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by  Terry Hearn

Rugby, fish and chips, democracy – these are some features of New Zealand culture attributed to the English. They were the largest group of settlers, and most New Zealanders have English blood in their veins. New Zealand life has been hugely affected by the institutions and values which successive waves of English immigrants have brought to the other side of the globe.

Importance and influence


The English who arrived in New Zealand were the largest group to settle in the country after 1800. Until the 1970s, the English consistently represented more than 40% of foreign-born people in New Zealand. Only in the 1860s did they constitute less than half of all arrivals from Great Britain and Ireland.


The English were therefore the most influential group in New Zealand. Their influence was magnified by other factors. They were often particularly well represented in the 19th century among the élite of the colony, and therefore had power. Among MPs in office between 1854 and 1890, they constituted almost half. English people were also among the earliest arrivals, comprising about 65% of all those from the United Kingdom who came before 1850. As first-comers they were in a position to establish patterns and traditions, particularly in the influential organised settlements of Wellington and Canterbury. So the English had a disproportionate influence in shaping the institutions of the new society.

English culture and the British Empire

It is difficult to isolate the impact of English people from the generic influence of English culture, which was dominant in the institutions and people of the British Empire. It is also difficult to exactly define ‘English culture’, or the characteristics of ‘Englishness’, since there was an extraordinary range of cultures from different regions and classes of English society.

Because the large numbers of Scots and Irish who settled New Zealand had previously been subjects of the British Empire, they had already been influenced strongly by the English, most obviously in their use of the English language. Many of the institutions and habits established in New Zealand were English, more because they were the accepted order of the British Empire than because they were created by individual English people. Through the political and military power of the empire, the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori, were often encouraged to adopt English practices, such as dress and language.

Less English than the UK

Despite the importance of the English, their story in New Zealand needs to be qualified in two respects. First, although many English people came to New Zealand, their representation among all those from Britain and Ireland was less than it was back home. In other words, New Zealand has always been less English than the United Kingdom. And despite, or more likely because of, their large numbers the English, unlike other immigrant groups, did not tend to establish institutions exclusive to their own people. There were a few sporting ‘Albion’ clubs, and a Church of England was established, but the former quickly lost any English associations and the latter attracted other groups, especially Irish from the Church of Ireland. For the most part, the English established institutions which may have been English in origin, but were intended to cater for the whole society. The English assumed that English patterns were the correct way to do things.

19th-century migration

First arrivals

James Cook, who mapped New Zealand in 1769 on the first of his three voyages to the country, was a Yorkshireman, and most of his sailors were English. When Europeans began to settle in New Zealand in the early 1800s, the English were well represented. They included former convicts such as Jacky Guard and whalers such as Dicky Barrett. Church of England and Wesleyan missionaries and their wives were English. The artisans who accompanied the missionaries and most of the early traders were also drawn from England. It is probable that of those landing before 1840 over 60% were English.

Wakefield settlers

The New Zealand Company settlements in Wellington, Nelson, New Plymouth and Whanganui were largely an initiative of English followers of the colonial promoter Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and not surprisingly they recruited migrants mostly in England. Over 80% of those granted assisted passages by the New Zealand Company were from there. The Otago settlement of 1848 set out to attract Scots, but the Canterbury Association was very much an English scheme, as its name suggests. Auckland drew many from Australia; nevertheless, 45% of its incomers until 1852 were English.

English names

The English settlers of Canterbury commemorated their homeland in names such as Canterbury, Oxford, (New) Brighton, Lincoln, Islington, Sheffield, Charing Cross, Winchester and Christchurch. The last was a tribute to John Robert Godley – the name recalled his college at Oxford. Some of the other names initially referred to individuals in the Canterbury Association, such as the Earl of Islington and the Bishop of Winchester.

