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John Cowie Reid papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-89/14

Scope and Contents

The papers include the following: publishing agreements and other legal documents; income tax returns; property and other financial records; cyclostyled minutes and printed papers of organisations; literary manuscripts handwritten and typescript; timetables and work schedules; handwritten notes of lectures and speeches; book reports and reviews of books and films; plays in various formats; photographs and film stills, photocopies from published works; bibliographies; printed matter, including programmes of stage shows; news clippings; music; notebooks; and black and white drawings.


  • 1910 - 1976
  • Majority of material found within 1932 - 1972


Conditions Governing Access

Partly restricted. Access to Item 38 is restricted.


In off-site storage. Expect delay of 12-24 hours from time of order.

Biographical / Historical

John Cowie Reid (1916-1972) Professor of English at The University of Auckland, enjoyed an international reputation as a specialist in Victorian literature. He was one of the first New Zealand academics to be appointed to a senior position in an English department of a New Zealand university. Reid possessed great talents as a teacher, lecturer and publicist and was active in many fields including the Catholic church, education, broadcasting, literature, the theatre, film, music, cookery and food, and publishing. A founder of the Mercury Theatre in Auckland, he was also a member of many other organisations including the Auckland English Association, Auckland Festival of the Arts, Auckland Film Society, Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and The Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association.

Missing Title

Born in Auckland, 4 January.
Educated Sacred heart College, Richmond Road. Family living at 71 Clarence Street, Ponsonby.
ca 1930
Passed University Entrance Examination.
ca 1931
Left school to work. Jobs included, jam factory, door-to-door salesman, clerk in Valuation Department. Attended university part time, in evenings.
Student at Auckland University College; scripted play Words and Moujics ; won Kiwi prose prize, member of the Drama Club. Edited University Carnival Books and Revue, author of College Revue for 1939 - Caliban Attended Auckland Teachers College and taught at Kowhai Intermediate School.
Married Joyce Helena Burnet (1912-1994),together the couple would have six sons and one daughter.
Graduated with B.A.
Graduated M.A. and President of Student's Association.
Assistant master - Auckland Grammar School.
War Service - 2nd Lieutenant, deputy-director Army Education and Welfare Service (AEWS).
Assistant Master - Auckland Grammar School.
Began radio broadcasting.
Resigned from Auckland Grammar School; and appointed lecturer at Auckland University College.
Weekly radio critic for NZ Listener
President New Zealand Film Institute.
Chairman 1YC Critics Panel; fortnightly book review session on 1YA.
Travelled to USA as Fulbright scholar for 12 months; 7 months in Madison, Wisconsin; visited Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, New York, Washington and Princeton. Broadcast weekly on Wisconsin State Radio for 8 months.
Appointed Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Auckland University College.
Gained D.Litt, thesis: The mind and art of Coventry Patmore.
Awarded American Radio Exhibition Award for a series of radio documentaries 'Pacific Portraits'.
Appointed Associate-Professor.
Sabbatical leave in Europe.
Wrote fortnightly programme Comment on the arts in Auckland on TV2.
On Leave from University of Auckland, attached to Department of English, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Appointed Professor of English, University of Auckland.
Spent September to November in Italy on leave.
Spent time in France assisting with the establishment of Department of New Zealand and Australian Literature at the University of Toulouse.
Died 31 May, aged 56.


3 metres (18 boxes)

Language of Materials



The papers are unique as being the only papers of a university teacher of English that have survived more or less intact and are in a public institution. The largest series consists of Reid's handwritten lecture notes on English literature from Chaucer to the 1960s, delivered mainly to university classes, but also on a variety of extra-mural occasions at summer schools and the like. His literary efforts occupy two series that consist of research notes and manuscripts of 10 of the twenty-seven published works listed in the inventory, upon Charles Dickens, Pierce Egan, and other writers as well as anthologies of New Zealand writing. Also included are a series of book reviews prepared for regular radio broadcasts, book reports for Collins Publishers in his capacity as their literary adviser, files relating to sixteen or more organisations, his university office files, broadcasting scripts for radio and television, film reviews and film stills, speech notes for a variety of religious and secular occasions, photographs, the texts of a variety of productions for university revues and the like.

Index of correspondents

An index of correspondents prepared by Frank Rogers is available here.An index of correspondents linkprepared by Frank Rogers is available.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Gerard Reid in December 1987.

Related Materials

Related archival material held at MSS & Archives A-114 and A-159.



Processing Information

The John Cowie Reid papers were presented to the University of Auckland by his son Gerard Reid in 1988. When John Reid died in office in 1972, his office papers as a professor of English in the University of Auckland were transferred to his family home in Pamure. Together with the papers in the study of his home, the papers were used by his widow Joyce, (nee Burnet) to write a biography of her late husband (see Series 12, item 110). Subsequently the papers were held by his son until they were given to the University Library. From the condition of the papers when they were inventoried it seems unlikely that they had previously been culled to any extent. The papers therefore must be unique as they appear to be the only set of private papers of a university professor of English in New Zealand that, because of his death in office, have survived more or less intact.

The papers cover the period 1932 to 1972, although there is very little to document his life before his appointment to a post in English at Auckland University College in 1948. The papers cover a wide variety of topics illustrating the broad range of interests of a gifted and seemingly hyperactive university teacher; including literature of the Victorian period, English language and communication, theatre, film, the arts, music, publishing, food and wine, radio and television, university administration and education and the Catholic Church. The papers also include the manuscripts of 10 of his 27 published works.

The arrangement of the papers presented some problems since they had been moved several times between John Reid’s death and their transfer to the University Library. They have been packed into large cartons without much semblance of order, together with a number of books and periodicals that have since been transferred to the General Collection of the Library. Some materials were recognisable belonging to well-defined groups according to the places where they were generated – home and University – but many eluded such classification so the papers have been treated as an entity. A large proportion of the material had to be sorted page by page. One group quite clearly originated in the University – his university office papers which, together with Collins publishing correspondence, had been filed in manila folders more or less by subject. The bulk of the papers are the product of John Reid’s activity as a researcher and teacher and take the form of notes of works studied, lecture notes, and manuscripts of his published works. He was so much in demand as a public speaker and this is represented in a smaller group of speech notes.

It was possible to distinguish four types of output by the style of handwriting and the kind of papers. The first category consists of Reid’s early student essays and lecture notebooks which are written in a larger, immature hand. His lecture notes were written on A4 papers, in ink, in his normal legible hand. This contrasts strongly with the almost illegible hand that Reid used for his notes of reference works studied, which were written on A4 or larger paper. His speech notes were made on A5 pieces formed from A4 pages torn in half and are sometimes less legible than those written in the lecture hand.

It should not be assumed that the lecture notes were all prepared for university courses. It has not been possible to distinguish the provenance and date of many of the lectures so that the archivist decided to sort them all in one sequence under literature headings including the few that could be identified as being prepared for extra-mural functions such as seminars, refresher courses, summer schools and the like. Outlines of university courses will be found in Series 5 item 33 ‘Timetables and work allocation schedules 1958-70’ and item 41 ‘Course papers: course outlines and reading lists’ and for extra-mural functions in Series 15, item 132 ‘Circulated papers of lecture courses’.

It is probable that some of the titles listed in Series 12, item 109 ‘Other literary manuscripts’, were written by John Reid for University performance, although ‘Maria Martin or Murder in the Red Barn’ is a Victorian melodrama that, according to Mr J.R. Kelly a university contemporary of John Reid, the English Department staged in the 1940s.

Inventory of the papers of John Cowie Reid, 1932-1972.
Frank Rogers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand