About

Benjamin Kingsbury is a historian and writer based in New Zealand. He was brought up in New Zealand and Pakistan, and studied history at the University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of two books,  An Imperial Disaster: The Bengal Cyclone of 1876 (Oxford University Press, 2018), and The Dark Island: Leprosy in New Zealand and the Quail Island Colony (Bridget Williams Books, 2019). He lives in Christchurch with his wife, the artist Nahin Kingsbury, and their son.

benjamin kingsbury historian writer

The Dark Island

Leprosy in New Zealand and the Quail Island Colony

New Zealand’s leprosy colony opened in 1906, and grew into a controversial and troubled institution an embarrassment to the Health Department, an object of pity to a few, a source of fear to many.

‘Eloquent and evocative, this meticulously researched narrative of Quail Island reveals the epidemic fears, race politics and personality clashes behind New Zealand’s solitary leper colony. As colonial microhistory, The Dark Island makes for compelling reading.’ — David Arnold, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Warwick

‘Kingsbury expertly illuminates how expediency shaped public policy to do with leprosy, but also how the sufferers Māori, Pakeha and Chinese responded to the isolation and meagre resources devoted to their treatment. He puts the sufferers at the centre of this poignant history, making their suffering vivid in elegant prose.’ Barbara Brookes, Professor of History, University of Otago

‘Kingsbury shows us that the way individual human beings rise, break, resile and connect with each other is all that makes the world go round at the end of the day. This is history at the cellular level.’ — Glenn Colquhoun, author of Late Love: Sometimes Doctors Need Saving as Much as Their Patients

An Imperial Disaster

The Bengal Cyclone of 1876

The first history of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest natural calamities, its political context and its impact on colonial India.

‘Elegantly written, deeply moving, humane, angry without being polemical. One of the most compelling historical reconstructions of a climatic disaster that I’ve read.’ — Sunil Amrith, Professor of South Asian Studies and Professor of History, Harvard University

‘Narrated in beautiful prose and based on scrupulous scholarship, with an unerring eye for the apposite quotation, An Imperial Disaster is microhistory at its best.’ — Chandrika Kaul, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, University of St Andrews

‘Comprehensive, meticulously detailed, carefully researched and nuanced. A remarkable scholarly achievement.’ — Nandini Gooptu, Associate Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Oxford

‘In the age of the Anthropocene, An Imperial Disaster complicates the distinctions usually made between natural and human disasters. This lucidly presented account of the Bengal cyclone will be just as relevant to scholars thinking about Hurricane Katrina or the Australian wildfire.’ — Rochona Majumdar, Associate Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilisations, University of Chicago

Media

The Dark Island

#I am not a virus’, Mira Harrison, Landfall Review Online, 1 May 2020

Book review: The Dark Island by Benjamin Kingsbury’, Jonathan West, Nine to Noon on RNZ, 17 February 2020 (audio, 4’51’’)

Quarantined: a sordid, sickly, sad underside of New Zealand history’, John Weekes, Stuff, 9 February 2020

The Listener’s 100 best books of 2019’, New Zealand Listener / Noted, 2 December 2019

New Zealand’s shameful response to leprosy’, Sally Blundell, New Zealand Listener / Noted, 20 October 2019

Island of lost souls: the leprosy colony in Lyttelton harbour’, Philip Matthews, The Press / Stuff, 6 October 2019

The dark history of New Zealand’s leper colony’, Kim Hill, Saturday Morning on RNZ, 5 October 2019 (audio, 16’36’’)

An Imperial Disaster

People need to know what has gone wrong on this troubled coast in the past’, Anandabazar Patrika, 27 July 2020 (Bengali)

The empire on trial’, Azizul Rasel, Daily Star, 13 July 2020

The Sundarbans: a tale of sahibs and cyclones’, Deepanjan Ghosh, Live History India, 26 May 2020

Must-read books of 2019’, The Telegraph, 27 December 2019

A micro-history of a forgotten disaster’, Debjani Bhattacharya, Economic and Political Weekly, 7 September 2019

Death by apathy’, Jhuma Sanyal, The Telegraph, 16 May 2019

Natural disasters are shaped by social and economic inequality’, Richard Mahapatra, Down To Earth, 17 April 2019

It was a full moon night and the tides were at their peak’, The Sunday Guardian, 9 March 2019 (book extract)

A past that chills to the core’, Anuja Chandramouli, The New Indian Express, 10 February 2019