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120 years ago!

Letter by Francesco De Cesare to the Chief Secretary

Off King George's Sound

30th May 1883


I beg to confirm ...... and inform you hereby of the result of my mission to New Zealand.

I left Sydney on the 25th January last [1883] for Auckland, where, on my arrival I was informed that His Excellency the new appointed Governor of New Zealand, who had recently arrived in that Colony, and for whom I had a letter of introduction from Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Earl of Kimberley, was on the point of leaving Wellington for a tour of the South Island, accompanied by the Premier, for whom I had another letter of introduction from the Agent General; and that, therefore, if I went to Wellington, I should not be able to see any of them. I was also informed that the Honourable, Mr Rolleston, the Minister for Lands & Immigration, was on his way to Auckland, and that I might confer with him on the subject of my mission, the immigration affairs being entirely left in his hands.

I waited, therefore, at Auckland the arrival of Mr Rolleston, and in the interval I visited all the country around that town, in order to see what openings that Island offered to Maltese Emigrants.

On Mr Rolleston's arrival I asked and obtained from him an interview and had a long conversation with him on the subject of my mission. He told me that, as the state of things was at present in that Colony, he and his colleagues could not do anything in the shape of encouraging immigration without previously consulting and obtaining the necessary vote from the local Parliament. The local Legislature had, for some years, suspended the grant for general and direct immigration; and according to the present regulations, only assisted passage was granted to nominated immigrants; that is to say, to immigrants nominated by any person already settled and staying in the Colony. As you see, such assisted passage could not be granted to Maltese emigrants, unless somebody in the Colony gave their names to the Government Immigration Agent and deposited for them the amount required by the said regulations. Besides that they would have to go to England to be embarked on board emigrants ships chartered by the Government for carrying immigrants to that Colony.

The political condition of New Zealand, so far as the working classes are concerned, is exactly the same as in the Australian colonies; and the war cry of that class of people, is just the same against encouraging immigration - so that the members, both of the Legislative Assembly and the Government, are as in the other Australian Colonies too much dependent on the working class who enjoy manhood suffrage. The question, therefore, of encouraging emigration from Malta to New Zealand, was a very delicate one for that Government to deal with.

I have succeeded, however, in obtaining a very strong support for my scheme from ................. and several other members of the House, to whom I had been introduced. They all expressed themselves as very favourable towards encouraging by any reasonable means, the introduction of the Maltese, especially gardeners, servants, fishermen and the sort, in the Colony.

Encouraged by such a moral support, I proposed to Mr Rolleston to make a trial, on a small scale, of introducing a limited number of Maltese to the Colony, and if they turned out, as I had no doubt they would, a desirable class of colonists, provisions might be made for the introduction of a larger number afterwards. I told him that I was sure Parliament would not object voting a small sum to that effect in a Colony where labour was so very scarce and in such great demand and the resources were so unlimited.

I succeeded in making the following arrangements with the above Minister, after his having obtained the approval and sanction of his Colleagues in the Ministry by telegraph.

A The number not to exceed thirty.

B The Immigrants to be carefully selected in accordance with the general conditions applying to Government immigrants to health and general suitableness.

C Those only to be taken who have special knowledge of Olive or Vine culture, or some other special industry adapted to the climate of New Zealand, other than hat of ordinary labourers.

D The Government of Malta to give five pounds per head towards the passage money of each adult, male or female, and the Government of New Zealand to provide the balance to an extent in each case not exceeding ten pounds per head. It will be understood that upon their arrival in the Colony the Government of New Zealand will afford the usual facilities of barrack accommodation etc as afforded to ordinary immigrants.

As you see from the enclosed correspondence that passed between the New Zealand Government and me, the Malta Government is not bound by the agreement if they do not choose to adhere to it. So that it is wholly optional to the Malta Government to accept it or not. In fact I had no authority to conclude any agreement as a proposal on my part. Which proposal, however, as you can see, was accepted by that Government, and it is now left to the Malta Government to accept it, if they liked to do so, and give effect to it.

I beg to state that the apparently extremely rigorous reserves contained in Mr Rolleston's letter are not to be taken ad literam. The Government were bound to make such reserves till they saw how Parliament would view their action on the matter, and at the same time not to alarm with such a concession the working classes.

If Parliament, as I have good reason to hope, will approve the action of the Government and vote without any opposition the necessary funds; and if, on the arrival of the first batch of Maltese emigrants they will be found, as I have no doubt they will be, a desirable class of settlers, the agreement may be extended for a greater number.

After having concluded that agreement, Mr Rolleston invited me to make a tour with him and his family around the Island, in the North Province, on board the Government steamer Stella in order to have an opportunity of seeing and studying the whole country in that part of the Island and of judging for myself of its suitability for Maltese settlers. Which invitation I accepted and that trip obliged me to extend my stay in New Zealand more than I intended.

On my return to Auckland, I was advised to go to Tauranga and thence to Tanpo near Napier and the Kowhai Harbour, which has recently been opened, in order to see how several settlements of English and Germans established in the former place were progressing, and the prospects of the latter, and at the same time, to see if the lands, the openings and the climate of that part of the Island were suited to Maltese settlers.

