A Glimpse of Old Zealand?

Two volumes of the century-old Cyclopedia of New Zealand have been published on the Internet.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand was published in six volumes between 1897 and 1908. Reflecting the old provincial political structure, the volumes focussed on geographical areas, starting with the Wellington region.

The volumes are well-known to some genealogists and historians as a source of biographical material on the last generation of New Zealand’s pioneers. The content is by no means balanced, as those mentioned within paid for the privilege. Nevertheless, the potted biographies and family notes provide valuable insights and material for modern-day genealogists.

The cyclopedias were a commercial venture which the publishers claimed was to, “place on record plain facts regarding the settlement and progress of the Colony.” The volumes contain useful notes on districts and localities, clubs, societies, businesses, and individuals. They were well-illustrated, which was innovative for the time, and include images of towns and portrait photographs submitted by many of those who supplied biographical material.

Two volumes of the cyclopedia have now been made available online by NZETC (New Zealand Electronic Text Centre), part of the library of Victoria University of Wellington. The volumes are:
Volume 1. Wellington Provincial District. Published 1897
Volume 6. Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington Provincial Districts. Published 1908

An overview of the content available online can be found here. Researchers looking for biographical material will want to use the index, but should note that many entries are not in strict alphabetical order. Click on the + symbol beside “Indices” to access indices for professions and trades, the general index, and societies, orders and public institutions.

When using the General Index, a list of names can be retrieved by selecting the first letter of the surname. Once there, however, it is best to either scroll through the list of entries or use your browser “find” feature in case your subject’s name is in the wrong order.

Some of the indexed entries provide a link to the page, others simply supply a page number. For the latter, it is necessary to progressively work through various sections of the cyclopedia which can be found by expanding the section titled “Wellington Provincial District.” The subject can then be found listed under their profession, trade, etc. A little browsing will reward the determined researcher.

The material from The Cyclopedia of New Zealand has been made available under a creative commons licence. Details of the licence can be found here.

[Compiled from material made available by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.]

Leave a Reply