The Farthest Promised Land — English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s
11 The Transformation of the Immigrant
11 The Transformation of the Immigrant
‘WE CAN LIVE here, but we only lingered in England’, wrote John Timms, late secretary of the Ascott-under-Wychwood branch of the union, thus pithily summing up his experience of nine months in New Zealand.1 The preservation of numerous immigrant letters, through their publication by the union newspapers, provides abundant source material for studying the earlier stages of the transformation which colonial life brought about. So far our use of these letters has been largely directed towards the Old World setting, illustrating their impact on the recruitment drive in England, and drawing on their references to the circumstances the immigrants had left. We must now turn to them to study the interaction between the immigrants and their promised land. In this chapter we shall be concerned with some of the more general features of the immigrants' experience of their first year or two of colonial life, looking both for the continuities which linked the old life with the new, and for the experiences and influences which were at work transmuting the immigrant into the colonial. In the following two chapters we will undertake a more particularised study of the contribution of these immigrants to the making of rural New Zealand, focussing, as we have done for the English hearthland, on particular regions and districts.
It is clear from many immigrant letters, that their writers were developing a new view of their place in the world long before they saw the coasts of New Zealand. Success in achieving selection for passages, rosy reports of conditions in the new land, and the solicitude of the colonial authorities for their welfare while emigrating, must all have served to raise their spirits. Once they reached the immigration barracks at the English ports, most were agreeably surprised at the New Zealand Government's idea of a working-man's meal. On board ship their welfare was the constant concern of a surgeon-superintendent appointed by the Agent-General. Most of these surgeons were able and conscientious men. Any who proved unsatisfactory were not re-employed; some who gave satisfaction were happy to give years of service.2 On a voyage of 1873, one surgeon was so solicitous for his emigrants that the small party of saloon passengers on board apparently felt neglected and envious. One of them wrote of the experience to the Lyttelton Times:
On board the __________ we had the usual complement of single and married emigrants, male and female, and our doctor ‘tabooed’ me as a saloon passenger in favour of the emigrants throughout the voyage — a fact which gave me great offence and discomfort; but when I brougnt my mind to bear upon the ‘situation’ I wisely contracted my claims to page 239 his particular friendship, and a cool chat with him convinced me that in paying Shaw Saville and Co £50 for my trip to Dunedin, I had made a slaughter of comfort and a great mistake, and I consequently wished myself ‘an emigrant’. The doctor's instructions were to superintend the ramifications of a schoolmaster's duties in the different sections of the ship, and as ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ he had the unwholesome duty of inspecting the various ‘closets’ and prompting his assistants during the removal of unavoidable collections of filth, while dispensing medical comforts necessary to cases of indisposition and sickness. It was the doctor's task also to provide ventilation and warmth, to superintend the examination of food, to record the imperfections of the ship's officers, and exercise jealous espionage over his own servants.3
The writer proceeds to praise the surgeon for meeting the many demands on his professional skill at all hours of the day and night, and for acting as the tribunal for all disputes and petty offences throughout the voyage.
The most important of the surgeon's assistants was the matron, responsible for the welfare of the single women. She was usually a suitable person from among the emigrants, selected for the Agent-General by the British Ladies' Female Emigrant Society, whose agent paid two or three visits to almost all the New Zealand emigrant ships before they sailed.4 Harriet Herbert, a 21-year-old general servant who arrived at Lyttelton on the St. Leonards on 23 September 1872, had nothing but praise for her treatment on the voyage, when she wrote her first letter home from New Zealand:
I enjoyed the voyage very much and was kindly treated by everybody. I found plenty to do and plenty of friends. I have nothing to say against the Government, for they looked well after the single girls, and we have had five pounds given to us for industry and good conduct on board the ship, so I am quite free, which is a great thing. I was able to earn £2 by my needle while I was on board which was a great help to me.5
When the ship reached its New Zealand destination, the immigrants had further proof that they had indeed made good their escape from the status of ‘nobodies’. After a voyage on which he was so well fed that he writes that he had never lived so well in all his life, Charles Loomas describes his arrival in Wellington Harbour on 14 July 1874:
We cast anchor on the 14th of July, between two large mountains, about 3,000 feet high. Cows and sheep were feeding on them. This was the most beautiful sight I ever saw in my life. Hundreds of wild ducks came flying round the ship, and all kinds of wild fowls. The New Zealand Government Inspectors came on board, and asked us all how we were, and what sort of voyae we had had; and whether the captain and doctor had treated us well, we told them we had been treated with the greatest kindness. They told us that our ship was the cleanest that ever came into port … They sent us a boat load of bread and other provisions - three sides of beef, three dressed sheep, ten sacks of potatoes, one sack of apples for the little children, and about 300 newspapers to look at.6
Charles Loomas was clearly impressed by a government which would send commissioners to enquire whether its servants had treated him well.page 240
There were, of course, often also relatives and old friends waiting to welcome the new arrivals. Methodists who arrived in the colony as strangers were soon made welcome by their co-religionists. When George Mumby and John Borman, newly arrived from Lincolnshire, went from the New Plymouth Immigration Barracks to chapel, on their first Sunday morning in Taranaki in September 1875, they were welcomed by name from the pulpit, and Borman was engaged to take a lay preaching assignment out in the country that afternoon.9 Another Lincolnshire family, that of George Hill, from Laceby, were enquired for at the Christchurch barracks by the Wesleyan minister, to whom John H. White had written on their behalf.10 In June 1874 a Primitive Methodist enthusiast went to the Ashburton barracks, asking if there were Methodists of any kind among the new arrivals in the building. He was quickly introduced to George Aston, a 34-year-old labourer and family man from Gloucestershire, who had enlivened the voyage of the Ballochmyle with his hymn singing. The Astons had been Wesleyans, but this welcome led to their throwing in their lot with the Primitive Methodists in New Zealand.11 This warmth of renewed associations with chapel folk, and the conviction, as one immigrant expressed it, that ‘there is the same God here as at home’ sustained many Methodist immigrants as they adjusted to their new world. Church connections and religious beliefs do not seem to have had the same importance for most Anglican immigrants, although Walter Warren refers to ‘the pleasure of attending church for the first time’ in the new land.
