History interests and publications

I’m interested in many things, but much of my work has focused on nineteenth-century Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m especially interested in social and cultural history – the ways in which people experienced their lives in past times.

University of Otago history

My most recent big project was to research and write a new history of New Zealand’s oldest university, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019. I kept a separate blog about that project at University of Otago 1869-2019.

History of childbirth

I’m still interested in material which didn’t quite make it into my 2013 book on the history of childbirth. One spinoff publication was a paper on childbirth on nineteenth-century migrant voyages to New Zealand.

History of holidays and festivals

I’m interested in public holidays and festivals and the way they were adopted and adapted in colonial New Zealand. I explored holidays in nineteenth-century Otago for my PhD thesis and later examined some holidays – Christmas, New Year and Easter – throughout New Zealand. Click on the following link for a word document with the text of a talk I gave on the history of Christmas, New Year and Easter in nineteenth-century Dunedin: First footers and Christmas pudding

Railway station gardening competitions

This is an interest sparked by a family connection – my grandfather worked for the railways, and I have some photographs of the remarkable gardens he helped create around some of the stations where he worked. I wrote a conference paper on the history of these gardens in 2019 – you can now see it on this blog!

History of religion

I’m interested in the history of ‘popular’ religion in New Zealand – the ways in which people practised their beliefs. This relates to my work on festivals, but I’ve also explored churchgoing and popular beliefs about the afterlife. I’m currently working on a project with two colleagues, using New Zealand’s remarkable series of census statistics to explore the history of religious affiliation throughout the country.



Otago: 150 Years of New Zealand’s First University (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2018).

Born to a Changing World: Childbirth in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2012).

A Living Tradition: A Centennial History of Knox College, Dunedin (Dunedin: Knox College, 2009).

Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007).

Chapters in books

“Mixed flatting: an offence against accepted canons of morality,” in Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman, Scarfie Flats of Dunedin (Auckland: Imagination Press, 2019), 61-65.

“A photograph, a feeding bottle, and the tragedies of colonial family life,” in Annabel Cooper, Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla, eds., The Lives of Colonial Objects (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015), 98-103.

“Popular piety, the sacraments and Calvinism in colonial New Zealand,” in Murray Rae, Peter Matheson and Brett Knowles, eds., Calvin: The Man and the Legacy (Adelaide: ATF, 2014), 189-212.

“Researching the history of popular religion in New Zealand,” in Geoff Troughton and Hugh Morrison, eds., The Spirit of the Past: Essays on Christianity in New Zealand History (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2011), 55-68.

“‘Tinged with Christian sentiment’: popular religion and the Otago colonists, 1850-1900,” in John Stenhouse and Antony Wood, eds., Christianity, Modernity and Culture: New Perspectives of New Zealand History (Adelaide: ATF, 2005), 103-131.

“Communities celebrating landscapes: harvest festivities in nineteenth-century Otago,” in Tony Ballantyne and Judith A. Bennett, eds., Landscape/Community: Perspectives from New Zealand History (Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 2005), 103-116.

“A godly rhythm: keeping the sabbath in Otago, 1870-1890,” in John Stenhouse and Jane Thomson, eds., Building God’s Own Country: Historical Essays on Religions in New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2004), 46-59.

Journal articles

“All at sea: childbirth on nineteenth-century migrant voyages to New Zealand,” New Zealand Journal of History 50 (2016), 13-29.

“Churchgoing in New Zealand, 1874-1926: how ‘mediocre’ was it?” New Zealand Journal of History 47 (2013), 106-135.

“Calendars, cemeteries and the evolution of colonial culture,” Journal of New Zealand Studies 12 (2011), 125-136.

“Heavenly visions: Otago colonists’ concepts of the afterlife,” Journal of Religious History 30 (2006): 2-17.

“‘Days of Heaven on Earth’: Presbyterian communion seasons in nineteenth-century Otago,” Journal of Religious History 26 (2002): 274-297. Winner of the Bruce Mansfield Award for the best article published in the Journal of Religious History, 2002-2003.

“‘With one accord rejoice on this glad day’: celebrating the monarchy in nineteenth-century Otago,” New Zealand Journal of History 36 (2002): 137-160.


Feasts and fasts: holidays, religion and ethnicity in nineteenth-century OtagoPhD thesis, University of Otago, 2003.