Somes Prisoners

 Chapter One


The average would-be German emigrant in the nineteenth century probably gave little more than a flicker of interest to the prospect of relocating to New Zealand. It took a temporary fluctuation in international migration conditions in the early 1870s, as well as fortunate timing on the part of the New Zealand Government, to create a temporary increase of interest in emigration to this country.


Emigration from Germany to New Zealand

In Emigration from Europe 1815-1930, Dudley Baines has calculated that slightly over half the sixty million individuals to leave Europe migrated directly to the United States. Australia received 3.5 million immigrants.[i]  New Zealand received 1.7 million migrants between 1860 and 1929.[ii] Germany and Prussia (based on their 1914 boundaries) contributed 4.8 million people to the world-wide emigration trail. In relation to the total population of the country, this number was very small.[iii] Baines adds that the marked decline in German emigration after the 1880s probably resulted from rapid urbanisation and especially from the industrialisation of the Ruhr region and Saxony. Emigration from western Germany virtually ceased around this time, and by 1900, Germany had become a country of net immigration (See Appendix Table 1).[iv]

In 1873, a major financial crisis in the United States dramatically reduced emigration to that country for several years. Many earlier immigrants even returned to their homelands if they could.[v] This roughly coincided with New Zealand’s decision to establish an immigration and public works scheme, the so-called ‘Vogel Scheme’, to hasten the development of the country’s road, rail and telegraph networks and to open the bush-covered central North Island. Although intended to attract British immigrants, the scheme also sought some from the Continent, especially Germans and Scandinavians. Increasing the European population quickly in light of the recent New Zealand Wars was another consideration. For example, the Wanganui Weekly Herald considered Germans to be “a sturdy warlike race, who are not unused to the ping of the bullet.” They made ideal immigrants.[vi] Although adopted in 1870, the Vogel Scheme did not attract immigrants on any scale until 1873[vii] when the magnetic lure of the United States temporarily lost its appeal.

After wars against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866 and France in 1870 and 1871, the German Empire finally unified in 1871 under the formidable Prussian Prime Minister, Count Otto von Bismarck. After such an experience, though, sections of the general population felt shell-shocked. For instance, when promoting the potential for German migration to New Zealand, the German Empire’s Consul in Wellington, Frederick August Krull, suggested that many of these would-be emigrants feared yet another war involving their homeland.[viii]

At the same time, the Prussian Government actively discouraged emigration, stating, for example, that no-one other than German nationals could work as emigration agents.[ix] A new military law[x] in the German Empire was also to raise the number of men liable to be called to arms in the event of war, to 2.8 million. As a result, the Prussian Government prohibited men aged between 18 and 28 years from emigrating, although whole families could sometimes leave if the son had not enrolled before the age of 21. Thus, German men of the ages most suitable for emigration were also those least free to do so.[xi]

The German settlement established at Nelson by the New Zealand Company in 1843 marked the beginning of organised German immigration to New Zealand. These people settled in the Moutere Valley district, to which German migration continued over the next two decades.[xii] By December 1867, 2,838 people of German birth lived throughout New Zealand, 2,293 of them male and 545 of them female. By February 1871, this number had dropped to 2,416, or 1,926 males and 490 females.[xiii] Perhaps in the case of females, this reduction from mostly from natural causes, namely old age in the case of the earlier Nelson immigrants. However, the collapse of the gold industry in the intervening period no doubt contributed to the loss, by re-migration, of many of the males.

The 1871 Census reveals that of these 2,416 German-born people, 91% lived in the Auckland (423), Nelson (427), Canterbury (456), Westland (451) and Otago (448) Provinces. Only 74 persons (54 males and 20 females), or 3%, of the total, lived in the Wellington Province, the location of Manawatu and Rangitikei. At that time, the Manawatu and Rangitikei Electoral Districts had male non-Maori populations totalling 652 and 1,364 respectively.[xiv]  Many, perhaps most, of these 74 Germans apparently lived in the small German farming community that had developed in the Marton area. These people had first migrated to South Australia in the late 1830s, but after their Australian land proved unable to sustain farming, some families moved to the Rangitikei in the 1860s.[xv]

Most Germans assisted by the New Zealand Government under the Vogel Scheme came between 1874 and 1876. Of the ten voyages they came on, two terminated at Napier, one at Christchurch and the remaining eight at Wellington. The Wellington landings doubtless contributed directly to the German population in the Manawatu-Rangitikei.[xvi] The Government soon recognised, however, that the cost of settling emigrants without English was far higher than that for British immigrants. Also, employment opportunities in the district were frequently unreliable, with needy ‘foreigners’ such as Germans proving especially vulnerable.[xvii]

An abrupt cessation of immigration from the Continent in early 1876 came as a shock to the German emigration agent and shipping company. The situation was far worse, though, for hundreds of German emigrants (and other nationalities) who had been accepted for New Zealand, already given the required three months notice to employers and sold their possessions.[xviii] The dilemma came to a head when the Prussian Government forced the agent and shipping company to send these emigrants to New Zealand anyway.[xix]

As a result, on 4 August 1876 the Fritz Reuter sailed into Port Nicholson with its unwanted cargo of over 500 passengers.[xx] The 7 August flurry of communication between F.A. Krull and the Immigration Department in Wellington, saw Krull reduced to virtually begging for their help to accommodate temporarily and feed this enormous number of people. The Minister of Immigration, albeit unwillingly, agreed to allow the most unfortunate to use its immigration barracks. He also agreed to provide a few days’ rations. As it happened, almost every immigrant fitted the Minister’s criteria.[xxi] In due course, a number of these people settled in Manawatu-Rangitikei (including Rongotea).[xxii]


A New Life, 1870s to 1914

Some parts of Manawatu-Rangitikei became pockets of German settlement. Marton’s German community dates to the 1860s. Halcombe, dubbed ‘Berlin’, was the centre of a large community of German emigrants,[xxiii] while Rongotea was another, albeit on a smaller scale. Along with the Danes at Palmerston North, all three communities built Lutheran churches during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Kimbolton, which developed from the mid-1880s, also drew a number of German settlers from other districts. These included some German families from the Stoney Creek Scandinavian Block near Palmerston North.[xxiv] A mixed German and Scandinavian community also developed from the early 1870s at Terrace End, Palmerston North, around the large-scale sawmilling and flourmilling firm, Richter, Nannestad & Co. Established by three prominent Norwegian settlers, this firm was a financial (and linguistically sympathetic) stepping stone for many new immigrants from the Continent.[xxv] 

One would-be German settlement that failed to materialise was ‘German Town.’ Auctioned on the same day in 1879 as Rongotea (formerly Campbelltown), its name, doubtless, stems from an unsuccessful attempt to entice German settlers to buy land on the sandy Carnarvon Estate. Norsewood and Dannevirke also got their names for similar reasons before the arrival of Scandinavians.[xxvi] ‘German Town’ lay at the intersection of State Highways One and Fifty-Six, a corner now called the ‘Himatangi Turn-off’.[xxvii] The name ‘German Town’ soon disappeared.[xxviii]

Other than Lutheran activities and the obvious cohesiveness of small communities with ethnic ties, there is no clear evidence in surviving early Palmerston North newspapers that German organisations or clubs existed in early Manawatu on a scale matching those of Scandinavians immigrants. On the other hand, in 1876 Wanganui did have a ‘German Club.’[xxix] One major event though was the 400th birthday of Martin Luther in November 1883. On that occasion, German and Scandinavian Lutherans from around the region gathered in Palmerston North for a large celebration.[xxx] Evidence of another gathering survives at Terrace End Cemetery. The German inscription on the headstone of two Germans killed by gas in a well ends with the words “Donated by your German Comrades”. Reportedly, nearly all Germans in the Manawatu attended their funeral in February 1886.[xxxi]

