Waikato Immigration
The Scheme | The Ships

The Waikato immigration scheme was part of an attempt by the General Government to bring large numbers of immigrants to the North Island. It was felt that the establishment of European settlements would help to consolidate the Government's position after the Maori Wars, and facilitate the development of the regions involved, to the mutual advantage of the general and provincial governments. The cost of such settlements would be recovered from the sale of neighbouring land.

The Government originally intended to bring about 20,000 immigrants to the Waikato, recruiting them from the Cape colony (South Africa), Britain and Ireland. To finance this scheme and other government expenses, a 3 million pound loan was to be raised in London, of which Auckland Province would be granted 150,000 pounds for introducing settlers plus 450,000 pounds for surveys and other incidental expenses. Immigrants would be recruited by the Auckland Provincial Government's agents acting on behalf of the General Government, plus other agents appointed for the purpose. The immigrants would be settled on land available under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863.

Four main classes of immigrants were initially sought: 'labourers', 'mechanics', small farmers, and capitalists. The 'labourers' (agricultural and railway workers) and 'mechanics' (industrial craftsmen and artisans) were to be offered free passages plus a land grant if they resided on that land for three years. Exact conditions varied slightly between immigrants from the United Kingdom and immigrants from the Cape. Whereas there was a surfeit of applications from people eager to leave the depressed Cape Colony, the quantity of land offered to English and Scottish immigrants had to be increased to provide an adequate incentive. Thus immigrants from the Cape were entitled to five acres, whereas immigrants from the United Kingdom were entitled to ten, plus five for each child above 12 years old. Both could apply for an additional grant of ten acres, plus five acres for their wives and children over 12 years old, if they repaid half their fare. Small farmers were expected to pay their own passage but would receive a 50 acre land order per adult (plus 25 acres for each person between 12 and 17 years) if they stayed for three years. The capitalists would be attracted by the large areas of land available for purchase and would therefore come and provide supplementary employment for the other immigrants.

By October 1864, the recruiting agents were reporting the successful departure of ships and looking forward to sending more immigrants in the coming months. Their enthusiasm, however, was not matched by the London money market. The New Zealand Loan failed, so there was no money available to continue the scheme. Moreover, delays in bringing the New Zealand Settlement Act into operation meant there was little land available on which to settle the immigrants who had already arrived or were on their way, and no land available for sale to defray the expenses of the scheme and attract the longed-for capitalists. At the end of October 1864, the Colonial Secretary in Auckland instructed the agents to suspend all operations until further notice. Approximately 2000 immigrants altogether would now arrive from the United Kingdom, and 1000 from the Cape of Good Hope.

The General Government wanted the Auckland Provincial Government to take over responsibility for the scheme and the immigrants. For several months, the Auckland Superintendent (who had agreed to administer the scheme on the General Government's behalf, not as a Provincial responsibility) and the Colonial Secretary exchanged claims and counter-claims against each other. At one stage, the Colonial Secretary suggested that the immigrants be given their land titles at once, rather than after three years; he was reminded by the Superintendent that that would be a direct reversal of the original scheme, and that at any rate the necessary surveys had yet to be completed. Responsibility passed to the newly-appointed Agent for the General Government in Auckland, and then to the Provincial Government.

Meanwhile it was up to six months after the immigrants arrived at Auckland that they were located on their land allotments in the Waikato. In the interim they were at the North Shore or Onehunga immigration barracks, and then in tents on town sections in the Waikato while their suburban sections were being surveyed. They were given employment on public works, but there was little money available even for these, and the Government tried to stop the payments from the end of April 1865. Protests by the Superintendent, plus consideration of the mutinous spirit of the immigrants and the likely results of impoverished immigrants moving into Auckland, led to the restoration of ration payments. Some of the allotments were accessible only with great difficulty. One part of the initial arrangements did survive the financial constraints: the immigrants were allowed advances of cash, seeds, and other essential commodities. These advances had to be repaid before Crown grants were issued.

Some of the immigrants gave up their land and quit the region, and sometimes the colony, but most stayed and claimed their Crown grants three years later. The remaining records give their names, but there are few hints now of the struggles they survived in those first years.

from Leaflet 5: Waikato Immigration, National Archives

Waikato Immigration
The Scheme |
The Ships