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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.




Included in the crew of Tasman's two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, were the first Scandinavians to see New Zealand. Cook had Solander, a Swedish botanist, on his first voyage and named Solander Island after him, while Scandinavian whalers were among those to come to the Bay of Islands to refit. They do not seem to have been amongst the first settlers, but during the sixties a few arrived. The most outstanding was Bishop Monrad, the ex-premier of Denmark, who left his country after its defeat by Prussia in the war over Schleswig-Holstein in 1864. He came to New Zealand, accompanied by his wife and members of his family, and took up land in the Manawatu, where he roughed it clearing the bush. He left for Denmark in 1868, but his sons returned to farm at Karere.

After the passing of Vogel's Immigration and Public Works Act in 1870, the Government turned to the northern countries for migrants. The first few families were attracted to their compatriots in the Manawatu, where they helped to establish Palmerston North. Scandinavians were also in demand for those isolated settlements which several of the provincial governments had established in such places as Stewart Island and Jackson Bay. A few others went to Canterbury and Otago, but the main settlements were in the Seventy Mile Bush, stretching for that distance on the Wellington – Hawke's Bay boundary. The proposal was for a series of villages each containing from 50 to 70 families. The first parties went to Hawke's Bay in 1872 and the names of the towns of Dannevirke and Norsewood record their establishment by Danes and Norwegians. In the seventies most of the other centres in this area were Scandinavian. Mauriceville and Eketahuna (originally called Mellemskov) in the Wairarapa were settled from Wellington by Scandinavians.

Organised immigration ended in 1875 and, of the 84,000 brought in, there were 3,294 Scandinavians, 1,938 Danes, 667 Swedes, and 689 Norwegians. In 1878 there were 4,600 in the colony, about half Danes. Since that time there has been a small but steady flow of migrants from Scandinavia. At the time they formed 7 per cent of the Hawke's Bay population. The number reached a maximum in 1911, when there were 2,262 of Danish, 1,344 of Norwegian, and 1,518 of Swedish birth. In 1956 there were only 2,355 born in the Scandinavian countries living in New Zealand, most of them growing old, for of recent years there has been little new blood. Today the Scandinavians are submerged and assimilated. They look like the English and Scots; they have married them. During the First World War the Scandinavians fought alongside the English, though here it must be admitted the Danes had no love for the Germans.

The Scandinavians have played their part in the public life of New Zealand. The most outstanding of the immigrants was Judge O. J. Alpers, born in Denmark, who was unique in that, although of alien birth, he became a Judge of the Supreme Court. Johannes C. Andersen was a scholar and librarian of distinction. The Scandinavians, living as they did in the one area for many years, spoke their own language. For a brief while they had their own journal, Scandia, but today few Scandinavian clubs or societies exist. Even the Lutheran Church, the national church, seems to have lost its hold, and the 4,000 adherents today would include many Germans or people of German descent.

New Zealand's dairy industry probably gained considerably from Danish personnel and techniques, though they have taken little part in its organisation. Together with refrigeration, the Swedish separator was the making of the dairy industry, but whether its introduction came from immigrants or the manufacturer's advertising is not certain.

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