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To The Other Side Of The World! The Waikato Immigration Scheme 1864–1865

Shaping Our Country (Part II)



by Michelle Ann Smith


“A hundred immigrants just landed have been sent here. The Government found them lodgings and give them rations . . . till they can be sent forth to their own grants of land.”1 These were just some of the immigrants who had recently arrived as part of the Waikato Immigration Scheme.2 Between October 1864 and June 1865, thirteen ships arrived in Auckland with settlers from Scotland, Ireland, England and South Africa on board.


With promises of land and employment ringing in their ears, each would have disembarked with a sense of excitement, and trepidation, at what lay ahead. The government, despite its extensive plans, was underprepared.3 By May 20, 1865, the Onehunga Barracks were full. Immigrants sent to Howick, such as those described above, were lucky. Many others ended up in tents for months on end, in what would have seemed like the middle of nowhere.

Under the scheme, the government aimed to place military men and new settlers on land confiscated from Maori, justified as punishment for what had been seen as armed rebellion against the British queen and British law.4 Advisors, such as John Martyn of Ramarama, were sent to Britain to instruct recruiting agents on the selection of suitable immigrants. The scheme offered immigrants free passage to New Zealand, a five or ten acre block, and employment.5 The long journey to Auckland was promoted as comfortable, with a liberal diet.6

It is therefore ironic that for some the voyage was fraught with death, disease, and little food. On the Dauntless the accommodation and food were deemed unsatisfactory, and the crew threatened mutiny. Yet only three deaths occurred during the voyage.7 In comparison the captain of the Ganges who, despite losing 54 children and 2 adults to bronchitis and whooping-cough, reportedly treated his passengers with the “utmost kindness and courtesy”.8

So, why did people leave their homeland to travel thousands of miles to the other side of the world? Many were escaping famine, poverty, and disease, brought on by industrialisation, a population explosion, and the Highland clearances.9

Of the 4000 settlers who took up the New Zealand government’s offer, many were allocated land in the Papakura and Franklin districts. The government had ideas about where immigrants would be settled, although not everyone ended up where they were originally designated. Passengers on the Bombay were directed to plots of land at Maketu (Ramarama) or Williamson’s Clearing (Bombay), with town lots at Kirikiri (Opaheke) or Pokeno. Those on the Dauntless, Lancashire Witch, and Ganges were bound for Pukekohe. Resolute passengers were sent to Papakura and Maketu. Of the Viola passengers approximately one-third were sent to Otau (Clevedon), one-third to Kirikiri, and one-third to Maketu. In addition, Waiuku, Waipipi, Tuakau, Pokeno, Tuhimata, Paerata, Patumahoe, Puni, Maketu, Whiriwhiri, and Ruapekapeka (Northland) became areas of settlement for those on the Steinwaerder, Alfred, Reiherstieg, Maori, Helenslee, Matoaka, and Eveline. Lush noted that Maketu was settled by “some 60 families who have emigrated from Africa . . . though they are mostly Irish [Catholics]”.10 At Otau, settlers were mainly “immigrants from Glasgow – all Presbyterians”.11 One can almost hear the sigh of Anglican frustration coming from the minister!

The scheme was an opportunity for a better life. Warned before embarkation that they would not be able to settle immediately on their land grant, the immigrants were promised money to assist with building a dwelling - to be repaid in monthly instalments.12 Numerous regulations were set out, among them that industrious settlers would receive extra pay and the less diligent would have pay deducted. Those located on their land would be given 16 days employment per month, while being urged to quickly build their homes and make their land ready for cultivation. Wage-earners struggling with large families would be given some assistance, with rations provided in winter. A plough and horses would be provided to each settlement to assist with preparing the land.13

Not all the government promises came to fruition. Allotments had not been surveyed, and immigrants were housed in uncomfortable shacks, tents, or disused redoubts.14 While settlers had been prepared for some discomfort on arrival, the resultant situation was unexpected. In August 1865, Lush “found the poor people … very discontented”, and wishing “they had never left the Old Country”.15

Early 1866 saw no improvement. Most Tuakau settlers were still living in tents, having survived a cold, wet winter with high winds, hail storms and torrents of rain.16 By June 1866 they were “worse off than I have as yet seen . . . not yet on their own land – most of them have not even seen it and the few who have say it is all dense forest . . . altogether they are . . . very down-hearted, for the Government has intimated . . . [by] the end of this month they will be upon their own resources.”17

Those at Williamson’s Clearing were also “in a dejected state” having been told the same thing. Knowing that most had very little resources to speak of, Lush went home “with a heavy heart”.18