Gold miners

During the 1850s and 1860s deliberate efforts to attract migrants still focused on England. For instance, the English comprised well over half of those given assisted passages to Canterbury. However, they were less well represented among the soldiers who participated in the wars of the 1860s and stayed after their discharge, or among gold miners. Only about a third of those who flooded in, first to the Otago gold mines and then from 1865 to the West Coast, were of English birth. Nevertheless, the numbers arriving were so great that even considering this low percentage, there were many English miners. They tended to include particular groups such as the Cornish, who were long used to the work.

Migration patterns from 1871 to the 1890s

By 1871 the proportion of English among those not born in New Zealand was just over 41%, the lowest it would be for 100 years. The introduction of assisted migration in 1871, as part of Julius Vogel’s plan to develop New Zealand’s economy, once more saw extensive recruitment in England. Many English responded to the call. But so too did the Scots and Irish. In fact only 54% of assisted migrants were English – considerably less than their representation (65%) in the United Kingdom population in 1871. With depression in New Zealand, migration from England, as from other countries, tailed off in the late 1880s and 1890s.

20th-century migration

Pre-war migration

With returning prosperity at the turn of the century and the revival of government-assisted migration, the English once more boarded the ships heading south. The proportion of English migrants rose to 65% of all United Kingdom immigrants in the years 1891–1915.

The 1920s

During the First World War many New Zealanders headed north, often renewing contacts with their English relatives. Fewer English people travelled south. But the war’s longer-term impact was to encourage further assisted migration out of England. In the early 1920s a number of schemes were set up by the British and New Zealand governments to provide assisted passages. Among those who emigrated were:

  • fiancées, wives and children of New Zealand servicemen, drawn largely from areas close to New Zealand’s main military camps and hospitals in England
  • English ex-service personnel to whom the imperial government offered free passages
  • ‘Empire’ immigrants assisted by the British and New Zealand governments and including 2,300 young persons, most of whom were English.


Until the Second World War, English immigrants were known in New Zealand as Homies. In 1938 the New Zealand author Robin Hyde had this to say of the term: ‘Don’t mind if you’re called a Homie. After all, what does it mean? Somebody from Home. A bit sissy, but it could be worse.’ 1

Post-Second World War

In 1947 the New Zealand government, concerned about the slow population increase, re-introduced assisted migration, and the scheme lasted in various forms until 1975. Many immigrants paid their own way. Over 350,000 people arrived during these years with the intention of staying; about 80% were English. By 1976 English-born residents in New Zealand represented 75% of all those from the United Kingdom and Ireland.



After the Second World War, New Zealanders began to describe English immigrants as Poms, Pommies, or occasionally Pommy bastards. The word was not an acronym of the term Prisoners of Mother England, nor a version of the French word for potatoes (pommes de terre), which English soldiers ate during the war; it was rhyming slang originally used in Australia. The word ‘immigrant’ produced ‘pomegranate’, which was shortened to ‘Pom’ or ‘Pommy’.

Until 1974 the English could migrate and settle in New Zealand freely. From that year they had to apply for an entry permit before leaving for New Zealand, and from 1986 they had to have a work permit. As New Zealand became less focused on England and ended all forms of assisted migration, and as England turned its attention to Europe rather than to the Commonwealth, so the appeal of migrating to New Zealand began to fade. From an English perspective the New Zealand economy did not look so rosy. Some English still came – often people followed their families – but the numbers were small. By 2013 the English were just over 20% of the foreign-born people living in New Zealand. Although there were still 215,000 ‘Poms’ living in New Zealand, that figure was significantly lower than 30 years before.


By the end of the 20th century the English were still an important presence in New Zealand. There had been a notable increase in both tourists from England and young English visiting on working holidays.

    • Robin Hyde, Nor the years condemn. Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1986, p. 165 › Back

The flow from England’s south

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.

Assisted migration

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.

Northern England; the Channel Islands

19th century

During most of the 19th century the northern regions of Yorkshire and Lancashire sent quite a number of people to New Zealand, but this was because they were populous. In proportionate terms, the flow was small. These were areas at the heart of England’s urban–industrial growth. For much of the 19th century Yorkshire and Lancashire attracted people from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and their farmers prospered as the demand for food increased. If they left at all, people from the north tended to go to Canada or the USA.

