James Cowan

James Cowan

James Cowan, photographed by Stanley Andrew, 1929.

James Cowan spent his childhood on a Kihikihi farm, which occupied land confiscated from Maori. Events following the New Zealand Wars dominated life and society in the area, and this engendered his lifelong fascination with Maori and colonial history. His job as a journalist enabled him to pursue a passion for bush exploration and historical research. From 1903, when he was appointed as a journalist for the new Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, he publicised areas being opened up for tourism, writing three books on South Island attractions and a comprehensive New Zealand tourist handbook.

Subsequently, as a freelance writer he had six books published in the space of four years, the most notable being The Maoris of New Zealand in 1910. Under commission from the Department of Internal Affairs from 1918 to 1922, he wrote his best-known work on the New Zealand Wars, which remains a classic in New Zealand literature and history.

A prolific writer, he produced more than 30 books and wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, mainly Maori ethnography, frontier stories and descriptive accounts for tourists and immigrants. His writing on Maori included both popular and scholarly works, some of which were published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society. His sympathetic view of Maori fostered the use of the Maori language and the rebuilding of Maori society and economic well-being. As one of the country's most widely read non-fiction authors during the first half of the 20th century, he strongly influenced the way people viewed their history and developed a sense of nationhood.  

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