Augustus De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes (1863–1867) contains several references to an apocryphal "New Zealander," without explanation. What's the in-joke here? I grok from context that the New Zealander is something like "the man of the future," but what's the reference that the reader of De Morgan's Athenæum column would have been expected to get?

I mourn to think that when the New Zealander picks up his old copy of this book, and reads it by the associations of his own day, he may, in spite of the many assurances I have received that my Athenæum Budget was amusing, feel me to be as heavy as I feel James Gregory and Sanders. But he will see that I knew what was coming, which Gregory did not.

I have often wished that we could have a slight glimpse of the reception which was given to some of the old cyclometers; but we have nothing, except the grave disapprobation of historians. I am resolved to give the New Zealander a chance of knowing a little more than this about one of them at least; and, by the fortunate entrance into life of the Correspondent [that is, James Smith], I am able to do it.

O dear old Cambridge! when the New Zealander comes, let him find among the relics of your later sons some proof of attention to the elementary laws of thought!

This [Easter] table goes from 1850 to 1999; should the New Zealander not have arrived by that time, and should the churches of England and Rome then survive, the epact table may be continued from their liturgy-books.

In the last two quotations, the context resembles the Second Coming of Christ; but that doesn't seem to work with the first quotation. In the first two or three, the context implies something like "you, dear reader of future centuries"; but that doesn't seem to work with the last quotation.

  • It seems that, in the early 19th century European society in New Zealand was of a fairly 'rough and ready' kind, but migration there was increasing by the 1860s. My guess is that De Morgan was imagining an educated New Zealander of the future experiencing British culture for the first time (he obviously didn't foresee the growth of international communications!). Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 9:34
  • It is worth noting as well that New Zealand is fairly close to being antipodean to the British Isles.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 5:00

1 Answer 1



First the tertiary source: Cities Built to Music (Michael Bright, 1984):

[T]he Victorians were acutely [...] concerned about the image they bequeathed to posterity. Also, we find that a projection into the future served them as a sort of rhetorical device by which to comment on the present [...W]henever a writer uses this device, he almost surely embodies the future in the figure of a New Zealander, drawn from Macaulay's comment in "Ranke's History of the Popes" (Edinburgh Review, 1840) that the Catholic Church may still exist "when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's." Although Macaulay may have taken the image from a letter Horace Walpole wrote to Sir Horace Mann in 1774, everyone attributed it to Macaulay and used it as a symbol for the collapse of English civilization. [...]

Macaulay's quotation was in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1919).

Hunter Dukes tells a great deal more of the story in a great article for the Public Domain Review (2021-10-26). There's also a good discussion of the New Zealander and his offspring in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Important to note here is that we're not talking about an English colonist to New Zealand returning to London; we're talking about an actual native New Zealander (a Maori) coming to the ruins of London as a tourist, in the same way that a 19th-century Londoner might visit Rome, or a 21st-century American might visit Machu Picchu.

Conclusion: "The New Zealander" is indeed the reader of future centuries, but specifically is not "you, dear (white British) reader"; it's someone more foreign, such that the "associations of his own day" (first quotation) are vastly less predictable. Also, there is a tinge of the Second Coming, or at least the ironic overtone that if we are lucky, the New Zealander will never come at all.

De Morgan is not writing for the New Zealander; in fact he hopes the New Zealander will never come. But when the New Zealander does come, we may at least hope that he'll be interested in what we had to say.

This combination of allusion and irony makes all four of the quotations quite clear to me, and I'm satisfied.

Gustave Doré's The New Zealander (1872)
Gustave Doré's The New Zealander (1872)

There's one more reference in A Budget of Paradoxes, volume 2, page 363, that if I'd seen it first might have given me the proper hint:

If I complete my design of publishing a separate work, an old copy will be fished up from a stall two hundred years hence by the coming man, and will be described in an article which will end by his comparing our century with his own, and sighing out in the best New Zealand pronunciation— Dans ces tems-là, c'était déjà comme ça!

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