Many of those who did emigrate from the north of England came from particular localities. Among the Yorkshire people who arrived in 1842, most came from a triangle formed by Bradford, Leeds and Barnsley in the West Riding.

New migrants from northern England

Towards the end of the 19th century the regional sources of New Zealand’s English immigrants changed. With the exception of London–Middlesex and, to a lesser extent the south-east, New Zealand began to draw more heavily on northern England. This shift intensified after 1900, and continued into the interwar period.

The growing importance of northern England was related in part to increasing levels of mass unemployment after 1920 in the old-established textiles, mining and shipbuilding industries. It also followed the decision by the British government in 1922 to subsidise family emigration, and by the New Zealand government to allow New Zealanders to nominate any person in England (or Scotland or Northern Ireland) for assistance to migrate. Employers in New Zealand took advantage of the scheme to recruit industrial workers.

The last major wave of English migration, in the 30 years to 1975, came mostly from London–Middlesex and northern England. This again reflected the importance of urban and industrial skills as grounds for migration assistance.

From the beginnings of English migration until 1975, New Zealand received a flow of immigrants which, in terms of regions of birth, was not representative of the parent population, but was weighted towards a small and changing number of regions and counties.

Channel Islanders

New Zealand seems to have had a special appeal for residents of distant off-shore islands. Many Shetlanders came, and in the 1870s and 1880s there was a remarkable migration of people from the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. During those years probably about 3,500 people (or over 4% of the total population) left these small, rocky islands for New Zealand. Located off the north-west coast of France, and 145 km south of England, the Channel Islands, like the Isle of Man, were Crown dependencies and many of their residents would have spoken a French patois before coming to New Zealand.

Special groups

The majority of English migrants to New Zealand came to New Zealand as families or as individuals. But there were also some English who settled as part of organised groups.


The foundation of Albertland, on the Kaipara Harbour, was intended to mark the bicentenary of the expulsion of the dissenting clergy from the Church of England, which followed the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Between 1862 and 1865, 3,000 people arrived in New Zealand under this scheme, although less than half made it to Albertland. Most were English nonconformist farm labourers (who were members of a Protestant Church that disagreed with the Church of England), many from the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Brogdens’ navvies

The railway contractor John Brogden & Son brought 2,172 English immigrants to New Zealand in 1872–73. They included 1,298 men who had been offered railway contracts in the colony. Most came from southern England.

Feilding settlement

The Emigrant and Colonists’ Aid Corporation was an association led by Colonel William Feilding, and promoted philanthropic and commercial aims. It acquired the Manchester block – 40,468 hectares in the Manawatū – from the New Zealand government in December 1871. Over 1,000 immigrants were settled in the area around Halcombe between 1874 and 1877.


About 200 ‘Clarionettes’ – members of the socialist Clarion Fellowship – came in five groups to New Zealand in 1900. They funded their own voyage, and once in New Zealand became active in founding the New Zealand Socialist Party.

Fostered children

Between 1949 and 1953, 593 children and teenagers were brought to New Zealand and placed with foster parents. This was a small part of a large-scale migration of children to parts of the British Empire.

A profile of English immigrants

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.


English-born people were prominent in all the settlements established in New Zealand during the 1840s. By 1871 they formed the largest foreign-born group in Auckland (followed by the Irish), and were very well represented in the settlements of New Plymouth, Wellington, Whanganui, Nelson and Canterbury. They were much less prominent in the South Island communities of Westland, and of Otago and Southland, which had a large Scottish population; but even in the least English province of Southland, they comprised a quarter of the United Kingdom-born.

By the early 1880s, the English were spread remarkably evenly across the country, except for Canterbury which had a significantly larger share, and Otago which had a significantly lower share.

