Early immigrants – class war refugees from the English countryside

While a lot of attention is now given to the oppression of Maori by colonialism, many of the early immigrants to Aotearoa New Zealand were oppressed landless rural people from Britain.

The first big immigration to New Zealand from Britain was in the four decades from the 1840s to the 1870s.

Initially many immigrants came via various organised schemes, until a surge in the 1960s of those chasing fortunes the gold rush – many of these moved from gold rushes elsewhere, particularly Australia but also the United States.

Scott Hamilton (@SikotiHamiltonR) has pointed to an interesting reference to last of these four decades:

As well as learning more about Polynesian history, Pakeha need to recover their repressed pasts. Rollo Arnold’s essential book shows that many who migrated here in the 1870s were refugees from class war in the English countryside. The settlers soon buried their old identities.

THE FARTHEST PROMISED LAND — ENGLISH VILLAGERS, NEW ZEALAND IMMIGRANTS OF THE 1870S

Rollo Arnold (1981)

Image

From the preface:

THE PEOPLE OF New Zealand are predominantly of British stock, the descendants mainly of immigrants of an initial founding period extending over the four decades from 1840 to 1880. The foundation stock came overwhelmingly from humble origins in the old country, with rural labourers and village artisans providing the main elements.

The majority had been ‘selected’ for assisted passages to the colony, in the earlier years by the settlement associations inspired by Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theories; in the 1850s and 1860s under various schemes sponsored by the provincial governments, and in the 1870s under an ambitious and highly successful scheme undertaken by the General Government.

This book is a study in some depth of one major group of assisted immigrants, the recruits of the 1870s from rural England.

In the 1870s, however, as a result of the Revolt of the Field, the English rural labourer became articulate as never before, so that a large and probably unique body of first hand reportage on the immigration experience has been preserved from this decade.

THE VILLAGE WORLD AND THE LABOURERS’ REVOLT

ENGLAND’S FARM LABOURERS had been coveted by New Zealand right from the founding of the colony, but repeated endeavours had failed to recruit them in anything like the numbers desired. Genuine agricultural labourers formed too small a proportion of the assisted emigrants which the New Zealand Company sent out in the 1840s as the pioneer settlers of its new colonies.

When the New Zealand provincial governments from time to time entered the immigration field in the 1850s and 1860s, they found that agricultural labourers were the ‘most difficult to get and the most difficult to move when they are got at’. A strong flow of immigration was an essential element in Vogel’s ambitious plans of 1870, and some members of parliament were hopeful of a large importation of the bone and sinew of rural England.

We must now examine the village world of rural England over these earlier decades, in order to gain some understanding of these labourers who were in such demand in this new community on the far side of the world. We need also to understand why they were so undervalued in the land of their birth.

Why, too, were New Zealand’s raw colonials so convinced that the English rural labourer could better himself by forsaking ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ for the lonely emptiness of their treeless plains and the blackened ugliness of their bush-burn forest clearings?

And why was it that after decades of ill-rewarded wooing, New Zealand suddenly found herself to be the ‘promised land’ of many an English village, with farm labourers flocking to her shores in their thousands. A large part of the answer to these questions lies in the conditions which led to, and the consequences which flowed from, the great Revolt of the Field which broke upon English rural society in 1872 and stirred a score of counties to the core.

The name of Joseph Arch, the Warwickshire hedgecutter who spearheaded the movement, was soon a household word in Britain, and New Zealand’s fortunes were so closely linked with rural England that in a very short time it was scarcely less well known in that distant colony.

The wages of Joseph’s father, John Arch, never rose above ten shillings a week, and it was a saving of perhaps three pounds a year in rent, together with the produce of their large garden, which enabled the family to escape the humility of soup kitchen charity, and the degradation of poor law relief, to which many of their neighbours were reduced every winter. Nevertheless, Joseph’s parents paid a price for the independent line which they followed and taught to their children.

In his autobiography Joseph tells of a duel between his mother and a despotic parson’s wife, following the latter’s issuing of a decree that all girls at the village school were to have their hair cut round like a basin. For refusing to allow her two daughters’ hair to be cut, Hannah Arch was subjected to petty persecution, and never forgiven.

