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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The first (Asiatic) Indians probably came to New Zealand in the early days of settlement as servants to the Anglo-Indians who retired to New Zealand. It was not, however, until the early years of this century that they came to the country in any number. While the main stream was attracted to Fiji as indentured labourers, a few came to New Zealand either directly or through Fiji. When the indenture system was suspended in 1917 and abolished in 1920, there were signs that the flow would be diverted to New Zealand. In 1919, for example, there were about a thousand inquiries from Indians wishing to come to New Zealand, and fear of the consequences of a flood of Indians led in part to the Immigration Restriction Act of 1920, which made an entry permit necessary.

The number of Indians resident in New Zealand grew from 15 at the 1911 census to 671 (including 49 females) in 1921 and 987 (177) in 1926, with a further increase in 1936 to 1,198 (234). During the late thirties many Indians returned home permanently, but at the same time others seem to have decided to make New Zealand their home. This was shown by the number who brought wives to New Zealand; in 1945 the census figure was 1,549 (423). The figures for 1961 are 4,027, but, of these, 690 are of mixed race, for the Indian has not had the same attitude to mixed marriages as the Chinese.

Most Indians resident in New Zealand are Gujarati Hindus from the Surat and Navsari areas of Bombay, though there are also a few Punjabi Sikhs who are Moslems. Originally peasant farmers, it is probable that they hoped to take up land in New Zealand, but the high price and the attitude of New Zealanders to their employment in skilled occupations forced them to hawk fruit and vegetables or to collect bottles. In the country they took up labouring work on the roads, in swamp drainage, or scrub cutting. Today a number are employed in market gardening and a few in manufacturing.

The Indian community has of recent years become a more stable and permanent part of New Zealand society. The sex ratio, especially in the young, is more evenly balanced. The main colonies are in Auckland and Wellington. Indians are not yet as assimilated as the Chinese, but the increasing numbers born and educated in New Zealand will find that a larger range of occupations will be open to them.