Story: English

Page 8. Settlement

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English-born people were prominent in all the settlements established in New Zealand during the 1840s. By 1871 they formed the largest foreign-born group in Auckland (followed by the Irish), and were very well represented in the settlements of New Plymouth, Wellington, Whanganui, Nelson and Canterbury. They were much less prominent in the South Island communities of Westland, and of Otago and Southland, which had a large Scottish population; but even in the least English province of Southland, they comprised a quarter of the United Kingdom-born.

By the early 1880s, the English were spread remarkably evenly across the country, except for Canterbury which had a significantly larger share, and Otago which had a significantly lower share.

Auckland and Canterbury

This pattern had changed again by 1916, when only Auckland had a disproportionately larger share of English-born people – a pattern strongly reinforced by the post-1945 inflow of English arrivals. By 1976 about 38% of New Zealand’s English-born population were living in Auckland, whereas that region only contained 25% of the New Zealand population. By contrast, Canterbury, long regarded as the most English province, had proportionately fewer English than the country as a whole. Reflecting their own urban origins, the post-1916 immigrants preferred to settle in New Zealand’s growing towns. Increasingly, the industries which required their skills were also located in the Auckland region.


The first English arrivals regarded their culture and values as the only true ones, and expected others, whether Māori or other European newcomers, to adopt them. Gradually a colonial society and culture developed, but because it was so heavily based on English traditions, later English immigrants were normally assimilated quickly and easily into New Zealand society. But probably about a third of English immigrants returned to Britain, and those who remained were likely to be the butt of some teasing from the locals. In the 19th century newcomers from England were seen by the older settlers as effete ‘new chums’, and in the 1920s they had a reputation as moaning ‘Homies’. After the Second World War they became known as ‘whinging Poms’, with a reputation either as union stirrers or as ‘a bit above themselves’. Despite such attitudes, which rarely became bitter, most English immigrants quickly developed a passionate attachment to New Zealand and expressed a sense of its superiority to the old country.

How to cite this page:

Terry Hearn, 'English - Settlement', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2024)

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