Rural England in the nineteenth century presented to the world a unique social arrangement in the three-tiered system of landlord, farmer, and landless labourer. Throughout the rest of the world the bulk of the rural population owned or occupied the land they tilled — in other words, they were peasants.

If many of them were peasant serfs, this merely meant that they were obliged to meet feudal obligations of work on their lord’s property, as well as farming their own holdings. But in England most of the land was owned by the gentry, rented by the farmers, and worked by landless labourers.

This pattern was the product of the centuries, but it had become more marked and widespread in recent times, partly through the continued decline of the yeoman, the owner-occupier of a small holding, who formed an intermediate class, and partly through the further extension of enclosures of open fields, commons and wastes, which removed the labourers’ claims of property in the land. A combination of social and economic changes had, since the middle of the eighteenth century, turned the majority of village labourers into servile, demoralised men.

The measured words of Professor Hobsbawm are not too strong to describe the tragedy of this transformation:

“It is difficult to find words for the degradation which the coming of industrial society brought to the English country labourer; the men who had been ‘a bold peasantry, a country’s pride’, the sturdy and energetic ‘peasantry’ whom 18th century writers had so readily contrasted with the starveling Frenchmen, were to be described by a visiting American in the 1840s as ‘servile, broken-spirited and severely straitened in their means of living’ … From that day to this those who observed him, or who studied his fate, have searched for words eloquent enough to do justice to his oppression.”

There’s a lot of interesting things in the book. The index is here, with links to the content.

If you have ancestors who emigrated here check for family names – Index of Immigrant Surnames


I found this interesting, but my lot aren’t included.  A great grandfather came in the 1870s but isn’t referenced in the book. A grandmother came as a war bride with my grandfather after World War 1. And my mother’s family escaped from northern Wales in 1928, leaving most of that history behind – I heard very little of their past.

My first family of ancestors came here in 1851 and soon after as a part of the Canterbury settlements. They left a small rural village near Bedford called Turvey – “The population of Turvey was 758 in 1801, rising to 1,028 in 1851 and falling to 782 by 1901”. A chunk of that diminishing population came here.

Turvey history: From Turvey to New Zealand

The visitor’s book at All Saints Church contains a remarkable number of visitors from New Zealand who have come to Turvey in order to see where their ancestors lived. How did this come about and who are these ancestors? The article “The First Assisted Passage to New Zealand” details how Jane Davison from Turvey emigrated to New Zealand in 1842.

In 1848, The Canterbury Association was launched in England, receiving its Royal Charter on 13thNovember 1849, with the aim of systematically colonising New Zealand.

Early Emigrants

The 16thship to sail under this scheme was the “Canterbury” who made her maiden voyage from London’s East India Docks to Lyttleton, New Zealand on 21stJune 1851. Aboard were Turvey born Arthur Gibbs, a 38 year old agricultural labourer, his 36 year old wife Rachel (nee Harley), a Lacemaker, and their three children George (16), Kezia (13) and Rebecca (10).

Arthur and Rachel are my great great great grandparents. Kezia is my great great grandmother.

Wider family members also emigrated from Turvey and settled in Gibbs Town just north of Christchurch, renamed Woodend. A number of them moved from poor landless workers to landowners and business people here.

Between 1853 and 1870, the Provincial Governments, also keen to encourage immigration from the United Kingdom, began funding such schemes. At the same time in Turvey, life was hard for many working families, living in tied accommodation on often low incomes. Some families, particularly those attached to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, also sought greater freedom to follow their faith.

I have quite a few distant relatives from there but have never had any contact with them.

I have very little knowledge of my immigrant ancestors or their pasts, but it’s interesting to learn about the wider context of the immigrations to New Zealand. Most who came here were not exactly colonial oppressors themselves, they were poor people escaping from bleak circumstances – but by taking over land here they did impact on the colonisation problems.

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24 Comments

  1. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  6th July 2020

    And far from being racists many of our ancestors were happy to share their family name with the local inhabitants.

