In 1961, White European peoples made up 92% of the population of New Zealand. Ever since then, the proportion of the population identifying themselves as European has gradually lowered – as of the last census, only 60% identified as being European only.
This diversification has been a result of mass migration. In 1961, the Immigration Amendment Act was passed, which began the process of removing historic privileges for British and Irish migrants. The very next year, a quota of Samoan immigrants was established under the Treaty of Friendship, and the flood began.
New Zealanders until this point had always seen themselves as being British, they wanted to keep their country British, and they wanted to secure the rights of British workers against cheap foreign labour. It’s worth noting that 1961 was also the year that Britain first began talks with the European Economic Co-operation, which later became the European Union. For multiple reasons, 1961 was the start of the end for British New Zealand.
British New Zealanders, wanting to keep their country British, had always, for all intents and purposes, opposed non-white and even non-British immigration. Although there was never an official “White New Zealand” policy, it had been difficult or even impossible for non-whites to actually get into the country, and those that had managed it were often cheap, imported labourers who were sent home as soon as possible.
The Chinese community has always been the primary target of anti-immigrant feelings as for much of New Zealand’s history they made up the majority of non-white immigrants. You may have found a few individuals from other races around if you looked, but it was only the Chinese that came in real numbers before the 1960s.
A scant few Chinese had come to the country as individuals before the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the South Island Gold Rushes of the 1860s that larger numbers of Chinese began coming to the country – almost all settling in the goldfields. Like many of the European gold miners, they weren’t intending on settling permanently – once they had made their fortune, they would go home to China and settle down in comfort among their own people.
This was opposed by many whites – even before the influx, there had been active campaigns against any potential Chinese immigration. The proximity of such a sparsely settled place like New Zealand to countries with hundreds of millions of possible immigrants in Asia was always a cause for possible alarm.
A committee in Nelson, in 1857, for example, sent a petition to the Governor advising that:
“All present expressed the greatest disgust and horror at the probability of Chinese immigrants arriving in this Province. On behalf, therefore, of the inhabitants of this Province, we most respectfully beg that your Excellency will be pleased to take such steps in the matter as may prevent the infliction upon the Province of so distasteful a visitation.”
When the migrants did arrive there was some competition between Chinese and European gold miners, but the Chinese were often content to place their diggings in less rich areas, or even areas already prospected by Europeans, profiting off the gold that had been left unfound by the whites who had already moved on with the next rush.
Due to the smaller numbers of Chinese and lesser competition between the races, it took longer for anti-Chinese sentiment to become widespread compared to in Australia or California, and no anti-Chinese legislation would be introduced during the Gold Rush era.
As the gold returns began to diminish and the white miners began to drift away back to their homelands, the Government allowed more Chinese to enter the country. Many of these Cantonese arrivals did intend to settle permanently, forming the base of the “Old Generation” a small proportion of modern Chinese New Zealanders can claim descent from.
These new Chinese miners were more successful than expected, and this inflamed racial tensions. In 1871, the Evening Post warned that “a second Lambing Flat foray appears exceedingly possible” due to the Chinese success, and saying that it was the fault of Chinese organisation and collectivism compared to European individualism.
The Arrow River Miners’ Association was then formed and released an address through Otago newspapers, saying that “… we are having an alien race thrust upon us, to rob us of the fruit of our perseverance and industry…” and calling on miners in other parts to group together. Anti-Chinese meetings were held and signatures for a petition were gathered at Bannockburn, Switzers, Waitahuna, Waipori, and other places.
The petition was forwarded with thousands of signatures to Charles Haughton, MP for Goldfield, and a “Chinese Immigration Committee” was formed to investigate the issue. One of those who made a submission to the Committee was J. B. Borton, who was of the opinion that immigration of Chinese was detrimental to the best interests of the goldfields.
Borton reported that “… the general feeling of the great bulk of the European miners towards the Chinese is more or less hostile; and the idea seems to be very general that every Chinaman introduced into the country is a wrong done to the whole population.”
But despite the public sentiment, no action was taken against the Chinese. They were allowed to stay in the country because many of the business owners and politicians of the time saw them as an efficient, industrious, cheap source of labour they could use to more fully exploit the remaining gold resources. This is not dissimilar to modern neoliberal practices within contemporary New Zealand among its political actors, whose actions devalue our labour force, inflate prices in our markets, and cause cultural alienation among the populace.
The white miners only continued to grow more anti-Chinese after this, activism continued and in some cases, the Chinese were attacked. In 1872 at No Town, on the West Coast, a small group of Chinese prospectors came into town and were immediately surrounded by a white mob, who stoned them and chased them out of town with sluice-forks.
In 1873, the Government began offering free passage for European migrants, and agents were sent to several European countries to recruit settlers. Already many Scandinavians had been brought over after following Bishop Monrad, and Germans, Italians, Poles, and others would follow.
Another anti-Chinese petition was created in 1879 in a meeting at Wellington, which resolved “That the citizens of Wellington, in public meeting assembled, desire to place on record their determination to oppose the introduction of Chinese labour into the colony.”
