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Polish Immigration to Otago & Southland ….. The story behind moving halfway around the world


Sir Julius Vogel 1866.“VOGEL” is German for “bird.” Hence Sir Julius is appropriately called a bird of passage.” Bruce Herald, 17 June 1884, p 3

As early as June 1859, the Otago Witness expressed the interest in German Immigration, with Germans expected from Germany and Australia that summer. Waihola had already 14 among them, suggesting them to be a very industrious and sober part of the population. The German Association however, dealing with immigrants to Melbourne, advised them not to go to Otago as it was deemed too cold and the inhabitant’s intolerant. Though anxious to encourage German immigration to New Zealand, it was requested an official report be made due to misleading statements, especially regarding the tangata whenua.  As early as 1863, a German settlement at Taranaki was seriously contemplated which would introduce 1000 emigrants to the Colony, and would consist of 500 married couples between the ages of 20 and 40 with as few children as possible. However, since 1860, the region had been under siege by a war unlawfully started by Governor Browne, enslaving the local Maori and rendering them landless.  An abrupt termination was forced suggesting negotiations with Otago more suitable.

On the 20th of June, a deputation was held on the Taieri for the purpose of resuming assisted immigration, but on a much larger scale.  The meeting was held between a handful of local Scottish settlers accompanied by James Allan of Hope Hill, District Members of the New Zealand House of Representatives including Londoner, Julius Vogel and Englishmen, John Harris the Superintendent of Otago. The local farmers stated that they were seriously crippled by the difficulty in obtaining labour and it was suggested that German immigrants in number might be obtained from some of the large shipping houses in Germany.  Newspapers informed the local farmers about the success in establishing German immigrants in settlements such as that at Queensland and Victoria.  By the end of the sixties, New Zealand was in a state of economic stagnation and was now ready to accept Vogel’s dramatic financial statement.

Courtesy of Papers Past | Newspapers | Otago Witness | 10 February 1872 | News of the Week. (natlib.govt.nz)

On the 28th of June, 1870, Vogel persuaded the Colonial Government to borrow 10,000,000 pounds within a ten-year period between 1870 and 1880 for the purpose of immigration, resettlement, railway and road construction along with other public works. In fact, the next decade saw an influx of around 100,000 immigrants to New Zealand at double the cost of around 20, 000, 000 pounds with 1000 of those being of Polish ethnicity.  A large-scale drive for immigrants not only from the United Kingdom but also from other parts of Europe was decided.

There, it appeared that people accustomed to the woods and forests, as well as adverse climatic conditions, such as the Poles, would provide the right element to clear and farm a wilderness such as existed in many parts of New Zealand.

Since 1772, Poland, a country far removed from New Zealand, was divided, suffering cruelly under the rule of three hard masters—Prussia, Russia and Austria. The victorious German leaders following the Franco-Prussian war were determined to retain their position of pre-eminence in Europe.  On the 18th of January, 1871, Otto von Bismarck was successful in bringing the German Confederate states together to form modern day Germany.  However, Bismarck saw the Slavic population a hindrance to his intense Germanisation campaign, especially in the Prussian partition. He enforced a set of discriminatory laws with great vigour from 1871 to 1877 with intentional ethnic cleansing on a large-scale, particularly against the catholic population, by forcing the closure of churches and Polish schools.  Speaking or having any Polish contraband was illegal and any form of Polish education was abolished. Catholic Priests were gaged on any political views at their sermons. In 1873 the term Kulturkampf was given to the political struggle of the Catholic church for the rights of self-government which was encountered with a well-organised and determined Polish resistance.



It is interesting to note that the line (24) between Tczew and Starogard Gdański was completed on the 16th of January 1871. August Plewa who arrived on the Palmerston was one of those platelayers in Poland. So is it coincidental that a number of them ended up constructing the railway in New Zealand


It appears, during the 1860s and 1870s, many landless farmers and their families were constantly on the move looking for seasonal work and were particularly drawn towards the town of Stargard (Starogard Gdanski). Here a large Prussian Army was stationed which was constantly in need of food and supplies.  The surrounding farms, which by now were owned mostly by German landlords, helped provide for this need.  This generated a much-needed labour force which was available to the landless farmers who were needing to feed and provide shelter for their families. Many were also drawn to the area to work on the railway line that would connect the towns of Tczew and Starogard Gdański.  The line was opened for service on 16 January 1871, quickly developing and utilising the railway system, which was able to move and concentrate larger numbers of German troops around the region.

The ‘West Coast Times’ reports from a Prussian correspondent that in June of 1872, Germany would be recruiting a further 140,000 into the German Army. By this time, compulsory service was introduced from age 20. The first three years were in the regular army followed by four in the reserve. In 1870, the army could call on all males between the ages of 20 and 28 producing an army of 730,000 men.

Many were in fear of German conscription actuated by a burning desire to better themselves, rise above the poverty and seek freedom for the future.  Land confiscation was common, leaving many extremely poor with little offer of employment. Many heard of the possibility to migrate to America but often many were diverted to places like Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  Families pooled together what little money they had for the journey’s expenses, and whoever drew the short straw was on their way, not before first visiting the parish priest who would provide them with the necessary documents.

George Shapleski recalls reminesences of his grandfather, Jacob Czablewski; “Emigration was not favoured by Prussian authorities at this time. Mr Julius Matties who had lived at Hokitika and was a sponsor and promoter of immigration for the New Zealand Government, when visiting the country for the purpose of selecting farm workers, was imprisoned and died while in prison”.

One had to keep their intentions a secret from the Prussian authorities in fear of an early eviction and were smuggled out, especially those families with boys of conscription age.

Kociewie, Poland.

