The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre now has all six volumes of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand available online.
These six volumes were published between 1897 and 1908, and present a glimpse of life in New Zealand at the turn of the twentieth century. There are around 20,000 people profiled in these texts, many of whom have biographical notes and photographs providing a snapshot of their activities and achievements.
The six volumes are:
The aim of The Cyclopedia, stated the publishers in the Preface to Volume One, was to “place on record plain facts regarding the settlement and progress of the Colony”. Notwithstanding this ideal, it is important to note that members of the public paid to feature in The Cyclopedia and supplied the compilers with their histories and personal details. The information they provided was as accurate as memory—and honesty—permitted. Not surprisingly, the portraits are invariably flattering: in the publishers' words, “the compilers have recognised the advisability of representing the various subjects of notice as they individually appeared to themselves and their friends, in their best and happiest moments, rather than as they might have appeared to their enemies, at their worst.” Similarly, many of the business entries are unashamedly promotional—business owners were, effectively, buying advertising for their products and services. Individuals who would not or could not pay the fee required to feature in The Cyclopedia are not included—there are few entries for women, Māori or non-European settlers for example.