Few French have settled in New Zealand, yet they have played a not unimportant part in its history. De Surville was in New Zealand waters in 1769 before Cook left, while in the next 60 years four French expeditions visited the islands. French whalers were active round the coasts and French names of many coastal features record their activities. A Frenchman, Baron Charles de Thierry, arrived in Hokianga in 1835 to establish a kingdom in New Zealand, and indirectly assisted Busby, the British Resident, to establish the New Zealand Confederacy. France was responsible for sending the first Roman Catholic missionaries. Bishop Pompallier, with a bodyguard of French priests, arrived at the Hokianga in January 1838. French interest in the Church in New Zealand continued throughout last century. Maori prayer books were printed in France, and for some time French priests were second only to the Irish. One of the outstanding women of New Zealand, Mother Mary Aubert, was of French birth.
The purchase of land in Banks Peninsula by French whalers led to the attempt of the Nanto Bordelaise Co. to establish a colony at Akaroa, and 57 French were sent out. The fact that New Zealand had been annexed by the British prevented the dispatch of further colonists, but most of those already in New Zealand remained and became naturalised British subjects. No other scheme for organised French settlement was considered and, even in the flood of assisted immigration in the seventies, only 275, less in number than the Italians, were brought to the colony. It is probable that a few came to seek gold, but the number, 505, who were of French birth in 1861 reached only 737 in 1878, its maximum at any time.
Throughout New Zealand interest in France and French culture has always been great, helped by the fact that during the First World War New Zealand soldiers fought in Northern France and Belgium. Of all foreign languages, French is the one most commonly taught in secondary schools and universities and, though many studying it learn little more than the names of common objects, French literary clubs and circles are common.