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The Farthest Promised Land — English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s


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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. During these founding decades the only large body of immigrants who made their own way to the colony, without assistance or sponsorship, were those attracted, mainly from Australia, by the gold discoveries of the 1860s.

This book is a study in some depth of one major group of assisted immigrants, the recruits of the 1870s from rural England. In general it can be said that immigration studies in all the receiving countries have been hampered by a paucity of material on the experience of labouring class immigrants. 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 circumstances of the time gave New Zealand a larger share of this outflow than any other receiving area. All this has made it possible to probe back in unusual depth into the local and personal circumstances underlying this working class emigration. Aided by the smallness of the New Zealand community, it has also been possible to follow through to an unusually detailed study of the immigrants' colonial careers. In consequence, considerable light has been thrown on the dynamics of rural working class emigration from Victorian England, and this should be of general interest in nineteenth century emigration studies.

This book also has the aim of furthering our understanding of the peopling of colonial New Zealand. It is considered that a close study of the 1870s throws much light on the immigration of the whole of the founding period. Apart from the reasons already given, the choice of this decade can be justified by the fact that its immigrant inflow was by far the largest of the four founding decades. Furthermore, the General Government's direction of the recruitment drive has resulted in the preservation of a comparatively large body of official records, much more consistent in their nature than those of the more sporadic efforts of the preceding decades. It was decided to concentrate on English immigrants because they represented the largest page xii national group throughout the colony's founding period. In the 1870s they made up about half of the assisted immigrants. It might be said that New Zealand and England are alike in that they are communities of predominantly English people that have received a large influx of Scots and Irish, together with a smaller influx from the Continent. However, in New Zealand, the Scots and Irish have had a very considerable influence on the formative stages of a new community, and their immigration story also needs to be studied in depth. But they lie outside the scope of this present work, except insofar as they were involved in the same general experience as the English immigrants.

A further aim of this study is to examine emigration as an aspect of English agrarian history. Many English villages have made significant contributions to the shaping of new communities in the new lands. In turn they have received various ripples of influence from the far ends of the earth. A study of this element of the story has the merit of at once drawing attention to an important dimension of English rural history, and of probing the skills, traditions and ideals on which the migrants drew in the shaping of new rural worlds.

In carrying through the wide-ranging research upon which this study is based, I have inevitably incurred a widespread indebtedness to many people in both England and New Zealand. Librarians and Archivists in many places and at every level in both countries have been unfailingly helpful. I have made particularly heavy demands on the staffs of the National Archives of New Zealand, the General Assembly Library, Wellington, and the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. The nature of my subject has also led me to consult many ordinary people whose family traditions are rooted in the English villages or the New Zealand countryside, and all have been most generous in putting time and information at my disposal. I am also indebted to my fellow historians in many ways, for insights gained from their writings, for sympathetic and helpful discussion of papers I have presented on aspects of the project, and for personal advice and encouragement. In England, I was fortunate to begin my researches as a visitor to the Department of English Local History at the University of Leicester and those who are familiar with the publications of that department will recognise my general indebtedness, and my more particular debt to the work of Professor Alan Everitt. Also, had I not seen the fruits of the new approaches being pioneered by the rising school of population historians, I might well have hesitated to tackle the onerous task of a large-scale collation of the immigrant passenger lists, held in New Zealand National Archives, with the enumerator's schedules of the 1871 English census, held in the Public Record Office. By doing so, I have been enabled to go a long way towards giving to English rural emigration of the 1870s ‘a local habitation and a name’. My account of the rural history of Kent owes much to the hospitality of the Department of Economic and Social History of the University of Kent, Canterbury, and the helpful advice of Mr John Whyman. My understanding of the fortunes of the nineteenth century English Agricultural labourer has been deepened by consultation with several of his more recent historians; notably Rex Russell, who initiated the modern study of the Revolt of the Field, E. W. Martin, whose writings sensitively explore the emotions of the long years of oppression, and Pamela Horn, page xiii the biographer of Joseph Arch. On this aspect I have, of course, found the writings of J. P. D. Dunbabin invaluable.

My colleagues at Victoria University of Wellington have given me help and encouragement in many ways, ranging from informal discussions to the initiatives of the Publications Committee. I must particularly acknowledge the grant of sabbatical leave with financial assistance during 1972 which made possible my work on English sources.

Mrs Jean Pope typed the manuscript and Mrs Jean Benfield made photographic copies. Mrs Pamela Tomlinson edited the book and Mrs Janet Paul designed it. Their friendly care and expertise have added much to the pleasure of the task.

I wish to thank Miss Judith White for the use of the unpublished autobiographical sketches of her uncle, George Herbert White. For the use of illustrations searched from family albums I am indebted to Mrs Rae Nicholls, Miss Grace Robertson, and Mrs Joyce Simpson.

My wife, Betty, and our four children, have inevitably been deeply involved throughout this long and arduous project. I owe them a special debt for their help, encouragement and patience in all its stages.

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