It would be wrong to imply that official arrangements for the care of newly arrived immigrants were always of a high standard. For one thing, it took time to perfect these arrangements. Thus, a party of twenty forwarded from Wellington to Wanganui in October 1873 found no official there to receive them, and no arrangements for their accommodation. They had to turn to Wanganui's mayor for aid.12 The flood tide of 1874–5 resulted in resort to various improvisations, with consequent inconvenience to immigrants. One man who arrived in Christchurch in mid 1874, wrote to the Lyttelton Times of his experiences. He spent a few days in the Immigration Barracks at Addington, but they were so overcrowded that he never had his clothes off the whole time, and slept chiefly on the mess-room table. Having obtained work, but not accommodation, he was sent with his wife and child to the old Police Barracks in Armagh Street, and was much surprised to be ushered into a police cell
the only alteration being that the old iron-barred door was taken off and laid outside and a more civilised one put on; with this exception, the cell was in the same condition as when used for prisoners, the authorities not even having taken the trouble to erase the choice compositions, both of prose and verse, with which the cell had been adorned by previous compulsory occupants. As my wife cannot read, and is, like most of page 242 Eve's daughters, a little curious, she wanted to know what all the writing was about, so I had the pleasant task of pretending to read them to her, converting them into what Scriptural texts I could remember, upon which she remarked, ‘Dear me, I wonder what they locked the poor fellows up for; they must all have been religious.’13
A few weeks later a colonist wrote to the press criticising the immigration officer at Wanganui for his treatment of a party of immigrants. They and their baggage and bedding had all been conveyed from Wanganui to the barracks at Bulls in uncovered waggons on a rainy day, and the journey had been so badly organised that they started late, and did not reach their destination till after dark. The officer replied, defending himself. He had had to go ahead to Bulls to get the barracks ready. The late start was caused by the ‘dilatory conduct’ of the immigrants themselves and the ill-timed kindness of Wanganui folk who persisted in plying them with drinks when they should have been on the road. The conveyance used was the best which could be obtained. When the party reached Bulls they found ‘fires in all the rooms, and both hot tea and hot soup prepared for them’14 Probably most of the immigrants were more surprised that their comfort was a recurrent matter of concern in the New Zealand press, than that arrangements sometimes left something to be desired.
Having landed safely in New Zealand, the immigrants' next concern was to find employment and accommodation. As each party arrived, the local immigration officer advertised the date on which they would be available for engagement. Employers and their agents then visited the barracks, and under the immigration officer's supervision, agreements were entered into. Henry Kaill, a 32-year-old labourer from Dorset, who arrived on the Atrato in June 1874, describes such an occasion at the Christchurch barracks:
We stopped in the ship till the 23rd, and then we landed. The next day was the hiring day - it was like a fair; the men that were mostly wanted were ploughmen, and single couples to live in doors. There were plenty of masters; I engaged with a gentleman as ploughman, at £80 per year, with firing, and he kept me the first month in food, so that I might have my first month's money to start with.15
Henry Kaill was accompanied by his wife, and thus is an example of the ‘single’ (i.e. childless) couples he refers to. Immigrants with large families of young children were the hardest to place, but while the boom years lasted, few spent any length of time in the depots. Of his new employer Henry Kaill wrote
My master and mistress are like father and mother to me. They went to Christchurch and bought me a new double-cased watch; he gave £8 for it, and gave it to me to keep if I stopped the whole year with him. No working man in England has any idea what a good master is, or what good living is.16
Such praise of employers is common in the immigrant letters, and the grounds for it are not hard to explain. Labour was enjoying a sellers' page 243 market, and most employers took care to study the considerations that would win and hold the loyal service of immigrant labourers. Many employers found this the easier in that they had themselves begun colonial life as labourers. As a result, New Zealand labour relations were such a complete contrast with those of rural England that most immigrants would probably have agreed with Henry Kaill that ‘no working man in England has any idea what a good master is’. As a further example of employer kindness to new arrivals we will take the case of William and Betsy Ann Bocock, a young married couple from Lincolnshire who landed at New Plymouth on 3 September 1875. A week later they travelled the five miles out to Hurworth to take up William's post as a farm labourer at '30s. a week, a house and garden, two cows, and firing found us'.
There was a pig in the sty for us when we got there, and we have had no furniture to buy, for they have found us some, and buckets and pancheons, and all sorts of useful things, and he has brought us a nice little clock, they are so kind and good to us, they have given us lots of things, they sent us a fowl the other day for dinner. The day we came they had a fire in the house and kettle boiling; they brought us some butter and eggs for dinner, and they are going to give us a hen and a seat of eggs, so you know they are very good to us.17
The benefits of the labourer's lot in New Zealand that were most frequently mentioned in immigrant letters were probably the good wages, the plentiful, good, cheap food, and the short (usually eight hour) working day. Many letters mention all three. The following extracts are from letters written in the mid-1870s by three immigrant labourers, each a family man, and each writing from a different province of New Zealand.
This is the country for living - beef, mutton, butter and eggs, and everything else that is good … We are as happy as the day is long. I would not come back on any account, for we can get something to lean over, no water broth, but a good belly full of beef …18
There is no looking two ways for Saturday night here, as there is at home when it has been wet … we are all getting fat to what we were at home, except myself, and I think I am a stone heavier than I was when I left home, and all the rest best me. My wife thinks she feels better than she ever did in her life, and I think I do too; and we think it is better food and more of it and less work that does it. We work eight hours a day; that is not 12 or 14, is it now?19
We can go to the shop, and get a bag of sugar, and half-chest of tea, and pay for it ready money, and anything else without any trouble; that is more than we could do at home …20
Clearly this combination of shorter working hours, good wages and good food was sufficient in itself to work a major transformation in the immigrant. Not only did ample food, rest and recreation bring about a new physical well-being, but there were also important changes in mental outlook, including release from the perpetual worry of poverty, and from the continual petty humiliations associated with it. Even the relief from page 244 purchasing one's groceries in penurious dribs and drabs, was worth writing home about.
