Jefferson Christina

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Christina Jefferson (c.1891-1974)

Christina Jefferson during her survey. Courtesy Turnbull Library, link
Christina Jefferson made a remarkable and pioneering field survey of the dendroglyphs of the Chatham Islands.

Jefferson was raised in Dunedin. In her teenaged years she was studying commercial practice, book keeping and shorthand, for an office career.

In 1935 she was resident in Te Awamutu and was a founder of the Te Awamutu Historical Society [1].

In 1946, interested in anthropology and the Chatham Islands, she asked Roger Duff's advice as to what could be done there. He suggested a survey of the Moriori dendroglyphs. According to her report in the JPS [2] she initialy made two extended visits, with over 9 months in the field, in 1947 and 1948.

"Everything had to be carried in a “splitsack” over my horse's back, and weight of food, sleeping-bag and clothing had to be considered always. Altogether, I rode over a thousand miles and spent seventy-seven nights alone in remote habitations. I do not know how many miles I walked."

In the first two visits: "The two hundred and thirteen previously unrecorded glyphs, of which drawings were made came from thirty-two different sites".

"Three more visits were made to Chatham Island, from 29th November, 1949, to 8th January, 1950, from 26th November, 1950, to 29th January, 1951, from 10th November, 1951, to 5th February, 1952. During these periods seventy-two nights were spent alone in a tent, huts and old dwellings, and I rode over seven hundred more miles. Two hundred and thirty-seven carvings were copied, making four hundred and fifty during the five visits."

Miskelly (2008:164) notes a sixth visit in 1956.

By the time of the publication of her report on the work she had graduated as a BA having studied anthropology. This may have been latterly in Auckland University where anthropology was taught afer the arrival of Ralph Piddington in 1950.

In 1950 she was resident in Dunedin but by 1952 had moved to Auckland where she remained for several years. At the close of her life she was resident in Waihi Beach.

A recent review of the dendroglyphs is Richards (2007).

"Miss Christina Jefferson was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and educated at a small rural school in the Leith Valley nearby. Her youthful pleasure in exploring the varied countryside near her home and school later emerged in the enthusiasm with which she sought out and studied the tree-carvings of the Chatham Islands. In her retirement, at a stage when most women are content to follow a quieter life, this pursuit has engrossed the time and energy of several years. That some of these years have been concurrent with her study for a degree in anthropology, is further tribute to her purposefulness and devotion to her subject." (JPS notes on contributors).


Jenkin, C., 1992. Christina Jefferson : a Victorian feminist? Unpublished MA research essay, University of Auckland.

Miskelly, C., 2008 People who made a difference. p159-172 in MisKelly, C. (Ed) Chatham Islands Heritage and Conservation. 2nd edition, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Richards, R. 2007. Manu Moriori, Human and Bird Carvings on Live Kopi Trees on the Chatham Islands. Paremata Press, Wellington.

  1. Accessed Feb 2015


1949 Burial customs of the Moriori.Journal of the Polynesian Society 58(3):128.

1949 Moriori playing bowl. Journal of the Polynesian Society 58(3):128.

1955 The Dendroglyphs of the Chatham Islands. Journal of the Polynesian Society 64(4):367-441 online.

1956 Dendroglyphs of the Chatham Islands. Memoir of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 31 Reprinted from the Journal (revised and with an index).