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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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Over the Mountains of the Seas, Life on the Migrant Ships 1870-1885

Most New Zealanders have tipuna or ancestors who emigrated from what is colloquially regarded as the ‘Old World’ to the ‘New’. In the period that this book covers (from 1870 to 1885), some 169,000 people alone migrated from Great Britain, thus vastly outnumbering the already-minority Maori population. What was it like for them to quite literally take their lives in their own hands and set out for the unknown in a ship that was normally not much bigger than our average house is today?

This book is an easy read, perhaps because its first-time author is also an experienced newspaper journalist: Hastings is currently the Deputy Editor of the New Zealand Herald, and has a Masters Degree in History from Auckland University. He is able to tap into the immigrant psyche by drawing upon his own experiences – born in Belize City, South America, his parents were in the British Colonial Service and as a result he also lived in Gibraltar before being educated in Australia and moving to Auckland where he now resides.

His book is well worth reading for the picture it gives of immigrant lives, their reasons for coming to New Zealand and their cultural life and social organisation, including law and order on their ships. Based on the records of 250 voyages and more than 80 shipboard diaries, the story it tells of how immigrants brought along their cultural and social assumptions, communal organisations, dreams and those all too familiar diseases is one that should never be forgotten as New Zealand was well and truly colonised.

DAVID HASTINGS

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