Michael King

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Michael King
Michael King NZ historian Evening Post 1992.jpg
Michael King in 1992
Born 15 December 1945
Wellington, New Zealand
Died 30 March 2004(2004-03-30) (aged 58)
near Maramarua, Waikato, New Zealand
Occupation Historian, biographer
Nationality New Zealand
Alma mater Victoria University of Wellington, University of Waikato
Notable works The Penguin History of New Zealand
Notable awards Order of the British Empire (1988)
Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement (2003)

Michael King, OBE (15 December 1945 – 30 March 2004) was a New Zealand popular historian, author and biographer. He wrote or edited over 30 books on New Zealand topics, including The Penguin History of New Zealand, which was the most popular New Zealand book of 2004.[1]


King was born in Wellington to Eleanor and Commander Lewis King, one of four children. Educated at Sacred Heart College in Auckland and St. Patrick's College, Silverstream, he went on to study history at Victoria University of Wellington before working as a journalist at the Waikato Times newspaper in Hamilton in 1968.

King earned degrees in history at Victoria, (BA 1967) and the University of Waikato (MA 1968), and gained his PhD at Waikato (1978). In 1997 he received an honorary DLitt at Victoria. He was Visiting Professor of New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and taught or held fellowships at six other universities.

Although not Māori himself,[2] King was well known for his knowledge of Māori culture and history. New Zealand Listener, one of New Zealand's most popular weekly magazines, dubbed King "the people's historian"[3] for his efforts to write about and for the local populace. As a biographer, King published works on Te Puea Herangi, Whina Cooper, Frank Sargeson (1995) and Janet Frame (2000). As an historian, King's works include Being Pākehā (1985), Moriori (1989), and The Penguin History of New Zealand (July 2003), the latter of which was, by February 2004, into its seventh edition. In all, King wrote, co-wrote and edited more than 30 books on a diverse range of New Zealand topics. He contributed to all five volumes of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

King was always sensitive to the fact that he was a Pākehā writing about the Māori world and always sought to establish close personal relationships with those he wrote about and their whānau, hapū and iwi authorities. He believed that all Pākehā had the same right to be called indigenous as Māori and disagreed with claims that only Māori have a spiritual association with mountains, lakes and rivers. He noted a recent tendency in literature to romanticise Māori life and indicated that certain aspects of Māori society in the pre-European era were harsher and less humane than the results of British colonisation.[4]

King was a diabetic and had post-polio syndrome. He received six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for throat cancer discovered in October 2003, which was in remission by 2004. In 1984 he was living with his family in a commune. His wife Ros decided to live with someone else and eventually married them.[5]

Following King's death, an essay on John Money was posthumously published in an exhibition catalogue for the Eastern Southland Gallery, located in the provincial town of Gore, New Zealand. King had planned to write a full biography on Money, but had lacked funding to do so in his lifetime.

He has two children, the filmmaker Jonathan King and novelist Rachael King.


King and his second wife, Maria Jungowska, were killed when their car crashed into a tree and caught fire near Maramarua, on State Highway 2 in the north Waikato. The cause of the crash was reported by the police at the time to be a complete mystery since speed was not a factor and investigators have little idea why the car would veer off a straight road.

A coroner's inquest into the deaths determined that the accident was most likely caused by driver inattention.[6]


King was winner of the 2003 Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction.[7] Throughout his career he won the Feltex Television Writers' Award (1980), Winston Churchill Fellowship (1980), Fulbright Visiting Writers' Fellowship (1988), Order of the British Empire (1988), NZ Literary Fund Award (1987 and 1989), Wattie Book of the Year Award (1984 and 1990), NZ Book Award (non-fiction) (1978) and was Burns Fellow at the University of Otago (1998–99). His book The Penguin History of New Zealand was overwhelmingly the Readers' Choice at the 2004 Montana NZ Book Awards. The New Zealand Herald named him New Zealander of the Year for 2003.[8]


  • Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century (1972)
  • Make it news: how to approach the media (1974)
  • Face value: a study in Maori portraiture (1975)
  • Te Ao hurihuri: Aspects of Maoritanga (ed.) (1975)
  • Te Puea: a biography (1977)
  • Tihe mauri ora: Aspects of Maoritanga (ed.) (1978)
  • New Zealand: Its Land and Its People (1979)
  • The Collector: A Biography of Andreas Reischek (1981)
  • Being Maori – John Rangihau (1981)
  • New Zealanders at War (1981)
  • A place to stand: a history of Turangawaewae Marae (1981)
  • G.F. von Tempsky, artist and adventurer (with Rose Young) (1981)
  • New Zealand in colour (1982)
  • Maori: A Photographic and Social History (1983)
  • Whina: A Biography of Whina Cooper (1983)
  • Te Puea Herangi: from darkness to light (1984)
  • Being Pākehā: An Encounter with New Zealand and the Maori Renaissance (1985)
  • Auckland (with Eric Taylor) (1985)
  • Kawe korero: A guide to reporting Maori activities (1985)
  • Death of the Rainbow Warrior (1986)
  • New Zealand (1987)
  • After the War: New Zealand since 1945 (1988)
  • One of the boys?: changing views of masculinity in New Zealand (1988)
  • Apirana Ngata: e tipu e rea (1988)
  • Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989)
  • A Land Apart: The Chatham Islands of New Zealand (1990)
  • Pākehā: The quest for identity in New Zealand (1991)
  • Hidden Places: A Memoir in Journalism (1992)
  • Coromandel (1993)
  • Frank Sargeson: A Life (1995)
  • God's Farthest Outpost: A History of Catholics in New Zealand (1997)
  • Nga iwi o te motu: One thousand years of Maori history (1997)
  • Being Pākehā Now: reflections and recollections of a white native (1999)
  • Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (2000)
  • Tomorrow comes the song: A Life of Peter Fraser (with Michael Bassett) (2000)
  • Tread Softly For You Tread On My Life: new & collected writings (2001)
  • An Inward Sun: The World of Janet Frame (2002)
  • At the Edge of Memory: A family story (2002)
  • Penguin History of New Zealand (2003)
  • The Silence Beyond (2011) (selected writings)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ten years of NZ books". The New Zealand Herald. 8 February 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  2. ^ The Silence Beyond. Editor Rachael King (daughter).
  3. ^ Watkin, Tim. "The People's Historian" New Zealand Listener Vol 193 No 3335, 10–16 April 2004.
  4. ^ Michael King, Being Pākehā Now, Penguin, 2004, pages 234–237.
  5. ^ Being Pākehā Now. M. King. Penguin. 2004 P 133.
  6. ^ Boyes, Nicola (25 February 2005). "Historian's death puzzles coroner". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 8 June 2008. 
  7. ^ "Previous winners". Creative New Zealand. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Watkin, Time (20 December 2003). "Herald New Zealander of the Year: Michael King". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 

External links[edit]