In New Zealand the immigrant labourer found that he was no longer consigned to a menial and degraded status, consuming what was not good enough for his ‘betters’, excluded from their company, the recipient of their charity. As the servant girl Harriet Herbert put it, ‘There is no bitter oppression here — all are equal and free.’ The uplift of spirit that resulted from this release from class bondage can be sensed as an undertone in most of the letters. Some give it overt expression, selecting particular aspects of colonial life, or incidents, to make their point. As this immigration of the 1870s seems to have strongly reinforced egalitarian trends in New Zealand society, we will provide a range of illustration. The social implications of diet are implicit in the comments of many of the letters. George Tapp, a former member of the Kent Union's executive, makes this aspect quite explicit, in a letter written from Taranaki in September 1874:
Working people don't eat sheep's and bullock's heads or liver here. They have the best joints, as well as the rich.21
Jem and Jack Smith, two brothers writing from near Wanganui in February 1875, illustrate a related aspect:
Of course we are found, and live first-class; we dine along with our master and mistress every meal and live the same as if we was his own. We don't sit down in a haystack in the cold to eat our food, nor under a hedge; we have not had a meal out in the field all the time we been here …. The farmers here are not so proud as some of the poor people at home.22
Thomas Stephens, a farm labourer, late of Snodland, Kent wrote from Oamaru in June 1874:
The masters are not like they are in England, and you dont see them with kid gloves on. They take hold of the pick and shovel, the same as other men do. The master is called the ‘Boss’.23
Probably implicit in the last comment is the fact that New Zealand employers and overseers did not expect, or want, to be sirred, or treated with any form of deference. William and Charlotte Tomlin, late of Riby, Lincolnshire, writing from South Canterbury in September 1874, bring out this English/colonial contrast:
… there is no gleaning, and so I shall not have a bull headed foreman to take away a bit of corn and swear me down in a lie, for there is no foreman here, there is no big ones riding about …24
James Pratt, late of Otham, Kent, wrote from near Christchurch in May 1879:
… when they set you to work they say, ‘Will you do this please?’ Not as it used to be, ‘If vou don't like it you can leave.’ The master and man are one. You would not know which was the workman if you saw them.25page 245
George Mumby, late of Grasby, Lincolnshire, wrote from Taranaki in November 1875:
I have been working for the farmers a good deal since I came, and when I am working by the day, I always get my dinner with them. Jack is as good as his master they tell me and there is no respect of persons.26
Stephen Rout, late a delegate of the National Union in the Andover district, Hampshire, wrote in December 1874:
I can now fancy old Bowsey slipping about from door to door asking who was at church last Sunday; if they were not no blanket or soup, nor yet any coals. Thank God I do not want any now, he would not give me any last year. The Good Templars gave two cows to an Orphan Asylum. I should like you’ to have seen the procession when we presented them. We dressed them in ribbons, and now one of them has got a calf, and they are christened Faith, Hope, and Charity.27
After only six months in Auckland, Stephen Rout was savouring the pleasure of providing charity to the unfortunate of his own class, and rejoicing that he was no longer the recipient of a type of charity which degraded both giver and receiver, through the corrupting effects of class. Immigrant references to charity gain in significance when the background of the English class system is taken into consideration, and so also do their references to such activities as hunting and horse-riding. In England, not only were such activities beyond the means of the rural labourer, but he was also excluded from them by the convention that they were the prerogatives of gentlemen. George Box, a 20-year-old labourer, recently arrived in Taranaki, wrote home exuberantly of the joys of hunting wild boars and cattle in the New Zealand bush.28 One senses between the lines the unexpressed thought that the hunting enjoyed by the gentry of England was tame in comparison. ‘It is fine sport hunting boars’, Box writes, and no doubt it provided much more excitement than the shooting of pheasants and grouse. Some immigrants seem to have wasted little time in sampling the joys of the hunt. Within a few days of arrival, while still living in the immigration barracks, George Phillip, a 23-year-old labourer from Gloucestershire, was out shooting on the Temuka river-bed, when his gun burst, injuring his thumb.29 During a few months of colonial experience in both Canterbury and Taranaki, James Pratt from Otham had tried hunting in both districts. In a letter from Hawera of September 1879 he reports that
There are plenty of wild pigs out in the country, and last week there was a lot of them came close to where i was working. My mates having a dog trained for hunting the wild pig, we had a pig hunt, and succeeded in capturing two of them, each weighing about two score. I had one, and my mates had the other, so you see we can have a bit of sport sometimes … There are a few pheasants up here, but no rabbits, which are plentiful at Christchurch and other places; in fact, men are paid to destroy them.30
After less than a year in the Wellington district, John Gregory, a Brogden immigrant, wrote home as a seasoned sportsman in May 1873:page 246
If you go into the bush about three miles you can have plenty of pork for shooting but you must have a good dog and gun. There are plenty of wild bulls, it is the best of beef; there is no one to say they are mine; those that get them have them. There is plenty of rabbits, but there are no hares. Plenty of pigeons and ducks … Goats go in droves by hundreds, but they are very wild; it is good sport to hunt them.31
There were game laws in New Zealand at this time, and acclimatisation societies concerned that they should be enforced, but in practice hunting went on almost unrestricted and unpoliced. In April 1874 the Wanganui correspondent of a Wellington newspaper wrote in support of the local acclimatisation society's endeavours to discourage the shooting of hen pheasants. ‘Of course it is not necessary to ask a genuine sportsman to do this,’ he wrote, ‘but there are so many “Cockney sportsmen” in the country that the polite request of the society will probably have little effect.’32 He need not have worried. Introduced game continued to multiply in most districts despite the depredations of these immigrant neophytes.