    I notice Scottish surnames are pretty common amongst Maori folks… Mair, Murray, Morrison, Stewart, Anderson, Cameron, and all the Macs.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th July 2020

      ‘many of our ancestors were happy to share their family name with the local inhabitants.’

      I presume this ‘sharing’ worked both ways!

      Reply
      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  6th July 2020

        Pretty much so… I think most of the folks I’ve met with a Maori surname have at least one British / Irish ancestor somewhere in their background.

        Reply
        • It’s a generalisation, but Irish and Maori generallly get on well, as they have a lot in common. One thing is that both races never forget an injury, but I’d have to say that the Irish can bear a grudge longer than anyone else in the world. If you go to County Kerry, meet someone called Gleeson and are idiotic enough to ask if they are one of the ‘helping Gleesons’ , you are considered to have asked for what you get.

          My mother’s response to hearing that I was marrying an Eastern Orthodox Englishman was ‘Well, at least he’s not a Catholic.’

          There are also a number of Maoris with Irish names ( a lot of names beginning with Mac are Irish, not Scottish. ‘By Mac and O/You’ll always know/An Irishman, they say/But if they lack/Both O and Mac/No Irishman are they.’

          The first Maori my mother met was called Clancy (surname)

          Reply
    • duperez

       /  6th July 2020

      Not to forget the immigrants were happy to rename many of the local places too.

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  6th July 2020

        Did they take any slaves?

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  7th July 2020

          remember Corky,they’re not slaves who make the clothing you wear…they are paid…$2 a ..week.

          Reply
  2. Duker

     /  6th July 2020

    Link to more detailed look at his books and papers
    https://sites.google.com/site/rolloarnold/migration

    eg
    “Brogden’s navies” Landfall in the Southern Seas Proceedings of the 8th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry, Compiled by Garry Jeffery, 1997 pp. 104-112
    This article examines the role of the 2,172 migrants brought to New Zealand by John Brodgen & Sons to build railways for the Government in the early 1870s. It looks at where the men were recruited, where they settled in New Zealand and their role as fore-runners for migrant chains by families.

    Reply
  3. PartisanZ

     /  6th July 2020

    Interesting stuff Pete. Thanks for posting it.

    British and European aka Pakeha New Zealanders’ ancestry is every bit as interesting as Maori whakapapa, to the British descendants and Pakeha identifiers.

    Pivotal stories in the Colonization matrix.

    Probably interesting to many many Maori too, who certainly don’t begrudge ‘us’ our ‘family trees’ …

    But its not to be compared to hapu-iwi Maori whakapapa. There’s no point. If we’re ‘competing’ in ancestry then we’ve failed Te Tiriti o Waitangi yet again.

    Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  6th July 2020

      “But its not to be compared to hapu-iwi Maori whakapapa. There’s no point. If we’re ‘competing’ in ancestry then we’ve failed Te Tiriti o Waitangi yet again.”

      Can you explain what you mean with that paragraph please.

      One of the issues that needs to be faced sometime in the future is tangata whenua status for those born here. You suggesting that those born here have a no whakapapa?

      Even if that whakapapa stretches back like in my case 1200 years to friesian baltic traders, danish viking families and a host of germanic tribes. That whakapapa now includes children, grand children and great grand children who can trace their whakapapa over 1300 years and their tangata whenua status (as in being indigenous) over 150 years.

      Does that not count?

      Next question will be centred around that hapu-iwi status. Now that this original tauiwi family numbers some 400 tangata whenua members, they consider themselves hapu and before long will establish an iwi.

      I dont think the treaty as it stands took into consideration that the tangata whenua status of all those who are born here but not of Maori descent.

      I suggest that the tangata whenua status of all born here (thus indigenous – adjective; originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.) will become a major issue.

      Reply
  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  6th July 2020

    History is bunk said Henry Ford who was busy creating the future in the present.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  7th July 2020

      That would make Henry Ford, who is now part of history, bunk. It would make science bunk. It would make everything that ever happened & has been recorded bunk.