Palmerston North, located at the main railway junction in the region, became Manawatu-Rangitikei district’s principal town. Although Germans and Scandinavians helped establish the town, they soon found themselves swamped by settlers of British origin. Even so, the 1878 Census reveals that 8.5% of the town’s population (74 persons in a total population of 880) were German, which was higher than the number of Germans in any other New Zealand borough.[xxxii]

Despite assisted immigration to persons from northern Europe ending in 1876, the German-born population did not peak until 1886. At that time, the total numbered 5,007 people, or 3,255 males and 1,752 females. On the other hand, the number of New Zealanders born in the three main Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) did not peak until 1906, the total then being 5,291.[xxxiii] Thus, it appears that the migration attractants operating between Germany and New Zealand ceased around two decades before they did between Scandinavia and New Zealand (See Appendix Table 2).

After a dramatic increase during the 1870s and then virtual stagnation from 1886, the German-born population of Manawatu-Rangitikei peaked in 1896. The difference between the national and local figures for the 1881 and 1886 censuses indicates that around two-thirds of the nett increase of 188 ‘German-born immigrants’ who ‘arrived’ in New Zealand during that period, subsequently settled in Manawatu-Rangitikei. The sex ratio of German-born persons was better balanced in Manawatu-Rangitikei, at 56% males and 44% females, than on the national scale, with 65% and 35% respectively. This reflects the migration of families (See Appendix Tables 2 and 3).


[i]  Dudley Baines, Emigration from Europe 1815-1930 (Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1991), p.8.

[ii]  A.H. McLintock (ed.), Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (Wellington, 1966) Vol. II, p.132.

[iii]  Baines, pp.7-9.

[iv]  Ibid., p.53.

[v]  W.T Kirchener’s Emigration Report for 1874, 31 January 1874 [sic], AJHR, 1875, D-2, pp. 89-90; also Dietrich Orlow, A History of Modern Germany, 1871 to Present (Third Edition, New Jersey, 1995), pp.47-8.

[vi]  Wanganui Weekly Herald, 22/1/1876 p.1(1).

[vii]  Rollo Arnold, The Farthest Promised Land, English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s (Wellington, 1981), p.48.

[viii]  F.A. Krull to J. Vogel, 19 February 1874, AJHR, 1874, D-1, p.24.

[ix]  R.G.W. Herbert to I.E. Featherston, 27 August 1873, AJHR, 1874, D-3, p.9.

[x]  Dietrich Orlow, A History of Modern Germany, 1871 to Present (Third Edition, New Jersey, 1995), p.42. The contemporary source (See Footnote 11) no doubt refers to the ‘seven year law’ (Septennat) of 1874, which gave the German military a monetary free hand until 1881.

[xi]  I.E. Featherston to Minister of Immigration, 22 January 1875; and W.T. Kirchner’s Emigration Report for 1874, 31 January 1874 [sic], AJHR, 1875, D-2, p.68, 89 respectively.

[xii]  James N. Bade (ed.), The German Connection, New Zealand and German-speaking Europe in the Nineteenth Century (Auckland, 1993), pp.52-9.

[xiii]  Census of New Zealand, 1871, ‘Birthplaces’, Table 11.

[xiv]  Ibid., Tables 10 & 11.

[xv] Rolf E. Panny, ‘German Settlement in the Lower North Island,’ in James N. Bade (ed.) The German Connection, New Zealand and German-speaking Europe in the Nineteenth Century (Auckland, 1993), pp.60-1.

