Unemployed, Starving & Homeless!
The plight of the Working classes -
the immigrants who left for a better life in New Zealand
Anthony G. Flude ©2004
New Zealand was a comparitively unknown country to the British and European community in the year 1750 , most people had never heard of its existance until the journals of Captain Cook's voyages in the Southern Ocean were first published.
The first fully descriptive record by any white man, came from the pen of John Savage, who lived among the friendly Maori in the Bay of Islands for a period of two months in 1805, carefully noting their living conditions, customs, culture and way of life. He published his account in London in a small 100 page booklet, detailing the life of New Zealand's native Maori inhabitants.
Savage's account raised a great deal of interest among the many unemployed seeking a new way of life and also the businessmen and traders, who read of the friendly maori people he met and his description of the tall stands of kauri timber trees, suitable for masts and spars, the plentiful supply of flax, seals and whales in season. Savage mentioned in his book the safe anchorages in the wide bays and sandy beaches, describing them as good places to refit and rest.
In Great Britain, at the end of the French Napolionic Wars in 1815, over a quarter of a million soldiers were demobilised and came back home into an already glutted labour market of agricultural labourers. With the industrial revolution of steam and electricity, new factories were springing up to take the place of the human labour force which did something to absorb some of the men. Many of the unskilled, found themselves out of work, while those who were employed, found their wages fell sharply, leaving them close to starvation. Coal miners received a weeks wage of £1 and were given a tenement room to live in with their families. From this amount, 5/- was deducted for candles they needed for light down the mine-while the rest went on clothes and food for his wife and family.
In an effort to relieve the situation and the signs of unrest among the workers, the government introduced a scheme to send some of the poorer groups of Irish, British and finally Scottish people, to Canada, North America and also New South Wales, in Australia. A sum of £10,000 was set aside by the government of the time under the 'Poor Law Act' to give the immigrants an assisted passage .
By 1824 violent public demonstrations against the conditions suffered by the working classes, began amongst the poor and starving in the major cities and towns. Soup Kitchens opened up by the Church Societies gave the unemployed and poor the bare nourishment needed to keep them alive. Infant mortality rose to an alarming figure during these times. The violence among the community and against the military who were sent to quell and put down the demonstarators, prompted the formation by Sir Robert Peel of the first British Police Force. Crime rates were increasing rapaidly as the poor turned to crime, burglary and theft against the middle and upper classes, stealing from their stores and warehouses which contained food in order to survive. Despite the offences being committed against them, the middle and upper intellectual classes were sypathetic to the poor people's plight.
As a consequence of this crime rise, the British Courts sentenced many offenders to short prison terms, causing the prisons throughtout England to be filled to overflowing point with offenders who were held in overcrowded, insanitary cells. For the more serious crimes, the courts continued to sentence offenders to transportation to the colonies. The penal institutions in Australia found an increasing number of offenders being shipped from England, the largest group arriving in 1835 from Leicester and Lancashire Assizes. The penal colonies had closed by the year 1855.
The harvest of 1830 produced a poor crop in Britain due to wet and cold summer weather. Wages and profits from farm crops and grain fell again promoting more public demostrations as the poor had to resort to the church society poor funds and the 'soup kitchens' to keep their families alive. It became widely recognised that the problem of the 'excess population' needed to be studied carefully by the British Government.
The New Zealand Association was set up in London during 1837, at a time when emigration was seen as the only answer to the poverty, unemployment and homelessness that many working class people were experiencing. Would-be emigrants came from the 'new poor' who were the most lively and included skilled tradesmen, farmers with capital and sometimes professional men, such as lawyers, doctors and ministers. However this first attempt at populating New Zealand with British immigrants was to fail. The British Parliament were just not ready to support a new colony on the opposite side of the world.
In Ireland, after the Napolionic wars, many agricultural workers had their land taken from them as landowners subdivided. Those with no work or land left in Ireland packed their meagre belongings together and headed for North America or the USA. Some of the more lucky ones, who had a little money, were able to buy their own land and farm again on arrival, or put the money into small businesses.
Surprisingly, although millions of people fled the shores of Ireland during the Potato Famine, few came to Australia or New Zealand, the majority taking passage to the United States and Canada during the period 1841-50. This was mainly because of the cheaper fare and also because Australia and New Zealand were not offering any free or subsidised passages during this time. Interestingly enough, only 1.8% of the millions who left Ireland came to Australia and New Zealand as immigrants, while American immigration authorities recorded that over four million Irish had settled in the United States during the period 1851-1921.
