Kōrero: History of immigration

Whārangi 2. A growing settlement: 1825 to 1839

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


In the late 1820s the number of non-Māori living in New Zealand began to rise. As more deep-sea whalers arrived for replenishment, rest and recreation, Kororāreka in the Bay of Islands attracted retailers, grog-sellers and other ‘panderers to the worst vices of the most abandoned men.’ 1 From 1830 they outnumbered the missionaries in the area.

Shore whaling

As sperm whales became elusive, whalers turned their attention to right (or black) whales, which they hunted from shore-based stations. Despite the common view that the first station was John Guard’s at Te Awaiti in the Marlborough Sounds in 1827, it is probable that the honour belongs to one established at Preservation Inlet (Rakituma) in Fiordland in 1828.

Shore stations spread up the coast to the Otago Peninsula, Cook Strait, and eventually the East Cape. Usually funded by Sydney merchants such as Johnny Jones, whaling stations employed up to 30 men and the occasional woman. Initially the whalers stayed only for the May to October season, but increasingly they summered over and began to plant potatoes and keep pigs. By the end of the 1830s there were perhaps 30 stations (Jones alone owned seven) and some 700 people living in the shore-based whaling stations.


Flax was another generator of growth. Although recognised early for its rope-making qualities, and used for many purposes by Māori, flax was not successfully traded until the late 1820s. By 1833 Henry Williams noted there was ‘scarcely a part of the coast where Europeans are not settled, for the purpose of procuring flax.’ 2 Most of these settlements were in the northern half of the North Island. But the boom did not last, and within a few years flax trading was dead.


Some Europeans, nearly always male, lived within Māori communities in the first half of the 19th century. Largely adopting Māori ways of life, they became known as Pākehā–Māori. Most were escaped convicts or seamen. Some, like John Rutherford, a seaman and sole survivor of the wreck of the Agnes, were tattooed in the traditional Māori style. Others, like the American Kimble Bent, fought alongside Māori or, like the Irish-Australian Jacky Marmon in the Hokianga, helped arrange trade between Europeans and Māori.


The export of timber to Sydney for residential and ship construction was centred on the Hokianga and Firth of Thames. By 1836, according to the British government’s representative James Busby, there were over 90 European males in the Hokianga. In the whole North Island about a third of Europeans were involved in the timber trade.

Church and trade expand

From 1830 the number of missionaries grew and their influence spread. The first baptisms were performed in that year. By the end of the decade there were 10 Church Missionary Society stations in the North Island – as far south as Waikanae – and 11 Wesleyan missions.

As whalers, merchants and missionaries settled in numbers, others arrived to support them. They included assorted traders and grog-sellers (some of whom had arrived as escaped convicts or deserting seamen), and Pākehā–Māori (Europeans living with and as Māori) who exchanged flax or timber with Māori for muskets. By 1839 there were perhaps 150 such people.


‘A Nation of Drunkards’

John Flatt, who had been in New Zealand the previous year, told a select committee of England’s House of Lords in 1838 that there were so many ex-convicts and runaway seamen in New Zealand that ‘the natives have told me, in their own language, to teach my own Countrymen first before I taught them. They have called us a Nation of Drunkards, or mad with drink. This arose from their seeing a Majority of Europeans of that Stamp in New Zealand.’ 3

By 1839 the total non-Māori population was about 2,000. Two-thirds of them lived in the North Island, especially Northland. A large majority were single men, but during the last years of the decade there were more women and children. Increasingly, too, people were looking to purchase land and settle, rather than simply to exploit the resources and move on.

Because Sydney remained the main departure point, probably 90% were of British background, and of these almost 7 in 10 were English. There were also some Americans, French whalers, and other Europeans such as Phillip Tapsell, a former whaler from Denmark.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. John Dunmore Lang, New Zealand in 1839, or, Four letters to the Right Hon. Earl Durham ... on the colonization of that island, and on the present condition and prospects of its native inhabitants. London: Smith, Elder, 1839, p. 7. › Back
  2. Quoted in Peter Adams, Fatal necessity: British intervention in New Zealand, 1830–1847. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1977, p. 24. › Back
  3. U.K. Parliament: reports from select committees on New Zealand with minutes of evidence and appendix and indices, 1837–1840. In Irish University Press series of British parliamentary papers. Colonies: New Zealand. Vol 1. Shannon, 1968, p. 38. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'History of immigration - A growing settlement: 1825 to 1839', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/history-of-immigration/page-2 (accessed 20 April 2024)

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