Articles Index

The South Family and Immigration

Judith Cranefield, Dunedin, New Zealand, is a grand-daughter of Joseph South(1). Her mother, Elizabeth Scott nee South (1889 -1987), was the ninth and youngest child of Joseph(1) and his second wife, Mary-Ann Dutton. He was father of eighteen children from both marriages. Judith has undertaken extensive research into the immigration to New Zealand of Joseph(1) and his family in 1874 and their subsequent history.

The South Family and Immigration

The Otago Scottish Settlement and Dunedin were founded in 1848. It struggled during its early years and it was by no means the ideal "cross section of society" that Wakefield had envisaged. However, the discovery of gold in the early 1860s led to a gold rush and a boom in the economy. By the beginning of the 1870s gold mining was well in decline. The Otago goldfields were past their peak, New Zealand relations with the British Government were bad, largely due to bickering over the cost of troops for the Maori Land Wars in the North Island, and the New Zealand colonies generally felt that the country was "friendless, neglected, unlikely to attract immigrants" (Morrell "History of New Zealand Life").

Julius Vogel, a sharp and restless young man, who had graduated in London at 17 and worked as a gold assayer in Victoria, came to Otago, edited the local "Otago Daily Times", and was Treasurer and Provincial Secretary of Otago. By the age of 34 he was elected into central government politics. An optimist, and inherently a gambler, he devised a scheme to pull New Zealand out of the doldrums. Up till now, immigration had been a matter dealt with by the Provincial Governments (New Zealand at the time was a federation as Australia is now). Vogel decided that a nationwide scheme was more applicable. NZ needed more transport, roads, railways, ports and it needed a massive influx of immigrants to work on these government-initiated schemes - in fact, "state aided immigration". Vogel in 1870 proposed to borrow 10 million pounds over 10 years, in London.

The more prosperous Provincial Councils had not had to pay for the Maori land wars, and disliked the state scheme from the beginning. The Otago Provincial Council as early as 1870 was listening to James MacAndrew say "...........I believe that several million of industrious people might find a means of comfort within our borders......." (McLintock "History of Otago"). - and they believed that they should deal with it, and not a New Zealand Agent General in London. It is amusing to read, as the new immigrants began to arrive under Vogel's scheme, how the local people thought these new settlers were not as carefully selected as those of 1848 ".........the sweepings of the cities and towns of our old country" (ibid ).

By 1874, dislike of the new scheme seemed to be at its worst in Dunedin, and in March of that year three ships arrived which unloaded a lot of people who were not just criticised for their morals and for their social class, but also for their appearance! There was a group of women on board one ship from the Queensland Penitentiary and the arrival of 30 single women from a reformatory in Ireland whipped up a fury. The "Otago Daily Times" thundered against the "importation of certified scum".

It was expected that the new "Vogel immigrants" would lack the immediate capital to invest in land and so would provide a ready labour force for all the new railways and  ports and road works which were largely being contracted out by the central government in Wellington to an English firm, " Brogden & Co." They built the railways. A large number of New Zealanders that I know trace ancestors who came out from the British Isles and worked on the railways.

The assisted immigrants were not contracted to this work. There was a form of contractual agreement in existence for the 1840s immigrants of the Wakefield scheme who went to Wellington, Nelson, New Plymouth, but not, as far as I know, for most workers on the Vogel development schemes. The English firm of construction engineers, Brogden's, did initially bring out about 6000 immigrants, but after that the Central Government was to ask for a certain given number of immigrants each year, taking some notice of what each province wanted.

From 1871 to the early 1880s everything looked great. Everybody was busy and there was apparent growing prosperity. Gold was fading out as an export but wool had replaced it and was rising in price. However, overseas a worldwide boom came to an end in the early 1880s. Prices began to fall and they continued to fall. This was to hit New Zealand by the end of the decade, and with refrigeration of meat and dairy exports not yet commercially developed the economy, relying almost exclusively on wool, was very badly affected. In 1888 over 9000 people left New Zealand, the "Great Exodus".

The Otago Provincial Council from about 1870 was trying hard to get "quality" immigrants. Initially the NZ Government offered assisted passages to "agricultural labourers, 'navvies', shepherds, mechanics, domestic servants.......who were industrious, of good moral character, of sound mind, in good health" (Raewyn Blackstock in "NZ Heritage"), but they did not get enough immigrants in this way, so in 1873 they opened it up and offered "free passages, to pay the cost of the immigrants' trip from home to the port of embarkation if necessary, and to provide him with the outfit needed for the boat journey" (ibid).

This was obviously very tempting for Joseph South! The peak number of assisted immigrants was 31,785 between June 1874 and May 1875. In 1874 the South family came to Dunedin on the "Buckinghamshire". Passenger records show that, in order to qualify for an assisted passage, Joseph (aged 52 in 1874) travelled under the name and age of his brother Henry, aged 44. Joseph had just sold the pottery business to his son Samuel and so could have paid for cabin accommodation. He also registered his wife Mary Ann as 42, rather than her true age of 24.

Immigrants were recruited in Britain in different ways. One was through local or itinerant agents. Local agents could be people like teachers, booksellers, lawyers. A lot of posters and advertisements would appear, and application forms were handed out to those interested. The itinerants often went to areas of agricultural hardship or unrest. Once the form was filled in, the prospective emigrant was questioned about his eligibility for an assisted or free passage and to find out if he could afford any incidental costs on the voyage. Also enquiries were made about character, sobriety and hard work. Two "respectable householders" of his parish, one his employer, had to write certificates attesting to good character, hard work, need to go. This was witnessed by a clergyman or magistrate. Then there had to be a medical certificate and vaccination. Despite all these precautions, immigration offices in New Zealand often had to deal with considerable problems although most people who entered the country at the time were honest and hard working.

An effort was made to move the immigrants from the port towns to areas where their labour was most needed, but this was not popular. In the decade of the 1870s the province of Otago took most (29,439) than Canterbury. The largest influx of people coming here of their own accord was from 1877 onwards.

Immigration in the 1870s brought to Dunedin a wide variety of people, mostly coming on assisted passages and hoping to make new lives for themselves in New Zealand. Many of these families were to find it very difficult to be successful, as the "Great Exodus" of the 1880s showed. But the Souths do appear to have settled well. Economic security was based on the big demand for well made bricks in the growing settlements of Otago and on the existence of excellent deposits of suitable clay very close to Dunedin. Social stability seem to have been provided by the already well established Primitive Methodist Church community.  

Judith Cranefield   (revised 4/01)


Blackstock, Raewyn "Immigration in the 1870s" in "NZ Heritage"

Gardner, W J "A Colonial Economy" in "Oxford History of NZ"

McLintock, A H "History of Otago"

Morrell, W P "History of New Zealand Life"

Olssen, Erik "A History of Otago"   


Articles Index