New Zealand has always preferred immigrants to be of British stock or, failing these, of northern European, but on one occasion at least it has assisted immigration from outside these areas. In the seventies, when Vogel and the provinces were desperate for population, the agents in Europe went south and, in all, some 300 Italians (mainly from Leghorn) were brought to New Zealand. It was an unhappy experiment, for the Italians were unable to speak or understand English; in addition many were sent to Jackson Bay, where they were given road work for which they were unsuited. The Government gave instructions to stop assistance for Italians wishing to migrate, sent a few back, and tried to forget the whole affair. The Italians were not suited to life in the bush and drifted away to the towns, some going to Australia. In 1878 there were 538 Italians, but in 1891 the number had dropped to 397.
Italian immigration since the nineties has been organised along migration chains, a system whereby Italians in New Zealand encourage other Italians to emigrate and either finance or help them. The system has the advantage of helping the immigrant, but it builds up alien communities in New Zealand. The chains have been connected with occupations the Italians have followed. Three from Southern Italy have brought in men for fishing and market gardening, two from Northern Italy for coal mining, market gardening, and dairy farming. Italians generally are not regarded as the best of immigrants. They have usually been peasants, poorly educated and superstitious. They have difficulty with the language and live in colonies, while it takes three generations to turn them into New Zealanders. This has been accentuated by the inclination of the men to return to Italy for wives and by the reluctance of the women to emigrate.
During the last war, while not strongly anti-British, the New Zealand Italians generally showed little inclination to fight for New Zealand. It is possible, however, that in part this may have been due to the attitude of New Zealanders to them. At the same time many New Zealanders serving in Italy were gaining a more favourable opinion of the people.
Italians have taken little part in the public life of New Zealand and in only two fields, terazzo work and some aspects of viticulture, have they added a little to our national culture.