The migration links established between New Zealand and England had distinct regional, county, and, in some periods, parish dimensions.
Three key regions
From the beginning of English migration to New Zealand in the early 1800s until about 1890, most migrants to New Zealand came from southern England, where there were three significant source areas:
- London and the surrounding county of Middlesex provided a consistent flow. This was related to cyclical downturns, especially in the building industry, which resulted in unemployment and distress among labourers and skilled craftsmen. Many single women immigrants came from London, where there was a surplus. They hoped for better marriage prospects in the colony’s male-dominated population.
- The rural home counties of the south-east (which included Sussex, Kent, Hampshire, Surrey and Essex) contributed large numbers of migrants to New Zealand. The migration from this area, like the significant flow in the 1870s from the Midlands, followed a long-term decline in rural wages and conditions, which sparked a union movement of rural labourers, the ‘revolt of the field’, in 1874. However, the failure of this revolt sent quite a number to New Zealand. There was a loss of livelihood in these areas, as local craft workers, like shoemakers or wheelwrights, found they could not compete with factory production.
- The south-west (including Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire) provided migrants when there was a reduction of copper and tin mining in the area. A depression in the 1840s was followed by a long-term decline from the 1860s, as alternative supplies came in from the New World.
The Cornish contribution
The Cornish, with their Celtic origins, were one of the few groups of English migrants to make a distinctive contribution to New Zealand. Cornish farmers (often miners as well) brought skills in the reclamation of waste land, farm management, and the use and adaptation of farm machinery. Cornish dairymaids contributed experience in an industry of major importance to the colony. With the Cornish came traditional foods (such as fruit cake and pasties), sports and pastimes (notably wrestling), a deep interest in the temperance movement, and the independence and individualism associated with Wesleyan Methodism.
Proximity of ports
New Zealand was a likely choice for people from these three key regions because the ships bound for New Zealand departed from London or from Plymouth in Devon, which were reasonably close to the south-east and south-west. By contrast, people in the north who wanted to leave England would first go to Liverpool, where the obvious choice was to board ships for the 10-day trip across the Atlantic to Canada or the USA. This was cheaper and more convenient than heading south to find a ship for the 100-day voyage to New Zealand.
About half of 19th-century English immigrants to New Zealand came on assisted passages. Those who offered assistance tended to recruit especially in the south-east and south-west, where they expected to find the kinds of people – farm labourers and craft workers – who were wanted in New Zealand. New Zealand Company agents were strongly concentrated in these areas, and there was a close correlation between the location of the agents and the origin of company migrants. Company recruiting established patterns of migration, and through the process of chain migration – where letters from friends and relatives who had already settled in New Zealand encouraged emigration – later migrants were also attracted from these areas. The pattern was further reinforced by the continued interest in these areas from provincial recruiting agents, and then after 1871 from New Zealand government agents.
When recruiting migrants, New Zealand drew upon particular districts and parishes within the main source counties. For Wellington and Nelson, the New Zealand Company targeted people from Maidstone, Hollingbourne, Cranbrook and West Ashford in Kent, and Yeovil, Bath and Langport in Somerset. To settle New Plymouth they drew heavily from the farming region around Holsworthy and Launceston, the mining towns and farming villages of the southern Cornwall, the area surrounding Plymouth, and the west of Dorset.
Many English agricultural labourers who arrived in New Zealand between 1871 and 1890 were drawn from Wychwood Forest in Oxfordshire, the Northern Wolds of Lincolnshire, the rural parishes of east Kent, and the mining parishes of west Cornwall.