NB: Where possible, this HTML research guide contains direct links to Archway for items and series in the archival reference field.
All New Zealanders have either migrated to this country or are the descendants of people who migrated in the past. Maori origins are traced through whakapapa. Formal Pakeha migration recordkeeping began with New Zealand Company, settlement from 1840, and with the formation of British government after the Treaty of Waitangi in the same year.
The regional offices of Archives New Zealand in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin hold some regional immigration information, but most immigration records are held in the Wellington Office.
The information in this guide is divided by period and type of immigration, with a small section on Emigration, page 8.
Archives New Zealand holds a variety of Shipping Records, mostly in Wellington.
Archives New Zealand Wellington holds one main Shipping record, an alphabetical card index of immigrant ships to New Zealand for the period 1840-1970s. Most of the ships recorded came from Britain and Australia. This index is based on Archives New Zealand’s passenger lists and other records, and does not include records of all ships which came to New Zealand. Cards usually note arrival dates and give references to passenger lists.
Information can sometimes be found in Customs records [C 20] and may also be found in immigration scheme records.
Other useful records of ships and their voyages are:
Newspapers have usually recorded the arrivals of ships to New Zealand ports in their Shipping columns. In the mid-nineteenth century they also recorded passenger lists, until the numbers became too great. Archives New Zealand does not hold newspapers, but many public libraries and museums have some newspapers, in hard copy or microfilm, for their area. The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has the largest collection of microfilm newspapers from around New Zealand, and many are available and searchable on their ‘Papers Past’ website.
A number of published works on shipping to New Zealand (and perhaps Australia) can be useful and may be found in libraries. For example:
See also ‘Other Possible Sources of Immigrant Information’ page 8.
For 1840-1880s Archives New Zealand Wellington holds records of government-assisted immigrants only, mostly Ship Passenger Lists. The records include about half the total number of immigrants in the period.
The New Zealand Company, Plymouth Company, Otago Association, Canterbury Association, provincial, and central government schemes all assisted migrants to New Zealand. Most assisted immigrant records held at the Wellington office date from 1871 when central government began to sponsor immigrants.
Ship Passenger Lists are the main source of migrant information, but Archives New Zealand holds other records, such as Ships’ Papers and registers and files of various schemes to assist people to New Zealand.
Card indexes have been created, from all surviving passenger lists and immigrant information at Archives New Zealand in Wellington, of those assisted to New Zealand by the New Zealand Company, other colonising ventures, provincial and central governments, 1840-1880s. These card indexes are held in the Wellington Reading Room.
Reproductions of many of the passenger lists of assisted immigrants 1871-1888 are held in the main Reading Room in Wellington.
New Zealand Company records contain information about immigrants to New Zealand 1839-1850. Names are in the General Biographical Index [Bio 1].
Emigration Registers of the New Zealand Company are available for searching, in the form of photocopies, at Archives New Zealand Wellington.
Canterbury Association shipping papers (passenger lists, surgeons’ reports, etc) for 22 voyages to Lyttelton 1850-1852. Material relating to immigration has been indexed [CH 290] (CH)
Ships’ Papers from nineteenth century voyages, especially in the 1870s, may include reports on the voyages and other information. For references see indexes [Bio 1, Shipping Index].
Provincial governments, established from 1853, often encouraged immigration, usually through subsidising the passage. Some specific groups of migrants were targeted, such as young unmarried women or families.
Provincial Government Records
A number of ‘boys’ (many late teens) from Parkhurst Prison in England were pardoned, on condition they went to New Zealand and, in some cases, served apprenticeships. The aim was rehabilitation and the British Treasury paid. The St George in 1842 brought 92 boys and another 31 came on the Mandarin in 1843, making a total of 123.
The scheme was not a success. Many boys were difficult and the Protector of Aborigines complained of the harmful effect they had on Maori. No boys were sent after 1843 and this system of immigration was officially discontinued in 1845.
See article NZ Genealogist Jan-Feb 2005.
In 1846 Governor George Grey asked the British government to station at least 2500 soldiers in New Zealand to maintain order. The British government sent about 750 army pensioners, with their families. They arrived in eleven ships 1847-1853. These retired soldiers, the Royal New Zealand Fencibles, were also known as Chelsea pensioners because their British pensions were administered at Chelsea, London, though paid through the New Zealand Treasury.
