Polish settlement in the South Island

The ship “Palmerston” that brought out the largest contingent of Poles to Otago in 1872.

Article By Leszek Wątróbki.

The first Polish settlers arrived in New Zealand under the Vogel works scheme of the 1870’s to help build New Zealand’s infrastructure to link New Zealand’s main cities. Poland was then under the auspices of Prussia, Russia & Austria since 1795. Bismark at the time had released a set of reforms to Germanize the region of Prussia which forced migration on a large scale. During the period 1872-1883 it is relatively conclusive that a total of over 1500 Poles settled permanently in New Zealand arriving aboard some 40 ships.

Polish settlers who arrived in the years 1872-1883 on the South Island of New Zealand living in localities where they were offered a job. The vast majority of them come from rural areas or small towns and had no education. When offered the job ended, they were looking for another. Some of them, in search of employment, so carry over to other regions of New Zealand. Some who were employed, settled on the spot.

Polish settlers having a regular job or your own farm, which bought themselves after years of hard work, they were registered with the local administrations and where today you can find their names. In addition, they are available in the archives of the Polish Heritage Trust of Otago and Southland in Dunedin, Polish genealogical organization founded there a few years ago.

List of Polish settlers in Otago and Southland regions includes 148 names of people who were there melded local offices in the years 1880-1935. Most of our compatriots living in the four towns: Greytown, later Allanton 21 people, 17 of Dunedin, Gore – 17, Greytown – 21 and Waihola – 17 and Pine Hill and Milton. Together, these towns were recorded and checked in almost 80 Polish settlers.

The remainder of the resident small settlements and villages of that region: Akatora, Balfour, Chatton, Clinton, Glenledi, Hampden, Invercargill, Lumsden, Maitland, Mararoa, Pukerau, Taieri, Tisbury, Waikaka, Waipahi and many others.

People living in cities were usually employed for manual labor. Most of them worked as casual workers – more than 60 people. Villagers worked while at work – nearly 40 people. Seven were employed during this period on the other hand, 6 in mining, 4 worked as tailors, others were gardeners, butchers, foresters, watchmen, woodcutters, carpenters, and one was even a policeman – Valentine Perneski, registered in 1900 at Reed Street in the village Oamaru.

Only 4 persons identified in local archives occupied managerial positions or were owners of companies or businesses. And so Martin Klimecka was in the years 1912-1915 the owner of the Empire Hotel in Naesby; second Martin Klimecka residing at. 12 Queensberry in Dunedin in 1920 he was head of the quarry; Martin Klimecka third – in the years 1915-1916 he was the hotel manager and shop in Georgetown, and the latest Martin Klimecka – the hotel manager Normandy in the years 1920-1922.

It is interesting that on the list name Klimecka Martin appears as many as 13 times. Family Klimecka (also Klimkowski) came from the area Kwidzyń and many of their men bore the name Martin. Klimeck’owie Martins also included in the list as: farmers, workers, and one as a railway worker.

Minnie Klimek (nee Barra) at left door & Martin Klimeck at the other. 1916 Ca. Kindly provided by Pauline Lee.

List of Polish settlers in the regions of Otago and Southland, which there zameldowanymi in the years 1880-1935 gives their names along with the names, both written in the English version and not the original Polish and their occupation and address, as well as the year in which they were registered there.

Greytown / Allanton

In 1873, in Greytown, a dozen or so kilometers south of Dunedin, Polish-German families lived. Their arrival in New Zealand was a consequence of the legal act Immigration and public works prepared by Julius Vogel and approved by the New Zealand House of Representatives in 1870. New Zealand, then a British colony, wanted to bring together the European population and quickly develop their country.

Immigration and public works were then understood together. The idea was to bring the right people and commission them to carry out the most urgent social work: the construction of roads and railway lines.

On July 29, 1872, a 950-ton Palmerston ship sailed from Hamburg to New Zealand with 260 foreigners aboard. The vast majority of them were Scandinavian. They remain “Germans” speaking Polish who settled in Greytown. The ship, after arriving at Port Chambers near Dunedin, was sent to quarantine. The sanitary inspection detected on-board cases of infectious diseases.

