For New Zealand History Grab McNab’s ‘Murihiku’

Robert McNab’s “Murihiku” (affiliate link) is a history of the southern islands of New Zealand that focuses exclusively on the European experience of discovery and interactions with the sea, land, and sometimes, the Maori. Even though this book was published in 1907, McNab points out the flaw of not exploring the Maori experience. He is aware that his research only examines white man’s exploration. McNab traveled the world looking for documents related to New Zealand’s early history. He found newspaper accounts in Australia and log books in America. He also researched information from Russian and Spanish sources.

Destruction of Seal Industry

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book from a modern perspective is McNab’s own take of the sealing industry in early New Zealand. In 1824 and 1825, seals were abundant. Sealing vessels killed thousands of them without regard to age or breeding capacity. People warned the Australian government about the extinction of the seals and what it would do to their livelihood. By 1827, sealing crews couldn’t find any seals. Ships had to bring back New Zealand Flax, potatoes, and other less profitable items. The seal industry in New Zealand was devastated. The seal population was for industry purposes, extinct.

McNab makes the point that this is what happens when people and governments allow capitalism to run amok. Individuals doing what is best for themselves and their profit margin destroyed the entire seal-based economy. It is the same type of capitalism that we must be ever-vigilant against if we want to inhabit a planet of wonder, beauty and animals other than the human race and still reach profitability.

Island Importance

McNab also talks about the South Island as always being an appendage to the North Island unless some mines are discovered in the south that he was unable to foresee. The South Island and its population are still a concern for New Zealand as the country tries to get people to move to cities other than Auckland. There must be a solution to creating a more popular area to live in, but it hasn’t been found. (For our part, we loved the penguins in Dunedin and the Black-billed Gulls in Christchurch. These areas have a lot to offer in terms of natural entertainment, as well as peace and quiet.) McNab’s “Murihiku” provides an interesting, well-researched look at New Zealand’s European history.


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