On Becoming “Colonially Bitten”. The Reminiscences of John George Cooke and his Sojourn to Aotearoa New Zealand, 1841 – 1850


  • Helene Connor


John George Cooke (1819–1880), upper-class Englishman, Victorian memoir, Māori and Pākehā relationships in colonial Aotearoa New Zealand, Ngātata, Taranaki


This article draws on excerpts from the unpublished Reminiscences of John George Cooke (1819–1880) with a focus on the period he lived in Aotearoa New Zealand from 1841 to 1850.

The article commences by providing some of Cooke’s background as an upper-class Englishman with a brief career in the navy and army.    It then discusses the reminiscences in the context of archival research and briefly outlines how Cooke came to write his memoir.   The term “colonially bitten” is taken from Cooke’s memoir.  It was the term he used to explain his desire to leave England and spend some time in the British colony of New Zealand. Quotes from Cooke’s observations and insights contextualise the article, historically, socially and culturally.  


Barclay, Katie. “Falling in Love with the Dead”. Rethinking History 22.4 (2018): 459-473. DOI: 10.1080/13642529.2018.1511105.

Bentley, Trevor. Pākehā Māori. Auckland: Penguin, 1999.

Binney, Judith, Vincent O’Malley and Alan Ward. “Rangatiratanga and Kāwanatanga 1840–1860”. Tangata Whenua: A History. Ed. Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2015. First e-book edition.

Boulton, Leanne. “Native Reserves, Assimilation and Self-Determination: Te Atiawa, the Crown and Settlers, North Taranaki 1840-1875.” Master of Arts (Hons). University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 2004. https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/1995.

Brochner, Arthur. “Notes Toward an Ethics of Memory in Autoethnographic Inquiry”. In Ethical Futures in Qualitative Research: Decolonizing the Politics of Knowledge. Ed. Norman Denzin and Michael Giardina. E-book edition. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Cooke, John George. “Reminiscences. Excerpta de ma vie. Souvenirs. Reminiscences of John George Cooke.” Vol 1, 1819-1838, Vol 2, 1839-1850, Vol 3, 1851-. MS-Papers-0605-08, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 1876.

Costantini, Mariaconcetta. “Sketching the New Man Out: Ellen Wood's Exploration of Victorian Masculinity”. Women's Writing 28: 2 (2021): 265-282. doi/full/10.1080/09699082.2021.1879440.

Davin, Anna. “Historical Masculinities: Regulation, Fantasy and Empire”. Gender & History 9. 1 (April 1997): 135–138. https://doiorg.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/10.1111/1468-0424.00048

Denzin, Norman. Interpretive Biography. London: Sage, 1989.

Fulford, Tim. “Romanticizing the Empire: The Naval Heroes of Southey, Coleridge, Austen, and Marryat”. Modern Language Quarterly 60. 2 (June 1999): 161–196. doi: https://doi-org.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/10.1215/00267929-60-2-161

Girouard, Mark. “Victorian Values and the Upper Classes”. Proceedings of the British Academy 78 (1992): 49-60. http://publications.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/pubs/proc/files/78p049.pdf

Grace, Patricia. Wahine Toa. Women of Maori Myth. Auckland: William Collins, 1984.

Harrison, Stephen. “Horace and the Construction of the English Victorian Gentleman”. Helios 1. 2 (2007): 207-222.

Jewsbury, Geraldine. Letters to W.B. D. Mantell (1860 -1880). MSS. Mantell Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Johnston, Stuart. “Stevens, Joan”, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. 2000. https://teara.govt.nz/mi/biographies/5s44/stevens-joan

Jones, Jenny Robin. No Simple Passage. Auckland: Random House, 2011.

King, Michael. The Penguin History of New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin, 2003.

MacDonald, Charlotte. “Between Religion and Empire: Sarah Selwyn’s Aotearoa / New Zealand, Eton and Lichfield, England, c. 1840s – 1900”. Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 19. 2 (2008): 43-75. https://doi.org/10.7202/037748ar

Marsh, Melissa. “The story of Ngapei Ngātata and John George Cooke”. Golf Links Residential Subdivision Pre-Colonial History Report. New Plymouth, Taranaki, 2012.

McLean, Gavin. “George Grey”. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2017. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/sir-george-grey

Nadel, Ira. “Biography as Cultural Discourse”. In Biography and Source Studies. Ed. F. Karl. New York: AMS Press, 1974, 83-94.

Orange, Claudia. An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Allen and Unwin, 1990.

Rice, Geoffrey. “Ward, Crosbie”, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. 1990. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1w6/ward-crosbie

Settlement of New Plymouth. New Zealand Company. n.d. http://www.enzb.auckland.ac.nz/document/?wid=1210&page=1&action=null

Skarpelis, A.K.M. “Life on File: Archival Epistemology and Theory”. Qualitative Sociology 43 (2020): 385–405. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-020-09460-1

Sorrenson, M.P. Keith. “Mantell, Walter Baldock Durrant – Biography”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 2010. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m11/1

Stephens, Joy. Captain Arthur Wakefield. The Prow.org.nz. 2020. http://www.theprow.org.nz/people/captain-arthur-wakefield/#.YA9HiOgzZRY

Stevens, Joan. “John George Cooke and His Literary Connections”. Turnbull Library Record 2. 2 (1969): 40 – 52. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/TLR19691001.2.4

Temple, Philip. A Sort of Conscience. The Wakefields. Auckland: Auckland UP. 2002.

Terruhn, Jessica. “Settler Colonialism and Biculturalism in Aotearoa/New Zealand”. The Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity. Ed. Steven Ratuva. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-0242-8_71-1

Wanhalla, Angela. Matters of the Heart: A History of Intermarriage in New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland UP, 2013.

Wevers, Lydia. Country of Writing. Auckland: Auckland UP, 2002.

Wilson, Sarah. “Law, Morality and Regulation. Victorian Experiences of Financial Crime”. British Journal of Criminology 46 (2006): 1078 – 1090. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azl067

Windholz, Anne M. “An Emigrant and a Gentleman: Imperial Masculinity, British Magazines, and the Colony That Got Away”. Victorian Studies 42: 4 (Summer 2000): 631 – 658.