A few weeks later, after the quarantine was completed, the settlers were transported to Dunedin, where they were accommodated in immigration barracks. Single men and women found employment quickly at nearby farms. It took a while to find a job for married people.

Initially, Polish settlers lived in portable tents. Then they began to build a small – one or two-room rooms made of dried straw and clay and with the same fire pit and chimney. The walls of their houses had small windows with even smaller windows. Some buildings also had a straw roof, while others were covered with wavy sheet metal. It was not until many years later that larger wooden houses began to be built, when the Poles began to earn and settle permanently.

Hot food could then be prepared only on small ovens. Water was brought from nearby sources or from the river and boiled in iron teapots, and the dishes were washed outside the home. When the roofs had proper gutters, the settlers collected rainwater in large tin tanks. The single furniture that was in their rooms was hand-made from easily accessible wood.

Polish settlers also built cold stores where they stored their food – eg butter and harvested fruit and vegetables. Many of them quickly got their own pigs or cows and a few hives, which proved their wealth.

Polish settlers celebrated their holidays very solemnly, especially the church ones. The housekeepers always prepared better food with famous honey cakes. Then there were songs and dances. At Christmas and Easter the houses were specially decorated with ferns by children.

Sewing and embroidering was a joint activity for adult women and young girls. Men, however, kept their families. They worked hard, often in the rainy season

Adult men often abused alcohol. It happened that during baptisms, weddings or funeral, they were able to launch numerous fights. There were also men who the local press wrote well. It mainly concerned people involved in sport. That is what the Taieri Advocate of June 8, 1895 wrote about them: … today a football match has been played in Greytown. In our team they played: Full, Ralston, McCutcheon, Christie, Read, Pitfield, Beliski, Blair, Smoleński, Knutsen, Fischer and Switalla …

Allanton Football Team. Ca 1890’s.

Employers who employed married Poles had to guarantee them good living conditions, so that the whole family could live together. The offers they received came mainly from the Southern Trunk Railway, building a railway line. The local press wrote about it: German marriages from immigration barracks, numbering 60 people, will be taken to work by M. Brogden today. Those people who live in barracks for many weeks without prospects for any employment, will accept with great joy the job offer offered to them by M. Brogden. Messrs. Allan and Smith, agents of M. Brogden, offered settlers good working and living conditions immediately after starting work.

In Agent C. Allan’s letter to the deputy secretary of the immigration office, written four days later, we read about his suggestions for a group of these 60 settlers: … I feel confident that immigrants from the Palmerston ship will be happy if they live close together, which it will be easier to overcome all possible difficulties they encounter along the way … I have also sent a letter to the superintendent, Otago, asking if the government would be willing to sell them land in the town of Greytown on the Taieri River, near the place where the railway line will be built.

In response to the suggestion of C. Allan, directed to the superintendent Otago, we read: We will establish special settlements in various parts of the colony. We will also propose that each of them should consist of a certain number of settlement families. The land on which the settlers will reside, near their work places, will be sold to them on favorable financial terms.

Polish settlers were employed in the construction of the southern section of the railway line or the road leading through the Taieri region to Dunedin. The local newspaper “The Bruce Herald” wrote about these works: … work on the railway runs as planned, so that bridges across the river will be quickly built in various places. I can also say that although all other work is done well, it will be several months before everything will be finished ….

The “German” settlers who lived in Greytown created a unique settlement. They all wore Polish names: Gorinski, Pedofski or Wroblenski. Although they were German citizens, they considered themselves Poles. Agent C. Allan in his letter to the deputy secretary of the immigration office mentioned that the 108 “German” settlers were in fact only 14 Germans, while the others were German Poles, i.e. Poles with German passports. In his opinion, it was difficult to understand why Poles so widely changed their German identification to Polish.

The Otago Provincial Government has granted ground scholarships to Poles with deferred payment. The archival records show that in the years 1877-80 many Polish settlers became the owners of plots in Greytown.

Allanton 1912

In 1878 Lorenz August Kowalewske had a total of 7.5 acres in 8 different places, and Antoni Perniski owned 1 acre of land in 2 separate pieces. Own land also had: John Switalli – 1 acre, Antoni Kowalewski – 2.5 acres from 1880, Joseph Pedowski – 2 fields from 1878, which were in the possession of his family until 1973.

