In 1642 the members of a Dutch expedition became the first Europeans known to have sighted New Zealand. Captaining two vessels from the Dutch East India Company’s base in Java, Abel Tasman ventured south in search of fabled riches and fresh land for expansion.
On 13 December he recorded his first glimpse of a ‘groot hooch verheven landt’ – ‘large land, uplifted high’ – the Southern Alps. After charting some of the coast, Tasman anchored in the sheltered waters of what is now Golden Bay. Four of his crew were killed in a confrontation with the Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri tribe, and Tasman’s ships left, naming the area Murderers' Bay. A Dutch mapmaker later christened the new lands Nieuw Zeeland (after the coastal province of Zeeland in the Netherlands), stamping a Dutch imprint on the national story.
Three hundred years after Tasman’s tragic encounter with Māori, land near where he anchored was renamed Abel Tasman National Park. The Tasman Glacier and the Tasman Sea are other reminders of this explorer’s long and enduring reach.
Netherlanders were one strand in the knot of continental Europeans settling in New Zealand from the 1840s. Some speculate that the misfortune of Tasman’s crew led to a national reluctance for a second entrance into New Zealand. Most of the quarter-million who left Holland (officially known as the Netherlands) between 1846 and 1930 were heading westwards, chiefly to the United States.
A few Dutch people may have settled in New Zealand before the middle of the 19th century. Some had professions associated with the sea, or were drawn to the colony by the 1860s gold rushes. But in the 1874 census, just 127 of the 300,000 settlers recorded were of Dutch birth – 112 men and 15 women.
Some famous figures among early settlers of Dutch origin include the landscape painter Petrus van der Velden, and gold seeker and later prime minister Sir Julius Vogel, who had a Dutch father. Others, like Wellington’s first rabbi, Herman van Staveren, made their mark at the community level. The contribution of Dutch churchmen has been long lasting. For more than a century, a succession of priests attached to the Mill Hill Fathers, a prominent Catholic missionary order, came to work in remote Māori communities in the central and northern North Island.
The number of Dutch-born settlers dropped in the first half of the 20th century, despite the arrival of a few people connected with multinational companies and trading concerns.
An example of how Dutch migrants have enriched New Zealand can be found in the van Asch family.
Gerrit van Asch arrived in Christchurch in 1880 and set up the world’s first fully government-funded school for the deaf. His grandson Piet went on to become one of New Zealand’s foremost aviation pioneers and a leading exponent of aerial mapping.
Henry van Asch co-founded the company A. J. Hackett Bungy in the mid-1980s, taking over this adventure sports business in 1997. The family name has now been perpetuated in his van Asch winery, based in Central Otago.
From the late 1920s, the growth in the European population was slowing down. Faced with a low birth rate and mounting skill and labour shortages, New Zealand increasingly looked to immigration to help shore up social and economic progress.
Racial ideology underpinned immigration policy in an Anglo-Saxon and Protestant society. Financial assistance was available to preferred British migrants, but a 1938 report suggested that the supply might not be adequate. It made the radical suggestion that migrants from other parts of the world should be accepted.
The Netherlands came to be seen as an alternative source of Aryan Europeans – ‘good Germanic genes but without the politics’. 1 The Hague was pleased to oblige. In 1939, five handpicked Dutch carpenters arrived. They were described as ‘a fine type, of athletic build and well educated’. 2 This happy experiment paved the way for post-war Dutch migration.
From 1945, a welcome was cautiously extended to small groups of migrants, both from the Netherlands and from the crumbling Dutch East Indies empire (now Indonesia). These first groups of arrivals impressed employers, setting the scene for mass immigration.
After being occupied by the Germans during the war, the Netherlands struggled to reconstruct its ruined economy and society. High unemployment, housing shortages, and a baby boom increased the pressures. According to a 1947–48 survey, over one-third of the Dutch population contemplated emigration in the post-war period. Meanwhile the fight for independence in the Dutch colony of Indonesia spelled the end of a colonial empire that pre-dated Tasman. By 1949 a quarter of a million Dutch nationals living there needed new homes.
Between 1945 and 1949, nearly 500 settlers came from war-torn Indonesia, and they continued to arrive after that. Some were displaced colonists; others were discharged soldiers from the Dutch army, recruited to stamp out the independence struggle that occurred between 1945 and 1949. New Zealand’s covert ‘whites only’ policy posed problems. People with ‘one Javanese great-grandmother’ stood to be excluded, even if they had lived in the Netherlands.