After his travels in rural England in 1876, the American visitor Richard Grant White remarked that ‘the importance of the horse in England, and the importance which he gives to his possessor - even his temporary possessor - is not easily overrated.’ He came to the conclusion that ‘in England the stirrup is the first step to gentry.’33 Newly arrived immigrants to New Zealand repeatedly expressed surprise at the readiness with which their masters would toss them the reins of a good riding horse. It is clear from the letters that most immigrants considered that one's promotion to the saddle was something to write home about. James Pratt reported that at Hawera in 1879
… nearly all the people have a horse to ride to work. If you want to go out on Sunday nearly anyone will lend you a horse and saddle for the day.34
And William Burton, writing early in 1879 to John H. White to tell him how their Lincolnshire recruits were getting on, painted a similar picture of North Taranaki. Burton was clerking for an auctioneer on Saturdays and wrote that
Many of our emigrants appear there, and are able to bid and buy.
C___P___ bought a saddle and bridle the other day and when he came up to pay me pulled out a roll of notes. I quietly said to him, you could not do that at home. I often get a nod or a wink from familiar faces, when I connot call name to mind. There are scarcely any who do not possess horse, saddle, and bridle.35
New Zealand farmers could take a very direct approach to turning the newcomers into good riders. Jem and Jack Smith's letter of February 1875 from Wanganui reported that
I often have to ride here on horseback on Sunday along with my master, where some of the riders would look a bit shy at home; and I do page 247 myself, only my master takes no notice of it, and I follow him up hills and down, and through woods.36
The advantages which immigrant labourers found in the colony were in general also enjoyed by their womenfolk. They too found that they were able to view the world from the new vantage-point of the saddle, and in many cases their hearts were further gladdened by being able to dress in a style suited to the occasion. Dixon Catley, a young man from Nettleton, Lincolnshire, wrote home from Milton, Otago, on 27 September 1874, describing the fair sights of the previous Sunday:
Sunday last (Sept. 20) was a beautiful day, and to see the women walking out in their silk dresses - oh mi! and seeing the men and women come to church on horse-back you'd own this is a strange place for dress. It is very common for the women to ride on horse-back.37
However, it was the enrichment which colonial conditions could bring to home and family life which was the main inducement to women's emigration. For many couples marriage was made possible by their successful application for passages, and the wedding took place shortly before sailing.
Single women commonly found that emigration led quickly to marriage. The 1871 census of New Zealand showed a ratio of only 70.52 females for every 100 males.38 The Daily News correspondent who joined the train carrying the Stad Haarlem party from Kent to Plymouth in January 1879, found the New Zealand marriage market a popular topic of conversation:
… from the pleasantries levelled at the shepherd's elder daughters, two comely damsels whom their father destined for domestic service — not here, by the way, but in New Zealand - it was evident that new countries find favour for a very good reason in the eyes of unmarried women. ‘Why don't I send them to service here in England?’ replies their father, evidently proud of them; ‘For very good reaons. They could not earn the £20 a year you talk of, sir, because they are not gentlemen's servants. They would have to learn a long while, and perhaps have to go and slave for people no better than themselves; and who is to marry them? Some fellow no better off than their father; and then comes the whole wretched story over again.’ Hereat, the damsels having escaped into another carriage, a friend of the father began, ‘Don't you know Smith's girls, those by Otham as was? They have only been out ten months, and the oldest is married to a man in business in Wellington, and the youngest is being courted by a farmer with six thousand acres of land. I should like to see the farmer at home here who only rents six thousand acres who would think of marrying Lizzie Smith. Your girls are right enough.’39
Harriet Herbert's first New Zealand letter to her parents broke the news that she had sailed with a prospect of marriage in mind. She had first met Alexander Brown, a young carpenter and cabinetmaker from Brighton, at the offices of the emigration agent, ‘Mr Gardener, 66 Queen's road Brighton’, and he had come out as one of the single men immigrants on the St Leonards. He is listed as a 22-year-old carpenter from Sussex. Harriet informed her parents that page 248 he made love to me all through the voyage, and we are going to be married on Christmas Day. He is very respectable and steady, and brought out a few pounds with him, and he has bought a couple of acres of land and began to build our own cottage of four rooms, and, as he can make nearly all our furniture, it will be ready by Christmas, and I shall stay here until I am married, when I shall have £10 to take — some difference in the wages here and in England. I like him very much and I am sure you would. He is tall and stout and 22 years of age, and an excellent tradesman and is getting his 12s a day; his trade is the best one going out here as everything is built of wood…. Married men do better out here than single men, because they charge so much for lodgings …40
Some immigrant girls married, like the Smiths from Otham, well up in the world. Most, however, like Harriet Herbert, married within their own station and, as with the women who arrived married, compared their new lot with what they could have expected in the old land. Some, especially those with large families, wrote of their relief now that catering was no longer a burden. Joseph Leggett's wife Ann wrote to her mother in July 1875 that ‘you would laugh to see us lugger in the butcher's basket with half a sheep and a great lump of sausages.’41 She, Joseph, and their seven children, were all thriving on the abundant diet. The improved health and morale of husbands and children must have transformed the life of many a labourer's wife. From a sawmill settlement at Koromiko in Marlborough, E. Smith, late of Grainthorpe, Lincolnshire, wrote home in February 1877:
My husband is worth two men to what he was. Then he gets in more and better company: nearly all the men at the mill are men of property: one milks four cows. They get cleaned and change their clothes, and then play at cricket, or go for a walk.42
Similarly, many letters tell of healthy happy children. Thomas Rathbone, a 43-year-old labourer, emigrated with his wife and five children, aged from 1 to 13, from the Wychwood hamlet of Lyneham, in May 1874. A letter home to his brother, written from Westport on 12 October 1874, gives a picture of a thriving, happy family.
We are all looking jolly and well, and we begin to like this country very much … Tell father … the children wish to be remembered to him; they like New Zealand very well. They go to school, and when the tide is out they go on the beach and amuse themselves gathering shells and a variety of things.43
‘We can enjoy our children here, for we can get everything for their comfort”, wrote Thomas Vickers, after four years in the colony. ‘We do not know how to be thankful enough that we have got from poverty …’44 Vickers had emigrated from Alford, Lincolnshire, in January 1875, with his wife and ten children. His comments are an indication of the greatly improved general level of family life, which was clearly another of the influences at work transforming the immigrants.
