Adventures in environmental history: flax, kidnapping & convicts

envirohistory NZ has launched a new page, and a new project: a timeline of New Zealand’s environmental history. This timeline will track developments or events which had significant implications for the New Zealand environment from first settlement of the islands by people from the Polynesian islands, through to today. It will be developed incrementally over time, and comments and contributions are always welcomed.

A lesson from 1793How not to set up a flax industry:

1793 saw the first attempt to set up an industry to process flax, which was in demand in the maritime industry for the manufacture of ropes, canvas sails, nets and sacks. In the Penguin History of New Zealand, Michael King tells of an amusing attempt to to exploit Maori expertise to train Europeans in the processing of flax, when Lieutenant-Governor Philip King had two Northland Maori kidnapped and taken to Norfolk Island to train convicts in these skills. However, the experiment failed dismally, because neither man knew anything about preparing flax, which was considered to be women’s work!

There were sporadic shipments of flax in subsequent decades, but it was not until the 1820s that the industry became fully established – though this time, not based on kidnapping or convict labour.

More adventures of environmental history from the timeline coming soon. Click here to view the timeline of New Zealand’s environmental history or click on the “Timeline” tab above to view the Timeline page.

Photo: Flax workers, circa 1910. Location and photographer unidentified. Not to reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library ref. 1/2-062685-F.

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