The Wakefield vision
In the 1840s the New Zealand Company and its offshoots brought out thousands of migrants from England and Scotland. These initiatives were driven by the ideas of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.
Concerned at the effects that population growth, industry and large cities were having upon rural England, Wakefield wanted to create an ideal rural society in the new world. He suggested selling land at a ‘sufficient price’ – high enough to prevent the dispersal of population or private ownership of huge blocks of land, low enough to allow labourers to earn capital to purchase it. He envisaged a country of independent small farmers.
The New Zealand Company promoted emigration to New Zealand with images of prosperous fertile farms. The people it recruited were largely farm labourers or craft workers from rural England and Scotland.
A rural paradise
Over the next half century this image of New Zealand was strengthened by immigration propaganda, advice books, and travellers’ accounts. Both provincial and central governments sent agents into rural areas of Britain and Ireland with glittering images of a new Arcadian paradise.
Charles Hursthouse suggested, tongue in cheek, that the humorist Thomas Hood, ‘probably had New Zealand in his eye when he wrote: “There is a land of pure delight / Where omelets grow on trees, / And roasted pigs come crying out, / Oh! eat me if you please.”’ 1
Among the books of advice for emigrants Charles Hursthouse’s were especially influential. He praised the fertility of the countryside and suggested that once New Zealand had been enriched by young oaks, green grass, daisies, buttercups and coveys of partridges, it would only lack ‘the charm of age’ to become ‘the Eden of the world’. 2
Travellers’ accounts added to the rural ideal. In the 1870s Alfred Simmons described ‘lazy, too-well fed herds of cattle browsing upon pasture lands, the green English grass growing well-nigh up to their haunches.’ 3 Christopher Holloway was even more lyrical: ‘the larks singing joyously over head, the sheep and cattle quietly grazing in the well fenced paddocks, and the jolly settler whistling behind his plough as he turned over fertile soil.’ 4 At least three different regions were described by travellers as the ‘garden of New Zealand’ – South Auckland, Nelson and Taranaki.
As a land of Arcadian abundance, New Zealand offered newcomers the hope of becoming independent landholders. Simmons described former farm labourers who now owned their own houses and gardens, and had access to land with cows and goats.
James Buller painted a picture that became a central myth of pioneering when he wrote that a hard-working settler could cut down trees and in a few years ‘make a smiling homestead out of his few acres of bush.’ 5
Hursthouse identified the rural New Zealand life with men, claiming that pioneering appealed to the masculine virtues. ‘The feeble-minded, the emasculate, the fastidious, the timid, do not emigrate … It is the strong and the bold who go forth to subdue the wilderness and conquer new lands.’ 6