This petition was picked up by the Working Men’s Club and Auckland Trades and Labor Council, and workers from various industries signed. It was presented to Parliament with thousands of signatures from Wellington, Auckland, Thames, and other centres.
This group called for a poll tax on “all subjects fo the Emperor of China coming here as sailors, laborers, or in any other capacity; that the said tax be made payable by the owners and captains of such vessels as shall bring any Chinese into any port of New Zealand, whether as crew or passengers, and that the vessel be held as lien until the tax be paid.”
The white working people of New Zealand wanted to stop competition from Chinese who would work in worse conditions for less pay. Pro-labour politicians began to support the White camp. For example, George Elliot Barton, MP for Wellington, explained the economic reasons for the petition.
“This anti-Chinese and anti-Coolie movement in the colonies seems to me to arise from the danger that the European laborer may be driven out of these colonies and America… and the working men feel that they are about to be hemmed in by a competition against which they cannot stand.
Such a competition would be disastrous not only to our own labouring classes but to the whole laboring classes of Europe, now struggling and assisting one another in the great labor questions between them and capitalists.”
By now, the country was becoming more progressive – in 1879 voting rights were extended to all adult male British subjects. Both incoming Prime Minister John Hall and the outgoing George Grey were united in their opposition to the Chinese migration, and in 1881 former Prime Minister Major Harry Atkinson introduced the Chinese Immigration Act.
Atkinson said that there were at the time 4,600 Chinese in the country and that after that number hit 5,000, the bill would impose a head tax of £10 per immigrant and a restriction of one Chinaman for every ten tons of cargo.
During a debate on this topic in 1881, Prime Minister Hall chimed in saying that he “thought the disgusting habits of the Chinese a strong reason for their exclusion.”. Former Prime Minister Frederick Whitaker agreed, supporting the bill “on the ground that while European civilisation was progressive the Chinese were a stagnant race, and contact with them could not fail to be injurious.”
Mr Swanson, MP for Newton, agreed with the bill, saying that he “thought the law of self-preservation should make us prevent our own people being swamped by Chinese competition.” And Mr Hutchinson, MP for Wellington, characterised the opposition from some as “proceeding from a desire of the rich to grind the poor and lower wages.”
Grey’s opposition was on racial grounds, he once stated that “the future of the islands of the Pacific Ocean depends upon the inhabitants of New Zealand being true to themselves, and preserving uninjured and unmixed that Anglo-Saxon population which now inhabits it, and the pure-bred descendants of which ought to inhabit these islands for all time.”
On another occasion Grey pointed out the inevitable miscegenation that would follow non-white migration; “If the Chinese were allowed to come here, a good many of them would become permanent settlers. They would intermingle with Europeans, and the result would be an evil similar to that of the negro in America. They would find that the European would be dragged down to a state of barbarism. They would be ‘mean whites’. That was the inevitable consequence of an admixture of such races.”
Mr Atkinson’s bill was passed, and in 1881 the Chinese Immigrants Act went into law. Further measures increasing the poll tax and limiting the number of Chinese per ship were introduced in 1888. Despite this, some were still able to make their way into the country, and many old Chinese remained in the country.
The 1891 Census found that 22% of Alexandra residents and 11% of those in Cromwell were Chinese – but by now many of the Chinese had drifted away from the goldfields. In 1892, a handful arrived in the Wairarapa region, causing outrage and bringing the Masterton branch of the Knights of Labour to request the poll tax be raised to £100 per head – the local debate society declared that Chinese shouldn’t be landed in the Australasian colonies, and there was talk of founding an Anti-Chinese Association.
In 1894, William Pember Reeves, the Minister of Labour proposed an Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Bill although this was not passed. He later explained his opposition to the Chinese despite conservative economic arguments. “Industrious they are, but industry without certain social qualities is a doubtful virtue. A man may be industrious, and yet be dirty, miserly, ignorant, a shirker of social duty and a danger to public health. Most of the Chinese immigrants are. It is said that they commit few crimes. A man may be a very undesirable citizen without infringing the criminal law.”
By 1895, there was an unofficial Chinese quarter in Wellington, based around Haining Street, and MP George Warren Russell reported in parliament that he had seen “Chinese packed in bunks one above the other smoking opium; looking like so many rats in their holes.”
In 1896, the anti-Chinese legislation was extended yet again, as Prime Minister Richard Seddon increased the tax to £100 per head and limited ships to only one Chinese immigrant per every 200 tons of cargo.
Around the turn of the century, a small Lebanese/Assyrian community was established in New Zealand, but these were Christians and mostly able to pass as Southern Europeans – there were already Italian and Dalmatian communities in the country who would already look ‘exotic’ to the British majority.
A few Indians also migrated to New Zealand during this period, until the Immigration Restriction Act of 1899 prohibited the entry of migrants that couldn’t complete an application form in a European language.
After the Boxer Rebellion and Boer War there was a new period of anti-Chinese agitation, as many such as the experienced traveller Lionel Terry had seen how in places like British Columbia and newly conquered South Africa, Chinese coolies were being imported in large numbers to undercut white working-class demands. Terry was opposed to the use of cheap foreign labour by the merchant class, and declared that “the Government of the British Empire is Jew-ridden and corrupt.”.
