Scandinavian Club of Manawatu

Immigration: The Celaeno immigrants of 1871

The following is an adaption of an article entitled 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star', published in the February and March 1998 issues of Community Manawatu, near the end of the lengthy and somewhat heated Celaeno/Fernlea Park clash. This dispute involved the Scandinavian Club of Manawatu, the Manawatu branch committee of the NZ Historic Places Trust, a land developer and the Palmerston North City Council, and revolved around the naming an eight-hectare sports ground in the heart of the Stoney Creek Scandinavian Block, in Kelvin Grove, Palmerston North, New Zealand. The park is now named Celaeno Park, in acknowledgement of the district's Scandinavian heritage.

I'm on the New Zealand Genealogy Search Engine


Click on the thumbnail for a larger photo and caption

The Scandinavians aboard the Celaeno - pronounced "seleeno" and nameed after a star - numbered only 17 couples, most with very young children, along with their unmarried interpreter. However, they, and the England passengers who followed a few weeks later, were of special importance to the New Zealand Government. These people were part of an experiment aimed at beginning chain migration from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The Government hoped that their presence in New Zealand would cause others of their compatriots to follow them. Strong and durable folk were required to help open up the densely bushed Manawatu, Wairarapa and Southern Hawkes Bay, and the Government had decided Scandinavians would be especially suited to this task.

In fact, Doctor Isaac Featherston, one of the New Zealand Commissioners, exceeded his instructions in July and August 1870, when he requested that the Norwegian firm, Winge & Co., recruit at least ten young couples before the current emigration season closed - due to the icing-up of ports - in October 1870. The New Zealand Government had not yet passed the 1870 Immigration and Public Works Act (the so-called Vogel Scheme), under which this recruitment occurred. However, Featherston thought his trip to Scandinavia would be wasted if he did not take this step. As a result, between July and September 1870, Winge & Co., a mercantile firm of high standing in Christiania (now Oslo), advertised in Norwegian newspapers. The company sought suitable strong families to migrate to New Zealand.

One Sunday in September 1870, an agent arrived at Odalen, about 50 miles northeast of Christiania. He timed his appearance to coincide with the end of the church service, where he would have a captive audience. He told curious listeners that the voyage to New Zealand was free and that each family would be given ten acres. In a homeland with very small farms, ten acres of their own sounded both viable and generous. In exchange, the men would do the same type of work they already did, namely: tree-felling, road-making, farming and bridge-building. Each couple could take up to two children. An interpreter was also to be arranged.

Anders Ihle later recalled that what little they already knew of New Zealand's Maori population, left them unenthused. However, the Agent said, "There are no man-eaters there now. You will find them a nice race of people." This, Ihle said, proved correct. Gulbrand Hansen chose to consult a Norwegian pastor, who advised that while New Zealand was a beautiful country, it was inhabited by many wild animals and snakes. English people though, also inhabited it and that sounded alright.

On 5 October 1870, the steamer North Star sailed from Christiania, bound for London. Aboard was one Swedish family, in addition to the Norwegian families and a few mixed Norwegian-Swedish families. Of the Norwegians, six families were from Ullern Parish in Sør Odal, Odalen, while another six were from nearby Nes Parish, in Romerike. Of the eighteen couples, five had married within the preceding three days. One bride gave birth to her first child six weeks later. Another had her first child five months after departure. The chance to migrate at no cost, had given these rather poor, betrothed couples the opportunity to marry, an event that traditionally hinged on a man being able to provide for a wife.

The original interpreter changed his mind in London and another North Star passenger, Frederick Andersen, decided to take on the job. He did quite well for himself in Palmerston North, and eventually visited Norway and returned with a wife.

The Celaeno, which was under charter to the Shaw, Savill & Albion Company, transported the immigrants to Wellington. Before leaving London though, two packages of highly inflammable petroleum spirits were discovered aboard the ship. Had these remained on the ship, it might never have reached New Zealand. The Celaeno sailed on 14 October 1870, carrying 53 Scandinavian, 16 Irish and 2 Scottish emigrants in steerage, while the twelve cabin passengers included 6 nuns.

One passenger later wrote that the food was quite good, but the voyage was very boring. Patience was stretched to breaking point many times due to the limited space available for the seventeen young children. There were a similar number of English children aboard, but neither group could converse with the other. Heat also proved a problem, however, the fish and seabirds were of interest.