But the sun does not always shine on family circumstances, even in the most favoured of lands. In the English villages, sickness, bereavement and page 249 old age were deeply and justly feared for the suffering they so commonly brought. What of New Zealand? Alfred Simmons the Kent Union's leader, whose own boyhood had been blighted by poverty as his widowed mother fought bravely to keep herself and her six children from the workhouse,45 took note of this aspect of colonial life when he visited New Zealand in 1879, and reported that
… among the variety of local magnates one glaringly noticeable absentee is pointed to. There are no poor laws and no poor law guardians! Do our readers comprehend that? or shall we repeat it. No poor law guardians! We almost felt disposed to settle down in the public roadway and return devout thanks to heaven when we heard tell of it. And there are no union workhouses. Oh! ye shades of the glorious army of departed English relieving officers listen to that! And there are no starving poor! Ye spirits of the twenty thousands of living English poor law guardians, hearken unto it! No out-door poor whose hovels require to bepryed into at all unseasonable hours; no workhouses to visit, and no in-door beggars to bully!47
But if the old hated English provisions no longer applied, how were times of need dealt with in the colony? Simmons explained that
There are several charitable funds from which persons suffering from temporary reverses are assisted; but if a travelling labouring man is necessitated and lacks food, he has but to knock at the first door he comes to and ask, and in nineteen out of twenty houses he will find that the spirit of the Good Samaritan dwelleth therein. May ages roll over the colony ere it be found requisite to establish a system for the relief of their poor!48
This is only part of the answer, however, and a rather too optimistic account at that. Let us examine in more detail what the newcomers were able to do for their own aged parents; how their own needs were met when ill-fortune struck; and how the education of their children was provided for. Once the basic needs of bed, board and clothing had been met, these must surely have been the considerations to which their thoughts were next directed.
The welfare of parents in their declining years was a matter to which rural labourers had to give thought as they emigrated. In some cases parents were fit and willing to accompany their children and the family could meet the expense. If it was beyond their means, the New Zealand authorities would sometimes grant assisted passages, if by doing so a desirable family would be obtained. Sarah Strawbridge the 73-year-old widow from Stockland, Devon, who accompanied her two married sons and married daughter to New Zealand in 1874, is an example. She was a valuable immigrant, for it is reported that until she was 83 she looked after the children of her widower son Eli who had emigrated a decade earlier.49 Another example is 60-year-old farm labourer John Hand, who, with his wife Elizabeth, 58, accompanied his son Charles, 34, with his wife and three children, to Canterbury in 1874. Henry Tomlinson, who led this Lincolnshire party, wrote home to tell of the good fortune of ‘old Hand page 250 and his wife’. Marmaduke Dixon, a member of the Provincial Council and magistrate, who hailed from the same district in Lincolnshire as the Hands, had taken the old couple into his home at £50 a year and found, for light work.50 The free passages which the New Zealand Government provided for elderly parents were, in fact, probably almost all a good investment. The Sub-Immigration Officer at Invercargill certainly thought so. In a report of 12 June 1877 he recommended that
where grown-up families of sons and daughters can be induced to emigrate together, it might be well to allow the parents, even if over the age prescribed by the rules, to come free, as such families invariably do well, the presence of the parents being a safeguard for the young people.51
A more common pattern was for elderly parents to follow their children, once the latter were established in the new land. By 1875 many parents were being nominated by their children in New Zealand, and the Agent-General wrote home to suggest that the fullest enquiry should be made as to the ability of those who made such nominations to pay the whole, or at least part of, the passage money, and also as to their willingness to support their parents when they arrived.52 A similar suggestion in a letter from the Agent-General dated 5 June 1878 was circulated by the Minister for Immigration to all immigration officers in the colony.53 A good example of the planning of this type of immigration is provided by a letter from Joseph Leggett's wife, Ann, to her mother, written from Ashburton in July 1875.
My dear mother, I daresay you think it very unkind of us not sending you any money before now; the reason we did not send you any we expected you were on your way out, and wanted to surprise us. When we received your letter to say you was not started we was very vexed; and we have kept our front rooms for you, thinking you would be here. Dear mother, you said in your letter free emigration would be stopped in a month. We heard the same, but it is a false rumour. Joseph read it in the paper Saturday that it was not stopped. If it had been stopped Joseph would have had sent the money for you to have come out. If you write to the agent in London, and tell him you want to come to us he will send you allright…. Dear mother, send me word who it is, that is not willing to come out, that I may well blow them up, as I think they would not repent coming after they got here …. If you come out, the latter end of September would be a good time. You must not be afraid of water, as that is as safe as railway travelling.54
An example of chain migration is provided by the Gardner family from Kent. They made their way to New Zealand over a period of seven years, on six different ships, with the elderly parents forming the final link in the chain. Gardner Senior joined the Monks Horton branch of the Kent union in 1875, and his sons followed him, joining one after the other. In 1876 one son, together with two other members of the branch, emigrated to New Zealand. This was probably George Gardner, a 26-year-old farm labourer, sailing on the Northampton on 16 December 1876. Two younger brothers, page 251 John and Thomas, both single farm labourers, followed on the Rakaia in July 1878. When Alfred Simmons recruited his party for the Stad Haarlem in 1878–9, two married daughters with their husbands, who were members of the branch, joined him, but one couple were detained at Plymouth by the illness of their children, and followed in a later ship. Later in the year another married daughter, and her husband, a member of the Folkestone branch of the union, emigrated. Gardner now had six children in New Zealand, five of them situated within five minutes' walk of each other at Ashhurst. Two single sons offered him a home to spend his last days without hard work, so he took up their offer, sailing with his wife on 28 September 1883. and landing in Wellington on the first day of 1884. Only a few days later, on 6 January 1884, he was killed at Palmerston North when the horse he was driving bolted on being frightened by a train, and he fell between horse and dray.55 The family chain brought to light by this sad accident cannot have been uncommon - first unmarried young adults make the venture, married couples with families follow on receiving their good reports, and finally the elderly parents are persuaded to come and share their children's good fortune.
