What made families in the 1870s move from central Europe to the other side of the world? Why did they choose to make new lives in a British colony they had little information about, and where they did not speak the official language? In whom did they trust to help them make their decisions?

The first story on this page, the conundrum of nationality, attempts to put into context some of the dilemmas faced by those early settlers—mostly born in Prussian-occupied Poland at a time when Poland did not exist on maps. These settlers, although Polish in spirit and speech, were often defined as German or Prussian when they arrived in New Zealand. Their tenacity and determination helped them overcome the hardships of living in new settlements with little or no infrastructure, an official language they had not heard of, or spoken before, and seasons and countryside completely different from what they knew in the Europe they left.

polish anchors 1872-1876 recounts stories of the first large groups of Polish settlers in New Zealand. This is a website that continues to evolve, and so our original linear list of early Polish settlers became a searchable database in 2020. We know the list is not complete—and probably never will be thanks to the corruption in names, but now you can search by putting in, say, Suc% and find all sorts of variations on the surname Suchomski. We are continually amending the list, as we find more information, and we encourage you to contact us if you know of any omissions, different spellings, or maiden names that would help connect families.

The marshland pages give a flavour of life in Christchurch in the late 1800s. jackson’s bay 1874-1879, resolutely untamed uses an 1879 Commission of Inquiry to highlight some of the hardships settlers endured in this remote West Coast region of the South Island. Without that inquiry, and thanks to English-speaking settlers, we would never have known what they all endured. It is worth a read.

Many thanks to all who have already contributed to our family stories pages. It has been a privilege to get to know your courageous, stubborn, hard-working, and honest ancestors, who did not let swamps, forests, or bigotry hamper their dreams.

Get in touch with us through the link on our home page. In the meantime, here is the link to our database. Happy travels.

All Settlers List

—Barbara Scrivens