Kociewie, Poland

At Hamburg, Germany, the company of Louis Knorr entered into an agreement to find 2,000 migrants within two years from 1871. In order to fill their quota, the New Zealand Government paid an agency fee of one pound per adult to the German sub-agents. Prior to October 1873, the migrants had to pay a fee of five pounds per cost of their passage. However, because of strong competition from America, promoting free passage and land, New Zealand soon granted free passage with the opportunity to obtain land.

A grandfather’s reminiscences as told to a grandson.

The story of Jakob Czablewski from the village of Male Turze, Kociewie as told by George Shapleski of Feilding (Part One).

“In my youth one could say that I was a bit of a wanderer, having been in both Germany and Russia. I had visited the Ukraine and worked in the vicinity of the city of Kiev; travelled to Lemberg and at one time or another lived in Posen and Cracow.  Being a horse lover and brought up to work with horse teams -at planting time in the fields, as a coachman and driver, there was little difficulty in finding something, somewhere, to turn a hand at.  It was, I think, in 1861-62 a very severe and cold winter in central Poland.  I was working for the owner of a large estate, usually with horses.  Sometimes called out to act a s coachman to my gentleman employer, host to his visiting town friends.  On the journey we were caught in a sudden blinding and blustery snow blizzard, obscuring trees and roadway.  My passengers, being rugged up and warm, were very anxious for their safety and the vehicle should not be in danger of being upset by straying from the road, producing much anxiety and numerous timid inquiries of “can you see where you are going, Jakob?” One of my numerous jobs was to accompany workmates on a horse drawn sled, through snow and slush, to the frozen over Vistula, near Starogard, to work at sawing the thick river ice into blocks, then deliver the freezing load to the master’s house where it was stacked in an underground storeroom or cellar for cooling purposes in the warmer weather.  There was always the needed warm comfortable spot out of the cold to be found with the stabled horses in the barn.  Many a time this was a haven for me.  On leaving this job, then seeking the next, resulted in becoming acquainted with my future wife.  We were married in 1863, both in our twenties.

At this time Prussian horse troops were frequently seen in the now German Poland.  There were frequent scuffles, grumbles and discontent at the subjection of our people, foreign occupancy of land, plus the added burden of providing sustenance for German army units, to which Poles were now subject to serve.  The invasion of French territory by Prussian soldiery and the occupation of Paris in 1870-71 was a trying time for many Poles, as during the many domestic upsets caused by the several partitions, steady emigration of people to France took place and, consequently, the war resulted in Polish casualties on both sides.  The desire by us to emigrate had often been talked over and the growing family responsibilities. Some prompting of friends who were in communication with relatives already settled in the Province of Otago, New Zealand, decided us to risk the great voyage.

Emigration was not favoured by Prussian authorities at this time.  Mr Julius Matthies who settled at Hokitika and was a sponsor and promoter of immigration for the New Zealand Government, when visiting the country for the purpose of selecting farm workers, was imprisoned and died while in prison. “We regret to hear of the death, in Prussia, of Mr. Julius Matthies, an old resident in Hokitika, who went Home on business connected with immigration. At the time of his death Mr. Matthies was contemplating his return to Hokitika. He leaves a wife and two children resident in this town.” “Matthies— On the 7th July last, at his mother’s residence, Treptow, Pomerania, Prussia, Julius Eberhardt Matthies, late of Hokitika, of inflammation of the brain. Aged 42 years.” West Coast Times, 1 Oct 1875. The opportunity came and we joined five local families who proposed to immigrate with assistance of the New Zealand Government.  In the late spring a small party of adults and children took a ship from the Baltic port of Danzig, en route to Hamburg, and we were on our way.”  The History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand J. W. Pobog-Jaworowski (1990), pp 55 & 56. Jakob Czablewski with families; Chajewski, Jakusz, Markinski, Max, Rosanowski and Stobba arrived in New Zealand aboard the Lammershagen which arrived at Wellington on 11th of July 1875. They were sent to the South Island settlement at Jackson’s Bay.


Pomeranian Births

The majority of Polish immigrants who settled in Otago and Southland were born in the Kociewian region except for 1. Baumgardt 2. Hoffman, who are initially from the region of Kaszuby

Pomeranian departing

The majority of Polish immigrants of Otago and Southland departed from within the Kociewian region except for the families of; 1. Baumgardt 2. Orlowski from Kaszuby. Gdansk is 30 km north and Malbork Castle 15 km to the west


Mr. Wisnesky of Petone, a grandson of Michael and Anna Wisniewski who arrived aboard the Reichstag in 1874 and settled at Waihola, recalled to George Pobóg-Jaworowski on his visit in 1972,

His grandparents came from Turze near Tczew, in Pomerania, a part of Poland which was under German administration. His grandparents told him that the Germans were bad, but the Russians who occupied other parts of Poland were twice as bad. When they heard in their village of the possibliity of emigrating to New Zealand, all Poles there decided to leave.  However, this was not easy.  While at home they were employed by the Germans who treated them like pigs, they had to live with the pigs and the payment that they received from their employers represented pocket money rather than salary. When a Polish family decided to leave the village all relatives of the family and their friends had to put all the money together for the travelling expenses from home up to Hamburg, etc. Once a sufficient amount was collected, they prepared a draw and the winner was given the money for the passage.  As a result, only small groups were leaving their birth places and any one time. When they arrived in New Zealand, they were happy to start a new life here far away from home where a foreign ruler was the master. They never wanted to go back there, anyway they were too poor to afford such travel.” 