In 1950 Wellington approached The Hague, asking whether it could obtain 2,000 skilled migrants. Carpenters, skilled labourers, and farm and domestic workers were high on the wanted list. It was a move based on pragmatic grounds, and both countries stood to gain from the arrangement. The need for workers was immediate. Even before the immigration agreement was signed in October, 55 Dutch dairy workers were selected. All the men took the long direct flight to Whenuapai, arriving just in time for the peak of the season.
The New Zealand Assisted Passage Scheme was extended to include a limited number of Dutch citizens with special skills. Candidates faced strict selection processes. About a quarter of the post-war Dutch settlers were subsidised in this way.
The door also opened that year to those willing to pay their own way, so long as they had a job and a place to live. Some even brought prefabricated houses with them. Within a few months, Dutch migrants came in by the thousand, mainly by sea.
Who were the 1950s migrants? They were usually single males, with an average age of 25. Mostly lower middle-class burghers, they were ‘blue’ rather than ‘white’ collar workers. Two-thirds came from the densely populated and industrialised West Holland conurbation called the Randstad – bounded by Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Contrary to popular belief, only a small number worked in agriculture before coming.
Dutch churches helped promote migration, with an estimated half of all settlers being Roman Catholic. Most left home with little money, having sold possessions to pay for their passage. They were permitted to carry only minimal amounts of luggage, and arrived after five weeks living in crowded dormitories on ships like the Sibajak.
Demand for passages remained high during the 1950s. The peak years were between July 1951 and June 1954, when an intake of 10,583 settlers was recorded. Numbers dropped as the Dutch economy recovered.
By 1968, 28,366 immigrants born in Dutch territories had come to New Zealand, and 23,879 had settled. Almost half of all migrants from outside the Commonwealth were Dutch, making them by far the biggest single group of non-British immigrants to New Zealand at that time.
On arrival, all new migrants faced pressure to discard their Dutchness. In the early 1950s the government wanted settlers to blend, socially and culturally, into the British-influenced society. The attitude was summed up by senior immigration official Dr Reuel Lochore: ‘We must make new Britishers: by procreation, and by assimilation; by making suitable aliens into vectors of the British way of life.’ 1
On arrival the ‘aliens’ were fingerprinted and obliged to carry papers. For some, this echoed the painful years of German occupation. The authorities carried out ‘pepper potting’ – scattering new immigrants throughout the country. This policy arose from fears that closed communities would form if ethnic groups were allowed to cluster together. Assisted migrants faced further restrictions. For the first two years after arriving, they were directed to specific jobs and localities, often in temporary construction or railway camps.
The first arrivals welcomed the fresh air, the wide open spaces, the huge helpings of meat and dairy food. But women in particular suffered isolation and homesickness, pining for the tight-knit communities of home. They found that the spirit of gezelligheid (conviviality), which is at the heart of Dutch culture, was in short supply.
Some arranged for loved ones to follow, and the legendary Brides’ Flight of 1953 brought out young women engaged to Dutch men. But a large proportion married locals, settling down where they had first gone to work. Studies show that a decade later, almost half had not moved. Other Dutch settlers dispersed throughout the country.
While thousands renounced their Dutch nationality in order to become naturalised Kiwis, some came to regard naturalisation as a form of second-class citizenship. Residency in another country for more than six years, or any criticism of the Queen of England, could have seen their nationality stripped from them. Protests about these restrictions led to a change in the law by 1960. By 1970 only about a quarter of the Dutch-born migrant population had transferred their allegiance to their adopted country. Yet figures show that overall, two-thirds of the Dutch who came here have stayed.
The 1950s Dutch migrants have been called a ‘lost generation’, scarred by the disruptions and trauma of economic depression and military occupation in the Netherlands. On reaching their adopted country, many kept their heads down and suppressed their heritage. Some believe their experiences made them assimilate too well.
Efforts were made within the migrant community to keep cultural roots alive through Dutch clubs, and celebrations of annual festivals like Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), where St Nicholas arrives ‘from Spain’. But many rejected these trappings of communal identity – some even stopped speaking their native tongue. A 1984 Christchurch survey revealed that half never or rarely attended Dutch clubs, nor did they listen to Dutch radio broadcasts. Four out of five never read Dutch newspapers. Studies show that children of Dutch migrants retained less of their parents’ language than other ethnic minorities.
But as the wave of 1950s migrants aged and became more affluent, they often reclaimed their cultural origins. The 1992 Tasman year celebrations sparked interest. Some chose to recreate their childhoods in distinctively Dutch retirement villages like Ons Dorp in Henderson, Auckland. Others returned to the Netherlands.
