand waters, see Joan Druett, Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920, Collins New Zealand, Auckland, 1991.
4. Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (London, New York: Verso, 2017), p.106; Paul Slack, The Invention of Improvement: Information and Material Progress in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford University Press, 2015), p.4; Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Oxford University Press, 2015), p.114.
5. Slack, The Invention of Improvement, p.5; Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism, p.106. Improvement, wrote cultural historian Raymond Williams, was a keyword in the development of agrarian capitalism and its market compulsions. Williams, Keywords, p.114.
6. Brenna Bhandar, Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land and Racial Regimes of Ownership, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2018, p.72.
7. This radical upheaval in social property relations not only divorced people from their means but contributed to the rise of houses of corrections, prison hulks and penal transportation. Contrary to Foucault’s ‘Great Confinement’, houses of correction and the prisons that followed didn’t just confine the poor, they mobilised them to offer their labour power for sale on the market. As Marc Neocleous writes, their ‘mobilizing work was the mobilization of work.’ Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order, p.20.
8. John Pratt, Punishment in a Perfect Society: The New Zealand Penal System, 1840–1939, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1997.
9. Much more could be said about the role of gender in this paper. For example, the public work of male prisoners was simply not possible without the domestic work of incarcerated women. Confined indoors and given the dreary work of washing, mending and making, cleaning, sweeping and scrubbing, women prisoners kept the place in order but, more importantly, saved gaolers from having to hire cleaners or hold male prisoners back for domestic chores. In other words, their work reproduced the labour power needed for outdoor labour.
10. Robert I.M. Burnett, Hard Labour, Hard Fare and a Hard Bed: New Zealand’s Search for Its Own Penal Philosophy, National Archives of New Zealand, Wellington, 1995, p.66.
11. Pratt, Punishment in a Perfect Society, p.85.
12. Nationally there were 309 prisoners in gaols in 1841, 385 in 1842, 305 in 1843 and 231 in 1844. Blue Books of Statistics, 1841 and 1842, ACGO 8344 Box 2 and 3, Archives New Zealand. For a vivid description of Auckland’s early gaols, see Mark Derby, Rock College: An Unofficial History of Mount Eden Prison, Massey University Press, Auckland, 2020.
13. Return of prisoners confined at the gaol in Wellington, 31 July 1842, enclosed in ACGO 8333 Box 15/ 1842/1537, Archives New Zealand.
14. ‘From: Percival Berry, Sheriff, Auckland Date: 30 June 1844 Subject: Petition from John Bacon 'Hannah' [Schooner] for release from gaol’, ACGO 8333 Box33/ 1844/1298, Archives New Zealand. Bacon claimed to be a Baptist by profession and that he left behind a wife and children in Adelaide.
15. Statistics of New Zealand for 1860-1864, available online at (accessed March 2023)
16. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p.102.
17. Sheriff to Provincial Secretary, 23 August 1858, CAAR 19936 Box CP6/ ICPS 939/1855, Archives New Zealand Christchurch Office.
18. Wellington Independent, 9 April 1861. Said to have launched a mutiny near the New Zealand coast that ended in violence, eight of the crew were imprisoned with hard labour for six months while two of them received a further eighteen months’ imprisonment for piracy. Yet their captain, who was charged but never convicted for manslaughter, got away with shooting crewman Daniel McDonald in the forehead and killing him. Addressing the discharged captain, the judge proclaimed: ‘I think that the owners of your ship, as well as your passengers have every reason to be grateful for the manner in which you have acted.' Wellington Independent, 5 March 1861.
19. Weekly gaol return, 6 October 1851, ACGO 8333 Box 98/ 1851/1964, Archives New Zealand.
20. Thames Advertiser, 14 September 1875.
21. Mutiny aboard the prison hulk in April 1885 brought an end to this floating prison. See Davidson, Blood and Dirt, 77-78.
22. For more on the development of the harbour, see Heritage New Zealand, ‘Dunedin Harbourside Historic Area’, The New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero, (accessed May 2021).
23. Robert Steinfeld, Coercion, Contract and Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p.19
24. Steinfeld, Coercion, Contract and Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century, p.8
25. Haines and West, ‘Crew Cultures in the Tasman World’.
26. See, for example, Lynette Russell, Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Oceans, 1790–1870, SUNY Press, 2021. For more on Māori involvement in the maritime industry, see Michael J. Stevens, ‘Māori History as Maritime History: A View from the Bluff’, in Steel (ed.), New Zealand and the Sea; Rachel Standfield and Michael J. Stevens, ‘New Histories But Old Patterns: Kāi Tahu in Australia’, in Victoria Stead and Jon Altman (eds), Labour Lines and Colonial Power: Indigenous and Pacific Islander Labour Mobility in Australia, ANU Press, Canberra, 2019.
27. Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Canto/Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.83.
28. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p.105.
29. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p.102.
30. Atkinson, Crew Culture, pp.102–3.
31. Lyttelton Times, 11 December 1858.
32. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p.104.
33. As Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Michael Quinlan note, ‘the question of agency and resistance is not just something to be added to the narrative of unfree labour, its nature and extent can shape fundamental understandings of labour history, if not history more generally’. Unfree Workers: Insubordination and Resistance in Convict Australia, 1788-1860, Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore, 2022, p.12.
34. Commander of “Victoria”, Auckland to Colonial Secretary, 15 December 1852, enclosed with ACGO 8333 Box 111/ 1852/2821, Archives New Zealand.
35. Sheriff, Auckland to Colonial Secretary, 15 December 1852, enclosed with ACGO 8333 Box 111/ 1852/2821, Archives New Zealand.; Commander of “Victoria”, Auckland to Colonial Secretary, 15 December 1852, enclosed with ACGO 8333 Box 111/ 1852/2821, Archives New Zealand.
36. Letter from the Wellington Gaoler, 6 January 1870, ACGS 16211 Box 93/ 1870/38, Archives New Zealand.
37. Hawkes Bay Times, 1 September 1874; Hawkes Bay Times, 25 December 1874.
38. Peter Methven, The Terrace Gaol: A Short History of Wellington's Prisons, 1840-1927, Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2010, p.33.
39. Clare Anderson, ‘Introduction: A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies' in Clare Anderson (ed.), A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies, Bloomsbury, London, 2018, p.9.
40. Maxwell-Stewart and Quinlan, Unfree Workers, p.12.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Announcing 'Blood and Dirt'!

