Thursday, December 07, 2006

The New Zealand Belshaws - a dispersed Pacific Family

Photo: Horace Belshaw 1898-1962, teacher, economist, university professor, international civil servant

In my last post in the Pacific Perspective series, Australia in the Pacific, I took some examples from 19th century Pacific history to sketch the development of relationships between Australia and the Pacific, to explain why the Pacific was so important to Australia.

This Pacific focus was reflected in the life of particular families.

In my biographical post on Professor Murray, I looked in part at the Murray family as an example of a family with Pacific and Imperial linkages, a symbol of a now distant past.

The New Zealand Belshaws are another example of a Pacific family, although in our case the directions are a little different.

Never a large family, the New Zealand Belshaws spread out to Canada, the US and Australia as academics and international civil servants with a focus on anthropology, economics and community development, replicating patterns across countries and several generations. At one point this small family had four members at professorial level in four countries.

No one can quite explain how James Belshaw, a Wigan coal miner, and his wife, Mary Pilkington who worked in the textile mills before their marriage, managed to breed a family of international academics. Certainly the Methodist tradition and a thirst for education and self improvement helped, as did the particular nature of New Zealand itself at the time they migrated there, for in the first half of the 20th century that small country generated a remarkable number of internationally prominent academics.

Australians and New Zealanders see themselves as similar, and indeed there are strong similarities. But as a social observer with feet in both countries, I am as interested in the differences between them. These are substantial and, I think, increasing.

Tracing these differences is a matter for a different series of posts. For the present, my focus is on the Belshaws because our family illustrates some of the themes that I have been exploring in this series and especially the past importance of the Pacific.

Previous posts in the Pacific Series

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