I proceeded there, and am now able to report as follows on all I have seen in that Island. I say in that Island as I limited my excursions and investigations to that Island only, as I considered that it is suited, owing to the climate, more than the Southern, or Middle Island, to the Maltese. The climate of the South Island being cold like that of England whilst that of the Northern Island is very nearly like that of Malta, with the only exception that rain is there more, and a good deal more, abundant than in Malta.

I do not think it necessary to give a description of that Island, as the books laid on the Council table, I believe, show enough what an attractive Island New Zealand is, where poets and artists can have the best inspirations for their work. I limit myself to say that I found it the most picturesque, beautiful and attractive amongst all the Australian Colonies and Tasmania. It is something like Switzerland, and may be called the Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere. Its climate, as I said before, is very much like that of Malta, with the exception that the summer heat there, is mitigated by cool nights and now and then by the fall of rain.

The resources of the Island are many; and the Maltese would find a very rich crop to harvest if they went there determined to work and utilise as much as they could those resources to their advantage. Mr Rolleston showed me some very beautiful lands in the Northern part of Auckland, which are very well adapted for growing anything, and suitable to Maltese farmers; and he is prepared, as he told me, to grant some tracts of lands to Maltese migrants, if they choose to settle there, at the conditional purchase price of from 5s to 20s per acre, according to quality; they would have to pay the purchase price at so much every half year in instalments of one shilling per acre. The Government Surveyor of Auckland, under instructions, gave me a plan showing the Government lands open for selection in that district, with a reference book showing the extent, class and quality of each of those tracts of land.

Near Tauranga up to the lakes are several tracts of very good lands, partly belonging to the Government and partly to private individuals, which could got from 10s to two pounds per acre. I have seen wheat, corn, tobacco, potatoes, beans, lucernes and the sort growing very luxuriantly on those lands; as well as fruit trees of different kinds, as peaches, pears, apples, nectarines, loquats, pomegranates, and in some places beautiful orange trees and vines.

However, as I said in my previous report, I am afraid that no Maltese farmer or gardener would leave Malta for New Zealand to take up some of those lands, unless he went there with the intention of being employed, and then should purchase some of those lands out of the savings of his wages for himself and his family to cultivate in their spare time. That class of people are very scarce in that Colony and very much wanted; so that if some of them, who have some knowledge of farming and gardening, may be induced to emigrate to that Colony, they may be sure of obtaining, as soon as they land there, immediate employment at wages varying from 35s to 38s a week, according to their respective efficiency and ability.

Another class of people, who would do very well in New Zealand, are fisherman. Fish of every sort are so abundant in the mouths of rivers and harbours, and generally along the seacoast, that in some places and during the low ebb, they can be caught by hand. There are very few fishermen there, and, therefore, the towns are inadequately supplied with fish. Some Italians settled in Auckland and Wellington are making a lot of money by fishing and salting a quantity of the fish they catch. I am quite sure that if some Maltese fishermen went to Auckland or Tauranga, or indeed, to any of the numerous harbours of the Northern Island, they would do very well, and in a few years, would be able to secure an independent position in the Island

Olive grows very well in that island, and if the industry of salting and making olives, or making oil was introduced there, the Maltese would find a very profitable occupation and investment. The same thing may be aid of vine growing and wine making. The vines grow most luxuriantly in the North Island, and I have seen splendid grapes, grown there, in the fruit shops of Auckland. Some experiments have been made to make wine; but the wine given me to taste was not such as to deserve that name. This is caused by the inexperience of the vine growers in the art of making wine. The material, however, is there, and a very good material too; it is only a question of time and of improvement in the way of making it, to obtain a good wine from the grape juice.

In Auckland there are many industries and manufactories where Maltese labourers and mechanics may find immediate and very remunerative employment. There are also in the province several coal mines, which give employment to many people. A new industry has lately sprung up at Auckland, which, if it proves successful, may give employment to many thousand people. That is the separating by magnetic iron dust - which is very abundant in the Island - from sand, with which it is mixed, and forming pig iron from it.

Another very important resource in the Northern Island is the Kauri Gum, which is found under ground at a depth ranging from two to five feet. This gum lies in strata underground and is something like amber, of the consistency of stone; in fact several beautiful ornaments are carved out of it in that Island. The best kind of it obtains there 45 pounds to 50 pounds a ton; and in England, I understand, fetches about 100 pounds a ton; and is used for copal and other kinds of varnish. People who do not like to work by any sort of engagement go digging for that gum in the extensive uncultivated lands and the bush, where they may work how and when they like, without being subjected to the control of anybody.

By such an industry the kauri gum diggers get from 2 pounds to 5 pounds a week, and they find immediate sale for the gum as there are several merchants who but it to ship it for England. In some instances, a license is required to dig for that gum which costs about 2 shillings six pence a month or for an allotment of lands. In other instances, an agreement is made between the digger and the owner of the land by which the digger pays the latter so much per ton or per hundred pounds worth; in some other instances, the gum merchants give the use of the lands to diggers for extracting the gum, on condition that they are to sell to them all the gum extracted at a fixed price previously agreed to.