Speaking Dutch is increasingly seen as the key to keeping the culture alive. Since the 1990s there have been efforts to establish Dutch language schools. Broadcasts from Echo Radio, the Christchurch-based network, and satellite radio from the Netherlands, also play a role.
The 1950s Dutch migrants were the first foreigners many Kiwis had met. As white Europeans, it was their language and accent rather than their appearance that made them distinctive. The Dutch came to be seen as sensible and hard-working nation builders. Some of the first wave attracted criticism for working too hard, and were told to slow down in the workplace. The ‘industrious Dutchie’ soon became a national archetype, and qualities such as thrift and abruptness were seen as typical of the new arrivals.
By introducing new customs and foods, ideas and practices, the Dutch have helped change the way of life in New Zealand. Migrants like Suzy van der Kwast in Wellington broke new ground by setting up popular cafés where New Zealanders could taste good coffee and exotic food. In the mid-1950s, Auckland restaurateur Otto Groen challenged the conservative drinking laws of the day, which prevented the European custom of drinking wine with meals in restaurants. His restaurant, The Gourmet, later became the first in the country to be granted a licence to serve liquor. Vogel’s bread, Van Camp chocolate and Verkerk smallgoods are among the flavours of Europe introduced by the Dutch.
Dutch immigrants have brought fresh and challenging ideas. Indonesian-born artist Theo Schoon occupies a significant place in New Zealand art for helping stimulate interest in jade carving, Māori rock drawings, and gourd carving. Frank Carpay was an innovative designer and decorator of ceramics at Crown Lynn Potteries. Ans Westra’s images, especially of Māori, have helped ensure her reputation as one of our greatest photographers. Arriving as a child in the 1950s, Riemke Ensing went on to become an established poet. A distinctive Dutch contribution to design is evident in such commercial enterprises as Rembrandt Suits and Lockwood Homes.
That Kiwi institution, the Lockwood home, is a Dutch invention. Two migrants – Jo la Grouw and Johannes (Jan) van Loghem – came up with the innovative idea in 1951. The prototype house built in Rotorua was based on the old log-cabin technique of interlocking timber walls. Their spaciousness and strength soon made the houses popular with New Zealanders. Lockwood Homes have gone on to become the country’s biggest house-building company, with sales in the tens of thousands both locally and as far away as Europe.
Dutch male immigrants have gained acceptance through sport, especially soccer. Dick Quax broke records in the 1970s as a middle-distance runner. Other important names in sport include cyclist Tino Tabak, rower Eric Verdonk, and controversial decathlete Simon Poelman. Dutch-born Yvonne Willering helped put netball on the map, first as a Silver Ferns player and later as coach. And All Black prop Kees Meeuws has an unmistakably Dutch name.
Friesian cows were an early Dutch contribution to the landscape, and migrants brought special expertise as dairy farmers. Growing tulips is another Dutch migrant speciality. Today New Zealand exports tulip bulbs back to the Netherlands and around the world through a multi-million-dollar business based in Tapanui.
The flow of migrants has not ceased, although the numbers have dropped and the reasons for travelling to the other side of the world are no longer economic ones. Later migrants tend to be middle class, and leave the prosperous Netherlands for ecological and lifestyle reasons. Between 1982 and 1998, an average of 528 Dutch people arrived each year.
The 2013 census recorded 19,815 Dutch-born people. However, the number identifying themselves as Dutch in 2013 was 28,503. As many as 100,000 New Zealanders are estimated to have Dutch blood in their veins.
The New Zealand census figures listed here show the number of residents born in the Netherlands, or its possessions.
In the 2006 and 2013 censuses, people were asked to indicate the ethnic group or groups with which they identified. The numbers include those who indicated more than one group.
Schouten, Hank. Tasman’s legacy: the New Zealand–Dutch connection. Wellington: New Zealand–Netherlands Foundation, 1992.
Thomson, Keith. ‘The Dutch.’ In Immigrants in New Zealand, edited by K. W. Thomson and A. D. Trlin. Palmerston North: Massey University, 1970.
Yska, Redmer. An errand of mercy: Captain Jacob Eckhoff and the loss of the Kakanui. Wellington: Banshee, 2001.
Website for the Federation of New Zealand Netherlands Societies, with contacts and other information from 12 regions around the country.
The Foundation promotes the links between New Zealand and the Netherlands, and recognises the contribution of Dutch settlers to New Zealand.
Information about the embassy, with news and links to other Dutch websites.