Picture, for a minute, every artwork of colonial New Zealand you can think of. Now add a chain gang. Hard labour men guarded by other men with guns. Men moving heavy metal. Men picking at the earth. Over and over again. This was the reality of nineteenth-century New Zealand.

Forced labour haunts the streets we walk today and the spaces we take for granted. The unfree work of prisoners has shaped New Zealand’s urban centres and rural landscapes and Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa – the Pacific – in profound and unsettling ways. Yet these stories are largely unknown: a hidden history in plain sight.

Blood and Dirt explains, for the first time, the making of New Zealand and its Pacific empire through the prism of prison labour. In this forthcoming book I ask us to look beyond the walls of our nineteenth- and early twentieth-century prisons to see penal practice as playing an active, central role in the creation of modern New Zealand. Journeying from the Hohi mission station in the Bay of Islands through to Milford Sound, vast forest plantations, and on to Parliament itself, this vivid and engaging book will change the way you view New Zealand.

The publication date for Blood and Dirt is 1 August 2023. More information, endorsements and pre-orders are available on the BWB website:

Friday, January 14, 2022

Interview with Tia Ebert for 'Some Archives'

Recently I was lucky enough to be interviewed for
Some Archives, an artist book designed, printed and edited by Tia Ebert. Some Archives features four interviews exploring the social and creative potential of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand. A PDF of the publication will be made available in July; in the meantime, here's my section (reproduced with permission).

T: I’m really interested in your trajectory from graphic design and screen-printing posters for bands to working in an archive, could you briefly explain that journey?

JD: Moving from graphic design to archives wasn’t planned in any way, but I’ve come to realise they have a lot in common – especially if we think about archives and design as storytelling or the production of narratives. Growing up I’d always wanted to be a graphic designer, and went straight to Ilam School of Fine Arts after finishing high school. Discovering punk music and anarchism, and working a number of jobs (including night shift in an electronics factory) opened my eyes to social movements, and after leaving Fine Arts I set up a screenprinting studio called Garage Collective. For two years I worked fulltime designing and printing gig posters, artworks for bands and not-for-profits, and great work by other designers. It was great! Especially as I’d been told by a designer in my fourth year that such work would only ever amount to being a hobby.

And then the archive bug bit me. In 2008 I designed and screenprinted a poster celebrating the centennial of the 1908 Blackball Strike. Arriving in Blackball for the event, I was thrust into a working-class world of work refusal, solidarity and radicalism I never knew existed in New Zealand. I thought I’d try and learn more about it. So I visited the archives. Before long I was studying to be an archivist and eventually landed a job in Wellington, where I worked helping people access the holdings at Archives New Zealand. That was 2012 and I’m still working in the area today.

Your love for 80s hardcore records relates quite specifically to the act of collecting, which one of your non-users mentioned in relation to the Enlightenment - “the weird idea of collecting as a thing in of itself: a noble pursuit to collect stuff”… Is there some kind of connection to be made from here to your position today?

Archives and the work of archivists are varied. In a small organisation, a single archivist might do a bit of everything – collection management, appraisal, description, preservation, access and digitisation, for example. My work has mostly focused on access, rather than collecting. I think that idea of being able to collect everything, to own and harness knowledge, is inherently colonial – the need to possess entails a certain aspect of dispossession and exclusion, especially when we think about institutions in their classic sense (the traditional museum or archive, for example). What I love about 80s hardcore is the Do-It-Yourself, participatory nature of the music and its ephemera – gig posters, set lists, flyers, shitty recordings, blurry footage. I feel like that upends so many ways of being in the world, and what’s interesting is that it has spilled into the creation and care of its archives. I’m thinking here about the full catalogue of live shows Fugazi has made online. I feel archival institutions are finally catching up to the idea of decentralised access points and participatory ownership and creation of records, especially thanks to post-custodial thinking and praxis – the idea that an institution doesn’t actually collect, but provides skills and resources so that communities can do it themselves. That’s exciting, and it’s the kind of thinking that has been embedded in hardcore from the beginning.

As someone with a background in graphic design, do you think “research through design” (or any other creative practice) is supported in current archival structures? Is the validity of this research comparable to academic research in archival spaces?

