Early settlers (New Zealand)
Where can I find information about early European settlers of New Zealand?
Entry last updated: 17/01/20
European settlers began to arrive in New Zealand from 1769. Find out how they arrived, where they came from, what life was like then, and how they interacted with Māori, the tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Where they came from
These New Zealand websites have the best information on where early settlers came from and their journeys to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
- Scroll down to Sections
- Choose New Zealand Peoples, then select Origins and arrivals.
- Read European discovery of New Zealand about how James Cook and other explorers came to New Zealand.
- Read The Voyage out to learn about what journeys to New Zealand were like and the personal accounts of travelers.
- History of Immigration has details about the early years of immigration and the growth of settlements.
- Choose New Zealand Peoples, the link Peoples will link to early settlers such as French, Dutch, Irish, Dalmatians and Welsh.
- Choose the section New Zealand in brief, then select History.
Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .govt or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About us or Contact pages.
NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
- Select Culture and Society
- then go to Pre-1840 contact to find information about Missionaries, Sealers and whalers, and Encounters
- or Decade studies has a link to A history of New Zealand 1769-1914
- or scroll down to Immigration andchoose British and Irish immigration, 1840-1914.
Tips: Remember to explore 'Further information' found on each of these pages as they link to other websites that have related information.
Topic Explorer is an online tool from the National Library of New Zealand. It contains a wide range of quality resources for students in a range of formats. These resources have been selected from reliable national and international sources.
- Find the topic Immigration to New Zealand.
- For further information, look at the topics Colonial Life in New Zealand and First encounters.
Tips: We like these links because they have all been chosen by librarians, so the sites will be trustworthy. It is a good idea to find the About us link on each site, to see what the site's missions and values are.
Early settler life
There was a lot of work to do in early colonial New Zealand. Land had to be cleared to build communities and for farming. The following websites have information about daily life in 19th century New Zealand.
Te Ara also has information about the daily life of early settlers in New Zealand.
- Scroll down to the section Daily life, sport and recreation.
- Then select Home and daily life.
- Explore the stories here to understand different aspects of early settler life in New Zealand.
- Go to the section Settled Landscape.
- The section Social Connections has information about religion which was a core part of people's lives and their identities.
- Explore the link Religion to explore the beginning of different Christian churches in New Zealand.
Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called “pearl growing” because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!
DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on New Zealand history and brings together results from lots of different New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once. It is a good source of primary sources.
- Type search words 'early settlers' into the search box.
- The results are grouped into images, audio, videos, and stories.
- The tab More will lead to newspapers, articles and research papers.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, eg [early settlers]. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
You can read newspaper articles from the early days of European settlement on PapersPast, a website for digitised New Zealand newspapers.
- Go to the tab called Newspapers.
- Explore newspapers By Region and choose a region eg Auckland.
- A list of the newspapers will appear alphabetically showing dates of publication from First year to Last year eg Albertland Gazette started in 1862.
Tips: Paperspast has other useful sections. Explore Magazines and journals, Letters and Diaries, and Parliamentary Papers for different types of primary sources.
Whaling, farming, logging and gold mining were some of the first occupations that contributed to the economy and the setting up of communities.
Different sections on Te Ara will lead you to different aspects of what helped the economy in colonial New Zealand.
- Go to the section Economy and the City, then Economic History and Geography.
- Go to the section Settled Landscape, then Changing the Landscape.
- Read the the link on Farming and the economy about early farming and the pastoral era.
- The section Earth Sea and Sky will lead to stories on Gold and gold mining, sealing, whaling.
- The section called The Bush has information on the the timber industry before 1840 and from 1840 to 1920.
Tips: Te Ara has lots of information on this topic. We recommend you explore other sections to expand your understanding of this topic.
Te Papa has lots of collections that help illustrate early settler life. One long running exhibition is their Passports collection.
- Under Related content select a topic to read about the object.
- Whale harpoon gives an overview of whaling in New Zealand.
- New Zealand gold nuggets looks at the gold rush in New Zealand.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address - they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government organisations. They're also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
Politics and Government
The websites below are the best places to look for how early settlers went about setting up a government in New Zealand.
Te Ara has a good section on the history and role government in New Zealand.
- From the homepage, under Sections select Government and Nation.
- Then choose Institutions of Government to look at Colonial and provincial government which explains how New Zealand became a crown colony.
- Also look at Te Tiriti - The Treaty and the He Whakaputanga – Declaration of Independence to understand why they are an important part of Aotearoa New Zealand.
NZHistory is another reliable source of New Zealand politics, including history.
- From the homepage check out their section Politics and Government.
- Under Political milestones find the link to Political and Constitutional timeline.
- Look at Māori leadership to read about The Māori King movement 1860-1894.
Interaction with Māori
Have a look through these links for information about interactions between Māori, the tangata whenua, and European settlers.
NZHistory has a section on Culture and Society that explores Māori and early settler interactions.
- Pre-1840 contact has a link to Encounters that has lots of details about first meetings between people, and
- the link to A frontier of chaos? is about Māori values and practices that guided their responses to early Europeans.
- Under Decade studies look at A history of New Zealand 1769-1914 to read about the Musket Wars, the New Zealand Wars, and the Treaty of Waitangi.
- Under Sections find New Zealand in brief , then select Māori to find out about Māori before and after Europeans arrived in New Zealand.
- The Settled Landscape section has a link to Claiming the Land - which is about how the settlers took over land owned by Māori.
Here are some books to look for in your public library or school library:
- Roads and railways, 1860-1900 by Kevin Boon.
- Development of farming, 1860-1900 by Kevin Boon.
- The forests, 1860-1900 by Kevin Boon.
- Face to face: two cultures meet in Aotearoa by Terri Kessell.
- The tauiwi: the later immigrants by Ruth Naumann.
Ask your local librarian for more suggestions, especially for books that tell you about the early history of your local area.
SCIS no: 1875659