Story: Northland region

Page 8. European settlement: 1840–1900

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Northland developed as a source of produce and raw materials for commercial Auckland. To promote settlement the Auckland provincial government offered each settler 40 acres (16 hectares), with additional acres for family members. Grants of land were also made under later schemes.

Special settlements

Sometimes the grants were taken up by groups wanting to form settlements with a special character. Arriving from 1854, some 800 Scottish settlers from Nova Scotia flourished at Waipū.

Modes of transport

Jessie McKenzie of the Waipū settlement recalled her hardworking childhood: ‘At first I used to walk to Whangarei [40 kilometres] with butter or eggs for sale or barter. Then we bought a horse and that seemed too good to believe. But when, after a few years, we became the owners of a buggy, life seemed just too easy.’ 1

Between 1862 and 1865 about 3,000 English immigrants sailed to New Zealand to establish Albertland, a nonconformist religious settlement at Port Albert on the Kaipara Harbour. The Albertlanders struggled, many moved on, and some who had intended to live at Port Albert decided that other settlements in the Auckland region were more attractive.

Other small settler groups included one under the leadership of Thomas Ball that took up land at Mangōnui.

Timber trade

The north’s richly forested areas and kauri gum (the solidified resin of the kauri tree) provided the main basis for economic development. The kauri, one of the largest trees in the world, was systematically milled for export and for the building industry.

The areas of felled forest steadily expanded in the 19th century, and associated industries such as shipbuilding developed. Tramways, bullocks and river dams took the felled logs out to local mills or to ports for shipping to Auckland. By 1900 timber from the north supplied many of Auckland’s mills.

Coastal settlements

Settlements initially developed as harbour and river ports, dependent on the north’s coastal shipping fleet for transport and communication. Enterprising settlers set up stores to supply goods and services. By the end of the century, timber towns began appearing in inland areas. Over the region as a whole, however, settlement remained scattered and sparse. Land communication was difficult between most areas of the north well into the 20th century.

Kauri gum

As demand for timber began to outstrip supplies of the slow-growing kauri, settlers began to dig kauri gum from the ground. The substance was a valuable export, used in the manufacture of varnish and linoleum. Gum digging was most profitable in the years between 1870 and 1935.

Thousands of diggers were engaged in the business at its peak around 1900. They worked the gum mainly in wetlands and swamps where there had been ancient kauri forests. Gum, taken mostly from the north, was Auckland province’s most valuable export for the 50 years to 1900. Around 450,000 tons, worth £25 million, was sent to Britain or North America between 1850 and 1950.

The Dalmatian influence

Many of the gum diggers came from Dalmatia (in present-day Croatia), where desperate conditions forced them to emigrate in search of work in the 1880s. Those who arrived at the height of the gum-digging years were mainly single men.

They endured harsh living and working conditions in order to earn enough to send money home. They also faced prejudice from British settlers and suffered under discriminatory legislation. Though many returned to their homeland, others settled and turned to farming, fishing and winemaking. Their descendants, some of whom intermarried with Māori, became a distinctive ethnic sub-group in the north.

  1. Quoted in Barry Mitcalfe, Northland, New Zealand. Coromandel: Coromandel Press, 1984, p. 109. › Back
How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland region - European settlement: 1840–1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015