The name ‘Fencible’ comes from the word ‘defence’. The pensioners were settled in villages to the south and east of Auckland, at Onehunga, Howick, Panmure and Otahuhu, as a chain of defence to protect Auckland from an imagined Maori threat to the south. They had fairly nominal military duties in return for free transport to New Zealand for themselves and families, plus a grant of a cottage with one acre, which became their property after seven years.
Fencibles appear in the General Biographical card index Bio 1].
Considerable information about the Fencibles was published in official records, often available from larger libraries and museums:
Detailed information may be found in the book: The Royal New Zealand Fencibles 1847-1852 NZ Fencible Society, Auckland, 1997
See also ‘Waikato Military Settlers’ in Research Guide War page 3.
This immigration scheme was part of an attempt by central government to bring large numbers of settlers from the British Isles and the Cape Colony in South Africa to the North Island. The aim was to consolidate the government position after the wars of the 1860s and develop the Waikato area for Pakeha. A loan was to finance the migration and be recouped by the sale of land neighbouring the new settlements. However:
This scheme was not confined to the Waikato, but also included government-sponsored settlement in the Coromandel and Whangarei areas.
The many records for this scheme include:
Alphabetical card index available.
The Wellington office holds microfilm copies of some of the above records for ‘Waikato’ Immigration:
The Immigration and Public Works Act 1870 provided money for immigration. Immigrants were to be recruited by agents in Britain (a total of 83,214) or nominated by people already living in New Zealand. Both groups were recorded in Passenger Lists [IM 15] (see above). Nominated migrants might appear in other records as well, such as Register Books of Lists of Passage Orders. The Nomination Scheme continued until early 1891 and resulted in the immigration of 31,693 people.
Nomination Registers - Lists of Passage Orders
Thirteen registers [(ACFQ 8230) IM 10], record about 8000 Passage Orders covering more than 19,000 people. The entries in the registers are in numerical order. Information is not always easy to access even though most registers have alphabetical indexes.
The information in the registers varies considerably. The intention was to record: (a) number and date of Passage Order; (b) name, age and occupation of nominee, (c) full address of nominee, (d) name and address of nominator; (e) disposal, that is, details of the outcome of the nomination – usually whether or not people came to New Zealand. In many registers this information is not complete. Registers held are:
Also held are:
Assisted immigrants were expected to contribute £5 (five pounds) per adult towards the cost of passage to New Zealand. A person over 12 years of age was reckoned an adult; a child between one and twelve was half an adult; infants under one year were free.
Holdings (incomplete) are:
Wellington Hospital Admission & Discharge Book 1847-1880 includes, for the period February 1877 to June 1880, the names of ships people arrived on and their countries of origin. [ABRR 6889/1]
Under the Immigrants Land Act 1873, those paying their own fare to New Zealand were entitled to a grant of Crown land, or of other land available for disposal by the government.
This register [(ACFQ 8238) IM 18/1] records those who entered New Zealand under two short-lived schemes:
Most immigration records are ship passenger lists held in Wellington in the archives of the Social Security Department, which used them to validate pensions. Passenger lists were not collected systematically until 1910, and even after that there are gaps. [SS 1/1-985]
Labour Department archives also include immigration records after 1900 and a few may be found under the Customs Department. See also Specific Group / Nationality Migrations pages 6-7.
The passenger lists held in Wellington [SS 1/1-985] mostly cover both assisted and unassisted immigrants. These lists (which sometimes include crew lists) were compiled by shipping companies and collected by customs officials when ships arrived. Later they were passed on to the Social Security Department.
These immigration records are grouped, usually three monthly, by port: (a) Auckland, (b) Wellington and (c) the minor ports which were Napier, New Plymouth, Nelson, Lyttelton, Port Chalmers and Bluff.
However, ships often went to more than one port and a passenger list held under Wellington, for example, may include people who disembarked elsewhere. It is worth checking all three sections of the index.
From the 1890s, increasing numbers of passenger and crew lists for ships from Australia and elsewhere are included in the lists, but not indexed.
The information recorded on the passenger lists usually includes no more than: surname, initial, age, country of birth and destination port.
Passenger lists of ships from Britain from the 1880s to 1915 have been card indexed by surname, grouped by port as above [SS 1]. The card indexes do not include crew members or passengers who embarked after the ship had left Britain, such as in Australia.
