Story: English

Page 3. 20th-century migration

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Pre-war migration

With returning prosperity at the turn of the century and the revival of government-assisted migration, the English once more boarded the ships heading south. The proportion of English migrants rose to 65% of all United Kingdom immigrants in the years 1891–1915.

The 1920s

During the First World War many New Zealanders headed north, often renewing contacts with their English relatives. Fewer English people travelled south. But the war’s longer-term impact was to encourage further assisted migration out of England. In the early 1920s a number of schemes were set up by the British and New Zealand governments to provide assisted passages. Among those who emigrated were:

  • fiancées, wives and children of New Zealand servicemen, drawn largely from areas close to New Zealand’s main military camps and hospitals in England
  • English ex-service personnel to whom the imperial government offered free passages
  • ‘Empire’ immigrants assisted by the British and New Zealand governments and including 2,300 young persons, most of whom were English.

Homies

Until the Second World War, English immigrants were known in New Zealand as Homies. In 1938 the New Zealand author Robin Hyde had this to say of the term: ‘Don’t mind if you’re called a Homie. After all, what does it mean? Somebody from Home. A bit sissy, but it could be worse.’ 1

Post-Second World War

In 1947 the New Zealand government, concerned about the slow population increase, re-introduced assisted migration, and the scheme lasted in various forms until 1975. Many immigrants paid their own way. Over 350,000 people arrived during these years with the intention of staying; about 80% were English. By 1976 English-born residents in New Zealand represented 75% of all those from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Decline

Pommies

After the Second World War, New Zealanders began to describe English immigrants as Poms, Pommies, or occasionally Pommy bastards. The word was not an acronym of the term Prisoners of Mother England, nor a version of the French word for potatoes (pommes de terre), which English soldiers ate during the war; it was rhyming slang originally used in Australia. The word ‘immigrant’ produced ‘pomegranate’, which was shortened to ‘Pom’ or ‘Pommy’.

Until 1974 the English could migrate and settle in New Zealand freely. From that year they had to apply for an entry permit before leaving for New Zealand, and from 1986 they had to have a work permit. As New Zealand became less focused on England and ended all forms of assisted migration, and as England turned its attention to Europe rather than to the Commonwealth, so the appeal of migrating to New Zealand began to fade. From an English perspective the New Zealand economy did not look so rosy. Some English still came – often people followed their families – but the numbers were small. By 2013 the English were just over 20% of the foreign-born people living in New Zealand. Although there were still 215,000 ‘Poms’ living in New Zealand, that figure was significantly lower than 30 years before.

Transients

By the end of the 20th century the English were still an important presence in New Zealand. There had been a notable increase in both tourists from England and young English visiting on working holidays.

Footnotes:
  1. Robin Hyde, Nor the years condemn. Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1986, p. 165 › Back
How to cite this page:

Terry Hearn, 'English - 20th-century migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/english/page-3 (accessed 26 August 2019)

Story by Terry Hearn, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015