      That’s the problem with one-liners.

      History is just information. Information that used all the time to inform & help create new & more recent history.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  7th July 2020

        History isn’t just information – that is science. History is the spin put on the information, usually to advance some political or social objective.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  7th July 2020

          No that’s just your slant on history. You are confusing history with historians.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  7th July 2020

            Tosh. They are inseparable.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  7th July 2020

              History is the record of what happened. Where it involves people historians get into looking at the evidence, & facts, & reasons, & that’s where historians can differ. Also where the separation is.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  7th July 2020

              Wrong. The records are facts. History is the selection and interpretation of them. There is no separation between history and historians.

            • Gezza

               /  7th July 2020

              No, I’m not wrong. We just differ in interpretation. You are taking too narrow a view. There are histories of various developments in sciences for example that are simply known timelines of discoveries. Nobody argues over whether or not we had major earthquakes, eruptions & severe weather events in recorded history. Nobody argues over whether The Wahine sank, or the Rainbow Warrior was bombed, or the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, or the Americans dropped atom bombs on Japan, or Whakaari erupted. All of these things are historical events. They’re history.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  7th July 2020

              A historical event or fact is not history. History is the story spun around it. That is why history is always being “rewritten” and deserves the “bunk” epithet.

            • Gezza

               /  7th July 2020

              Nope. Now you’re confusing history with histories.

              history
              noun

              1. the study of past events, particularly in human affairs.

              2. the whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing.

              3. a continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution.

              You’ve got your monocle focussed on 1. So had Ford when he made that observation.

              I certainly agree that many people write or rewrite cultural “histories” to suit political or their own politically correct cultural agendas.

              History can sometimes be used to make predictions or probabilities. Your history of our debates suggests that even though I have just shown why your interpretation of “history” is too narrow you will probably not accept that you are wrong and try to get the last word on this.

    • Blazer

       /  7th July 2020

      wonder how prescient Ford was.

      His biggest selling book warned about the’International Jew’….anti semitic ,but very wealthy.

      Reply
  5. Why does our national history have to become an argument or attain a separation of peoples’ status before it ban be heard and celebrated? Why must contemporary political agendas always underpin the voices that are allowed to be heard, particularly by the likes of Te Papa? Why is the propensity to always give voice to the history of the indigenous, as if it had been rewritten or forgotten by the later settler? Why is there a desire that Colonial and Christian History be written out of NZ History, as if it had no roll or influence in the founding and ongoing settlement of the country and the coming together of its two immigrant peoples… one from the C13th and the other in the C19th? By the mid C19th 74% of all Maori were purported to be Christian. Their easy won conversion to the truth of scripture may not have been a mere coincidence, for from the earliest settler, teacher, translator and lay pastor (Thomas Kendall) they were considered to be ‘one of the lost tribes of Israel’. The old testament scriptures, their proverbial wisdoms and psalmist relationship with Atua, was considered by many tribal chiefs to be a prodigal like ‘coming home’ or rediscovery of their spiritual beginnings and cultural roots. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, there was far greater societal acceptance of each other’s skin colour and cultural diversity, than appears to exist in today’s backslidden and culturally alienated society. Only revival of our nation’s faith, that accepts, glorifies and loves the ‘God of Nations at thy feet’ and promotes the commandment of ‘loving thy neighbour as thyself’, will see this nation have any chance of becoming one again. Cultural diversity need not always lead to separation and segregation of peoples. Accept and celebrate each other and the fact that we are all sons and daughters of the most high Atua, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, YHVH. May ‘God defend (and bless) New Zealand!

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  7th July 2020

      This is unlikely to happen as Yaweh, Jesus Christ & the Holy Spirit are not the god of everyone. There is competiton among the 3 Abrahamic faiths, competition with other faiths & gods, & even competition between the adherents of each of the 3 Abrahamics. And there are those who believe there is no god, & those who believe there may have been creator but consider that any such creator is not the Abrahamic one.

      The issues between peoples are usually about cultural differences & ownership of and access to resources.

      Reply

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