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Last updated: 8 September 2009

Baxter, James Keir

Collection | Ref # ARC-0027 | Held by Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hakena

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Baxter, James Keir


Baxter, James K., 1926-1972

Level of description:



3.25 linear metres

Reference number:



James K. Baxter was one of New Zealand's greatest poets, and also a noted social critic. He was born at Dunedin in 1926, son of Archibald and Millicent Baxter, well-known pacifists. He spent most of his childhood in Brighton, receiving his schooling at Brighton School and Kings' High School, Dunedin. He spent some time travelling with his parents and brother in Europe, attending a Quaker boarding school at Sibford, England, and also had some time at St John's Hill Quaker school in Wanganui. After a year studying at the University of Otago, Baxter left formal study to concentrate on his writing, earning his living in a variety of short-term jobs. In 1948 Baxter married Jacqueline Sturm and they settled in Wellington where he trained as a teacher and also completed a BA degree. He taught for some time at Epuni School before taking up work at the Department of Education's School Publications Branch. Baxter, who had been baptised an Anglican in 1948, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1957, remaining a devout Catholic for the rest of his life. After some years working as a postman, he moved to Dunedin to take up the Robert Burns Fellowship in 1966 and 1967. In the following year he remained in Dunedin working for the Catholic Education Office. Baxter felt increasingly disillusioned with New Zealand society, and after some months helping drug addicts in a drop-in centre in Auckland, in 1969 he established a community, deeply influenced by Maori and Catholic spiritual values, at Jerusalem on the Whanganui River. He died suddenly at Auckland in 1972
Baxter started writing poetry while very young, and his first collection, 'Beyond the palisade', was published in 1944 to critical acclaim. He continued to publish poetry throughout his life, and was also a noted playwright. He lectured widely throughout New Zealand to many different audiences, on literary, religious and social topics.

Scope and contents:

The bulk of this large collection is handwritten and typed manuscripts of Baxter's writing. Baxter wrote his poems on any available paper, but he frequently used rough notebooks, in which he also recorded other notes - sometimes they had also been used for schoolwork or other purposes. He copied his best poems into a series of notebooks, many of them carefully numbered and indexed (these appear as the 'fair poetry notebooks' series in this collection). There is another series of notebooks, of mixed poetry and prose, kept during his time at Jerusalem. There is also a large series, labelled 'other poetry', of manuscript poems written on loose paper. Baxter wrote many plays, and various drafts and fair manuscripts of these appear in the 'plays' series. There are also a few short stories and parables, and manuscripts of a short novel. One of the largest parts of the collection is the 'lectures and prose' series. This includes drafts and notes for various lectures and talks which Baxter gave, some of them later published, along with other prose pieces. The collection also includes correspondence, mostly from other writers, and poems written by other people. There are copies of some of Baxter's publications, including some which he annotated, and a few publications by other people. There are various newspaper clippings, mostly featuring Baxter's writing or articles about him. Finally, the collection includes various miscellaneous items, a recording of a poetry reading by Baxter, and some photographs of productions of his plays.

Dates covered:

Circa 1937 - 1975

Access conditions:

RESTRICTED : Access requires the written permission of Mr John Baxter.

Finding aids:

Listed on the 'Hakena' archives and manuscripts catalogue.

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Associated with:


Poets · Poetry · Catholic Church · Communal living

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