Story: Australians

Page 3. Sheep farmers, gold miners, soldiers

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Sheep farmers

New Zealand’s wool industry began when men and stock arrived from Australia in the early 1840s. More came in the 1850s, when drought in Australia coincided with buoyant wool prices and the discovery of native pasture in Canterbury. These ‘shagroons’ – who owned huge flocks of sheep, which they put out to pasture on leased land – quickly merged into Canterbury’s community of large-scale sheep farmers.

Along with the sheep farmers came station hands, among them a handful of Aborigines. With nicknames such as ‘Black Billy’ or ‘Black Jack’, they earned renown as stockmen.

Gold miners

It was an Australian, Gabriel Read, whose 1861 discovery sparked the Otago gold rush. During the next six years, over 50,000 came from Australia seeking gold. Many had merely passed through Australia, but by 1867 there were over 11,000 Australians living in New Zealand.

Miners from Australia’s main goldfields in Victoria flocked to Otago. The discovery of gold on the West Coast sparked another wave – Hokitika was described as a suburb of Melbourne. Many miners left once the rushes subsided, but some remained in the stable goldmining communities of Otago and the West Coast.

Australian experience guided the organisation of New Zealand goldfields. Vincent Pyke had spent more than a decade in Australia before crossing to Otago in 1862. As a commissioner, he prepared regulations to control gold mining in New Zealand.

Some who came from the Australian goldfields became prominent New Zealanders, among them two premiers: Julius Vogel, born in London, had spent nine years in Australia; Lancashire-born Richard Seddon was in Victoria from 1863 to 1866. The Australian gold miners were strongly independent and democratic. They had a long-term effect on New Zealand’s political culture.

Soldiers

In the 1860s the New Zealand wars brought nearly 2,500 Australian troops to the North Island. Encouraged by the offer of free land, they were recruited to fight in the Waikato. Most were single men, but about 1,000 dependants also came.

Australian architects

The Bank of New Zealand’s first substantial premises in both Auckland and Christchurch were designed by a Melbourne architect, Leonard Terry. Another of Christchurch’s earliest stone buildings, the Durham Street Methodist Church, was designed by the Melbourne firm, Crouch and Wilson. Three important early New Zealand architects, William Mason, R. A. Lawson and W. B. Armson, all spent time in Australia before moving on to New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Australians - Sheep farmers, gold miners, soldiers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/australians/page-3 (accessed 16 September 2019)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 10 Mar 2015