New Zealand and the Sea

New Zealand and the Sea

Historical Perspectives

As a group of islands in the far south-west Pacific Ocean, New Zealand has a history that is steeped in the sea. Its people have encountered the sea in many different ways: along the coast, in port, on ships, beneath the waves, behind a camera, and in the realm of the imagination. While New Zealanders have continually altered their marine environments, the ocean, too, has influenced their lives.

A multi-disciplinary work encompassing history, marine science, archaeology and visual culture, New Zealand and the Sea explores New Zealand’s varied relationship with the sea, challenging the conventional view that history unfolds on land. Leading and emerging scholars highlight the dynamic, ocean-centred history of these islands and their inhabitants, offering fascinating new perspectives on New Zealand’s pasts.

‘The ocean has profoundly shaped culture across this narrow archipelago . . . The meeting of land and sea is central in historical accounts of Polynesian discovery and colonisation; European exploratory voyaging; sealing, whaling and the littoral communities that supported these plural occupations; and the mass migrant passage from Britain.’ – Frances Steel

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Atholl Anderson, Tony Ballantyne, Julie Benjamin, Douglas Booth, Chris Brickell, Peter Gilderdale, David Haines, Susann Liebich, Alison MacDiarmid, Ben Maddison, Angela McCarthy, Grace Millar, Damon Salesa, Jonathan Scott, Frances Steel, Michael J. Stevens, Jonathan West

Table of contents

  • Introduction, Frances Steel

  • Part One: Horizons
  • 1. Finding Tonganui: East Polynesian Seafaring and Migration to New Zealand, Atholl Anderson
  • 2. Native Seas and Native Seaways: The Pacific Ocean and New Zealand, Damon Salesa
  • 3. People, Nature and the Southern Ocean, Ben Maddison
  • 4. Over the Ocean Foam: Migrant Voyages from Britain and Ireland, Angela McCarthy
  • 5. Maritime Connections and the Colonisation of New Zealand, Tony Ballantyne
  • 6. Taming the Migratory Divide, Peter Gilderdale

  • Part Two: Lifeways
  • 7. Humans and Marine Ecosystems: Insights from Large, Remote, Late-settled Islands, Alison MacDiarmid
  • 8. Māori History as Maritime History: A View from The Bluff, Michael J. Stevens
  • 9. Crew Cultures in the Tasman World, David Haines and Jonathan West
  • 10. Waterfronts and Homes, 1900–1970, Grace Millar
  • 11. Maritime Masculinities, Chris Brickell

  • Part Three: Edges
  • 12. Living with the Beach: Representations of the Otago Coast, Douglas Booth
  • 13. Cruises and the Making of Greater New Zealand, Frances Steel
  • 14. Popular Imagination of the Sea: Magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, Susann Liebich
  • 15. Catching the Wave: Marine Slides and Women’s Amateur Photography, Julie Benjamin

  • Wave after Wave: Epilogue, Jonathan Scott
Print publication:
Ebook publication: Nov 2018
Pages: 384
RRP: $59.99
ISBN: 9780947518707
DOI: 10.7810/9780947518707

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Runner-up for the Nonfiction Book Award at the New Zealand Heritage Book & Writing Awards 2019!

Named one of Auckland City Libraries Top 10 nonfiction books!

‘Reframing the history of nineteenth-century New Zealand around the ocean and the maritime connections that were central to migration, warfare, economic life, and the development of communities, opens out and transforms our vision of the colonial past.’ – Tony Ballantyne

‘The sea can both connect and divide, integrate and segregate, thereby mirroring life on land.’ – Angela McCarthy

‘It is a strange fact that New Zealand can be literally all at sea in the Pacific Ocean, and yet pay that ocean, and neighbours and relations within it, so little attention.’ – Damon Salesa

‘We are tāngata whenua. But many of us also cling to the coast, to islands and to the sea. We are also tāngata moana, and always have been.’ – Michael J. Stevens


'And on the strangest sea', Paul Moon, New Zealand Review of Books, Winter 2019 (book review).

'New Zealand and the sea - Frances Steel', Standing Room Only, RNZ, 11 November 2018.

Bruce Munro, 'Not a Sure Thing', Otago Daily Times, 5 November 2018 (book review).


'... an impressive collection full of interest and insight. Bridget Williams Books deserves credit for a handsome production, which is enhanced by some superb illustrations – ranging from the beautiful, ethereal image of a blown glass model ship, to Gladys Cunningham’s luminous colour slide photographs – and a handful of simple, informative maps.' – Neill Atkinson, The New Zealand Journal of History, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2019.

'New Zealand and the Sea would be particularly useful for any scholar studying New Zealand or Pacific histories ... [Its] ability to reevaluate what was once presumed to be a terrestrial history – to put the ocean at the center of the story – is an important methodological lesson for all environmental historians...' – Hayley G. Brazier, Environmental History, 24(4), October 2019, pp.845–847.

'One of the strengths of [the book's] approach is its openness to the fluidity and uncertainty of ocean-centred narratives – represented by the perpetual movement of both ocean and people – as well as the potential it offers for new ways of understanding beaches and coastlines as powerful sites of cross-cultural encounter, identity and imagination. It also exposes some of the tensions inherent in Western national histories. Oceans blur boundaries and defy neat historicisation, creating the space for new interpretations and conversations about human relationships with the sea.' – Joy McCann, Australian Historical Studies 50 (3), 2019.

'What this volume accomplishes is to offer an erudite, sometimes provocative, but always illuminating, guide to understand the history and – if what's past is prologue – the future of our oceanic encounters.' – Paul Moon, New Zealand Review of Books, Winter 2019.

'An accessible, academic publication by BWB, New Zealand and the Sea, edited by Frances Steel, has contributions by 17 New Zealanders with expertise ranging from history and marine science to archaeology and visual media.' – Bruce Munro, Otago Daily Times.


Winner of the 2019 Bert Roth Award for Labour History, for chapter ‘Crew Cultures in the Tasman World’ by David Haines and Jonathan West.