European New Zealanders

European New Zealanders, also known by the Māori-language word Pākehā,[2] are New Zealanders of European descent. Most European New Zealanders are of British and Irish ancestry, with smaller percentages of other European ancestries such as Germans, Greeks,[3] Poles (historically noted as German due to Partitions of Poland), French, Dutch, Scandinavians, Croats and other South Slavs.[4]

European New Zealanders
Total population
3,372,708 (2018 census)[1]
71.76% of New Zealand's population
Regions with significant populations
All regions of New Zealand
Predominantly Christianity (Anglicanism · Roman Catholicism · Presbyterianism), large Non-religious minority
Related ethnic groups
European Australians, European Canadians, European Americans, British (English · Scottish · Welsh), Irish, other European peoples

Statistics New Zealand maintains the national classification standard for ethnicity. European is one of the six top-level ethnic groups, alongside Māori, Pacific Peoples, Asian, Middle Eastern/Latin American/African (MELAA), and Other. Within the top-level European group are two second-level ethnic groups, New Zealand European and Other European. New Zealand European consists of New Zealanders of European descent, while Other European consists of migrant European ethnic groups. Other Europeans also includes people of indirect European descent, including Americans, Canadians, South Africans and Australians.[5]

According to the 2018 New Zealand census, 3,372,708 people (72%) identified as European, with 3,013,440 people (64%) identifying as New Zealand European.[1]


British Captain James Cook sailed to New Zealand in 1769 prior to him was Dutch man Abel Tasman in 1642.[6] The establishment of British colonies in Australia from 1788 and the boom in whaling and sealing in the Southern Ocean brought many Europeans to the vicinity of New Zealand. Whalers and sealers were often itinerant and the first real settlers were missionaries and traders in the Bay of Islands area from 1809. Some of the early visitors stayed and lived with Māori tribes as Pākehā Māori. Often whalers and traders married Māori women of high status which served to cement trade and political alliances as well as bringing wealth and prestige to the tribe.[7] By 1830 there was a population of about 800 non-Māori which included a total of about 200 runaway convicts and seamen. The seamen often lived in New Zealand for a short time before joining another ship a few months later.

In 1839 there were 1100 Europeans living in the North Island. Violence against European shipping (mainly due to mutual cultural misunderstandings), the ongoing musket wars between Māori tribes (due to the recent relatively sudden introduction of firearms into the Māori world), cultural barriers and the lack of an established European law and order made settling in New Zealand a risky prospect. By the late 1830s the average missionary would claim that many Māori were nominally Christian; many of the Māori slaves that had been captured during the Musket Wars had been freed, and cannibalism had been largely stamped out. By this time many Māori, especially in the north, could read and write in their native language and to a lesser extent English.[8]

1840 onwards

Europe-born population of New Zealand 1851–2013
Year  % of total overseas-born (UK & Ireland)
% of total overseas-born
Plaque commemorating the first meeting of the Canterbury Association in Charing Cross, London. The association would go on to found Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1850.

European migration has resulted in a deep legacy being left on the social and political structures of New Zealand. Early visitors to New Zealand included whalers, sealers, missionaries, mariners, and merchants, attracted to natural resources in abundance. They came from the Australian colonies, Great Britain and Ireland, Germany (forming the next biggest immigrant group after the British and Irish),[15] France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United States, and Canada.

In 1840 representatives of the British Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi with 240 Māori chiefs throughout New Zealand, motivated by plans for a French colony at Akaroa and land purchases by the New Zealand Company in 1839. British sovereignty was then proclaimed over New Zealand in May 1840. Some would later argue that the proclamation of sovereignty was in direct conflict with the treaty which in its Māori version had guaranteed sovereignty (Rangatiratanga) to the Māori who signed it.[16] By the end of the 1850s the European and Māori populations were of a similar size as immigration and natural increase boosted European numbers.

Following the formalising of British sovereignty, the organised and structured flow of migrants from Great Britain and Ireland began. Government-chartered ships like the clipper Gananoque and the Glentanner carried immigrants to New Zealand. Typically clipper ships left British ports such as London and travelled south through the central Atlantic to about 43 degrees south to pick up the strong westerly winds that carried the clippers well south of South Africa and Australia. Ships would then head north once in the vicinity of New Zealand. The Glentanner migrant ship of 610 tonnes made two runs to New Zealand and several to Australia carrying 400 tonne of passengers and cargo. Travel time was about 3 to 3+12 months to New Zealand. Cargo carried on the Glentanner for New Zealand included coal, slate, lead sheet, wine, beer, cart components, salt, soap and passengers' personal goods. On the 1857 passage the ship carried 163 official passengers, most of them government assisted. On the return trip the ship carried a wool cargo worth 45,000 pounds.[17] In the 1860s discovery of gold started a gold rush in Otago. By 1860 more than 100,000 British and Irish settlers lived throughout New Zealand. The Otago Association actively recruited settlers from Scotland, creating a definite Scottish influence in that region, while the Canterbury Association recruited settlers from the south of England, creating a definite English influence over that region.[18] In the 1860s most migrants settled in the South Island due to gold discoveries and the availability of flat grass covered land for pastoral farming. The low number of Māori (about 2,000) and the absence of warfare gave the South Island many advantages. It was only when the New Zealand wars ended that The North Island again became an attractive destination.

