Gordon Parsonson

By Anna Blackman, Curator of Archives & Manuscripts, Hocken Collections, University of Otago Library

Gordon Parsonson has been visiting the Hocken Collections regularly for much of his life. His name first appears in the readers register on 8 March 1949 and he has been one of our most consistent visitors ever since, sitting in his regular spots either in the special reading room or the microfilm area. His passion for research is obvious when he explains new discoveries to staff with happy satisfaction.

Associate Professor Gordon Parsonson at the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago Library

As a Lecturer (and later Associate Professor) in the Department of History at the University of Otago from 1951 to 1984, Gordon taught a wide range of courses from Stage 1 to Honours in European, Pacific and Australian history. He is remembered by former students and colleagues as a great teacher, lively, intellectually challenging and inspiring.

Gordon’s enduring interest in the Marsden and other NZ mission records stemmed from the experience of being accidentally locked in the archives stack with the Marsden papers in 1951! Marsden especially interested Gordon because of Marsden’s awareness that the mission was being established at an important cusp in the history of New Zealand. Marsden recorded in great detail what he saw, who he met and what they were doing and so created one of the most significant research sources for this period of New Zealand history.

Gordon also has spent countless hours researching the history of the Pacific, particularly Polynesian voyaging, early European exploration, Melanesia and Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomons, and Christian missions in various Pacific groups. His long interest in the Pacific and in the role of disease in human history stems from his experience as an RNZAF Medical Orderly in the Solomon Islands in 1943 caring for malaria and jaundice sufferers amongst both service men and the local people. He received the British Empire Medal for this service.

As a long standing supporter of the Hocken Collections, Gordon has donated sets of microfilms and other research resources. In particular the papers of missionary Reverend Peter Milne which he acquired for the Hocken in 1956 are a unique, detailed and rich resource relating to life on Nguna Island in Vanuatu 1870-1924.

The work of transcribing the documents was begun by hand but Gordon has now used a laptop for many years and all of the transcripts are in electronic form. It is these transcripts which have supported the University of Otago Library in creating this site and we are very grateful to Gordon for sharing his hard work and knowledge with us.

Video: Gordon Parsonson on Marsden.