Jack Ralston said in an interview for a local newspaper: around 1910, all Poles had a 1/4 acre section where similar houses were built.

According to the records of the earth agency, around 1910, most Polish settlers had more than a quarter of a section, usually 2 acres. We met with such at least the Taieri region.

In 1878, for a total of 885 plots of land in Greytown, 316 were smaller than 10 acres (ie 4.05 ha), and 200 covered from 10 to 50 acres. So there were smaller and larger plots, used for growing vegetables or breeding cows and chickens 44.

Polish settlers and men of other nationalities from Greytown were also employed to build a railway line from Dunedin. Agent C. Allan in his letters to the deputy secretary of the immigration office wrote: … settlers working on the construction of railway lines work well and have high salaries, which must be enough for them to repay the occasionally purchased land from the provincial government …

An informant from the 70s and 90s of the 19th century, presenting the prices of purchased plots of land in Greytown, publishes a list of buyers, including Polish surnames: Joseph Pedowski purchased a plot of land of ½ acres for £ 90; Antoni Kowalewska 2,5 acres (ie 1.01 ha) for 200 pounds.

In nearby Otokia, in 1879, Lorenz Kowalewske acquired 200 acres of land on the basis of two mortgage contracts, the value of which in 1882 was valued at 800 pounds.

After the end of the contract in the construction of the railway line, the vast majority of Polish settlers were permanently resident in Greytown and found a job as workers in Taieri. From a conversation with J. Ralston, published in the East Taieri newspaper, it appears that out of 13 Polish families of settlers living in Greytown – in the first generation – 9 lived from physical work in the city, and 4 others dealt with agriculture.

In the second generation there were already 29 families, 12 of whom stayed in physical work in the city, 2 from agriculture, 3 from railway work, 3 from brush production, 1 from construction of fences and fences, 1 from rabbit breeding, 1 from work in police, 1 of drainage fields, 1 of construction, 1 of flax processing, 1 of butchery work, 1 of craft workshop, 1 of military service and 1 of work in a sawmill.

In the third generation, the families of Polish settlers in Greytown were 17. Their number decreased due to removals and the process of assimilation, especially in mixed families. Of 17 that declared themselves as of Polish origin: 5 persisted from manual labor – as ordinary workers, 4 as drivers, 1 as a butcher, 1 locksmith, 1 carrier, 1 sailor, 1 engine driver, 1 foreman, 1 from farm work and 1 on the railway.

Children born from Polish marriages usually worked in New Zealand environments. And so – in the second generation, as many as 21 families, out of 29, took a job outside their home in Dunedin and in the Taieri area. Only 8 families remained in Greytown. The trend of leaving the town in search of work was also maintained in the third generation.

Next generations of Polish settlers in Greytown underwent almost complete assimilation. These people became New Zealanders. Many of them forgot that they come from Polish families. It is also difficult to say today whether the first generation of Polish settlers and their descendants created a different ethnic group in Greytown.

People who lived in Greytown did not speak English at all. In their families there was also no pressure from the children, so that the parents would learn the official language. In addition, all families were Polish. Only one Polish emigrant married a foreign woman. It was August Switalli, whose wife was Elizabeth Templeton, born in Ireland. Five other settlers met their wives on the Palmerston, sailing from Europe to New Zealand in 1872. These people were also united by years of joint work on the construction of a railway line.

The church was a factor counteracting the rapid assimilation of the first generation. Polish settlers were Catholic, in contrast to Presbyterian and Anglican neighbors. According to Ian Burnley, a small group of Polish settlers could not resist natural assimilation for a long time.

Birds eye view of Allanton 1908. Otago Witness 14 Oct 1908

The second and third generation of Greytown settlers were also assimilated by confession. Including marriages with women from Scotland or England, he attended Protestant services. The new confession brought them even closer to the English-speaking society, pushing them away from Polish traditions and customs, including religious ones.

Polish settlers in Greytown first attended church services in the nearby East Taieri, which was built in 1871. In their Greytown they constituted the vast majority of the Catholic community. The other half of the town’s inhabitants were Protestant denominations. The Catholic Poles did not have any contact with her, which does not mean, however, that the Polish settlers were separated from all the inhabitants of the town. The Poles were working for local farmers; they were shopping at local stores; they raised their children who went to local schools and went to local pubs for a beer.

