Individuals and small groups of Pākehā lived in the region before organised European settlement began.
The first Pākehā settlers encountered a few vexing, and probably unforeseen, challenges. Material goods and services taken for granted in England were difficult to obtain in 1840s New Zealand, as settler Stephen Gillingham wrote to his brother: ‘Send out a watch and clock maker, for all the clocks and watches are stopped, and no person[s] here are able to repair them. And above all things use your diligence in sending a hair dresser, for all the gentlemen are perfect frights because their hair is so long; they look more like women then men, not having had their hair cut since they left England.’1
Planned immigration to Taranaki began in 1841, when the Plymouth Company, an offshoot of the New Zealand Company, brought immigrants from Devon and Cornwall in south-west England to the newly surveyed town of New Plymouth. Between 1841 and 1843, six ships contracted by the company arrived in New Plymouth with over 1,000 settlers. The financially insecure Plymouth Company was taken over by the New Zealand Company in 1843.
The first two ships arrived on Ngāmotu beach, Port Taranaki, where Dicky Barrett and local Māori had built temporary accommodation to house the passengers. The later vessels anchored off the mouth of the Huatoki Stream in central New Plymouth.
Crossing the ditch
One of the important sources of immigrants to Taranaki in the mid-19th century was Australia. When the Taranaki Military Settlers were established in 1865, their ranks were swelled, on the promise of land, by men-of-fortune from Australia as well as ‘Aussies’ from the Otago goldfields. Just over half of the military settlers were Australians by birth or migration. At the end of their three-year military service a number sold their allocations and went on to further adventures, but many did stay.
Expansion of settlements
A number of towns were founded as military settlements during the Taranaki wars of the 1860s, including Pātea (1865) and Hāwera (1866). From this period Pākehā settlement expanded north into Taranaki from Whanganui, aided by road and later rail links. Native bush covered the land, apart from a clear strip along the coast. The development of the Mountain Road (later State Highway 3 and 3A) in the 1870s enabled the forested land east of Mt Taranaki to be cleared and settled. The occupation of Parihaka, the Māori village west of the mountain, by colonial troops in 1881, and completion of the rail link between New Plymouth and Whanganui in 1886, meant that the mountain was encircled by Pākehā settlement.
From the 1890s the inland hill country was settled. This land was difficult to farm profitably, and construction of transport links lagged behind settlement. Farmers persevered, but a slump in wool prices in 1922 led to many abandoning their farms.
New Zealand’s European population doubled between 1871 and 1881. In the same period Taranaki’s European population more than tripled from 4,480 to 14,858. At the same time, the Māori population declined because of epidemics of introduced European diseases such as influenza and measles.
Taranaki’s most celebrated Chinese immigrant, the businessman and dairy entrepreneur Chew Chong, married a European woman, Elizabeth Whatton, in 1875 – a time when such an interracial marriage was almost unheard of in New Zealand. Chew Chong became a much-respected member of the Taranaki community. Perhaps because of his status and their relatively low numbers, Chinese people were viewed positively in Taranaki – unlike in many other parts of New Zealand at the time.
Many new British immigrants came to Taranaki under Premier Julius Vogel’s assisted immigration policy. Until the 1890s the proportion of Taranaki residents born in England and Wales was about 20% above the national average. Other significant groups who immigrated to Taranaki in the 19th century were Poles (who settled near Inglewood), Dalmatians (Croatians), and Swiss (who settled around Manaia and Kaponga, and at Kaimata). By 1916 South Taranaki had half of New Zealand’s Swiss-born population.