I’m limited to what I’ve experienced myself, and the type of research I do. Probably the closest thing in the institutions I’ve worked in is the current craze of Agile. Government departments love Agile methodology, which is billed as a design methodology used in project management – especially digital projects. For all its buzzwords it is actually refreshing to work in such a way, which does remind me of sitting in on a design critique. There’s also been projects in collaboration with designers and artists. Whether structures across archival institutions allow for research through design probably depends, like all structures, on the relationships between its people and issues of power – time and money, especially. Archives are often time-poor and literally poor: underfunded and understaffed. Which might also lend itself well to research through design.

What was the motivating factor for you to undertake research into non-user understandings of archives? Was there anything which surfaced through this research that was surprising to you?

I was lucky enough to study under the Canadian archivist Wendy Duff, and she taught a paper on archives, advocacy and outreach. I was hooked. But it also fit my design background and the practice of communicating visually. So when it came to choose a thesis topic in my final year, I wanted to look at something understudied that related to access. There were (and are) very little studies on people who don’t use archives, ie non-users. So that became my topic. I was surprised that, for all its grandiose statements of public memory and keeping government to account, public archives in New Zealand hadn’t really thought about why someone might not use archives, let alone if people knew about them and what they held. Finding that people only really make use of institutions they know about seems pretty obvious, but nonetheless, the paper has been useful for a number of archives engaging with the public.

In reference to Sue McKemmish (from Colonial Continuum), “the very form of the archive provides evidence of the power relationships and social values of the society that produced it”, what do you personally see as the benefit in making these structures and values visible?

To paraphrase Robin D.G. Kelley, writing about white supremacy and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, holding a mirror to something isn’t that dangerous because it only reflects the surface. What’s needed is an X-Ray. In all of my work I've tried to get to the root of something, which is the original meaning of the word ‘radical’. Making hierarchies and uneven power relations visible means we can see them, name them, and then hopefully dismantle them. Marx wrote that capital, first and foremost, is a social relation. That’s a round-about way to say that how we act and interact with each other determines structures of power. Especially if we understand structures as ways of relating to each other that have solidified over time. Understanding this means we can start to relate to each other in less destructive and more humane ways.

Who do you see archives being in service to in our current time?

If structures are ways of relating to each other that have formed over time, then archives and the stories they provide can either prop up those structures, or help wear them down. Archives don’t exist in a vacuum, however, so if archives are to do more than just provide an information need for people, they need to be seen as being part of a bigger picture – as sites for the production of narratives. What narratives we choose to tell or remember become important to that bigger picture. Hence the huge interest in the new Histories in Schools curriculum at the moment, and the role archives will play in that.

The fact that archives can’t tell every story is a worthwhile idea to explore when thinking about the archive as subject. What do you think is the benefit of understanding the decision processes surrounding the acquisition and care of materials as well as the facilitation of access? (The theory of the archive vs the labour of the archive)

The benefit is knowing how silences are produced and reproduced in the stories we tell – stories that affect our past, present and futures. I wrote something for Overland Literary Journal about silences and the activity of remembering and forgetting, which was an ode to Haitian writer Michel-Rolph Trouillot. For Trouillot, silence is ‘an active and transitive process: one ‘silences’ a fact or an individual as a silencer silences a gun. One engages in the practice of silencing. Mentions and silences are thus active.’ He emphasises that history is constantly produced, that what we understand as ‘history’ changes with time and place, and that what is said to have happened as the recall of facts is indeed a process filled with silences. He goes on to show at least four moments where these silences are created: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance). I’m sharing this in full because it’s been such a useful way for me to think about archives, stories and narrative in so many aspects of my work.

Historically, many archival records have been created and preserved by colonial settlers about indigenous subjects - how might institutional archives better support documentation and history preserving efforts lead by indigenous people?

This is a massive (and heavy) topic that is evolving as we write, ranging from adding intuitive metadata that reflects indigenous ways of being, through to repatriation of archives, data sovereignty and basically getting out of the way. As I mentioned earlier, archives don’t exist in a vacuum. Institutions can either support or prevent what Moana Jackson calls re-Māorification, the promise of indigenous people determining the space, content and practice of institutions according to indigenous autonomy and independence. I’m not sure colonial institutions can be made or moulded into anything different than a less harmful colonial institution, but that doesn’t mean Pākehā working in such spaces shouldn’t try. As Tangata Tiriti with a huge amount of power, the onus is on us to change or get out of the way.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Review: The History of a Riot

Review by Greg Fleming of The History of a Riot for Kete Books.

BWB Texts specialise in publishing “short books on big subjects.” That includes everything from a book on antibiotic resistance by Covid-star Siouxsie Wiles to one entitled Two Hundred and Fifty Ways to Start an Essay about Captain Cook.

The celebrated imprint has been around for decades under the leadership of publishing veteran Bridget Williams and has a strong focus on New Zealand and Māori history, women’s issues and contemporary political and social topics.

BWB’s latest release is by historian and archivist Jared Davidson who has a reputation for exploring and questioning history through a focus on the lives of ordinary people, ones often overlooked by historians.

Here he zeroes in on an uprising that occurred at Nelson’s port in 1843, when 80 armed labourers stormed the New Zealand Company store, protesting their poor working conditions and low pay.

Davidson’s contention is that the incident reveals the presence of a strong, politically adept working class who were not afraid to take their demands to their overbearing employers. While this is an academic text some of the events it describes between settlers and labourers read like an episode of the visceral TV show Deadwood. These guys were the colonial version of punk rockers.

