Story: North Americans
Page 1 – 1797–1870: years of opportunity
Americans and Canadians
Although they are only a fraction of New Zealand’s population, North Americans (people born in Canada and the United States of America) have left a deep imprint on this country. Of course, Americans and Canadians have different histories, identities and (to the attentive ear) accents. But this has not always been acknowledged by New Zealanders, especially in statistics, so it is sometimes necessary to speak of them as one group.
Americans were first interested in New Zealand for its resources. They began visiting New Zealand from 1797 to work the sealing grounds around Fiordland and Foveaux Strait. Some New England whalers stopped by in the early 19th century, and arrived in large numbers during the 1830s. Following a request by American shipmasters, British merchant James Clendon became United States Consul at the Bay of Islands in 1838. In 1839 there were some 50 American residents in the North Island – about 4% of the total non-Māori population there.
Members of a United States scientific expedition were present when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. But British annexation made New Zealand less appealing to Americans. Some whalers, resenting new customs duties, encouraged Hōne Heke to chop down the British flagstaff and fly the American ensign from his canoe. They also smuggled arms to Māori in the 1845–46 war.
The whaling industry’s decline from the late 1840s probably caused the American-born population to drop; it was only 306 in 1858. But with the start of the Otago gold rushes in 1861 it jumped to 720, and by 1871, as a result of gold fever, it was 1,213. Otago rivalled Auckland as a focus for American settlement during these years. American drifters such as Kimble Bent became participants in the New Zealand wars, and a few travelling entertainers began touring.
Until 1874, British North Americans (Canadians) were not identified in censuses, but they too had arrived as sealers and whalers, joined the gold rushes, and participated in forestry ventures. Because Canada was also part of Britain’s empire, its inhabitants, with their farming and bush-felling experience, were seen as desirable colonists. In 1853 the Reverend Norman McLeod led over 800 Scottish highlanders from Nova Scotia via Australia to New Zealand. In the 1860s Canadians were recruited for a timber-milling enterprise at Kohukohu in Northland.
But not all attempts at organised settlement were successful. In 1854 Walter Taylor applied for land north of Auckland to settle about 40 families suffering dire poverty in Canada, but bureaucratic wrangles thwarted his scheme. In 1870 there was talk of establishing a settlement of Canadians to clear bush for the Wellington–Napier railway, but this did not eventuate either.