[xvi]  For example, ‘Reichstag’,  Wanganui Chronicle (WC) 24/8/1874 p.2(1); ‘Humboldt’, WC 2/2/1875 p.2(5), 4/2/1875 p.2(3); ‘Lammershagen’, WC 20/7/1875 p.2(2), 23/7/1875 p.2(2),  26/7/1875 p.2(2); ‘Herschel’, WC 14/10/1875 p.2(4); ‘Shakespear’, WC 31/1/1876 p.2(3), 1/2/1876 p.2(6), 2/2/1876 p.2(1), Wanganui Weekly Herald (WWH) 5/2/1876 p.13(3); ‘Terpsichore’, WC 6/3/1876 p.2(2), 18/3/1876 p.2(5), 21/3/1876 p.2(5), 8/4/1876 p.2(1), 11/4/1876 p.2(5), WWH 11/3/1876 p.6(1), 8/4/1876 p.10(4), 15/4/1876 p.3(4); ‘Gutenberg’ WC 15/3/1876 p.2(1), 8/4/1876 p.2(1), WWH 8/4/1876 p.10(4); ‘Fritz Reuter’ WC 10/8/1876 p.2(2), 11/8/1876 p.2(1), 19/8/1876 p.2(3), 28/8/1876 p.2(5), WWH 12/8/1876 p.11(3 & 4), 19/8/1876 p.5(3), 30/9/1976 p.4(4).

[xvii]  For example, Wanganui Weekly Herald, 30/9/1876 p.11(2).

[xviii]  W.T. Kirchner to I.E. Featherston, 20 February 1876, AJHR, 1877, D-2, pp.11-12.

[xix]  W.T. Kirchner to I.E. Featherston, 20 February 1876 and 8 May 1876; I.E. Featherston to R.M. Sloman, 26 February 1876, AJHR, 1877, D-2, p.10, 15, 17 respectively.

[xx]  ‘Fritz Reuter’ passenger list for its Hamburg to Wellington voyage dated 12 April 1876 to 4 August 1876. My copy obtained from a descendent of  a ‘Fritz Reuter’ family that settled at Rongotea. According to J.N. Bade (1996) p.15, the original source is National Archives, Wellington.

[xxi]  Communications between F.A. Krull, the Minister of Immigration and the Under Secretary for Immigration, between 26 July 1876 and 7 August 1876, AJHR, 1877, D-1, pp.4-6. This topic is covered throughout section D-2.

[xxii]  Wanganui Chronicle, 10 August 1876 p.2(2 & 4), 19 August 1876 p.2(3); also Pamela Benson, History of Rongotea (Palmerston North, 1981), pp.13-14; D.A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974, A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding, 1981), pp.77-8; James N. Bade, ‘Assisted Immigrants from the German Empire who settled in the Lower North Island in the 1870s’, in New Zealand Legacy, Vol. 8, No. 1, (1996), pp.13-5; ‘Fritz Reuter’ passenger list 1876.

[xxiii]  K.R. Cassells, The Foxton and Wanganui Railway (Wellington, 1984), p56.

[xxiv]  For example: Val A. Burr, Mosquitoes & Sawdust, a history of Scandinavians in early Palmerston North & surrounding districts (Palmerston North, 1995), pp.66-7, 87; also Stewart Lusk, Up the Kimbolton Road, the story of a New Zealand Small Farm Settlement  (Palmerston North, 1988), pp.160-4.

[xxv]  Burr (1995), p.126, 131-3.

[xxvi]  Ibid., p.8.

[xxvii]  Manawatu Times 8 March 1879 2(3) and 3(4); also  K.R. Cassells, The Sanson Tramway (Wellington, 1962), p.36.

[xxviii] M.H. Holcroft, The Line of the Road: A History of Manawatu County 1876-1976 (Dunedin, 1977), p.95, 145-6.

[xxix]  Wanganui Chronicle 22 June 1876 p.2(4).

[xxx]  Burr (1995), pp.136-7, based on reports in the Manawatu Times of 10 November 1883 p. 2(7) and 12 November 1883 (2(7).

[xxxi]  Burr (1995), pp.112-3

[xxxii]  Census of New Zealand, 1878, ‘Birthplaces’, p.242.

[xxxiii]  Burr (1995), p.7.

© Val Burr, 2003