Many of the passenger lists are on microfilm and researchers are expected to use microfilms, where available, instead of the originals, once a reference has been found in the index. [MICRO 5378-5385]
Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds passenger lists for the period after 1915 [SS 1] but they are not indexed. Some passenger lists 1916-1920 are on microfilm. [MICRO 5368, 5369, 5376, 5385]
If the ship name and date of arrival are known, the Shipping Index can provide a passenger list reference. Passenger lists are divided into the three entry sections above.
Immigration Case Files 1914-2007
Over 200,000 files on individuals and families can be found through ARCHWAY, though variant spellings of surnames may need to be tried.
[ABKF 6794 W5585/1-3660] R100
Labour Department archives include various records of immigration, particularly of people who were not British [L 20 – L30]. There are gaps and records are often not well organised. Some Access restrictions.
Most migrants to New Zealand have come from the British Isles. From the 1860s onwards a number of other specific group or nationality migrations can be identified at different periods, and Archives New Zealand has material on some of these groups. Not all the records refer directly to migration or individuals.
Attempts to found Special Settlements in the 1860s and 1870s quickly failed or struggled for many years.
There were Special Settlements in the Bay of Islands, at Albertland in the Kaipara Harbour, at Puhoi north of Auckland, at Katikati in the western Bay of Plenty. In the South Island Special Settlements were attempted at Karamea, Jacksons Bay and Stewart Island. The Feilding settlement and the Scandinavians who migrated in the 1870s to settle in the Wairarapa, Manawatu and southern Hawkes Bay regions are other clearly identifiable groups.
Ship Passenger Lists (6 ships of 13) 1862-1863 [BAAZ 4115/1a] (AK)
Bay of Islands (Whangae)
Legislation in 1858 allowed for a special Bay of Islands settlement. Regulations to bring a settlement into effect were not issued until May 1864, and others in January and March 1866. See New Zealand Gazette. The Mary Shepherd landed 40 settlers at the Bay of Islands on 12 February 1866 and another 35 in Auckland a few days later. [BAIE 4115/1e] (AK)
Other groups arrived in 1866 & 1873 to join this Bohemian settlement.
People who went to Special Settlements were usually assisted passengers and can be accessed through the Wellington card indexes. [Bio 1; IM 15 & IM-CH 4]
Other relevant material at Archives New Zealand in Wellington includes:
Reports on some Special Settlements appear in AJHR of the 1870s. Books have been published on many of the Special Settlements and should be available in public libraries. There may also be information in resources such as New Zealand’s Heritage (1973), The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966) and the online encyclopedia Te Ara.
The immigration to New Zealand of many people who were not may be found in Alien and Naturalisation records, held in Wellington. Registration of Aliens began in World War I (1914-1918) and continued, with a break 1923-1939, until such registration ended with the Citizenship Act 1977.
Naturalisation began by Ordinance in the 1840s and by Statute 1858-1866. Some early Naturalisation file numbers in the Register of Persons Naturalised before 1948 [(ACGO 8376) IA 52/26, REPRO 1646 & 1647] refer to Colonial Secretary inwards letters [IA 1], not to specific Naturalisation files.
See Research Guide: Citizenship
Chinese immigration is inextricably linked with the restrictions imposed on them as a specific group of non-British people. See Research Guide: Citizenship
Several thousand Chinese came, unrecorded, to New Zealand from 1866 to 1880, primarily to work in the gold fields. Many later moved into other activities. There was increasing expression of negative attitudes towards Chinese, especially by politicians. From the 1880s Chinese migration was limited by government measures, but there were periods when significant numbers were able to enter New Zealand – 1918-1920, 1939-1941, 1948-1951. At other times relatives of those already in New Zealand were able to immigrate, often as ‘students’.
Archives relating to Chinese migration to New Zealand are to be found in Labour Department records and Alien and Naturalisation files in the records of the Internal Affairs Department. Chinese names are also to be found in many twentieth century ship passenger lists in Social Security Immigration records [SS 1].
5468 ‘Yugoslavs’ immigrated 1897-1919, mostly as unassisted migrants before 1914 from the Croatian / Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. ‘Austria-Hungary’ was often recorded as their birthplace. Most were young single males in search of work; two thirds did not stay.