Auckland and Canterbury

This pattern had changed again by 1916, when only Auckland had a disproportionately larger share of English-born people – a pattern strongly reinforced by the post-1945 inflow of English arrivals. By 1976 about 38% of New Zealand’s English-born population were living in Auckland, whereas that region only contained 25% of the New Zealand population. By contrast, Canterbury, long regarded as the most English province, had proportionately fewer English than the country as a whole. Reflecting their own urban origins, the post-1916 immigrants preferred to settle in New Zealand’s growing towns. Increasingly, the industries which required their skills were also located in the Auckland region.


The first English arrivals regarded their culture and values as the only true ones, and expected others, whether Māori or other European newcomers, to adopt them. Gradually a colonial society and culture developed, but because it was so heavily based on English traditions, later English immigrants were normally assimilated quickly and easily into New Zealand society. But probably about a third of English immigrants returned to Britain, and those who remained were likely to be the butt of some teasing from the locals. In the 19th century newcomers from England were seen by the older settlers as effete ‘new chums’, and in the 1920s they had a reputation as moaning ‘Homies’. After the Second World War they became known as ‘whinging Poms’, with a reputation either as union stirrers or as ‘a bit above themselves’. Despite such attitudes, which rarely became bitter, most English immigrants quickly developed a passionate attachment to New Zealand and expressed a sense of its superiority to the old country.

Transforming the landscape


The English, with their tradition of imperial discovery and exploration, made a major contribution to exploring and documenting the new land from a non-Māori perspective. Explorers like Edward Shortland and Thomas Brunner, geologists like Frederick Hutton, botanists like Thomas Kirk and Joseph Hooker, and ethnographers like William Colenso, Richard Taylor and John White all greatly enlarged understanding of the new land and its people.

Surveying, engineering and building

The English contributed to the transformation of New Zealand’s landscape. They featured prominently among surveyors and engineers. Frederick Tuckett was principal surveyor for the New Zealand Company and Frederic Carrington for the Plymouth Company. Thomas Cass was chief surveyor in Canterbury, John Turnbull Thomson was the country’s first surveyor-general, John Rochfort prospected the route for the North Island main trunk railway, and Thomas (Noel) Brodrick was head of Lands and Survey from 1915 to 1922. Among the engineers, John Blackett and Robert West Holmes served as engineers-in-chief.

A considerable number of English architects helped impose English building conventions and design influences upon the New Zealand town and cityscape. They included Benjamin Mountfort, who was a leading Gothic revival architect in Canterbury, and Frederick de Jersey Clere, who designed 100 churches for the Wellington Anglican diocese from 1883.

New plants, new animals

Understandably, the English set out to use the land in ways that were familiar, and quickly established in New Zealand English forms of agriculture. They introduced animals such as sheep, cows and pigs, and cultivated crops such as wheat, and fruit such as apples. They introduced English grasses.

They also sought to make the landscape more recognisable by bringing in English trees and wild animals. Colonists were provided with a variety of game animals, including deer. The first stag and hind were despatched by Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall in Essex, and the stag arrived in Nelson in 1851 (the hind died en route).

In the 1860s acclimatisation societies, following their establishment in England during the 1850s, were formed to ensure that settlers would enjoy the game sports and studies which had been dear to them at home. Acclimatisation societies helped introduce English birds, hedgehogs, trout, salmon, rabbits and hares, as well as weasels, stoats and ferrets.


The domestic garden was a notable English middle-class interest in the 19th century. For some genteel settlers, especially women (such as the writer Lady Barker), the establishment of civilisation in the wilderness was represented by a flourishing English garden. Trees such as oaks and beeches, and flowers such as roses or daffodils, were planted in part as memories of home. Gardening continues to be one of New Zealanders’ most popular pastimes.

