150 Years Polish People in New Zealand

Voyaging Across The Seas To An Unknown Land, The First Polish Immigrants Arrived In Aotearoa New Zealand In 1872. Join Us In 2022 To Celebrate 150 Years Of Polish Communities In Aotearoa New Zealand - Their Sacrifices, Their Successes And Their Contributions.

Od Sierpnia 2022 roku Społeczność Polska w Nowej Zelandii Będzie Obchodzić 150-lecie Przybycia Pierwszych Polskich Osadników

The first main contingent of 92 Polish settlers arrived at Lyttleton aboard the Friedeburg on the 30th August 1872 & 100 Polish nationals at Port Chalmers aboard the Palmerston on the 6th December 1872. Chain migration followed with Polish settlement at, Germantown (1875), Jackson’s Bay (1875), Hokitika (1875) Carterton (1876), Dannevirke (1876) Halcombe (1876) Inglewood (1876), Midhirst (1876), Stratford (1876) & Rangitikei (1876). The largest contingent was 259 Polish settlers aboard the Fritz Reuter which arrived in Wellington on the 12th April 1876. All further requests for migrants from Europe were halted in 1876 due to a sufficient quota reached. It is estimated around 1000 Polish immigrants arrived upon these shores during the 19th Century.


Today only a few remnants remain, such as the odd sod cottage, wooden villa and church, to remind us of the once quaint Polish settlements.  Due to the settlers assimilating well into English society, only snippets of Polish sayings and words have remained but are fast fading in time and of course so are the Polish surnames, now but known mostly in their Anglicised form. These settlers “were noted for their thrift, discipline, application to hard work, and drank amazing amounts of alcohol; they maintained their religious affiliations, and lived quite happily, free of danger, until they were ready to shift to greener pastures”.

Historical background

Toward the end of the 18th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist. From 1795 until 1918 Polish territory was partitioned and annexed thus becoming part of the Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.


Poles were driven from their homeland suffering years of oppression. Victorious from the Franco Prussian War (1870-71), Bismarck was enabled to unite the Prussian States into modern day Germany and enforce upon the citizens German Law. Mistrust in the Papal saw Bismarck release a set of reforms to bring the Catholic Church to its knees, the church was seen as uniting the Polish people. Speaking or having any Polish contraband was illegal and any form of Polish education was abolished.  Catholic Priests were gaged on any political views at their sermons.  The ‘final straw’ was when conscription into the German army at the age of 13 became compulsory.


In 1870 in order to help New Zealand connect all its major cities, Julius Vogel sought to bring in immigrants from Europe with the skills to help build the infrastructure which required large areas of land development. German agents, employed by the New Zealand Government in the region, gave positive descriptions of the new colony as they were seeking settlers and labourers. Of course “Emigration was not favoured by Prussian authorities at this time. Mr Julius Matties who had lived at Hokitika and was a sponsor and promoter of immigration for the New Zealand Government, when visiting the country for the purpose of selecting farm workers, was imprisoned and died while in prison”. In spite of the danger many Poles were seeking the freedom they much desired for their children, they decided to risk it all and embark on a sea voyage of three months with the prospect of starting over again with literally very little. ”The bulk of these were from Pomerania, chiefly from the Polish regions of Mieszane, Kaszuby, Kociewie, Wielkopolska & Poznan”.

Polish Visitors and Settlers Prior to 1870th

History of Polish visitors and settlers in New Zealand started exactly 100 years prior to 1872 with arrival of Captain James Cook during his 1772 voyage aboard The Resolution.  

Johann Reinhold (Jan Rajnold) Forster & Johann Georg Adam (Jan Jerzy Adam) Forster

Appointed as naturalists, they sailed with Captain Cook to New Zealand. During their journey they kept detailed diaries of everything they saw on the voyage and made extensive collections of both natural history specimens and artefacts. Based on his father’s journals, Georg (Jerzy) published “A voyage Round the World” in 1777.

Julius Charles Eberhard Matthies

Julius Charles Eberhard Matthies

(1830-1875) migrated to New Zealand in August 1862 aboard of “Ring Dove”, settled at Hokitika where he set up business as Cabinet Maker. He was more renowned for his work…

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Polish Visitors and Settlers after the 1870 (Vogel scheme) to today

History of Polish visitors and settlers in New Zealand started exactly 100 years prior to 1872 with arrival of Captain James Cook during his 1772 voyage aboard The Resolution.  

Pope John Paul II

Despite more than 30 years passing, Pope John Paul II is still the only supreme pontiff to have come to New Zealand’s shores.

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Pahiatua Children

On 1 November 1944, 733 children, mostly orphans and half orphans, arrived in Wellington Harbour. They had lost their homes and family members following the 1939 German invasion of Poland and its subsequent occupation by the USSR.

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Ignacy Jan Paderewski

(1860 – 1941) was a Polish pianist and composer who became a spokesman for Polish independence. In 1919, he was the new nation’s Prime Minister and foreign minister during which he signed the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.

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Learn more about New Zealand’s Polish history from:


Pobóg-Jaworowski; J. W., History of The Polish Settlers in New Zealand 1776-1987, 1990

Scrivens Barbara; https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/polish-anchors/

Shaw, M. S. & Farrant, E. D., The Taieri Plain: Tales of Years That Are Gone, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1977.

Morris Pauline J., German-speaking Settlements in Otago and Southland, Ch. 4., The German Connection Bade James N., 1993

Polesdownsouth; https://polesdownsouth.org.nz/polish-migration-to-otago/