Of course, not all elderly parents were able or willing to emigrate. In these cases, it was probably common for their children in New Zealand to send home money to brighten their lot. Ann Leggett's letter of July 1875 would suggest that such a practice would be commonly expected and there are references to it in a few other letters. One suspects, however, that this is the kind of personal detail that would be edited out of most letters before publication in the newspapers. Emigration agents, quoting anonymous examples, give further evidence for the practice. John H. White wrote early in 1879 of a mother whose two sons had emigrated to New Zealand in 1875. Since then they had sent her ‘£20 in hard cash’.56 Arthur Clayden, writing in December 1874 told of a daughter who had emigrated a year previously as a member of a large family, writing home, apparently to her grandparent(s), and enclosing a £3 postal order ‘to help you keep Christmas with’.57 Letters to old folk who had remained home in England also not uncommonly made appeal to the hopes of religious faith. Thus Annie Philpott, the daughter of William Philpott, in writing to her grandmother back in Tysoe on 28 June 1875, concluded her letter thus:
Mother says she would like to see you (and so should we all) but we cannot expect it in this world, but in a fairer one we will. My Dear Granny, pray for us that we may so pass our time in our earthly home, that we may not lose sight of our Heavenly home. There we shall meet, my dear Granny by God's will.58
One surmises that with a family such as the Philpotts, Christian piety would have been supplemented with postal orders, and a continuing flow of newsy letters, to brighten old age back in Tysoe.
One other way of providing help for old folk left in England must be mentioned; the leaving of a grandchild to live with them and help them. Whether this was at all common, one cannot say, but instances of a child page 252 living with its grandparents are not uncommon in the 1871 census schedules of English villages. When James Beckley, a 37-year-old farm labourer, emigrated from the Oxfordshire village of Islip in March 1874, his wife and five of his children accompanied him, but his oldest child William, aged 12, remained with his grandparents. James kept a terse, factual diary of the voyage, and immediately after docking in Lyttelton he added a hastily-penned and affectionate footnote, and posted the diary home to William.
This is for our dear boy to look at. Number of days - 80 all told. Distance 14,139 miles. I am not sure that the distance is quite right. It might be wrong - our dear boy, be a good boy to your grandfather and grandmother. Send us all the news you can. Be sure and write soon enough. I will send you all the news I can. May God bless you is the wish of your father and mother and sisters and Charley. Kisses for Willie. I am in a hurry. All fast asleep. Must be posted tomorrow, the third. Mail leaves for England the fourth, Saturday, at 12 o'clock at night.59
How true was Alfred Simmons's picture of New Zealand as a country where one's passing needs and temporary reverses were met with simple ease, through a widespread Good Samaritan spirit? His picture of the travelling labourer being readily fed at almost any door was certainly correct. The unusual practice of providing food and accommodation free on demand to any travelling workman had developed in the convict settlements of Australia. Convicts assigned to settlers commonly made their way across country to their posts without the aid of money, being accommodated free at the homesteads on the way. The custom spread to meet the needs of any itinerant workman, and crossed the Tasman to New Zealand. Settlers benefited by being able to draw on the wandering work force. This and other forms of generosity were encouraged by the fact that the basic needs of life — such as food, firing and shelter — were available in cheap abundance in rural New Zealand. Furthermore, ‘the lame, the halt and the blind’ had been largely excluded from the flow of assisted immigration, and the number of aged was disproportionately small. The Good Samaritan spirit was not therefore discouraged by a deluge of claims. The village labourer brought with him a tradition of mutual self-help, such as had been fostered by the Kent union's ‘Good Feeling’ collections, and in New Zealand there was little to inhibit the free expression of this spirit. One imagines, indeed, that the immigrant sportsman, after a successful hunt, must often have had difficulty in disposing of his bag to anyone, much less to the needy. We have already illustrated the easy generosity of New Zealand employers, we will now give examples of the generosity of sheer good neighbourliness.
A few days after his arrival in Taranaki in September 1875. George Mumby from Grasby took his wife and family to live in a cottage at Tikorangi, apparently with the intention of working as a farm labourer in the district. He was obviously impressed by the welcome they were given:page 253
When we first came to this place, the emigration officer hired a conveyance for us, and when we got here, a woman came out and took Sarah and the children into the house and made them some tea till we got unloaded, and a farmer took me and gave me some tea, sent me home with some candles, meat and potatoes, also lent us a saucepan to cook in; in fact the people are always bringing us something; a gentleman brought us a whole ham, and a woman a shoulder: we can have any amount of new milk for fetching. One woman gave Sally two hens, and no one could be better dealt with by neighbours. The nearest shop is five miles off, but any of them will lend me a horse when I want one, and bring us goods from the shop when they go.60
An example of kindness in time of sickness is provided by a letter from 14-year-old Mary Miller, who emigrated from Kent with her parents and brother in January 1874. Writing from Invercargill on 27 April 1874, she told how she was turning down various good offers of employment because her mother was ill. ‘People are not like they are in England,’ she reported, ‘they are very kind to mother, and I have to go to a lady's house every day for beef-tea or cornflour for her (mother).’61
When the La Hogue arrived at Wellington on 26 May 1874, among her immigrants were William Aldridge, a 33-year-old sawyer from Berkshire, page 254 his wife and six daughters. Soon after his arrival, Aldridge settled in the rising sawmilling centre of Palmerston North, where there was a strong demand for his skill. Within two years he had succeeded by sheer industry in purchasing by instalments a freehold town section, and erecting a small house on it. Then, in December 1876, while clearing a piece of bush not far from the Square of the future city, he was killed when struck by a tree which rebounded in falling. The local community responded to the need of the widow and her family, now grown to seven girls, by immediately opening a subscription list, which was generously subscribed to, and by organising an entertainment, of which the proceeds were also to go to the bereaved family.62 Joseph Johns, a 41-year-old Cornish farm labourer, who arrived by the Camatic in January 1875, with his wife and ten children, died following a similar accident at Feilding after only about six months in the colony, and presumably left his wife and family in even greater need than the Aldridges. Subscription lists were immediately opened in Feilding and neighbouring townships, and further money was raised by a concert and a dance.63 Alfred Simmons learnt that in cases such as these it was usual for the subscription to be used to place the widow in a small business, and so secure a maintenance for her.64
The death of Joseph Johns stirred the people of Feilding to the determination that they should have a Friendly Society to provide relief in such circumstances. One local correspondent, in reporting the accident to his newspaper, gave the assurance that
ere this letter is in type a society shall have been formed that will give the men of this place the feeling of free citizens of the most splendid country on earth, where there are neither relieving officers, casual wards, or union workhouses, but where the immigrant, if he conduct himself as a man should do, is the equal of any in the land …65
This spirit of self-help, and mutual assistance by equals was encouraged over the ensuing years by a growing network of Friendly Society branches, and by steadily expanding life assurance facilities, including those of the Government Life Insurance Office, founded in 1869. But the inadequacy of a purely voluntary approach to the problem was evident from the start. Thus, in July 1876 the township of Marton was shocked to find that a whole family had been hovering between life and death, in their very midst, through sheer starvation. The husband, an invalid, had been unable to work for some time, and the family were too proud either to incur debt or to make their need known.66 Hard times in the 1880s convinced many New Zealanders that if they were determined to repudiate the spirit of the English Poor Law for that of the Good Samaritan, they would need to enlist the arm of the State to make the relief of need universally effective.
