Story: The New Zealanders

Page 2. European New Zealanders

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Until 1840 people in New Zealand other than Māori were few in number and often on temporary visits, so there was little need to refine the distinction between New Zealanders (Māori) and Europeans. But as the European population increased they realised their interests and attitudes were different from those who were only visiting. New terms appeared. Those who came out on New Zealand Company ships to obtain land and settle were ‘colonists’ or ‘settlers’. Hybrid names such as ‘Anglo-Māori’ or ‘Anglo-New Zealander’ were occasionally used, but did not catch on.

From the 1830s Europeans had begun to call the indigenous people Māori – or more often ‘Māoris’. This allowed a change of meaning for the term ‘New Zealander’. So from the early 1850s people began to describe the European inhabitants as New Zealanders. As late as 1859 the historian A. S. Thomson still referred to Māori by this name, but he was unusual. In 1854 for example, Thomas Cholmondeley, an English visitor, noted that ‘the New Zealander will retain more of the Briton than any other colonist’, a remark which suggests that for him Māori were not even included in the concept. 1 By the end of the 1850s, as the non-Māori population rose to over 100,000, ‘New Zealanders’ were those with white faces, not brown.

Colonials

The European residents of New Zealand now had a name; they had yet to develop a sense of who they were. The emergence of other terms suggested that people who were bred, if not born in New Zealand, did begin to see themselves as different from homeland British. One such term was the ‘colonial’ – at first this meant simply a person living in the British colonies, but it took on richer meanings in the phrase ‘colonial experience’ which, as the politician William Pember Reeves noted, ‘means the rapid power of adaptability to circumstance’. 2

Another revealing distinction was between the ‘old chum’ and the ‘new chum’, terms which appeared in local writings and cartoons from the 1860s. The old chum was rich in ‘colonial experience’; the new chum was ‘green’ – fresh off the boat with the habits and pretensions of British ‘civilisation’. The implication was that colonials had been moulded by the harsh conditions of the frontier: they could turn their hands to anything, and could rough it in the bush. A number of New Zealand novels of the 1870s and 1880s describe how the hero learns to endure physical discomfort and survive, to become ‘colonised’.

A stereotype was emerging of the white colonial man or woman who was adaptable and physically strong, but lacked cultural interests. As the explorer and writer Samuel Butler remarked in 1868, ‘New Zealand seems far better adapted to develop and maintain … the physical than the intellectual nature … it does not pay to speak about John Sebastian Bach’s Fugues, or pre-Raphaelite pictures.’ 3

Climate and character

Geography is destiny

One of those who believed the physical features of New Zealand would make its people superior to Australians was the eminent English historian James Anthony Froude. In his book Oceana (1886) he argued that the variety of the New Zealand scenery would quicken the mind: ‘it will be in the unexhausted soil and spiritual capabilities of New Zealand that the great English poets, artists, philosophers, statesmen, soldiers of the future will be born and nurtured.’ 4

The assumption was that a new people were being moulded by the New Zealand environment. Some talked about the sense of freedom that came from roaming the empty landscape, among mountains or along beaches. Others talked of the climate. There was a common view that the hot climate of Australia was unsuited to the higher development of mankind, but when the ethnologist Alfred Kingcome Newman claimed that there was evidence of similar inferiority in New Zealand, he was opposed. Instead people suggested that New Zealanders, like the English, were an island people and that the bracing climate of New Zealand was in fact character forming.

Footnotes:
  1. Harry Orsman, ed., The dictionary of New Zealand English. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 534. › Back
  2. The dictionary of New Zealand English, p. 162. › Back
  3. Samuel Butler, A first year in Canterbury settlement. London: Longman, 1868, p. 50. › Back
  4. J. C. Reid and Peter Cape, eds, A book of New Zealand. Revised edition. London: Collins, 1979, p. 260. › Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'The New Zealanders - European New Zealanders', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/the-new-zealanders/page-2 (accessed 27 June 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 20 May 2015