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Robert Chapman papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2006/2

Scope and Contents

Chapman was a meticulous collector of almost every record of his life and has left an extraordinarily rich legacy in his papers. One example gives a sense of the depth of material contained in this collection: in the folder relating to the NZUSA 14th Congress at Curious Cove in 1952 (series 14, item 617), we find correspondence relating to Chapman’s literary contribution, speech notes and clippings about the event, and even a photograph of the attendees. In another we find letters and poems from James K. Baxter. There is a large amount of material gleaned from former student Jonathan Hunt which provides much background to political events, and contributes to the Clipping Files series.

It is difficult to separate the personal and the professional life as Robert Chapman maintained longstanding and cordial relationships with a variety of friends, acquaintances and academics over virtually a lifetime. The titles of a number of folders reflect the bonds Robert Chapman and Noeline formed – genuine friendships as well as academic and professional relationships: for example, American friends, Australian friends, and Broadcasting friends. There is a voluminous correspondence with many individuals, for example Jonathan Bennett, Doug Munro, Paul Reynolds and Bob Pearson right through to the post-2000 period.

Because of the broad range of cultural and academic activities Chapman was involved in, and because of his meticulous nature, the papers offer valuable insights into many aspects of New Zealand cultural, political and academic life over a period of great change in this country.

The papers were retrieved from the Chapman residence at 33 Leys Crescent, Remuera, in early 2006 by Stephen Innes, assisted by Chapman’s son Hal, and a family friend and former student, Pat O’Connor. They were located in several rooms, with the earlier material in vertical filing cabinets and clearly identified. The clipping files were mostly in envelopes and clearly labelled. Some of the later correspondence, particularly after 2000, was less well ordered but clearly fitted into the overall arrangement of the papers.

The papers are divided into two broad sub-categories, Professional and Personal, though there is some overlap between the two. Sixteen series were created on the basis of common function, content or form, and within this the arrangement is primarily chronological except for Clipping Files which are arranged by title. For more detail see individual series descriptions.


  • 1933 - 2005


Conditions Governing Access

Partly restricted. Access to files designated Restricted is totally restricted until 1 January 2036, after which access shall be unrestricted.

Biographical / Historical

Professor Robert Chapman was born in Takapuna on 30 October 1922. He attended Auckland Grammar School before enrolling at Auckland Teachers’ College in 1941 and Auckland University College in 1942. During the war he served in New Zealand in the Air Liaison Section of the Army, and then in the RNZAF as a meteorological observer. At Auckland University College his talent was soon recognised when he won the Lissie Rathbone Scholarship for the top student in stage one English and History. He went on to win the prestigious Fowlds Prize for the top scholar of the year at Auckland University College, and graduated with an MA in History (with first class honours) in 1948. He became one of the pioneering academics at the University of Auckland, who along with others such as Sir Keith Sinclair and Allen Curnow, during the 1960s asserted that New Zealand had its own identity equally worthy of examination as that of Great Britain. Appointed as lecturer in History in 1948, he was subsequently Research Fellow in Political Science at the Australian National University from 1953-1956, then Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland, and became foundation Professor of Political Studies in 1964. In addition to his academic and research activities, Robert Chapman developed an impressive reputation as a broadcaster and commentator on political matters from the 1950s, and became a regular part of television coverage on election night for a long period. His expertise in this field was reflected in his appointment to the Regional Advisory Committee of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (1965-1969), and he later sat on two important broadcasting reviews, the 1973 Committee on Broadcasting, and the 1986 Royal Commission on Broadcasting and Related Telecommunications in New Zealand, which he chaired.

Chapman’s strong interest in media coverage of the political landscape led to his establishing the Robert and Noeline Chapman Audio-Visual Archive in the 1960s. The Chapman Archive is New Zealand’s largest and most continuous collection of broadcast news and current affairs available in an as broadcast form. Its television news and current affairs holdings are very extensive, and in many cases the Chapman collection is the only surviving record of New Zealand political, social and economic history, and certainly the only one combining extensive radio and television resources. In recognition of this national significance, the Archive was deposited with the New Zealand Film Archive in 2001, to ensure its long-term preservation and access.

Robert Chapman was an inspiring teacher as well as a gifted researcher, and a list of his former students reads like a who’s who of broadcasting, politics, and academia. They include a number of distinguished academics at the University of Auckland, and on the political front, former Speaker Jonathan Hunt, Minister of Trade Phil Goff, former health minister, Michael Bassett, and one-time staff member Prime Minister Helen Clark. Although he acted as an adviser to many on the political front, his expertise was not applied in a partisan way, and he himself never belonged to a political party. Although he retired in 1988, he maintained strong links with the Department in his retirement years.

Perhaps less well known was Robert Chapman’s strong interest in New Zealand art and literature. He was an avid collector of New Zealand art and helped establish the University’s art collection. He was an accomplished poet in his own right, and made a major contribution to New Zealand letters with the publication, in 1956, of An anthology of New Zealand verse which he co-edited with Jonathan Bennett. He also maintained an interest in New Zealand letters and contacts with local writers throughout his life. Chapman’s ability to integrate research across the disciplines was a central characteristic of his work, alongside the skill of meshing the minute detail of political behaviour with the broad trends of social and political change.

Chapman’s wider academic contributions included several major books on New Zealand politics and society, 3 edited works, and numerous substantial articles and chapters in books. For a select bibliography of his works see: Chapman, R. M. (Robert McDonald) New Zealand politics and social patterns : selected works by Robert Chapman; edited and introduced by Elizabeth McLeay. Wellington : Victoria University Press, 1999 (pp. 367-369).

Robert Chapman married Noeline Amy Thompson in 1948. They had three sons, Guy, Ralph and Hal. Chapman was made a CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) in 1987. Robert Chapman died on 26 May 2004 and Noeline died on 28 November 2005.


30 metres (46 boxes, 38 index card drawers, 5 drawers of maps.)

Language of Materials



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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Hal Chapman in April 2006 with further donations in March 2007 and 15 May 2007. The sound recordings and videos from this material were transferred to the Chapman Archive in April 2011.


  • Chapman, R. M. (Robert McDonald). New Zealand politics and social patterns : selected works / by Robert Chapman ; edited and introduced by Elizabeth McLeay. Wellington : Victoria University Press, 1999. Includes: Bibliography of the published works of Robert Chapman (excluding reviews and poems), pp. 367-369.
  • Regular commentator on elections [obituary]. Dominion post, 3 June 2004, p. 9.
  • Celebration of a life [obituary]. University of Auckland news, Aug. 2004, pp.18-19.
  • New Zealand politics a lifelong passion [obituary]. New Zealand herald, 5 June 2004, A26.


NRAM Y4250

Inventory of the papers of Robert McDonald Chapman, 1933-2005.
Stephen Innes
October 2006
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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