Captured by Māori: White Female Captives, Sex and Racism on the Nineteenth-century New Zealand Frontier
— by Trevor Bentley, 2004
Review by Lee Murray
This book, by Tauranga historian Trevor Bentley was published in 2004 and is just one of a long line of excellent local history books by Bentley which focus the intersection of Māori and European cultures since the latter arrived on these shores. Passionate about his subject, Bentley throws himself into his research, digging up unexpected snippets of information to intrigue readers and encourage them to read on. Just last week, while discussing his latest work in progress including early means of applying a sailor’s tattoo, Bentley revealed to our local writing group how pigment mixed with gunpowder was laid out in the desired design on the sailor’s skin and then ignited, causing scarring (and sometimes resulting in sepsis and death). Captured by Māori is no less intriguing and given that it is a text that focusses on women’s experience, it has served my own research on several occasions. As the publisher’s website describes it:
“Trevor Bentley tells these women’s stories, including those of Charlotte Badger, Ann Morley, Caroline Perrett and Elizabeth Guard, exploring contemporary myths that all of these women were mistreated and held against their will. The white settler population was at once fascinated and appalled by these stories: what did the women have to do to survive, how did they live and, well, what about sex? The settlers were obsessed with the virtue of these women and in the retelling of their experiences most enjoyable aspects of living with Maori were suppressed. Bentley reveals that two of these women actually chose to remain in the Maori world.”
Despite being heavy on fact with its thesis well supported with evidence, there is nothing dry or boring about this work. Quite the opposite: Bentley’s prose is neither dense nor heavy-handed, the author artfully leading us through the material and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about prevailing perspectives towards the female gender. Supporting his text are numerous black and white plates, and the work is indexed along with the author’s endnotes at the end of the book. A highly readable and engaging narrative.