W. H. Oliver

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

W. H. Oliver

William Hosking Oliver

(1925-05-14)14 May 1925
Feilding, New Zealand
Died16 September 2015(2015-09-16) (aged 90)
Wellington, New Zealand
Other namesBill Oliver
Occupation(s)Historian, poet, biographer
SpouseDorothy Nielsen
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
ThesisOrganizations and ideas behind the efforts to achieve a general union of the working classes in the early 1830's (1954)
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Canterbury
Victoria University of Wellington
Massey University
Doctoral studentsMargaret Tennant[1]

William Hosking Oliver CBE (14 May 1925 – 16 September 2015), commonly known as W. H. Oliver but also known as Bill Oliver, was an eminent New Zealand historian and a poet. From 1983, Oliver led the development of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.


Oliver was born in Feilding in 1925 to Ethel Amelia Oliver and her husband, William Henry Oliver, both Cornish immigrants.[2] His father was a member of the Labour Party and stood in the Oroua electorate in the 1935 election,[3] and the Manawatu electorate in 1943.[4]

During his youth, the family moved to Dannevirke, where he received his schooling at Dannevirke High School.[5] Upon leaving school at 18, he moved to Wellington where he studied at Victoria University of Wellington (MA), followed by three years of lecturing at that institution. He married Dorothy Nielsen, whom he had met at a Christian conference in Christchurch, and had five sons and one daughter with her.[5]

In 1951, the Olivers moved to the United Kingdom, where he completed a PhD at the University of Oxford in 1953.[5] They returned to New Zealand and he lectured at University of Canterbury and Victoria, before becoming inaugural professor of history at Massey University in 1965, where he later served as Dean of Humanities. He was made emeritus professor on leaving Massey in 1983 to become general editor of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB).[5] He wrote extensively on New Zealand history and published several volumes of poetry. In the 1990 New Year Honours, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for services to historical research,[6] and also in 1990 he was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal, and an honorary DLitt from Victoria University of Wellington in recognition of his services to history.[7] In 2008, he was honoured in the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement in the non-fiction genre.[8]

Oliver died in Wellington on 16 September 2015.[5] His wife had died of pancreatic cancer during the time that he worked on the DNZB.[5]


History and biography[edit]

  • 1954: Organizations and ideas behind the efforts to achieve a general union of the working classes in the early 1830's [sic] PhD thesis, Faculty of Social Studies, University of Oxford.[9][10]
  • 1960: The Story of New Zealand, London: Faber
  • 1960: Poetry in New Zealand, Wellington: School Publications
  • 1964: Problems and prospects of conservatism in New Zealand, Wellington: New Zealand National Party
  • 1968: Further steps towards a welfare state since 1935, Auckland: Heinemann Educational Books
  • 1971: Challenge and response: a study of the development of the Gisborne East Coast region, Gisborne: East Coast Development Research Association
  • 1978: Prophets and Millennialists, Auckland: Auckland University Press
  • 1981: The Oxford History of New Zealand, co-edited with Bridget Williams, Wellington: Oxford University Press
  • 1983: James K. Baxter: A Portrait, Wellington: Port Nicholson Press. ISBN 0908635060.[11][12]
  • 1990: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, volume one, 1769–1869, (ed.), Wellington: Allen & Unwin/Department of Internal Affairs
  • 1991: Claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal
  • 1996: The certainty of doubt: tributes to Peter Munz, (co-edited with Miles Fairburn), Wellington: Victoria University Press
  • 1997: The social and economic situation of Hauraki Maori after colonisation, Paeroa: Hauraki Maori Trust Board
  • 2002: Looking for the Phoenix: A Memoir, Wellington: Bridget Williams Books


Books of poetry:

  • 1957: Fire Without Phoenix: Poems 1946–1954, Christchurch: Caxton Press[13]
  • 1980: Out of Season: Poems, Wellington; New York: Oxford University Press[13]
  • 1982: Poor Richard: Poems, Wellington: Port Nicholson Press[13]
  • 1993: Bodily Presence: Words, Paintings, co-author: Anne Munz; Wellington: BlackBerry Press[13]
  • 2005: Selected Poems, Wellington: Victoria University Press


  1. ^ Tennant, Margaret (1981). Indigence and charitable aid in New Zealand 1885–1920 (PDF) (PhD thesis). Massey University. p. iii. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  2. ^ "William Henry Oliver". Auckland War Memorial Museum. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Obituary". The Evening Post. Vol. CXX, no. 127. 25 November 1935. p. 17. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  4. ^ "The General Election, 1943". National Library. 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wannan, Olivia (26 September 2015). "Obituary: WH Oliver, historian who oversaw Dictionary of NZ Biography". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  6. ^ "No. 51982". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 30 December 1989. p. 30.
  7. ^ "Honorary graduates and Hunter fellowships". Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  8. ^ "Prime Minister's Awards for literary achievement". Creative New Zealand. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Organizations and ideas behind the efforts to achieve a general union of the working classes in the early 1830's – University of Oxford". Solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  10. ^ Oliver, William Hosking (5 April 1954). "Organizations and ideas behind the efforts to achieve a general union of the working classes in the early 1830's" – via ethos.bl.uk.
  11. ^ "Index New Zealand Holdings Information". Innz.natlib.govt.nz. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  12. ^ "Index New Zealand Holdings Information". Innz.natlib.govt.nz. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  13. ^ a b c d "The Phoenix Project : Poetry by W. H. Oliver". Talkingtothecan.com. Retrieved 1 October 2015.

External links[edit]