Kōrero: History of immigration

Whārangi 9. The immigrants of the great migration

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Special settlements

While most of the immigrants came as individual family groups, there were a number of organised settlements. More than 1,000 families from southern England settled on the Manchester block in the Manawatū, under arrangements negotiated by Colonel William Feilding of the Emigrant and Colonists’ Aid Corporation. George Vesey Stewart organised two settlements, the first at Katikati in the Bay of Plenty in 1875–78, and the second in Te Puke in 1880–83. Many of these 4,000 settlers were Protestant families from Ulster.

Less successful were the 400 people who were settled on the wild coast of southern Westland at Jackson Bay between 1875 and 1878. Originally, British agricultural labourers were to break in the land there, but this did not eventuate. Instead, unemployed Germans and Poles and a group of Italians were held for months in a Wellington depot before being despatched to struggle in vain against the bush and the rain.

End of assistance

After 1874 assisted immigration tailed off, as winter unemployment in the mid-1870s signalled a downturn in New Zealand’s economy. A brief economic revival in 1878 induced another influx, but by July 1879, 117 of 159 local agents had stopped recruiting. From 1880, immigrants had to pay £5 in advance, and assistance was given only to people who had been nominated by those already in New Zealand. After a temporary rise in these immigrants in 1883–84, the long economic depression bit hard, and the flow reduced to a trickle. Eventually in 1890 all forms of assistance were stopped.

Taken in

Some immigrants found conditions rather different from expectations:

‘This country is not what the agents represented it to be; they are sending out thousands into a country where there is no work. Every step you take you sink up to the waist in mud or sand. There are no bridges, so you have to swim across the river … If you know anyone that is coming out here warn them of what they will have to go through’. 1


The immigrants who paid their own way were a different group – they tended to be richer, older and were more likely to be men. Many came from the urban industrial areas of northern England that were ignored by the recruiting agents. The few Irish who paid their way usually crossed from Australia.

The English

In the 1870s and 1880s almost all immigrants were still British or Irish by birth, and of these close to three-fifths were English. Many were agricultural labourers or village craftsmen – carpenters, painters, blacksmiths or boot makers – who came with their families from the home counties and southern Midlands or from Cornwall and Devon. These were the same areas which had sent out people in the 1840s and were targeted by recruiting agents. Methodists were especially well represented.

Scots and Irish

Just over a fifth of all immigrants were from Scotland, most still from the Lowlands, but also including about 1,200 who made the trip from the Shetland Islands.

‘Gone to New Zealand’

The major migration from the Shetland Islands in the 1870s was later noted by the English poet John Betjeman:

‘All over Shetland one sees ruined crofts, with rushes invading the once tilled strips and kingcups in the garden. “Gone to New Zealand” is a good name for such a scene, because that is where many Shetlanders go, and there are, I am told, two streets in Wellington almost wholly Shetland’. 2

The Irish comprised another fifth. Typically they were Catholic families joining their kin from the south-west, or single women recruited in Ulster. The Irish migration included more women than men, and more single people.

Young and energetic

In general the immigrants of these years were young (80% were under 35) but sober, arriving with the energy to make a home for their families in the New World. They formed the heart of Pākehā society for the next 50 years.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Labourers’ Union Chronicle, 2 January 1875, p. 7. › Back
  2. John Betjeman, Coming home: an anthology of his prose, 1920–1977. London: Methuen, 1977, p. 336. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'History of immigration - The immigrants of the great migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/history-of-immigration/page-9 (accessed 18 June 2024)

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