The German Connection - James N. Bade, 1994 pg 41_LI

The German Connection, James N. Bade, 1994, p 41


Initially the Poles who boarded the ship Palmerston believed that they were heading for America, as were most at the time. This is supported by similar family stories and Amerika inscribed on some of the Polish church entries. It is widely believed that many agents manipulated migrants to board their ships in order to reach their quota. In this instance it was perhaps a case of share naivety as New Zealand during this period was very much an unknown destination. As many had relatives in America, the agent more than likely told them New Zealand shared the same Pacific Ocean.  One such version from Darcy Hoffman, is that it was thought that an English test at Hamburg had possibly determined your fate.  Pass and you could enter America, a failure and it was off to the colonies. Some made the journey to Hamburg firstly by boarding a ship from Danzig, while others recall their ancestors having to walk the arduous 600 km journey from their village in Kociewie,

The Palmerston was the second major shipment of Poles to New Zealand and the first to the Otago Province under the scheme. They arrived at Port Chalmers on the 6th of December, 1872 and carried some 105 Poles, the largest contingent to Otago. The majority of these Poles came from what was then West Prussia, ethnically the Polish regions of Kaszuby and Kociewie in North Poland.  The passengers were admitted to pratique on the 23rd of December, and on the same day were sent to Dunedin aboard the Golden Age where they were received into the Immigration Barracks on the corner of Police and Princess Streets. Here they celebrated Christmas Day with much frivolity in a season quite opposite to the old country.  They solemnized the day together at the Catholic chapel of St. Joseph, perched on a steep hill nearby, with the christening of three Polish infants that were born on the journey out aboard the Palmerston.

“DUNEDIN HOSPITAL. Four of the German immigrants by the Palmerston are inmates of the Hospital.” Otago Daily Times, 7 January 1873, p 2

“Passing Notes. I have a few more remarks to make about the “little people,” and I am glad that this time they are of a pleasant character. In common with many more, I was not a little interested and amused the other evening by seeing a number of the German women who lately arrived in Dunedin standing with their children outside a toy-shop, and eagerly gazing at its contents. The children were in ecstasies, clapping their hands with pleasure at the sight of the toys, while the mothers — well they seemed, if that were possible, to be even more happy than their children, at seeing them so delighted. I wish a Dickens or a Hans Christian Andersen had passed by at that moment. He would have done the scene justice. I can’t.” Otago Witness, 11 January 1873, p 13

“YESTERDAY’S NEWS. Messrs Brogden and Co., have given employment on the Clutha railway to some sixty of the German immigrants by the Palmerston.” Evening Star, 13 January 1873, p 2

“East Taieri. (From our own Correspondent.) The German immigrants, especially the feminine sex, are not being very well taken of by our Government, if the following is a sample. On Thursday last a young woman who could not speak a word of English, a Dane, I think, was sent out to the Taieri with a couple of slips of paper about 1 inch wide, bearing the names of two farmers, one in the East and the other in the West Taieri, to seek for a situation from either, but not being able to speak English no on could direct her, and so she wandered up and down the road until mid-day when some person saw her who managed to make out what was wanted, and put her into the cart of one of the parties whose name was on one of the slips. The slips did not bear any signature, so there is reason to believe she came from the depot. Surely if they are worth bringing out here they deserve better treatment than that accorded to this one, and this is not, I believe a solitary instance of the paternal care shown to the new importation the Germans.” Bruce Herald, 21 January 1873, p 3

“…In contradistinction to the conduct we have been touching upon, that of the Messrs. Brogden stands out in pleasing relief. That firm has employed the whole of the Scandinavians left in the barracks, and we are glad to state they are turning out excellent and willing workmen.” Tuapeka Times, 23 January 1873, p 5

“With regard to the paragraph which appeared in one of our correspondent’s letters in a recent issue, regarding the German immigrants, Mr Colin Allan writes:-— ” I do not think that any injustice towards them can be attributed to the Government, they themselves being the judges. The young woman referred to is a married woman whose husband is in a situation near Mosgiel. She took it into her head to visit a family of her country people now being with Mr David Borrie, West Taieri, and to accomplish her object went by the East Taieri road. She met Mr Krull, the German Interpreter, who accompanied her as far as Mr James Allan’s residence, where she was cared for. Finding, however, that her destination was further away than first supposed, she expressed a wish to return back to her home, and Mr Allan very kindly sent his buggy with her to Mosgiel.” Bruce Herald, 31 January 1873, p 5

By the end of January, the single men were easily disposed of or found work on their own accord. However, the disposal of the married immigrants was proving harder to employ. It was known that farmers and run-holders were not too keen on employing them, due to the number of children and lack of spoken English. 28 families from the barracks by this stage were engaged on farms and stations except for the lot from Kociewie and Kaszuby, stating their being little demand for them.

“Emigration. —The ‘Leader’ says From a private letter which has been brought under notice, it would appear that Dr Featherston has not been very successful in introducing German immigrants into the Colony. In the two immigrant ships lately arrived—one at Port Chalmers and the other at Lyttelton—there were but five families who were really Germans, the remainder being half Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, and half Prussian-Poles. The latter spoke Polish amongst themselves aboard ship, but used the German language and so were supposed to be Germans. It is mentioned by the writer of the letter as a noteworthy circumstance that while Dr Featherston could not procure German immigrants for New Zealand, the emigration from Germany to America was, during last year, larger than ever.” Wairarapa Standard, 12 March 1873, p 2


Polish Railway workers near Allanton, courtesy of Gwen Holleyman


Mr. Collin Allan, the Immigration Officer at the time, applied to Mr. J. Smith, Messrs Brogden’s agent, to give the remaining families a contract on the Southern Trunk Railway.  With an interpreter this offer was agreed upon, not before it was suggested that two confident immigrants first visit the work site and report back.  In the last quarter of 1871, the Government had entered into an agreement with Messrs. John Brogden and Sons of England to build the remainder of the Dunedin – Clutha line, a portion of track across the Taieri extending a distance of 34 miles and 55 chains. The contractors agreed to complete the line by the 1st of September 1875. This large contract of necessity caused a great demand for labour and so Messrs. Brogden and Sons hoped to meet this demand by bringing immigrants from England at wages not less than five shillings per day. Before hiring the Palmerston Poles the English Navies being of the lowest of the classes were deemed unreliable in which it was reported that a riot broke out at the Henley Pub on the Taieri, rendering the venue trashed. The Chinese searching for work after the gold diggings were given employment, but some would disappear for days after pay-day.

