Story: Scandinavians

Page 1. 1642–1870: first arrivals

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Explorers and wayfarers

Sailors aboard Abel Tasman’s ships were the first Scandinavians to see New Zealand’s shores. Crew lists show one ‘Peder Pedersen’ of Copenhagen, and other typically Nordic names.

On James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand (1768–71), naturalist Joseph Banks’s assistants were Swedish botanist Daniel Solander and Finnish draughtsman Herman Spöring. They were among the first Europeans to land. Solander’s botanical collections and Spöring’s sketches are a vital window onto the landscape and natural history of early New Zealand. Cook honoured both men by giving their names to offshore islands. Solander Island (Hautere) lies west of Stewart Island (Rakiura), while the Spöring Isles off Tolaga Bay are today known by their Māori name, Pourewa.

Scandinavia’s maritime history stretches back to the Vikings. No surprise then that the first migrants crewed Pacific whalers and trading vessels. When gold was discovered on New Zealand’s West Coast, some jumped ship. Mining sites such as Westland’s Scandinavian Hill and ventures such as the Scandinavian Company in Otago mark their presence. It is estimated that during the 1860s some 500 Scandinavian prospectors were in the South Island. Most left after the rush, but some settled.

Manawatū pioneers

Bishop D. G. Monrad, a former prime minister of Denmark, settled in the Manawatū in 1866. He was accompanied by his family and five young Danish men, and together they successfully cleared the bush at Karere. At the time Palmerston (Palmerston North) had been surveyed, but a swathe of forest stood between it and the port of Foxton. The energetic Manawatū Danes helped convince Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel that Scandinavians were eminently suitable for the job of clearing the forest.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Scandinavians - 1642–1870: first arrivals', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015