Initially it was not all doom and gloom. Within four months of arrival Bombay settlers were employed “in opening up roads through the Forest”. Many had cleared some of their 10-acre lots, even if “only just sufficient to build a little hut”, and seemed “contented”.19 However, a public meeting in December 1865 demonstrates that the situation had become untenable for most across the wider district. A deputation was sent to speak to the Superintendent, asking for immediate financial considerations so settlers could support themselves.20

Lack of employment had become a serious problem. Without work there was no money, no food, clothing, or the ability to move somewhere else. At Patumahoe, flax preparation was encouraged by the government. According to Lush, the Irish immigrants had experience in dressing flax and agreed to look at it as a source of income, particularly as it grew abundantly in the area, alongside an “inexhaustable water supply”. While Lush was discussing the possibilities with the settlers a representative of the Superintendent arrived promising the provision of large boilers at the government’s expense. For the settlers, this was ‘most thankfully accepted.’21

By October 1866 immigrants despaired at the lack of work, and the restrictions the government had put on its employment supply. Reports of gold in Thames were tempting men to leave their families in search of their fortune.22 When Lush visited Kirikiri in August 1867, the settlers were “rather excited . . . about a payable gold field having been found at Thames”.23 A year later Lush complained that his congregations at Pukekohe West, Drury and Papakura were all female, for “the male population having been stricken with yellow fever [had] gone to the diggings”.24 A few men, like George Clarkson, made their fortunes. Others returned empty-handed, while some failed to return at all.

Life was tough for the new settlers. They faced innumerable hardships, as well as resentment from established settlers who were struggling with the devastation caused by the Waikato War and economic depression. Through sheer resilience and perseverance, settlers from the thirteen ships survived and found their way forward. Families such as the Croskerys, Nealies, and Rhinds made a life for themselves, of varying fortunes, becoming an integral part of the fabric of the wider district over the next 150 years.


  1. The Waikato Journals of Vicesimus Lush, 1864-1882, ed., Alison Drummond, Christchurch, 1982, p. 49. Entry 20 May 1865. These immigrants had arrived on the Dauntless on 15th May 1865.  

  2. The term ‘Waikato Immigration Scheme’ is a misnomer as none of the settlers on board the thirteen ships were destined for the Waikato. The historical background to, and the specific details of, the scheme is considerable and too complex for an adequate discussion here.  

  3. Daily Southern Cross, January 25 1865. 

  4. Land was also confiscated in Hauraki, Waikato, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and the East Coast. It totalled over three million acres. About 1/3 was returned to ‘friendly’ or ‘loyalist’ Maori. See: www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/maori-wars/page-3

    Reaction to the confiscations was mixed – not all European colonists agreed with the government’s actions. See: An Old Colonist, ‘Confiscation of Native Lands and its Profits,’ New Zealand Herald, 21 July 1865, p. 6.  

  5. Daily Southern Cross, 25 January 1865. Initially £3,000,000 was sought to assist bringing 20,000 immigrants to New Zealand, but this was not forthcoming. Instead, £600,000 was set aside for the introduction of 3000-4000 settlers, public works, surveys etc. 

  6. Drummond, p. 15.  

  7. Sir Henry Brett, White Wings, vol I, Auckland, 1924, p. 191. Seventeen births and two marriages occurred during the journey. Not long after arriving in Auckland, the captain of the Dauntless died. This was the only voyage the Dauntless made to New Zealand.  

  8. Daily Southern Cross, 15 February 1865.  

  9. Jock Phillips & Terry Hearn, Settlers: New Zealand Immigrants from England, Ireland and Scotland, Auckland, 2008, p. 21.  

  10. Lush, p. 51, entry 18 July 1865.  

  11. Lush, p. 50. Entry 24th June 1865.  

  12. Drummond, p. 15.  

  13. Daily Southern Cross, 12 June 1865.  

  14. Viola immigrants were housed in tents opposite the Galloway Redoubt at Clevedon, or at the disused Ring’s Redoubt, Kirikiri near Papakura.  

  15. Lush, p. 54. Entry 17 August 1865.  

  16. Lush, p. 67. Entry 8 February 1866.  

  17. Lush, p. 87. Entry 16 June 1866.  

  18. Lush, p. 86. Entry 15 June 1866.  

  19. Lush, p. 52. Entry 19th July 1865.  

  20. Daily Southern Cross, 22 December 1865. The deputation was made up of representatives from each area: Daniel McIntyre (Wairoa); Thomas Campbell (Kirikiri); William Richardson (Maketu); Richard Measures (Tuimata); William Sawyer (Williamsons Clearing); James Kelly (Pokeno).  

  21. Lush, pp. 81-82. Entry 11 April 1866.  

  22. Lush, p. 98. Entry 18 October 1866.  

  23. Lush, p. 119. Entry 5 August 1867.  

  24. Lush, p. 152. Entry 6 September 1868. 


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