Story: Germans

Page 1. First arrivals

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Germans were the largest non-British immigrant group to settle in New Zealand in the 19th century. Today, some 200,000 New Zealanders could be of German descent.

Between 1843 and 1914, at least 10,000 Germans arrived. They came mainly from northern Germany – Mecklenburg, Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, Hessen, Holstein, and West Prussia.

Conditions in Germany

In the 1840s times were difficult for rural labourers in the north of Germany. They were entirely at the mercy of the landowning aristocracy. They could leave the service of their master, but in doing so lost the right to live on the land. For many, emigration was the only answer.

Land of milk and honey

This is how an early German immigrant in Nelson described New Zealand in a letter home, in 1846:

‘At first we had to fight a bitter struggle … but now we are all able to live quite comfortably and we’ve all saved some money too …Things are good here in this colony. Each and everyone is completely free and has full civil rights. … So, dear mother-in-law, don’t worry about us at all, as we are probably the luckiest of your children, as we eat nothing but white bread made from wheat here, and have lots of it.’ 1

In an 1844 letter home, Fedor Kelling wrote that New Zealand was a land where everyone was ‘his own king on his land’, where he could be ‘independent and free’. There was no prince to ‘stand over him and … tell him what to do’. 2

Not all immigrants were rural labourers; many came from the educated middle class. They appreciated New Zealand’s civil rights and its advocacy of freedom of thought and speech, which contrasted with the severe censorship in the German confederation.

  1. James N. Bade and others, Von Mecklenburg nach Neuseeland. Neubrandenburg: Regional Museum Neubrandenburg, 2002, p. 89 (translated by James Bade). › Back
  2. Von Mecklenburg nach Neuseeland, p. 75 (translated by James Bade). › Back
How to cite this page:

James N. Bade, 'Germans - First arrivals', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by James N. Bade, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015