The New Zealand community was already, by the 1870s, turning much more decidedly than the homeland towards the State, for the provision of schooling. There is every indication that the majority of English assisted immigrants approved of, and supported, this movement. Many of those who had been involved in the Revolt had been prodded to think on this page 255 matter. Joseph Arch has explained in his autobiography why he made education a major plank in his union platform.67 He knew ‘from bitter, cruel experience’ how hard it was for a labourer to get ‘even a working-day sort of education’, and he had come to the conclusion that unless the labourer could get himself educated he had no hope of rising to a manly independence. As a rebel against the established hierarchy, he resented that the majority of village schools were ‘parson's schools’, and he believed that the labouring class would be ‘no wiser than madmen’ if they did not take every advantage of the 1870 Education Act. The major difficulties of his union work were due to the ‘dreadful ignorance’ of his fellow labourers. Having repeatedly knocked his poor head against the thick stone wall of this brutish ignorance, he came to the conclusion that, ‘Ignorance is the blockhead mother of misery’. In the rural conflict, the farmers were the labourers' most bitter opponents, and they also provided the main opposition to rural education. A sympathetic rector, in a letter to Arch, maintained that the rural clergyman had generally been the sole person who really cared for the education of the labourers' children. The squire, if he was resident, liked to have ‘a pretty school-house’ at his park gates, as part of the show of the estate. But the farmer
… opposes the education of the labourers with steady consistency; and, in their short generations, they are quite right, for they long since, and before you showed them, foresaw that more learning meant more wages.68
It would indeed be strange if Arch's stirring advocacy, and the farmers' dogged opposition, failed to teach many a rural labourer to value education more highly.
The Kent union took even more direct measures to foster rural education. George Roots, its first chairman, repeatedly urged the labourers to give their children the best possible education, and told them of how he had been able to raise himself in the world through the education which his own farm labouring parents had with difficulty provided for him.69 A Daily News correspondent sent to Maidstone in November 1878, to report on the farmers' lock-out, wrote that the unionists
… are now prepared and anxious to establish night schools in villages, if the school-rooms, which are doing nothing as a rule, could be lent to them for the purpose; but applications of this sort have been refused. They do, however, circulate books and papers, which travel in wondrous ways within the limits of the Union.70
A Daily News reporter, describing the departure of the Stad Haarlem party, wrote that it was in Kent as he had earlier remarked in other parts of the country, the best men ‘… in every sense the most valid men.’ who emigrate. He further explained that the emigrants were not only ‘the most muscular’ but also ‘the best instructed’.71 Our account of the Revolt will have indicated one reason why this was so: it was the more literate villagers to whom unionism mainly appealed, and it was the better educated among page 256 them who commonly filled the key positions in the union branches, and so incurred the wrath of the farmers, and were forced to leave.
In 1877 New Zealand passed her first national Education Act. It carried further the good work begun by the recently-abolished provincial governments, and established the state-provided, secular, common school, as the New Zealand norm. These were the schools that many immigrant children happily attended according to various references in the letters home. The improved home life and the lack of family dependence on child labour must have helped to make this schooling acceptable and effective. The Lincolnshire immigrant John Traves proudly reported, after four months in New Zealand that
I have been bid 8/-. a week for Charles, with meat and lodgings, but I have not let him out at present. There's no fear of letting them out when you like.72
Charles's age had been 13 when he left England seven months earlier. In England many a farm labourer would not have dared to refuse a request for a boy of his age, for fear of jeopardising his own job and tied cottage.73
Finally, among the influences at work transforming the immigrant, we must mention the arousing of his ambitions, a factor whose outworkings we will examine more fully in our next two chapters. For in emigrating, the English labourer had not merely exchanged a penurious dead end for a more comfortable one. Rather, colonial life quickly challenged most newcomers to raise their sights, to embrace opportunities to ‘get on’, to embark on careers of ever-rising prosperity. These aspirations, once aroused, were sometimes thwarted by personal weaknesses and misfortunes, or by the coming of hard times, but the drive of strong personal ambitions stands out as one of the potent shaping forces in nineteenth century New Zealand society, and no immigrant could remain unaffected by this prevailing atmosphere.
