Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. This site features illustrated biographies of important and influential New Zealanders. Some of the entries are also in Maori.

This is a great site but I do have a complaint. Only dead New Zealanders can be included! The site notes, "This website contains over 3,000 biographies of New Zealanders who have 'made their mark' on this country. It does not include people who are alive. So you will not find people like Helen Clark or Sean Fitzpatrick, but you will find people like George Nepia or Michael Joseph Savage."

As there are many living well known New Zealanders (like Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame), I find this a bit unfortunate. However, coverage of the dead is good and I enjoyed browsing this site.

On another point, the site uses framing which makes it difficult for the less web experienced to directly link to individual biographies. Unless you know how to right click on the mouse and select properties, the actual url will probably elude you. And it probably messes up the search engines too making this site less important than it should be for the average web surfer.

As an example of an included biography, here are the first two paragraphs for Alexander, William Frederick 1882 - 1957:

William Frederick (Fred) Alexander was born on 20 July 1882 at Little River, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, the eldest child of William Francis Alexander, a storekeeper, and his wife, Elizabeth Sarah Phillips. Alexander senior later established a coach service from the railhead at Little River to Akaroa, which ended with an accident in which he suffered severe head injuries; he was thenceforth periodically confined to mental hospitals. His wife, four sons and baby daughter moved to Christchurch. From 1895 to 1898 Fred attended Christchurch Boys' High School, where he wrote the school song. He did well in arts subjects but proved a dunce at mathematics.

After a short time in the Stamp Department in Christchurch, Alexander became a subeditor on the Press in 1900. Four vigorous dailies and two major weeklies vied for Christchurch readers, and Alexander found himself among lively young people enthusiastic about modern literature and anxious to see New Zealand authors encouraged. Alexander himself, collaborating with a former schoolfellow, took a significant step towards this end. He was only 24, and his co-editor, A. E. (Ernest) Currie, a 22-year-old law clerk when their New Zealand verse was published in London in 1906, the first comprehensive anthology of New Zealand poetry. Alan Mulgan recalled that a British reviewer said that 'New Zealand played football better than it wrote poetry', but the book made a considerable impact in New Zealand. The co-editors made no great claims for their colonial bards, but they stated that they had selected 'the best verse available, irrespective of subject'. Their lengthy introduction and the choice and arrangement of the 172 poems by 68 authors (17 of them women) evinced considerable toil and a maturity of judgement.

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