Teaching Module

New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)

Document Based Question

by Ryba L. Epstein
(Suggested writing time: 50 minutes)

Societies try to pass on their basic beliefs and values to their children through both official and unofficial channels. The ideals about what children should be taught, how they should be raised, and how they should behave vary greatly from one group to another and over time.

Analyze the documents below and determine the changing attitudes toward children in 19th- and 20th-century New Zealand, as well as the official and unofficial ways those values are shaped.

Your essay should:

  • have a clear thesis,
  • use all of the documents to support your thesis,
  • show analysis by grouping the documents into at least two groups,
  • analyze the point of view of the documents, and
  • recognize the limitation of the documents before you by suggesting an additional type of document or source to make your discussion more complete or valid.


  1. S. Locke, Annual Report on Native Affairs [Government Document], 1874.

    The Maoris in this part of the country are in that position where they find the balance of power turned in favour of the European. They feel the old mana and customs and power of their chiefs are gone: at the same time they have only acquired that amount of knowledge that makes them jealous of the change going on around them, without having, for the altered position in which they are placed, learnt those habits of steady industry and application of general principles for their guidance, to allow their participating freely in the general progress. . . . [There] is a party of industrious Natives in the district who cultivate extensively, paying attention to improving their properties and educating the rising generation. . . . There are two schools established in the district, under the provisions of the Native Schools Act, . . . both of which are conducted in a most satisfactory manner, and the children show a great deal of progress in their knowledge of the English language, considering the short time they have been learning; so much so that it is time to consider some way of providing for some of them by apprenticing them to useful trades. . . .
  2. "Shocking Disaster at Cambridge: Three Children Burn to Death." Newspaper article. 1884.

    Mrs. Osborne, having some shopping to do in the town, put her infant child to be, and locked it up by itself in the bedroom, so that it would not be disturbed by the other two children [aged 2 and 4 years]. Seeing that everything was safe, there being no fire in the house since breakfast time, she shut up the boy and the girl in the kitchen, and then proceeded to town on her business. I was the usual thing for Mrs. Osborne to shut up her children, believing that did she not do so they would find their way to the river, only a few chains distant. . . . The Coroner . . . referred to the boys’ habit of using matches as described by the mother, and he had no doubt but that the fire originated by the boy getting hold of the matches on this occasion, and in some way setting fire to their clothes or some paper that may have been lying about. . . . He though that the children might have been left with some neighbor.

    A juryman informed the coroner that there were no neighbors in the vicinity, and the unfortunate people were not in a position to employ a girl to look after the house in their absence.

    A verdict of accidental death by burning was returned.
  3. Parliamentary debate over the "Juvenile Depravity Suppression Bill." 1896.

    "Mr. W. Hutchinson: There were a number of young children amongst us painfully demoralised – so young, some of them, that the policeman could not think of interfering with them – children suffering from a so-called liberty run unto utter license and lawlessness; and all this arising largely from parental carelessness or positive neglect. . . . These mere children got together at the street-corner or under a dark verandah; they talked, or they listened to talk, not the sweet babble of childhood, mixed with its laugh of innocence, but talk that need not be described; they got into temptations of all kinds before they understood the disastrous results which certainly followed. He ventured to suggest that these young children should be dealt with before they come to those of more advanced age. The Bill before them took no note of this incipiency in vice, yet it was here the mischief began. The Bill was a police Bill, pure and simple; but they needed more. It was an out-worn but still perfectly true axiom that prevention was better than cure."
  4. W. E. Spencer, Inspector of Schools, Taranaki Education Office, 1898.

    "The causes of bad attendance, exclusive of bad roads and inclement weather, may be classed under two heads - (1) The home circumstances of the pupils, and (2) the school and its authorities. Under the first head I may mention parental indifference or neglect and excessive work required from children of very tender years. I know that during the milking season some children have to milk as many as ten cows every morning, and, if they come to school at all, arrive late, and are so fatigued as to be unfit for the work of the day. . . . Under the second of the above heads there is ample scope for attraction. When a school building is ill-lighted, gloomy, and depressing one cannot wonder at children preferring to stay away more than at their preferring sunshine to dulness [sic]. Then by all means let our schools be cheerful, bright, and attractive, and let the walls be covered with interesting and instructive charts and pictures such as will arouse and sustain curiosity. . . . Let the first impressions of the school-day be pleasant ones. Let us have means by which the children may amuse themselves during the recesses and before school opens, and they will, if possible, come early and regularly for a brief interval of companionship and amusement. . . . Again, the personality of the teacher is a well-known factor in producing good or bad attendance. Lack of sympathy, harshness, carelessness, and incompetency will inevitably lower the attendance. . . ."
  5. Female Interviewee (born 1897). Interview by Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project.

    "When my brother was born I was just on 12 and the night before he was born, my mother said: "Would you like to go round and stay with Mrs Andrews?" So I stayed the night and I came home in the morning. Mrs Andrews said "Oh, you can go home now." So I went home. It wasn't far from where we were living in Petone. And when I got into the side I saw a most beautiful baby in a basket, on a chair, in the dining room and then I saw somebody rushing round in a starched apron with a cap on her head and I thought, "Well, who are you?" And I said to her, "Who's this in the basket?" She said, "That's your little brother." "Oh," I said, "Well then, I'll go and tell my mother." She said, "Don't you dare open that door. Your mother is very ill." Well, I was nearly 12 and I had no idea in the wild world where my brother had come from or how he got there or anything else – and I think that was quite wrong. I should have been told but I must have been very naïve or an idiot or something, I don't know what, but I never noticed that my mother was any different or having a baby."
  6. Code of Honour from The New Zealand Boys' Diary. 1936.

    Are you one or only an overgrown baby? Are you faithful in your duties to God? Are you pure in thought, word and action? Do you study to imitate the greatest men or women of the world? Have you the strength of will to eat, drink and play in moderation and such forms of each as will make you better morally, intellectually and physically? Are you determined to work for the betterment of your fellow men?

    As a New Zealander, proud of the privilege, yet humble in the enjoyment of it:

    You will scorn all dishonesty, of whatsoever form or degree, as petty and mean and altogether unworthy of your family and the high traditions of your school and your Empire.

    In all things you will be temperate – in eating, in play, in rest, in work, exercising always the one true discipline – discipline of self. . . .

    You will regard coarseness in thought, language, or action, as belittling and degrading, and always and altogether beneath the dignity of a future citizen of this fair Dominion.

    You will cheerfully yield reasonable and prompt obedience to your elders, particularly your parents; and you will show a like respect for the rules of your school, the by-laws of your town, and the laws of your country, since you know that rules and laws are not needlessly made. . . .

    You will be punctual and orderly and cheerful. You will keep your promises. You will grudge no effort, no matter how small or how great the task, remembering that only your best is good enough.

    . . .

    You will ever be pure and true, for there are those who daily trust you. You will remember that in the hands of the Children of To-day is the World of To-morrow and you will strive to be not unworthy of the sacred trust.
  7. New Zealand School Photographs 1950 and 1964.
  8. Sanitarium Weet-Bix Packet [Advertisement], 1990s.

How to Cite This Source

"New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #93, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/93 (accessed August 10, 2021).