Public History Talk: Jared Davidson – Prison labour and the making of New Zealand, 4 October 2023

Wednesday 4 October 2023, 12:10pm to 1pm

Taiwhanga Kauhau — Auditorium, (lower ground) National Library Wellington. Entrance on Aitken Street on Zoom.


In this talk, archivist and author Jared Davidson will discuss his latest book, ‘Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand’ (Bridget Williams Books) and the role prisoners have played in the development of modern New Zealand.

The hidden history of prison labour across New Zealand’s landscapes

In this month’s Public History Talk, Jared Davidson charts the hidden history of prison labour across New Zealand’s urban and rural landscapes and into the Pacific, as well the challenges of researching history from the bottom up.

Forced labour haunts the streets we walk today and the spaces we take for granted. From 1814 onwards, the unfree work of prisoners was used to forge roads, ports, buildings, harbour defences and other public works across New Zealand and its Pacific empire.

Prisoners planted forests, cleared land and laboured on dairy farms. Their work was crucial to colonisation. Yet convict Australia and the myth of New Zealand exceptionalism has meant the history of prison labour has been largely overlooked.

About the speakers

An archivist by day and an author by night, Jared Davidson is an award-winning writer based in Lower Hutt. He is currently the Research Librarian Manuscripts at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Blood and Dirt is his fifth book.

More information can be found here.