In 1843, the New Zealand Company’s Nelson settlement was rocked by the revolt of its working-class emigrants, whose ‘combinations’, petitions, public meetings, strikes, go-slows, work refusal, violence and armed revolt had a significant impact on its development. Yet much of the existing literature simply lists the men as ‘labourers’ – a faceless mass whose collective agency is inferred but given little political weight, or dismissed as relatively peaceful.
‘The History of a Riot: Class, Popular Protest and Violence in Early Colonial Nelson’ names the 70-odd gang-men at the heart of the revolt for the first time, tracing their backgrounds, their traditions of popular protest and the gendered labour of making shift that supported their struggle. It illustrates how ordinary, working-class people forever altered capitalist and property relations in Nelson, and highlights the role of class, violence and protest in colonial New Zealand.
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