“In 1843,” Davidson writes, “it was not the gang-men’s hard work that won them access to land, but idleness, work refusal and rioting."

In a way it wasn’t a surprising turn of events; the men and their families were lured here with promises of employment and a weekly parcel of rations. When the harsh reality of life in a new country hit them and those promises weren’t fully kept, the men organised among themselves and fought back the only way they knew how - through petitions, strikes and violence. Many had experienced or seen or taken part in labour struggles and political unrest in England and replicated that collective action here.

Further, Davidson shows how The New Zealand Company, responsible for luring the workers across oceans, underestimated the workers’ resolve and ultimately paid the price. It’s a fascinating micro-study of a little known corner of our colonial history and one that questions what Davidson calls “the myth of New Zealand exceptionalism.”

Davidson wrote in a piece promoting the book on Stuff that the accepted understanding that our colonial history is somehow “unique” is both erroneous and damaging. “From it stems other myths,” he wrote — “from ‘the best race relations in the world’ to New Zealand as ‘a worker’s paradise’.”

His thesis is that the struggle of the workers and their wives — Davidson makes an effort to tell their stories too — proves that this sort of violence and protest was evident early, a view that challenges the familiar image of the pioneering men and women who toiled away and “made good.”

With the new Aotearoa history curriculum scheduled to start in all schools next year, the publication of this lively, immaculately researched, pocket-sized primer on our early class struggles will intrigue a new generation of readers.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

A list of New Zealand gluten-free, gluten-reduced and low gluten craft beers

One of my own home-brews - perhaps the cause of my gluten-intolerance?

[Updated January 2024] Developing a gluten intolerance in the midst of a flourishing craft brew world was bad timing to say the least. Headaches. Tiredness. Sore guts. General grumpiness. All because of gluten! Alas, it seemed my days of IPAs and stalking the aisles of New World had come to a sorry, sorghum-filled end. 

A bit of research and trial and error, however, has meant there are a few craft beers available in New Zealand that are still ok for me to drink. I say research, because it's actually quite hard to find out which craft beers are low gluten or gluten-reduced. Which is totally understandable. Part of the reason some beers are not labelled as gluten-reduced or gluten free, despite containing next-to-no gluten content, is because of the importance of proper testing and labelling for those that actually are coeliac. 

Here's a disclaimer: I'm not coeliac, and people experience discomfort from gluten differently and at different levels. As Coeliac New Zealand suggest, if you're not sure how how you'll go with one of these beers it's probably best to contact the brewer directly or avoid it.

As the team at BGFB write, "beer that is 100% gluten free is brewed with 100% gluten free ingredients." Beers that are 'gluten reduced' or 'crafted to remove gluten' have used a process to strip or reduce the gluten content out of gluten ingredients (using Brewers Clarex, for example). This process can land a beer's gluten content close to the gluten free mark of under 3ppm (parts per million). But they're not gluten free. Unless it has been brewed using gluten-free ingredients, a beer that has less than 3ppm or 20mg of gluten is technically 'gluten-reduced'.

With that in mind, here's my list of New Zealand gluten-reduced, low gluten and gluten free craft beers.

Gluten-reduced or low gluten

Eddyline Brewery (entire range!)
For a great-tasting range of gluten-reduced beers, you needn't go much further than Eddyline. Every single brew in their line-up has been brewed with DSM Brewer's Clarex that reduces gluten content to below 5ppm, and their beers are labelled as such. Plus they come in nice, tall 440ml cans. My favourtites include the go-to Trail Carver Pale Ale (5.1%) and CrankYanker IPA (6.3%), a "bold West-Coast style IPA featuring El Dorado and Mosaic hops with a complex malt profile. Emphasis is on aroma over bitterness. Tropical and pine flavours with a hint of citrus-pineapple aroma." Yum.

Garage Project BEER (Pale Lager, 4.8%)
My despair at being gluten intolerant was knowing I'd have to stop drinking Garage Project (namely Pernicious Weed - sad face). Luckily, the crisp, single-malt BEER has a naturally-low gluten count. There's no claims to being gluten free or gluten-reduced here, and its effect on people will differ, but Pete at GP notes that batch tests have shown a low gluten count of under 20ppm. Works for me.

Garage Project Good Shout (Hoppy Ultra Low Carb Lager, 4.0%)
Released in 2023, Good Shout is a low carb and low gluten brew (and explicitly billed as such, containing less than 20ppm gluten). It's light in terms of alcohol and body, but it's a refreshing drop and has no lingering discomfort, for me anyway. 
Stoke (entire range!)
When I first wrote this post the Stoke Nelson Pale Ale was the main gluten-reduced beer in the Stoke lineup. So it's nice to know the core Stoke range, including Wakachangi and First Light, are all low gluten beers that contain less than 10ppm gluten. This was confirmed in an email to the team at Stoke/McCashins. Rad! You can check them out on the McCashins website.

Hallertau (Numbers range 1-9)
A 2016 Stuff article made much of Hallertau's use of an "additive enzyme which breaks down gluten components leaving less than three parts per million (ppm) – enough to meet New Zealand's strict gluten-free legal requirements." While they don't batch test for gluten content anymore, the team confirmed in 2024 that their Numbers range (1-9) is brewed using Brewers Clarex and can therefore be considered gluten-reduced.

