Kōrero: History of immigration

Whārangi 11. Migration: 1900 to 1914

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

With the new century New Zealand’s fortunes changed and the country prospered. Refrigeration in ships opened up overseas markets for meat and butter, dairy farming expanded and secondary industry and services grew. With jobs on offer, the flow of immigrants revived. Between 1900 and 1915 New Zealand’s net population gain was just over 120,000. There were two distinct strands: one-third of the immigrants came from Australia, and two-thirds from the United Kingdom.

Clarion calls

In 1899 William Ranstead, founder of the socialist Clarion Fellowship in Manchester, visited New Zealand and decided it was a good spot to start a new community with some of his followers. The next year about 200 ‘Clarionettes’ funded their own emigration to New Zealand. A branch of the fellowship was established in 1901, and the settlers were also involved in the formation of the New Zealand Socialist Party that year.


Substantial migration from Australia characterises the early 1900s. In 1903 net immigration across the Tasman was almost 10,000. New Zealand’s recovery coincided with drought and depression in Australia, especially in the wheat belt of northern New South Wales and the gold-mining areas of Victoria. The fare across the Tasman was only £2. Some had previously come from Britain, a few were New Zealanders returning home, but four out of seven were Australian-born. In the five years 1901–6 the number of Australians in New Zealand increased from 26,991 to 47,256. There were twice as many men as women among them, and a high proportion were single. They settled especially in the North Island – on the west coast or the central small-farm frontier. Those from Victoria brought experience in dairying; others such as Michael Joseph Savage, who went on to become prime minister, brought ideas of international socialism.

Australians in government

Of the 13 members of Michael Joseph Savage’s first Labour government in 1935, five were born in Australia and had migrated to New Zealand between 1900 and 1907. They were Mark Fagan, William Parry, Robert Semple, Patrick Webb and Savage himself. In addition the previous leader of the Labour Party, Harry Holland, had crossed the Tasman in 1912.

Immigration from Britain

Immigration from the United Kingdom was slower to recover but boomed in the six years before the First World War, reaching a peak of 12,000 net migration in 1913. It was a period of exodus from Europe, and in Britain’s case this involved a redirection from the United States towards the dominions of the British Empire. The high cost of a passage to New Zealand had held people back, but numbers rose with the resumption in 1904 of government assistance for the fare.

New Zealanders experiencing prosperity were less opposed to new immigrants arriving. Farmers wanted labourers, businesses wanted skilled workers, and middle-class families wanted domestic servants. People in these occupations were targeted for assistance. Emigrants considered suitable were not the down-and-out, but, as Prime Minister W. F. Massey said, ‘people of the right class – steady, industrious and respectable people.’ 1 They had to provide evidence of some capital, and a certificate as to health and character. New Zealanders could also nominate friends and relatives for assistance; about half of the 36,563 assisted immigrants of 1904–15 came out in this way.

Home help wanted

Domestic servants were in great demand in the early 1900s. In Wellington, middle-class matrons would board immigrant ships to lure any single women into their employ. In Napier in 1906 a ‘domestic syndicate’ paid the fares of 23 servants.

Attracting immigrants

Shipping companies and the government advertised in British newspapers, and even included appeals in the programmes for the 1905 All Black rugby games. Shipping agents were paid £1 for each passenger. This had the effect of attracting others who paid their own way.

British immigrants

As with the great migration wave of the 1870s, there were many rural labourers, craftsmen and domestic workers from the United Kingdom (often referred to in New Zealand as ‘home’). There were more women and children among them than among those coming from Australia. Few industrial workers emigrated.

Over 20% of United Kingdom migrants came from Scotland, but less than 10% came from Ireland, and those few were increasingly from the north, and Protestant. The English were the biggest group. Although like earlier arrivals they often came from the south – especially London and the home counties – substantial numbers now hailed from the north. Despite their rural occupations, the newcomers settled in the cities rather than rural areas.

An Anglo-Saxon nation

With restrictions against Asians, and the number of Catholic Irish falling, New Zealand was becoming more English, more Protestant and less cosmopolitan. At a time of large-scale immigration, the number of New Zealand residents who were not born in the British Empire rose by a mere 63 persons between 1901 and 1916. Dalmatians and Chinese stayed on under public sufferance at a time of rising racism, but their numbers were not replenished.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. J. S. McBean, ‘Immigration into New Zealand, 1900–1915.’ MA thesis, Victoria University College, 1946, p. 22. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'History of immigration - Migration: 1900 to 1914', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/history-of-immigration/page-11 (accessed 16 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Jock Phillips, i tāngia i te 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Aug 2015