Black Fellows and White Chinamen: Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, & Dalmatians arrive in Auckland, c1890-1920s

Hazel Petrie


New Zealand’s earliest non-Polynesian immigrants were largely British.  From 1840, their numbers grew exponentially until, by about 1858, they outnumbered Māori.  However, as economic depression loomed around 1890 and the number of incoming settlers from Britain dwindled, a new breed of immigrant, almost entirely male, began arriving in Auckland.  They came from narrowly-defined regions within China, India, Lebanon, and Dalmatia but, for the last two in particular, their ethnicities and political allegiances were twice misconstrued to suit the objectives of those seeking to exclude them.  Preferring to live and work as extended family or groups from the same villages, they were described as ‘locusts’.  Unable to bring their womenfolk with them, they were represented as sexual threats to young women: Pākehā and Māori.  More fearfully, their cohabitation with ‘English’ women threatened to produce a degraded, ‘piebald’ race and end civilisation as the city knew it.  By 1924, Auckland was home to just one Māori for every one hundred Pākehā.  But it was the British settlers who feared being ‘swamped’ by foreigners.  This presentation will consider the context behind the largely hostile receptions those new immigrant groups faced and the disasters their arrival allegedly threatened to inflict on Auckland.