Gluten Free

One of the few New Zealand craft beers that are actually gluten free - ie. they are brewed with 100% gluten free ingredients. Kereru are leading the (admittedly-small) pack with at least five gluten free brews, including a hazy ale and a rice lager. My favourite is the Apex Hoppy APA with its mix of US and NZ hops. You can tell from the body and head its gluten free, but it is not lacking in taste. The Auro Ale is a little light for my taste buds but still a nice drop. Yet to try the others.

Scotts Brewing Co. - Pale Ale (4.5%)
For a long time Scott's Pale Ale was the only gluten free beer available, so for that reason alone they deserve credit. It's also easy to find in most stores. It's a shame I don't like it. Have no idea if their other beers are gluten free or not.

Garage Project Dirty Water (Seltzer, 4.5%)
Garage Project's Dirty Water Seltzer is "brewed not blended - with gluten free grain, real fruit and natural flavours. This delivers a sparkling clean, alcoholic seltzer." Comes in three flavours, plus "10% of profits go to supporting clean water initiatives in our own backyard." Let's hope this is the start of more brewers crafting gluten free options.

One more thing...

If you're still reading this then you'll probably like the website Low Gluten in Beer. This site includes the test results of a heap of international beer, including brews accessible in New Zealand supermarkets (a handy bookmark on your mobile phone). Apparently Steinlarger had less than 20ppm; so did Corona, Tiger and others.

You can see whether a beer has gluten or not on their alphabetical test results page:

Missing something? Drop me a line

Monday, January 11, 2021

Archive Stories, Archive Realities

Below is my chapter for Public Knowledge, first published by Freerange Press in December 2019. You can purchase the book from the Freerange Press website. It was subsequently re-published in Archifacts. Download the PDF version from Academia.

In May 1840, a furious William Hobson learned from a passing ship’s captain that the New Zealand Company in Wellington had set up its own form of government. Stinging from the usurped authority and high treason of the colonists, Lieutenant-Governor Hobson issued two proclamations. In the name of Her Majesty, Hobson claimed sovereignty over Aotearoa New Zealand. The North Island was claimed by cession via Te Tiriti o Waitangi (despite the fact that hui with rangatira were still being held across the country, and despite having only two signed sheets in his possession). The South Island was claimed based on Captain James Cook’s ‘discovery’.

Having asserted sovereignty with the stroke of a pen and the stamp of a Paihia printing press, Hobson hastily despatched Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland to Wellington. With him were troops from the 80th Regiment, mounted police and orders to dismantle any New Zealand Company council, flags or insignia he found. They arrived on the evening of 2 June and sent copies of Hobson’s proclamations ashore, but Wellington weather prevented an official landing. Shortland and four members of the police force finally landed near Pipitea Pā on the afternoon of 4 June, where they were met by Colonel Wakefield and others of the New Zealand Company. Here, Shortland read Hobson’s proclamations, and the legal fiction of crown sovereignty was officially enacted.

The proclamations of sovereignty were indeed a legal fiction, for they ignored some crucial caveats: those who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi signed a Māori-language document that never ceded sovereignty, and in tikanga Māori, or Māori law, ceding sovereignty was impossible.1

Hobson’s claim of discovery stretched legal fiction into pure fantasy. ‘There is a certain strange magic in the belief that waving a piece of coloured cloth could transfer indigenous lands to someone else,’ notes Moana Jackson, ‘but it was a theatre that had long been established in the law of all European colonisers. The fact that it would have had no legitimacy in the law of the Indigenous Peoples being “discovered” was never deemed to be relevant.’2

This magical realism – ‘legal and political gymnastics performed behind a veil of apparently reasoned justification’ – was, and is, made possible by the stories, symbols and statecraft that are public archives.3 Te Tiriti o Waitangi is an obvious example. As legal documents and ‘Talmudic symbols of imagined imperial symbiosis’, writes Adele Perry, treaties, like flags, have served colonial projects the world over.4 Others include the 1839 appointment of Hobson as Lieutenant-Governor, the letters patent that made Aotearoa New Zealand a colony of New South Wales, the pre-Tiriti proclamations of 30 January 1840 that assumed a power not yet granted and the May proclamations themselves, as bungled and back-dated as they were (the South Island proclamation had to be reissued because Hobson left off the grounds for sovereignty on the copy he sent to London, and the North Island proclamation was incorrectly back-dated to 5 February instead of 6 February).

Together these documents formed the earliest holdings of Aotearoa New Zealand’s public archive, Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga Archives New Zealand.5 They joined the larger imperial archive, ‘a fantasy of knowledge collected and united in the service of state and Empire’.6 In this fantasy, world mastery was possible through documentation and the public knowledge stored within the ‘total-archive’.7

Fiction, magic and fantasy are not words most people would associate with public archives. As the official guardian of government records, Archives New Zealand is tasked with ensuring confidence in the integrity of public and local authority archives. Enabling trusted government information is its mantra. Weaving in and out of public discourse and supplementing the many sources of public knowledge, public archives often act as uncontested stand-ins for ‘the facts’ or ‘the Truth’. As written documents of evidential value, they sit at the ‘authentic’ end of the knowledge continuum, where they are contrasted with less-trustworthy sources of public knowledge such as oral testimony and fake news.

