People born in Wales only ever formed a small proportion of all British immigrants who came to New Zealand. But they were some of the earliest to arrive. Among the sealers and whalers was John Grono, who named a South Island fiord Milford Haven, which was his homeland in Pembrokeshire. It was another Welshman, John Lort Stokes, captain of HMS Acheron and also a native of Milford Haven, who changed the name to Milford Sound. Stokes bestowed other Welsh names on Fiordland, among them the Cleddau River, Pembroke Peak, Benton Peak, Llawrenny Peaks and Dale Point. Welsh men also appeared in the ranks of the early holders of sheep runs, one notable example being William Gilbert Rees, another native of Pembrokeshire.
The two earliest censuses in New Zealand, of New Ulster (the upper two-thirds of the North Island) in 1848 and of New Munster (the South Island and lower third of the North Island) in 1851, revealed that the Welsh formed less than 1% of the British-born population of New Zealand (they made up about 4% of the total population of the United Kingdom). Even in the large immigrant streams which arrived in New Zealand between 1853 and 1870 there were few Welsh. However, the gold rushes attracted more people from Wales, especially to the West Coast where Welsh miners, drawn largely from Australia’s Victorian goldfields, made up nearly 4% of all miners.
Between 1871 and 1890, when large numbers of immigrants assisted by the New Zealand government arrived, the Welsh continued to make up less than 1% of all arrivals from the United Kingdom.
Among those who arrived after 1900 were miners recruited by the Westport Coal Company for its Denniston mine, including several families brought from Aberdare in Glamorganshire. It was not until the period between the world wars that the proportion of Welsh among UK-born immigrants increased to a little more than 2%.
After 1945, Welsh immigrants came in somewhat larger numbers, although they continued to remain an insignificant presence (Australia and the United States also attracted relatively few Welsh). Most who arrived in New Zealand after the Second World War had been born in the urban-industrial counties of South Wales. Population pressure was never acute in Wales, and when the Welsh did move it was to other parts of Wales or to England rather than overseas. Some English-born immigrants to New Zealand had Welsh parents, reflecting Welsh emigration to the coal-mining and industrial regions of England, and to London, from about the middle of the 19th century.
Where the Welsh settled
Into the early 1860s Welsh immigrants settled mostly in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and, especially, Canterbury. During the gold rushes, however, many Welsh miners lived at Cambrians in Central Otago, and on the West Coast. After 1881, Welsh people settled throughout New Zealand. But by 1916 a quite different distribution pattern had emerged, with concentrations in Auckland and Wellington. By 1976 more than half of New Zealand’s Welsh residents lived in Auckland.