An entry permit system allowed Yugoslavs into New Zealand from 1920, but when their total population exceeded 3500 in 1926, further restrictions limited their immigration. Records of all these entries may be found in passenger lists. [SS 1]
After the Second World War 504 ‘displaced’ Yugoslavs entered New Zealand 1949-1951. Entries are in:
A file: ‘NZ Police reports on Yugoslavs 1948-1952’ gives brief official reports on Yugoslavs seeking to sponsor other Yugoslavs, usually relatives, to New Zealand. [(ACGV 8814) L 1 22/1/121/3] R100
Three groups of refugees or migrants escaping war came to New Zealand.
Hundreds of wives and children of Chinese already in New Zealand arrived in Auckland and Wellington from August 1939 to early 1941, escaping the Japanese invasion of the later 1930s. See passenger lists [SS1]
In 1940 a government committee, under The British Children Emergency regulations 1940, considered offering homes to evacuated British children. The scheme was greeted with great public enthusiasm when announced on 25 June 1940 and over 3000 children were nominated for assisted passages.
Only 202 children arrived, in two groups to Wellington, 27 September 1940 [SS 1/613 July-Sept No.33 Ruahine 89 children] and 4 October 1940 [SS 1/613 Oct-Dec No.1 Rangitata 113 children]. By 31 March 1941 they were in 158 foster homes. Other records:
Over 700 Polish refugee children arrived on the US warship "General Randall" , 31 October 1944, with about 100 Polish adults. The children were placed in a camp at Pahiatua. Within a year or two about 500 other Poles, related to the children, arrived. A few went home after the war but most stayed in New Zealand.
Child Welfare, Army, External Affairs and Labour created records. Possible Access restrictions.
Naturalisation records from 1949 hold information on Polish children who became New Zealand citizens.
Secondary sources may be useful, such as:
Thousands of British migrants were assisted to New Zealand. Drafts and correspondence are held:
After considerable organisation 1948-1949, from 1949 to 1954 the New Zealand government paid for the passages of over 500 children aged 6-18. Boys and girls came to New Zealand in parties of 15-25 until late 1952 when the scheme was halted.
There were difficulties, including expectations on the part of foster parents which were too high and advance reports on children which were too favourable. The scheme was modified and groups of boys, mostly to work on farms, continued to migrate until August 1954.
Files held at Archives New Zealand Wellington include some lists of the children, reports from voyages out and some reports on individual children. [(ACGV 8814) L 1 22/1/9 parts 1-3; [L 1 22/1/9/1 parts 1-4] Most R100
Labour and External Affairs Department files record the Hungarian refugees who came to New Zealand after the Soviet Union put down the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Access restrictions may apply.
After the Second World War, many migrants came to New Zealand from the Netherlands and some from Dutch colonies in South-east Asia. Those who came by ship are recorded in passenger lists (unindexed) [SS 1]. Other records include:
Labour Department files relating to immigration in the 1950s & 1960s, are extensive. [L 1 22/…] Identifiable groups, among many other arrivals by sea and air 1950s-1960s, are:
Registered Case Files of Temporary-entry Immigrants [(ACGV 8832) L 20]
Sample of 813 files only, no dates, searchable by name on ARCHWAY R100/60 Contact:
Records Management Advisor
Business Information Branch
New Zealand immigration Service
PO Box 3705
Index (to above files) [(ACGV 8833) L21] (open)
Archives New Zealand, Wellington, holds many outwards ship passenger lists up to 1973 in the Social Security Department records [SS 1], but the sequences are far from complete until after 1910.
The records for minor ports hold some emigration records for 1886 and then from 1895. Wellington emigration records date from 1899 and Auckland records from 1908.
The passenger lists are grouped in three or six month periods by port: Auckland, or Wellington, or the minor ports which were Lyttelton and Bluff. Ships often called at more than one port and emigration from Dunedin was usually included with the Wellington and Auckland entries.
The passenger lists are unindexed. If a ship name and date for leaving New Zealand are known, finding an emigration record is relatively straightforward. If no specific ship name or date are known, it is necessary to search the passenger lists which can only be done at Archives New Zealand in Wellington. It takes about an hour to search six months of lists for one name.
A special record exists for non-military New Zealanders travelling to South Africa from mid-1901 to 1902 because the South African government required entry permits. Applications for and copies of the permits survive among the inward correspondence of the Colonial Secretary, later the Internal Affairs Department [IA 1].
People applying for entry permits to South Africa can be traced through the index to letters received 1901-1903 [IA 3/3/25] and the register of those letters 1901-1902 which gives individual names [IA 3/1/58]. The register entries give specific file references [IA 1].
Download the PDF version here: Migration