Skip to main content
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.



Related Images


Historical Trends – European

An estimated European population of 50 in 1800 had risen to 59,413 – about 51 per cent of the total population – in 1858. By 1901 Europeans formed 94·4 per cent of the population, and the proportion has changed very little since that time. In 1961, Europeans formed 93·1 per cent of the population. The following table shows the increases in European population from 1851 to 1961.

The European population has shown increases at every census, although with considerable fluctuations in the rate of growth. Until the late seventies, the chief source of increase was through immigration, which showed marked periods of boom and decline. The discovery of gold in 1861 was a dominant factor in the population increase of 157,024, or 160·38 per cent, during the period between the December 1861 and the February 1871 censuses. Another boom in population occurred between 1871 and 1881, when the population was almost doubled, largely as a result of Julius Vogel's vigorous public works and immigration policy. In the peak year of 1874 there was a net inflow of 38,106, of whom 32,118 were Government-assisted immigrants. The depression of the late eighties and early nineties brought about a virtual cessation of gains from migration, but by that time natural increase had become the main component of population growth.

The rate of natural increase of the European population reached its peak in 1876–80, when the rate was 29·41 per 1,000 persons, and then fell almost continuously to the trough of 1936, when the rate was 7·89 per 1,000 persons. Since the New Zealand death rate has always been relatively low and stable, the decline was almost wholly due to the birthrate which, in fact, fell from 41·21 per 1,000 in 1876–80 to 16·64 per 1,000 in 1936.

Increase in European Population, 1851–1961
Census Population Intercensal Increase Average Annual Increase
(Per Cent) (Per Cent)
December 1851 26,707 .. ..
December 1858 59,413 122·46 12·14
December 18611 97,904 64·79 18·26
December 1864 171,009 74·67 20·74
December 1867 217,436 27·15 8·20
February 1871 254,928 17·24 5·11
March 1874 297,654 16·76 5·29
March 1878 412,465 38·57 8·49
April 1881 487,889 18·29 5·60
March 1886 576,524 18·17 3·41
April 1891 624,455 8·31 1·60
April 1896 701,094 12·27 2·33
March 19012 770,304 9·87 1·91
April 1906 885,995 15·02 2·79
April 1911 1,005,585 13·50 2·60
October 19162 1,096,228 9·01 1·57
April 1921 1,214,677 10·81 2·31
April 1926 1,344,469 10·69 2·05
March 1936 1,491,484 10·93 1·05
September 19452 1,603,554 7·51 0·77
April 19512 1,823,796 13·73 2·34
April 19562 2,036,911 11·69 2·24
April 1961 2,247,898 10·36 1·99

1 Figures from 1861 adjusted to exclude all Maori-European half-castes.

2 Excludes armed forces absent overseas at census date.

A declining birthrate was common to the Western World in the thirties, and the depression merely accentuated the decline. With the economic recovery of the late thirties, the birthrate began to rise, possibly as a result of marriages delayed by bad times. In 1940, the birthrate rose in the course of one year to the highest rate since 1925, and the increased marriage rates in early wartime sent it even higher in 1941. The fall in 1942-43 may be attributed to the absence of troops overseas, the general dislocation of population, and uncertain war prospects. In 1944, the easing of the immediate threat to New Zealand, the partial demobilisation of the home forces, and the presence of American troops were doubtless responsible for the rise, which was accelerated in 1945 with the return of peace conditions and the consequent very high marriage rate. In 1947 the birthrate reached a peak: at 26·47 per 1,000 it was the highest since 1906–12. The subsequent fall has been much slighter than was predicted, and the rate has remained fairly stable throughout the fifties. During the year 1961 the birthrate among the European population was 25·53 per 1,000.

Historical Trends – Maori

Until 1951 the term “Maori” was restricted for census purposes to full-blooded Maoris and Maori-Europeans of half or more Maori blood. In 1951 the definition was extended to include those of Maori – other Polynesian descent, and in 1956 it was further extended to include those of Maori – other than European origin, provided that they were of half or more Maori blood.

The following table shows the Maori population from 1857 to 1961 with numerical and percentage changes between each census. It must be emphasised that the earlier figures are (to quote the Registrar-General in 1858) “as nearly as could be ascertained by the zealous efforts of competent persons” rather than completely accurate records. While the numbers of Maoris in pre-European times can only be roughly estimated, it is certain that the advent of the European was followed by a long decline in Maori numbers which lasted almost to the end of the nineteenth century. This has been blamed on a number of factors:

  1. Diseases hitherto unknown in New Zealand were introduced by the Europeans and took a heavy toll of the Maoris. Chief among these were typhoid, measles, venereal disease, and, above all, tuberculosis. Consumptive patients in crowded, unventilated sleeping huts spread this latter disease without check. The dispersal of kinsmen gathered in infected villages to mourn the dead carried typhoid from village to village.

  2. In some parts, and especially in the Wairarapa and Wellington districts, the Maoris moved their villages from healthy hilltop sites to low, often swampy, ground. The decline of the old pagan religion led to a neglect of the sanitary code bound up with it, and the consequent pollution of lakes and streams.

  3. Sick Maoris relied on the ministrations of their priestly healers, the tohungas, whose traditional remedies were useless against the introduced diseases.

  4. Child mortality was very high. The enumerator in Taranaki in 1891 reported that probably not more than one in three Maori children would survive to maturity.

  5. Heavy casualties were sustained in tribal warfare following the introduction of firearms and, during the sixties, in the Maori Wars.

  6. A feeling of race-despair and loss of “mana” engendered by loss of land to the European, by defeat in war, and by the general breakdown in health.

Maori Population
Census Population Numerical Increase Percentage Increase
1857–58 56,409 .. ..
1874 47,330 –8,719 –15·6
1878 45,542 –1,788 –3·8
1881 46,141 599 1·3
1886 43,927 –2,214 –4·8
1891 44,177 250 0·6
1896 42,113 –2,064 –4·7
1901 45,549 3,436 8·2
1906 50,309 4,760 10·5
1911 52,723 2,414 4·8
19161 52,997 274 0·5
1921 56,987 3,990 7·5
1926 63,670 6,683 11·7
1936 82,326 18,656 29·3
19451 98,744 16,418 19·9
19452 100,044 17,718 21·5
19511 115,676 16,932 17·1
19512 115,740 15,696 15·7
19561 137,151 21,475 18·6
19562 137,341 21,601 18·7
19611 167,086 29,935 21·8
19612 167,390 30,049 21·9

1 Exclusive of members of armed forces overseas.

2 Inclusive of members of armed forces overseas.

Contemporary reports frequently state that those tribes more remote from contact with Europeans were healthier and had more children. Between 1857 and 1874 the Maori population declined by 8,719 or nearly 16 per cent. By 1896 the number of Maoris had fallen from a probable 200,000 or more in pre-European times to 42,113.

The twentieth century, however, saw a resurgence of vitality among the Maori people. In recent years their high rate of increase has provided a strong contrast to the long decline during the nineteenth century, when Maori and Pakeha alike seem to have concluded that the race was doomed. The decline was reversed at the beginning of this century, and each census since 1901 has seen an increase. Since 1921 the Maori race has increased at a higher rate than the European, although the European population has received considerable increments from immigration, whereas the Maori population has relied on natural increase. In the year ended 31 December 1961, the Maori birthrate was 46·41 per 1,000 of mean population, the highest rate recorded during the decade.