Migrant Tales – “Shall I Make the Move? Take the Risk” and Advice to Intending Colonists


EJ Wakefield said don't listen to other migrants, trust your emigration company!

EJ Wakefield said don’t listen to other migrants, trust your emigration company!

Continuing in our popular series of Migrant Tales, first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.

Today’s tale was first published on an emigration website, one where contributors risk public humiliation for expressing negative views about their new country, nevertheless some brave souls push on regardless, and occasionally the glimmer of truth shines like a beacon for the lost.

This tale was taken from the response to the question Make the move? take the risk – honest opinions sought, made by a prospective migrant to New Zealand. Here’s one of the answers it received. You may find it useful if you’re intending to migrate, from say – the US and want to know exactly what you should be researching.

I would do as much research as possible, it can’t hurt and it can certainly give you a better idea of what to expect. I wouldn’t ignore any comments, especially if they’re given byKiws giving their experience and attitudes. In fact, I urge you to start reading the New Zealand newspapers and all kinds of forums. The major daily, The New Zealand Herald, only invites comments onan small selectnumber of article, which in itself is revealing. Noticethe quality of writing, how in-depth the articles are (or aren’t). There is an idea that nothing worth reporting happens here, but I have to disagree. It’s just not in the culture to air dirty laundry, or to question things too much. Investigative journalism is minimal therefore you’ll have to do a lot of your own research.I’m of mixed heritage and have experienced a disturbing amount of prejudice because of it, also because of my American accent. I also hear plenty of anti-American comments because no one expects me to be American because of the way I look, so people have been less likely to censor what they say within my earshot. I’m actually not American by the way. I can’t predict how much difficulty, if any, your wife will experience because of her heritage. There are quite a few Indonesians in New Zealand, just as there are a considerable number of Asians of all nations in Auckland. I can only give you an honest appraisal of my experience. I can tell you that my New Zealand family is rabidly anti-Asian, and I’ve heard plenty of similar attitudes over the years. Doesn’t mean that your family will necessarily be surrounded by the worst of the small minded people, as New Zealand, like anywhere else, has people who are ignorant and bitter, and people who are not.

I cannot really comment on quality of life, as this is way too personal a assessment. In my opinion I don’t think New Zealand and Auckland in particular, offers a superior quality of life, certainly not as far as good quality, affordable housing, good infrastructure, or good education. If you do research you’ll find plenty of opinions, but many people will concur that if you are looking for varied cultural activities and vibrant city life as you might find in the large cities of Europe or many other places, Auckland really isn’t the place to be.

We’re leaving for the reasons above, but most important for us these days is the quality of the schools. We don’t feel our child is getting the best kind of education now, and certainly not in the future as far as higher education goes. In our opinion, there is way too much emphasis on sports as compared to academics. There is also the “harden up” attitude that pervades schools, and the greater culture as well. It suits some people, it’s not for us. Also, children benefit from good cultural amenities as much as adults, at least I think so.

I suggest you do research on:

Housing quality and affordability

Cost of living

Incidence of crime, and the types of crimes committed most frequently

Quality of the environment, especially studies not done by those trying to promote New Zealand immigration or tourism. New Zealand markets itself as some kind of pristine paradise and there’s a lot of money at stake to promote the claim, especially govenment and large business interests.

Cultural attitudes, especially “tall poppy syndrome” and xenophobia.

The education system, especially NCEA. Schools here do not provide lunch rooms, and the children sit on cold concrete in the winter to eat their food. Also, the quality of most schools is similar to the quality of the homes, meaning they’re poorly insulated and heated, unless they’re newer, and even then they’re not up to par.

Variety and price of food and goods.

New Zealand is a very remote country with a small population. They promote themselves heavily to attract migrants, and New Zealand has traditionally had a very high rate of emigration, especially to Australia. In recent years immigration has increased, with the majority of people coming from various Asian countries.

I would also recommend the Trade Me (sort of the eBay of NZ) forums to get an idea of what real Kiwis think and what they like to talk about.

I leave you with this excerpt from an “Advice to Intending Colonists” written in the 19th century by a man named Wakefield who was instrumental in driving immigration to New Zealand. It was written after there was some talk that New Zealand was being sold in a dishonest way, with much more promised than could be delivered. Wakefield was a politician and propogandist. Have things changed much since then? Good question. I would say it’s almost as true today as then, except that the cost of living is probably higher in New Zealand than many other English speaking countries.

The pamphlet explained:
(a) Those who should venture to emigrate should be strong and of good constitution and be prepared to ROUGH IT, work hard and can live and thrive on those things that are cheap to buy. Men of speculative tendencies, good business habits, and sufficient money to get them started in some business. Tradesmen of all types, the hard working class, for wages are better than in the old country and food is cheap.
(b) Those who should never venture out: Well to do ladies and gentlemen from high class families – this class of person is utterly useless in the colony and will suffer great hardships. People on low incomes from England whose money will not go far in the colony, for 30/- a week would be no more than £1 a week at home. Food is cheaper but everything else is dearer. Others, whose characters are not suited to colonial life, are those who are sympathetic, imaginative, poetic and refined in their tastes. These will be the ones who will pine for home and the companionship of their life in the old country.