In the 1870s the MP Julius Vogel borrowed millions of pounds from Britain to help fund capital development such as a nationwide rail system, lighthouses, ports and bridges, and encouraged mass migration from Britain. By 1870 the non-Māori population reached over 250,000.[19] Other smaller groups of settlers came from Germany, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe as well as from China and India, but British and Irish settlers made up the vast majority, and did so for the next 150 years.


European New Zealanders per census
Year Population Ref(s) Percent Year Population Ref(s) Percent
Source: Statistics New Zealand.

There were 3,297,864 people identifying as being part of the European ethnic group at the 2018 New Zealand census, making up 71.76% of New Zealand's population. This is an increase of 328,473 people (11.1%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 688,275 people (26.4%) since the 2006 census. There were 1,614,807 males and 1,683,054 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.959 males per female. The median age was 41.4 years, with 621,552 people (18.8%) aged under 15 years, 606,366 (18.4%) aged 15 to 29, 1,456,794 (44.2%) aged 30 to 64, and 613,149 (18.6%) aged 65 or older.[24]

In terms of population distribution, 71.6% of Europeans live in the North Island and 28.4% live in the South Island. The Waimakariri District has the highest concentration of Europeans at 92.9%, followed by the Tasman District (92.6%) and the Grey District (92.2%). The Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board area in Auckland has the lowest concentration at 16.6%, followed by the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu local board area (19.1%) and the Manurewa local board area (29.2%).[24]

The first general Census of New Zealand population was taken November- December 1851. Subsequent censuses were taken in 1858, 1861, 1864, 1867, 1871, 1874, 1878 and 1881 and thereafter at five-yearly intervals until 1926.[23] The table shows the ethnic composition of New Zealand population at each census since the early twentieth century. Europeans are still the largest ethnic group in New Zealand. Their proportion of the total New Zealand population has been decreasing gradually since the 1916 Census.[11]

The 2006 Census counted 2,609,592 European New Zealanders. Most census reports do not separate European New Zealanders from the broader European ethnic category, which was the largest broad ethnic category in the 2006 Census. Europeans comprised 67.6 percent of respondents in 2006 compared with 80.1 percent in the 2001 census.[25]

The apparent drop in this figure was due to Statistics New Zealand's acceptance of 'New Zealander' as a distinct response to the ethnicity question and their placement of it within the "Other" ethnic category, along with an email campaign asking people to give it as their ethnicity in the 2006 Census.[26]

In previous censuses, these responses were counted belonging to the European New Zealanders group,[27] and Statistics New Zealand plans to return to this approach for the 2011 Census.[28] Eleven percent of respondents identified as New Zealanders in the 2006 Census (or as something similar, e.g. "Kiwi"),[29] well above the trend observed in previous censuses, and higher than the percentage seen in other surveys that year.[30]

In April 2009, Statistics New Zealand announced a review of their official ethnicity standard, citing this debate as a reason,[31] and a draft report was released for public comment. In response, the New Zealand Herald opined that the decision to leave the question unchanged in 2011 and rely on public information efforts was "rather too hopeful", and advocated a return to something like the 1986 approach. This asked people which of several identities "apply to you", instead of the more recent question "What ethnic group do you belong to?"[32]

Ethnic group (detailed) for usually resident population, 2001–13 Census[33]
Ethnicity2001 census2006 census2013 census
New Zealand European2,696,7242,381,0762,727,009
British nfd16,57227,19236,024
South African nec14,91321,60928,656
European nfd23,59821,85526,472
European nec4779422,637
Other European9,9069,6699,207
Total people, European2,871,4322,609,5892,969,391
  • nfd - not further defined (insufficient data to classify the response further)
  • nec - not elsewhere classified (no classification exists for the response)

Alternative terms


The term Pākehā (or Pakeha), the etymology of which is unclear,[34] is used interchangeably with European New Zealanders. The 1996 census used the wording "New Zealand European (Pākehā)" in the ethnicity question, however the word Pākehā was subsequently removed after what Statistics New Zealand called a "significant adverse reaction" to its use to identify ethnicity.[35] In 2013, the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study carried out by The University of Auckland found no evidence that the word was derogatory, 14% of the overall respondents to the survey chose the option Pākehā to describe themselves with the remainder preferring New Zealander, New Zealand European or simply Kiwi.[36][37]


The term "Palagi", pronounced Palangi, is Samoan in origin and is used in similar ways to Pākehā, usually by people of Samoan or other Pacific Island descent.