Railways, which are numerous in New Zealand, give employment to many people also; and I have seen several Italians employed in some of them. A Company is on the point of starting for the construction of a line from Tauranga to the Lakes, and the promoter of the same has already obtained the necessary concession from the Government and extensive lands. He assured me that he would be able to employ any number of Maltese labourers, to whom he would sell also some of those lands on easy terms and thus form there a Maltese settlement.

At Auckland I met three Maltese, there settled for several years, and at Tauranga another one, employed as cook; they are all doing well; and have no idea of returning to Malta. They told me that there are some other Maltese, whom they know, settled at Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

List of Maltese met at New Zealand [Auckland] where they are settled since several years

S. Vassallo Ta' Nofs Malta [nickname] from Hal-Qormi


.... Scerri Brother of Capt. Scerri from Valletta


Giuseppe Fenech Tal-Mithna [nickname] from Rabat [Malta]

From my own experience during the last twenty five years travelling, I can say that the Maltese adapt themselves to any climate, from the coldest to the warmest. So that the question of climate is not such that should have any great influence on the solution of the Emigration question. I have seen Maltese settled for many years in Southern Russia, in such places as Ketch, Nicolaieff and Odessa; in Turkey, especially in Constantinople where the winter season is very cold, in the Danubian principalities, in England and Ireland where the coldest seasons is the extreme to that of Malta; in Algiers, Tunis, Egypt, especially Port Said, in Aden where the heat is nearly as intense as that of Queensland.

Engineers, sailors, carpenters, tinsmiths, cabinet makers, masons, blacksmiths, and in fact any sort of mechanics find immediate and very remunerative employment in New Zealand, where the shipping and general traffic, and in particular the timber trade, between the several ports of the Colony and the Australian Colonies and China, give employment to many people.

And as that traffic is daily increasing in extent and importance there can be no fear that the demand for labourers and mechanics of that class will cease for many and many years have to pass before the want and supply in that respect may counterbalance each other.

Living, clothing and house rent are cheaper than that in the Australian Colonies, so that, with very high wages on one side, and economy on the other, many people of the working classes have succeeded in the Colony in building or purchasing their own houses and gardens, and live as independently and comfortably as any of the better classes in Malta. The Banks in all these Colonies are very beneficial institutions, as by their aid in lending money on easy terms, they enable many people to build their own houses, improve their own lands and stations, and extend trade and industries in all directions. There are besides several other similar helping companies, so that for selling land or houses to people who cannot afford paying the whole value at once, allowing them to pay it in installments of so much per month, and the like. So that any emigrant there settled who takes good care of saving his earnings, and leads a frugal and sober life, in a few years may attain to a comparatively independent position, such as he would not be able to get in Europe after many years of hard work and economy. There are also the Government savings banks which afford great facilities to depositors, and schools everywhere, as in all the Australian Colonies and Tasmania, where instruction is compulsory. Auckland is the seat of a Roman Catholic Bishop, and there are in that Province many Roman Catholics. The present Bishop has been in Malta for several months before he went to that Colony, and he speaks very favourably of the Maltese, whom he desires very much to see there the increasing the number of his flock in that diocese.

I conclude this report by hoping that those amongst the Maltese working classes who cannot find sufficient and remunerative employment in Malta will avail themselves of that experience I have acquired and the information I was able to collect in New Zealand, and lose no time in starting for that colony where a splendid future is reserved to hard working, steady, sober and economical settlers and where ether social and political condition will greatly improve.

I have &c

[Signed] Francesco Saverio De Cesare

The Honourable

The Chief Secretary to Government - Malta

Source: Reports by Francesco Saverio De Cesare upon the Suitability of the British Colonies in Australia as a field for Maltese Migration - Malta Government Printing Office. 1883.



Re-typed from the original by Mark Caruana

Passport applications of early emigrants from the Maltese Islands to New Zealand

Background to Initial Research

While researching Maltese migration to Australia of early immigrants, I came across some passport applications held at the National Archives, Rabat Malta wherein the intended destination was stated to be New Zealand, and decided to include such photocopies in my research collection.

My research was not systematic and the records from 1906-1911 were in a very bad state of deterioration and as they are not yet microfilmed, I refrained from perusing them.

Thee are five individual applications for the period 1899-1906. Four out of five applicants hailed from Malta’s sister island, Gozo.

One wonders whether any of these pioneers settled permanently in NZ or moved elsewhere such as to Australia, or returned to Malta.

It is hoped that such information can throw light on this little-known aspect of Maltese migration to New Zealand, a land that Rose Godfrey aptly described as il-post fejn ix-xitan halla l-karkura l-ohra.

It is earnestly hoped that these findings may act as a stimulant for further research.

18 August 1899 Busuttil Saverio of late Francesco 51 Sannat Gozo NZ

10 Sept 1900 Bajada Salvatore of late Liberato 19 Xaghra Gozo NZ

3 May 1902 Briffa Carmelo 23 Gozo Auckland

24 February 1906 Brown Frank (Sliema resident) 20 Valletta Wellington

19 January 1906 Cremona Luigi 20 Victoria Gozo, Wellington