The Wairarapa Wealthy in Public and Private, 1876–1913
Social histories of New Zealand’s colonial wealthy usually focus on those who left personal papers, ignoring those who left no major records. What is more, histories of the wealthy have tended to focus on the South Island—there is no reason to assume that the North Island rich were the same. This thesis attempts to address both these imbalances by approaching wealthy individuals in colonial Wairarapa systematically—locating all testators who died between 1876 and 1913, leaving estates worth £10,000 or more. This process produces a cohort of sixty-five, mainly farmers and mostly of middle-class origins. Testamentary records demonstrate that in private, the rich stayed true to their origins by splitting their wealth evenly. Other forms of biographical information, most notably newspaper obituaries and Cyclopedia entries, show that public life was different. Here, the rich departed from their origins; whereas community involvement and charitable works had been an important aspect of middle-class identity in Britain, the colonial experience forced wealthy capitalists to redefine public status. Throughout, this thesis demonstrates the importance of regional social histories in New Zealand by thinking ‘under as well as across the nation’—extending South Island scholarship of the wealthy into the North Island and examining the manifestation of large historical forces close-up in communities of individuals.