British and Irish New Zealanders

The New Zealand 2006 census statistics reported citizens with British (27,192), English (44,202), Scottish (15,039), Irish (12,651), Welsh (3,771) and Celtic (1,506) origins. Historically, a sense of 'Britishness' has figured prominently in the identity of many New Zealanders.[38] As late as the 1950s it was common for New Zealanders to refer to themselves as British, such as when Prime Minister Keith Holyoake described Sir Edmund Hillary's successful ascent of Mount Everest as "[putting] the British race and New Zealand on top of the world".[39] New Zealand passports described nationals as "British Subject and New Zealand Citizen" until 1974, when this was changed to "New Zealand Citizen".[40]

While "European" identity predominates political discourse in New Zealand today, the term "British" is still used by some New Zealanders to explain their ethnic origins. Others see the term as better describing previous generations; for instance, journalist Colin James referred to "we ex-British New Zealanders" in a 2005 speech.[41] It remains a relatively uncontroversial descriptor of ancestry.


Colonial period

As the earliest colonists of New Zealand, settlers from England and their descendants often held positions of power and made or helped make laws often because many had been involved in government back in England.

National founders

The lineage of most of the national founders of New Zealand was British (especially English) such as:

Various other founders of New Zealand have also been unofficially recognised:

  • Captain James Cook, the Englishman who voyaged to, and claimed New Zealand for the crown
  • Captain Arthur Phillip (Englishman), first governor of New South Wales, founder of the first colony with nominal authority over all of Australia east of the 135th meridian, including all of New Zealand bar the southernmost part of South Island.
  • Sir George Grey (English and Irish parents), the third governor of New Zealand and the eleventh New Zealand Prime Minister.
  • Henry Sewell (English parents), the first New Zealand Prime Minister.


The New Zealand flag is raised in the Bridge of Remembrance during an Anzac Day parade in Christchurch, New Zealand.

European-New Zealand culture is the culture of New Zealand. The culture of New Zealand is essentially a Western culture influenced by the unique geography of New Zealand, the diverse input of Māori and other Oceanian people, the British colonisation of New Zealand that began in 1840, and the various waves of multi-ethnic migration that followed.[42] Evidence of a significant Anglo-Celtic heritage includes the predominance of the English language, the common law, the Westminster system of government, Christianity (Anglicanism) as the once dominant religion, and the popularity of sports such as rugby and cricket; all of which are part of the heritage that has shaped modern New Zealand.

European settlement increased through the early decades of the 19th century, with numerous trading stations established, especially in the North. The experiences of European New Zealanders have endured in New Zealand music, cinema and literature. Kerikeri, founded in 1822, and Bluff founded in 1823, both claim to be the oldest European settlements in New Zealand after the CMS mission station at Hohi, which was established in December 1814.


New Zealand English is a major variety of the English language and is used throughout New Zealand. Having an official status in the Constitution, New Zealand English is the one of the country's official languages and is the first language of the majority of the population.

New Zealand English began to diverge from British English after the English language was established in New Zealand by colonists during the 19th century. It arose from the intermingling of early settlers from a great variety of mutually intelligible dialectal regions of the British Isles and quickly developed into a distinct variety of English. New Zealand English differs from other varieties of English in vocabulary, accent, pronunciation, register, grammar and spelling.

The earliest form of New Zealand English was first spoken by the children of the colonists born into the colony of New Zealand. This first generation of children created a new dialect that was to become the language of the nation. The New Zealand-born children in the new colony were exposed to a wide range of dialects from all over the British Isles, in particular from Ireland and South East England. The native-born children of the colony created the new dialect from the speech they heard around them, and with it expressed peer solidarity. Even when new settlers arrived, this new dialect was strong enough to blunt other patterns of speech. The most commonly spoken European languages other than English in New Zealand are French and German.


Thomas Bracken wrote the lyrics to God Defend New Zealand.

