Story: Irish

Page 4. Migration after 1870

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Bias against Irish migrants

During the great immigrations of the 1870s and early 1880s the Irish were well represented. They comprised over one-fifth of New Zealand’s settlers during those years. More than a quarter of those assisted by the New Zealand government were Irish.

This seems surprising, as in the early 1870s there was controversy in New Zealand about alleged bias against Irish immigrants. It was true that many regarded the Irish as less desirable because of their Catholicism and their reputation as drunken and disorderly. Also, in October 1872 only eight (of 116) government recruiting agents were based in Ireland. Of 124 advertisements for immigrants, only 15 had been placed in Irish newspapers and then only around Belfast and Londonderry in Ulster.

Assisted immigrants

Despite the alleged bias, the Irish took advantage of assisted passages in two ways:

  • Catholic families who had migrated to New Zealand in the 1860s used the system of nomination to bring out other members of their families. A high proportion of these came from Munster, especially from counties Kerry and Cork.
  • Others responded to the special efforts made to attract Protestant families and single women (as domestic servants) from the north. Indeed during the 1870s more Irish women than men migrated to New Zealand.

Leaving from Ireland

During the 1870s and early 1880s the vast majority of Irish immigrants boarded their ships at Glasgow or London. There were two exceptions – Caroline Howard’s recruits and the Katikati settlers.

New Zealand’s agent general, Isaac Featherston, had responded to accusations of anti-Irish prejudice by appointing Mrs Caroline Howard as an immigration agent. She proceeded to recruit young women from a workhouse in Cork. When they arrived in Dunedin aboard the Asia in 1874, there was an outcry about this importation of ‘certified scum’. Mrs Howard was able to arrange for two further sailings before being dismissed.

A second group of vessels sailed direct from Ireland carrying a more acceptable class of passenger. Protestant families from Ulster came to Katikati in the Bay of Plenty, aboard the Carisbrooke Castle in 1875 and the Lady Jocelyn in 1878. They were part of George Vesey Stewart’s settlement. Stewart was a gentleman entrepreneur from County Tyrone who hoped to repair his fortune by land speculation in New Zealand. Through political contacts he obtained 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), and eventually attracted four groups of settlers from Ulster.

Catholics and Protestants

Catholics from the south-west and Protestants from Ulster formed two distinct streams of Irish immigrants to New Zealand in the great migration of the 1870s and early 1880s. But as in the 1860s, only about 60% of the Irish migrants were Catholic, compared with over 80% in the homeland.

Declining numbers

As the century came to an end the number of Irish immigrants fell to under 10% of those coming from the United Kingdom. Also, among the Irish there was a clear dominance of people from Ulster.

In 1921 Ireland’s three predominantly Catholic provinces and three counties of Ulster achieved independence from the United Kingdom. This left only six counties of Ulster in the north, where there was a majority of Protestants. After this, few came from the south, but there was a steady trickle of Protestants from Northern Ireland in the 1920s and again after the Second World War.

During the 1970s the violence of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland induced some to escape to New Zealand, although the numbers were never large.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Irish - Migration after 1870', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 May 2024)

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