Story: Irish

Page 3. Migration 1850–1870

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The numbers of Irish immigrants began to rise sharply during the 1860s, and by 1871 they comprised over one-fifth of New Zealand’s immigrant population.


There were three main reasons why the Irish immigrated during this period:

  • The discovery of gold attracted many who had previously migrated to Australia. They came to Otago from 1861, and then in greater numbers to the West Coast from 1865.
  • Irish were significantly represented among the soldiers who were discharged during the New Zealand wars, and there was continuing migration into Auckland.
  • Although Canterbury’s emigration agent John Marshman was advised that ‘Irish emigrants should be refused altogether’, about a quarter of the immigrants assisted by Canterbury province were Irish, many of them nominated by family members already there. 1

Catholics and Protestants

There were significant differences among these groups. On the West Coast there were twice as many men from Ireland as women, they were commonly from Munster in the south-west of Ireland, and most were Catholic.

Elsewhere, in Auckland or among Canterbury’s assisted migrants, Ulster in the north-east of Ireland was well represented, with a majority of Protestants. There were several significant settlements of Ulster people near Pukekohe and Kawakawa. About 850 of the Pukekohe settlers came from Ulster in 1865 and 1866 as part of the Waikato immigration scheme, which aimed to provide a buffer between Auckland and the King Movement Māori further south. They were joined by about 500 Irish who came after a sojourn in South Africa and were predominantly Catholics from the south-west of Ireland.


Compared with other immigrants in this period (and with Irish migrants to other places), the New Zealand Irish were slightly older and rather more prosperous. This partly reflected the fact that they had often spent time elsewhere, particularly in Australia. There were also on average more Protestant Irish immigrants than in other parts of the world.

  1. Quoted in Lyndon Fraser, To Tara via Holyhead: Irish Catholic immigrants in nineteenth-century Christchurch. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1997, p. 37. › Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Irish - Migration 1850–1870', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 June 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015