The Canterbury Association offered assisted passages to New Zealand in 1852 for single female domestics, shepherd's, agricultural labourers and tradesmen,carpenters and bricklayers and stone masons. The Irish females on these voyages were mainly from Tipperary, Clare and Roscommon.
It was 1840 before the New Zealand Company's first 161 Scottish contingent of settlers arrived in Wellington aboard the Bengal Merchant followed a year later in 1842 by a second group to Auckland aboard the Jane Gifford and Duchess of Argle. These were followed in 1848 when the first Free Church of Scotland settlers arrived in Otago.
During the year 1837, a period of reform in England, Edward Gibbon Wakefield was again lobbying parliamentery circles and the Colonial Office in London, for recognition and charter of his New Zealand Association & Land Company . He and other prominent businessmen and polititians were anxious to promote the opening up of New Zealand as a British Colony.
The Association applied for authority to found and govern a settlement in New Zealand. Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, intimated that the Government would consider chartering the Association as an agency of colonisation, provided, among other things, it assumed the responsibilities of a joint-stock company and offered proper guarantees to all contracting parties. The Government expected the Association members to subscribe capital. Another essential condition was prior Maori consent to any settlement. Rejecting these proposals, the Association attempted to carry a private member's Bill through Parliament to achieve its original objects, knowing that it could not count on any Government support.
Wakefield's plans for 'colonisation' were submitted again to the British Parliament in 1838. Entitled 'The British Colonisation of New Zealand', the venture was supported by the Welesley Missionaries (who already had clergy stationed in NZ) and the Church Missionary Society. Other middleclass businessmen, planning to emigrate to the colony but awaiting its annexation to Great Britiain before doing so, helped lobby the members and promote the aims of the society.
As a further incentive, the association was to offer the Government a promise that capital would be raised from the would-be settlers in excess of £50,000, which the immigrants would pay for their allotment of land in New Zealand prior to departure. The whole venture would be backed by a bank loan of £100,000.
Before the House of Commons Committee he described New Zealand as "the fittest country in the world for colonisation" but expressed regret that it was being settled "in a most slovenly, scrambling and disgraceful manner".
The missionary societies, concerned for native rights and welfare and determined to protect their interests in New Zealand, attacked the Association for its unrealistic policy towards the Maori. Wakefield and his fellow promoters most certainly associated New Zealand's future with white colonists.
Humanitarian groups, rightly sceptical of the association's plans, believed that 'systematic colonisation" would be destructive in both the rights and traditional way of life of the Maori and likely to hinder or cancel the good work of the Missionaries. In June 1838, the Association's Bill was defeated by a large majority, chiefly on the grounds that "it affords security neither to the subjects of the Crown, prospective investors and settlers, nor to the natives of New Zealand".
In the months following, the Association was dissolved and the New Zealand Company founded with a nominal capital of £400,000. At its head was Lord Durham and its chairman Joseph Somes, the largest individual shipowner in England, while the directors included several former Association members together with some leading citizens of London. Its committee included a number of talented individuals, the Earl of Durham, Francis Baring, M.P., the Rev. Samuel Hinds, Sir William Molesworth, M.P., and other Members of Parliament.
Wakefield remained in the background, not becoming a director until April 1840. When the Company approached the Colonial Office early in 1839, advising that it had fulfilled Lord Glenelg's 1837 stipulation's and wished to apply for a charter, it was informed by Glenelg's successor, Lord Normanby, that while sympathising with the Company's aims he could not encourage or recognise its proceedings until New Zealand was annexed to Great Britain, either wholly or in part.
The Colonial Office had not remained idle while the Company was being reconstituted. Alarmed by discrediting reports of conditions in New Zealand, the Government had decided in December 1838 to negotiate with the Maori chiefs for the acquisition of sovereignty. Events in the South Pacific were changing; there were over 2000 white settlers living in New Zealand by this time, whalers, traders, missionaries, sealers and a handful of ex convicts. The French were thinking of forming a settlement on the South Island of New Zealand at Akaroa and the New Zealand Company directors were not prepared to wait for the British Government or the Colonial Office in London to give formal approval.
The New Zealand Company ship Tory was dispatched under Captain Chaffers to New Zealand on Sunday 12 May, 1839, with instructions to acquire and purchase the land needed for the new settlers, The company intended to send settlers before they had received confirmation in England that the purchases from the Maori chiefs had been negotiated and that the land title was in the New Zealand Company hands. The British Government were, of course, not informed that a ship was being rushed to New Zealand to buy land from the Maori, before it could be 'pre-empted" or monopolised by the British government to be sold to settlers, once sovereignty had been declared.
Three fully laden ships, with a total of 800 immigrant famies aboard, were already on the high seas, bound for Port Nicolson in New Zealand.