Interestingly, Wakefield also said not to listen other migrants and to go direct to the emigration company for advice, this must have made him one of the original ‘Emigrate to NZ’ pimps. This also gives a hint to where NZ’s culture of spin and state ‘guidance’ of public opinion first came from.

Do not listen to people who force their acquaintance on you in order either to grumble at hardships real or imaginary, or to praise inordinately everything in the colony: such persons constantly annoy new-comers, from the time of the ship’s arrival in the port until the Colonist has entered steadily upon his adopted life; you may generally depend on it that they are actuated either by self-interest, or by foolish vanity and idleness. Avoid them, and judge very much for yourself. This advice is of course intended for perfect strangers, knowing no one in the place where they arrive, and not possessing a sincere and earnest letter of friendly introduction to some experienced Colonist. The guidance of such a friend is undoubtedly most valuable. If really at a loss for advice, apply to the New Zealand Company’s Agent in the particular settlement. He is less interested in setting you wrong, and more interested in setting you right, than probably any one else there; and he is sure to possess the most knowledge on the very points in which you want.

4 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – “Shall I Make the Move? Take the Risk” and Advice to Intending Colonists

  1. I first heard the selection from Wakefield’s “Advice to Intending Colonists” on an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” Australia series, the genealogical program that explores the ancestry of various celebrities. The episode featured Rebecca Gibney, the New Zealand born popular Australian actress. The episode is no longer available to view in it’s entirety on YouTube, at least not outside of Australia I believe. If I recall correctly she left New Zealand as a young woman and never returned to live, as it was a place where she experienced an unhappy, troubled past.

    • In the quote below, note that Rebecca Gibney boasts about her “lack of airs and graces.” How do we know Kiwis are humble? Because they keep telling us they are. The deeply ingrained tall poppy syndrome comes through, as does the reality that life in New Zealand means you must resign yourself to lowered expectations, and convince yourself you’ll be better for it. Gibney, like so many others, had to leave New Zealand as a very young woman to find a better life and more opportunity. It also highlights how Wakefield’s advice is still very relevant today.

      “My mum raised me to increase your appreciation and lower your expectations,” she says on the phone from Sydney, where she’s filming the third series of Rafters. “You’ve always got to be appreciative of your opportunities and not get too ahead of yourself.”

      “While in part attributing her lack of airs and graces to “the Kiwi in me”, Gibney admits there’s little doubt her journey to this point has helped her keep her feet firmly on the ground. It hasn’t always been easy for the girl from Levin, who as a kid loved climbing trees, gymnastics and eating feijoa ice cream. She has never made any secret of the fact her father Austin was a violent alcoholic who beat her mother – once likening her family to that portrayed in Once Were Warriors. Austin died when Gibney was just 17, leaving her with deep emotional scars. While career wise her star rose in her 20s with roles in Zoo Family, Flying Doctors and Halifax f.p., sporadic panic attacks culminated in an emotional collapse in her early 30s, and she was forced to seek help for depression and agoraphobia.”


      In any event, her story was a particularly dark one in the series, and you can’t help but feel for her and applaud her escape from her dark past.

      • She’s also to be commended for making an apology for the sins of her elders. Her grandfather James Way Jnr invaded the peaceful Maori settlement of Parihaka in Taranaki.

        ‘I found out that one of my ancestors was involved in one of the worst atrocities in New Zealand’s history,’ she candidly reveled to the radio duo.

        ‘Through my blood line I had to go back to the land and say sorry.’

        Rebecca’s great grandfather fathered 16 children and her grandmother,who was 19-years-old and pregnant when she arrived in New Zealand from London in 1913.

        Eventually she surrendered her daughter Kathleen to foster care.


        Readers may remember John Key’s recent announcement about Britain’s peaceful settlement of New Zealand, which was completely at variance from the actual history of New Zealand and the Maori Land Wars. As you say, Wakefield’s advice is still relevant today.

  2. This is a very instructive post. The migrants of yesteryear did not have the benefit of the Internet or modern communications that would enable them to extricate themselves from New Zealand once the disillusionment and reality set in. In the old days, a boat ride to New Zealand would cost a fortune, whereas today a plane ride is much more affordable by comparison. Nonetheless, some migrants run out of money and remain stuck in New Zealand.
    My wife’s great-grandmother came from a well to do English family and met my wife’s Kiwi great grandfather in England during World War I. He passed himself as a landed gentleman, which meant in New Zealand that he had hundreds of acres of bush. The great grandmother wrongly assumed that he was akin to a landed English gentleman on a developed estate in England. The woman came to New Zealand to discover exactly what it was like. I pity that refined woman having to live amongst the Retardicons of the South Island in an era before the Internet. At least she taught the local kids how to play piano and brought some culture and refinement to the otherwise uncouth and uncivilised locals.
    New Zealand has been scamming people since the Europeans arrived. The DNA of the modern Kiwi consists of people dishonest enough to perpetrate the myth mixed with the credulity of people dumb enough to migrate there and lacking in the gumption to extricate themselves from there. The sensible and capable Kiwis left long ago.

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