Kōrero: Visitors’ opinions about New Zealand

Whārangi 2. The ‘Britain of the South’, 1860–1900

Ngā whakaahua

Tourism begins

Tourist visits increased after 1865 because of:

  • the peace that followed the New Zealand wars
  • the development of faster, more comfortable steamships in the 1870s and 1880s
  • the emergence of travel agencies such as Thomas Cook & Son, and travel guides to New Zealand
  • the improvement of domestic facilities such as roads, trains and hotels.

Many visitors called as part of a world trip, while others were attracted by the growing international reputation of the Pink and White Terraces near Lake Rotomahana. Some who penned their impressions were tourists who could write. Others were famous writers who visited and sometimes gave lectures, including Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Sir Charles Dilke and James Froude. Froude’s Oceana was the most widely-read traveller’s account. Most visitors were British, although Germans and Americans also came.

The landscape

Since the travellers followed a standard route – the ‘hot lakes’ of Rotorua, the cold lakes of Queenstown, and, from the 1890s, the Whanganui River and the fiords – judgements about the land were often similar. Most were enthusiastic about the scenery. Dilke regarded the glacier landscapes of the West Coast the most beautiful in the world. Froude wrote that ‘the dullest intellect quickens into awe and reverence amidst volcanoes and boiling springs and the mighty forces of nature.’1 Writers went into rhetorical ecstasy in describing the White Terrace, often called the eighth wonder of the world.

Britishness

The most common judgement about the society was its Englishness, ‘a fac-simili,’ as Lord Lyttelton wrote, ‘though on a small scale, of England.’2 For some enthusiasts of the British Empire, such as Dilke, Englishness was what they had come to find. Dilke found it everywhere, but especially in Christchurch, where he was pleased to see imported English rooks cawing in the elm trees of the cathedral close.

No escaping England

Anthony Trollope saw New Zealand as ‘unmistakably English’, but believed this a disadvantage: ‘The great drawback to New Zealand … comes from the feeling that after crossing the world and journeying over so many thousand miles, you have not at all succeeded in getting away from England.’ When Trollope reached Invercargill, ‘I felt exactly as I might have felt on getting out of a railway in some small English town, and by the time I had reached the inn, and gone through the customary battle as to bedrooms, a tub of cold water, and supper, all the feeling of mystery was gone.’3

The Scottish singer David Kennedy not unexpectedly discovered Scottishness, especially in Dunedin. Even non-British visitors noted the English character of the colony. American writer Mark Twain noted, ‘It was Junior England all the way to Christchurch’,4 and several German visitors such as Ferdinand Hochstetter and Baron Alexander von Hübner agreed.

Britain of the South – a glorious future

The Englishness of New Zealand was one reason many visitors promised the country a glittering future. Believing that the superiority of the English race derived from a vigorous life in a cold island (Britain), they saw New Zealand as replicating these conditions. James Froude anticipated ‘a splendid race of Southern English’5 – with great poets, artists, statesmen and soldiers.

Visitors praised the progress colonists had made in the new land. Cities had acquired ‘the best fruits of the civilisation’, and in the country ‘the wilderness had become a garden,’6 said Trollope. The German von Hübner agreed.

Lack of classes

Some noted the relative absence of class hierarchies. Kennedy commented that there was ‘more of an equality between master and man’7 and Froude that the country was ‘the workman’s paradise’.8 Trollope noted the absence of tipping and the well-paid servants. He also claimed that colonials were well-read – ‘Carlyle, Macaulay and Dickens’ were better-known than at home.9

Māori

Most visitors had some criticism of Māori. Those who went to Rotorua were annoyed at the alleged drunkenness and financial greed of Māori. Some believed the modern Māori was degraded and would eventually disappear. Yet Māori were also praised for their hospitality and intelligence, and many visitors shared Twain’s view that they were ‘a superior breed of savages’,10 more impressive than Australian Aborigines or Native Americans. Dilke noted that Māori had more rights than other native peoples elsewhere, but believed this was a tribute to their ‘nobility of mind’11 and effectiveness as warriors.

Best in the world

German visitor Alexander von Hübner commented on the enthusiasm of New Zealand locals: ‘They compare Auckland with Naples, Nice, Genoa, and Constantinople, and Auckland surpasses all … If the talk turns on the products of nature or industry, the picturesque charms, the climate, the men and things of the country, the refrain is always the same – they are the best in the world. In the face of such exaggerations one is not allowed to maintain a polite silence; one must gush in echo of his New Zealand friends. It is a weakness, an infirmity of children, which is only met with in new countries.’12

Criticisms

The travellers did have a few criticisms – several noted the extent of drinking and particularly the custom of ‘shouting’ (buying drinks for others); there was a general view that before the abolition of the provinces New Zealand was over-governed, and also over-burdened with debt; and some travellers noted the primitive nature of the facilities and the poor food. In Irish writer Beatrice Grimshaw’s words, New Zealand was ‘not yet fully opened up.’13 The Germans noted the over-sanctification of Sundays.

But quibbles were few and the travellers’ enthusiasm must have reinforced New Zealanders’ sense of identity and local pride.

Little wonder, then, that the travellers’ most interesting criticism was that New Zealanders suffered from an overweening patriotism. They were excessively keen on blowing their own trumpets, and as Trollope noted, if the New Zealander ‘would blow his own trumpet somewhat less loudly, the music would gain in its effect upon the world at large’.14

Kupu tāpiri
  1. James Anthony Froude, Oceana, or, England and her colonies. London: Longmans, Green, 1886, p. 206. Back
  2. Quoted in Lydia Wevers, Country of writing: travel writing and New Zealand, 1809–1900. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002, p. 135. Back
  3. Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: George Robertson, 1873, p. 549, 540. Back
  4. Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Australia and New Zealand. Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, 1973, p. 297. Back
  5. Oceana, p. 227. Back
  6. Australia and New Zealand, pp. 556, 653. Back
  7. David Kennedy Junior, Kennedy’s colonial travel: a narrative of a four years’ tour through Australia, New Zealand, Canada, &c. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Publishing Co., 1876, p. 165. Back
  8. Oceana, p. 209. Back
  9. Australia and New Zealand, p. 552. Back
  10. Mark Twain in Australia and New Zealand, p. 318. Back
  11. Charles Wentworth Dilke, Greater Britain: a record of travel in English-speaking countries during 1866 and 1867. 8th ed. London: Macmillan, 1885, p. 271. Back
  12. Quoted in Oliver Harrison, ‘The paradise of the southern hemisphere’: German and Austrian visitors to New Zealand, 1876–1889. Auckland: Research Centre for Germanic Connections with New Zealand and the Pacific, University of Auckland, 2008, p. 121. Back
  13. Quoted in Lydia Wevers, ed., Travelling to New Zealand: an Oxford anthology. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p.196. Back
  14. Australia and New Zealand, p. 632. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'Visitors’ opinions about New Zealand - The ‘Britain of the South’, 1860–1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/visitors-opinions-about-new-zealand/page-2 (accessed 23 November 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 20 Jun 2012