Contribution to government

Representative government

The English either brought many major institutions with them, or campaigned to secure them in the new colony. In Wellington, the association established in 1848 to pressure the imperial government into granting a constitution was led by prominent English settlers, notably William Fitzherbert, William Rhodes, Charles Clifford, Frederick Weld and Isaac Featherston. The aims, at least of some, owed much to English Chartism (a working-class protest and reform movement) and included universal suffrage for men, secret ballot, and triennial parliaments. The outcome, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, was a remarkably liberal measure which laid the basis of modern New Zealand democracy. By reserving key responsibilities to Parliament rather than allocating them to the provincial councils, the act helped to create an early measure of colonial uniformity and to ensure the emergence of a strong central government.

Responsible government

In the first Parliament, English members of the House of Representatives pressed for, and in 1856 gained, responsible self-government. This paved the way for the establishment of a premier (prime minister) and cabinet bound by the principle of collective responsibility, and accountable to Parliament.

New Zealand’s civil service, though structured differently, was also based on the English model, including the office of permanent secretary. The concept of a loyal parliamentary opposition is similarly of English origin. New Zealand also looked to English models of counties and boroughs for its local and territorial authorities.


The English attached importance to political debate and were to the fore in establishing a vigorous press in New Zealand, with London-born Samuel Revans labelled ‘the father of journalism’. English immigrants have continued to play a significant role as television interviewers, such as Austin Mitchell, and as radio interviewers, such as Kim Hill and Geoff Robinson.


Although New Zealand’s early settlers included many immigrants from Scotland (which had its own legal system), it was English law that was adopted and which profoundly influenced the development of the New Zealand legal system. In the 19th century the New Zealand Parliament frequently duplicated or adapted English statute law or followed British initiatives. For example, the English Acts Act 1854 adopted 19 English statutes, the Trade Union Act 1878 was based on British precedents, changes in divorce law followed British reforms, and the Criminal Code Act 1893 was based on earlier English efforts to codify criminal law.

The creation of municipal rather than church cemeteries followed English legislation of 1853, while the early reservation of public parks and recreation areas was based on English developments in the mid-19th century.

The courts established in New Zealand followed English models, as did the practice by which lower courts were bound by the decisions of higher courts. The contribution of judges to creating law followed English precedents, the English terms ‘barrister’ and ‘solicitor’ were adopted, and English lawyers were prominent in the profession. The first chief justices and judges of New Zealand’s Supreme Court were English-born lawyers.


Church of England

The Church of England (the Anglican Church) brought Christianity to New Zealand through the Church Missionary Society, and in the person of chaplain and magistrate Samuel Marsden. Another Englishman, George Augustus Selwyn, appointed bishop of New Zealand in 1841, prepared the constitution for an autonomous branch of the church in New Zealand. The proposed structure, which still largely endures, included dioceses and parishes, Māori churches, schools for Pākehā and Māori boys and girls, and theological colleges.

From the beginnings of settlement, the Church of England was, numerically, the strongest denomination in the Pākehā population (about 43% of the non-Māori population were members in 1901). By drawing many of its clergy from England, the New Zealand arm of the church maintained close links with its English counterpart. It served as an important channel through which English moral and social values were transmitted. The Anglican Church did not, however, remain a cultural refuge for the English in the same way that the Catholic Church functioned for the Irish. This was partly because the English were so dominant, and partly because the Anglican Church included significant numbers from other places, especially Ireland.


The English were diverse in their religious practice. From the outset of settlement a significant number belonged to the dissenting churches. Methodism arrived in New Zealand with the missionary Samuel Leigh in 1822. The denomination became numerically more significant in New Zealand (10.8% of non-Māori in 1901) than at home, partly because of its strong support among the Cornish and among some Midlands farm migrants, especially those from Lincolnshire.

Baptists and others

The Associated Churches of Christ and the Baptist Church, which had grown rapidly in early 19th-century England, established their first New Zealand congregations in the predominantly English settlement of Nelson in 1844 and 1851 respectively. In 1901, 2.1% of non-Māori were Baptists.


