Early settlers (New Zealand)

Where can I find information about early European settlers of New Zealand?

Entry last updated: 29/10/19


Early European settlers traveled a very long way by ship to get to Aotearoa New Zealand. Find out about why they left, what their journey was like, and how they lived when they arrived.

The journey to New Zealand

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of 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. For a good introduction and overview of European settlement in 19th century New Zealand:

  1. Scroll down to the New Zealand in brief section of the website
  2. Then select History
  3. Page 2, Europeans to 1840 and page 3, British Sovereignty and settlement are both relevant to this topic.

The journey to New Zealand was a very long one for the immigrants, and often involved months of seasickness, cramped quarters, as well as births and deaths on board the ship. To find out more:

  1. Scroll down to the section called New Zealand Peoples
  2. Then select Origins and arrivals
  3. There are two relevant pages to look at, History of Immigration, and The voyage out. Here you can find info about what life was like on board the ships to New Zealand in the 19th century.
  4. Also have a look at page 9 of The voyage out, Personal accounts: 1840-1899 for stories of life on board the ships.

To find out about different cultural groups that emigrated to New Zealand, have a look at New Zealand Peoples and click on Peoples, this time. Choose the group you are interested in, to find out more about their emigration to New Zealand eg English, Irish or Scottish.


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.

  1. Select Culture and Society.
  2. Then scroll down to the heading Immigration.
  3. Next, choose British and Irish immigration, 1840-1914.

Topic Explorer

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 (eg articles, books, images, videos, primary sources, sets, websites) on a variety of topics. These resources have been selected from reliable national and international sources.

Choose the topic Immigration to New Zealand to find lots of information.

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 link on each site, to see what the sites mission and values are.

Early settler life

There was a lot of work to do in the early colonial days of New Zealand, the land was cleared so people could build communities. To find out about daily life in 19th century New Zealand, start with:

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara has a good section about daily life in New Zealand.

  1. Scroll down to the section Daily life, sport and recreation
  2. Then select Home and daily life
  3. Have a look at each of the stories, there is good information in here about lots of different aspects of life in New Zealand.

There is information about early New Zealand life in most of the stories you will find in the Daily life, sport and recreation section of Te Ara. Have a look into each of the stories to see what you can find.

Another useful section of Te Ara is Settled Landscape.

  • When you are in this section, have a look at Country Life for a wide variety of information about living in the country in New Zealand.
  • There's even a page on rural language to find out about how living in New Zealand changed the way people spoke!

Religion was a core part of peoples lives and their identities.

  1. Check out the section of Te Ara called Social Connections
  2. Then choose Religion. There are a lot of different religions here to explore.


Newspapers were an important way to share information around the country - and the world. You can read newspapers from the early days of European settlement on PapersPast, a website for digitised New Zealand Newspapers.

  1. Click on Newspapers
  2. Then explore all newspapers by Region
  3. Choose a region - eg Auckland, and a list of the newspapers will appear. Down the right hand side of the page you can find out what the first date available for each paper was. For example, the New Zealander started in 1845 - so you can read actual news from back then!


Economy was a big part of setting up communities. To find out about this, find the section of Te Ara called Economy and the city. Then click on Economic history and Geography and have a look through here. Some good pages to look at are:

  1. Te Māori i te ohanga - Māori and the economy - covers information about early Māori trade and enterprise.
  2. Government and industrial development - how the government encouraged industry from the 19th century.
  3. Regional economies - describes what the economy was like outside the cities.

Te Papa Tongarewa: Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa has lots of collections that help illustrate early settler life. One long running exhibition is their Passports collection.

To look for more:

  1. Select Discover the Collections Tūhuratia ngā ko hinga
  2. Then Collections Online
  3. Now choose Explore, a tab at the top of the page.
  4. Then have a look at History. You can scroll through different objects and collections - many will have information about how early settlers used these objects in their daily life.
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 or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Politics and Government

Getting the politics right was another important part of setting up a community.

Te Ara has a good section on politics in New Zealand.

  1. From the homepage, select Government and Nation.
  2. Then choose Institutions of Government.
  3. On this page there are several links to look at such as Colonial and provincial government which explains how government worked from 1840 onwards.

NZHistory also has good information about New Zealand politics, including some history.

The Māori King movement 1860-1894 is also an important topic in relation to early politics and interaction with Māori.

Interaction with Māori

Have a look through these links for more information about interactions between Māori, the tangata whenua, and European settlers.


NZHistory has a great page in their 'Decade Studies' section of their website. This covers far more than a decade! It has a good overview of New Zealand history from 1769-1914. This covers the Musket Wars, the New Zealand Wars, the Treaty of Waitangi.

Another good part of NZHistory to look at is through this path:

  1. Click on Culture and Society, from the home page
  2. Then click on Pre-1840 contact
  3. All of these pages are good ones to look at but especially check out page 3 of A frontier of chaos? This has information about Māori values that influenced their interaction with early Europeans.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Scroll down to the section New Zealand in brief and click on Māori to find out about Māori before and after Europeans arrived in New Zealand.

Also, have a look in the Settled Landscape section at Claiming the Land. This covers information about land ownership, and te tango whenua - Māori land alienation. You can also find out about naming the land, and ahuwhenua - Māori land and agriculture.


This website has heaps of information about the Treaty of Waitangi, including info about events and life in New Zealand leading up to the Treaty. Check out the tab along the top of the page, The Māori and the British.


Have a look for books written by Kevin Boon. He has written heaps about different aspects of New Zealand History including Roads and Railways 1860-1900, Development of Farming 1860-1900 and The Forests 1860-1900.

Ask your local librarian for more suggestions, especially for books that tell you about the early history of your local area.

Don't forget to check out our other Many Answers entries related to this topic:

SCIS no: 1875659
managed by
proudly supported by

Acceptable Use

Acceptable use means acting like a good citizen online. How you behave online should be the same as how you behave offline (in the real world). AnyQuestions is a free service, staffed by real people from libraries right around New Zealand. Please be respectful and polite to our librarians. We like helping people who show good manners :)

We may end a chat session if we think you are being inappropriate or misbehaving, this includes:

  • Using racist/sexist, offensive or obscene language.

    Please don’t use mean or cruel words when talking to or about someone else; whether they are a male or female, or of another race or skin colour. Obscene language means using words that would upset your grandparents!

  • Using the service to transmit messages that harass or threaten the operators.

    Please don’t be mean to our librarians or act like a bully.

  • Visiting an objectionable website while in session with an operator.

    An objectionable website means a website that you really wouldn’t want your grandparents looking over your shoulder at!

  • Deliberately time wasting in a way that denies service to other legitimate users.

    Time wasting means being silly and not working with our librarians. Time wasting means other students are not getting help, and that isn’t nice!

  • Any form of vandalism, including damaging computer systems or networks and knowingly introducing programs such as computer viruses and worms.

    You might be technically savvy and know about web viruses and worms and how they affect computers but please don’t spread these. It takes our attention away from helping you and other students.

  • AnyQuestions reserves the right to disconnect users at the operator’s discretion. AnyQuestions might also block access to the service for repeat offenders.

    If you act like a troll then we’ll end the chat. Remember everything digital or online can be traced and we can track it back to where you came from and/or your school. If you misbehave on AnyQuestions then we will be in touch with your school or we will block you from accessing AnyQuestions.