New Zealand Emigration and Immigration

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Online Records[edit | edit source]

As nearly as can be determined, the years 900-1100 A.D. saw the arrival of the canoes bringing the first Maori settlers. Sporadic European contact occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries until ca.1800. At that time there were between 100,000 and 200,000 Maori and 50 Europeans living in the Islands. Although British missionaries arrived in 1814, the first serious attempt at British colonization was not made until 1826. Most colonists moved on to Australia, declaring that New Zealand was much too primitive. Further attempts at European settlement continued until the 1840s, during which time the Wellington, Wanganui, Akaroa, Nelson, Dunedin and New Plymouth settlements were all founded.

By 1858 there were approximately 56,000 Maori and 59,000 Europeans living in New Zealand. The Maori population had been decimated in part by diseases brought by the white settlers. By 1867, there were 217,436 Europeans in New Zealand, which meant an average annual increase of 17,500 people of European descent during that time. Not all were emigrants, but many were, and the shipping business was brisk. It is by accessing these shipping records that we can learn more of the immigrant’s background and place of origin.

A useful resource for identifying locations of available shipping or passenger lists is the Bibliography for New Zealand Bound Shipping found on the Internet at

Immigration into New Zealand can be broken into the following time periods:

  • Before 1839 (no passenger lists)
  • 1839-1850 - Mainly New Zealand Company passengers and emigrants under government assistance
  • 1840-1843 - Government programs.
  • 1853-1870 - Immigrants given assisted passage by provincial governments.
  • 1870-1888 - Immigrants assisted by the national government, known as the "Vogel Scheme".
  • 1883-1973 - Lists of all passengers, not just assisted immigrants; lists of departing passengers as well.

Until recently, those emigrants coming to New Zealand from Australia (prior to 1886) were unable to be identified from inward shipping lists. A project has been undertaken by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists to extract New Zealand bound passengers from Australian outward passenger lists, thus enabling research to be continued beyond arrival in New Zealand.

For more information about the index created by this project, contact the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. Their address is found in the "New Zealand Societies" article on FamilySearch Wiki.

Passenger lists are not the only types of records generated by emigrants/immigrants. Emigration and immigration records are those generated by people leaving one country (emigrating) and coming into another (immigrating). These records include:

  • Permissions to emigrate
  • Records of passports issued
  • Correspondence
  • Statements of sponsorship
  • Records of assisted immigrants

The information in these records may include the names of the emigrants, ages, occupations, destinations, and sometimes the place of origin or birthplace of the emigrant. Some records have been known to include the names of the parents of adult emigrants, whether living or deceased, their places of birth, and occupations. Where immigrants were sponsored, the information on the sponsor is included. These sponsors were either family members or future employers and provided information on the location of eventual settlement in New Zealand.

In addition to their usefulness in determining where an emigrant lived in the country before leaving their country of birth, these records can help in constructing family groups. Single adults sometimes emigrated with siblings, children usually came with parents, and as mentioned above, some records give even further family information. It was also a common practice to emigrate to a place a relative had already settled, so extended family members can also be found. If not going to a relative, many emigrants joined people from their home town, thus communities may be known for predominantly German, Danish, or English settlement.

Sometimes the determining factor was religion, where a congregation would move almost en masse to a new country to escape either real or perceived persecution, or in an attempt to more fully live their religion in a country not yet bound by religious tradition. In some cases, immigration was assisted by a company which needed workers to develop and work the land that the company had purchased. Whatever the reason for emigrating, there were always records generated. Whether those records survived the ravages of time is not always certain.

Archives New Zealand has produced the usefulMigration Reference Guide to the history of migration in New Zealand and the records generated.  This can be seen at

Passenger Lists[edit | edit source]

The records of port arrivals and departures of migrants are called passenger lists. The information in these lists varies over time but usually includes the names of the emigrants, ages, occupations, and destinations. In addition, relationships and last residence or birthplace may be given. Lists of passengers leaving England before 1890 do not survive. Passenger lists are available for many of the ports of arrival in New Zealand.

Some of the original records of these ports have survived and are found at various repositories. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many of these records. The film numbers of these records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:

Early Settlers Data Base for Nelson 1841-1850

Green, Iris M. The Call of the South Pacific. Description of the ship  'England' chartered from Shaw Saville Line, for 6 trips to New Zealand, between 1865-1872, the last 2 being to Wellington, under the comaand of Captain George Harrington.  The second voyage carried sponsored immigrants for the Public Works Dept of the New Zealand Govt. Article has pictures of John Shiel 1806-1878, Sarah Anne shiel nee Moody1840-1903, a list of some of the staff of the ship, who opted to stay in New Zealand. Article in The Hampshire Family Historian, vol.XV, no.1, May 1988, pages 15-17. Family History Library Ref. 942.27 B2h

Indexes[edit | edit source]

Some indexes to passenger lists exist, but most have been compiled from secondary sources, such as newspaper listings of ships and their passengers. Some books have been published on the emigrants of specific ships, while other books deal with ethnic or religious emigration. Historical works also often contain lists of early immigrants. To find some of these sources, look in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




While these books can help determine at least an approximate time period in which an ancestor may have arrived in New Zealand, they do not always give the name of the ship, and the exact date and place of disembarkation. Without these details, it is virtually impossible to search original or filmed passenger lists.

There are several online indexes and shipping lists.  Some of these are found by going to:

NZ bound lists -

For the Auckland area 1838-1886, 1909-1921 see Auckland area passenger arrivals lists

Outward Passenger Lists from Britain On-line at Ancestors onboard $

Pre-1839 Foreigners in New Zealand

Finding the Emigrant's Place of Origin[edit | edit source]

Once you have traced your family back to your immigrant ancestor, you will want to determine the place where the ancestor was from. If passenger lists are not available or do not provide that information, there are several other sources that may be able to help. Contact older family members, and check for the following:

  • Birth, marriage, and death certificates.
  • Obituaries.
  • Journals.
  • Photographs.
  • Letters.
  • Family Bible.
  • Church certificates/records.
  • Naturalization applications and petitions.
  • Passports.
  • Family heirlooms.

In addition to emigration records for New Zealand, there are other sources for determining your immigrant ancestor's place of origin. See New Zealand Records Selection Table for suggested records to search for "Birthplace."

Additional information about finding the origins of immigrant ancestors is given in the Tracing Immigrant Origins FamilySearch Wiki article.

A wiki article describing this collection is found at: