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Edward Shortland

(1812—1893) physician and ethnographer in New Zealand


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(1812–93), was an unusually sympathetic early writer on the Māori. He was born in Devon, educated at Exeter GS, Harrow, Cambridge (MA 1839), and admitted Extra-Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1839, MRCP 1860. The brother of Willoughby Shortland, Colonial Secretary in 1841, Edward arrived in Auckland that year. He soon took up a series of official appointments which involved exploration, tribal and settler–Māori mediation in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, coastal Otago up to Akaroa, and Wellington. For a brief period he was translating in the Northern War. From 1846 to 1861 he lived in Europe, practised medicine in Plymouth and married. The years 1861–65 were spent in New Zealand, from 1863 as Native Secretary, and again 1869–73 and 1880–89. Shortland's peregrinations may have resulted from his ambiguous relationship with officialdom. Quickly becoming fluent in Māori and cognizant with Māori lore and custom, efficent, honest, intelligent and charming, Shortland would have been a useful bureaucrat. On the other hand, he was a man who was not interested in securing Māori souls or their land. When it came to the point he could find his views ignored. The Southern Districts of New Zealand; A Journal with Passing Notices of the Customs of the Aborigines (1851), Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders; with Illustrations of their Manners and Customs (1854) and Maori Religion and Mythology: Illustrated by Translations of Traditions, Karakia, etc., to which are added Notes on Maori Tenure of Land (1882) are the fruit of his experiences with Māori communties, his quick inquiring mind and his ability to gain and keep the trust of highly reputable informants. His findings are presented in a clear and felicitous style. The translations of waiata, for example, are free of nineteenth-century mannerisms. He was valued highly by his contemporaries in ethnology. His books remain valid and a delight to read.

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

Subjects: Literature.


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