“With regard to the Chinamen employed on the Clutha railway works, the Tuapeka Times says:—” We were in error when we stated that Messrs Brogden and Co. had entirely, dispensed with Chinese labor on the Clutha railway. It appears that the first batch of men were physically incapable of performing more than two-thirds of the amount of work expected, consequently, they were .discharged. ,A fresh batch of better working Celestials were engaged, the majority of whom earned their wages. This last experiment proved so satisfactory, that it was determined to continue it. The incapables are being gradually weeded out, their places being filled by useful navvies. No difficulty is experienced in procuring; Chinese labor, large gangs of Celestials being camped at various places along the line, waiting for employment. Thirty-eight Chinamen are now at work on the railway between Adam’s Flat and Tokomairiro. This number is expected shortly to be considerably augmented.” West Coast Times. 30 December 1872. p 2

On having decided upon accepting Mr. Smith’s terms, the families were transported into wagons, some 24 km from Dunedin to Scroggs Creek, where they were to be employed and had purchased timber to make frames for the tents in which they were to lodge.  Bogden put all able bodied men to work at Scroggs Gully to first establish a quarry there.  At this time it was agreed to split the people and move some to Waihola. It was necessary for the menfolk at this time to construct temporary dwellings before the onset of winter while the women folk set up the cooking facilities.  All materials were supplied by Bogden at a cheap price suitable to their income.  Each family was given about one acre of ground (at above rates) to get them started with some livestock.  This gave the settlers their own patch they could call home. By the winter of 1873, all families were settled and with ample supplies of Kanuka firewood for heating and cooking.  It is believed this particular winter proved to be quite mild and they had surplus firewood for 1874.

Mr. Allan took the liberty in asking if the Government would be inclined to sell the Allanton Poles land in the township with the view of forming a settlement there.

“The newly established township of Greytown (East Taieri) has, within the past few months, made rapid strides, and bids fair to soon outgrow its elder brother of Riccarton.  A goodly number of small selectors have settled down in this locality, and the buildings being erected show that they intend making a permanent stay.  A few of the new inhabitants consist of German immigrants lately imported, and, to all appearance, they seem a most desirable class.  The bridge at this township, crossing the Taieri River, is about to be commenced, the contractor only awaiting the arrival of the imported timber to commence operations.  A new school has within the last two months been erected, and is a very creditable building.  The Government granted £487 towards the contract for school and teachers’ residence, and the total cost has been £537—£50 being raised by the inhabitants of the district.  The school room is very commodious considering the size of the township; it measures 30ft x 20ft, and will comfortably accommodate 100 scholars.  Under Mr. Macandrew the school is progressing very favourably, so children being entered on the roll.    Should the present average attendance continue, this school will be entitled to be ranked as a main school.  The new teacher’s residence has been designed to afford every convenience, and is a neat four roomed cottage, with pantry and scullery, and stands in the midst of a glebe of some three acres.  The Government are about to erect in this vicinity three immigrants’ cottages, similar to those, proposed at Waihola; each cottage is to consist of three rooms and, with an acre of ground, is to be leased to new arrivals at a small rental, with right to purchase.  Noticing the rapid progress of Greytown, we may expect the holders of land in Riccarton will be stir themselves and sell in sections, thus giving an impetus to this township, which, from its now progressive policy, it would seem to have some need of. “ Bruce Herald, 22 May 1874

In order to push the line south it was essential at first to drain the Taieri. It was necessary to cut large ditches to drain the swamp before formation work could begin and the early Poles were known to work in great depths of water from early morning till dusk. At Waihola alone some 180 men were working, some on piecework, others on day labour. By the end of 1872, over 320 men were employed on the section and it was possible to see men at work along the whole 35 miles of the line.  It was believed that the distribution of labour was mainly by class, ie, the Irish worked north of Dunedin, which was thought vital in order to keep them separate from other gangs.  The English worked around Dunedin in the shunting yards, track laying north and south and specialty work such as tunnels and bridges.  The Allanton Poles were track laying from Wingatui south to the Taieri River and the Waihola Poles were track laying south to Milton. Track laying also included formation work. While the works moved forward some decided to stay permanently in the Allanton area, while others were sent south to the settlement at Waihola, which was regarded as a better supply for wood and water. It also provided a familiar feel of the home country, which is renowned for its many lakes and forests. Here they intended to settle down permanently and send for more of their country folk to come and join them.

The Caversham Immigration barracks could accommodate up to 400 people at a time. Near the entrance was offices where employers could interview prospective employees. The building fell into disuse in 1888 after immigration was stopped and was used as a match factory then as an infectious disease hospital before being demolished in the early 1900s. https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/32385/immigration-barracks-dunedin

“The last of the Reichstag’s passengers. — 68 souls — were disposed of today, being forwarded to Taranaki by the Taranaki, under arrangement with the provincial authorities. The rest of this vessel’s immigrants have been distributed as follows; — 35 were nominated by friends in Otago, and forwarded to that province; 54 have found employment at Marton, 65 in the Wairarapa,.11 at the Pelorus, 23 in Picton, 5 in Wanganui, 2 in Foxton, and 78 in this city. This makes the total of 341.” Evening Post, 29 August 1874, p 2

“When the last number was taken at the Caversham Barracks, no less than 227 children were then located. They look healthy and strong, but their quarters have anything but an attractive appearance. The German families occupy the western compartment of the Barracks. Considerable improvements are being effected by draining, metalling, and filling in operations. About a dozen men are employed at the rate of 3s per day, with rations and lodging for themselves and families. Two Hungarian soldiers who were working on Saturday have not yet parted with their regimentals.” Otago Witness, 22 August 1874, p 15

“There have been a number of clearances from the Caversham Immigration Barracks during the past week, there being no less than twenty-two families, comprising 44 adults, and 40 children. Of these nine were German families, who were sent to Waihola. There yet remain in the Barracks 149 adults and 186 children. The next immigrant vessel expected to arrive is the Corona, which left London on the 23rd May.” Otago Witness, 29 August 1874.

