From 1853 to 1870 the non-Māori population of New Zealand rose from just under 30,000 to over 250,000. This was a period of energy and growth, fuelled first by the export of wool and then by the discovery of gold. About 70% of the population rise was due to immigration. People arrived steadily in the 1850s, and poured in to dig for gold during the early 1860s, but the numbers tailed off at the end of that decade. As with the inflow of the 1840s, there were three main groups – assisted families coming directly from Britain; individuals from across the Tasman looking for a better life; and military settlers.
In 1854 New Zealand’s provincial governments were given responsibility for immigration and, two years later, for land revenues which could pay for immigrants. Seeing immigration as the key to growth, most provinces had schemes. Copying the New Zealand Company, they used agents to push a positive view of the colony, and offer the carrot of free or assisted passages.
Hawke’s Bay, Southland, Nelson and Taranaki had small schemes, as did Wellington, which recruited in Australia rather than in Britain. Otago was more active, and focused on recruiting in Scotland. Canterbury was the most ambitious and attracted almost a fifth of all New Zealand’s immigrants between 1858 and 1870; two-thirds of Canterbury's immigrants were assisted. Generally these provinces paid half the fare and the immigrant or a sponsor paid the rest. Auckland was alone in offering land grants rather than subsidising fares. The provincial agents were usually instructed to attract agricultural labourers, builders, bricklayers or masons. Single women were the most preferred and were given free passages, to even up the sex ratio and provide wives and domestic servants.
Who were the provincial immigrants?
Most provinces also assisted people nominated by family or friends of settlers already in New Zealand, reinforcing chains of migration. Not surprisingly, therefore, the people who came out under these schemes were from the same areas of Britain. Once more, the English counties of the south-west and south-east were well represented and good numbers, especially of single women, came from London.
In Canterbury, however, there was a clear increase in Scottish arrivals (forming about 20% of Canterbury’s assisted migrants) and an important new migration from Ireland (which provided 22%). Canterbury also began targeting the Protestant community of Ulster, especially its single women.