Another area of cultural influence are New Zealand Patriotic songs:

  • "God Defend New Zealand" is a national anthem of New Zealand - Created by the Irish-born composer Thomas Bracken, the song was first performed in 1876, and was sung in New Zealand as a patriotic song. It has equal status with "God Save the Queen" but "God Defend New Zealand" is more commonly used. It did not gain its status as an official anthem until 1977, following a petition to Parliament asking "God Defend New Zealand" to be made the national anthem in 1976.
  • "God Save the Queen" - New Zealand's other official national anthem, and was the sole national anthem until 1977. "God Save the Queen" is also the national anthem of the United Kingdom and was adopted in 1745. It is now most often played only when the sovereign, Governor-General or other member of the Royal Family is present, or in other situations where a royal anthem would be used, or on some occasions such as Anzac Day.[43]


The Beehive is one of the most recognisable buildings in New Zealand, designed by Scottish architect Basil Spence.

Scottish architect Sir Basil Spence provided the original conceptual design of the Beehive in 1964. The detailed architectural design was undertaken by the New Zealand government architect Fergus Sheppard, and structural design of the building was undertaken by the Ministry of Works.[44] The Beehive was built in stages between 1969 and 1979.[45] W. M. Angus constructed the first stage - the podium, underground car park and basement for a national civil defence centre, and Gibson O'Connor constructed the ten floors of the remainder of the building.[46] Bellamy's restaurant moved into the building in the summer of 1975–76 and Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, unveiled a plaque in the reception hall in February 1977. The Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, formally opened the building in May 1977. The government moved into the upper floors in 1979. The annex facing Museum Street was completed in 1981.[46] In July 2015, Heritage New Zealand declared the Beehive "of outstanding heritage significance for its central role in the governance of New Zealand".

Many of the more imposing structures in and around Dunedin and Christchurch were built in the latter part of the 19th century as a result of the economic boom following the Central Otago Gold Rush. A common style for these landmarks is the use of dark basalt blocks and facings of cream-coloured Oamaru stone, a form of limestone mined at Weston in North Otago. Notable buildings in this style include Dunedin Railway Station, the University of Otago Registry Building, Christchurch Arts Centre, Knox Church, Dunedin, ChristChurch Cathedral, Christchurch, Christ's College, Christchurch, Garrison Hall, Dunedin, parts of the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings and Otago Boys' High School.

Place names in New Zealand of European origin

Wellington – named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. His title comes from the town of Wellington, England.
Dunedin – from Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh.

There are many places in New Zealand named after people and places in Europe, especially the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Netherlands as a result of the many English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Dutch and other European settlers and explorers. These include the name "New Zealand" itself, as described below, along with several notable cities and regions:

Small pockets of settlers from other European countries add to the identity and place names of specific New Zealand regions, most notably the Scandinavian-inspired place names of Dannevirke and Norsewood in southern Hawke's Bay.

Prime Ministers

All of the ancestors of the forty Prime Ministers of New Zealand were European and Anglo-Celtic (English, Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh, or Irish). Some ancestors of three Prime Ministers did not originate from Britain or Ireland: some of the ancestors of David Lange were Germans, some of the ancestors of Julius Vogel and Francis Bell were European Jews, and some of John Key's ancestors were Jewish Austrian migrants (his mother's side).

  1. Henry Sewell (English)
  2. William Fox (English)
  3. Edward Stafford (Scottish)
  4. Alfred Domett (English)
  5. Frederick Whitaker (English)
  6. Frederick Weld (English)
  7. George Waterhouse (Cornish)
  8. Julius Vogel (English-Jewish)
  9. Daniel Pollen (Irish)
  10. Harry Atkinson (English)
  11. George Grey (English, Irish)
  12. John Hall (English)
  13. Robert Stout (Scottish)
  14. John Ballance (Irish, Scotch-Irish)
  15. Richard Seddon (English)
  16. William Hall-Jones (English)
  17. Joseph Ward (Irish)
  18. Thomas Mackenzie (Scottish)
  19. William Massey (Scotch-Irish)
  20. Francis Bell (English-Jewish)
  21. Gordon Coates (English)
  22. George Forbes (Scottish)
  23. Michael Joseph Savage (Irish)
  24. Peter Fraser (Scottish)
  25. Sidney Holland (English)
  26. Keith Holyoake (English)
  27. Walter Nash (English)
  28. Jack Marshall (Scottish)
  29. Norman Kirk (Scottish)
  30. Bill Rowling (English)
  31. Robert Muldoon (Irish)
  32. David Lange (German)
  33. Geoffrey Palmer (English)
  34. Mike Moore (English)
  35. Jim Bolger (Irish)
  36. Jenny Shipley (English)
  37. Helen Clark (Irish)
  38. John Key (English, Austrian-Jewish)
  39. Bill English (Irish, English)
  40. Jacinda Ardern (English, Scottish)

See also


  1. Zeeland is spelt "Zealand" in English. New Zealand's name is not derived from the Danish island Zealand.


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  21. Historical and statistical survey (Page:18)
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