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John Eldon Gorst

(1835—1916) politician and lawyer


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(1835–1916), author of The Maori King, was born in Preston, England, a graduate of Cambridge and fellow of St John's College there, and arrived in New Zealand in 1860, apparently in search of novelty. Acquaintance in Auckland with Bishop Selwyn, another fellow of St John's, led to his working in the Waikato as teacher, inspector, resident magistrate and finally as civil commissioner implementing government policy. Obliged in this role to counter anti-Pākehā Māori policies on self-government and land ownership in spite of his sympathy with them, he was expelled from the Waikato by Rewi Maniapoto and the Kingites in April 1863. Returning to England and entering an illustrious career in the Conservative party, he published The Maori King (1864) while the Land Wars were still being fought. In this best contemporary analysis of the interracial political stresses underlying the wars, which were not simply Pākehā versus Māori, Gorst identifies the conflicting factions in both camps in a work of complex drama, in an antithetical style recalling Gibbon and imbued with the principles of Mill. In essence he saw the King Movement as a Māori response to Pākehā failure to govern them. His view that the colonists were cynically exploiting imperial power in their own greed for Māori land led to deep colonial resentment at the way he represented them to the British public. Later, knighted and much honoured, he returned to New Zealand in 1906 as Special Commissioner for Britain at an International Exhibition in Christchurch. New Zealand Revisited (1908), a less passionate work than The Maori King, has the simple structure of recounting his 1906 journey through New Zealand and at each place visited recalling the people and events of the 1860s, some of them still alive to welcome him back. It is a lively and engaging work of real literary value, by one of the most gifted Victorian sensibilities associated with New Zealand.

From The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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