Kōrero: English

Whārangi 7. A profile of English immigrants

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An inflow of families

Families featured prominently among New Zealand’s English arrivals. This was especially the case among those assisted by the New Zealand Company between 1839 and 1850, over 85% of whom emigrated with close family members. Families were also strongly represented in Auckland’s land grant scheme, under which immigrants received land orders based on family size. And families were among those recruited for the Waikato Immigration Scheme, by the Canterbury province from 1855 to 1870, and by the central government between 1871 and 1888.

Only the influx of gold miners and soldiers during the 1860s was dominated by young single men. When immigration assistance was again offered from 1904, the number of families and children was fewer than earlier, and in the 1920s there were quite a number of arrivals over the age of 45 who came out to join family members already in New Zealand. Those who came in the 1950s and 1960s were predominantly younger single men and women, a number of whom married soon after arrival.


Especially in the 1840s and 1850s, English migrants included a few members of the gentry. Some were younger sons, others were individuals like the pastoralist and writer Samuel Butler, sent out for colonial experience, while a few were trying to escape an embarrassing past. The remittance man – supported by money from home – was a stereotype of the colonial world. A few well-educated women came out as governesses, or with the hope of marrying into colonial money. These people were paying cabin passengers. About 4% of those who migrated to New Zealand between 1840 and 1852 listed their father’s occupation as ‘gentleman’.

There were also army officers or churchmen who were sent out for particular professional roles in the new colony, and often stayed. Some, like Henry John Chitty Harper, first bishop of Canterbury, sired large families.

Occupational backgrounds

The majority of New Zealand’s English, at least until 1920, were from the respectable, largely rural, working class. Unlike the United States, which attracted unskilled labourers and industrial workers, New Zealand recruited agricultural labourers and pre-industrial craftsmen among the men, and domestic servants among the women.

There were three main reasons why these types of English immigrants came:

  • The colony’s labour needs – New Zealand required labourers and tradesmen for its farms, mines, ports, and towns, and craftsmen to meet the needs of its growing population. Builders were especially needed, and they came in considerable numbers.
  • The groups to whom assistance was made available – builders and agricultural labourers were preferred by the New Zealand government in the 1870s.
  • The pressures in England within these occupations – rural population growth and the enclosure of lands placed pressure on the incomes and opportunities of rural labourers, while the development of industry threatened the prospects of many traditional craft workers.

The Parkhurst boys

Not all English immigrants had the respectable lineage desired by New Zealand authorities. In 1842, 98 boys from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight arrived in Auckland, and the following year another 31 arrived. Although most were young and had been jailed for misdemeanours such as stealing apples, New Zealand’s newspapers were furious that criminals were being sent out. It was Australia, after all, that was the convict colony!


There is no doubt that small-scale farming and animal husbandry in New Zealand were shaped by English agricultural skills introduced in the 19th century. Mining benefited too – about a quarter of those who were attracted to the gold rushes, especially Cornish workers, came with a mining background. Domestic servants, whose range of skills was well suited to an undeveloped economy, were attracted by the prospect of marriage and higher wages.

Occupations change

As the regional origins of the English arrivals changed from the south to the north from about 1890, so did their occupations. The numbers engaged in agricultural work declined, while those working in industry and mining increased. These trends continued in the 20th century and became even more marked after 1945. The post-1900 development of coal mining in New Zealand was aided by the arrival of miners from northern England. Industry expanded with the influx of skilled industrial workers from Yorkshire and Lancashire.

With these groups came many of the institutions which flourished among the English urban working class – working-men’s clubs, building societies, retail cooperatives and craft guilds. The rapid growth of trade unions after 1890 was associated with the migration of English workers in the textile, clothing, footwear, mining, and marine transport industries. The over 80,000 assisted British migrants who arrived between 1947 and 1975 were also selected for the contribution which they could make to industry, education, and health. Again, a number became prominent in the union movement.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Terry Hearn, 'English - A profile of English immigrants', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/english/page-7 (accessed 25 June 2024)

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