New Zealand’s early Jewish community was largely of English origin. Its most prominent member, Julius Vogel, as treasurer and premier, vigorously promoted New Zealand’s economic development.

Nonconformist influences

The influence of the Victorian evangelical and nonconformist churches was especially apparent in the reform movements which emerged from about 1880. English women, including Mary Müller and Mary Colclough, played a prominent part in the early development of feminism in New Zealand. Annie Schnackenberg, one of the founders, and Anne Ward, the first president of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union, had also been born in England. Members of the English-born nonconformist clergy, among them John Archer, Moses Ayrton, John Crewes, Leonard Isitt and Thomas Taylor, contributed significantly to the early development of socialism in New Zealand.

Popular culture

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.


Hard work and progress

The majority of 19th-century English immigrants were respectable working people who brought with them the distinctive set of values they had acquired in the Old World. This included notions of progress, rationality and order, a desire to re-name, domesticate and organise the wilderness and convert the indigenous people, and an emphasis on the importance of hard work and independence. The marked presence of those affiliated to the nonconformist churches was reflected in the importance attached to thrift, sobriety, mutual assistance, voluntary service, and care for the disadvantaged.

A ‘better Britain’

Many English brought with them painful memories of life at home. They were often determined to prevent the reappearance of the least desirable elements of English life and society, such as poverty, the rigid class system and privileged groups. English-born reforming politicians like Richard Seddon, and later Walter Nash, were clearly imbued with a vision that New Zealand could avoid England’s mistakes while maintaining its virtues.

Defending England

The loyalty to English traditions and to family back home helped reinforce New Zealanders’ determination to stand with Britain in two world wars. Those from an Anglican and English background were more likely than others to volunteer for service during the First World War.


The English valued collective voluntary effort and community improvement. Immigrants established many associations and organisations, including benevolent, debating and literary societies, libraries, mechanics’ institutes, fire brigades and local militias. Building societies which originated in England in the later 18th century appeared in New Zealand in the 1860s. English immigrants have always played a significant role in unions and were long prominent in the early years of the Labour Party. Friendly societies, which provided sickness and funeral benefits to their members, arrived in New Zealand with the first English settlers, and grew steadily until the passing of the Social Security Act 1938.


The rituals and manners of polite society – from table etiquette to social observances such as weddings – largely derived from English precedents. The view that emotional excesses should be repressed also, arguably, has its roots in the English adage to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’.

A diverse heritage

The English-born immigrants who arrived in New Zealand from the early 1800s did not represent a cross-section of their society. Moreover, England experienced profound change throughout the 19th century so that the migrants who arrived in New Zealand in the 1840s were very different from those arriving in the 1920s or the 1950s. The former were still largely rural peasants used to pre-industrial ways of working; the latter were usually refugees from modern urban life. Therefore, the contribution made by the English to the development of New Zealand was complex. It comprised elements of an emerging ‘national’ English society and culture, distinctive aspects of some regional cultures, and features of the new urban–industrial class society that emerged during the course of the 19th century.

Nor is it easy to separate out the influence of the English from that of the British Empire, or from the contribution of Scots and Irish. But by their social power and numerical dominance, successive waves of English immigrants have played a huge part in the shaping of modern New Zealand.

Facts and figures

Country of birth

The New Zealand census figures listed here show the number of residents born in England.

  • 1858 census: 23,680
  • 1901 census: 111,964
  • 1951 census: 125,957
  • 1976 census: 219,749
  • 2001 census: 178,203
  • 2006 census: 202,401
  • 2013 census: 215,586

Ethnic identity

In the 2006 and 2013 censuses, people were asked to indicate the ethnic group or groups with which they identified. The numbers include those who indicated more than one group.

  • English: 44,202 (2006); 38,913 (2013)
  • British: 27,189 (2006); 36,027 (2013)

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Terry Hearn, 'English', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Terry Hearn, i tāngia i te 8 o Pēpuere 2005, updated 1 o Māehe 2015