Living and dying on the edge of the Empire: a bioarchaeological examination of Otago's early European settlers

Hallie R Buckley, Phillip Roberts, Rebecca Kinaston, Peter Petchey, Charlotte King, Kate Domett, Anne Marie Snoddy, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    During the nineteenth century, New Zealand was promoted as a land of plenty, promising a 'better life', to encourage families to settle and develop the growing colony. This paper characterises the life-course of early settlers to New Zealand through historical epidemiological and osteological analyses of the St John's burial ground in Milton, Otago. These people represent some of the first European colonists to Aotearoa, and their children. The analyses provided glimpses into the past of strenuous manual labour, repeated risk of injury, and oral and skeletal infections. Mortality of infants was very high in the skeletal sample and the death certificates outlined the varied risks of infection and accidents they faced. Osteobiographies of seven well-preserved adults demonstrated the detailed narratives that can be gleaned from careful consideration of individuals. The skeletal record indicates childhood stress affecting growth and risk of injury prior to migration. However, the historical record suggests that occupational risks of death to the working class were similar in the new colony as at home. The snapshot of this Victorian-era population provided by these data suggests that the colonial society transported their biosocial landscape upon immigration and little changed for these initial colonists.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)68-94
    JournalJournal of the Royal Society of New Zealand
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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