Terry’s work “The Shadow” attempted to make the evils of capitalism’s non-white migration known to the people. “For it is the capitalist who is chiefly responsible for such immigration. It enables him to work his great industries with cheap labour, and, therefore, it is to his interest that the people should be kept in the dark as to the evil consequences arising therefrom.”
A number of grassroots anti-migration groups were founded around this time as well. For example, John Cameron’s Anti-Asiatic League, founded in Masterton in 1907, which you can read about in our previous article here.
The politicians of this era were strong supporters of the white race. In 1906, “Speaking at Palmerston North, Mr Seddon said that there was a cloud on the horizon, and he appealed to the people and parliament of New Zealand, whatever might happen, to show a bold front in resisting any menace to the racial purity of the colony.”
Two new acts were passed in 1907 and 1908 to make Chinese migration even more difficult – now Chinese had to pass more stringent English-language requirements, and Chinese already living in New Zealand were required to give thumbprints, to prevent fraudulent use of re-entry permits.
Prime Minister Joseph Ward, like Seddon and many others, spoke in favour of racial purity and opposed the landing of non-white migrants – but Ward’s speeches went further than those before him. In 1911 he said “The British people must unite for the preservation of their civilisation. The fight for racial purity cannot be abandoned, even if it should take the form, not of restrictive laws and diplomatic negotiations, but of fighting in grim earnest with all the death-dealing appliances of modern warfare.”
Following the Boer War, the aftermath of the First World War saw another swell of anti-immigrant sentiment. The newly founded RSA, for example, were openly pro-white, campaigning against Chinese and Indian migrants and urging whites to patronise white-owned businesses.
Lieutenant Colonel George Mitchell, MP for Wellington South said that ”It is our great pride that we have tried in the past to keep our race pure. We fight here for a “white” New Zealand, and try our best, and rightly, to maintain the purity of our race. The pride of our race is its purity.
In 1920, a number of Indian labourers were employed to cut scrub for a few stations in the Wairarapa. After finishing a job at Whareama, one party of Indians attempted to stay the night in Masterton but were unable to find any accommodation in the town, having to move to Carterton to find anywhere that would take them.
Not long after they arrived in Carterton, a mob of white men formed and protested outside the building – threatening violence until the Indians were sent back to Masterton by the local police. After the Indians left the town, “reference was made to the Yellow Peril, but better counsels prevailed, and the Chinese were not molested.”
Like most white New Zealanders Prime Minister William Massey agreed with anti-migrant views and passed the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act of 1920. This act meant that people not of British or Irish birth or parentage had to have a permit to enter the country, and it was left to the Minister of Customs to approve these migrants.
In a 1920 debate, Massey explained that “Clearly, we want to keep the race as pure in this Dominion as it is possible to keep it.” and in his 1921 New Years message declared that “Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man’s country, and it must be kept as such.”
In 1931, the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act prevented European aliens (i.e. non-Britons) from coming to the country unless they met a few conditions, for example having been offered a job, or being judged to be capable of easily rehabilitating to life in this country.
Even the Labour Party of the 1930s and 40s, admired by today’s shortsighted leftists, were pro-white – often even more so than the conservatives. It was George Forbes, leader of the coalition that would later become the National Party, who ended the enforcement of the head tax on Chinese immigrants.
Dan Sullivan, Labour Minister of Industries and Commerce under both Prime Ministers Savage and Fraser, as opposed to non-white migrants, saying “We are not prepared to see the standard we have attained in this country reduced by competition, or by intermingling with races whose standard is very much below ours.”
The Labour government’s Dominion Population Committee prepared a report after the end of the war supporting migration from Britain, and an assisted-passage scheme was introduced for British and Irish citizens – but there just weren’t enough Britons, and during the 1950s Dutch, Greeks, Hungarians, and other Europeans were allowed to come to the country in large numbers.
And as time went on, the booming economy required more and more migrants, and Europe simply wasn’t sending enough. The eternal conservative merchant class, as always, advocated for more migration, more foreign workers, more cheap labour, and eventually, they had their way.
After the independence of New Zealand from the mother country, and especially after Britain’s betrayal of the colonies through joining the EEC/EU, the de-Briticised New Zealanders no longer had the same feelings of racial unity or the same will to keep their country white.
And so today the country is barely half white. The largest city, making up a third of our total population, is just over 40% ‘European only’. Cheap, foreign labourers are still being imported year after year (albeit stymied by the pandemic) – some are held as literal slaves by the corrupt capitalists that “employ” them, and yet they still come – and the country is always shifting ever further away from its British culture by giving in to radicals demands for everything from renaming streets to destroying monuments.
But there are still people in this country with racial feelings who won’t give up hope. Like the miner who gradually grew weary of the Chinese, or the traveller who saw the way working whites were betrayed and replaced all over the Empire by cheap Coolie labour, or the returned soldier who fought for his country and wanted to defend its purity – we will remain true to our people.