The Celaeno arrived at Wellington on 5 February 1871, being 112 days out from London and 95 days land to land. It was also two days before New Zealand's General Election and the authorities feared local labourers, who in turn feared losing employment to the newcomers, might cause problems. This did not happen, but the Government itself had to be reminded that various promises had been made to these people, including offers of free passages and land. In the end, they were offered (after receiving advice from a Danish businessman in Wellington) a much larger acreage (approximately 40 acres), but at a sum that they were allowed to pay off.

On 13 February, the Scandinavians, complete with essential goods purchased - on credit - in Wellington, boarded the paddle steamer Luna bound for Foxton. Their arrival at Foxton the next day was a cause for great celebration by the townsfolk, once the steamer got off the Manawatu Bar. The town was bedecked with flags, and many townsfolk and Maori gathered to welcome Manawatu's first "wholesale immigration" of European settlers.

On 15 February, the party set out for Palmerston North, the men walking across-country, while most of the women and children travelled to Hokowhitu by Maori canoe. Their worldly-goods also went by canoe. Three women remained in Foxton, two being close to giving birth. The third stayed to assist them.

That evening saw the party reunited at the four-roomed, Palmerston Hotel (on the site of the present Masonic Hotel), which was then virtually the only building in the town. It was also hardly luxury accommodation. In fact, until their arrival, Mrs Cole, the hotelkeeper's wife, had been the only woman living in the 'town'.

The women and children spent their first night asleep on the hotel's floor. The men slept - or attempted to sleep - outside on the verandah. Unfortunately, the resident mosquitoes had other ideas. Bernt Johanson later said of this first night, "Oh, the mosquitoes. They were like a cloud. I fought them with my hands like a prize fighter, but they came on just the same."

The next morning they discovered that Palmerston North consisted of fern and cabbage trees on one side and dense bush on the other. That day the men were taken to see their land in the Karere Scandinavian Block, between present-day Westbrook and Longburn. A few days later, the families moved to a large tent near the Karere Scandinavian Block. There they remained until each family built a hut on its own land.

The Rangitane village of Awapuni, occupied by Te Peeti Te Awe Awe and his whanau, was across the road from the Karere Scandinavian Block. This gave the district's old and new residents a unique opportunity to become acquainted. One of the Norwegians (perhaps Carl Bergersen) wrote home on 13 March 1871, saying that, "we have had lots of visits from the natives, who are extremely inquisitive, and they will come on horseback for miles, just to look and find out. They are all on horseback, men, women and children. We need an interpreter to talk to them, as they understand neither Norwegian nor English. They are very likeable and have always got apples for our children. We see them daily, and I must say there are many Norwegians much wilder and more savage than they are."

In 1911, Gulbrand Hansen also spoke of their Rangitane neighbours. "We were entirely defenceless, had they proved hostile or aggressive. But better people could not have been than the Maoris of those days who lived in the Manawatu. The first huts we lived in had not even a door to them, much less a lock or any protection of that sort, but we used to be away at work, leaving our wives and children behind, and they were never alarmed or molested in any way, nor had we the slightest fear.... We never missed anything from our unprotected houses, and lay down to rest at night without the slightest alarm or apprehension... The Manawatu Maoris were always good friends to the early settlers, and I should be doing them a great injustice if I did not acknowledge the fact on this occasion... It was when European settlement came hither that we had to consider the protection of our families."

Apart from the mosquitoes, the initial tranquility lasted until 5 March 1871. At this time, the skies opened, causing the Mangaone and Kawau Streams to overflow. In places, the water was up to the ridge boards of the little huts, causing some of the group to take to the trees. Most lost all their belongings to the floodwaters.

As a result, of this flood, many and perhaps the entire group, shifted to what became known as the Scandinavian Camp, in Albert Street. This was on the site of - or opposite - Albert Liquorland. Because of this camp, Albert Street gained its original name, Scandia Street. It was at this ramshackle camp that the England's Danish and Swedish passengers found them, when that party reached Palmerston North on 10 April 1871, after their own very difficult trek through the Manawatu mud.

