Kōrero: English

Whārangi 12. Popular culture

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Organised sport

New Zealand’s major sporting codes have English origins. Organised sport, with codified rules, governing bodies and competitions, has been a significant part of New Zealand culture.

Cricket, immensely popular in 19th-century England, arrived with the missionaries. The first recorded match took place in Nelson in 1844. Horse racing was also popular in England from the 16th century, and developed quickly in New Zealand. The first formal meeting was held in the Bay of Islands in 1835, and the first official horse race in Wellington was in 1841. Staffordshire-born Henry Redwood is known as the ‘father of the New Zealand turf.’ Bowls, hockey and angling are also of English origin. Lawn tennis, invented in England in the 1870s, quickly appeared in New Zealand, and the Lawn Tennis Association was established in 1886. Prominent among the early players was English-born Kathleen Nunneley.


Rugby originated in England’s public schools, and it was first played in New Zealand by old boys of those schools. Its introduction is attributed to Charles Monro, the Nelson-born son of the speaker of the House of Representatives, who had learnt the game at London’s Christ’s College. Monro persuaded the Nelson Football Club to replace its mixture of association and Melbourne (Australian) rules football with rugby’s handling code. The first game of rugby played in New Zealand was between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club in 1870.


Football, another game of English origin, struggled at first. Originally an upper-middle-class sport in England, it became popular in the large industrial towns of the Midlands, which supplied comparatively few of New Zealand’s 19th-century immigrants. However, the large migration of English after the Second World War brought many enthusiasts for the game, and they became prominent as both players and coaches of football in New Zealand. When a New Zealand team played in the World Cup in 1982, the coaches and many of the players were English-born.

At the seaside

The emergence of New Zealanders’ strong affinity for seaside holidays and sea bathing followed developments in England, where by mid-Victorian times the middle-class family seaside holiday had become an established institution. New Zealand adopted the English ‘bathing machines’ or mobile changing sheds.


Until the middle of the 20th century, most non-Māori New Zealanders continued to prefer an English diet which emphasised meat, potatoes and cereals, together with bread, cakes and puddings. Yorkshire pudding and Cornish pasties were favourite dishes. Fish, associated with the diets of the poor in England, found little place – except in the form of fish and chips, introduced from northern England.


The commercial brewing of beer, still New Zealand’s most popular alcoholic beverage, was initiated by the Londoner Joel Polack, who in 1835 built a brewery at Kororākeka (Russell) to provide an alternative to rum. The English continued to play a significant role in brewing. For example, in 1876 James Speight, a Yorkshireman, along with Devonshire maltster Charles Greenslade and the Scot William Dawson, founded James Speight and Company’s Brewery in Dunedin.

The thirst for home

Englishman Simon Pearse won a competition to live in Napier along with his wife and two children. He decided to stay on, but confessed in 2004, 'One thing I miss is warm English beer.' While New Zealand beer is lager-style, served ice cold, the English prefer a stout-type beer served at room temperature.

A rich and varied contribution

The contribution of the English may be discerned in many other facets of New Zealand popular culture. In music, their influence can be seen in the form of brass bands, barber shop quartets, pantomimes, choral and church music, nursery rhymes and Christmas carols. Events such as ‘the last night of the Proms’ music festival were brought from England. More recently, the popularity of English television programmes such as Coronation Street may in part reflect the number of English migrants. The high culture taught in schools focused on the English greats such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens (rather than, for example, Irish or American writers). And it was the English spoken by those who came from London and the south-east which emerged as the dominant variety of speech among New Zealanders.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Terry Hearn, 'English - Popular culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/english/page-12 (accessed 24 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Terry Hearn, i tāngia i te 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015