The Italians In New Zealand
Dating from the mid-1870s, Italians facing a bleak future began
emigrating to other countries in what was to become one of the greatest mass movements from a single country in
modern history. While most went to other European countries, North and South America and Australia, a small number
made their way to New Zealand.
Wellington, New Zealand
Here is a brief timeline of the movement of Italians to New
1770: Antonio Ponto, a seaman on
Captain James Cook's ship, the Endeavour, was the first Italian to set
foot on New Zealand soil around 1770.
1860: Italian friars arrived in
New Zealand to set up a Catholic mission for the local native population, the Maoris. It was a dismal failure
and the friars returned to Italy in 1873.
A small group of Italians arrived in the 1860s during the New Zealand gold rush.
When the rush was over, some returned to Italy, some left for Australia, while others moved to the cities
looking for work.
1870s: A new group of immigrants
arrived, mostly single men from the north of Italy who later sent for their wives, children and other family
members in what came to be known as 'chain migration'.
1874: The 1874 New Zealand
census listed 258 Italian-born men and 22 women.
1890s: Italian immigrants began
arriving from rural areas in Italy. With a government policy that encouraged chain migration, whole families
were reunited in New Zealand and close-knit communities developed as people from the same areas in Italy joined
their fellow villagers in the new country. Many became dairy farmers.
Families from Stromboli, one of Italy's Aeolian Islands, helped to establish the
fishing industry at Island Bay. The area features a vibrant Little Italy, and the Strombolani have published
two books documenting their history in New Zealand.
1882: Wellington's Garibaldi
Club was founded. Activities included social events, folk dancing and card games. It is still active in the
1896: Missionary Dom Felice
Vaggioli published a commentary on British exploitation of the Maori population.
1900s: Settlers from Massa
Lubrese (near Naples) and Potenza, in the Basilicata region east of Naples, established a tomato-growing
community in Nelson.
Immigrants from the northern Italian regions of Tuscany and Veneto became market
gardeners in the Hutt Valley, supplying fruit and vegetable markets in Wellington.
1901: The 1901 New Zealand census
listed 428 Italian-born residents.
1910: Italian miners from
Northern Italy worked in New Zealand's West Coast coal-mining industry for the next 50 years.
1918: Street and cinema
musicians, mostly from the southern province of Potenza, worked in New Zealand.
Small groups of immigrants came from Massa Lubrense (near Naples) to Gisborne and
Hawke's Bay and found work in the fishing and farming industries. Immigrants from Stromboli began sheep farming
on D'Urville Island.
Italians from Tuscany set up dairy farming, grape growing and market gardening
near Levin and Shannon.
Italian immigrants suffered the same prejudice and ill treatment in New Zealand
as they did in other countries. But when Italy joined the Allies in World War I, they began to win a greater
degree of acceptance.
1920s: Northern Italian stone
workers from Treviso and Udine settled in Auckland and set up businesses manufacturing terrazzo tiles. As late
as 1966, 72% of all terrazzo workers were Italian.
1925: Club Italiano was
established in Auckland.
1945: During World War II, Italy
allied itself with Hitler and was declared an enemy. Approximately 38 Italian men were interned on Somes Island
in Wellington Harbour. When Italy later joined the Allies, public opinion reversed as Italians assisted New
Zealand soldiers in Italy. Diplomatic relations with Italy began in 1951.
1946: After World War II, more
women and children arrived in New Zealand as part of the migration chains. A small number of Italian women
arrived as brides of New Zealand soldiers.
1951: 130 refugees from
provinces ceded to Yugoslavia arrived in New Zealand as displaced persons.
The 1951 New Zealand census listed 1,058 Italian-born residents.
1955: Auckland's Società Dante
Alighieri was founded to encourage an appreciation of Italian culture. Wellington's branch of the Società was
known as the Circolo Italiano.
1960s: A large number of
northern Italian miners and tunnellers were brought to New Zealand on contract to work on hydroelectric
projects. Two-thirds married New Zealanders, while others returned to Italy in the 1980s.
1961: The 1961 New Zealand
census listed 1,427 Italian-born residents.
1970s: Italian migration
dwindled due to Italy's economic resurgence.
1976: The 1976 New Zealand
census listed 1,844 Italian-born residents.
1987: The New Zealand
immigration policy offered opportunities for Italians to set up businesses, opening the doors for a movement
away from traditional occupations like agriculture and fishing. By 2001, 59% of Italian-New Zealanders were
working as managers, professionals or technicians.
1990s: A total of 312 Italians
immigrated between 1992 and 1998.
1996: For the first time, the
1996 census allowed people to identify with more than one ethnic group. Those responding as 'Italian' increased
dramatically from 1991: from 1,539 to 4,911. A number of early Italian immigrants married Maori women so many
New Zealanders claim both Italian and Maori ancestry.
2001: The 2001 New Zealand
census listed 1,440 Italian-born residents.
2006: The 2006 New Zealand
census listed 1,539 Italian-born residents. The number claiming some Italian ancestry was 3,114.
Since the 1990s there has been a growing interest in all
things Italian. Demand is growing for Italian foods – pasta, pizza, wine, espresso coffee, vegetables, herbs and
breads. Italian culture is highly valued, from fashion and language classes to furniture and garden design. The
younger generations of Italian New Zealanders cater to this niche market with their own businesses and restaurants,
particularly in Auckland and Wellington.
The Italian-New Zealand community in Wellington has
published two excellent books on their history. You can find them by clicking on Italians In New