Yet at their most basic, archives are stories. All peoples use archives as stories, whether transmitted through speech, written in text, woven within tāniko patterns or embodied in tā moko, performed as ritual or shared in everyday practices, or displayed in objects or in the land itself. Using Te Tiriti o Waitangi to weave a story of sovereignty was not limited to the colony’s fledgling civil service. Many Māori descendants of those who signed, especially Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu, have pointed to the Māori-language document and the sacred covenant of its terms as a way of acknowledging both their tino rangatiratanga and their centrality to the event.

When brought together as a public archive in the form of a state institution, archives are amplified into a grandiose narrative of nationhood—a metanarrative. Indeed, some theorists go so far as to claim there is no state without archives.8 This is because archives have power. And in turn, archives are created and shaped by ever-contested power relations. Public archives are not ‘passive storehouses of old stuff, but active sites where social power is negotiated, contested, confirmed.’9 Their holdings ‘wield power over the shape and direction of historical scholarship, collective memory, and national identity, over how we know ourselves as individuals, groups, and societies’.10 Archives allow people to marshal stories and to make meaning. Archives are the very possibility of politics.11

As Hobson’s actions and subsequent governments show, Aotearoa New Zealand’s public archive has always been about power. Stradling the intersection of past, present and future, it has its origin in capitalism’s vampire-like need to turn all of life into work for its own reproduction.12 Many of the seven million plus archives held in the repositories of Archives New Zealand reflect, and serve as justification for, the gendered, racialised class relations that created them. Because of this, certain voices in the archive have been privileged over others. Silences abound.

Archival power is, in part, the power to allow voices to be heard. It consists of highlighting certain narratives and of including certain types of records created by certain groups. The power of the archive is witnessed in the act of inclusion, but this is only one of its components. The power to exclude is a fundamental aspect of the archive. Inevitably, there are distortions, omissions, erasures, and silences in the archive. Not every story is told.13

Despite this, public archives are also potential sites for resistance, counter-narratives and enriching the public knowledge commons. In today’s cybernetic vortex of class power and commodification, archives and their emphasis on context are more relevant than ever.14


There is a huge body of work on the relationship between memory and stories, archives and power. It weaves through many disciplines and in and out of academia. We might think of the novels of George Orwell, such as 1984, or the importance of archives in Star Wars, from the plans of the Death Star to the location of the last Jedi. In the final season of Game of Thrones, Bran Stark reveals the archival motive of the Night King: ‘He wants to erase this world and I am its memory.’ As an archive, Bran becomes a target for erasure.

Those of the nascent labour force in Europe – whose activities were recorded and controlled by the state to become more legible to the state (hence the creation of parish registers, birth certificates and censuses) – certainly knew of their power. It is telling how many peasant rebellions began with the destruction of official archives. Writing of the introduction of the capitalist wage relation and the violent enclosure of the commons, Silvia Federici notes how people organised themselves into bands, raided manors and land registries and destroyed the archives ‘where the written marks of their servitude were kept’.15

The state knew too. Countless examples of the state destroying archives litter history—the recent Mau Mau and Windrush scandals in Britain are prime examples.16 In New Zealand, there was no public archive institution until 1956. Government agencies could pretty much do what they liked with their archives. As a result, only 3 to 4 per cent of everything ever created by government has survived. The New Zealand Police Force archives, for example, are woefully patchy for the years between 1900–1950 due to an in-house purge of records – only a sample of high-profile murder cases were kept. Police record books note detailed files on labour movement leaders and others deemed threatening to the state, but the files themselves no longer exist.17

The state also launched successive waves of attack on the archives of te ao Māori, for these represented te māramatanga o ngā tikanga, the philosophy of law deeply interwoven throughout Māori life, and were therefore incompatible with colonial authority.18 Pākehā governments supressed tā moko, punished the practice of tohunga, sanctioned the beating of Māori-language speakers in school and paved highways over wāhi tapu, violently divorcing Māori from their philosophical base. In doing so, the colonial archive not only dismissed the Māori word and replaced it with the Pākehā word, it made colonised ‘others’ available to the extractive enterprises of colonial capital.19

Despite this acknowledgement of archival power by the state, throughout the twentieth century, public archives were seen as passive, objective and neutral. The public archivist was an impartial custodian – interpretation was the job of those using archives and not that of the archivist. ‘The good Archivist’, wrote Sir Hilary Jenkinson, the grandfather of the Western archival canon, was ‘perhaps the most selfless devotee of Truth the modern world produces.’20 Archives were the evidence from which Truth (with a capital ‘T’) could be found.

More recently, the post-custodial turn has challenged this view. A questioning of the profession’s objectivity has reframed or refigured archives and archival institutions. There has been a move from archive-as-source to archive-as-subject.21 Archives are increasingly viewed as social constructs – they don’t simply ‘arrive or emerge fully formed, nor are they innocent of struggles for power in either their creation or their interpretive applications . . . all archives come into being in and as history as a result of specific political, cultural, and socioeconomic pressures.’22 Feminist and indigenous scholarship has exposed the gendered, colonial nature of archives, while ethnographic approaches denaturalise the archive to show how people encounter, interpret and make use of them as living and dynamic spaces.23 The evidential nature of their contents have also been questioned: no longer can we think of archives as the simple bearers of fact or truth. Just as much as oral testimony, a written document reflects the biases and needs of its creator.

