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Sir Keith Sinclair further papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2010/03

Scope and Contents

The Library has several other collections of papers and records associated with Sir Keith Sinclair. Most of these pertain to his research and writing for publication and include resources for A history of the University of Auckland, 1883-1993. This collection differs in that it contains personal, literary and academic papers.

Correspondence comprises Series 1 and, being the largest part of the collection, is divided into 6 subseries. Included are letters from female friends, literary acquaintances, fellow-historians, politicians, and communications pertaining to Sinclair’s positions at the University. Sinclair’s war-time correspondence with his parents and siblings, although censored, is particularly significant. Much detail of his daily life in included along with sketches and stories for his younger siblings.

Series 2 documents aspects of Sinclair’s childhood and teenage years; primarily, schooling and education. Along with his enthusiasm for pigeon breeding, an early interest in reading, writing and literature is clearly evident, and exemplified in The Ascot, a handwritten magazine (Item 2/1).

Papers pertaining to Sinclair’s academic work comprise Series 3. They are largely lecture notes for university courses on New Zealand history, but also include research resources and some correspondence. A similar, but broader, range of materials and subject matter is found in Series 4. Included are notes for radio broadcasts, draft articles, lectures, speeches and talks.

Documents pertaining largely to Sinclair’s naval service in WWII are found in Series 5. They include items pertaining to call-up and discharge, promotion, finances, entertainment, and correspondence in 1985 regarding eligibility to be awarded the Defence Medal.

Series 6 and 7 contain evidence of Sinclair’s literary and publication pursuits in the form of drafts of poems, short stories, plays, novels, and books. Features of some of Sinclair’s poem drafts are elaborate doodles around the margins, metre annotations and the use of armed forces and New Zealand Railways forms and paper. Series 6 includes material for Strangers or beasts : poems (NZP 821.91 S61st), Moontalk : poems new and selected (NZP 821.91 S61m), and The Firewheel tree (NZP 821.91 S61f). It also includes notebooks of Sinclair’s personal reflections. Much of Series 7 consists of drafts for each chapter of Halfway round the harbour : an autobiography, along with resources and proposals for other publications. It complements other papers pertaining to Sinclair’s publishing activities, in particular, those held in MSS & Archives 96/2 that were assembled for A history of the University of Auckland, 1883-1993. Series 6 and 7 both contain correspondence related to publication.

Series 8 comprises forty-six small diaries arranged in bundles for each decade, which cover 44 years. Two large books of clippings from newspapers and other periodicals, spanning several decades, make up Series 9. Additions to the clipping books that include obituaries for Sinclair and his contemporaries, and book reviews, continue posthumously until 2004.

This collection, which was received largely arranged in labelled suspension files, was donated by Professor Raewyn Dalziel in 2009.


  • 1932 - 2007


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted

Biographical / Historical

Sir Keith Sinclair (1922-1993) was a New Zealand historian, university academic and poet. He is regarded as having pioneered a style of historical scholarship that reflected a distinctly New Zealandview of the country and its people.

Sinclair was born in Herne Bay, Auckland, on 5 December, 1922, the eldest of ten children. His parents, Ernest Sinclair and Florence Kennedy, who did not marry until 1939, initially lived in boarding houses. The family’s first home was in Ellerslie, followed later by a more permanent move to Point Chevalier, a location and community that would provide inspiration for Sinclair’s writing.

Sinclair’s schooling was at Point Chevalier Primary and Mt Albert Grammar School. In late 1941 he was accepted for Teachers’ Training College and, around the same time, was called up for Territorial military training, which he unsuccessfully appealed. From 1941-1945 he served in the New Zealand Army at home and then in the Royal New Zealand Navy in Britain. During this time he managed to continue his teacher-training, and, while in the Navy, to study extramurally through Auckland University College.