Immigrant letters show that ambition was often whetted by finding that one's own prosperous employer had arrived in the colony as a penniless labourer. In his letter from Kaiapoi on 28 August 1874 Eli Bloxham wrote that
I work for a man from Bedfordshire. He came out here a poor man, but now he has 100 acres of good land, 9 horses, 30 cows, and a good flock of sheep - the best I have seen yet. I can save money now. I have got £4 10 s., and by the time this reaches you I hope to have as much more…74
The abrupt transition from the account of his employer's career, to the report on the progress of his own savings suggests that Eli was aspiring to a similar career. When the Suffolk immigrant, Walter Warren, found work near Marton in 1874, he reported
My master has got over 3,100 acres of land. He came out here as poor as myself eighteen years ago; he keeps a very large quantity of cattle.75
By 1882 Walter Warren had set up as a farmer at Marton, with 100 acres of freehold valued at £350.page 257
Our central concern in this study is with the emigrants from rural England who helped to shape rural New Zealand, but to illustrate that the go-getter spirit was at work in town as well as in country, we will quote a letter from a townsman immigrant, Henry Dee, a 22-year-old labourer, who emigrated with his wife Catherine, from Leamington, Warwickshire, to Wellington, arriving on 11 July 1874. On 22 September 1874 he wrote home to his father:
We have not got a house yet; we are in lodgings, paying 5s. per week …. I have got a good place at the baking; I get £2 per week and all found. My wife is getting good wages at the dressmaking, from 10s. to 12s. a dress. I have bought her a sewing machine, a very good one, a Wheeler and Wilson; I gave £8 for it, so she will be able to do better at home. She can earn 30s. per week. This is a fine country. This is the place for the working man. Masters are the same here as the working man. My master is a Scotchman. He has been here three years, and says this is the place for a man to get on …. We have been to see Mr. and Mrs. Taylor; he is getting 8s. per day, wet and dry. They have a house and let lodgings, and take in laundry work.76
The early stages of ‘getting on’ were humble enough, as Henry Dee's letter shows, and indeed it was one of the virtues of these assisted immigrants that there was usually nothing pretentious about the outworking of their newly-heightened ambitions. David Whiting, writing from Tataraimaka in Taranaki, on 6 April 1876, could see his humble endeavours on the lowest rung of the New Zealand farming ladder, as rather amusing. He was a 30-year-old farm labourer from Cambridgeshire who had arrived with his wife and four young children in September 1875
I can tell you we are getting on very well; but you will laugh at my little way I am started in - but we must go by littles at a time. At first we got a pig - then we got hens and chickens. We have got between 40 and 50, and then another pig; and now I can buy a cow, when I can light on one to suit us, and the keeping for 6d. a week; so you will see my little speculating.77
Such an inventory of a growing barnyard of livestock is a somewhat humorous feature of many of the immigrant letters. This approach to ‘getting on’ would have had several attractions to ambitious newcomers. It would enable them to enjoy a plentiful diet of good food, while husbanding their earnings with a view to farm ownership. The nucleus of livestock would be invaluable when a block of land was finally acquired. In the meantime all members of the household could contribute to the family effort by helping with the barnyard chores and mastering livestock skills. ‘Getting on’ in rural New Zealand was often very much a family affair, as our next extract illustrates. The Jewitt family had emigrated from Ulceby, Lincolnshire, in September 1874, with Henry Tomlinson's party. John Jewitt was a 47-year-old farm labourer, and was accompanied by his wife Sarah, 41, and family, Ellen, 15, Tom, 13, Mary, 11, Sarah, 9, and three younger girls. Although the letter is signed ‘J. Jewitt’. he and his wife seem both to have had a hand in composing it.page 258
We have got two acres of land and a house, it we built ourselves with a little help from our neighbours. We only paid £3 for labour, and I like it very much. We have seven fowls, two pigs and a hive of bees, and we hope to have a cow as soon as we get the land fenced in. Jack is at work at 8s. a day. Tom, Ellen and Sarah are in service. Tom 8s. per week; Ellen 10s., and Sarah 2s.6d. to nurse a baby. Mary was out seven weeks, but she couldn't stand it, so Ellen took her place. Jack goes away for a month, tents out and cooks his own food; he is on the railway, and the line runs by our house … My wife has been out charing a few days where Ellen lives, they gave her 7s. a day. When Tom gets his money he is going to buy a horse, for if he can get two horses, a dray and plough, he can get a good living by making roads and ploughing land. … We gleaned 3 quarters in one field, for they don't rake it here. I can get 2s.6d. a pair for knitting socks, for men wear them here.78
When Alfred Simmons travelled through New Zealand in the southern autumn of 1879, he visited many of the labourers sent out by the Kent union over the previous few years. The greater number would have moved during the union's 1874 emigration drive, and so in general Simmons would have seen the fruits of about five years of ‘getting on’. This is the picture he gives:
We came across scores of labouring men who had been well known to us in England as honest but poverty-stricken fellows, who were now possessors of their own little freehold houses and gardens, some of these small properties being worth from £200 to £350 each, and the men earning three times as much wages as they ever received at home, having a respectable item deposited in the Post-office Savings Bank of New Zealand, enjoying life as they never enjoyed it before, and as happy in their adopted homes as the days were long. If it were necessary we might attach hereto a yard-long catalogue of individual cases (furnishing the names), in which poor English farm-labouring families, after a residence in the colony of from three to five years, have already acquired a house and large garden. In the great majority of these cases they have, in the first instance, bought a “section” of land — some an eighth, some a quarter, and others half an acre or more — and have then had their cottages erected upon their several sections. We visited in one week the homes of nearly fifty such families, all of whom had emigrated not long since from the county of Kent. One man, in addition to purchasing his house and garden, had leased seventy-five acres of Government pasture land, was the owner of twenty cows, and supplied a small neighbouring town with all the milk used therein. Another man, besides have a cottage erected for himself and family, had built and rented a second cottage, had reserved a portion of his freehold land for pasture, and had already got six cows and some goats upon it. There were cases innumerable where labouring men of the same stamp as the foregoing were gradually following in their fellows' footsteps …79
Simmons appears to have spent most of his few weeks in New Zealand in the South Island. From the North Island the Auckland Immigration Officer provides a similar picture of substantial progress towards prosperity on the part of immigrant labourers who had arrived a few years earlier. In a report of 12 July 1879 he told of having received nominations for 1,219 persons during the year, more than double the number for the preceding page 259 year, and the cash deposits made by the nomnator had increased more than fourflod, to over £200. He explained that
Many of the nominators have not been more than six years in the colony, but are possessed of considerable property. Amongst these may be found a number of Government immigrants who are now hotelkeepers, farmers, county storekeepers, master mechanics, and in Government employ.80