From the editor

Mark-Revington-circleNgā hau e whā
Mark Revington

Haere rā Harry Evison. It has often been said that although Ngāi Tahu knew for generations that they had been swindled by the Crown, it was historian Harry Evison who was crucial in showing how.

It was his family connections with Rāpaki which were to spark his initial interest in Ngāi Tahu history.  Harry was simply looking for the truth when he completed his M.A. from Otago University with his thesis on Canterbury Ngāi Tahu. It had always puzzled him that Ngāi Tahu were down and out, and he didn’t believe in the prevailing orthodoxy that Māori had collapsed because they could not cope with civilisation.

Harry, in his thesis, showed that the Māori collapse was economic, not psychological: Canterbury Māori coped well with early European contact, and “collapsed” only when the colonial authorities deprived them of their economic resources.

Although his 1952 thesis contained startling new findings, it had essentially been ignored, gathering dust for years while he pursued his teaching career. He would later describe his years teaching in country schools, from 1951 to 1959, as the best teaching years of his life. During this time he met his wife Hillary, and their three children were born.

Harry was to become integral in presenting the historical evidence for Ngāi Tahu during the Waitangi Tribunal hearings into the Ngāi Tahu Claim. He was able to expand and develop his 1952 thesis work into the basic component of the Ngāi Tahu evidence. This was a colossal task and Harry’s commitment, dedication and rigorous scholarship were at the heart of that historic struggle. Following the tribunal hearings, Harry published several major books on Ngāi Tahu history.

Harry asked that no fuss be made of his passing, quoting 11th century polymath Omar Khayyam: “I came like water, and like wind I go.”


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Issue 64 published December 2014
© Ngāi Tahu Publications Limited
ISSN N0. 1173/6011

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Photo by Tony Bridge at the opening of Tūhuru at Arahura Marae.