In 1905, the buildings were sold and dismantled and used to build workers cottages at South Dunedin. The complete northern wing was, however, relocated and reassembled at Elbe Street in Mornington as rental accommodation over four flats. It is one of the few survivors built to William Claytons’s standard plan for government buildings. Photo courtesy of Paul Klemick 2022 https://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/9713

“Grants of Land in New Zealand. Grants of Land Under the Immigrants Land Act 1873.  Immigrants claiming to be entitled to land under the above Act, must within sixty days after their arrival in New Zealand, apply personally to the Immigration Officer at the port or place  of arrival, and furnish a statement of their claims to be so entitled, showing when and by what ship they or their family as the case may be arrived, and from what port or place they emigrated and their names and ages, and they are required within sixty days thereafter to furnish such proof of the truth of the statement as shall be required by the Immigration Officer. No persons are entitled to a free grant of land unless they have obtained from the Agent-General of New Zealand before leaving for the Colony, a certificate in writing that they are suitable Immigrants.  For information as to purchase, occupation, forfeiture, &c., see the Act.” Appendix To The Journals Of The House Of Representatives, 1875 Session 1, D.-1A.

Charles Hilgendorf, a local contractor and storekeeper at Waihola, took the Polish and German immigrants under his wing and wrote on their behalf to the local authorities and letters on their behalf to families back in Poland.

WASTE LANDS BOARD.  SETTLEMENT OF GERMAN FAMILIES. A letter was read from Mr C. Hilgendorf, on behalf of several German families lately arrived per ships Reichstag and Sussex, applying for settlement of them in the Waihola township. He requested that the Board would grant to each family half an acre under the terms of the 29th clause of the 0tago Waste Lands Act, 1872. The Board had no power to grant the application.” Otago Daily Times, 27 August 1874, p 3

“An application to settle a number of German immigrants in the Waihola township could not be agreed to. The Board has adopted an excellent regulation, which will greatly facilitate the business. It provides that all subjects for consideration at each meeting must be entered before 4 p.m. on the previous Tuesday.” 27 August 1874, p 2

“A number of Germans at work on the railway near the Waihola Gorge, are spoken of by their employers in terms of high commendation. They are steady and sober, good workmen, walk to and from Waihola, (where they live) and when pay-time comes round do not disappear for a few days to recover.” Bruce Herald, 08 September 1874

“As letters from this Province by Immigrants from Germany to their friends there frequently miscarry, from being indistinctly addressed and insufficiently stamped, the Emigration Agent in Germany [W. Kirchner] recommends that such letters be in future sent to the Immigration Officer, Dunedin, who will transmit them under cover to the former, for distribution, free of expense.” Colin Alian, Otago Provincial Gazette, 21 July 1875

A brother-in-law, writes to Peter Barra of Waihola who arrived a couple of years earlier in 1874 aboard the Reichstag.  He writes that they had received his letter and the twenty pounds they needed to help them get to New Zealand.  Unfortunately the ships were no longer going to New Zealand but diverted to Queensland in Australia instead.  The journey that used to be 11 Thalers per person had just inflated to 111 Thalers per person.  At the time, 20 pounds was equivalent to 133 Thaler and ten silver groszy.


Barra Letter 1

Barra Letter 2


Dirschau (Tczew) 20th of June, 1876

Dearest Brother-in-Law, We received your dear letter together with the money and we thank you for it several times. May Dear God give you a lot of luck and blessings in the foreign country and keep your children in good health,

Dear Brother-in-Law, with the twenty-pound sterling I went to the English bank in Danzig (Gdańsk) and I had to leave the cheque there for which I was given a receipt. We had to wait for the money for six weeks but we did not pay anything for the exchange transaction. Local agents wanted to charge us twenty gulden for arranging the exchange. We received your letter on the 10th of May. The cheque for 20 pounds was first forwarded to London where it was verified. However, the delay did not matter, as we received for it the full equivalent amount of 133 thaler and ten silver groszy. From the above amount I kept for myself 50 thaler and gave the remaining 83 thaler and ten silver groszy to Dusienski.

Dear Brother-in-Law, quite a lot has changed with our plans to emigrate to New Zealand. Ships with emigrants are not departing to New Zealand any more, they are now sailing to Queensland in Australia, but we do not wish to go there. We wrote to the agent and he replied that he can arrange the passage to New Zealand but this will cost us 111 thaler for each person and we do not have so much money to pay. Should we wish to travel to New Zealand at the old price of eleven thaler per person then the English Government will post us to work in the forest and we will be unable to live with you in the same place. Should we be able to pay the full costs of the passage, only then we will be able to join you. Johan Behrend wrote to his family and they could travel to him. Those people who left in October and November all wrote that they work in the forest and that they are not together with their relatives. Both brothers Drozdowski from Liebschau (Lubsizewo Tczewskie) departed in November for New Zealand and now work also in the forest. The wife of the younger Drozdowski died after six weeks in New Zealand. This news made us very sad. Growski from Dirschau (Tczew) also departed to New Zealand. I have given him your address as he wanted to be with you, has he arrived?

Dear Brother-in-Law, we are very sad that at present we are unable to travel to New Zealand, especially as I have sold all my belongings. What shall I do now, when no more immigrant ships sail with the low passage fare Dusienski has not sold his belongings. I had to leave my room, because it was discovered that I had plans to emigrate to New Zealand. Now I have to share a room with two other persons.

