Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
AuthorProf W. H. Oliver (ed.) 1983–1990
Dr Claudia Orange (ed.) 1990–2003
1,239 individual contributors
CountryNew Zealand
LanguageEnglish, Māori
SubjectNew Zealand biography
Publication date
Media type5 volumes; also available on-line

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB) is an encyclopedia or biographical dictionary containing biographies of over 3,000 deceased New Zealanders. It was first published as a series of print volumes from 1990 to 2000, went online in 2002, and is now a part of Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.[1] The dictionary superseded An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand of 1966, which had 900 biographies. The dictionary is managed by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage of the New Zealand Government. An earlier work of the same name in two volumes containing 2,250 entries, published in 1940 by Guy Scholefield with government assistance, is unrelated.


Work on the current version of the DNZB was started in 1983 under the editorship of W. H. Oliver. The first volume covered the period 1769–1869 and was published in 1990. The four subsequent volumes were all edited by Claudia Orange, and they were published in 1993 (1879–1900), 1996 (1901–1920), 1998 (1920–1940), and 2000 (1941–1960).[2]

These later volumes made a conscious effort to move towards a more representative view of New Zealand with greater female and Māori entries. Women who had done well in male-dominated fields (Sybil Audrey Marie Lupp, Amy Johnston, Mary Jane Innes, Alice Woodward Horsley, Nora Mary Crawford, etc.) were included, as were Māori, a range of ordinary people (Joseph Zillwood, etc.) and criminals (Edward Raymond Horton, Jessie Finnie, etc.). Many of these people were included because detailed accounts of their lives were readily available, in archives, academic studies and official histories. Others were prolific diarists (Catherine Fulton, Sarah Louise Mathew, Alexander Whisker, James Cox, etc.).

Helen Clark as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage launched the online version of the DNZB on 19 February 2002.[3] The online version was first promoted by Judith Tizard, a graduate in history from the University of Auckland, which was supported by Clark, who had also graduated in history from the same university, and endorsed by Michael Cullen, who had been a history lecturer at the University of Otago.[4]

The dictionary was integrated into Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand in December 2010.[1] In 2017 the Ministry for Culture and Heritage announced a 'new phase' in the life of the DNZB, with the addition of an essay about the Polynesian navigator Tupaia; this was followed in 2018 by 25 new essays to mark the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand. Subsequent rounds will illuminate the lives of significant and representative people from a cross-section of New Zealand society, with a focus on the decades after 1960.[5][6][7]

Representative entries

A number of entries were added to make the dictionary more representative of population covered, boosting the numbers of women, Māori, and other minority groups. A number of these are not based on secondary sources, as encyclopaedias traditionally are, but instead on primary sources, because no secondary sources exist for these individuals.[citation needed]

Margaret Fraser

Fraser (later Johnston; 11 December 1866 – 31 August 1951) was a New Zealand domestic servant and letter-writer. Born in Scotland, she emigrated with her brother in 1887, following two brothers who had gone to New Zealand earlier that decade. She was hoping for the remainder of her family to come out but when that did not happen, she started financially supporting them by sending money to Scotland. After many years as a domestic servant, she married in 1899 and had a farm with her husband, bringing up four children. They retired to Rotorua and after her husband's death, she lived with her daughter and grandchildren for another decade.[8]

Jessie Finnie

Finnie (c.1822–?) was a prostitute. She was born in Scotland in circa 1822.[9]

Nielsine Paget

Nielsine Paget (21 July 1858 – 13 July 1932) was a homemaker and community worker in southern Hawke's Bay.[10]

Barbara Weldon

Weldon (1829–1882) was a prostitute and character. She was born in County Limerick, Ireland in about 1829.[11]




  1. ^ a b "Te Ara – a history – Biographies". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  2. ^ Jones, Lawrence (2001). "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography". In Jolly, Margaretta (ed.). Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms. Routledge. p. 274. ISBN 9781136787447. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  3. ^ Clark, Helen (19 February 2002). "Online version of Dictionary of NZ Biography" (Press release). Wellington: New Zealand Government. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b Phillips, Jock (2003). "The Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of History. 37 (1): 80–89. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  5. ^ Shoebridge, Tim (6 November 2017). "The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Rides Again". Te Ara. Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  6. ^ Shoebridge, Tim (2018). "25 new stories of trailblazing New Zealand women". Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  7. ^ Shoebridge, Tim (2018). "'The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Redux' Podcast". Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  8. ^ Macdonald, Charlotte. "Margaret Fraser". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  9. ^ Glamuzina, Julie. "Jessie Finnie". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  10. ^ Ropiha, Dorothy. "Nielsine Paget". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  11. ^ Hutchison, Anne. "Barbara Weldon". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards – Literature – Christchurch City Libraries". christchurchcitylibraries.com. 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2011.