What does this mean for public knowledge? It means that public archives should be viewed not as mere sites of knowledge retrieval, but as sites of knowledge production in both the past and the present.24 And this is a good thing. For it is as a site of knowledge production that public archives become important for counter-narratives. It allows us to read its holdings against and along the grain, to notice the gaps, to hear the silences and to tell the stories that have not been told.25 Archives read this way can challenge state power or hold that power to account. And, ideally, it can help the circulation of struggles and create possibilities that go beyond hierarchical, statist forms of power. If in one reading there is no state without archives, another reading suggests that ‘the very existence of the archive constitutes a threat to the state’.26


The value of public archives for those challenging power or creating counter-power depends on its use. Free and open access to public archives is therefore an important issue. Like Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the metanarrative of the public archive is ever vulnerable to changing governments and changing priorities. Or, in plain speak, the public archive is a political football – where it lands depends on who is kicking it.

In the archival profession access often comes second to the acquisition or preservation of records. Faced with unwieldy paper-finding aids or online search engines with outdated, incorrect or zero metadata, users not only have to deal with organising principles totally different from those of a library, such as provenance and original order, but often have no meaningful way to find and access what they need. This is even more telling in our colonial context. Māori users of the public archive must also grapple with the privileging of Pākehā terms over te reo Māori (many of which are misspelt), non-indigenous systems of knowledge, monocultural spaces and institutional anxiety, and the historical trauma of dispossession and deprivation. 27 As one Māori participant in a study of non-users noted:

there are all sorts of ways that people are disenfranchised from accessing information [at archives] – whether that’s various kinds of literacy i.e. the most basic literacy, or literacy on the level of being able to filter and understand the particular languages that are used by officialdom. And also that emotional reality of being disenfranchised – what’s your motivation to access information and know about the particulars of your disenfranchisement if you don’t have hope for things being different?28

The post-custodial turn has thankfully placed a greater importance on access within public archives. As well as culturally appropriate spatial design and the increasing use of Māori-intuitive metadata, there has been a steady investment in digitisation. Digitisation is not the cure-all solution many think it is, but it has undeniably changed the nature of archival access.29 Digital divides and digital literacies aside, the digitisation of archives has made them more accessible than ever before, allowing users to shape public discourse and dissent within the information age. Online search engines, global databases and crowdsourcing platforms have made millions of digital surrogates available to view or download from one’s personal device. Where before a researcher had no choice but to visit the archive, they can now access, use and re-use digital archives anywhere, any time – unless, of course, they are locked behind a paywall. More and more digital archives are finding their way into educational resources, policy documents, family and local histories and mainstream media, while machine-reading technology allows the automated transcription of digitised handwritten documents, making them discoverable to Google and other web crawlers.

However, we need to remind ourselves that today’s knowledge economy rests on very material relations of domination and exploitation; automation and immiseration; colonisation and incarceration. It is no coincidence that internet fibre optic cables trace the trade routes of former empires, or that the cloud – which the New Zealand government has directed its agencies to privilege over other digital storage systems – has its data warehouses in disputed post-colonial territories in order to exploit their ambiguous status, raising the issue of Māori data sovereignty.30 The extraction of raw materials needed for the information age destroys both land and labour across the globe, while the computer industry’s use of toxic substances makes places like Silicon Valley – the bastion of cybernetic capital – home to some of the highest concentrations of hazardous waste sites in the United States.31 The gap between the rich and poor there is particularly stark, as the work of elite, highly paid programmers (the cognitariat) is made possible by low-paid and gendered labour.32 For Marxist author Nick Dyer-Witheford, ‘the conjunction of automation and globalization enabled by information technology raises to a new intensity a fundamental dynamic of capitalism – its drive to simultaneously draw people into waged labour and expel them as superfluous un- or underemployed.’33 Like the service workers of Silicon Valley, these are often women, indigenous peoples or people of colour. They are the same people who fill prison cells and whose labour is then used to continue the circulation of capital. FamilySearch, one the world’s biggest genealogical sites and the host of digitised archives from Archives New Zealand, uses prison labour to digitise and index its holdings.34

Archives do not exist in a vacuum. It would be wrong to believe the power of archives is present outside of concrete relations between people, and that archives in themselves possess all the powers attributed to them. Archives, like information, must be made and used.35 It is also naïve to believe that discourse informed by public knowledge is enough to undo these relations.

Which brings us all the way back to archives as stories and public archives as sites of knowledge production. Despite what this chapter might seem to suggest, understanding archives as social constructs shaped by material social relations is a strength. If ‘the task is less to distinguish fiction from fact than to track the production and consumption of those facticities themselves’, then context is everything.36 After all, the most cherished organising principle of the archival profession is context. It is context that allows us to make sense of an archive and its content, and to place it in relation to others. It is context that can unveil the legal fictions and metanarratives both inside and outside of the public archive. It is in this sense that an understanding of context is radical, in the original meaning of the term (of relating to a root, to get to the root of something). Because if we truly want to get at the root of the social and ecological disaster that is capitalism, knowledge in itself is not enough. Knowledge must be used, and in ways that radically rupture and reorient our current modes of relationship – including our relationship to knowledge itself.