Dear Brother-in-Law, we do not wish that you work yourself to death and be left without any money. This will happen should you post money to us all the time. However, should you be able in a year or two to pay for us fully paid passage tickets, then we will be sure that we will be able to join you as we wish to do.  

This letter was translated by Mr. George Jaworowski, with the following comments; Written in German possibly as given sentence by sentence by a Pole. The phraseology is very Polish and the writer probably had a limited knowledge of German. Letter is courtesy of Alan Halba.

By 1874 the stream of migrants was arriving in such a flow that Provincial officials were struggling to ‘dispose’ of all migrants cheaply and efficiently. The reports of their difficulties alerted higher officials to the argument that it was more expensive to dispose of Scandinavian and German migrants than the UK migrants. The cheaper UK migrants that were pouring in could more than meet the political demands for hard-working, reproducing settlers. The flow from Hamburg could thus be halted. Vogel sent Featherston a telegram, 10 September 1874, instructing him to send 1200 migrants to Otago each month until December,

“None after, except nominated or specially selected”.

In 1876 the New Zealand government halted the flow of immigrants when a sufficient quota had been reached. Future immigrants from then on had to be nominated and find their own funding for the passage. Many families sent money back to Poland to make this possible although it was a heavy expense for most. Between the years, 1874 and 1880, only a further 93 fellow Poles arrived in Otago reuniting with family members.

“THE’ VOGEL POLICY. In the new policy of Sir Julius Vogel immigration was a strong feature, and agents were sent to England and Europe with very wide powers of discretion. They were particularly active in the Northern countries, which produced a class of emigrant better suited for amalgamation with the British than the Southern Europeans. The German Government took cognisance of the emigration tendency, and in 1873 announced that it would expel from the country any emigration recruiter who was not of German nationality. The same threat was made again in 1877, but by this time New Zealand had obtained all the immigrants that were urgently required, and foreign recruiting was stopped. The number of persons who left Germany in 1874 was 73,793, and needless to say a large number of these reached New Zealand. One of the immigration camps established at Porangahau in that year was composed entirely of Germans and German Poles, who had been asked for by the Hawke’s Bay Provincial Government.” New Zealand Mail, 20 March 1907, p. 10

The following letter is written to Francisca Switalla a couple of years after the family arrived in New Zealand aboard the Reichstag in 1874.  In 1876, Jozef Willmann, godson, reports on the families situation back in Poland and asks the family in New Zealand for financial support to come and join them in New Zealand.


Switalla Letter1Switalla Letter2

Switalla Letter3Switalla Letter4


Gruppe, 25 June 1876. Dear Aunt, Uncle and Siblings, I received your worthy letter while in the best of health and would like to express my most sincere thanks to you. Firstly, I would like to send very best wishes from us all over the seas and continents to you. We were very pleased to get your letter and to learn that you are all still healthy, alive and doing well. Firstly, I want to describe the same situation. Grandfather is still rather ill but he is now stronger than he was earlier. They are still much the same as they have always been. What I do not know is where old Schweder is. Behrendt has a new lodger in the room where Schweder used to live. I cannot say how Behrendt and Willman are getting on, but there is certain to be the same old argument.  My father still lives in Locken with Lyskowski’s father [or: with old Von Lyskowski]. Much has changed in his [my father’s] family since I last wrote to you. He has married off three of his children. That is me. Michal [sic] and Marie. We all married last year in October. As I wrote to you in my last letter, I have married well. My wife has received a good deal of wealth: Beds and some livestock. So, I am living quite happily now and so is Aniela, who is in service in Locken as a housekeeper. When I last wrote to you, I was in Graudenz but there is another village this side of Weichfeld. Marie married well too. She married Wizenty Hesieki, who is a steward on an estate in Locken. They have been allotted good land, have two cows grazing in the master’s [i.e., the local landowner’s] fields; a pretty house and garden for the winter and the summer costs 80 thaler, 24 bushels of rye and 4 bushels of wheat. They are doing well. Michal is well and what is even better is that he has married a girl and is living together with her parents. Soon he will be farming an allotment in Jenin. Only Father still has his problems. He is well but still having so many children and having to feed them costs a lot. He asks whether you could send him some money, if you really do have so much. He wants to come to you soon. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t want to come even as far as here, but he does want to make the little children happy. At Whitsun he was here with us in Gruppe and said that when I wrote I should ask you to help him back on to his feet, since Mother is also wanting to go on a trip.

My dear Aunt and Uncle, I must also tell you that when we look around here many people have gone to Australia. Your old neighbour, Witkowski, has gone. Six families have gone from Locken (Obozin) and 40 families have gone from the Kakosk (Kokoszkowy) estates. Apart from that, nothing much has happened here. The hay harvest is taking place now. There is no word about war to be heard here. Crops here are as I described to you in my last letter. I was wed twice too, first in the registry office and then in the church. The monasteries have all been dissolved and where a priest dies, no one takes his place. We hope that God’s help will help us all get back to how it used to be.  Now I will finish and a thousand greetings to you all from us. Parents, siblings and mother together with their wives all send their greetings. We are all in good health and no one has died. Only Huseh [?] is still sick. He has been ill in bed for two years now, and the prospects of his regaining his health look no better. One last request: do write to us again soon. Getting a letter from you is a source of great joy for us. I will write to you again too. Once again best wishes, and my wife also sends her best wishes. I remain yours affectionately, Josef Willmann. My address to Willman – Rural Delivery Recipient in Gruppe, Schwetz District, Marienwerder Province, West Prussia.

