Pre-1840s New Zealand is a goldmine for historians like Dr Trevor Bentley.

The Papamoa-based writer and historian has been awarded 2018 Michael King Residency — a prestigious annual literary award — due to his passion for early European and Maori culture.

The award comes with prize money of $2000 and the opportunity to spend two weeks in the writer's cottage on Mt Victoria in Devonport next year. He beat multitude of applicants in the non-fiction New Zealand history category.

Trevor will edit his anthology The Culture Crossers: Twenty First Hand Accounts by Europeans Who Lived as Maori in Early New Zealand during the two weeks, as well as research at Auckland War Memorial Museum and libraries.


The anthology describes the culture-crossing experiences of 15 men and five women who lived among the tribes for varying periods during the 1800s. Some, like John Rutherford of Poverty Bay and Caroline Perrett of Whakatane, created new lives among Maori and never returned to colonial society.

Trevor is fascinated by the cultural crossover.

"The way in which people carve out new lives for themselves which would have been completely alien.

"At the same time Maori were crossing cultures as well. They went to Australian, Europe, Britain and New York and when they came back they could not assimilate back into Maori culture."

It was a turbulent period and Trevor says there are a lot of untapped stories which other authors are starting to realise. The pre-1840 era is a treasure trove for historians, he says.

The anthology is Trevor's fifth New Zealand history book.

His previous books were Pakeha Maori — the extraordinary lives of the Europeans who lived as Maori in early New Zealand, Captured by Maori — White female captives, sex and racism on the 19th century frontier, Cannibal Jack — the story of a Pakeha Maori and Tribal Guns and Tribal Gunners — the history of Maori artillery in 19th century New Zealand.

Trevor's anthology is inspired by Pakeha Maori after locating six, then 20 first-hand accounts. He is a member of the local Tauranga Writers' Group and U3A history group.