British & Irish immigration, 1840-1914

Page 9 – Conclusions about immigration 1840-1914

These statistics suggest some larger conclusions about the character and values of New Zealand's founding Pākehā population:

  • Persistence over time: The persistence of certain areas as a source of migrants to New Zealand suggests the importance of the process of chain migration in the peopling of New Zealand. Many migrants came to join family members; others came because they had received regular letters from friends in New Zealand. To this extent immigration was not quite as socially or psychologically disruptive as may at first appear. People came in groups and joined existing networks in the new country.
  • A tradition of versatility: It has often been said that the famous 'number 8 fencing wire' versatility of New Zealanders derived from the peculiar conditions of the frontier. But many who came to New Zealand were already from a background where they combined occupations and lived an unspecialised life both working on traditional crafts and tending a small plot of land. They were already highly versatile people. When they came to New Zealand they immediately searched out additional sources of living — through fishing, hunting or tending a vegetable garden.
  • Suspicion of the city: Many of the immigrants came from rural and pre-industrial families and they chose to migrate to a new country rather than move to British cities and work in factories. This may suggest that they came to New Zealand highly suspicious of the city and determined to prevent the new society suffering the evils of industrialism.
  • Importance of land: Because of their rural backgrounds, many immigrants to New Zealand looked to the new country to provide an independent living on the land. The small land-holder, independent and 'free' became a central ideal, and the immigrants looked with longing on two groups who had land in New Zealand — the indigenous Māori and the large estate-holders.
  • Attitude to Government: Many immigrants came to New Zealand as assisted migrants paid for by Government. This may have predisposed them to see Government as a source of assistance in other matters.
  • A multi-cultural community: Those who came to New Zealand in the 19th century came from very distinctive areas and distinctive rural backgrounds. They brought with them their own languages, foods, drinks and cultural traditions. In this sense New Zealand was a multi-cultural community from the outset. There was a minority of immigrants from the South-east of England, and a majority from the Celtic fringe of Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall, yet the culture of the home counties area came to be of great importance in New Zealand. One reason for this is that from the end of the century the New Zealand school system began to promote a strong English public school culture — in the playing of rugby and cricket, in the literature and history which was taught, in the manners which were inculcated. New Zealanders came to think of themselves as inheritors of the English imperial tradition. Home county culture became important to New Zealand values and the regional rural cultures of Greater Britain and Ireland originally present in New Zealand were increasingly overlaid.
How to cite this page

'Conclusions about immigration 1840-1914', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-May-2023