Story: North Americans

Page 2 – 1870s–1939: rivalry and curiosity

Bridging the gap

From the mid-1800s, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada were rival emigration destinations. Size, distance and economics made New Zealand less competitive. This was reflected in the number of North Americans choosing to live in New Zealand, which did not grow significantly between 1878 and 1939. Moreover, their proportion in the population actually declined. Improved transport and communications, however, led to an increased traffic in ideas, goods and people between the countries.

Americans: imported ideologies

Reduced gold prospecting possibilities and the long depression of 1879–96 deterred American fortune-seekers. The subsequent depressions of the 1920s and 1930s made New Zealand economically uninviting for Americans, except as a market to sell their products.

But if New Zealand was not seen as a potential home, many Americans visited briefly. Travel to and beyond America became easier after the establishment of the San Francisco–Auckland steamship route in 1870 and the completion of the railway across the United States soon after. American visitors included entertainers and popular lecturers. Writer Mark Twain was one of the best-known Americans to visit, and he recounted his experiences in Following the equator, published in 1897. Other travellers included religious, social and political campaigners. The trade union, temperance and women’s suffrage movements all gained impetus from visiting North American activists such as Walter Mills and Mary Leavitt. Religious missionaries, for example Seventh Day Adventists like Nettie Keller and Mormons like Matthew Cowley, also found a ready audience. Their message remains influential, especially among Māori and Pacific Island people. In the early 20th century American visitors such as Frank Parsons and Henry Demarest Lloyd were fascinated by the reforms of the Liberal government in New Zealand.

Brooklyn, NZ

New Zealand’s curiosity about things American in the 19th century led to a Wellington suburb being named after the famous borough of Brooklyn in New York. Some of the streets were named after American presidents, including McKinley, Taft and Cleveland. The large park separating Brooklyn from the city was, of course, named Central Park. American links with Brooklyn were strengthened when, during the Second World War, an American military camp was established in Central Park.

New Zealanders, however, were ambivalent towards Americans. On one hand, American foreign policies and culture were seen as a threat to British – and therefore New Zealand – interests. On the other hand, New Zealanders adopted many American ideals and values. From the 1920s they benefited from Carnegie Corporation educational grants, drove American motorcars and watched American movies.

Canadians: the technology connection

Like Americans, from 1870 some Canadians simply visited New Zealand, but more of them stayed. After 1905 it was easier for other British subjects to migrate to New Zealand, and there was official support for inter-empire migration. Canadian settlers outnumbered those born in the United States by more than half from 1874 until 1891 at least, but their total numbers did not grow much before the Second World War.

Nevertheless, New Zealand benefited from Canadian expertise. The Geological Survey of New Zealand was reorganised by Canadian James Bell between 1905 and 1911. Founders of the State Forest Service in 1919 had Canadian training and experience. Several New Zealand nursing administrators of the 1920s and 1930s visited Toronto, where a public health course was offered. Improved travel and communications helped. The Canadian Pacific Railway made Vancouver an important stopover from the 1890s, and in 1902 the Pacific cable linked British Columbia by telegraph with New Zealand. Flights to and from Canada and the US began in the 1930s.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick. 'North Americans - 1870s–1939: rivalry and curiosity', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/north-americans/page-2