After the war, in 1947, Sinclair accepted a position as Lecturer in History at Auckland University College. He remained in the History Department, becoming Professor of History in 1962 and Emeritus Professor upon retirement in 1987. In a departure from academic life, but in line with a long-held interest in politics, Sinclair stood for Labour in Auckland’s Eden electorate in the 1969 general election. He initially won the seat, but this result was overturned when postal votes were counted. Documents pertaining to this campaign are held at MSS & Archives Vault 60

During his career, Sinclair held numerous positions on boards, committees and trusts. He also received various fellowships, prizes and awards, most notable of which were a CBE in 1983 for services to literature and Knight Bachelor in 1985 for services to historical research and literature.

Papers in this collection reveal that Sinclair developed a precocious interest in literature during childhood. As an adult he published in two main fields: history and poetry. He wrote and edited numerous publications on aspects of New Zealand history, placing importance on the use of primary sources in Maori as well as English language in his research; something he felt was lacking in past scholarship. Noteworthy amongst these are his biographies of politicians William Pember Reeves and Walter Nash, A history of the University of Auckland, 1883-1993 (NZP 378.95 S61), The origins of the Maori wars (NZP 995.025 S616) and History of New Zealand (NZP 995 S616h), which has appeared in several editions over four decades, the last of which was a revision by his wife and colleague, Dr Raewyn Dalziel, in 2000.

Aside from contributions in periodicals and anthologies, his poems have been published in five works, and draft material for some of these is found in Series 6. He also published a children’s fiction book, Reefs of fire (NZP 821.91 S61r), which drew on Sinclair’s childhood in Point Chevalier.

In 1947, Sinclair married Mary Land and they lived briefly in Wellington and then in Mangere East, Auckland. In the early 1950s, research opportunities arose that enabled the couple to spend periods of time travelling and living overseas. They had four sons and settled in Takapuna. Keith and Mary Sinclair divorced and, in 1976, Sinclair married Raewyn Dalziel.

Sir Keith Sinclair died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in June 1993 while visiting a son in Canada and just prior to the release of his autobiography, Halfway round the harbour : an autobiography (NZP 995 S616Yh). He was brought back to New Zealand for a funeral at the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Marae. A Chair in History at the University of Auckland was named in his honour in 2003.


3 metres (16 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Professor Raewyn Dalziel, Department of History, September 2009.

Related Materials

Special Collections holds numerous collections of records and papers with which Keith Sinclair is in some way associated. The following is a list of those that pertain most directly to the contents of this collection or which are otherwise significant:

Wendy Harrex and Sir Keith Sinclair collection of photographs compiled for Looking Back. MSS & Archives A-221.

Sir Keith Sinclair collection of papers relating to Walter Nash, 1919-1935. ca 1976. MSS & Archives 89/39.

Sir Keith Sinclair drafts and research notes for A history of the University of Auckland 1883-1983. MSS & Archives 96/2.

Sir Keith Sinclair collection of New Zealand Labour Party election manifestos and papers, . MSS & Archives 89/36.

Sir Keith Sinclair research papers for A destiny apart: New Zealand's search for national identity., 1850-1985. MSS & Archives A-310.

Sir Keith Sinclair papers. 1840-1986. MSS & Archives A-303.

Sir Keith Sinclair New Zealand Labour Party collection, ca 1930-1939. MSS & Archives A-318.

Sir Keith Sinclair collection relating to the Waitara land dispute of 1860, 1860-1861. MSS & Archives A-305.

Sir Keith Sinclair papers, 1863-1981. MSS & Archives A-306.

Sir Keith Sinclair research notes re origins of the Maori wars, ca 1954-1961. MSS & Archives Vault 147.

Sinclair, Keith, 1922-1993. Papers relating to his unsuccessful campaign for the Eden seat in the 1969 general election. MSS & Archives Vault 60.

University of Auckland. History series : further records, 1883-. MSS & Archives Vault 130.

University of Auckland. History Series, 1899-1961. MSS & Archives E-8.


  • Sinclair, Keith. (1993). Halfway round the harbour : an autobiography. Auckland, N.Z.: Penguin.
Inventory of the further papers of Sir Keith Sinclair, 1932 - 2007.
Yvonne Sutherland and Stephen Innes.
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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