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Other Western Europeans

by  John Wilson

The vast majority of New Zealand’s western European immigrants have come from Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. But even from the gold rush days, small numbers of people have also emigrated from other countries in the region: notably Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and the former British colonies of Malta and Gibraltar.

Other nationalities

Most of New Zealand’s European immigrants have come from north-western Europe. As only small numbers arrived from other Western European countries like Spain, Portugal or Belgium, they have not formed discernible groups with distinctive cultural or social lives.

At least a few people of almost every European nationality came during the gold rushes of the 1860s. For the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries, people from these other European countries arrived intermittently, as individuals or in small family groups. Their numbers seldom rose above a few hundred.

The contrast with Australia

People from some European countries migrated in much greater numbers to Australia than to New Zealand. The Spanish, for example, never exceeded 300 in New Zealand right through the 20th century, but by 1986 numbered more than 16,000 in Australia. Small groups of Europeans in New Zealand often maintained their cultural identity by forging links with the larger communities of their compatriots in Australia.

Spain and Portugal


Among the small number of Spaniards who came in the 19th century was Manuel José, who married into Ngāti Porou. His descendants, known as the Pāniora (Spanish) of Ngāti Porou, number in the thousands.

The number of Spanish-born living in New Zealand did not rise above 100 until the 1960s. The number peaked at 222 in 1976, fell back to below 200, then rose to 933 in 2013. In the 1991 census, 543 people living in New Zealand identified themselves as Spanish, but some of these were probably Latin Americans. In the late 20th century, Spaniards and Latin Americans joined forces for cultural activities and to promote the teaching of Spanish in New Zealand.

Spanish place names

When the explorer Alessandro Malaspina, in command of a Spanish expedition, visited Doubtful Sound in 1793 he stayed only a week or so, but left behind a unique cluster of Spanish place names. They include Febrero Point (from the month of his visit – February), Bauza Island (after his cartographer) and Marcaciones Point (Observation Point). A plaque on Marcaciones Point marks the landing place of the Spaniards.


In the 19th and early 20th centuries there were more Portuguese than Spaniards in New Zealand. This was probably a reflection in part of the close commercial links between Portugal and England. A number of Portuguese in 19th-century New Zealand were born in the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands or Madeira, and arrived as crew on American whaling ships. One Ngāti Kahungunu family has a Portuguese whaler in its whakapapa. The number of people born in Portugal declined from around 200 in the 1890s to about 30 in 1966, then increased to 264 in 2013.

Belgium, Malta and Gibraltar


Belgians have shown less inclination than other European nationalities to emigrate. They were eligible for assistance to come to New Zealand between 1970 and 1975, but still did not arrive in large numbers. Those who settled mostly blended into New Zealand society – partly because there were small numbers – and no communities became established. The most conspicuous sign of a Belgian presence in New Zealand is the beer cafés in some cities.

A more digestible name

A wave of anti-German hysteria swept through New Zealand during the First World War. New Zealanders stopped describing a pre-cooked meat, usually sliced thinly for sandwiches, as ‘German sausage’. They renamed it Belgian sausage, and the new name stuck.

Belgians were involved in the Australasian wool industry from the 1850s, and in the second half of the 20th century Belgian wool buyers were among those who settled. Belgians continued to arrive in the later 20th century at a steady rate, their number reaching 882 by 2013.

Malta and Gibraltar

British imperial policy was to relocate people from overcrowded Gibraltar and Malta to other British colonies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were almost equal numbers of Maltese and Gibraltan people in New Zealand, although the populations were always small.

A link with Malta

In 2004 Malta joined several other countries in a reciprocal working holiday scheme with New Zealand. Working visas are issued to up to 50 young citizens (aged 18–30) of each country to allow them to travel and work in the other country for up to 12 months. Although it is not for permanent migrants, the scheme does strengthen ties between New Zealand and its migrant communities.

It is believed that the first Maltese to arrive was a boatman, Angelo Parigi, around 1848. A later arrival, Charles Mallia, founded an institute for seamen in Wellington, and was made an MBE in 1953. Fewer than 100 Maltese people were living in New Zealand in any one year until the 1950s. By 1975 there were more than 400; in 2013 the number had fallen to 390, but enough Maltese settled in Wellington to sustain a Maltese Association.

Unlike the Maltese, the numbers of Gibraltans did not increase significantly in the late 20th century. There were only 78 resident in New Zealand in 2013.

Facts and figures

Country of birth

The New Zealand census figures listed here show the number of residents born in some western European countries.


  • 1874 census: 65
  • 1901 census: 117
  • 1951 census: 125
  • 1976 census: 275
  • 2001 census: 510
  • 2006 census: 693
  • 2013 census: 882


  • 1874 census: 40
  • 1901 census: 48
  • 1951 census: 40
  • 2001 census: 60
  • 2006 census: 69
  • 2013 census: 78


  • 1874 census: 52
  • 1901 census: 55
  • 1951 census: 118
  • 1976 census: 419
  • 2001 census: 363
  • 2006 census: 390
  • 2013 census: 390


  • 1874 census: 182 (including some Portuguese possessions)
  • 1901 census: 172
  • 1951 census: 12
  • 2001 census: 138
  • 2006 census: 195
  • 2013 census: 264


  • 1874 census: 102 (including some Spanish possessions)
  • 1901 census: 59
  • 1951 census: 42
  • 1976 census: 222
  • 2001 census: 336
  • 2006 census: 474
  • 2013 census: 933

Ethnic identity

In the 2006 and 2013 censuses, people were asked to indicate the ethnic group or groups with which they identified. The numbers include those who indicated more than one group.

  • Belgian: 417(2006);  576 (2013)
  • Maltese: 243 (2006); 249 (2013)
  • Portuguese: 912 (2006); 942 (2013)
  • Spanish: 1,857 (2006); 2,043 (2013)

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: John Wilson, 'Other Western Europeans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 February 2005, updated 25 March 2015