There were three churches in Greytown: Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican. In all the temples, weekly services and Sunday schools were celebrated.

The opening and consecration of the Catholic Church in Greytown, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, took place with the participation of Bishop D. Moran on October 19, 1888. It was the first church on the South Island relocated for the Poles and at the same time the first Catholic church in the Taieri region, built in Riccarton in 1871.

The church has served the community of believers for years. In 1948 it was renovated, and in 1971 there were jubilee celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of its construction. Today, the temple is closed and the Polish services are still not celebrated there. However, there is hope that the temple will be preserved as a monument. (Today demolished).

The Taieri Advocate from October 17, 1888 wrote about the opening of the Polish church in Greytown: … on the last Sunday it was opened in Greytown, by Bishop Moran, the church. The solemn mass was presided over by the bishop himself, assisted by the deacon O’Neil and subdeacon Lynch … A large part of the parish community there is made up of Poles. In his sermon, Bishop Moran recalled, among others about the struggle of Poles in recent times and about the loss of their country and their religiosity. He also called them great Catholics, full of faith and devotion … A Roman Catholic choir from nearby Mosgiel also took part in the solemn service. The faithful gathered a considerable sum of 75 pounds between them.

In 1874 a one-room school was built in Greytown. The second class was added to it only in 1895. Both class rooms could accommodate about 30 students and their clothes and hand luggage. The floor in the rooms was 12 feet wide and gradually raised to 4 feet so that the students would not cover one another and let each of them see the teacher.

In the class of younger children, there was no blackboard, only a frame with beads, on which they learned to count. The playground was divided into two parts and covered with a high wooden wall that protected during rains.

Until 1886, no one knew exactly how many residents there were. The first official data showed 262 inhabitants of the town, of which 139 men and 123 women. On the other hand, the data of the second Polish generation, already born there, attending a local school from 1877 were more familiar. In total, according to the school archives in Greytown, in the years 1877-1907, over a hundred children of Polish settlers learned in it. The archive also gives the name of the first Polish student – Jacob Switalli, who attended it from June 1877 to April 1882.

Learning at school took place in English and all children worked after graduating from New Zealand employers. They did not create any separate group of young people, but they assimilated with their New Zealand peers.

In the second generation, all the young married their school friends who were not Polish. The Polish women were married to their English-speaking friends. The only exception was Julia Dysarsky, who married August Joseph Orlowski from nearby Waihola. Polish youth was treated there as well as their New Zealand colleagues and was not discriminated against in any way.

In 1895, the small town of Greytown had to change its name, so that it would not be confused with another Greytown, on the North Island of Wairarapa. The District Council of Taieri decided to give the town the name Allanton in honor of James Allan – the first settler who came there in 1848. J. Allan was also respected by the Poles for finding them a job after the expiration of their contracts for the construction of railway lines.

The Allanton city chronicles note many Polish names from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their number includes: Bielicki / Belesky /, Chajewski / Hieffskie /, Dysarch / Dysarski /, Gurzinski / Gorinski /, Grenz / Grants /, Junge / Young /, Klaas / Klass /, Konkol / Konckel /, Kowalewski / Kovalevski / , Kreft, Pęgowski / Pedofsky /, Piernicki / Perniskie /, Rogacki / Rogatski /, Smoliński / Smoleński /, Świtalla, Teike / Tikey /, Trapski / Tropsky /, Waliński / Velenski / i Wróblewski / Wroblefski /.

Many Poles were buried in Greytown. At the local cemetery, located on the main road, near the Polish church, in its Catholic part, the vast majority are the graves of Polish settlers.

In 1900, a baptism dress was made in Greytown, in which 86 Polish children were baptized: girls and boys – from November 7, 1900 to December 9, 2005. It was made by Marta Valenski née Smolinska – wife of Antoni Walenski, whom she married at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Greytown / Allanton on July 19, 1899.

The baptismal dress was displayed at the exhibition in Dunedin, in the Otago Settlers Museum, in June 2006, organized by the Polish community under the slogan: Polish settlement in Otago in the 19th century .

Leszek Wątróbki.