On 1 September 1875, after some major setbacks, the Dunedin to Clutha line was opened for service as scheduled. During the years 1875-77 railway construction was in operation between Invercargill and Gore towards Clinton. The line was let out in sub-contracts of a mile or so, therefore, one could see tents here and there along the route while others settled for a time at Waipahi. For the portion of the line between Gore and Pukerau the men seemed to live mostly near Gore or at the settlement of Germantown on the Pinnacle Road where a number of Poles decided to settle.

In mid-1874, Johan Bucholz (via the Palmerston) was successful in the ballot for a 200-acre section of land on the Pinnacle Road north of Gore, beside an old coal reserve which many who resided there would become reliant on making a living. He was soon joined by a considerable number of his fellow countrymen who had arrived in the province aboard the ship Terpsichore in early 1876. In total, between 20 and 30 families of various nationalities had been living in this small settlement aptly named Germantown due to the language spoken by the people who settled there.

On the 22nd of January, 1879 it was stated that the Main Trunk Line from Dunedin to Invercargill was declared opened. After its opening, several families followed the railway works on the Middlemarch and Riversdale lines.

“During the past year 14,702 Germans have been sentenced for attempting to emigrate to avoid military service.” Bruce Herald, 24 October 1884, p 3

Prussia persists in her ‘Germanising’ attemps upon the Polish nationality.  The New Zealand Tablet, Vol XVII, Issue 8, 14 Jun 1889, P. 19, Col. 1. 


Peter Brzoszkowski writes the following letter from the village of Liebschau (Lubiszewo Tczewskie) to his uncle Jan & auntie Brigitta Halba in New Zealand in 1894.

Halba Letter 1

Halba Letter 2


Greeting from far away.  Liebschau (Lubiszewo Tczewskie), 8th of December, 1894.  Praised be to Jesus Christ.  I reach for my pen to write to you with happiness and tears in my eyes as I hear that you are alive my dear Uncle and Auntie.  I could not speak as I had tears in my eyes when the parish priest told me the news in his office. 

Dear Uncle and Auntie, I was always under the impression that you were dead and had already ordered a few masses for the repose of your souls in your memory. 

Dear Uncle and Auntie, I have written to you a letter in which I posted a photo of myself in army uniform, but I received no reply. 

Dear Uncle and Auntie, please answer me.  You would like to know what wife I have.  I have married Julianna Ludwichowska and my children are, Franz 17 years, Johanna 15 years who died, Anna 13 years & Michal six years. My brother Franz is in Klein Malsau (Małżewko), my brother Jakob is in Sachsliben (Szczerbięcin) employed as master baker, Pauline married a carpenter and Anna married a bricklayer, but I do not know any of my brothers-in-law. 

Dear Uncle and Auntie, myself and my brother Frank, we are well.  I live in Liebschau. Dear Uncle and Auntie, please send me your photographs.  We all send greetings to you Uncle and Auntie and your son Joseph.  Peter Brzoskowski.  Letter courtesy of Peter Chiles.


When the railway work was completed in 1875, the Poles had to fend for themselves as best they could. A short time later Branch-lines from Wingatui to Central Otago and the Catlins from Balclutha were began.  These lines were plaqued with money shortages and work was through difficult terrain. As such they were very stop/start operations.

Poles in the Allanton area either moved to Dunedin or further afield or found employment at local farms such as the farm of Mr. James Allan, aptly named Hopehill, who had taken an interest in their welfare since their first arrival.

Many at Waihola went on to purchase or work on small farms such as Adams Farm near Waihola and supplemented their farming income by either taking seasonal work at the Waihola flax mills or working for the Lime and Phosphate companies at Milburn and Clarendon. During the late 1880s the families of Barra, Jankowski, Klimek, Kreft, Orlowski and Philipowski, a small group of experienced Poles in plate-laying, left Waihola for Melbourne laying the tramlines there. Some went on to work laying the tracks for the Australian Southern Railway.

Germantown, near East Gore, had its incidents, its characters and its moments of glory, but as a settlement it was short-lived. After the completion of the main trunk railway some continued railway construction on the Waimea, Waipahi-Tapanui or Gore-Lumsden line while others went on to establish farms of their own. Gradually as the employment of railway gangers declined the settlers moved on and took up other jobs or acquired land for themselves at Gore or surrounding areas. The quaint settlement that existed beside the Pinnacle Road until the late 1890s now lies without a hint of its past except for a line of trees that expose its northern boundary.  The railway line, which lies a couple of kilometres from where the settlement was, is a reminder of their contribution and has served the Southland district for the past 150 years.

The Poles were a tight-knit community and for a long time the young men, especially, were still very fearful that German officials would arrive and compel them to return to Prussia and serve out their military service. It has been said that once the railway line through the Taieri had been completed, a member of each family would take turns to go down to the station early in the morning on train days and stand guard, checking whether the dreaded oppressors had arrived in Dunedin. If necessary, they intended to go into hiding.  Many wore black arm bands in solidarity for Poland.

From 18 ships, some 200 Poles arrived who then worked and settled in the Otago/Southland region during the Vogel era. Within those 200 were some 50 families and individuals.  Today there are thousands of Polish descendants who still live in the Otago and Southland region.  The following are Polish names associated to towns and settlements in Otago and Southland.

Allanton; Beleski (Bielicki), Dysarski (Tysarczyk), Grenz (Gręca), Gorinski (Gurzyński), Hieffskie (Chajewski), Klass (Klaas), Konkel (Kąkol), Kovaleski (Kowalewski), Kreft, Pedofsky (Pędowski), Perniski (Piernicki), Rogatski (Rogacki), Smolenski (Smoliński), Switalla (Świtała), Tikey (Teike), Tropski (Trąpski), Velenski ( Waliński) and Wroblenski (Wróblewski).

Benmore: Falska (Felski).

Dunedin; Bischefski (Byszewski) Lubecki, Yewchinska (Jurczyńska), at the Pine Hill settlement (Mount Cargill); Danitz (Gdaniec), Konkel (Kąkol), Kreft and Perniski (Piernicki).

