Between the Devil and the Sea

In 1918, from deep within the West Coast bush, a miner on the run from the military wrote a letter to his sweetheart. Two months later he was in jail. Like millions of others, his letter had been steamed open by a team of censors shrouded in secrecy. Using  confiscated mail as a starting point, Between the Devil and the Sea reveals the remarkable hidden history of nine writers caught in the web of wartime surveillance. From suspected spies to rebel workers, this riveting history from below brings the New Zealand home front to life like never before.

Loosely organised by theme, each chapter is written as a social biography and opens with the confiscated letter, published for the first time in over 100 years. Weaving through each chapter are connections between the writers and an over-arching story of state surveillance, class, and resistance.

Forthcoming, to be published in 2019

Fighting War

Using government archives and contemporary publications, this pamphlet unearths the story of some of the men and women in Aotearoa New Zealand who opposed the state, militarism, and a world at war.

Anarchists, ‘Wobblies’ (members of the Industrial Workers of the World) and their supporters did not stand against militarism because they were pacifists, but as members of the working class who refused to fight working class people from other countries. For them the world was their country; their enemy was capitalism. Their fight for a free society led to an intense cultural struggle—a struggle that questioned the war, the nature of work and authority itself. This battle for minds had material results. Intense state surveillance and a raft of legislation not only determined who could read what, but led to jail time or deportation from the country. In a time of smothering oppression and social pressures, they held on to their beliefs with courage, ingenuity and resolve.

Published by Rebel Press: Wellington, 2016

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Sewing Freedom

Sewing Freedom is the first in-depth study of anarchism in New Zealand during the turbulent years of the early-20th century—a time of wildcat strikes, industrial warfare, and a radical working class counter-culture. Interweaving biography, cultural history, and an array of archival sources, this engaging account unravels the anarchist-cum-bomber stereotype by piecing together the life of Philip Josephs—a Latvian-born Jewish tailor, antimilitarist, and founder of the Wellington Freedom Group. Anarchists like Josephs not only existed in the ‘Workingman’s Paradise’ that was New Zealand, but were a lively part of its labour movement and the class struggle that swept through the country, imparting uncredited influence and ideas. Sewing Freedom places this neglected movement within the global anarchist upsurge, and unearths the colourful activities of New Zealand’s most radical advocates for social and economic change. Includes illustrations by Icky from Justseeds and a foreword by Barry Pateman (Kate Sharpley Library Archivist and Associate Editor at the Emma Goldman Papers).

Published by AK Press: Oakland CA, USA, 2013

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Remains to be Seen

On the eve of his execution in 1915, Joe Hill — radical songwriter, union organiser and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) — penned one final telegram from his Utah prison cell: “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” Hill’s body was then cremated, his ashes placed into tiny packets and sent to IWW Locals, sympathetic organizations and individuals around the world. Among the nations said to receive Hill’s ashes, New Zealand is listed.

Remains to be Seen traces the ashes of Joe Hill from their distribution in Chicago to wartime New Zealand. Drawing on previously unseen archival material, it examines the persecution of anarchists, socialists and Wobblies in New Zealand during the First World War. It also explores how intense censorship measures — put in place by the National Coalition Government of William Massey and zealously enforced by New Zealand’s Solicitor-General, Sir John Salmond — effectively silenced and suppressed the IWW in New Zealand. Cover illustration by Dylan Miner of Justseeds.

Published by Rebel Press: Wellington, 2011

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Other works

Click below to access booklets, articles and public talks

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About

Jared Davidson is a public historian, writer and archivist based in Wellington, New Zealand. His work explores the intersections of power, culture and class through an interest in social biography and history from below. In 2016 he was awarded the Michael Standish Prize for best archival essay, and was a recipient of the 2016 CLNZ/NZSA Open Research Grant for his forthcoming book on First World War censorship and dissent. Jared is a Committee member of the Labour History Project and designer of the LHP Bulletin.