1. Moana Jackson, “The Treaty and the Word: the Colonization of Māori Philosophy” in Justice, Ethics, and New Zealand Society, eds. Graham Oddie and Roy W. Perrett (Australia and New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1–10. This was confirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal’s 2014 finding that by signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Ngāpuhi – and by extension other signatories – never ceded sovereignty. Waitangi Tribunal, He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti/The Declaration and the Treaty: The Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry (Wai 1040, 2014).
2. Moana Jackson, “James Cook and our monuments to colonisation,” E-Tangata, accessed June 3, 2019,
3. Jackson, “The Treaty and the Word.”
4. Adele Perry, “The Colonial Archive on Trial: Possession, Dispossession, and History in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia,” in Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions and the Writing of History, ed. Antoinette Burton (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 325.
5. Incidentally, the largest repository of Archives New Zealand sits on the former lands of Pipitea Pā in Wellington.
6. Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993), 6.
7. Tony Ballantyne, “Archive, Discipline, State: Power and Knowledge in South Asian Historiography,” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 3, no. 1 (2001): 90.
8. Achille Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” in Refiguring the Archive, eds. Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, Jane Taylor, Michele Pickover, Graeme Reid and Razia Saleh (Cape Town: New Africa Books, 2002), 23.
9. Joan Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” in Archival Science, no. 2 (2002): 1–2.
10. Schwartz and Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power,” 2.
11. Verne Harris, Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: The Society of American Archivists, 2007), 345. See also Randall Jimerson, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009).
12. For an indigenous understanding of Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation and capitalist modes of production as ‘modes’ or ‘forms of life’ see Glenn Coulthard, “The Colonialism of the Present,” Jacobin, accessed May 30, 2019, and Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
13. Rodney Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence,” in Archivaria, no. 61 (2016): 216.
14. For more on the cybernetic vortex, see Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (London: Pluto Press, 2015) and his earlier work, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-technology Capitalism (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1999), which draw upon autonomist Marxist traditions. For Dyer-Witheford, ‘contemporary capital increasingly subordinates the reproduction of variable capital (humans) to that of the fixed capital (machines) of which the capitalist class is the personified representative. This is an accelerating movement that proceeds by intermediate cyborg or symbiant stages towards even higher levels of automation. In this process, the creation of surplus populations, appearing in various forms of precarity, informal work, unemployment and destitution in differentiated global zones becomes the characteristic form of proletarianization,’ Cyber-Proletariat, 196.
15. Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2004), 45.
16. In 2012 it was discovered that thousands of documents detailing crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed or secretly withheld from the public. The discovery came after a group of Kenyans detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion won the right to sue the British government, and access previously hidden files. More recently, in 2018, it was discovered that the British Home Office had destroyed thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the United Kingdom, an important source of residency status for older Caribbean-born residents. For a useful introduction to state destruction of archives, see Eric Ketelaar, “Recordkeeping and Societal Power,” in Archives: Recordkeeping in Society, eds. Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed and Frank Upward (Wagga-Wagga: Charles Sturt University, 2005), 277–298.
17. For more on this topic, see Jared Davidson, Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914–1920 (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2019).
18. Jackson, “The Treaty and the Word.”
19. Tony Ballantyne, “Littoral Literacy: Sealers, Whalers, and the Entanglements of Empire,” in Critical Perspectives on Colonialism: Writing the Empire from Below, eds. Fiona Paisley and Kirsty Reid (New York: Routledge, 2014), 160. See also Tony Ballantyne, Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2012).
20. Hilary Jenkinson, “British Archives and The War,” in The American Archivist 7, no. 1 (1944): 1–17.
21. Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance: On the Content in the Form’ in Refiguring the Archive, eds. Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, Jane Taylor, Michele Pickover, Graeme Reid and Razia Saleh (Cape Town: New Africa Books, 2002), 86.
22. Antoinette Burton, “Introduction: Archive Fever, Archive Stories,” in Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, ed. Antoinette Burton (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005), 6.
23. Kirsty Reid and Fiona Paisley, “Introduction,” in Sources and Methods in Histories of Colonialism: Approaching the Imperial Archive, eds. Kirsty Reid and Fiona Paisley (New York: Routledge, 2017), 5. See also Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). 
24. Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” 85.
25. For more on reading archives along the archival grain, see Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). For a summary of ‘history from below’ see Jared Davidson, “History from Below: A Reading List with Marcus Rediker,” History Workshop Journal, accessed June 10, 2019,
26. Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” 23.
27. See Jared Davidson, “Colonial Continuum: Archives, Access and Power,” in Archifacts (April 2015): 17–24.
28. Jared Davidson, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Non-user Understandings of Archives in Aotearoa New Zealand” (Master’s Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2014), 23.
29. Issues of labour time and the cost of both digitisation equipment and ongoing digital storage costs often gets lost in the demand to ‘digitise everything and put it online’, as do questions of data sovereignty and cultural and intellectual property rights.
30. See James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (London: Verso, 2018).
31. Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 235.
32. On the cognitariat and the role of knowledge and knowledge commons in cognitive capitalism, see Carlo Vercellone, “From the Mass-Worker to Cognitive Labour: Historical and Theoretical Considerations” in Beyond Marx: Theorising the Global Labour Relations of the Twenty-First Century, eds. Marcel van der Linden and Karl Heinz Roth (Leiden and Boston: Brill 2014), 440.
33. Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Proletariat, 15. On the phenomenon of capital’s creation of surplus populations and resistance to it, see Joshua Clover, Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings (London: Verso, 2016).
34. Shane Bauer, “Your Family’s Genealogical Records May Have Been Digitized by a Prisoner,” Mother Jones, accessed June 4, 2019, See also Archives and the Old Mole, “Ancestry, Ancestry, White Power, and Corpsefucking,” accessed June 4, 2019,
35. To paraphrase Richards, The Imperial Archive, 73.
36. Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” 85.