The Karere Scandinavian Block was, due to its swampy, flood prone nature, far less successful than the Stoney Creek Scandinavian and Roadmen's Block. This block is now part of Kelvin Grove and Whakarongo, and included both sides of lower Roberts Line and beyond Stoney Creek Road. Four families, whose Karere land proved the least suitable for farming, were quickly transferred to the Stoney Creek Scandinavian Block. Their new farms were on Napier Road, between Roberts Line and James Line. Soon one of these families moved to alternative employment, thus permitting a fifth family to transfer to Stoney Creek. Before long most of the remaining families had moved to less troublesome properties, including at least two more to the Stoney Creek area. That left only one long-term owner at the Karere Scandinavian Block. This was the Sorensen family, who retained their property until 1992.

The letters the Celaeno immigrants sent back to Norway attracted many more Norwegian families to New Zealand. In 1872, after a disease-stricken voyage, the England brought another batch of Scandinavian immigrants. These included many from the same parts of Norway as the Celaeno passengers. These new arrivals, including Swedes and Danes, settled at Mauriceville. The Norwegian ship Høvding brought the first of its two loads of Norwegians and Swedes to Napier later the same year. Once again, these included a number of people from the same parts of Norway as the Celaeno passengers. Earlier the same day, the Ballarat had arrived at Napier as well, carrying Danes. These people settled at Norsewood and Dannevirke.

The England's 1871 passengers (mostly Danes and some Swedes) initially proved less successful as settlers than did the Celaeno passengers, although a number were very good settlers later, including in other districts. This reduced success rate locally was greatly influenced by the number of single men in the party, many of whom moved away in search of employment. Families did not have the same freedom to move elsewhere. In addition, the Danes had less experience in their homeland with the conditions they found in the dense Manawatu bush.

In addition, the single men had been allocated only 20 heavily bushed acres each, and entirely in the Stoney Creek Scandinavian Block. This situation was not altogether viable, especially without a wife's labour. As a result, in the mid-1870s another group of immigrants, including Scandinavian and Germanic families, took up the land abandoned by the England's single men. Their presence, combined with the mixture of British families in the Stoney Creek Roadmen's Block (Henderson's Line area), added to the cultural and historical uniqueness of the early Palmerston North district.

The special significance surrounding the Celaeno passengers, continued to be recognised throughout their lives. Even the last surviving man (Berger Sorensen) and woman (Annie Andersen) had this special status acknowledged in their respective obituaries. A stroll through Terrace End Cemetery reveals that most of the Celaeno passengers, and many of those from the England, are still together in death.

The Celaeno and England experiment was successful in paving the way to larger scale migration from Scandinavia. However, its level of success during the period was underpinned by the state of the American economy at the same time. The United States suffered an economic depression in 1873, which caused migration to that country to virtually stall. By the latter 1870s, the United States had regained its attraction to migrants. Meanwhile New Zealand had entered an economic depression and was considerably less attractive to potential migrants. Consequently, in the early 1880s more people left New Zealand than arrived. This included a number of Scandinavian assisted migrants who headed for the United States. Some of these people are known to have settled in California. Others went to Salt Lake City in response to the teachings of Mormon missionaries then working within New Zealand's somewhat disillusioned Northern European communities.

Although the place of the Celaeno and England in the history of Scandinavian migration to Australasia has only been lightly researched, it is noteworthy that this batch of immigrants reached New Zealand about six months before Australia's first assisted Scandinavian immigrants. Queensland operated a free immigration scheme between 1871 and 1886, and the German-owned Friedeburg, which also brought immigrants to Lyttelton in 1872 and Napier in 1875, delivered Queensland's first Scandinavian migrants to Brisbane in August 1871.

Historian J. Lyng considered that Queensland's free migration scheme was responsible for around 10,000 Danes, Swedes and Norwegians migrating the Australia, but also that many had then migrated on to other parts of Australia. In contrast, around 3,000 Scandinavians migrated to New Zealand between 1871 and 1876, the year the New Zealand Government abruptly ended its less generous assisted migration scheme to non-British people. This decision was due to the difficulties the Government faced finding employment for non-English speakers, and the fact the country was sliding toward economic depression. Danes made up by far the greater percentage of the number who came to both countries.

[Compiled by Val Burr and based on her book Mosquitoes & Sawdust, a history of Scandinavians in early Palmerston North & surrounding districts, (Published by the Scandinavian Club of Manawatu, Palmerston North, 1995). Also J. Lyng, The Scandinavians in Australia, New Zealand and the Western Pacific (Melbourne, 1939) p. 27, 121-4, 148-9]