East Taieri (Riccarton); Rogatski (Rogacki) and Tikey (Teike) including Mosgiel Junction; Mehalski (Michałski).

Evans Flat; Dunikowski

Fairfield; Tikey (Teike), Klimeck (Klimek) and Smolenski (Smoliński).

Germantown (Gore District); Belesky (Bielicki), Bucholz (Bucholc), Bungard (Baumgardt), Dovalosky (Dowalowski), Halfka (Haftka), Klukofsky (Klukowski), Hoffman, Regefsky (Rydzewski), Szczepański, Schultz (Szulca), and Tecofsky (Tykowski).

Hampden; Danitz (Gdaniec).

Invercargill District; Belesky (Bielicki), Bielawski, Dobeck (Dobek), Dunick (Zdunek), Gorenski (Gurzyński), Hoffman, Jackush (Jakusz), Klemick (Klimek), Klukofsky (Klukowski), and Orlowski (Orłowski),

Milton District; Barra (Bara), Halba, Klimeck (Klimek), Kreft, Orłowski, Plever (Plewa), Rekowski and Welnoski (Welna/Wełnowski).

Momona; Wisnesky (Wiśniewski).

Nightcaps; Klemick (Klimek) and Tikey (Teike).

Oamaru; Perniskie (Piernicki), Shrimski (Szramski) and Wisnesky (Wiśniewski).

Port Chalmers; Pedofsky (Pędowski), Smolenski (Smoliński) and Tikey (Teike).

Pahia; Tecofsky (Tykowski).

Riversdale; Welnoski (Wełnowski).

Waihola; Annis (Anys), Barra (Bara), Bungard (Baumgardt),  Cherkowska (Chiłkowski), Dovalosky, Dysarski (Tysarczyk), Danitz (Gdaniec), Grantz (Gręca), Halba, Hieffskie (Chajewski), Hoffman, Jankowski, Klemick/Klimeck (Klimek), Kreft, Orłowski, Plever (Plewa), Rekowski (Reikowski), Regefsky (Rydzewski), Smolenski (Smoliński), Tikey (Teike), Welnoski (Welna/Wełnowski) and Wisnesky (Wiśniewski).

Waipahi; Belisky (Bielicki) and Tropsky (Trapski).

Surnames were often Germanized during the period of Prussian occupation, so one often has to go back as far as pre 1795 to find the original spelling. Many ethnic groups saw an importance to associate themselves with a common distinctiveness. Those from the Kaszubian and Kociewian region who regarded themselves as Polish associated themselves with the Catholic faith and to Poland. Kaszubian journalist and activist, Hieronim Derdowski, coined the phrase; “

“There is no Cassubia without Polonia, and no Poland without Cassubia” (Nie ma Kaszeb bez Polonii a bez Kaszeb Polsci“).


Today only a few remnants remain, such as the odd sod cottage or wooden villa, to remind us of the once quaint Polish settlements.  Due to the settlers assimilating well into English society, only snippets of Polish sayings and words have but survived but are fast fading in time.  The Polish surnames, now but known mostly in their angelized form, continue down the generations leaving a lasting footprint in New Zealand history.

As Shaw sums it up well from his publication, The Taieri Plain;

“They were noted for their thrift, discipline, application to hard work, and drank amazing amounts of alcohol; they maintained their religious affiliations, and lived quite happily unmolested until they were ready to shift to greener pastures”.


Gathering at Allanton, courtesy of Gwen Holleyman


This article is based on the work of much appreciated writers of early Otago and Southland and of those who were passionate about their Polish origins, especially the writings of Pauline J. Morris, a descendant of the Baumgardt family of Waihola and the documented research of George Pobóg-Jaworowski.  A special thanks also to those in New Zealand and Poland that have dedicated their time and passion researching Polish heritage, especially Ray Watembach from Waitara and Stanley Frymark of Kaszuby, Poland.



Beattie, H., Pioneer Recollections, Fourth Series: Mainly of the Gore Districts, Christchurch, 1997.

Davis, N., God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. II, New York, 1982.

McArthur, J. F., Golden Reflections: A History of the Waikaka Valley, Waikaka Valley, 1990.

Morris Pauline J., German-speaking Settlements in Otago and Southland, Ch. 4., The German Connection Bade James N., 1993.

Paszkowski, L., Poles in Australia and Oceania: 1790-1940, Sydney, 1987.

Pobόg-Jaworowski, J. W, History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand, ed. Warsaw; Chz “Ars Polonia.” 1990, page 43

Shaw, M. S. & Farrant, E. D., The Taieri Plain: Tales Of Years That Are Gone, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1977.

Sinclair K., A History of New Zealand, Fourth Edition, Penguin Books, China, 1991.

Research Sources

Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973, FamilySearch.

Bailey M., Assisted Polish Migrants to Otago: The 1870’s, Otago University, 2000.

Catholic Diocese of Dunedin, St Mary’s Church, Milton; Baptism Register.

City Talk, “Didn’t we do well”: Otago Anniversary 1848-1998, Dunedin, 1998.

New Zealand, Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (1858-1999), 1873 D-1.

Polona, Warsaw, 1990.

Walsh John, Masterton, supplied history of Prussia.


Papers Past (natlib.govt.nz)


Compiled by Paul Klemick. (2022)


Chairperson .....  Ewa Rożecka Pollard
Phone ......+64 3 477 5552
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Phone ..... +64 3 464 0053

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Poles in New Zealand   We would like to hear from Poles or people with any Polish connection, who visited New Zealand and particularly those of you who paid a visit or lived anywhere in Otago or Southland.

Polski  “Poles Down South” jest stroną internetową organizacji polonijnej w Nowej Zelandii działającej w rejonie Otago i Southland na Wyspie Południowej. Siedzibą organizacji jest Dunedin.